Settling In - FiMFetch.net (2024)

by pchn00

First published

The bad guy is beaten and the world is saved! Now Equestria's newest citizen has to contend with rambunctious fillies, school, and a whole slew of new teachers.

With Discord defeated young Jennifer Allen can now find her way in Equestria free of chaotic monsters trying to press her into their service. Now following Princess Luna's advice (certainly not orders) she has to experience and learn how to live as each of the three pony tribes before choosing the one she ultimately wishes to belong to. Add to that normal school work, a burgeoning business, and weekend lessons with a certain Princess of the Night and Jen may just wish she was back on the road fighting monsters all over again.

This' a direct sequel to my first story The Best Babysitter. I do alot of recap in chapter 1 so you don't have to read the first, though it'd probly be best if you did! ^^;

Now with sequel of its own! Galaxia's Equestria

Chapter 1: Back on Her Feet

“Well little filly, you officially have a clean bill of health.”

Jennifer couldn’t help but grin at that, despite not exactly being a fan of being called ‘little filly’. She didn’t even notice Doctor Gentle Touch wince and look away from the brilliantly glinting braces adorning her decidedly non-herbivore teeth. She kinda liked the rumors flying around about the metal braces being there to make it easier for her to tear through the bones of her prey.

“So no more chair? I can start doing stuff again?” Despite bristling at being described as a little kid basically, she was practically bouncing on the examination table at the news.

The unicorn stallion nodded absently, adjusting his glasses as he gave her chart another quick once over. “Absolutely. I’d still take it a little easy for a couple days. You don’t want to irritate your scar. Speaking of…since you’re on Ms. Pie’s insurance plan now you’re entitled to some ointment that’ll make it all but disappear.”

Jen couldn’t help but touch her abdomen at the mention of her scar. A reminder of her very one sided fight with Discord a few weeks ago. She’d been in Equestria for almost a month now but the events of her first few days felt like they just happened still. Discords release and subsequent attack on the princesses and elements of harmony then the race she and three of the elements had undertaken to stop him.

She accepted the small tub of cream levitated into her hands by the doctor’s silvery magical aura. “Just rub some into the scar every morning before you bathe. I’d like you to come back in for a follow up say…Tuesday after next? You’ll be in school then so how about four o’clock.”

With an eager nod the teen hopped off the table. “Sure thing, I’ll let Pinkie know. Do I gotta like…sign anything or something?” She was almost sixteen but this was the first time she’d ever been to the doctor without one of her parents, (or a colorful pink pony filling in for said parents).

With a chuckle her doctor nodded. “Just head up to the counter. My receptionist Notary has your information and Miss Pie is covered under Princess Celestia’s...’hero insurance’ plan so your medical bills are all taken care of. You just need to sign out and you’re free to go. And I’ll see you again in a couple weeks hm?”

A bright grin and nod was her response as she bounded out of the room and to the front counter. Jotting her signature on the forms the cheerful earth pony mare offered, she rushed out of the office and into the cool Ponyville morning air. “Freeeeeeedoooooom!”

Of course her exclamation drew a lot of attention. Not as much as it would have a few weeks ago when she first ‘went public’ with the citizens of the sleepy town, but she was still something of an oddity. With a little blush she readjusted her hoodie and slipped the hood over her head. Giving an apologetic grin she shrugged to the crowd. “Sorry…little excited.”

A little chorus of laughter and congratulations met her little announcement. Tucking her hands into the pocket at the front of the very comfortable hoodie Rarity had made for her she started onto the dirt streets of Ponyville heading toward Sugar Cube Corner. She was still a little put off by all the enthusiastic hellos and good mornings she received just for walking down the street. Though a combination of she and her friends’ stopping Discord in the newspaper and the more local news of her being the surrogate of everyone’s favorite party pony went a long way to the folk of Ponyville accepting the strange human girl into their midst.

It was a Saturday morning, evidenced by the typical crowd of little fillies and colts she always gathered in her wake. With the exception of three certain crusaders, the youngsters of Ponyville had a tendency to follow her at a cautious distance. Due in part to the rumors of her fearsome metal teeth, a rumor she helped to fabricate when a pair of little unicorn colts thought it’d be funny to dump a heap of snow on her head. She proceeded to exclaim how hungry she was for little pony and chase them about for the better part of an hour, (much to her throbbing abdomens protest).

She slowed her pace a bit, noting with some pleasure that the foals were getting closer. She could faintly hear the whispers…a filly daring another to get closer, a colt betting one of his friends wouldn’t touch her. From the corner of her eye she saw a particularly small palomino colt tentatively step closer…and closer. She feigned interest in something resting in the store front of Quills and Sofa’s, pretending not to sense his approach. He sure was a cutie with the big brown patch over his eye. Naturally that didn’t save him, the second one of his hooves reached out toward the heel of her beloved Converse sneakers she spun on her heel bearing her gleaming silver teeth in a vicious snarl.

“Time for breakfast!”

She was of course rewarded with a wave of terrified shrieks as the little ponies bolted around a corner. Her antics only received amused chuckles from the adults who witnessed the spectacle, who had seen it many times in the past weeks already.

With a spring in her step she entered the cheerful bakery, immediately hit with the drool inducing scent of every manner of baked good imaginable. Casting a cautious glance about the room for any tiny airborne attackers, and seeing the Cake’s foals not about she relaxed and approached the counter. With a little wave to Mrs. Cake in the kitchen the older mare gave her a smile and looked off to the side. “Pinkie! Jen’s here, why don’t you go say hello. I can cover for a little bit.”
“Jenny-bean!” Around the corner came the bouncing pink earth pony, her trademark face splitting grin in place. “What’d the doctor say? Are you all better now?”

“Yup! He said to take it a little easy for a few days still, and gave me a cream for my scar. Otherwise I’m good to go. I gotta go back Tuesday after next at four for a checkup.”

Her smile shrank a trifle as Pinkie whipped out a notepad, (where she whipped things out from was still a mystery to Jennifer), and jotted down the date and time. “Got it! Tuesday…four o’clock!” The pad seemed to vanish as mysteriously as it appeared. “Sorry I couldn’t be there with you but we have a HUGE order to fill for the Hearth’s Warming stuff coming up.”

Jen gave a non-committal shrug. “Hey it’s cool I’m a big girl. I don’t need ya holding my hand or nothin’.” Of course she WOULD have liked Pinkie there with her, but she was getting to the age where she shouldn’t need an adult at the doctor’s with her.

“Oh…well good! Good. So! Want some breakfast! I just whipped up a fresh batch of cupcakes!” The cheery mare presented said cupcakes, topped with an obscene amount of icing to match her bright pink coat.
Making a bit of a face Jen laughed. “I dunno how you can eat that sweet stuff so early. How about my usual blueberry muffin?”

With a nods Pinkie bounced her way into the kitchen and emerged with a fresh muffin that Jen suspected she had waiting specifically for her. “Okie dokie Jenny-bean! I should get back to work but we can get lunch together. D’you have plans for today?”

Accepting the muffin and managing not to slobber all over it Jen inhaled its scent with a faraway smile. “Plans? Nah I was probly gonna wander around town a little. Maybe try and track down Miss Cheerilee. We haven’t met yet but if I’m goin to her school Monday…” She shrugged.

“Ooo good idea! You should swing by Carousel Boutique too! I think Rarity said she was making you your own saddlebags for school!”

“Heh, alright so I officially have plans now. I’ll swing by around lunch time!” With a wave over her shoulder Jen strode back out into the bright sunshine. It was a cloudless winter day, so the sun was shining brightly on the dusting of snow covering the ground. Almost reverently Jen freed her muffin from its papery prison, slight steam wafting off the still warm baked good. Naturally the first bite was as perfect as ever, just a hint of sugary sweetness sprinkled atop the muffin.

Making her way toward Rarity’s boutique first, since she had no idea where her teacher-to-be was at the moment, she noticed a filly staring at her. While this wasn’t unusual for Jen, it WAS a bit odd that she wasn’t staring at her mouth…but the rapidly cooling muffin. It was heart breakingly adorable the way the little unicorns’ mouth hung open. Her bright yellow mane contrasted starkly with her light violet coat.

“Hey kid, you miss breakfast?” She approached the little filly who must have been very hungry or very brave to not immediately turn tail and run.

The filly’s response was to nod slowly, eyes never leaving the muffin. “Uh huh…momma had to rush to work and forgot to gimme my allowance…again.”

Jen had come to decide that rather than evolving more typical natural defense mechanisms, a young pony could ward off their natural enemies with sheer cuteness. IT seemed that with very few exceptions they all had stubby marshmallow legs, slightly chubby bodies, and the same adorable huge eyes they’d grow into adulthood with. Helpless before the sheer cuteness rolling off the obviously hungry filly Jen broke off the bottom half, (she felt for her but wasn’t about to give her the GOOD half of the muffin) and offered it up.

To compound her cuteness the little filly puffed her cheeks out concentrating hard, her horn sputtering to life and shakily levitating the muffin to her waiting mouth where she wasted no time devouring it.

“Heh, glad I didn’t get my fingers near there.” Deciding to err on the side of caution Jen ate her half at a quicker pace than normal, tossing the wrapper in a nearby bin. Hunger sated, the little filly was staring at her again.
“Izzit true you gotta unicorn horn?” Her little voice squeaked out.

With a nod Jen slid her hood back, revealing the forest green horn peeking out through her auburn bangs. “Yup, it does magic and everything.”

Wide eyed the little one took a few steps closer. “Wow…d’you really have metal teeth?”

In response Jen bared her teeth for the filly; a flash of silver from her braces confirmed the rumors.

The little unicorn seemed a bit more hesitant with her next question, barely whispering it. “…do you really eat ponies?”
Straightening up Jen shrugged. “Nah, but its fun to get your friends all riled up sometimes.”

This seemed to go a long way to putting her at ease, and the filly instantly relaxed her posture. “Oh! Well that’s good! I’m Dinky.” She smiled widely.

Jen had to bite her lip to avoid letting out a big ‘aww’. “Well Dinky, I’m Jennifer. But just Jen is fine.” She started walking again, and Dinky fell into step beside her.

“Izzit true you’re just a filly too?”

With a little disgruntled grunt the human girl shrugged. “TECHNICALLY...yes. I’m almost an adult though.” She really wished the ponies had a word for teenager her. It seemed you went from filly to mare with nothing in between.
“Huh. You’re pretty big for a filly. Izzit true Pinkie Pie’s your mom?”

“Ehe…well also technically yeah. She’s my guardian so I guess in a WAY you can say she’s my stepmom I guess.”
“Izzit true you’re gonna go to Miss Cheerilee’s school soon?”

“Yup. That’s just regular correct. Princess Luna thought it’d be a good idea for me to learn Equestrian history and stuff, and maybe find out what job I’d be good at like a pony would. I’m getting my own saddlebags from Rarity then I’m gonna try to track Cheerilee down.”

“How come you’re wearing all those clothes?”

Jen glanced down at her impromptu travelling companion. “You ask a lot of questions Dinky.”

A proud nod is the response. “Momma says it’s the best way to learn something new!”

“Hrm, I guess that’s true.” Jen had never spent a ton of time around kids. She had nothing against them or anything…and the pony children were painfully adorable. “I don’t have fur to keep me warm is all.” That’s easier than explaining cultural taboos most likely.

“Oh that makes sense! So d’you really have a magic sword?”

With a nod Jen glanced to the shield she wore on her left arm. The hilt of the Sword of Harmony exposed over the top. “Yeah. Princess Luna asked me not to draw it for no reason though so I can’t really show it off.”
“Ohhh. So are you good friends with the princess?”

That was a difficult question. She seemed to have a genuine interest in Jennifer that was for sure. She had even mentioned wanting her to visit in Canterlot when she was healthy, though she hadn’t communicated with her in any way since that day. “I dunno, I like her and I think she likes me. We didn’t talk too much.”

The pair soon reached the boutique, Jen holding the door for Dinky who stepped in quietly ahead of her. The proprietress was busy as ever with one her new designs. The ponequinn in question covered in layers of colorful silks all in the process of becoming a dress. “Hey Rarity. Pinkie said you had something for me?”

The snowy white unicorn looked to her guests and smiled radiantly. “I do darling! And it is SO good to see you up and about again. Everyone has just been dreadfully worried for you you know?” Glancing down at the bashful filly hiding behind the human’s legs she raised an eyebrow. “Are you foalsitting now? Heaven knows Ms. Doo could certainly use one as busy as the poor dear is.”

“Eh? Who Dinky? No I shared a muffin with her outside and we were just kinda hanging out.” Jen ended with a shrug as she tucked her hands into her front pocket.

“Ah...well that’s nice of you dear. And how are the clothes working out? I’ll admit it was something of a challenge getting something proper together for you…but I’d wanted to work with human styles ever since our visit to your world and I simply could not pass up the chance.” She turned her critical eye to the beat up sneakers. “Though I do wish you’d let me get you some proper footwear. You ARE going to see the Princess in a week after all.”

Now it was Jen’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “I am? Since when?”

With a casual wave of a hoof Rarity turned and trotted to a large wardrobe, her magic swinging it open easily as she began to rummage. “Didn’t Twilight tell you? She received a letter yesterday…or was it today? I can’t recall. Anyhow Princess Luna has invited you to be her guest next weekend.” With a triumphant AHA she retrieved a fine canvas back pack. A paler green than Jennifer’s horn, (and future coat color) with a simply ruby for the clasp. “It’s traditional for one’s cutie mark to be the clasp of course but well…” She floated the pack to Jen’s waiting hands.

Slowly the girl turned it over giving it a little tug here and there to test the seams. “This’ great Rarity, thanks a lot. When Pinkie said ‘saddle bags’ I was a little worried I’d have to drape them over my shoulder or something.”

The fashionista laughed lightly. “Well of course that won’t do just yet. Of course once you progress a bit further on your…journey to ponyhood, it can be easily modified. I know you already have that big sack you carry about but it is most certainly more for…” She waved a hoof searching for the right word. “…outdoorsy pursuits.”

Unable to hide a smile at the obvious dislike Rarity was showing for ‘outdoorsy pursuits’ Jen slipped the backpack over a shoulder. “Well thanks for this. I should letcha get back to work. Say hi to Sweetie for me.”

Rarity heaved a world weary sigh. “Sweetie Belle is already off ‘crusading’ for the day. Now if anypony could use a foalsitter it’s THOSE girls. I know they want their cutie marks and all but I’d feel a lot better if they had a bit of adult supervision.”

Glancing down at the little filly stick taking shelter behind her legs, then looking back up to Rarity Jen gave a little hm. “Is it normal for all the kids to just sorta…run wild through town most of the time?”

Having already turned back to her work Rarity nodded absently. “Well more or less. When they’re not in school of course. It’s rare for a pony to not have a profession of their own. Home maker cutie marks aren’t the norm after all. Most of them behave well enough and the wait between school ending and their parents returning from work is short…on the weekdays. Those of us who work weekends well…the little ones sometimes get a bit more freedom.”

Jen stepped back, expertly maneuvering around the little beagle sized filly behind her feet and rested against the counter. “Doesn’t that seem a little irresponsible?”

Rarity turned her attention back to Jennifer, the needle and thread she was working with still held in the grip of her magical aura. “I suppose it would seem a little odd to you dear but Equestria isn’t the same as your world. We’re born with a strong sense of right and wrong and nopony would ever hurt a foal. They might get into a bit of mischief from time to time but nothing really serious ever happens.”

“And is it normal for the adults to forget to feed their kids or give ‘em lunch money?” She glanced pointedly at Dinky.

With another sigh Rarity turned back to her work. “I suppose it’s not NORMAL, no. If you’re really so concerned with this go see the mayor and offer your services hm? You could be Ponyville’s official daycare overseer!” Laughing a little at her own joke Rarity turned back to address the human…but she and the filly trailing along in her wake were already gone.

-----

“You have an appointment…miss?” The beige earth pony stallion didn’t look up from his desk at first. When he eventually
did his eyes widened at the sight of Ponyville’s resident human standing in the office requesting to see the Mayor. “Er…one moment!” Without delay he dashed into the office behind him.

Taking a seat on one of the nearby benches, Dinky clambered up beside Jen. “Whatcha wanna see the mayor for?”

A shrug was the humans’ response. “Nothin serious, just to talk for a few minutes. You should probly wait out here.”

Seeing the filly’s ears droop Jen pondered a moment, then withdrew her iPod from the front pocket of her hoodie. A few taps of the buttons and she brought up some of her stored cartoons off the iTunes store. “Here, you can watch some Adventure Time while I’m in there.”

Setting the little device in front of Dinky the filly’s eyes widened. “There’re little people moving in there! Is it magic?!”
With a chuckle Jen nodded. “Yup, the magic of television. Just watch and enjoy. It’s like a play.”

The filly safely ensnared by the all-powerful magic of cartoons, Jen stood up again as the stallion returned. “The mayor would be happy to see you Miss Pie.”

That brought the ghost of a frown to her lips as Jen headed by him. “It’s Miss Allen actually, but just Jen is fine.”

Stepping into the Mayor’s office Jen saw said mayor seated comfortably behind a large desk. The older mare offered her guest a smile and gestured for her to take a seat across from her. “Hello Jennifer. It’s good to see you looking so healthy. What can I do for you this morning?”

Taking a seat Jen fidgeted a little, she was feeling pretty determined a minute ago but how do you bring up the subject of mass negligent parenting, especially when it seemed the norm? “Well…I met a filly this morning. Dinky.”

“Ah! Ditzy Doo’s little filly. She’s a lovely little girl, though a bit shy around new ponies. Unless they happen to have a muffin they’re willing to share.” The mayor laughed a little at her joke, despite how accurate it may be.

Jen nodded at that. “Right. Well apparently her mom forgot to uh...feed her this morning. Or give her money to buy anything to eat. Rarity seemed to imply this isn’t the first time?” At the mayors’ nod Jen continued. “Well does this sort of thing happen often?”

Eyebrows raised the mayor seemed to ponder her question. “Well I wouldn’t say often. Sometimes their parents are just in a rush I’m sure. And nopony goes hungry in Ponyville. Just about anyone in the market is willing to spare a bit for a hungry foal of course.”

Chewing her lip Jen nodded slowly. “What about the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”

Images of damaged buildings, over turned food carts, and three fillies tearing through the middle of town on a scooter flashed through the mayors’ head. Her smile dimmed just a little. “What about them?”

“Well don’t you think those girls should have some form of supervision during their antics?”

With a little sigh the Mayor removed her glasses and cleaned them against her coat. “I certainly can’t argue with you there. What exactly are you proposing?”

“Well…what about a daycare? Somewhere the kids…uh…foals can wait for their parents to get home from work.”

“Hm.” The earth pony slid her glasses back atop her nose. “It’s an interesting idea, but who would be in charge?”

Feeling her confidence building Jennifer smiled. “Well I’ve been hoping to find a way to earn a few bits for myself. I was thinking I could do it.”

Mayor Mare instantly slid her gaze to Jen’s hip, hidden behind a wall of denim. “There are a few problems that immediately come to mind. The first of course is that you’ve made a reputation for yourself of scaring the foals witless in the middle of the streets. Second not only are you not a pony, you have no cutie mark. I think many parents would be hesitant to leave their foals in the care of someone not specialized in looking after them. And finally, where would this daycare BE?”

Each extremely valid point seemed to shrink some of the girls smile, nervously she shifted in her seat. “Well…yeah I guess that’s all true. I mean I’d never hurt them of course! I’m pretty sure anyone can see that. The scares are y’know…just for fun. And I’m pretty sure the foals know that too. And I’m definitely a cutie mark free not-pony but where I’m from anyone can try anything they want. We don’t have marks saying what we’re best at…people just figure it out for themselves. The third point uh…no idea. I was hoping you’d have an idea?”

“Hmmmm.” Now the Mayor was eyeing Jen a bit harder. “…I’ll add your idea to the charter for the next town meeting. We’ll see what the people have to say and proceed from there alright? You might be asked to say a few words so I’d get something prepared. It’ll be Next Wednesday at five o’clock. Sound good?”

With a smile Jen hopped to her feet. “Sounds great. Thank you very much ma’am.”

“Oh and Jennifer? Try not to make your potential future charges shriek in the middle of the streets between now and then hm?”

Jen gave a sheepish smile and rubbed the back of her head. “Ehe heh…yes ma’am.”

With a nod and a little smile of her own the Mayor waved her off. “Alright I’m sure you have better things to do than spend the day in this boring office. Off you go. See you Wednesday.”

Stepping back out and shutting the door gently behind her, Jen grinned at the sight of Dinky enraptured by the show on her iPod. “Alright we can get goin.”

“But Finn didn’t save the princesses from the Ice King yet!” Was the filly’s desperate response as the human reclaimed her little device.

“Tell ya what, if we got time after all my running around is done you can finish the episode alright?”

She was rewarded with a big grin and eager nod, as the pair again stepped out into the streets of Ponyville. Still having no idea where she might find Cheerilee, Jen opted to make her way to the much more visible landmark of the library and home of Ponyville’s resident, (and semi-crazy) librarian Twilight Sparkle.

Not bothering to knock, (it WAS public hours at the library after all) Jen showed herself in with Dinky hot on her heels. Twilight’s assistant Spike, looking thoroughly miserable was shelving a small mountain of displaced books.

“Hey Spike! What’s with the bookalanche?” Jen set her iPod on the floor for Dinky out of the way, starting it up again and leaving the filly glued to the screen.

The little dragon gave a huff. “Cheerilee asked Twilight for ONE little book on some kinda animals from Zebrica and Twilight went into a flurry tearing off half the books in the exotic locales section.”

Hearing voices upstairs Jen glanced toward Twilights private rooms. “Cheerilee? Is she here? I was on my way to find her after I talked to Twilight.”

“Yup! Dunno what they’re talking about but Cheerilee seemed to think it was really important.” With a shrug the dragon went back to work. “Go on up if you wanna, she didn’t shut the door so it can’t be that private.”

With a grin at the dragon’s antics Jen ascended the stairs. That was one thing she loved about towering over all the ponies, little staircases. Cresting the top of her short climb she saw Twilight chatting with a magenta earth pony mare in her room over a cup of tea.

“Cheerilee I know you’re nervous but she’s really a very sweet girl. …and I don’t think a book on Zebrican primates is going to help you relate to her.”

Stifling her sudden bout of laughter Jen inched a bit closer. The school teacher had a pleasantly cheery voice that matched her name. “Oh I know Twilight…she helped save Equestria and all. And obviously if she was dangerous the Princess wouldn’t let her run loose. This is just…new to me is all.”

With a nod Twilight took a sip of her tea. “Well…try not to think of her as the new human girl in class. Think of her as the new unicorn filly. She IS still a filly you know? She may look different on the outside but she’s just like anypony else on the inside.”

A sigh was Cheerilee’s response. “You know what? You’re right. I’m getting all worked up over nothing. …still…is she going to be wearing that…sword with her?”

Twilight shrugged. “I imagine so. It’s a very special sword, and she gave her word she wouldn’t draw it without reason. It’s perfectly safe.”

Clearing her throat softly Jen stepped into the doorway. “Sorry if I’m interrupting…Rarity said you had some news for me Twilight?”

Both mares started a bit at the sudden appearance of the subject of their conversation. Twilight was the first to recover. “Oh! I do!” Her horn flares to life as a scroll whisked from her desk to Jen’s hands.

Please extend an invitation to Jennifer Allen Pie to join me at Canterlot Castle this Friday evening. I would like the pleasure of her company from then until Sunday afternoon.

Princess Luna Equestris

“Well it’s very to the point isn’t it?” Jen chuckled and rolled the paper back up returning it to Twilight.

The unicorn gave a nod as she slipped the scroll into a desk drawer. “Yes, certainly more so than her sister.” Twilight couldn’t hide a frown at the mention of her currently incapacitated mentor, a secret she was keeping from almost everypony.
Cheerilee cleared her throat gently and Twilight blinked out of her reverie. “Oh! Jennifer this is Miss Cheerilee, she’s going to be your new teacher come Monday morning.”

Turning a bright smile to her soon-to-be teacher Jen couldn’t hide a slight wince at the mares flinching away from her braces. “It’s nice to meet you. And no they’re not there to tear through bones, they’re straightening my teeth.”

“Oh! Really? Why that’s so clever! What an interesting idea.” Jen knelt down to give the suddenly excited teacher a clearer view of her braces. “Oh yes I see now. I know I shouldn’t be listening to silly rumors but you know how it can be sometimes. You should consider paying a visit to Dr. Bright White, I’m sure she’d love to see those.”

Her smile returning full force Jen nodded and had a seat on the floor. “It’s alright. I haven’t exactly been helping my case scaring the foals the last couple weeks. And a visit to the dentist would probably be a good idea, I’m supposed to have these things tightened now and then. Maybe she can figure something out.”

Cheerilee was visibly relaxing the longer she sat in her future student’s company. Just from the brief chat is was clear that while she may be unorthodox she was in fact the same as any filly in her class, if a bit closer to being a full grown mare than most of her charges.

“Well Jennifer I suppose I’ll be seeing you bright and early Monday morning. Enjoy your weekend!” Cheerilee made her way from the library…leaving the book on monkeys behind.

Jen picked it up with a bemused grin. “Was she hoping to study me out of this?”

Twilight just rolled her eyes and levitated the book from her grasp. “You can’t fault her for being a LITTLE out of sorts. You’re an alien from another dimension after all. And very few ponies have even heard of your world let alone been there personally.”

Conceding the point with a nod Jen got to her feet. “Well I am now out of stuff to do today and it’s…not even lunch time yet. I’ll catch ya later Twilight.”

“Oh! Well have a nice day. Don’t get into trouble!”

Taking the steps four at a time Jen hit the bottom of the staircase in no time. “Have fun in there Spike!” The shaking of a little purple fist was Jen and Dinky’s goodbye as they left the library. The filly handing the human her iPod.
“I really liked that! And the stretchy talking dog is funny.”

“Yeah Jake’s pretty rad. I should show you some of the later episodes. It’s a pretty great show.”

Wide eyed Dinky looked up at her. “There’s MORE?”

With a shrug Jen slid her hands back in her front pocket. “Oh yeah like…a ton. A hundred or something by now I’m sure. Maybe we can watch more of em later.”

A streak of grey interrupted whatever Dinky was about to say, as a powder grey pegasus plowed into a snowdrift right in front of the pair. Jen let out a startled shriek and fell on her butt in the snow, while Dinky just rolled her eyes and trotted over to grip the bright yellow tail in her teeth, heaving the crash victim out of the snow.

Jen found herself unable to look away from the decidedly wall-eyed gaze of the pegasus mare before her. Good eye shifting from the human to the filly the older mare frowned. “Dinky are you bothering this nice uh…girl?”

With a quick shake of her head Dinky let the pony’s tail fall from her mouth. “No momma, Jen shared her muffin with me and we walked all over Ponyville together! She’s really nice!”

The mare, Dinky’s mom looked back up to Jen offering an apologetic smile. “I hope my little muffin hasn’t been bothering you miss. She can be a bit of a hoofful.” She ruffled the filly’s mane with a forehoof.

Shaking her head Jen smiled back. “Oh not at all ma’am, she’s very well behaved.”

Through what looked like a supreme amount of effort the mare focused both of her eyes on the girls face. “Well I appreciate you looking after her. I’m Ditzy Doo by the way, Dinky’s mom. The post office is getting slammed with Hearth’s Warming mail already and I’ve been more out of sorts than usual.”

Waving it off Jen’s grin grew. “Really it was no problem. I was just running some errands. No trouble at all.”

Nodding Ditzy looked back to her filly. “Alright muffin I gotta get back to the route. You behave ok? And I’ll see you for dinner.” With a kiss to her daughters head Ditzy slung her saddle bags filled with mail back across her flanks and was off into the air.

Watching the mail mare vanish around the street Jen looked back down at Dinky. “Don’t suppose she slipped a few bits for lunch in your mane did she?”

With another sigh Dinky shook her head. “Don’t sweat it. I’ll get us something to eat in a bit. You wanna head over to the park til then? I haven’t gotten to spend much time over there.”

An eager nod was the filly’s reply as she was off like a rocket on those stubby legs of hers. Jen trailing behind at a slightly slower pace. The park was packed with foals all over the playground and generally running about causing the sort of havoc only little kids could cause. There were a few parents here and there but for the most part it was something of a free for all. Still Jennifer had to admit she was impressed the way they naturally seemed to take turns or allow others to join in their games without missing a beat.

“Cutie Mark Crusader Bobsledders?”

“Oh oh! How about Cutie Mark Crusader Ice Fishers!”

“Ah know! We could be Cutie Mark Crusader Rescue Ponies!”

“How about Cutie Mark Crusader Snow Warriors?”

The three little fillies looked up to see a grinning human adolescent looking over them. Their classmate Dinky Doo peeking out from around her legs.

Applebloom perked right up of course. “Well howdy Jenny! Whatcha doin ‘round these parts t’day?” Jen had been living with her family the last few weeks while Pinkie Pie got other arrangements made for her and her new ward.

The little orange pegasus of the group butted in before Jen could answer. “What’s a snow warrior? It sounds pretty cool!”
The girls could see a glint in Jen’s eye as she knelt down. “Well…you take two teams. How about you three against me and Dinky? Each team builds a snow fort a little bit away from each other, then sticks a flag in their fort. The first team to get the others flag wins. BUT. If you get hit by a snowball you gotta go back to your own fort for a couple minutes.”

The trio immediately went into a little group huddle, no doubt discussing the slim chance of getting a cutie mark in such a pursuit…against how fun it sounded. Sweetie Belle peeked up first. “You’re on! …um…where do we get the flags?”

Jen gave a shrug. “Why don’tcha go see if your sister can whip something up for us while we get started on our forts.”

With an eager nod the little unicorn was off toward the boutique, while Jen trotted out into the clear field of the park. Using the toe of her shoe she drew a line, then jogged to the other end of the field and made another. “Alright crusaders, this’ll be YOUR base, and me and Dinky’ll be over there.” Digging out her iPod she set the stop watch to start. “We get a half hour to make our forts! Better get to it!”

The fillies of course jumped into the construction with gusto, while Jen led Dinky over to their construction site. The snow couldn’t be more perfect for packing as a set of crude walls began to take shape. It didn’t escape Jennifer’s notice that their antics were attracting attention from the other foals either. Spotting a familiar pair of colts she waved them over. “Congratulations, you guys have been drafted into team Doo! Get those walls built up boys.”

The chubby blue one exchanged a look with the gangly orange one…a bout of quick whispers between them and they rushed to aid in constructing the fort. With a nod toward the busy Applebloom and Scootaloo Jen sent a little white filly with a curly red mane to join the Crusaders team. Sweetie Belle returned before long bearing a pair of flags, one red and one blue…definitely of finer make than was necessary for the game at hand.

As the forts took shape the teams grew as more fillies and colts decided to join in. When Jen declared time was up both teams ducked behind their makeshift walls and came up with hasty battle plans. Soon snowballs were soaring through the air with abandon, dropping their targets left and right as both armies charged the field toward the others base.

After a particularly solid snowball smashed across her face, (courtesy of Applebloom) Jen’s attention was drawn upward by a braying guffaw. She spotted Rainbow Dash perched comfortably on a cloud over head. Her laughter was cut short as a perfectly launched snowball from the ground caught her full on in the snout.

“Ohh you’re gonna be sorry you did that little missy!” In a flurry of brightly colored streaks Dash was off and gathering an unsettling amount of heavy black clouds. Sensing her impending doom Jen tried to make it to some tree cover…alas for naught. In no time at all the weather pony was atop her stomping out a localized blizzard and burying the poor girl.

Finally digging herself out she was heartened to see Dinky Doo had claimed the Crusader’s flag for her team, winning the game and eliciting rounds of cheers from Team Doo and demands of a rematch from Team Crusader. Casting a baleful eye up at the again guffawing weather pony Jen shook some of the snow out of her hair.

Before she could come to the poor decision to launch another snowball at the brightly colored mare, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she realized Pinkie Pie was standing next to her. “Heya Jenny-bean! Goin for a swim in the snow?”

Brushing the last bits from her shoulder she offered a shrug. “Someone dropped a blizzard on me.”

“Hmm…well didja wanna get lunch? It’s closer to dinner time than lunchtime now but we can have a late lunch and a REALLY late dinner!”

Raising her eyebrows Jen checked the clock on her iPod. “Jeez it’s almost five? I can’t believe we’ve been out here this long.”

With a bubbly nod Pinkie grinned. “Yupperooni! Most of the grownups are here to get their fillies and colts. You didn’t notice?”

Looking around Jen did indeed see that a good number of adults had come to claim their foals. Even Ditzy crashed into the snow beside a laughing Dinky. “Huh, guess we were having so much fun I didn’t notice.” She gave a little chuckle. With a wave to Dinky and another glare at the smirking Rainbow Dash Jen followed Pinkie from the park.

“Iiiii have a surprise for you!” The party pony took off suddenly forcing Jen to run to keep up. It wasn’t much of a run fortunately…the exciting day was starting to wear on the girls recovering stamina a good deal. Pinkie stopped a couple blocks away in front of…a big empty space, gesturing proudly.

“It’s uh…really…empty?” Jen offered with a confused shrug.

“Well of course it is silly, our house isn’t on it yet! This is it! Our official home. Once the home is on the spot of course.” Pinkie was practically vibrating with excitement.

“Oh! Oh I can see it now. It looks like the perfect place for a house.” Offering her legal guardian a big smile Jen nodded, looking over the patch of land with as if examining it more critically. “Yeah it’ll be perfect Pinkie…I’m definitely excited to sleep passed sunrise again.”

A cheerful giggle and Pinkie was on the move again, back to Sugar Cube Corner. “I bet! The Apple family are definitely early risers!”

Stepping into the bakery Jen released a resigned sigh. The Cake’s baby foals Pound and Pumpkin were up and about…and both riveted their gazes on her as she entered. In seconds she had a giggling pegasus colt swinging from her hood and a cheerful unicorn filly, mouth firmly attached to her horn dangling before her vision.

Pinkie either didn’t notice or didn’t care about Jen’s distress, trotting to the kitchen to prepare a late lunch. Mrs. Cake offered an apologetic smile from behind the counter. “Sorry about them…they seem to really like you dearie.”

Lifting a hand to wave to the co-owner Jen grabbed a seat, maneuvering well enough despite her vision obscured by a dangling filly. “Hey Mrs. Cake. Not a problem, really.” Especially since forcibly removing either of the foals resulted in ear shattering shrieking. The mother claimed them soon enough, and neither offered much fuss…though both kept their eyes locked on Jen. A silent promise of future torment.

Pinkie bounded back out balancing a tray of sandwiches on her head. One peanut butter and jelly…the other what appeared to be chili peppers and pink icing. Wordlessly Jennifer claimed the peanut butter letting Pinkie devour her own…hideous conglomeration.

“So I was talkin to the mayor, she’s gonna talk to folks about starting a daycare for me to look after the kids after school.” Jen took a sip of the heavenly fresh squeezed lemonade Pinkie prepared just for her.

Eyes wide the earth pony swallowed a big bite of the god awful looking sandwich. “Wow that’s great Jenny-bean! I didn’t know you wanted to be a foal sitter!”

With a shrug Jen kept at her meal...making a visible effort to avoid looking at Pinkie’s food. “Well seems like a niche that needs filling, and I’d like to earn some of my own money. I feel bad mooching offa you and Applejack like you guys were my parents or something.”

If she hadn’t been so studiously ignoring Pinkie’s eccentric tastes in food Jen would have seen her companion’s smile dim. “Right…that’s pretty silly.”

“Yeah. So I figured I could spend a couple hours after school playing a movie or board games or whatever with them. Maybe make some after school snacks? I dunno…I guess I’ll think about it more if they approve it or whatever.” Finishing her sandwich Jen chugged the rest of her drink.

“Whatcha gonna play movies on? Isn’t your iPod thingie gonna run out of batteries soon? I thought you’d wanna save it as much as you can.” Pinkie tilted her head curiously.

“Oh! Well it’s a new model. Top of the line, lifetime battery.” Jen gave a little smile…when Pinkie looked away she fingered the jewel around her neck hidden under her shirt.

“Ooo neat! Well maybe you an me can watch one sometime!”

Standing to leave Jen nodded. “Sure that sounds fun. I got a couple good ones on here I think you’ll like. You could invite your friends too if you wanted, make it a little slumber party or something?”

“Hey that’s a great idea! Why don’t we do it tonight?”

Grinning at the sudden enthusiasm Jen shrugged. “Why not? I’m gonna head back to the farm so I’ll let AJ know if you wanna tell the others. We’ll meetcha back here when she’s done with her chores around the farm.”

“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie chirped in her sing-song manner. “See ya in a little bit then Jenny-bean!”

With a wave Jen slipped out of the bakery and made her way back to her temporary home. The Apples had been very kind to her. For the first week or so she’d mostly spent her time loafing around the farm house, or napping in the living room with Granny Smith, (much to Applejack’s amusem*nt). The oldest of the Apple family always had a colorful story for Jen, who found them unbelievable until Applejack firmly confirmed that they were indeed all true.

When she wasn’t busy with school or engaged in another hare brained scheme to earn her cutie mark, Applebloom was hovering around Jennifer bombarding her with a seemingly endless barrage of questions about the human world. Big Mac accepted her presence the same way he did any other guests, with few words but warm intentions. The huge stallion always made it a point to help her up and down the stairs in the mornings and evenings while she was still more or less stuck in the wheel chair.

There were things she missed about home of course. Internet and TV for one. Though her yearning for those eased as she got healthy enough to be up and about, wandering around the town and browsing the market. She was also missing meat, and that specific desire hadn’t eased with time. The ponyfolk made great food. Awesome salads, freshest fruit, delicious pastries. But they didn’t make hamburgers. They didn’t have her beloved spicy chicken from Wendy’s.

“Hm…maybe it’s time for another visit to Uncle Derek.” Again her fingers toyed with the gem around her neck. Then she stopped. Every now and then she’d feel eyes on her…as if someone was watching. Whipping her head from side to side she caught a flash of an aquamarine coat as a pony ducked out of sight and into some trees.

“…swear that’s like the fifth time I’ve caught that one spying on me.” With a frown she approached the trees and activated the very first bit of magic she ever learned, the Find It charm she had named it. Her horn pointed her unerringly into the little thicket and she jumped through. “Alright! Who are you and why do you keep spying on me!”

She was surprised to find a rather ordinary unicorn mare, (‘ordinary’ is not something she ever thought she’d attach to ‘unicorn). About average size, her coat was a lovely aquamarine teal, and her mane the same with white streaks. Large golden eyes stared up at the angry human. She bore a cutie mark of a lyre on both flanks.

Finally the unicorn opened her mouth. “I’m your biggest fan!”

Chapter 2: Sleepover

Jen was pretty sure if her eyebrows raised any faster they’d fly off her head. The obviously excited, (and maybe a little crazy) unicorn mare before her had the same look she’d seen frenzied fan girls reserve for meeting whatever boy band of the month was popular on her face.

“Uh…well…thanks?” Rubbing the back of her head Jen eyed her again. She seemed harmless enough really. “I’m Jen but I guess you know that.”

The unicorn nodded excitedly. “Jennifer Allen Pie! Bested Discord in one on one combat! Single HANDedly saved Equestria! Recovered the mythical Sword of Harmony aaaaand close personal friend of Princess Luna!”

Now her mouth was hanging open as well. “Uh…well I mean…I guess technically three of those are true…I AM Jennifer Allen…the ghost in my sword is the one who beat Discord…though I DID find the sword. I sure as heck didn’t single handedly save Equestria. In fact I was pretty much the groups map slash compass. And Princess Luna and I have talked like…three times. Twice was in my dreams.”

“Hmm.” A soft glow formed around the unicorns’ horn as she extracted a pencil and notepad from the saddlebags at her side. Jen caught a glance of the header on the page “Many Amazing Qualities of the Human Hero of Equestria” …as the unicorn added ‘modest’ on there. Snapping the pad and pencil away she turned her gaze back to the human girl who was rapidly losing her nerve. “I’m Lyra, Lyra Heartstrings!” She extended her hoof.

Hesitantly Jennifer made a fist and gave her a bump…much to Lyra’s seeming disappointment. “Uh…nice to meet you Lyra. I should probly get goin…stuff to do and all.” Taking careful steps back as if she were being confronted by one of the giant spider’s in the dark caves again Jen began to edge toward the farm.

“Wait! Wait please don’t go! I’m uh…I’m sorry I’m a little…worked up is all! Everypony used to call me crazy because I believed in humans and now you’re here and I’m being super creepy and totally blowing my chance!”

The sheer desperation in her voice caused Jen’s steps to falter and the girl frowned a little. “It’s…cool. I’m a little shy I guess. Definitely never had a fan or anything. I really DO have something to do tonight but uh…we can talk some tomorrow afternoon? I got nothing goin on then.”

A smile found its way back to Lyra’s face; fortunately it was a lot less manic. “That’d be awesome! D’you mind if I bring my fillyfriend? I really wanna rub how right I was in her face.”

Jen rubbed the back of her neck feeling the nervousness rising again. “Ehe…uh…yeah I mean if she wants to come, sure…”

“Great! How about lunch at the café? Just down the street from Golden Oaks, my treat!”

“Sounds…” Lyra was already dashing back toward town. “…good?” Shaking her head Jen took a deep breath and continued up the path to Sweet Apple Acres, nudging open the wooden gate and heading up the path. Almost the second her foot hit the path up to the farm house the excited baying of a beagle greeted her ears as her dog came charging off the porch making a beeline for her master.

Steeling herself against the coming impact Jen knelt down and caught the excited dog. Ever since Izzy had started spending time with Winona on the farm she’d been perking up more and more. She was barely recognizable as the lazy dog that slept most of the day away. After a few furious belly rubs Jen got up and her dog fell into step with her.

“Heh, got ourselves an official Jenny alarm right there.” Glancing up Jen was greeted by the Stetson clad earth pony Applejack. While the eldest of the family was Granny Smith, Applejack was widely acknowledged as the de facto owner of the farm. “Didja git all yer runnin' around taken care of then?”

“Yup! Got a new backpack from Rarity, invitation from the princess, lunch with Pinkie, and spent the day in the park with a whole pack of kids. We’re invited to a sleepover tonight by the way. I figured since its Saturday and your trees are all kinda…not needing bucking for a bit yet you’d be free.”

“Well shoot sounds like you had yerself a full day there sugarcube. Sleepover huh? Could be fun Ah reckon…long as Twi ain’t makin us follow a book or nothing.” The pair made their way toward the waiting farmhouse.

“Heh a book for slumber parties? Not even Twilight would…” At the look Applejack sent her way she faltered. “…wow really?”

“Yup. Had me an Rarity doin’ everythin’ by the book. Turned out t’be a fun night after all’s said an done but it was a mite touch an go for a bit there.” The farm pony cast a glance toward Jen’s midriff. “How’s the belly doin t’day?”

Jen wore a chipper smile as she shrugged. “Good as new! Bit more running around today than I think the doctor wanted but it’s just a little sore, I barely feel it.”

“Mmhm. So ALMOST good as new.”

“Ehe…yeah I guess almost. Still…I feel good.” Jen got the door as they entered the cheery farm house. She made her way upstairs, sparing a glance at the dozing elder of the family slowly rocking back and forth in her old chair.

At the end of the hall was the guest room she’d been staying in. Making her way past the Apple family’s bedrooms she gently shut the door to her own. Shucking her hoodie on the floor by the bed she flopped on it backwards with a happy groan. “Ugh…haven’t felt this tired in a while.”

Delicately she removed the chain from her neck, staring into the colorfully swirling jewel on the end of it. The other half was who knows where…carried by the most eccentric of the folk she had met in Equestria so far, Discord. The jewel contained exactly one half of the powerful beings magic…it’s corrupting influence kept under control by the sword she wore on her arm. She’d been warned not to use it but…a little side trip to her house back on Earth for some necessities…and super charging her iPod to never run out of juice weren’t REALLY huge uses. Well maybe the dimensional trip was but she’d only done it twice!

Setting the jewel aside she slid the leather sleeve that bound the Sword of Harmony to her arm off, and gently rested the jewel in the cleverly concealed scabbard within the shield. Just being near the sword and shield combo muted the gem, so when it was placed inside she couldn’t even feel the magical warmth it radiated. “Wish I knew how to get you to talk to me again.”

During the fight with Discord in the ancient unicorn castle the sword manifested the spirit of its previous bearer, a knight named Bleeding Heart. It was actually Bleeding Heart that had defeated Discord while Jen nearly bled to death in the snow. The spirit had spoken to her, just the once before the fight was over.

Setting her weapon aside she looked to the charm bracelet on her wrist. A delicate silver chain with three charms, an earth pony, pegasus, and unicorn. Princess Luna had told her with this she could become any of the three at will, a tool to help her choose which tribe she ultimately wanted to belong to. She hadn’t tested it yet…Luna said it could put a strain on her body and it wasn’t safe to use while recovering. Now that she had…more and more her eyes lingered on the tiny winged pony on the bracelet.

With a shrug she swung back to her feet and grabbed the crazy comfy silk pajamas Rarity had crafted for her, tucking them into her pack. Looking around the sparsely furnished room she frowned a touch. Just about everything of value she owned she had acquired here in Equestria, from the various magical trinkets to the ever growing wardrobe Rarity seemed intent on providing. Still it sounded like Pinkie would have a house of their own for the two of them soon enough, and if her potential job took off she could fill it with stuff of her own.

With that uplifting though she tucked the shield into her pack…carrying it on her arm all day got bothersome. It wasn’t heavy at all…just the foreign feel of her arm being covered all day was taking some getting used to. Throwing her hoodie back on she grabbed her toothbrush from the bathroom and bounded back downstairs to find Applejack ready and waiting with a saddlebag across her flank.

“All set?”

At the girl’s nod the pair set out to Ponyville proper. The trip through the orchard was quiet, leaving Jen to look about at the bare trees. “I bet this place is gorgeous in the spring time.”

The farm pony tipped her hat back and shot a wink up at the human. “Sure is. Just y’all wait til it’s in full bloom. Reckon even after you an Pinkie’re settled in yer own place ya’ll be seein plenty of it what with the uh…tryin’ out different ponyfolk thingie ya got comin up. Can’t think of a better way t’learn about bein an earth pony than applebuckin' on the farm here.”
Jennifer nodded in agreement with a little smile. “I think that’ll be fun. We didn’t have a lot of farms around where I lived.”
“Heh heh…maybe we’ll get some muscle on them string bean arms an legs of yers while we’re at it.” Applejack gave the admittedly skinny girl a good natured nudging.

“Hmph…not string bean. I’m just…”

“A beanpole? Scarecrow? Celery stalk?”

Pursing her lips in a pout Jen suddenly lunged forward and snatched the Stetson off Applejack’s head. “I’m just the owner of this here fancy hat!” With a laugh she slapped the hat on her head and took off like a shot down the path.

Applejack stared in shock for a minute. She remembered the younger Jennifer from several years ago. The girl was almost shy enough to put Fluttershy to shame, keeping herself hidden behind Pinkie, (Calling herself Pennie at the time) more often than not on their picnic meetings back in the human world. Naturally she hadn’t seen her in action on the road during the race she’d been engaged against Discord in, but from what her friends had told her little Jenny had come a long way from those days.

With a snort Applejack kicked into a gallop after the fleeing girl. “Better work them string bean legs sugarcube! If I catch ya yer goin for a snowbath!”

-Pinkie Pie-

The Cake’s watched their assistant baker work with a touch of worry. Only somepony who’d known the bubbly pink mare for as long as they had would be able to recognize the signs of something bothering her. A casual observer would see nothing wrong as she bounced about the kitchen with a cheery grin. Carrot and Cup Cake however had gotten quite adept at reading her moods. A missed note in a song, the spring in her step faltering for just a moment all added up to a Pinkie Pie that had something weighing on her mind. At least her mane wasn’t flat this time…

Sharing a look with his wife Carrot Cake went out to tend the counter while Cup Cake trotted into the kitchen with Pinkie. “How’s that order coming dearie?”

Pinkie turned her shining blue gaze on Mrs. Cake with a bright smile. “Just about done Mrs. Cake! Last batch is goin in the oven now.”

“Good! Good. We can always count on you to fill those big orders fast Pinkie.” The older mare started in on the dishes while her assistant started clearing the counters. “So…Princess Luna’s helping the building of your house along hm?”

“Oh!” There it was, the smile faltering before snapping back to its usual size. “Yup! She sent some spiffy court unicorns along to speed the building up. I think I’ll be ready to move out in a couple weeks at this rate.”

“Excited? Getting your own home is a very big step in a pony’s life after all. I remember when Carrot and I first moved in here. Oh we were so nervous!”

The smile had shrunk then faded altogether to a look of contemplation on Pinkie’s face. “I am excited about the house. And a little nervous I guess. But…”

Mrs. Cake slowed in her cleaning and turned to face Pinkie. “It’s that girl isn’t it? The…human? You’re worried about her.”
Pinkies eyes flicked up from studying her hooves to meet Mrs. Cake’s. “I just…I left her once before Mrs. Cake. I knew she needed me…how much she depended on me, and I left. I really, REALLY hurt her and now I’m expecting her to move in and live with me! I don’t know WHAT I was thinking! I can’t be a…a…”

Eyes widening a bit with realization at the source of Pinkie’s nerves Mrs. Cake let out a long breath. “A parent?” Pinkie’s mouth snapping shut was all the confirmation the older mare needed. “Pinkie Pie…she’s almost a full grown mare as it is.”
With a little huff Pinkie rolled her eyes. “I know that Mrs. Cake. But that’s just it…she’s ALMOST full grown. That means she’s NOT full grown yet! And she’s a good girl, really really she is! But she can be lazy…she’d sleep through her alarm and miss school if her mom didn’t practically roll her out of bed in the morning! Pretty soon it’s going to be MY job to roll her out of bed in the morning! What if she gets mad at me? What if she HATES me for it!?”

She sucked in a deep breath. “And the way she eats….ate…she loves junk food! And…and…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “She looooooved meat.” Mrs. Cake gasped softly. “I know I know…but all humans ate it. She’s not about to start eating somepony here, humans mostly eat cows and chickens and stuff but I know she misses it a lot. But how can I tell somepony else to eat healthy when I eat cupcakes and candy all day every day?!” By the end of her rant she was breathing heavily.

To Pinkie’s growing annoyance Mrs. Cake was smiling. “Pinkie Pie…she might look a little…” She waved a hoof searching for the words. “...unusual. But Jennifer sounds like any other filly. Sometimes a teenager needs a good kick in the flank to get them going the right direction. You’ll probably have to be stern at times, and she’s probably going to hate you for it when you are.” Pinkie’s eyes widened in horror at that, but the bright blue mare continued. “But at the end of the day, when all’s said and done? When she’s a little older and A LOT smarter…she’ll look back at what you did and she’ll thank you for it. And she’ll love you all the more for it. I can tell she cares about you almost as much as you do about her.”

Pinkie planted her rump on the floor digesting all this information. “What if I do a bad job? What if she runs away from ME too? I just dunno what to think anymore Mrs. Cake. At first it sounded fun! Like…a slumber party that never ended. But now I’m thinking about all sorts of stuff…like when she’s sick I’m the one who has to take care of her. I gotta make sure she’s eating, and I gotta know she’s safe and all sorts of stuff!”

Master joined apprentice on the floor, as Mrs. Cake leaned against her beleaguered assistant comfortingly. “At least you don’t have to change her diapers?” That brought a smile to the pink pony’s face. “Being a mother is terrifying Pinkie Pie. I’m not going to lie to you. Every time Pound and Pumpkin aren’t in sight of me I just start thinking of all the terrible things that COULD be happening.” Pinkie’s ears were starting to droop. “But as scary as it is, it’s just as wonderful. Seeing their first steps…their first words. Pound Cake flying, Pumpkin using her magic. It’s all wonderful and magical and exciting and terrifying all at once. Now your filly might be passed most of her ‘firsts’ but that doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of wonderful, scary, magical moments with her. It IS going to be hard, and it’s not always going to be fun…but if you love her Pinkie Pie, I PROMISE you it’ll all work out wonderfully in the end.”

As her employer spoke slowly Pinkie’s mood began to perk back up. “You know what? You’re absolutely right Mrs. Cake. After all nothing worth having is easy right?!”

With a chuckle her companion stood as well. “You’re absolutely right dear. And I’m glad I could help.” They shared a brief hug…and Mrs. Cake glanced back and forth conspiratorially. “…did YOU have meat while you were over there?” Slowly Pinkie nodded. “…how was it?”

With a shifty glance around of her own Pinkie whispered. “…really good.”

-Jennifer-

A proud Applejack held the door open for the walking snow mound, Stetson once more perched proudly atop the mares head. “After you sugarcube.”

A disgruntled grunt was the snow monsters response as she shuffled in, shaking more and more of the powdery white substance off herself and gradually revealing a beleaguered human teenager. Mr. Cake’s look of alarm at the alien creature shuffling in relaxed noticeably when it was revealed to be a familiar alien creature with a snow topping. “Can I get you girls something?”

“Nothin’ fer me thanks, though I bet the filly’d like some hot chocolate.” Applejack lobbed a couple bits onto the counter. “Maybe some marshmallows too.”

A shivering nod came from Jen as she took a seat as far from the drafty door as she could find. With a bemused grin the owner ducked into the kitchen, returning soon with a steamy mug that he set on the table before the half-frozen girl. “Enjoy. Pinkie’s cleaning up with the missus; she’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Thank ya kindly Mr. Cake.” With a tip of her hat in his direction Applejack joined Jen at her table. After a few sips of the cocoa Jen fumbled with her pack, rummaging for a moment and drawing out the colorful jewel, hastily throwing the chain around her neck. Almost instantly relief flooded her face, the faint tinge of blue leaving her lips as she tucked the gem under her hoodie. Eyebrow raised Applejack just stared, not needing to vocalize the question.

After another big gulp from her drink Jen finally answered. “I found the sword thanks to the jewel; it was getting really hot the closer me and Rainbow got to it. Probly cause the magic doesn’t like each other or something, I dunno. Once he split it in half though, it just stays nicely warm. And keeps ME nicely warm.”

With a slow nod AJ focused at the point around the girls’ chest the jewel would be resting. “Was wonderin’ why ya weren’t seemin' to be bothered by the cold none. I know ya got that hoodie thing Rarity made for ya but even so, it’s been a chilly winter so far. That thing’s safe right?”

“Yeah. I mean it is thanks to the sword. The magic drove Discord crazy…it’s what made a normal human dude turn into a berserk chaos monster. It was whispering at me for a while, but the second I found the sword it stopped. I guess it’s stronger than Discord.” Eyeing the mug dubiously Jen worked her mouth open wide enough to take in a few of the floating mallows within the drink at her next gulp.

Another nod was the farmers’ slow response. “So long as they’re t’gether…there’s nothing t’worry about?”

“Yup! Safe as can be! I’m not about to let myself turn into a nutbag like Discord was. And if it was really dangerous the Princess woulda taken it from me right? Instead of gently implying.”

Unable to argue with that logic Applejack shrugged. “S’pose that’s true. How come ya ain’t wearin' yer sword now anyhow?”
Jen gave a shrug of her own glancing at her heavy camping pack. “I think seeing someone walk around with a weapon on their arm makes some folk a little nervous. I’ve got it in my bag so it’s still with me.”

The bell over the door jingled merrily as Rarity arrived, Fluttershy in tow. The butter yellow pegasus was looking unusually perky. Typically she had her head lowered, ready to hide behind her thick mane at any second. “You girls should really join us on our spa days; they simply do wonders for the mane.” They joined the already seated pair.

The pegasus nodded with her unicorn friends words. “It really is very relaxing. And it’s nice to have something to do…I always have so much free time on my hands come winter when all my animal friends start hibernating.”

Shrugging non-chalantly Jen finished off the rest of her mug. “Maybe when I find a job and can pay for it myself.”

The trio of ponies exchanged a surprised look. “A job? Yer just a filly sugarcube, don’t gotta worry about workin' til yer done with school.”

“So most ponies that’re sixteen are still in school?” Jen wasn’t exactly a repository of knowledge on Equestrian behavior, but she’d learned a thing or two from Twilight.

This caused the three to share another look, Rarity the one to speak now. “Well no…typically by their thirteenth birthday a pony will have his or her cutie mark and be apprenticed to their future profession. But you’re an extenuating circ*mstance.”
“Exactly!” Fluttershy ‘eep’d’ softly at Jennifer’s sudden exclamation. “I’m not arguing the point of needing school; I think it’s a good idea to learn history and stuff. But I’m sixteen,” (“ALMOST sixteen!” a voice chirped from the kitchen…a voice Jen chose to ignore) “even back home I should have a part time job or something.”

“Well normally Ah’d be all for an extra pair of uh, hands on the farm. But there ain’t all that much t’do come winter…cept for knockin' the frost off the trees when it gets too thick now an again.”

“Oh someone to help care for the animals would be just lovely…” Jen looked eager. “…of course they’re all hibernating until springtime.” Seeing the crestfallen look on the girl’s face Fluttershy retreated into her mane. “Um…sorry.”

“You can’t sew, and I can’t exactly use you as a model so I don’t have much I can offer either I’m afraid. Didn’t Pinkie want to have you help here in the kitchen?” Rarity tilted her head questioningly.

Images flashed through Jen’s head…a kitchen aflame and the Cake family rushing about in a panic. “Er…it didn’t work out.”
“Well Twi’s got Spike doin' most of the assistant type work in the library. And ya can’t exactly help Rainbow with the weather patrol.”

Jen fidgeted with the charm bracelet around her wrist. Now THERE was an idea. And it sounded pretty cool to boot. Of course even if she had wings it’s not like she knew how to use them…knowing her luck she’d end up crashing and breaking her neck. “Well I was talking to the mayor about an idea earlier so maybe something will come of that.”

The ponies looked curious but Jen didn’t seem in the mood to vocalize what the conversation had been about. The little bell over the door ringed again heralding the arrival of Twilight Sparkle. “Hello girls. I’ve got Spike busy getting the library ready for us, and look!” She whipped out a scroll of parchment and waved it under the noses of the three ponies and one human. “I condensed the information in the book to a checklist! Now our fun will be that much more efficient!”

A chorus of groans met the suddenly bewildered unicorn’s announcement. “I thought Applejack was joking about a book on slumber parties.” Jen looked the list over critically. While she hadn’t been the height of popularity back home she knew enough about the subject of sleeping over to tell this book was probably intended for middle-schoolers and MAYBE early high schoolers. A bunch of adults, (she naturally counted herself among that number…erroneously) probably wouldn’t have as much fun.

“We could uh…do all this. Or we could like…make some popcorn and watch movies?” Jen fished her iPod out of the front pocket of her hoodie.

The ponies squinted dubiously at it. “It’s a mite small there sugarcube.”

Jen gave a little grunt. “Well I know that…can’t Twilight just…science the picture bigger?”

Now four sets of eyes were turned to the unicorn in question who snorted incredulously. “SCIENCE it bigger? You make it sound like science is magic. You might as well ask if I can just MAGIC it bigger.”

The other four at the table looked at one another, than back at Twilight. “Can you MAGIC it bigger?”

Twilight opened her mouth to snap a response…then closed it again eyeing the device thoughtfully. “…yes. I believe I can.” Now the group looked a good deal more excited. “Are you girls sure you want to do this? I mean…the list…” She feebly wiggled the checklist again.

It was Rarity who stepped up this time. “Why don’t we start with some of Jennifer’s movies…and then we can move on to some of the activities on the checklist hmm? We can even have everypony take turns deciding what to do this evening. That certainly seems fair.”

A chorus of nods and agreements rose at that. Even Twilight seemed somewhat mollified, gripping the little device in her magic and floating it from Jen’s hand. “Alright I’ll head back to the library and get it set up.”

Jen waved the others off standing herself. “Why don’t you guys go with her? I’ll wait for Pinkie then go get Rainbow. She’s probly still hovering around the park like a giant blue buzzard.”

The four ponies trotted out toward the Golden Oaks Library, as Jen made her way to the kitchen. Instantly Mr. Cake looked apprehensive. “Ah…no cooking right?”

Holding up her hands as if showing she carried no weapons within them Jen nodded in the affirmative. “No sir, just checking on Pinkie.”

With a smile to the stallion Jen ducked into the kitchen. “Hey Pinkie, hello Mrs. Cake.”

Both mares turned to regard the girl, Pinkie smiling brightly while the heavy set blue mare eyed Jennifer warily…specifically her mouth. “Hello dearie…Pinkie and I were just talking about you in fact.”

Seeing a clean spot on one of the counters Jen meandered over and hopped up on it, taking a seat. “Oh yeah? Nothing bad I hope?”

The ponies shared a look and Mrs. Cake looked up at the girl. “The cows don’t…talk in your world do they?”

Hearing the apprehension in her voice it wasn’t really hard to riddle out what they’d been talking about. With a little laugh Jennifer shook her head. “No ma’am…in fact humans are the ONLY ones who talk back home. And the only sapient beings. If the stuff we uh….” She lowered her voice. “…eat could think we wouldn’t eat them. That’d be murder.”

Relief flooded the concerned looking matron’s face. “Oh goodness that’s so good to hear. I know it was silly but Pinkie got me all in a tizzy about it and I just had to ask.” She gave Pinkie a little nudge. “I’ll finish up here Pinkie Pie, you and Jennifer run along. I’m sure you have better things to do than hang around the kitchen all day.”

“Alrighty Mrs. Cake! And thanks again for the talk. It helped a lot.” Pony and human made their way from the kitchen to the upstairs…both crept passed the slumbering infants’ room to Pinkie’s, as the mare began to throw some necessities in her bag. Not trusting herself to talk quietly enough to keep the sleeping monsters from rising from their slumber, Jen waited until they were out the door before questioning.

“Whadja talk about? Everything ok?”

Pinkie didn’t look up at her as she responded. “Yupperooni! Everything’s a-okay! Let’s go find Dashie and get this party started!”

They made their way to the park before Jen glanced back to the pony at her side. “By the way I’m having lunch tomorrow with this…interesting unicorn I met this morning.”

Now Pinkie did glance up, her smile much more genuine. “Oooo you made a new friend?! Who? WHO?”

Jen couldn’t help but laugh at the excitable earth pony. “Her name’s Lyra. She was nice, if a little weird.”

Pinkie screeched to a halt. “Lyra? As in Lyra Heartstrings? As in crazily obsessed with all things human Lyra Heartstrings?”
Jennifer stopped too rubbing the back of her neck. “Uh…yes? Like I said she was a little weird, but she seemed nice enough.”

Her legal guardian didn’t hide her frown as they resumed their walk. “Well just to be safe I think maybe I should go with you.”
This brought an indignant snort from the girl. “I’m perfectly fine having lunch with somepony in the middle of the day in a public café Pinkie Pie.”

Chewing her lip Pinkie nodded slowly. “I know I know…I know you’re not a little filly it’s just…there’re rumors about Lyra. I mean she’s not DANGEROUS dangerous but…she’s REALLY into human stuff and I’m just worried she might do something…she normally wouldn’t.”

With a sigh Jen stopped walking again. “Well she’s bringing her uh…fillyfriend I think she said. So it won’t just be us.”
This seemed to dispel all of Pinkie’s concern. “Oh! She’s bringing Bon-bon?! Well that’s fine then. She’s a good influence on Lyra.”

Lacing her fingers behind her head Jen resumed their walk. “…when she says fillyfriend…?”

The earth pony gave a nod. “Girlfriend, yup.”

The girl grunted softly as she processed that information. It wasn’t that surprising when she thought of it…it seemed like there were ten mares to each stallion. “Fillyfriend. That’s cute. I swear the similarities between Earth and Equestria are crazy.”

Pinkie seemed to be mulling something over…which was very unusual. Generally when something was on her mind she just blurted it out. “You don’t need uh…the talk do you Jennifer?”

Jen looked down at Pinkie incredulously. “…no Pinkie Pie I do not need the birds and the bees talk from a hot pink pony with a trio of balloons on her butt.”

“Ha ha! Of course not! I was just joking with ya Jenny-bean!” Pinkie gave her a nudge as she trotted passed, effectively hiding the hurt look in her eyes.

Rolling her own eyes Jen started scanning the skies. “You are so random sometimes Pinkie.” Grinning as she spotted the multi-hued tail of her quarry dangling over the edge of a cloud, Jen balled up some snow and lobbed it with perfect accuracy…arcing up then landing with a wet SPLAT on her target.

Rocketing off the cloud came a streak of color followed by a screeching ‘yeeeeeeow!’ Rainbow Dash hovered in the air searching the ground, promises of doom flashing in her eyes. Like a brightly colored comet Dash flew at the ground, coming to a screeching halt and sending a wave of snow rolling over the girl and pony in its wake.

“Bwaaa ha ha! Didn’t learn your lesson the first time I see!” Dash grinned down as the pair dug themselves out of the snow. Pinkie gave a big ‘brrrr’ and shook herself out. Jen just brushed the snow off casually.

“We’re all having a big sleepover at the library. The other girls are already there, we came to find your lazy flank.” Pointedly flicking some snow at the hovering pegasus Jen turned toward the library.

“Sounds cool! Lemme grab some stuff from my place and I’ll see ya there!” And then she was off.

Jen and Pinkie made their way into the library. Twilight was staring intently at Jennifer’s little iPod sitting forlornly in the middle of the common room. The other element bearers and Twilight’s number one assistant Spike were giving the area a wide berth. Jen set her pack down and took a seat by the others. “So is she…doin it yet?”

Pinkie Pie nudged the door shut as she joined the group. Rarity only gave a slight nod, speaking in a hushed whisper. “Yes. She found the spell she thought would work in some new book of hers. She’s just about to start it.”

Quieting down the girl joined the ponies in rapt attention as Twilight’s horn flared to life. The unicorns’ eyes were shut tightly, and Jen could see her mouth moving as she silently mouthed…something to herself. The magenta glow around her horn spread to cover the little iPod, then with a bright flash the little iPod was suddenly the size of a big screen TV. “Holy cow Twilight that was awesome!”

The glow faded from her horn as Twilight Sparkle let out a long breath. “Whew…that one took some doing.”

The ponies crowded around their friend to offer congratulations and support while the human approached her giant sized iPod. Using both hands she pressed in the power and grinned as the screen flickered to life. “Looks like we’re in business!”
The front door burst open as Rainbow Dash let herself inside. The pegasus blinking at the curious sight of Jen, Spike, and her pony friends in the midst of standing Jennifer’s little music device blown up to giant size, up against the wall. Tossing her bag atop the others she zipped over, steadying the upper corner opposite of Fluttershy. Soon the huge device was standing against the wall. Jen took the now-giant sized ear buds and plopped them on either side of the room.

“Instant surround sound.” The girl grinned. “So! I dunno what kinda stuff you girls’re into? What’d you see when you were visiting?” She was met with six blank stares. “…didn’t any of you go see a movie?”

Dash and AJ exchanged a look. “Well we were busy with learnin’ all the sports y’all had over there.”

“I was studying human fashion, and working on a few designs.”

“Oh well…I was so busy with my job I um…didn’t have much free time…sorry…”

Twilight just huffed. “I was busy with my studies. We weren’t there to have fun!”

“I was!” Pinkie less than helpfully put in. “Of course I had all my fun with Jenny and we never went to the movies…”

Chewing her lip Jen pondered the options. She’d definitely overloaded the iPod on all sorts of entertainment from home courtesy of a shot of chaos magic. “Well then we’ll start with the best of the best. Everypony…I give you...” Turning to the giant sized trinket she mashed several of the buttons. “…Ghostbusters!”

Spike was still setting up refreshments as the movie began. While the non-human folk got settled in gazing almost hypnotized at the screen, Jen went around closing curtains, blowing out candles, and making the common room as theatresque as she could. Satisfied the ambience was properly established she took a seat on the floor, Pinkie Pie immediately resting her head on the girl’s shoulder from her seat on the couch.

At first a bit leery of her choice once she thought more on it, it did have a bit of strong language and who knows how the ponies would react to some of the more ghoulish creatures (particularly Fluttershy), Jen relaxed more as the native Equestrians were laughing with the movie. She had to explain a few cultural differences, but for the most part the ponies and one baby dragon seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience.

“I can’t believe they crossed the streams!”

“Didja see that big marshmallow feller explode?”

“And what a lovely red gown she was wearing…until she turned into a horrible monster of course.”

Even Fluttershy seemed to’ve enjoyed her first movie experience. “I liked the little green ghost…”

All eyes went from the rolling credits to the bemused girl sitting on the floor. “Well?” Twilight was the first to speak.

“Er…well what?”

With a snort Dash was off the couch wings flapping. “Start another one!”

A chorus of agreement from the others had Jennifer smiling and on her feet. “Ghostbusters 2?”

Several passing ponies on the street peered curiously at the darkened library from the sudden chorus of ‘yeeeeeah!’ emitting within.

-Later-

The clang of steel on steel rang loudly in the girls ears. Each time her foes sword smashed against her shield or her own feebly moving blade it sent ringing vibrations through her arms. Everything hurt…she could barely stay on her feet, let alone lift her shield to block each lightning fast strike. A cruel grin split the shadowy creatures face as it shrieked and gave a blindingly fast cross slash. With a quiet groan the girl let her blade fall from numb fingers, feebly clutching at her stomach in a vain attempt to staunch the sudden blood flow. She toppled over…and was still…

“Nah!” Jennifer sat up breathing heavily, a faint sheen of sweat covering her skin. With a scowl she threw the sleeping bag off and slowly rose to her feet. Colorful slumbering ponies lay all about the common room of the library. A quick glance at the clock on the wall showed it was almost three in the morning. With a resigned sigh…knowing there would be no more sleep tonight she carefully tip toed around the ponies and slipped out the back door into the cool night air.

She paused only long enough to take her weapon from its place on the floor by the door, sliding it on. The gem around her neck filled her with magical warmth…and though she knew she SHOULD be freezing without her hoodie or her shoes…it felt like a pleasant summer’s evening outside. Despite the circ*mstances of her wakefulness, she couldn’t hide a smile at the feeling of the snow beneath her bare feet. It just felt cool, like walking on fresh grass.

Making her way away from the library she strolled through the slumbering town. Not a soul was awake at this late hour, and her post-midnight walks were something of a common ritual for her in the last couple of weeks. The nightmares weren’t new at all, but she hadn’t been healthy enough to take long strolls until recently. Absently running her hand along the ugly scar at her stomach she criss crossed alleys and strolled down the charming little roads. Smirking now and again at the terrible horse themed puns most of the street names elicited.

“Trouble sleeping again?”

With a start Jen whirled to see Fluttershy peering meekly through her mane at the girl. “Oh no did I startle you? I’m sorry…” She seemed to shrink even further into her mane.

With a little laugh Jen shook her head. “It’s alright…I’m not used to anypony being awake around now is all. I forget you can be something of a night owl too.”

The gentle pegasus calmed seeing Jen wasn’t upset, and nodded. “Oh yes…many of the critters I look after are nocturnal. I have to be ready to help any of them at any time.” She eyed the girl with concern. She was only wearing a short pair of shorts and the silk pajama top Rarity had made her. “Aren’t you cold?”

With a shake of her head Jen resumed her walk, Fluttershy falling into step with her. “Nah. Discords gem keeps me warm. It’s pretty nice actually.”

They were taking a long winding trip through Ponyville. Keeping their voices to a whisper, no sense in waking up everypony in town because she had a nightmare. “Do you want to talk about it? The nightmare I mean.”

The girl gave a non-committal shrug. “What’s to say? I fight, get cut to ribbons, I die, I wake up.”

Despite her flippant tone the intelligent pegasus could see right through her bravado. “That’s a terrible thing for anypony to go through, let alone one so young. It’s alright to be upset about it.”

Another shrug. “I’m upset…but what good is whining about it going to do? I’ll get over it.” Jennifer was careful to avoid meeting Fluttershy’s eyes. Her recovery wasn’t a painless affair, and the pegasus had helped her a good deal in her recovery as a make-shift physical therapist. Her body had undergone a serious trauma and it took a lot of work to get her strength back. There were days when she wanted to just laze in bed, and it was Fluttershy’s unyielding gaze that forced her up and about.

Not deterred and unusually insistent the pegasus spread her wings and with a few gentle flaps she was airborne, circling around to face the stubborn teen, flying backwards and forcing her to look her in the eye. “It always feels better to share what’s worrying you with a sympathetic ear. I care, we ALL care. But I’m here, and I’m ready to listen.” She even crossed her forelegs over her chest. “In fact…I insist…if…if that’s alright.”

Jen fought it, but couldn’t stop from smiling a little. She secretly loved to watch Fluttershy fly. She didn’t have the athletic speed of Rainbow Dash of course, but her movements were so much more graceful. She definitely had a larger wing span, the limbs rising and falling in slow steady beats more akin to the butterflies adorning her flank than the wild flailing Rainbow got up to.

They’d somehow wound up near the library again, the branches creaking gently in the night’s wind. Putting her back against the trunk Jen sank to the ground, just settling in the snow. Slowly Fluttershy lowered herself to the ground, tucking her wings in. They sat in silence for a time before Jen finally spoke. “I’m fine during the day y’know? Everything’s always so lively and active; I don’t really have time to think about it.”

Fluttershy settled right up against Jennifer, one forehoof over her hand in a comforting gesture. “But at night…when it’s quiet it’s ALL I think about. I go to sleep thinking about it…and I dream about it. Not just Discord almost killing me…in fact it’s not even Discord in the dream just some…creature. But I dream of those horrible spiders. Wrapping me up in their sticky webs…or of falling down that crevasse. Never landing…just…falling…”

With a scowl she realized she was crying, and wiped her cheeks furiously. “Shh…shh…it’s alright. Everyone needs a good cry now and again, and it sounds like you’ve been holding one in for a long time.”

Once the floodgates were open there was no stopping the flow. Weeks of anger, pain and sadness poured out of the girl and into the snow. She managed to keep it quiet to not disturb those slumbering inside, but it was a long cleansing act. She was dimly aware of lying on her side, head in the kind pegasi’s lap as she stroked her hair with a gentle hoof. It went on for some time before the tears finally dried up, and she lay quiet.

“…feel better?”

With an embarrassingly loud sniff she looked up and managed a little smile. “Little bit.”

Giving a warm smile of her own Fluttershy just held their pose, stroking her hair gently. “I know all about being scared and having nightmares. I’ve seen some pretty scary stuff too you know? Nightmare Moon is right on top of the list. I had to come face to face with a rampaging dragon…and nothing scares me more than dragons.”

She was feeling tired again. Just drained all around. “So…whaddo you do?”

With a playful grin Fluttershy tapped the girls’ nose with a hoof. “I have a good cry.” She smiled more when this brought a chuckle from Jennifer. “My spa days with Rarity help more than I can say with stress. I may not seem it but I can get high strung sometimes. …maybe not like Twilight, but enough that it can make sleeping hard. I talk to my friends too. Never be afraid to do that Jennifer. That’s what friends are for, to help each other through the tough times.”

With a soft sigh Jen nodded. “Yeah I guess…not used to having someone to talk to. …thanks Fluttershy. Really.”

Tilting her head she gave the girl a soft squeeze about the shoulders with her forelegs. “Anytime Jen. And anytime you need somepony to talk to, day or night my door’s always open. …well it’s always locked but you can knock and I’ll open it.” They shared a soft laugh. “Know what my mother used to do for me when I had trouble sleeping?”

Jen just shook her head, staring up at her curiously. Gently the pegasus cleared her throat.

Hush now quiet now, it’s time to rest your sleepy head…

She barely got more than two lines into the lullaby before the girl was slumbering quietly. There were no more nightmares for her that night.

Unseen by either of them a pink earth pony slipped from her place overlooking them by the window and settled back into her sleeping bag. Heaving a forlorn sigh, she returned to her sleep as well.

Chapter 3: A Pony Called Lyra

Jen didn’t want to get up…and certainly not at the early hour her stomach was insisting she get up. But she couldn’t resist the heavenly aroma’s wafting from Twilight’s kitchen. It took her a few moments to get her bearings once she sat up…realizing she was in the unicorn’s own bead upstairs. Somepony (Fluttershy most likely), must have moved her after she fell asleep.

Plodding passed her shield to the bathroom she didn’t bother to drag it along. After a little bit of experimenting she learned that being within about a hundred feet or so of it kept the jewel silenced. Running a hand through her (now greasy), hair she made a face and hopped in the shower. With a huff she crouched down to better fit under the spray and relaxed under the hot water.

She definitely loved Twilight’s shampoo, that was for sure. It had a faint floral scent, not overpowering but enough to keep her smelling lilacs all day. Watching the purple foam run down the drain her eyes drifted to the charm bracelet on her wrist again. She never took her eyes off it as she scrubbed herself down. Chewing her lip she slowly reached toward one of the charms with thumb and fore finger.

-Pinkie Pie-

Pinkie was humming cheerily to herself as she whipped up pancake after pancake. The stack on the table was starting to approach tower status. With a sigh Twilight cantered in separating the massive pillar of cakes. “Honestly Pinkie Pie the eight of us can’t eat all this…I think you can stop.”

She halted in her humming/baking with a little start and whirled to face the table. “Oopsie!” She gave a little giggle. “I was in the zone. The pancake zone!”

With a chuckle of her own and a roll of her eyes Twilight went about setting a place at the table for everypony (and human and dragon). “It’s fine, I’m sure we’ll manage. And with the way Jennifer and Applejack eat I suppose you really didn’t make TOO many.”

“Well my Jenny-bean’s a growing filly! She needs to eat a lot!” This caused the unicorn to raise an eyebrow but she decided not to comment. Slowly the rest of her pony friends were filtering in, drawn by the wonderful smells. The pink mare eyed everyone and tilted her head toward the stairs. “Is she still asleep?”

Still blinking a little sleep from her eyes Fluttershy shook her head. “Oh no, I heard the shower running when I went up to check on her.”

If anypony noticed the quick twitch of annoyance flashing across Pinkie’s face they didn’t comment. “Oh! Well I’m sure she’ll be down any second now. She used to say she felt ‘funky’ if she didn’t shower first thing after waking up.”

This elicited a round of sleepy laughter as the tightly knit group of friends settled at the table. Casual conversation flew around as quickly as the dishes of juice, syrup, and butter. All conversation halted as a sudden crash came from upstairs. Pinkie was the first to the stairs, finding the bathroom door locked she pounded on it, causing a very startled Jennifer to shriek from inside. “Jenny are you alright?!”

“Gah! I’m fine I just…slipped! Jeez you gave me a heart attack!”

“…you’re SURE you’re ok?”

“Yes Pinkie I’m fine! I’ll be down in a minute!”

Hesitantly she backed from the door, eyeing it nervously as if expecting the girl to come screaming from the bathroom with a horde of changelings nipping at her heels. With a sigh she descended the stairs, her friends all waiting. “She slipped in the shower.”

They all seemed to accept this. Rarity sighed dramatically. “It’s no surprise what with her wobbling about on two legs. She always looks so unsteady I feel like she’s going to topple over all the time.”

Twilight looked from Rarity to the still sleeping Spike curled up on the sofa. “Spike walks on two legs.”

The other unicorn accepted the point with a nod. “True but his are so short and thick…Jennifer’s are tall and…gangly.”
Pinkie bristled a bit. “She’s not gangly! She’s just coltish. She’ll grow into them.”

Patting her fellow earth pony between the shoulders Applejack chuckled. “It means th’same thing sugarcube.”

A little ‘oh’ was all she offered by way of apology. All eyes turned again to the sounds of someone coming downstairs…in what sounded like a very uncoordinated manner.

*THUNK* “Sonnova…” *THUMP BUMP* “Stupid stairs!” *BUMP-BUMP-BUMP-BUMP….WHUMP*

Everypony at the table gasped as a long legged, green furred filly bounced her way down the stairs, landing in a heap on the floor. One wing flung up in the air flapping uselessly while the other was sprawled at her side.

“Ohmygosh!” A faint outline hung in the air where Pinkie had been sitting, as she streaked from the table to the filly’s side. “Jenny! What happened?!”

“I learned walking downstairs with four legs and hooves is a lot trickier than with two legs and feet.” With a groan she worked her forelegs under her slowly, than slid her hind legs into position. With a few flaps of her wings the young suddenly turned pegasus filly got onto all fours, standing shakily. “Pretty cool huh?”

By now the other ponies had rushed over to better view the spectacle of the girl-turned-pegasus. They gave her a wide berth as she took a few shaky steps. A now wide awake Rainbow Dash seemed torn between guffawing at her awkward attempts at quadruped locomotion and examining the new wings dragging along the ground at her sides.
Naturally Twilight was wearing an unhappy frown. “What did you get into Jennifer?”

Eyes wide and innocent Jen shook her head. “Nothing! I tried out my charm bracelet that’s it!” She lifted a foreleg to display the silver chain hanging from the end of it…then toppled over onto her side much to Dash’s delight.

The frown never leaving her face, Twilight’s horn flared to live and lifted the leg to examine the bracelet more closely. “Oh how clever, the pegasus charm is a little human now. You must touch that to change back. Well undo this before…you break something.”

A little bit of flailing got all four legs back under herself and she was up on her hooves again. “No way! I just got these babies I’m gonna fly!” She gave her wings a few uneven flaps to punctuate her point.

“Whoa there nelly! Didn’t the Princess tell ya t’start with earth pony an work yer way up?” Applejack retrieved her hat after it was swept from her head by an errant wing beat.

“She's right Jenny-bean…you don’t want to just jump right into the deep end. You could get hurt.” Pinkie leaned against the filly, allowing her to drape a wing over her back as she helped her walk to the kitchen.

“Still her wings are very beautiful…” Fluttershy gently ran a hoof over the one still dragging along the ground. “With that span she must be a drifter like me.”

This got Jen’s attention. “What’s that mean?”

It was Dash who answered, zipping ahead of the slow moving group to get back at her breakfast. “There’re a few kinds of pegasus ponies. They got all sortsa egg head science names for us, but basically there’re racers…like me. Drifters like Fluttershy. Then like…uh…”

Her fellow pegasi giggled softly. “There are mostly just the two kinds. Drifters tend to have a larger wingspan. We don’t have to flap as fast as racers like Rainbow Dash, we can fly with slow gentle beats.”

Jen had never really paid close attention to her pegasus friends’ wings before. But looking at the pair flying next to one another it was glaringly obvious there was a difference. Fluttershy’s wings were nearly twice the size of Rainbow Dashes, and she did indeed keep herself aloft with one beat to every four or five or Rainbows. Looking at her own wings they were clearly bigger than Rainbows, though not quite Flutter’s size.

“So I guess I’m not gonna be a champion race horse huh?” She grinned at her own joke, getting a round of groans from the ponies.

Dash landed and resumed stuffing her face, as Jen joined the group at the table. “Probly not. Drifters can still get some serious speed, but it’s nothing like us racers. Hey after chow why don’t me an Fluttershy take you up!? We can push some clouds around, maybe make a little weather. It’ll be a blast.”

Jen’s eager nod slowed, than withered up and died under Twilight’s stare. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. She can barely coordinate her limbs to walk, let alone fly. Princess Luna was right, she needs to start small.” Seeing Rarity and Applejack nodding along with Twilight’s words, and Fluttershy tucked safely behind her mane to avoid the confrontation the filly turned to her last ally.

Big blue eyes darted from one face to another as Pinkie worked her mind furiously to think of a way to agree with her more level headed friends and not further alienate Jennifer. The girl was already spending more time with most of her other friends then her…if she said no here would she just flat out stop hanging around with her completely?

“Well I’m sure if she’s with Rainbow and Fluttershy it’ll be okay.”

She wanted to slap her hooves over her muzzle as soon as she said it. Twilight and Applejack were giving her an incredulous look (so was Fluttershy not that anypony could tell). Jen gave a whoop of delight and threw her forelegs around Pinkie in a tight hug. Instantly all thoughts of denying her request evaporated and Pinkie knew she’d made the right choice. All too soon the embrace ended as the filly whirled to face Rainbow Dash. “Well? Let’s go!”

The daredevil chuckled, but it was clear she was almost as excited as Jennifer. “After we eat. You can’t be flying on an empty stomach it takes a lot of energy kid.”

That’s all she needed to hear as Jen turned her attention to the plate in front of her. Reaching for a fork and…not grabbing it. Brow furrowed she clop’d a hoof over it several more times. Lips began to purse and eyes narrowed, threatening to vaporize the offending utensil with her rage alone. This fork was now her greatest foe! It stood between her and flight. Finally with one last baleful glare she just stuck her muzzle in the plate and wolfed her food.

“Good heavens!” Rarity lunged back away from the table looking about ready to faint at the display. Twilight just rolled her eyes in disgust…everyone else seemed thoroughly amused. Plate empty Jen turned her attention to the glass, gripping it gently in her teeth she tilted it up, chugging the juice in one go.

“Breakfast eaten! Time to fly!” She took off at a gallop for the door. Or rather…she intended to. She actually turned to the door, took two steps and fell flat on her face…pointedly ignoring the huge sigh from a certain purple unicorn.

The pegasus pair made their way to either side of the eager filly, helping her back to her hooves. “Alright first of all, you gotta tuck those wings in. You’re gonna hurt em draggin em around like that.”

With a sigh of her own Jen glared back at the new appendages. “I’ve been trying. I can make em go up and down but…”
It was Fluttershy who came to the rescue now. “Hmm. Try to imagine you’re tucking your elbows against your side. Only your arms are attached to your back rather than your shoulders.”

Eyes crossed comically as she concentrated on Fluttershy’s instructions. She jumped nearly a foot in the air as her wings snapped closed and tucked tightly against her sides. “Ha!” She spun to face Twilight with a smug grin. “Ha ha! You see that?”

The unicorn just raised an eyebrow. “Now walk to the door, open it, and step outside.”

With a huff the filly spun back to face the door. Glaring down at her hooves she slowly lifted one, and took a step forward. Remembering the awkward canter she developed from the dream with Luna she began slowly making her way forward…then her wings flared up and open again. “Gah!”

“You’re thinking about it too hard Jennifer. Just relax. Tuck in your elbows.” At the soothing voice of the yellow pegasi Jen took a deep breath and did as she was told, her wings snapping shut again. “Good…now…one hoof at a time. If you can walk on two legs and keep your elbows tucked in you can walk on four and do it.”

Of course Dash had to lean in toward Fluttershy. “She doesn’t HAVE elbows anymore.”

With a sigh Fluttershy dropped to a whisper. “I know but she needs a way to visualize what she’s trying to achieve. If we use terms she’s familiar with it’ll work better.”

Finally catching on Dash gave a nod and backed up letting the filly pick her way to the door, and clumsily fumble with the handle before it sprang open. Whirling she again smirked at Twilight. “Ha….” Seeing the unicorn had gone back to her breakfast she didn’t bother with the other ha, instead staggering outside.

Pinkie didn’t bother to hide her sigh as the trio left the library. The air in the kitchen was almost electric as Twilight rounded on her. “Pinkie Pie what were you thinking?! You saw her, she can barely walk…she’s CERTAINLY not ready to start flying! You’re her guardian. GUA-DI-AN. Your job is to specifically keep things like this from happening.”

“Darling I think you’re being a little harsh on Pinkie…obviously there’s something bothering her.” Rarity rested a comforting hoof over Pinkie’s, drawing a wan smile from the pony.

“No…Twilight’s right. I should have laid down the law and told her no.” Heaving a heavy un-Pinkie like sigh she turned an apologetic look to Twilight Sparkle. “I just don’t want her to be mad at me. Lately it seems like all she wants to do is hang out with Dashie or Applejack over at Sweet Apple Acres. I don’t see her at ALL some days unless I go and find her…and then she’s always busy doing something else!”

The trio listening all began to frown a little. “Well have you tried sitting her down and having a frank and open discussion? I find that’s all that you need to get through little things like this. She’s probly not even aware that she’s hurting your feelings. You have to remember she’s suddenly in a whole new world. I’m sure she’s very interested in everything going on around her.”

Pinkie’s eyes were lowered as she processed this. “…you’re absolutely right Twilight. I just need to talk to her! Not be all mopey-dopey! That’s not helping anypony! Thanks girls!” Bolting from the table, Applejack stood and made to follow.
“Thanks for the fun night Twi’, reckon I’ll be seein’ ya soon.” Applejack hustled to catch up to her fellow earth pony. “Hold on there Pinkie! I need ta talk atcha!”

Pinkie slowed her pace allowing Applejack to catch up. The three pegasi were in clear view due to Jen’s unsteady pace. “What’s up Applejack?”

Now the normally collected pony was looking a bit uncomfortable. “Well it’s about you an Jenny there. Ah know ya probly ain’t gonna wanna hear somethin’ like this but I got a bit of experience lookin’ after a little filly.” Sensing the gravity of the conversation Pinkie halted her movement altogether, giving Applejack her full attention.

“Th’way Ah see it ya gotta decision t’make. D’ya wanna be her friend…someone t’pal around with all day. Or d’ya wanna be y’know…a uh…parent.”

Pinkie’s brow furrowed. “You can’t be friends with your parents?”

“Well now Ah didn’t say that sugar cube. But yer in a bit of a tricky spot just now. Now ya’ve seen me an Applebloom. She talks back at me plenty right?” As Pinkie nodded she continued. “Well ever see her do that t’Big Mac?”

Tilting her head Pinkie Pie had to ponder the question for a moment. Big Mac rarely talked at all, but the few times he had bothered to vocalize his thoughts, his youngest sister always paid rapt attention and obeyed without question. “I guess not…”

“Exactly. When our folks passed on an it was just us an Granny Smith…well she does her best but she’s been gettin’ on in the years since AH was a little filly. Big Mac’s been doin most of the parental duties fer as long as Ah can remember. Now they have their fun t’gether, it ain’t all business but that’s cause they got themselves an established relationship. That’s where yer at right now sugarcube. Jenny don’t see you as an authority figure…yer still just the fill in foalsitter from back home. Someone to keep her outta TOO much trouble…but at th’end a’the day yer an older playmate.”

Bright pink rump planted in the snow as Pinkie sat to digest this newest wisdom. “So…if I want her to respect me, I can’t look at us as friends? For now?”

“Just fer now Pinkie Pie. It ain’t gonna be fun, an she probly ain’t gonna thank ya for it anytime soon. But if ya don’t lay down the law NOW, it ain’t ever gonna get laid down. Just stand yer ground, be firm. An’ no matter what she says ya can’t back down. If ya back down at the first sign’a her standin’ up to ya, ya might as well not bother.”

New determination sparked in her eyes, and Pinkie gave a firm nod. “You’re right Applejack. I need to be an adult and do what I KNOW is best for her. She’s mature for a filly…but she’s still just a filly and she’s going to make bad decisions. Someone has to tell her no.”

Applejack gave her friend a firm pat on the shoulder. “Well go git yer filly an keep her head outta the clouds…til she’s ready fer em.”

-Jennifer-

Ever so slowly her walking was beginning to even out. It wasn’t TOO bad once she studied how the others were walking. Right foreleg…left hind leg. And vice versa. Than just repeat. It was tricky but once she eased into a pattern she was soon ambling along at a semi-normal pace. There were still stumbles now and again but she was actually doing it.

“You’re doing wonderfully Jennifer…in fact why don’t we just spend the day walking around town hm? Maybe we can get you to a canter by the end of the day. Save flying for when you’re more comfortable?” Fluttershy offered an eager smile.

“Pft! That’s boring! We got her walking, now let’s get her in the air!” Fluttershy suppressed a sigh. It almost seemed like Jen was listening to her before Rainbow went and got her all excited again.

“Actually girls could you excuse us for a few minutes? I need to talk to Jenny privately.”

All three winged ponies turned to see Pinkie Pie trotting toward them. She wore an easy smile…though it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

Rainbow Dash seemed about to protest before Fluttershy laid a hoof on her shoulder. “Of course Pinkie. We’ll go check on my cottage.” She drug a quietly protesting Dash away, leaving the pair alone.

Jen flicked her eyes from the departing pegasi and back to Pinkie Pie. “What’s up Pinkie? We were just about to fly!” Her wings flared open again…catching a gust of wind and bowling her over. She picked herself up quick enough, snapping them shut again.

This just strengthened Pinkie’s resolve. “I don’t want you to fly yet Jenny.”

This seemed to surprise the filly, and her wide smile faded. “What? But you said it was fine.”

“Well…I wasn’t thinking clearly. But Twilight’s right, it’s too dangerous. Princess Luna even said so Jenny-bean. You need to walk before you can fly.”

Now her smile was gone, replaced by a growing spark of anger. “I can walk just fine thank you! I walked from the library all the way to…” Craning her neck she saw she wasn’t as far from the library as she’d hoped. “To here!”

Pinkie could feel her will beginning to falter under Jen’s increasing anger. “Come on Jenny, I’m just worried about you. I know you’re excited to start flying…I would be too! I really, REALLY get it! I mean you’re not the only one who wasn’t born without wings Jennifer. I’m proud to be an earth pony but do you think I never wished to have magic, or wings of my own?”

She was calming down a little at Pinkie’s soothing tone. “I…I guess. But Rainbow says-“

Pinkie cut her off. “Rainbow Dash isn’t your guardian Jennifer, I am. And I say it’s too early to fly. I won’t make you change back right away…if you want to be a pegasus for the day you go ahead and do that. But your hooves are staying on the ground.”

Her mouth worked open and closed trying to come up with an argument to poke holes in Pinkie’s annoyingly valid and level headed words. “…fine. I won’t fly today.”

It took all of her willpower not to gasp aloud at the filly’s sudden submission. Instead she gave her a warm smile. “Thanks Jenny-bean…I don’t like having to be a grump. Now c’mon silly-filly, let’s get back to the library. We can get your things back to Applejacks farm and then you have a lunch date right?”

Jen’s eyes widened at that. “Oh man I totally forgot I promised to meet Lyra! What time is it?”

Pinkie laughed now. “It’s barely passed breakfast, you have plenty of time! Come on, I’ll race ya!” Pinkie took off like a rocket...a clumsy pegasus filly stumbling along behind her, but both were smiling widely.

-Later-

Lyra fidgeted in her seat at the café, constantly scanning the crowd. Beside her sat a cream colored earth pony mare, her mane an eye catching deep blue with pink swirls here and there. A trio of wrapped candies adorned her flank. “Lyra I know more ponies have been talking about humans, just because I’ve been out of town doesn’t mean I don’t keep up with the news.”

Her filly friend gave a deep harrumph. The mint colored unicorn always drew a number of stares when she was sitting in public. Rump planted in her seat, hind legs dangling over the edge while her barrel was upright, forelegs resting on the table before her. “I DID meet her Bon-bon and she IS coming to lunch! Just you wait!”

Bon-bon sighed softly and checked the clock tower. “Well your human’s got an hour and then I have to get back to work Lyra. Sweet shops don’t close for winter like some of the shops do.”

“She’ll be here!” Again the unicorn lifted her neck looking left and right.

Her filly friend gave a wry grin. “Maybe you DID meet her. I bet you totally gushed all over her and scared her off, that’s why she’s not here.”

Lyra’s retort was cut off as a green pegasus filly came trotting up. “Hey Lyra! Sorry I’m late I had some craziness this morning.” The poor musician’s mouth fell open. The metal teeth…check. Sword of Harmony…check. Bipedal furless mammal with beautiful hands…definite not check.

“What happened?!” This drew another round of stares to Lyra’s table, much to Bon-bon's chagrin.

The earth pony turned a gentle smile to the filly. “Well hello there…you must be Jennifer? That’s a very unusual name for a filly.” She offered a hoof. “I’m Bon-bon.”

The filly smiled and took a seat across from the couple, tapping the offered hoof with her own. “Yup! Nice t’meetcha, I’m Jennifer. Just Jen’s fine. You’re Lyra’s girl…fillyfriend?”

“Mmhm. We’ve been together almost as long as Lyra’s been living in Ponyville. What is it…three years now?” She looked to said fillyfriend only to find her still staring open mouthed. “Lyra…your mouth is hanging open.”

“She’s a pony! Why are you a pony?!” The unicorn was on the verge of a panic attack.

Bon-bon looked ready to rebuke her again before Jen piped up, resting a foreleg on the table and showing off her charm bracelet. “The princesses made this for me. It lets me turn into whatever kinda pony I want. Luna said I should spend time as each to learn which I liked the best.”

The friendly smile was fading from the earth pony’s face…though one was forming on Lyra’s. “Oh jeez! That’s a relief for a second I thought I’d lost it! So can you turn back whenever you like?”

Jen gave a distracted little nod as she looked over her menu. “Sure I mean…I assume so. The pegasus charm turned into a human charm, so all I gotta do is hold it and I should pop right back.” When the waiter came by the filly beamed up at him. “Iiii will have the hay fries and a tulip sandwich please.”

“Ooo good call I haven’t had tulip in forever. Same for me!” The unicorn chimed in.

“Just a garden salad for me.” The third member of their party ordered. The waiter took the menus and trotted to the back.
Bon-bon seemed about to say something before Lyra’s focus snapped back onto Jennifer. “Can you change back? I want Bon-bon to see.”

Glancing at the earth pony Jen could tell she was getting annoyed, but Lyra looked so excited. Even the adult ponies could wield those puppy dog eyes the little ones had. Idly she wondered if she could learn to unleash the pony weapon of mass destruction, maybe she’d be flying right now if she had. With a resigned sigh she raised a forehoof and rested it against the human charm.

Her body was engulfed in a bright, white light forcing any pony to look away. When the light faded there was a very winged, very naked human girl sitting in the seat. With a strangled yelp she grabbed at her wings and folded them over her front. “Forgot I’d be naked…”

Lyra was giggling softly and clapping her hooves together, while Bon-bon regarded Jennifer with shock. “So…you really ARE…a human?”

Jen offered an apologetic shrug. “For the next year or so, yup. Luna said it’d take about that long for me to naturally settle into an Equestrian shape.”

The confectioner tilted her head to regard the girl. “Why’s your face so red when the rest of you is so pink.”
It was Lyra who chimed in. “Oh I know! She’s embarrassed! It’s a taboo among humans to be nude in public!”

Of course her shouting was drawing a lot more attention from the patrons. While Jennifer wasn’t so unusual a spectacle for them by now, watching her go from pony to human certainly was. Lyra’s words were drawing amused chuckles and giggling from the other patrons.

This just seemed to confuse poor Bon-bon further however. “Well she was perfectly fine being naked as a pony.”

The musician nodded. “Well of course! You see humans are the dominant species on their world. They use non-human animals as a form of heavy labor and food! So to her being a pony is basically stepping into the shape of a lower life form, and being naked is fine for them.”

Now the laughing had stopped and everypony was staring at the human in their midst with emotions ranging from shock, to anger, to disgust. Sometimes flashing between all three.

Sensing the sudden shift in mood Jennifer cleared her throat. “W….well that’s TECHNICALLY true…but I mean…no other animal on my world thinks and talks. They’re just y’know…mindless animals…? I mean if they had thoughts and feelings and stuff of course we wouldn’t…y’know…do stuff…to them…”

Bon-bon had crossed her forelegs, fixing the poor girl in a steely glare. “So is that how you look at us? As…lower life forms? So that makes it ok to be naked when you’re a pony? Because we’re not as GOOD as you?”

Eyes wide the girl shook her head rapidly. “No! No of course I don’t think of you guys like that! It’s just…you’re pretty much naked ALL the time so I just…got used to seeing it. I mean it was a little odd for me at first, seeing Pinkie Pie and the others like that but it didn’t take long at all to get used to it. Really, I REALLY don’t see anypony like that at all!”

Her earnest words seemed to be having a positive effect on the crowd. “But you DO basically use ponies for slaves and food?” It seemed that Bon-bon wasn’t warming as much as the others.

“W…well…I mean…sort of? It’s not like we whip the uh…ponies back home. They’re very well cared and…” She blinked. “You guys do the same thing! I’ve seen ponies with pets. Applejack has Winona and Pinkie has Gummy right?”

Through it all Lyra was silent, apparently finally realizing just what kind of position she’d thrust the human into. Bon-bon did not look mollified by this argument. “So you’re saying we’re pets.”

“Yes! I mean…no! Not exactly! I mean…the ponies on our world don’t have the same thoughts and feelings the ponies HERE do. They’re the same as the critters you guys keep as pets and companions. Yes we use ponies to pull ploughs and carriages and stuff, but they’re well cared for friends to their owners. BELIEVE me if the ponies back home talked and did all the things you guys do they’d be equals. But they’re just animals, the same way your critter friends are animals here!”
Jen could tell it was a tough concept for the ponies to wrap their heads around, but more than a few were nodding slowly.

“So…do you EAT your ponies?”

This brought a very real look of disgust to the girl’s face. “Ew, no not at all! I mean…yeah we eat meat…I’m not gonna lie…” This brought another chorus of gasps. “But not pony. You guys raise chickens and pigs and stuff, and I’ve seen the cans of dog and cat food. I know you don’t EAT them, but they’re the same things I used to eat, and you feed them to your pets just fine right?”

The murmuring in the café was turning in her favor, much to her relief. “Alright…so if you don’t think you’re better than us, move your wings. Just sit like the rest of us are.”

Lyra seemed to be going from embarrassed at what she’d done to Jen, to angry at Bon-bon’s constant attacks on the girl. Eyes darting from face to face Jen chewed her lip…took a deep breath, and slowly eased her wings away from her front. She still had her legs firmly crossed, but she sat there exposed…if a tad rigidly. At that point most of the crowd went back to their meals.

Jennifer sat there, face red as a tomato (the rest of her rapidly darkening to match), as the waiter returned with their orders. He’d been standing at the entrance to the kitchen during the exchange, and had wisely decided to wait before bringing the food. “Your meals please enjoy.”

The girl looked down at her suddenly very unappetizing meal and hastily clasped the pegasus charm again, with another flash she was back in filly-form seated in the chair.

This elicited a snort from the earth pony. “What you can’t eat our food as your normal self?”

“That’s enough Bon-bon. I invited Jennifer here to get a chance to talk to her and introduce her to someone I care about a lot. But if you’re going to keep acting like this…I think you should leave.” Lyra’s voice was low now, to not draw the eyes of the café again.

Bon-bon’s mouth fell open, eyes wide she looked from an increasingly uncomfortable Jennifer and back to the mare at her side. “I…you…fine Lyra! Just FINE. Enjoy your lunch with the meat eating monster!” Of course that ruined Lyra’s attempt at keeping the exchange private. Bon-bon collected what dignity she could salvage and trotted briskly out of the café.

Jen was busy poking at her sandwich with a hoof, a little frown on her face. “I’m sorry Lyra; I didn’t mean to cause all…this.”

The unicorn rested a hoof over the fillies. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Bon-bon was in the wrong here, and she’ll apologize to you or…well…I don’t know.” She sighed heavily. “Let’s just eat huh? These tulips look nice and fresh.”

This brought a little smile back to the fillies’ face. “Heh…yeah I guess they do.” She leaned in taking an experimental bite, then brightening and chewing with more vigor. “Wow these’re really good! I mean…I can kinda taste the grassiness of it, but there’s…a really interesting flavor over that.”

A bemused Lyra watched as Jen attacked the sandwich with vigor…not using her hooves to hold the food brought more amusem*nt from the few patrons who had taken notice of her antics. After awkwardly scooping a few of the fries into her mouth (mostly with her tongue), she crunched down the rest with a satisfied groan. “Jeez I’ve never seen someone go at hay fries like that.”

Jen offered an embarrassed shrug. “They taste a lot like French fries back home, and I’m a huge junk food junkie. I’ve been having a serious craving for some of it and this really did the trick.”

Lyra was enjoying her meal at a more leisurely pace. “Tell me about your favorite foods.”

“Oh jeez where do I start? Well I love fries of course. Most people say McDonald’s makes the best but I’m a Rally’s girl. The seasoning on them…mmmm sooo good.” She leaned in a little closer. “And I go crazy for a spicy chicken sandwich. If the food’s not burning my mouth it’s no good.”

To Jen’s delight Lyra’s reaction wasn’t typical of a pony hearing about meat eating. “What else?”

“Hmm. A whopper from Burger King. I think I miss beef a ton. And the deep fried fish at Long John Silver’s, THAT’S to die for. And pizza! Oooo pizza. …come to think of it I bet you guys could do pizza.”

“Oh! I heard of that! It’s what your college students eat! Pizza and ramen and…mountain dew…I always thought that last one was a little odd. All your food and drinks have such colorful names, but than a typical drink is regular old dew off a mountain. I mean I always thought it was impressive you guys would gather enough to bottle it bu-“

Jen interrupted with a laugh. “It’s not THAT kind of dew. It’s just a name. It’s actually a super sugary soda drink.”

“Ohhhh! That makes a lot more sense!” Her horn glimmered as her saddle bag flipped open and the notepad floated out, the unicorn making some quick notes. “It all sounds so wonderful. I’d give anything to see where you live, even just a day.”
The waiter returned and Lyra happily paid the tab, even leaving a generous tip. The pair got up making their way from the café. Jen was quietly contemplating something it seemed.

“You alright? Sorry I’m getting creepy again aren’t I?”

“Hm?” The girl lifted her head to look at Lyra. “Oh! No I was just…thinking…” She looked around and nodded toward an alley between the buildings, curiously the unicorn followed. “…maybe there’s a way.”

Lyra’s eyes got so big they seemed about to roll out of her head. “Don’t even joke about that.”

Jen lifted a hoof in a calming motion (nearly face planting in unbalancing herself so). “I said there’s MAYBE a way…you’d have to be human of course. But…” She let her eyes drift down to the bracelet around one leg.

“Oh Jennifer…I’d do anything. ANYthing to see your world. And I’d never tell a soul! I don’t know how we’d get there and I don’t care.”

Now Jen was frowning. “Well…I’m glad you said that because you really CAN’T tell anyone. Not Bon-bon…none of your friends, absolutely nopony can ever, EVER hear about this. I could get in like…so much trouble. Like banished forever trouble.”

The serious look intensified on Lyra’s face as she lifted a hoof crossing her chest. “Cross my heart, hope to fly,” She tapped said hoof against her eye. “Stick a cupcake in my eye.”

Knowing the weight that the all-powerful Pinkie promise carried among the ponies of Ponyville (and possibly beyond), Jen gave a little nod. “Meet me at…” She wracked her brain to figure out a private spot. “…at the edge of the Everfree forest just east of Sweet Apple Acres in an hour. No notes either Lyra…if anyone finds out…”

Lyra gave a firm nod. “I understand. I’ll see you soon!” She dashed from the alley into the streets. Slowly Jen made her way back to the farm.

“I hope this wasn’t a bad idea…”

-Soon-

Jen was sweating bullets, craning her head left and right constantly searching for the unicorn she was supposed to be meeting. She had her heavy pack over one shoulder, wearing a fresh change of clothes with her hoodie thrown over the lot. Granny Smith had been busy in the kitchen, but she’d run smack into Big Mac on her way out. After an overly cheerful hello and an embarrassingly hasty goodbye she’d dashed by the huge stallion. She knew he wasn’t stupid, and that he’d think something was up but she’d hoped his taciturn nature would keep him from informing his much more proactive sister.

She was about to give up when a loud ‘pssssst’ came from her side, nearly giving the poor girl a heart attack. She whirled back and forth looking for the source. “Wh…who’s there?”

A little shimmer and Lyra appeared at her side. “Oops, sorry…invisibility spell. I didn’t want anyone to see me.”

Jen grumbled a bit…something about wanting an invisibility spell of her own; she quickly stepped into the thick tree line.

Lyra followed without hesitation, despite all the fear the Everfree held for the ponies. “So…how are we doing this?”

Jennifer didn’t speak until they were well surrounded on all sides by the trees. She slid the charm bracelet off her wrist and offered it to Lyra. “First, we need to see if this will work for you.”

The unicorn couldn’t hide a grin as she gripped it gently in her magical aura, moving it to her leg. “I THOUGHT this might be what you had in mind for the ‘I have to be human’ part.” Slowly she eased it over her hoof and onto her foreleg; both girl and mare watched in anticipation…and were rewarded as the unicorn charm shifted to a human.
“Whew…alright well that’s step one. Now just push your hoof against it.”

Lyra complied without delay…Jen had to look away as a bright flash filled the forest. When she looked back there was a nude human woman, with Lyra’s yellow eyes and mint green hair streaked with white. Jen’s delighted grin faded just a bit as she noticed the unicorn-turned humans’ well-endowed chest. But she hid it quickly enough. Peeking out of Lyra’s hair was her horn. Like Jen it seemed some part of her pony aspect always remained.

Lyra for her part gasped softly. Almost reverently she lifted her arms, flexing her fingers slowly. “I have hands!” She looked down lifting a leg. “And feet!” Of course this upset her balance and sent her rump first into the snow…she only laughed. “And no tail! And…” She suddenly shivered mightily. “And this snow is COLD!”

The younger human couldn’t hide a grin now (despite raging jealousy), and dropped her bag. She took out a spare set of pants and one of the shirts Rarity had made for her. “Well then you better get some clothes on Lyra the human.”

Scrambling back to her feet Lyra took the pants with a grin. She had to lean against a tree to get one leg, than the other in…but she managed. Gripping the shirt she tugged it over her head. “How do I look? Am I totally human?”

The frown returned seeing how tight the shirt was over Lyra’s chest, but Jen’s sour mood couldn’t maintain at the exuberance of the other woman. “Well you need shoes.” She pulled out a pair of slippers Rarity had crafted. “They’re not the best for winter weather but it’s better than barefoot.”

“Shoes! I need shoes! For my feet! Because…wow they get REALLY cold!” She hastily tugged them on. “Ooo that’s much better.” She was dancing around the clearing happily.

“Hey how come you’re walking so easily? I still fall on my face half the time I try to walk when I’m a pony.”

“Oh I practice bipedal walking. Like…a lot. It drives Bon-bon NUTS!” The mention of her fillyfriend brought a frown to the exuberant woman’s face. “I wish she could see this…”

Seeing Lyra was still shivering (and a thin t-shirt is not exactly something a chesty woman with no bra should be wearing in cold weather), Jen shrugged off her hoodie offering it up. Lyra tugged it on without delay. “It’s so warm! It’s like I have my coat again! Well…on my top half. Ohh and look! A pocket!” She stuck her hands in grinning goofily. “Wait aren’t you cold?”

Jen shook her head. “No I don’t get cold as long as I wear this.” She lifted the jewel around her neck to show Lyra,

The older human tilted her head, as her horn began to glow softly. “Wow that’s…some REALLY powerful magic Jen. Where’d you get it?”

With a shrug she dropped the gem against her chest. “From Discord.”

This brought a gasp from Lyra. “Is…is it dangerous?”

“Crazy dangerous. It turns out Discord was human originally and this drove him crazy and turned him into what he was a little bit ago. The Sword of Harmony keeps it from doing that to me. Now it’s like a body heater that lets me cross dimensions.”

“Cross di….so…so you can REALLY take us…”

“To Earth?” Jen grinned. “Yup. You ready to go?”

“Oh my gosh yes! But wait! I have a horn and YOU have wings…BIG wings. Humans don’t have horns and wings.”

“True…but you have a hood and I’m gonna borrow one of my uncles heavy coats.”

Lyra blinked and flailed around behind her head, grabbing the hood and tugging it over her head. “Ha! Neat! How do I look?”

Jen looked her up and down for a minute. “Like a gang banger. But its fine we’re not gonna be causing trouble.” She
offered her hand, which Lyra eagerly gripped. “Now hold on tight, it’s a bit of a wild ride and I dunno if like…we just need to be close or touching or what ok?”

When she clapped her other hand over Jen’s in an even tighter grip, the younger closed her eyes, focusing on the jewel. As the swirling motes of light began to pick up and wrap around the pair, Lyra couldn’t help but squint her eyes shut. She let out a shriek as the ground dropped out from under her…she could feel the wind whipping around her mane…no it was HAIR now…not a mane…but she kept a firm grip on Jen’s hand…as quickly as it began the wind stopped…alas the screaming did not.

“Now what in the hell is all this….Jen? Jenny izzat you kid?”

Lyra peeked an eye open. The first thing she noticed was that everything was…dull. Not the vibrant colors she was so used to seeing. The snow, the trees, the cabin…herself…the grizzled human man pointing the big metal tube at her. Wait that didn’t seem right…

Jen firmly extracted her hand from the vice grip. “Hey Uncle Derek! Been awhile.”

The big man slowly lowered his weapon, looking from Lyra to his niece. “S’pose it has…you’re lookin’ a helluva lot better than last time I saw ya.” He noticed the feathered appendages on her back. “…and birdier.”

“Ha! Yeah I forgot about those. Sorry for just popping in, figured you’d just be watchin’ whatever game was on and drinking a beer or six in front of the TV all day.” She grinned at her teasing.

Her uncle gave her a grunt, that she knew meant she was spot on. “Who’s the broad with the funky hair?”

“Oh! Yeah this is Lyra, Lyra Heartstrings. She’s a unicorn. …usually. She’s also a HUGE human enthusiast and it’s been like her dream to come see our world. So…I brought her to visit for the day. Lyra this is my uncle Derek.”

Lyra seemed to be slowly recovering from her shock. “O…oh! Oh sorry I’m a little…frazzled! It’s such a pleasure to meet you sir! You have a great niece.” She stepped up to the man and offered her hand, her grin widening almost manically as he took it in his own shaking firmly.

“Well…nice t’meetcha I guess. Let’s get inside, cold as hell out here.” He had to yank his hand away from the eager young woman’s, leading the pair into the cabin.

To Jen it wasn’t anything spectacular. She’d been here dozens of times in the past, but Lyra took in everything with wide-eyed wonder. Her uncle went back to his arm chair, and Jen sat on the couch across from him, letting Lyra gingerly poke and prod just about everything.

Eyeing the older girl from the corner of his eye Jen’s uncle leaned toward his niece. “…she ok? In the head I mean?”

Jen laughed a little and nodded. “Yeah she really is…but remember they don’t have like…any of this stuff in her whole wide world. Everything is new and exciting to her. You know…you’re kinda like an ambassador. The first person to greet an alien…and know it anyway.”

The normally collected man’s eyes widened a tad at that. “Christ kid, what’m I supposed to do?”

With a shrug Jen went back to watching Lyra. “I dunno. I mean she wanted to learn about us…can we go into town?”

He eyed his nieces’ impressive wing span dubiously, then looked to the horned girl wandering his kitchen. “Uh…if you can do something about yer…oddities. I don’t see why not. Long as she doesn’t freak out or anything.”

With a nod Jen got to her feet. “I figured I could borrow one of your big coats. And she can just pull her hood up…or…hmm…hey Lyra!”

The other girl jumped and turned to face her, nearly dropping one of Derek’s knick knacks. “Uh huh?”

“Can you make PARTS of us invisible? Not just your whole self?”

Making her way to the seated pair she shrugged. “Sure that should be easy, why?”

Jen grinned wider. “How’d you like to get something to eat?”

Soon the trio were in her uncle’s old pick up. Lyra practically bouncing in the seat in excitement. “A car! I’m going to ride in a car!” She let out a little shriek when the engine roared to life, causing the human pair to jump as well.

Jen’s uncle cast her a baleful glare as he backed out of the drive and onto the road into town. “We’re going so fast! How do you keep it under control?!”

Derek shrugged helplessly. “I dunno…m’not exactly big on science. I just do it. Where we goin Jennifer?”

“Wendy’s! I NEED a spicy chicken! I am not meant to be vegetarian!”

Lyra gasped. “Oh…we’re going to get meat. Can I eat meat? I mean I’m human now I suppose I could…and this is probably the only chance I’ll ever have!”

Her uncle again eyed the strange girl dubiously…but he trusted his niece. “Yeah that’s fine…haven’t eaten yet anyway.”
Lyra was constantly chattering about everything they passed. From the buildings to the crowds of people. “Wow your foals are so cute!”

Jen was mostly pointing out a landmark here or there, or answering the seemingly unending stream of questions. “Ok we’re goin inside…you can’t act y’know…not human. If you have questions save em for when we’re back in the car alright?”

Her mood sobered a good deal as the group piled out and made their way inside. Her uncle got his usual three patty burger layered with bacon and pretty much everything else they offered. Jen grinned as she stepped up. “Two number six’s! And two quarter pounders!”

With a grunt her uncle handed over his card. “You better eat all that.”

Lyra stayed quiet, though her nose was working overtime taking in the unfamiliar scent of cooking meat. …it smelled good.

“C’mon it’s Lyra’s very first try of any kinda meat. She’s gotta get variety in there. …and I haven’t had any in like forever.”
Her uncle rolled his eyes. “In like a month?”

“Exactly!”

The trio soon had their trays and found a booth in the corner. Jen wasting no time digging right in. Lyra gingerly unwrapped the paper and looked at the still sizzling burger. “…you promise this didn’t talk?”

Derek choked a bit on the bite he was swallowing, but Jen just shrugged. “Pinkie promise. I wouldn’t make that stuff up.”

Oh so slowly she raised the burger, and took the tiniest of bites, eyes squinted shut as if expecting it to explode in her mouth or something. The pair of humans sharing the booth with her watched quietly as she chewed once…twice…then swallowed. Blinking her eyes open she looked at the burger in her hand with a new light, and took a bigger bite. Bringing a grin to Jen’s face.

“Not bad right?”

Chewing in comically exaggerated motions Lyra shook her head. “This’ great!” Jen’s poor uncle glared at the flecks of food decorating his tray from across the table, but Lyra didn’t notice. Then she grabbed her cup taking a long drink of the Mountain dew within. Instantly her pleased look vanished. “Oh my gosh you guys drink this ALL the time?”

Jen gave a shrug. “No I drink lemonade all the time…but you wanted to try it.”

Now Lyra was eyeing Jen’s lemonade…and her uncle heaved a sigh handing the girl his card. “Go ahead, get one.”

Taking the little plastic gingerly Lyra looked from him to the counter. “Are you sure?”

The big man made a shooing motion and Lyra approached the counter. “What size do I want?!”

Jen couldn’t help but laugh as she looked back and shrugged. “How thirsty are you?!”

“Pretty thirsty!”

“Get a large then!”

“Okay! Thanks!”

By now the other customers were staring and her uncle groaned. “Yeah she doesn’t stand out at all.”

“Oh whatever, when we’re gone tell people we’re from that thar big city and we’re all kindsa abnormal.” She forced out an obnoxious hillbilly drawl.

Her uncle chuckled a bit despite himself as Lyra rejoined them. “THIS is much better!” Plopping back in the booth she wasted no time attacking her burger again.

“So…Lyra…what do you do? D’you work or is it like…all happy playtime over there?”

Swallowing another bite Lyra sighed happily before looking to their host. “Oh! No I have a job…we all do once we finish school. I’m a musician.”

“The hangs around on the street with her hat in front of her musician, or the kind who gets real work?”

Jen shot him a warning frown but Lyra didn’t seem bothered. “Oh no I usually perform in the orchestra. Sometimes I do private functions; I got to play for Princess Celestia once…now THAT was an honor. I do gigs in the park for the foals now and again.”

“Well that’s good I s’pose. How’d you meet Jen?”

“Well! Like Jen said I’ma BIG human enthusiast…probly the only one really. Most of the other ponies think I’m a little weird.” Jen’s uncle shot her an ‘imagine that’ look. “So when I found out there was one LIVING in my town I just had to introduce myself.”

By now she’d finished her burger…and moved on to the chicken. She didn’t hesitate to take a big bite from this, and Jen couldn’t hide a grin as her eyes widened. “It’s burning my mouth!”

Now even her uncle had to laugh aloud at that. Lyra gulped down the bulk of her huge drink with a gasp. “…but it’s still really good.” She went back to taking more reserved bites, now prepared for the burning sensation the spicy food brought about.

Now her uncle had shifted his focus from Lyra, to Jen. “Yer dad’s been askin aboutcha.”

It was Jen’s turn to choke on her food, almost spitting a wad across the table. “What?”

“Whaddya mean what? You ran away kid, left him a nice little note an that was that. Didja think he wouldn’t put it t’gether that if he’s gettin’ one I’m gettin’ one?”

“Oh…” Jen poked a fry about in a little pile of ketchup. “What’d you tell him?”

Her uncle shrugged. “What you told me. Alla it. He didn’t believe me a’course. Accused me of hidin’ ya or some such nonsense. Then I showed him yer letters on the fancy paper. Then I had him come sit down an WATCH one of em pop inta my living room, since ya seemed ta be sendin’ em like clockwork every week.”

“Guess he believed you by then huh?”

Another shrug. “Sorta. He spent an hour lookin’ around fer cameras an th’like. When he couldn’t find one he admitted MAYBE it was true. Him an yer mom split by the way. He was only stickin’ with her for yer sake a’course.”

Jen wasn’t surprised they split up; she knew her dad wasn’t happy for a long time. She was more surprised that she didn’t really seem to care. “Yeah I can see that.”

“Look kid…I can’t make ya do anything. Hell th’way you pop around I doubt anyone can. But you should go talk t’him. He’s a reasonable guy…an he’s just worried.”

“I…jeez Uncle Derek I dunno…”

The big man lifted a hand. “How about you go talk to yer old man, an I take greenie here I dunno…around town. Let her poke around the shops or somethin’. Maybe just go back to the cabin an she can poke around on the internet.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “YOU have the internet now?”

He just grunted softly. “I like the slot machine games.”

Jen looked from him to Lyra. “Are you ok with that?”

Lyra had kept quiet during the exchange, but she looked up now. “Yeah…yeah of course. He’s right you should go talk to your father. It’s not fair to him for you to just vanish like that. If he’s so worried you need to at least put his mind at ease a little. I’ll be fine with your uncle. We’ll have fun.” Her cheerful smile returned.

Jen doubted THAT very much but she wasn’t going to argue. “Alright…I’ll go see dad. Don’t cause trouble for my uncle Lyra.”

Scooting out of the booth Jen slipped into the ladies’ room. No one noticed the colorful flash from inside one of the stalls.

-Elsewhere-

Jonathon Allen was sitting in his study going over some papers from work. Papers he’d been having less and less patience with every day. The house was just so damn quiet. He was even starting to miss Jennifer’s dog. With a sigh he slid his glasses from his nose and onto his desk, rubbing at his temples. Reaching for the now empty mug of coffee he gave a dissatisfied grunt and rose to head to the kitchen for a refill. When he turned to the study door, the mug fell from numb fingers, to shatter unnoticed on the ground.

“Hey dad.”

Chapter 4: Fathers and Fillyfriends

The man stared hard at the girl standing in the door to his study, as if somehow trying to disprove her existence. “…hey dad?”

She bit her lip and offered a little shrug. “Hey dad, howya doin?” The shrug caused the sizeable green feathered wings growing from her shoulders to ruffle slightly.

He looked to the very visible wings and back to his daughters face. “Your uncle said you grew a horn.” What the hell else could he say?

Jen blinked and lifted a hand to her forehead. “Oh uh…I did. Yeah. Swapped it for wings this morning.”

Her father gave a slow nod. “Oh. That makes sense.” He sat heavily back in the chair behind his desk, just staring at his now winged daughter.

She invited herself in, taking a seat on one of the less comfortable chairs. “So…Uncle Derek said you were uh, looking for me?” As her dad just stared she sighed. “Right of course you were. I should have written you too I just didn’t want…y’know….mom involved.”

He actually managed a chuckle at that. “Well I don’t blame you there. And she’s gone…sure my brother already told you. I think he almost smiled when I gave him the news. He always hated your mother.”

Now Jen was smiling back. “Oh believe me, I know. If we weren’t talking about hunting deer we were talking about how ‘that damned woman went an ruined m’brothers life.’”

“Heh…you do a good Derek.” He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. “So…” He looked at the shield she wore on her arm and shook his head. “So did you really get into a sword fight?”

Now she was nodding eagerly. “Oh yeah. It was pretty pathetic but I managed to come out on top. Walloped him right in the face with my shield too. Dude was out.” She didn’t feel the need to mention she almost died.

Her dad didn’t seem to share her enthusiasm. “So…are you home? Are you staying?”

Back to chewing her lip, he knew that wasn’t a good sign. “No. I have this friend…a unicorn. She’s always wanted to visit here so…I brought her.”

“A unicorn.” She nodded. “As in…a magical horse with a horn?”

“Well they prefer pony, I think horse is like an insult or a racial slur? I dunno. I called Pinkie a horse once and like, everypony gasped.”

Now his arms were folded across his chest…the stern ‘dad’ look slipping onto his face. “…if you didn’t have wings sprouting out of your back I’d say you’re on drugs. Maybe I’m on drugs. Maybe I’m having a stroke?”

“You’re not having a stroke dad…and I’m not a stoner. You remember Pennie of course. And you saw me meet up with her friends at the park, the girls with the crazy hair? I know you remember the rainbow haired one.”

“They were a memorable bunch Jennifer.”

“Right well…they’re from another world. Called Equestria…don’t get me started on the horse puns. Their ruler, Princess Celestia sent them here on a sort of…visit the neighbors type deal. To see if maybe we’d reached the point of peace and cohabitation they had where we could start to like…I dunno co-mingle I guess?”

With a shrug she continued. “Anyway as you can probably guess, we have not become the sort of borderline utopia they have there. I mean they have problems over there. Monster attacks and all on occasion. And society isn’t perfect but pretty darn close. So Pennie and them had to go, like go forever. They can only be here for so long; I guess the lack of magic in our air is toxic to them.”

“The lack of magic.”

Another shrug. “Hey I’m just relaying what I’ve been told.”

Her father leaned back in his chair staring hard at her. “So…do you do magic now?”

“Sorta? I mean my sword is magic…and I have this magic amulet. And my bracelet lets me turn into a uh…pony. Hence my wings. Lyra has it right now; it’s letting her be human.”

He was quiet for a long time. Just staring at her. His eyes would go to her wings every time they’d twitch or ruffle. “Nothing I can say is going to keep you here is it?”

Jen lowered her gaze, fidgeting with her fingers. “I really like it there dad. It’s…so different. So peaceful, and clean. And the sky! Oh dad I wish you could see Luna’s night sky.”

“Luna?”

“Oh…Celestia’s sister. Luna raises the moon and paints the stars in the sky.”

“…is it bad that I can accept that?”

Now Jen was smiling again. “Well it’s not all sword fights and meeting Princesses. I’m starting school tomorrow morning again. It’s not the same here…it’s sorta like everypony goes to trade school. They have history and English and math and stuff, but really you’re there to discover your unique talents and what you’ll do best in life.”

“So what? They wrap college in with elementary school?”

“Yeah actually that’s a pretty good way to put it. I’m going to be living with Pennie…she has a house of her own and everything. I might even be starting a daycare business.”

“You’re really happy huh?”

A little nod. “I really am dad. I’m making new friends all the time, and next weekend I’m staying at the castle with Princess Luna. She wants to teach me how to use my sword properly, and to like…sit in while she does…princessey stuff I guess? She said it would be a good idea to learn about Equestrian politics.”

Her dad crossed his arms over his chest again. “…it sounds like you’re kind of…I dunno…a big deal? I mean is it normal for this…princess to spend a weekend with uh, teenager ponies? Or just humans?”

“Oh! Well…I dunno. I mean I haven’t been there long of course. I did kinda help save the whole country though. And Pennie and her friends are like national heroes.”

The man let out another long sigh. “This is all…pretty insane kiddo. But I haven’t seen you so…up beat in years. You seem like you have good things going for you?”

“I do dad. I really do.”

“Hrm. And Pennie’s got a good head on her shoulders. I wish I could talk to her in person but…I trust her to do right by you.”

Thinking back to Pinkie’s steadfast refusal to let her fly Jen had to agree…slash think how unfair she was being. “Yeah she will.”

He stood up walking to stand in front of her. Tentatively he ran a hand along the top of one of her wings, it twitched outward in response. “…any chance you can start sending me letters too?”

Then she was on her feet, hugging him tightly. “Yeah…I will dad.”

Carefully sliding a hand around her back he squeezed her a bit, mindful of the wings. “Well then alright. And maybe a visit now and then.”

“Yeah…I mean I’m not supposed to…but once in a while. Maybe for Christmas and birthdays.”

“Can you stay the night? Maybe we can catch up a little bit. Tell me about what you’ve been up to.”

She was gnawing her lip again. “Not the whole night…but we can stay for a while. I gotta go pick up Lyra. If I’m gone overnight I have a feeling Pinkie will have the whole town out searching for me.”

Her father was smiling now. “Well we’ll have dinner then. That won’t be too late right? What sounds good?”

“Oh pizza. For sure. I don’t care where from, as long as it’s covered in pepperoni.” She was grinning too. “Lemme pick up Lyra. I’ll be back in a flash.”

And then with a swirl of color, she was gone.

Jen blinked when she heard raucous laughter coming from her uncle’s cabin. Climbing the steps she peered in to find Lyra on the couch watching an old Three Stooges VHS with her uncle. Rolling her eyes she chuckled herself. “You guys having fun?”

Her uncle jumped and looked guilty at being caught with his normally stoic front broken. “Your friend wanted t’see some ‘human entertainment’. I got my Stooge tapes and the Marx brothers. S’about it.”

“Probably a good idea to keep it PG…”

Lyra looked from one human to the other. “What’s PG?”

Jen gave a shrug. “Don’t sweat it. We’re gonna go have pizza with my dad, you wanna come Uncle Derek?”

“Er…no you girls go have fun. I think I can go my entire life without traveling by magical rainbow swirls.” He gave his niece a tight embrace, and offered his hand to Lyra, who shook with a lot less creepiness.

“Thank you so much for showing me around town and inviting me into your home sir.”

“Yeah yeah, g’won now. I’ll look for yer next letter kid.”

With another hug for her uncle Jen took Lyra’s hand and they were again enveloped in colorful lights. When it cleared the girls were in her father’s study again. “Dad musta gone to get more coffee. Enjoying the trip so far?”

Lyra was grinning ear to ear. “Am I ever?! First the meat…and I can see why you miss it so much. Then your uncle took me around town a little bit and I got to try some human candy…which was a lot like pony candy…” Her smile eased a bit. “…a lot like Bon-bon’s candy.”

The younger bounced on the balls of her feet a bit trying to think of something to say. “I’m sure you guys’ll make up. I told my dad we’d have dinner, and then we’ll go back to Equestria alright?”

“Sounds good! So this is your human house?”

“Oh! Yeah it is, want me to show you around a little?” At Lyra’s nod Jen stepped out of the study. “Dad I’m back! I’m gonna show Lyra my room!”

“Alright honey!” His voice carried from downstairs as Jen crossed the hall. Her hand hovered over the knob to her old door before she pushed it open…seeing the piles of clothes strewn about and piles of old sketchbooks she smiled a little. It’d only been a month or so since she’d seen it but it seemed like forever.

Lyra entered slowly, peering around at everything. Her eyes settled on the cluttered desk beside the window, heaped with Jen’s art supplies. “I didn’t know you were an artist. Are you famous?!”

“What? No I mean…it was just a hobby.” Jen eased onto her old be, picking up a battered old stuffed dog.

The older girl was flipping through her sketchbooks. “Well these are really good? You really did all this?”

“Huh?” Jen blinked a little out of her stupor and looked back at Lyra. “Oh…yeah I used to go on walks all the time and just draw y’know…whatever caught my eye. My art teacher wanted to showcase some of my stuff in an amateur show or something but I said no.”

“How come?”

Setting the toy down Jen shrugged. “Dunno…I mean it’s not very good. I usually don’t like people looking at it. Pinkie Pie was the only one I ever let watch me draw.”

Lyra managed to hide a smile. That sounded vaguely similar to something she’d heard Rarity’s little sister say about her singing. The musician had been asked by Cheerilee to guest teach a music class on more than one occasion, and while most of the foals were typical noise makers when it came to little one’s making music, Sweetie Belle had been a noticeable exception. “Well you’re very skilled.”

Jen gave her a non-committal shrug. “Well my dad is probly dying to talk to me some. How about I set you up on my computer and you can read up on whatever human junk you want?” She moved over to her old computer booting it up. With a quick glance at the excited young woman she turned on the mature content filter her parents used to make her keep on…no sense letting Lyra stumble on some skeevy p*rn sights or something. After a quick tutorial she left her happily surfing the web.

“So my friend’s on the computer, we got some time alone.”

Her dad was sitting at the table, fresh cup of coffee in hand. “You just disappeared. With magic.”

“Oh uh…yeah. Teleporting I guess.”

Taking a long sip he just shook his head. “Teleporting. Well…let’s hear what you’ve been up to. I got a bit of the story from your uncle but you know how he can get with details.”

With a nod Jen took a seat across from her dad and began to relay the story. She omitted some of the more gruesome details, like being thrown off a moving train, almost getting eaten by giant spiders (she ‘slipped’ and found the sword…which was kinda true!), and of course almost dying in the old unicorn castle.

“Jesus Jennifer it’s like you’ve been living in a fantasy novel for a month. I suppose you always did like your nature walks…and those trips to my brother’s cabin. It must seem like a whole world of nature walks there huh?”

His daughter gave a nod. “It really is. And there’s so much unmapped and unexplored stuff. Like Indiana Jones style crap, I could discover ancient ruins or lost treasure. Everything here is pretty much found already y’know?”

Her father seemed less than excited. “This sounds dangerous Jennifer.”

She gave a bit of a shrug. “I mean I guess it could be, but I’m not gonna like…go do it tomorrow. After I finish school I mean. These’re just plans for the future.”

He gave a quick glance toward the stairs. “Your friend’s been awful quiet up there.”

“Huh. She has. I’ll go check on her, you wanna order pizza?”

“Domino’s work?”

“Only if you get me lava cakes too!” She called back on her way up the stairs with a grin. She found Lyra parked in front of the computer, a frown on her face. “How’s the web search goin?”

Lyra turned to face her; Jen was surprised to see she looked unusually pale. Almost on the verge of tears. “I…this stuff, it isn’t all true is it? All the wars and…and hate?”

Jen winced as she took a look at the screen. The unicorn turned human had found her way onto Wikipedia and was currently reading up on WW2. “Well…I mean yeah…that’s true.”

“I mean…I knew you guys had troubles. I’ve found the occasional magazine and such that found its way through a portal….but I never even imagined…”

Jen took a seat on the edge of her bed close to Lyra. “Well like…hasn’t Equestria had problems? Wars and racism? I know the pony tribes were divided a long time ago.”

Slowly Lyra nodded. “Well yes…but ponies haven’t had those kinds of feelings in…forever. You’re all humans so…why do you hate each other so much?”

Pursing her lips Jen tried to organize her thoughts. She definitely wasn’t used to such heavy conversation topics. “Well…it’s not that simple. I mean…ok you got ponies, dragons, griffons, zebras…all different cultures, sometimes languages all with their own beliefs right?” At Lyra’s nod she continued. “Well it’s the same here. We’re all HUMAN, but people in all different countries all over the world have their own beliefs and cultures. Sometimes when one group of humans believes something strongly enough, and their neighbors don’t share their beliefs it can result in well…that.” She nodded to the screen.

“It just seems so…so horrible though. We have disagreements but I can’t even imagine going THAT far.”

“Mm. I dunno. I was reading one of the like, thousand books Twilight had given me while I was recovering. One was on ancient history and talked about a huge war between ponies and griffons. There was a lot of killing on both sides. Now you guys might get along well enough as neighbors but it’s been like…six, seven hundred years? For us these wars are like….” History was not Jennifer’s strong suit. “….not seven hundred years. Probly closer to like…a hundred I guess? I’m not gonna lie, there’s a lot of terrible things in the world…but there’s a lot of GOOD too.”

Gently Jen nudged Lyra aside and took the seat in front of the computer. Pulling up all sorts of charity sites and pictures of soup kitchens. She brought up famous artworks, music and musicians, and showed her some of humanity’s more literary masterpieces.

“I guess at the end of the day we’re just people. Some people are good, some are bad. Some are both…people are complicated y’know? We’re not so different from you guys…we just haven’t had as much time as you to sort all the mess out. Also its probly helped that ponies have had a wise and benevolent ruler unifying her land for like ever, so your government isn’t all bloated and corrupt like most of ours are.”

Lyra was smiling, staring at an image of a group of volunteers in a children’s hospital. “…I guess you’re right. We’re really not too different on the inside…ponies are just more…mature I think.”

“Yup! That’s us! Bipedal immature ape people.”

The other girl giggled. “I still say hands beat hooves any day.”

“Oh no doubt. Even with magic I’m not looking forward to trading these babies in for leg stumps.”

Lyra giggled again, and studied Jen a bit harder. “…I think you’ll make a great pony though Jennifer. …gotta work on that name though.”

Jen wrinkled her nose. “What’s wrong with my name?” She stood up moving for the door…not hearing the soft footsteps of her eaves dropping dad hastily retreating.

“It’s so boring. It doesn’t say anything about you. “Hi I’m Jennifer. I’m an expert in jennifering.” It’s just silly. Bon-bon makes candy. I play the lyre. Applejack’s an apple farmer; Rainbow Dash is a racer who works with weather. OUR names make sense.”

Eyes narrowed Jen regarded Lyra with a tilted head. “I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.”

Sticking her tongue our Lyra followed Jen downstairs. “Only a little.”

“You know now that I think about it, that’s a good point. How the heck do so many of you guys have names that happen to correspond with your talent in life.”

Lyra shrugged. “It doesn’t ALWAYS work out that way. The stallion that runs Quills and Sofa’s is named Mint Delight. And the waitress at the Ponyville café’s name is Symphonica and she has noooo musical talent. At all. Sometimes our names come from our parents, like Twilight’s mom is Velvet Sparkle. Most of the time we’re raised to follow in our parents footsteps, so our names happen to fall in line with those professions. Sometimes we have naming ceremonies, it’s this super old tradition that goes back before Princess times. The parents take their foal to the temple and the priest or priestess there…mmm…communes with spirits or something? And get the name for the foal. It’s only done by really traditional families nowadays. In fact the only temple I know of is in Canterlot.”

“Wonder what mine would be. Sketchbook? Nature Hike?” Jen was grinning at the possibilities.

Her dad was in the living room with the TV on, muted though. “How about Pain In Her Dad’s Butt? Is that a pony name?” He stood as a huffy Jen and giggling Lyra approached, offering his hand to the stranger…after staring at her horn a few moments. “…Jon Allen, Jennifer’s father.”

SOME of the novelty of a handshake had worn off by now, and Lyra gripped and shook in a much more subdued nature. “Lyra Heartstrings. It’s a pleasure to meet Pain In Her Dads Butt’s father. She’s a great filly.”

“Ha! I like this girl.” He took his seat as the girls sat on the couch opposite. “…filly huh? So are you really a uh…horse?”
A brief flash of irritation crossed Lyra’s face. “Pony sir, please. And yes, I’m normally a unicorn.”

“Right…sorry. So you’re one of Jennifer’s friends over in uh…Equestria?” He stumbled over the unfamiliar word a bit.
“It’s my pleasure to say I certainly am sir.”

Jen grinned a little at that. She assumed that after all this it was likely she’d made a new friend at the same time…but it was nice to hear it vocalized.

Her dad seemed to be considering his words now. “…would it be possible to ah…see…you?”

Lyra looked to Jen who just shrugged. “I’m not invisible now I thought…”

He laughed. “Oh! Sorry I mean uh…unicorn you.”

“Oh! Well…I mean not for very long. We have to have human bodies because your magic free air isn’t healthy. But I should be ok for a few minutes.” Lyra stood reaching for the charm bracelet.

Jen yelped and jumped up slapping her hand over Lyra’s wrist. “Wait wait! If you do that now you’ll like…explode the clothes Rarity made me. Go in the kitchen, get undressed THEN do it.”

Eyes wide Lyra nodded. “Oh good save. That would probably be a little hard to explain when we get back wouldn’t it?” The girl zipped into the kitchen…a moment later a bright flash illuminated the room…and the mint green unicorn stepped out gingerly. “The weird tiles in here feel funny on my hooves.”

Jen was watching her dad to make sure he didn’t freak out too much. To his credit while surprised, his jaw wasn’t hanging open or anything. “Jesus…that’s a real life talking unicorn Jennifer.”

“Yeah dad I know…hey do some magic for him Lyra.”

The unicorn settled on her haunches and pondered. “Wish I had my lyre…” She clapped one hoof atop the other in a gesture that would be a human slapping her fist into her palm if she’d had hands. “But I can use my recall spell to do one of my favorites for you.”

Eyes closed, her horn began to glimmer faintly as she focused on the spell. Faintly at first, then more forcefully gentle music began to emanate from Lyra’s horn, to fill the room. Though she had no instrument the humans could clearly hear each note as if she were playing for them. Father and daughter stared enraptured by the surprise performance…Jen’s dad actually looked a little misty eyed, a fact she pointed out with a smirk.

He harrumphed as the music slowly ebbed and ended, and Lyra ducked back into the kitchen, emerging human and clothed again. “That’s one of my favorite spells. I use it in an emergency if I break a string or something. Can’t leave the audience hanging.”

“Jeez Lyra I knew you were a musician but that was like…famous level playing!”

Lyra waved the praise off with a shy smile. “Well, I do perform in high society circles. And when you’re personal friends with a Princess it helps open some doors too. I was one of Cadence’s bridesmaids you know?”

Her dad just gave a bemused chuckle and shook his head wonderingly. “Well between magic, princesses, and flying I am definitely understanding why you’re wanting to live over there kiddo. Can’t exactly take all this away from you after seeing it firsthand.”

“Thanks dad…I-“The doorbell rang abruptly. With a strangled yelp Jen’s wings flared open in surprise and she grabbed Lyra’s wrist tugging her out of sight into the kitchen. It was just the pizza guy fortunately and he was soon paid by her dad and on his way. “Just to be safe why don’t you make our uh…non-human bits invisible again Lyra?”

With a nod she did so. “I can’t do it for more than an hour or so…the air here feels really…I dunno, heavy when I try magic. It’s a lot harder.”

“We don’t need it for much longer, we’re just gonna have dinner than head home.” She grabbed a couple plates and glasses for the table where her dad was laying out the food.

Lyra seemed to like pizza as much, if not more than the burger and chicken earlier. “You know we can make a meat-free pizza when we get back to Equestria. People put all sorts of veggies and stuff on it too.” Jen was on her third slice of the pepperoni laden delicacy.

“Oh yeah. We are single hoofedly bringing pizza to Equestria. Maybe you can make the first pizza place!”

Her dad just shook his head with a smirk at Lyra’s pony terminology. Jen gave a shrug at that idea. “Well maybe heh. I suck at cooking though. I was kicking around the idea of a theatre. See if Twilight can use a duplication spell or something on my iPod. Could make a few bits selling tickets.”

The man laughed again. “When did you become such an entrepreneur Jen?”

“I dunno…it just seems like obvious stuff. See a need fill a need y’know?” She said with a shrug.

Lyra grinned. “Well I think that’s a great idea. I bet a lot of ponies would love to see human entertainment.”

Eventually pizza boxes were emptied, two liters of soda drank, and lava cakes devoured. “I need to hit the bathroom real quick!” Jen slipped upstairs leaving Lyra with her father.

He watched her go, shaking his head again. “When did she get so…mature? I heard you two talking in her room. I can’t believe all that was coming out of my daughter.”

Lyra was helping to clear the table. “No? She seems very bright and insightful, you should be proud.”

“Oh I am…don’t get me wrong. It’s just a startling change. A month ago she’d barely string together enough words to qualify as a sentence. Now she’s comparing the good and evils of the people on two different worlds in a competent manner. Makes me think she could’ve joined me at the firm someday.”

“Firm? What do you do sir?”

“Oh, I’m a lawyer. Do you uh, have those over there?”

She gave a nod. “We do! And that’s a good profession. We don’t often need lawyers to settle disputes, most ponyfolk where I’m from work things out themselves. It’s a lot different in the big cities like Manehattan and Fillydelphia I’m sure.”
Now he couldn’t hide a laugh. “There are so many parallels between our worlds; I have to think there’s some deeper connection somewhere.”

As she dried the dishes Lyra pondered this. “I’ve thought the same thing myself. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories in some circles about the Princesses having some kind of connection to another world, maybe even having COME from one. They just appeared in Equestria one day. There were all sorts of troubles, and when Celestia and Luna came upon the ponies they began using their vast power to solve them. It was almost unanimously decided they should rule.”
Jon just shook his head. “Well this is all a bit above my head I’m afraid.” He turned to the stairs as Jen came back to the kitchen. “Well I guess you have to get going?”

“Yeah dad. But I’ll be sure to write you along with Uncle Derek from now on. And I’ll try to visit…I can’t do it a lot but when I can find time I’ll come by. Maybe I can sneak away for Christmas.”

Her father gathered her in another firm hug…mindful of the invisible wings. “Just stay safe. Study hard, and listen to Pennie alright?”

“I will dad.” She enjoyed her father’s embrace for another few moments, before finally stepping back and turning to Lyra. “Ready?”

Lyra gave Jon another firm handshake. “Thank you for the meal and inviting me into your home sir. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.” She stepped over to Jen, seizing her arm in a vice like grip. “Alright…ready…”

Jen grinned at her nerves and gave her dad a wave. “Love ya!”

He returned the gesture. “Love you too Jennifer.” And then the girls were gone.

Jen was leaning her head away from the again shrieking Lyra as they emerged from the vortex and back into Equestria. Jen peeled Lyra’s hands off her arm with a wince, sighing at the bruises. “Hey the sun’s just setting too! So we should be okay.”

Lyra looked around, taking a deep breath. “It’s good to be home.”

Both girls whirled as a third voice piped up behind them. “What is this my eyes do see? A transformed unicorn and winged monkey?”

Lyra sucked in her breath in alarm as Jen just blinked at the curious mare before her. She could tell she was a zebra from the white and black striped coat. She even had golden bangles around her neck and foreleg she’d seen some tribal women from Africa wearing in National Geographic’s. Come to think of it she sounded like she had an African accent like they had in some movies.

“Oh uh…hi there! I...winged monkey?”

“In regards to Equestria’s creatures I have renowned acumen, and unless I miss my guess I behold a human.”

The rhyming was making it hard to take the situation seriously, but if this zebra knew too much Jen could be in serious trouble. “Uh…yes ma’am! I am in fact a human. You mighta heard about me.”

“Ah! Yes you must be the ward of Pinkie Pie. I hope you will tell your mother I said hi.” The zebra was smiling now.

Lyra was busy undressing, when the borrowed clothes were safely tucked away into Jen’s pack she activated the charm, settling onto the ground as a unicorn once more and returning Jen’s bracelet, which the girl slipped back onto her wrist. “Hi Zecora! It’s…been awhile!”

Zecora’s attention had shifted from Lyra to the bracelet on Jen’s wrist. She approached and took the girls hand in hoof examining it. “Powerful magic I sense in this trinket, from whom did you get it?”

The girl didn’t protest the zebra taking her hand. “Oh, it was a gift from Princess Luna.”

“Aha! A most clever way to help you settle, perhaps without so strongly taxing your mettle.” She let the girls hand fall to her side again, before squinting at the gem around her neck. “Your other jewel is not quite so friendly, if misused its power could be deadly.”

“Oh! Well….well of course. It’s why I don’t use it.” She gave a nervous smile.

“Mmm.” Zecora looked from Jennifer to Lyra, studying their faces intently. “Well then I suppose there is nothing more to say, aside perhaps for have a lovely day.”

“Er…you too ma’am. It was nice meeting you!” Jen smiled and waved until the zebra was out of sight, having disappeared into the forest before she sank to the ground letting out a huge breath. “I thought we were busted.”

Lyra didn’t seem to share her enthusiasm. “We still might be. Zecora is good friends with Twilight Sparkle; the two visit one another often. And she might have a silly way of speaking but she’s really smart. I don’t think for a minute she believed we didn’t use the jewel.”

With a frown Jen fingered the gemstone. “…well it’ll be alright. If they ask I’ll just say it was an accident or something.”
The unicorn didn’t seem comfortable with outright lying. “Do you think we should just come clean?”

Eyes wide Jen shook her head violently. “We can’t! I promised Luna AND Discord I wouldn’t use the jewel. Who KNOWS what she’ll do if she finds out I’ve been using it.”

Lyra sighed softly, but finally nodded. “Alright…I promised I wouldn’t tell.” She looked toward Ponyville. “I should get home. Before I go though…I just want to thank you again. This day…it meant so much to me Jennifer. Even more knowing how much trouble you could get in for doing it for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay you…but I’d like to start by saying if you ever need anything, my door’s open.”

“Aw it was nothing. It was nice seeing my dad and uncle again…and getting some meat.” She laughed, and the unicorn finally smiled. “And hey if I make a good friend out of the deal I’d say it was worth the risk.” She knelt down and the two shared a hug.

“Well then! I’ll see you around town I’m sure. Maybe we could make lunch at the café on Sundays a regular ritual.”
“I’d like that! Er…this coming weekend won’t work though; I’m going to be a guest of the Princess.”
“Sunday after next than. I’ll see you later Jen!”

Jen watched the unicorn gallop for town with a smile, heading the opposite direction she returned to Applejack’s farm.

-Lyra-

Bon-bon was pacing upstairs in the bedroom. After her fight with Lyra, her fillyfriend hadn’t come home all day. It was starting to get late…and she was starting to get worried. She wasn’t with her usual friends or at her normal hangouts. When she heard the front door close downstairs her heart skipped a beat but she hesitated before running downstairs. What if Lyra was still mad?

Her heart sunk even lower when she heard her head down into the basem*nt. …how she hated that room. Ever since Lyra found that…darn magazine a couple years ago she’d become obsessed and turned their basem*nt into some kind of creepy human research headquarters. Old irritations began to rise, but she forced them back down. She wanted to make up, not start another fight.

Slowly the earth pony made her way to the main floor, than into the basem*nt. The sight before her caused her mouth to drop open. Lyra had a sizeable trash bag in the grip of her magic, pushing the bulk of her collected paraphernalia into it. She didn’t toss everything…she kept the couple human novels she’d acquired and a snow globe she’d chanced upon one Hearth’s Warming.

“Lyra what…what’re you doing?”

The unicorn had heard her coming downstairs of course, and didn’t react at first. “Well, I spent the day with Jennifer. We just talked and she answered all my questions so…I pretty much got this out of my system I guess. Hey do we still have that invitation to Fancy Pants’ thing in a couple weeks? It’d be fun to get some new dresses and go don’tcha think?”

The only thing that would shock Bon-bon more at this point would be if Lyra had suddenly wandered in human herself. “I…I think so yeah! I can…I can go find it?”

Looking over her shoulder Lyra shot her love a smile. “Alright, I’ll see if Rarity can squeeze us in soon. Maybe matching dresses?” Tying off the bag the unicorn ascended the stairs first. “I was thinking maybe I should do a performance in the park sometime this week. Like I used to y’know?”

Still in a state of shock Bon-bon followed her upstairs. “That…that sounds really nice Lyra. I know everypony loves hearing you play. Maybe you could ask Octavia to join you.”

“Oh good idea! We used to do duets all the time. It’s been awhile since we performed together huh?” She ducked out the back door to toss the trash.

As happy as the earth pony confectioner suddenly was…something was nagging at her. The smile faded and with a sigh she looked toward Sweet Apple Acres.

-Jennifer-

Fortunately the only one about when Jen returned to the farm house had been Big Mac. “Look like y’had a busy day.”

She jumped in surprise. That was probly the most she’d ever heard the huge stallion say at once. “Oh uh…yup. I was hanging out with this unicorn, Lyra.”

Switching the stalk of straw he was chewing from one side of his mouth to the other he fixed the girl with a stare. “Hm. In the Everfree? Funny place t’be meetin’ friends.”

Crap. He must have seen her heading into the forest this morning. “Oh! Well...I like to y’know…walk. Around trees and…stuff.” Her palms were getting sweaty suddenly. She had her whole story rehearsed and now she was falling apart!

To her relief he nodded slowly. “Hm. Seem t’recall Applejack sayin’ somethin’ to that effect. Best have a car if y’all’re goin out inta the Everfree. Lotta dangers in there.”

“Oh…yeah I know Mac.” She was relaxing as he seemed to let the issue die there. She settled on the rocking chair beside him stealing a little glance from the corner of her eye. Even as a red stallion she couldn’t help but remember the hunky human he’d been on the one visit he took to earth with his sister.

“Hear Pinkie’s gonna have her place set up for the two a’ya soon. Excited t’be movin’ inta yer own place?”

“A little. I’m gonna miss seeing your smiling face every morning.” She teased.

A deep rumbling chuckle came from the stallion. “Well shucks y’all can come see m’smilin’ face anytime. Sides ain’tcha s’posed ta start helpin’ round the farm any day now?”

Jen tilted her head. “Well I’m probly gonna wait til spring at this point so I can do some actual farming. Pinkie says I can’t fly til I spend some more time as a pony…so I guess I’ll probly do unicorn first.”

The farmer bobbed his head in a slow nod. “Makes sense.” He squinted a bit toward the farm entrance. “Think m’gonna turn in. See ya t’morrow Jen.”

“Night Mac!” She stood to follow him inside, when she spotted what he must have seen. Bon-bon was trotting up the path to the farm house, and Jen couldn’t hide a grimace.

“Hello Jennifer.” She seemed a little nervous. “I was hoping to talk to you.”

Jen couldn’t help herself. “Would you rather go in the middle of town so you can try to make me look bad in front of everypony again?”

The mare winced but stood her ground. “I suppose I deserve that.”

Jen just crossed her arms over her chest. “I have my first day of school tomorrow Bon-bon, so if you wanna talk, talk.”
This seemed to make her frown deepen. “Right…I forgot you’re just a filly. You’re so tall…” With a sigh she lifted her head. “I came to apologize. And to explain myself.”

Slowly the girl sat back in the chair, silently inviting the mare to continue.

Taking the hint she stepped onto the porch. “Lyra moved to Ponyville about three years ago. We hit it off right away and started dating. Nothing too serious at first, lunch here or just a walk in the park together. After a couple of months though, we got more serious. Dinner together almost every night. We met each other’s families, she moved in with me maybe…half a year into the relationship.” She settled on her haunches to get more comfortable.

“Everything was perfect, like a storybook almost.” She smiled thinking of it. “She used to perform every day. Usually just down at the park for free, but then Octavia heard her perform.” Seeing Jen’s questioning look she elaborated. “Octavia is a musician here in Ponyville, the best of the best really. She only performs for the nobility and such. Anyhow she liked what she heard of Lyra, and introduced her to the right ponies. Soon my Heartstrings was playing for big venues all over.”

“I found a promise bracelet box hidden in one of her drawers. I was just putting away laundry, and Lyra can be such a slob so I found it when I was straightening up. I didn’t tell her of course, if she wanted to propose it should be on her terms…though it was killing me not to say anything.” Jen’s eyes widened a little at that, of course it made sense. Not as if earth ponies or pegasi had something to stick a ring on.

“She said she had reservations at The Gemmed Saddle for us, probably the priciest restaurant in Canterlot, it was a special occasion she told me, and I should dress nice. I knew that was the night.” Her nostalgic smile faded. “I waited three hours for her to show up. They had to kick me out when they closed. I was worried sick, figuring something awful must have happened. As soon as I got home I was ready to send out a search party. And there she was, lying in the middle of the floor in this beautiful gown…reading a magazine.”

Jen had heard Lyra found a magazine and that had sparked her obsession. “I was upset of course, but she apologized and promised to make it up to me. How could I stay mad at the mare I loved? I knew she was sorry and I knew she’d make it up. But then things changed a little more every day. She started spending all her free time wandering from place to place looking for…human lore. Meeting with weird ponies in dark rooms. Then she began missing gigs. Little ones at first, but then the bigger ones soon enough. Every day she was less like the Lyra I fell in love with…becoming someone else.”
“I tried to talk to her about it, to convince her to give up on such nonsense. When that didn’t work I tried to become interested in it myself…anything to reconnect. It didn’t work of course.” She shook her head sadly. “And then you came along. Rumors of humans coming to Equestria had circulated before…but never with the frequency we heard about you. She didn’t sleep, she barely ate.” Another heavy sigh. “Then when she told me we were meeting…I’m ashamed to say I found an outlet for all my frustration and anger.”

Bon-bon’s eyes were wet with unshed tears now. “I said such horrible things to you at lunch. Then when Lyra came home today she was…she was Lyra again. She was MY Lyra. I don’t know what you did or said, and I don’t care. All that matters is you gave me back my Lyra. I can never thank you enough Jennifer and I can’t apologize enough.” She stood up, wiping a hoof across her eyes. “I don’t expect you to accept my apology, but...I just wanted to explain.”

To say the mare was surprised to feel a friendly hand rest on her shoulder would be an understatement. She looked up to see the girl smiling down at her. “I do accept your apology Bon-bon. I think I’d be pretty upset myself if the situation was reversed. If I knew how…twitchy this had made her I dunno…” She shrugged helplessly. “I’m just glad our talk today seems to have helped. Lyra and I are going to be friends, and I hope you and I can be too.”

Bon-bon almost laughed. She’d treated this filly so badly today, and now here she was wanting to be friends. “I’d like that I think. Very much. And if you ever want something sweet…consider it on the house.”

“Oh you might regret that. I used to eat it by the pound back home.”

Now the mare did laugh. “Maybe you can tell me about some of your favorite human candy. I might even be able to make some of it. New ideas are always exciting.”

Jen finally stood. “I really should get to bed. I’m not exactly a morning person.”

“Oh I know how that goes. I’ve had to kick Lyra’s flank out of bed more than once. I’ll see you in town Jennifer. And I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot, but welcome to Ponyville.” The mare turned and trotted for the gate with a much more pleasant bounce in her step.

Jen made her way inside, shaking her head with a grin at the snoring Granny Smith seated in her rocker. Quietly making her way up the stairs she went to her room at the end of the hall, gently shutting the door. With a happy groan she tossed her clothes in a pile on the floor and settled on the edge of her bed. Fingering her charm bracelet, she gently brushed the unicorn charm. Her wings vanished in a flash and her usual horn returned.

Settling under the covers she looked cross-eyed up at the returned horn. “…kinda missed you.” Smiling to herself she was soon asleep.

So at this point I kinda wanna have Jen start developing relationships outside of the Mane 6. I think it'd be kinda boring if she only hung around with them, I mean we get the show to see all about Twilight and the gang right? They'll still be around, particularly as Jen's tutors in ponylife.

The Equestrian name thing is actually something I've been wrestling with for awhile now lol. On the one hand if she's gonna be a pony it does make sense to have a pony name, but I can't think of one that doesn't sound awful. :x

Chapter 5: Back to School

“Now listen here Jennifer, y’all best be up and in th’tub if yer plannin’ on takin’ a bath b’fore school. If Ah gotta come back up here Ah’m buckin’ ya out.”

With an exaggerated groan the girl swung her legs out of bed. “Fine m’up!” Running a hand through her hair she followed the farm pony out of her guest room. “Can’t believe I gotta go to school…it’s so early!”

Applejack just chuckled at the dismay in the sleepy teen’s voice. To hear it, it sounded like she was being marched to an execution. “Just git yer butt clean then git it downstairs fer breakfast.”

Grumbling all the while she stepped into the bathroom giving another tremendous yawn. If she’d been a bit more awake, or a bit more observant she’d have noticed the shock of bright red mane peeking over the edge of the full tub. As it was, she was neither of those things. Unclasping her bra and kicking off the shorts she slept in she stepped over the rim and sighed as she felt the hot water, slowly sinking down.

It wasn’t until she was fully seated that she felt her feet bump into a small furry body. Blinking blearily she gave a yelp to see Applebloom in the tub with her. “Mornin’ Jenny!”

Instantly she jerked one arm across her chest. “Applebloom! I what’re you doing in here?!”

The filly tilted her head. “Takin’ a bath, same as you!”

Gradually the shock was wearing off. Of course Applebloom wouldn’t see anything wrong with sharing the bath with someone else…she and like, everypony else in town trotted around naked all day. Why should she care if she was sharing the tub with a naked human? With a sigh Jen let her arm fall, and giving a shrug she sank down in the tub a bit more.
“D’you mind if I turn the shower on? Pony tubs are a little small for me.”

“Sure! Sometimes Ah take a shower with Applejack or Big Mac! Ah think it’s a lot more fun than some silly old bath! I keep tellin’ Applejack Ah’m old enough to shower by myself.”

Jen felt around the tub and pulled the plug, standing up and turning the shower on. Now THAT felt nicer. The head was taller than Twilight’s too, to accommodate the gigantic stallion living in the house. The filly sharing the shower with her seemed delighted at the novelty of getting to shower like an adult. Jen glanced at her from the corner of her eye, seeing the filly using her as a buffer for most of the spray. Soon Jen was tilting this way and that, hitting Applebloom with more water. Before long both were giggling and making a game of it.

“So…ya excited t’start school with us?”

The human grabbed a bottle of shampoo (apple scented of course), and started lathering her hair. “A little bit. Gonna miss getting to lie around all day.”

“Aw school’s fun though! Miss Cheerilee’s th’best an we git t’spend all day with our friends!”

That brought a smile to Jen’s face as she rinsed her hair. She remembered a time when she was excited to go to school. Then came middle school and its cliques…which got even worse in high school. Maybe today would be more fun than she first thought. “I suppose that’s true.”

“Course math’s been super hard. We’ve been doin' fractions an I don’t really like them.”

This caused the girl to wince. She was expecting like, basic addition, subtraction…maybe times tables. Fractions weren’t something SHE was particularly adept at either. “Well I’m sure we’ll make do.” She ducked abruptly and caught Applebloom by surprise, hitting the filly full on with the spray.

The little pony gave a yelp and swatted Jen across the backside with her wet tail…something akin to being snapped by a towel. Jen shrieked in surprise and snatched Applebloom up under the forelegs, holding her in front of the spray. The filly squirmed and squealed. “Uncle! You win you win!”

With a smirk of victory Jen dropped the filly back in the water and turned the shower off. “Alright let’s get dried off. I gotta get dressed.”

Jen always marveled when she watched one of the ponies do anything with their hooves aside from walk on them. Applebloom tugged a towel down off the rack and used it to dry herself adeptly. Jen took her own towel and did the same. “How d’you guys do anything with those hooves? When I tried I just…made an idiot of myself.”

Applebloom shrugged as she tugged open the door. “Dunno, practice Ah s’pose.” She trotted out leaving the door wide open. Jen made a dive for it…too late as a cheery red stallion lumbered by. He turned his head to glance in the bathroom, and saw a naked human girl turning about as red as his coat, frozen like a deer in the headlights.

“Mornin’.” Was all he said as he walked passed and headed downstairs.

“M…morning…” Jen sighed. She grabbed her clothes off the floor and made her way to her room, not bothering to cover up or shut the door as she dressed for the day. It WAS her first day in a new school, so she supposed she should try to make a good impression…even if no one else was dressed didn’t mean she couldn’t dress nice. She wore one of the silk blouses Rarity had crafted, and slid on the matching skirt. Of course she kept the battered sneakers.

Her eyes fell on the Sword of Harmony propped against her bed. After slipping it on her arm she grabbed the backpack she got the other day and poked back into the bathroom. With a little smirk she brushed out her hair and tied it back into a ponytail. The Apples were already seated at the table, tucking into the huge breakfast their grandmother had cooked up. Jennifer wasted no time in doing the same, piling her plate with the buttered biscuits, eggs, and hotcakes.

“Shoot y’all look like yer fit t’head to the Grand Gallopin’ Gala in that fancy get up. Bit much just fer school don’tcha think sugarcube?”

Jen gave a little shrug. “My folks back home always insisted on making a good first impression. Dressing the part was a good step in that direction.”

The elder of the family slammed a hoof on the table. “Well it’s good t’see young’uns with such good manners nowadays!”
With a smile Jen started to clear the table, but Applejack nudged her away. “Not t’day, y’all gotta git. Y’all got some learnin’ t’do. Git smarter you two!”

Applebloom had a hug for the rest of her family, before the two set out to the town. Winona and Isabelle were already tearing around the snowy apple orchards barking happily. “Applejack’s rightcha know? Y’sure look real pretty in them fancy duds.”

Jen waved the compliment off. “They’re really not that fancy…but thanks Applebloom.” She didn’t want to admit it but she was starting to feel a little nervous. Which was silly…she was like ten years older than all the other students…and human to boot. She didn’t care if everypony liked her there…right?

As they approached the school house Jen could hear the happy chatter of the foals as they milled about before their teacher drug them inside. A familiar pair of fillies came charging toward she and Applebloom, the latter rushing ahead to meet them. “Hey girls!”

Sweetie Belle took notice of the resident human first. “Woooow did Rarity make those for you?”

“Oh…yup! Except for my shoes she made everything I own.” Jen laughed a little.

“Still don’t see why you wear all that junk every day.” Scootaloo regarded her curiously.

Jen could only shrug. “It’s hard to explain. Back home no one’s naked in public. I know I’m gonna have to get used to it eventually but it’ll take time. It’s not so bad when I’m a pony myself though.”

The fillies clearly didn’t fully comprehend…but they recalled their visit to Jen’s world and the necessity to be clothed there too. Jen spotted another pair of fillies approaching, and she put on her best ‘I’m not a big scary monster’ smile. Until she saw the looks the Crusaders had on their faces.

“Hey blank-flanks! What’s the deal with her? Is she a new member of your silly little club?” Jen took an instant dislike of the smirking pink filly with the obnoxious tiara. She was familiar enough with catty girls back home…and was a little disheartened to find they carried over into the world of ponies. The snickering filly beside the pink one was easily recognized as a flunky.

“Why don’tcha just leave us alone Diamond Tiara? We ain’t botherin’ y’all none.” Applebloom was standing nose to nose with her.

“Yeah get lost Tiara! And take your little friend with you. You don’t want us letting Babs know you’ve been mean to us next time she visits do you?” The little pegasus grinned.

This seemed to steal some thunder from the taunting filly. “I…I’m not afraid of her! You’re lucky we have better things to do! Come on Silver!” Jen watched the pair trot back to the school yard.

She looked down at the fillies around her ankles. “…what the heck is a blank flank?”

All three exchanged miserable looks. “It means we don’t have our cutie marks yet?” The unicorn supplied.

“…so?”

“So? SO? Whaddya mean so? Getting your cutie mark is like…the most important thing in the world!”

Jen raised her eyebrows as Scootaloo’s outburst. “I thought Twilight said it was just something that happens naturally when uh…a pony discovers their natural talent?”

“Mmm. Ah think this might be like yer clothes thing. Like…a difference in culture!” Applebloom seemed proud of the big words.

“Huh. Maybe. Still I think you girls are making a bigger deal outta this than you should…” Jen made her way to the school house, the fillies trailing behind her. Though if it was a big enough deal they were getting teased about it maybe the cutie marks were more important than Twilight had led her to believe.

The interior was every bit as pleasant and cheery as the exterior. Colorful drawings lined the walls, bright happy inspirational posters were hung in-between them here and there. Jen frowned a little looking at the tiny desks, but she figured she could just sit on the floor if worse came to worse. That’s when she spotted the huge one in the back; it was clearly not intended for the little foals.

“I hope you don’t mind being in the back Jennifer, but you’re a bit taller and I like my students to see the board clearly.”
Looking over her shoulder Jen saw her new teacher stepping out of the office door next to the black board. “Oh uh…no that’s cool Ms. Cheerilee, I don’t mind.”

The magenta earth pony smiled at that. “Well good! Why don’t you wait right here. I’ll call the class in and we can do the introductions.”

With a shrug and a nod Jen leaned against the wall by the board. She couldn’t help but grin seeing Scootaloo take a seat in the back row without prompting, Sweetie front and center with Applebloom beside her. It wasn’t too surprising; the earth and unicorn fillies definitely seemed more into school than their pegasus friend.

Slowly little fillies and colts began to filter into the class room. Most giving Jen a wide berth, but those few who had taken part in the game at the park the other day gave her a friendly greeting. She gave Dinky a smile as the little unicorn filly filed in, who returned it full force. Soon their teacher entered, shutting the door behind her.

“Alright my little ponies. Today we have a special new student joining our class. Please give a warm welcome to Jennifer Pie.”

The little ponies all exchanged confused looks…though some stomped their forehooves in applause (mostly the crusaders and Dinky). Jen couldn’t hide a little grimace. “Er…it’s Jennifer Allen actually…the Pie is just a sort of…technicality. And I like just Jen.”

“Oh! I see my mistake. I’ll make sure to fix that. Now before we get started, does anypony have any questions for Jennifer?”

The girl wasn’t terribly surprised to see almost every hoof in the air. With the exception of Applebloom’s. “Uh…” She nodded to the chubby blue unicorn colt…Snips she thought his name was. “Shoot.”

His hoof dropped. “Do you really eat ponies?”

It seemed this was the question on about half the classes mind as most of the other hooves lowered. “I can honestly say I never have, and never will eat a pony.” She almost rolled her eyes at the chorus of relieved sighs that echoed from the class.

“Aren’t you like…OLD to be coming to school?”

Jen grimaced seeing it was the little pink monster who was teasing the crusaders earlier. “Well…yeah I guess. Where I’m from the uh…foals go to school until we’re eighteen. So I’d still have a couple years left.”

“Why? Are you all stupid or something?”

This brought a round of snickers from some of the ponies; their teacher seemed less than amused. “That’s enough of that Diamond Tiara. You should know better. Just because somepony has a different way of doing things than use doesn’t mean she should be teased for it.”

The filly managed to put an apologetic look on her face (one that Jen was sure was practiced to look as genuine as possible). “I’m sorry Ms. Cheerilee.”

She picked out Dinky’s hoof among the ones still raised. “What’s your question Dinky?”

The unicorn beamed having been picked out by name. “Is Pinkie Pie REALLY your mom?”

That brought the ghost of a frown to Jen’s face. “No…she’s just filling in for my mom since I don’t have one here in Equestria.”

“So…isn’t that the same thing? Filling in for your mom is the same as BEING her right? She does all the mom stuff?”
Jennifer sincerely hoped Pinkie didn’t start doing all the ‘mom stuff’ she’d received back on Earth. “I guess. I’ve been staying with the Apple family until Pinkie’s house is done but in a couple weeks I’ll be living with her. So maybe then?”
There was only one hoof still raised, a scrawny little pegasus colt. “Uh, go ahead.”

“Did you really have a sword fight with Discord?”

Now everypony was leaning forward in their seats to hear. “Well…yeah.” Every pair of eyes widened in amazement. “It wasn’t a big deal…plus I almost died.” She lifted her shirt to show the scar across her stomach.

It definitely produced the intended effect. A faint chorus of ‘wooooow’ or ‘ooooo’ rose up from the classroom. Jen smirked a bit seeing even Diamond Tiara and her little flunky looked impressed in spite of themselves. “I only won cause my sword summoned a knight to help me. She’s the one who really beat Discord. I just bashed him in the face and gave him two black eyes.” She crossed her eyes for emphasis and this brought a round of laughter.

“Alright I think that’s enough questions for Jennifer. Why don’t you go pick up some text books from the cupboard there and find your seat, then we’ll get started.”

With a nod to her teacher Jen walked to the cupboard and pulled it open, finding neatly arranged stacks of books. With a questioning glance back to the teacher she began to select one of each. Seeing the approving nod she took her load and settled in her desk in the back. It was surprisingly comfy, and she wondered where it had come from.

“As I’m sure everypony knows Hearth’s Warming is coming in just a couple short weeks! And since Jennifer is so very new, I thought we’d spend the time from now until then doing review.” Every little pair of eyes lit up at this. For the studious ones it meant a chance to keep knowledge fresh in their minds. For those less concerned with academic pursuits it meant a couple weeks of easy classes they didn’t have to pay full attention to.

For her part, Jennifer was absolutely riveted during the history lessons. Never being a big fan of the subject back home…here where it was all magic and monsters it was like a fantasy novel. Save that the events actually happened. Eventually she raised her hand, interrupting the lecture.

“Yes? You had a question Jen?”

She nodded a little, swallowing when every pony turned to look at her. “Well…not about the lesson I’m getting all that alright. But uh…what’s Hearth’s Warming?”

Now the glass all broke into laughter assuming she was joking. Seeing the red flush into her cheeks Cheerilee cleared her throat sternly. “Hearth’s Warming is the holiday we celebrate to remind us about just how important friendship and cooperation is between the three pony tribes. You’ll start to see decorations being put up soon. In fact this gives me a good idea. I want everypony to write a report this week about what Hearth’s Warming means to them. We’ll give oral presentations at the end of the week. It’ll be like all you little ponies are Jen’s teachers for the day…so I want to see a lot of effort go into them!”

The little foals seemed torn. On the one hoof…a report was due. On the other they were just told THEY got to be the teachers for the day. A muted chorus of excited mumbling rose from the class. When noon rolled around Cheerilee proclaimed it was time for lunch, and every little pony rocketed from the classroom as fast as their legs could carry them.
Jen approached her teacher’s desk with a frown. “Uh…is it ok if I leave school grounds to get something to eat?”
“It’ll be alright this time Jennifer, but try to remember to pack a lunch tomorrow.”

“Yes ma’am sorry…where I’m from if we don’t pack lunches we could buy one in the school cafeteria.”

Her teacher seemed surprised. “Really? When you have some free time I’d love to sit down and have a talk about what your schools are like.”

“Oh uh…sure that’s fine. I dunno how much help I’ll be but I’d be happy to tell you whatever I can remember. I’ll be back soon!” She waved and sprinted from the school. Of course the foals watched her with curiosity…it wasn’t normal for a student to just take off. She noticed Dinky sitting a little apart from the others, not eating and with a little frown on her face.
Fortunately Sugarcube Corner wasn’t far from the school and she was at the bakery in no time. Pinkie was behind the counter and seemed at first surprised, then a little upset. “Jenny are you skipping school?!”

“What? No! No I just didn’t get a lunch from Applejack so…I kinda need food.”

Pinkie’s mood did an instant one eighty. “Oh! Why didn’tcha say so?! Let’s see what we got!” Soon the counter was laden with all sorts of pastries and confections…Pinkie’s enthusiasm ebbed when Mrs. Cake poked her head out of the kitchen and cleared her throat meaningfully. “Er…right…um…how’s a nice…cucumber sandwich sound?”

Well THAT was a surprise. Normally Jen would have to demand something that wasn’t some form of cake. “Can you make it two? I’m uh…super hungry.”

“Sure thing Jenny-bean!” Soon enough Pinkie pranced from the kitchen with a paper bag containing the sandwiches, and to Jen’s delight a thermos filled with the home made lemonade.

“Thanks Pinkie! I’ll come by after school and tell you how the day went!” Snatching the bag and thermos she was back out the door and down the road. She plopped on the ground next to Dinky and took out both sandwiches, offering the filly the spare. “Hungry?”

By now most of the foals had finished eating and were onto the playtime of their lunch break. The little filly nodded eagerly accepting the offered sandwich. Jen smiled and poured some of the lemonade into the cap of the thermos setting it aside for the filly. Then began in on her own lunch. She still missed things like a hot roast beef or turkey sandwich at lunch…but they had some fresh fruit and veggies here, that was for sure.

“Thanks Jen…momma forgot. Again.”

Jen just nodded absently. “I’m surprised Ms. Cheerilee doesn’t have something on hand in case this happens.”

Dinky shrugged her little shoulders. “If we ask she goes out and gets us something, but I feel bad making her do that all the time.”

The girl frowned now, wondering just how ‘all the time’ this really happened. “Well maybe I’ll just pack a lunch for two from now on.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that! She doesn’t forget THAT much. But holiday times she gets SO busy that it gets worse than usual. Once Hearth’s Warming is over she’ll be back to normal.” The filly smiled as she finished her meal, sipping the drink curiously. “It’s sour!”

Jen laughed now. “Yup, just how I like it. Why, no good?”

Dinky shook her head. “No it’s tasty! I just wasn’t expecting it.”

With a shrug the girl wadded up the paper bag and capped the thermos. “I’m gonna go back inside and read some more of that history book.”

“Mmkay! See ya in a few Jen!” The filly bounded off to join in one of the games that had cropped up, as Jen made her way back inside and cracked her book.

Cheerilee watched her enter, and was silent for a few minutes. “That was very nice, what you did for Dinky.”

“Huh? Oh it was nothing. I just had Pinkie whip up an extra sandwich.” She laughed.

“Oh I don’t know.” The mare made her way around her desk to take a seat beside Jen. “Thinking about somepony else is never just ‘nothing’. The Mayor stopped by to talk to me about your…daycare was it?”

“Oh that! Yeah I just…” Jen shrugged. “Back home the kids…that’s what we call our foals…their ages don’t just run around unsupervised all day. I mean you ponies don’t have the dangers we have back home, but I still see the little guys getting into all sorts of trouble. It’s not uncommon where I came from for both parents to work, and there was usually a time gap between kids leaving school, and parents getting home from work.”

Cheerilee was nodding to show she understood so far. “So some adults back home, usually volunteers if I remember right would set up a daycare system. Often it was run through the schools. Basically they did fun activities and stuff to keep the kids occupied until their parents came to pick them up.”

“Oh my! How clever, like foal sitting but for a group? It seems like such a simple concept but nopony that I can think of has ever considered that. And believe me some of the little ones could certainly use a bit more supervision.”

Jen had a pretty good idea of three particular fillies her teacher was thinking of. “Right! Well that’s why I brought the idea up with the Mayor. I’m supposed to write a few words about it and it’s gonna come up at the town meeting this week. I guess everypony will vote or something?”

Cheerilee nodded again. “Yes when something like this comes up that’s usually how it’s done. It’s a bit trickier than most proposals since it’s directly dealing with the little ones. I for one think this is an excellent idea, and you’ll have my full support. In fact…have you decided where exactly this daycare is going to be?”

Slowly the girl shook her head. “No ma’am, not yet. I was hoping to talk to Applejack or Twilight about it. They seem like they’d know a good place for something like this.”

With a nod of her head Cheerilee beckoned Jen to follow her to the window. Pointing a hoof toward the back of the school grounds she indicated a dilapidated looking…well Jen had to say it looked almost like a miniature church or steeple. “What about there?”

“…bit of a fixer upper.”

The earth pony laughed at that. “Well I suppose it is at that. But it’s been owned by the school since before I took it over, so that makes it mine technically. Nopony’s been there to worship in…I don’t know how long. So it’s just sat there for years and years. If you want to put the work in, it’s yours.”

“Wow Ms. Cheerilee I dunno what to say! Of course I’ll take it…I mean I dunno anything about construction and stuff but I’m sure I can find somepony to help out!”

“Actually, why don’t you ask Applebloom?”

Jen raised her brows at that. “Applebloom? What’s she know about stuff like that?”

“Oh a good deal in fact.” Cheerilee made her way toward the main doors. “She rebuilt her sister’s old club house. It’s basically the same idea just on a bigger scale. She has a real talent for that you might say.” She winked, indicating a joke of some kind that Jen didn’t seem to get. “Jennifer how much do you know about our cutie marks?”

The question caught the girl by surprise. “Uh…Twilight said ponies get them when they find like…their special talent?” She had always thought that was both weird and an obscure description.

“That’s correct, if a bit vague. Everypony has something they were born to do. Our destiny if you want to be a bit dramatic about it. Now that’s not to say that a pony with a cutie mark of say, a hammer and nail couldn’t become a dancer…but generally we feel happiest when we do something that correlates with our marks. Now if you got a cutie mark in something like gardening, you could still enjoy art or music or anything else. We all have hobbies…but our marks are what make us unique…special. Most jobs you’ll find out in the world hire based around cutie marks as well.”

Jen was slowly nodding, processing what she was learning. “So…if I got my cutie mark for like, drawing…I could still do something else. Drawing is just what I’m the absolute best at?”

Her teacher smiled. “Exactly!”

“Hm.” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. On the one hand it was an interesting idea…and would certainly make planning one’s future easier. On the other, it rankled with her a bit and seemed to oppose the idea of free will in a way.
Cheerilee announced lunch was over and the rest of the class began filing in. When the math lessons started Jen shrunk down in her desk a bit futilely trying to avoid her teacher’s gaze. Naturally she zeroed right in on Jen…who could only shrug helplessly at the shockingly complex formulas on the board.

“Did you never learn fractions in your school Jen?” Cheerilee sounded a bit concerned.

Jen shrugged. “No uh…we DID…but I was like…nine or ten. And I haven’t really had to do anything with ‘em in a lot of years. Back home we have little machines that do math for us.”

Her teacher went from concerned to surprised. “I…see. Well that’s interesting. But we don’t have anything like that here.”
Jennifer had a sneaking suspicion that whatever her eventual cutie mark turned out to be, it would not fall into a field requiring her to learn advanced (to HER basic fractions were advanced!), mathematical equations. “Well I’ll do my best to catch up ma’am.” She gave a wan smile.

Cheerilee seemed mollified by this and resumed the lesson, handing out work sheets to her students to fill out. Jen resisted the urge to peek on her neighbors’ paper…and when she couldn’t do that any longer she wasn’t terribly surprised to find most of Scootaloo’s taken up by doodling.

The day seemed to be going pretty well…until toward the end when Cheerilee wasn’t looking she felt something wet splat against the side of her head. Eyes wide Jen slapped her hand up and came away with…a spitball? She looked incredulously to her side to find a snicker Diamond Tiara tucking a straw away.

Shooting a glance to make sure her teacher was sufficiently distracted Jen leaned in close to the smirking filly, speaking in a harsh whisper. “If you ever so much as look at me sideways again I’ll yank that stupid crown off your head and feed it to you…you got me?”

As if only now realizing the newest subject of her bullying was about three or four times her size the filly’s pupils contracted sharply and she nodded rapidly. Satisfied she was sufficiently cowed Jen leaned back in her seat…only to find a widely grinning Scootaloo gazing at her adoringly. “That was AWESOME.”

Jen just shrugged. “You gotta take a stand with bullies and they’ll back off. Also it helps I’m enormous and carry a sword around.” She grinned back at the filly.

Both girls jumped in their seats at the sudden “AHEM.” Coming from the front of the class. Turning to face their teacher they found her looking less than amused. “I’m not sure how it’s done in your old school Jennifer, but in MY classroom we pay attention and save conversation for after class. And I KNOW you know better Scootaloo!”

The pair caught in their angry teacher’s line of fire both mumbled apologetic ‘yes ma’am’s’ and shrank down in their seats, much to their classmates delight. The foals seemed to be warming to Jen’s presence as the day neared its end…when it became apparent that despite being nearly as tall as their princesses, she was just another filly.

The last hour of the day was time set aside for independent study and refreshers…so naturally most of the foals used that time to goof around and chat. Jen however had her nose buried in her history book, and kept flipping from the index to another chapter. Eventually she raised her hand. “Yes Jennifer? You have a question about something?”

Jen nodded. “Yeah I was looking up about Equestria’s holidays. I found the Summer Sun Celebration, Celestia’s Birthday, Princess Appreciation Day…and was wondering when we had holidays for Luna?”

This brought all the conversations to a grinding halt, and all the foals looked from the human girl to their teacher now. Cheerilee tilted her head. “Well we have Nightmare Night of course.”

The human furrowed her brow. “Right…I saw that one. When everyone dressed in costumes and acts terrified of her. But I mean…that’s not exactly a flattering holiday.”

Now the little ponies were mumbling…some nodding amongst themselves. Cheerilee herself seemed to be growing a bit flustered. “Well it’s a little complicated…I’m sure you’ve heard of Nightmare Moon from Pinkie Pie.”

Jen shrugged. “Sure, I heard the story. And they got rid of the evil that had possessed Luna and turned her back to her old self. But I mean…isn’t history just going to repeat itself if everypony keeps treating her like…some kinda boogie man?”
While nopony else may have known what a boogie man was (now the boogie MARE they were scared of), they caught the gist. “Yeah Princess Luna was really nice! How come she doesn’t get NICE holidays?”

“Well I…I don’t know my little ponies. It’s been a very long time since Princess Luna was living among us…I’m sure SOME important ponies are talking about this. We just have to trust that it’ll work itself out.” The class seemed more than a little surprised at their teacher NOT having the answer to a question.

She looked relieved when she glanced at the clock. “Look at that! It’s time for everypony to be getting home! I’ll see you all bright and early tomorrow!”

Of course this brought a chorus of cheers from the foals who wasted no time fleeing the building, all except Jen who was more slow to leave, a thoughtful frown on her face. She didn’t immediately go to Sugarcube, instead heading for Twilight’s library. Her knock was answered by Spike…she still thought it was weird you had to knock on the door of the supposedly public library.

“Oh! Hey Jen, lookin’ for Twilight? She’s in her lab downstairs.”

“Thanks Spike. Is it cool to go down?” At his nod she set her heavy bag by the door and traipsed downstairs. “Hey Twilight? You here?”

Jen had expected some kind of alchemy lab like the ones in Harry Potter…she did NOT expect the high tech machinery and gadgets filling the bottom of the Golden Oaks. “Oh! Jennifer good timing! I actually wanted to see you!”

Taking the last couple stairs in one step Jen arrived at the bottom. “What about?”

“Well! I thought it would be a good idea to gauge what your mana reserves were at, so we could get an idea of how to proceed on your magical training!” Twilight seemed excited…Jen was staring blankly. “Er…right…human. Mana is the energy a unicorn draws on to use our magic. It fills the air around us as an invisible sort of energy we can draw on. Each unicorn has a uniquely sized mana reserve. It’s best to think of it like…a drinking glass! Every unicorn can fill their glass to a certain extent. The more we can fill it, the more powerful magic we can do. This doesn’t necessarily indicate what sort of spells we can learn, simply how powerful said spells are when cast.”

“Ok that makes sense…so how do we figure out how…full we can make my glass?”

Twilight indicated one of the complex looking machines. “With this! We attach a node to your horn and have you channel energy through it. The indicator here will tell us how much potential you have. In the old days we used to have archaic ways of doing it…like if you could hatch a dragon egg or something.”

Jen raised an eyebrow at the oddly specific reference but shrugged it off. “Sure sounds easy enough, I wanted to talk to you about something too.”

“Well then this works out well for everyone! Go ahead and have a seat here, while I warm up the Mana Spectrometer!”
Jennifer did as she was asked, fiddling with the node while Twilight flipped all manner of switches and buttons, causing the machine to hum to life. “I was absolutely fascinated by how you humans circumvented a lack of magic with your technology, and it’s inspired me to create all sorts of machines. Of course they run on magical engines but still…the basic principle is the same.”

Jen didn’t feel the need to point out that by making machines that run on magic the principle was literally the opposite of the original intent. “So I was reading about Equestrian holidays today.”

“Oh? I have some excellent books on the subject if you want more in-depth study.”

Jen rolled her eyes…she was sure the unicorn had in-depth books on EVERYthing. “And was wondering why Princess Luna only got Nightmare Night…while Celestia has like six holidays in her honor.”

The unicorns frantic movements slowed as that sunk in. “…that Jennifer, is an EXCELLENT question. I dare say this very subject could have contributed to her becoming Nightmare Moon in fact.” Without looking Twilight seized the node from Jen’s hand with her magic and attached it firmly to the girl’s horn. “I suppose she may have had other holidays in the past though it seems unlikely, I’ve never come across mention of them in my books.”

Jen nodded looking crossed eyed up at her horn, the node trailing a wire from it to the machine. “Well how does someone go about uh…starting a holiday?”

“Hm. Well I suppose most had small beginnings of course. I mean SOMEpony had to be the first to come up with Hearth’s Warming or Feasting Day. Then they just sort of expanded from their point of origin, to the point where they were national holidays.” One last dial was turned and Twilight looked over to her guest. “Go ahead and channel some magic. You don’t have to do anything specific, just focus on pushing energy through your horn.”

“So…technically WE could start one in Princess Luna’s honor?” Jen closed her eyes taking a deep breath. She thought of the feeling of using her Find It spell…even if she didn’t actually use that specific spell. The warm tingles started to flow through her body and out her horn. A vivid green line snaked from the node along the wire, and the needle on the indicator began to climb.

“Well…well yes. Yes in fact we could! Oh what an exciting idea! We could start our very own holiday right here in Ponyville! Oh but what would it be about? What would we call it?!” Twilight was bouncing with excitement now...neither girl paying much attention to the machine, even as Jen kept the mana flowing.

“Well it’s winter, and if the seasons are similar to the ones on Earth the winter solstice is coming up in a bit yeah?” Twilight gave a nod. “Well…what if on the longest night of winter, we have a Winter Moon Celebration. We can make a whole big deal about Luna raising the moon, like you guys do when Celestia raises the sun on the longest day.”

“Yes…yes that’s perfect! Everypony stays up all night to see Celestia raise the sun in the morning, so what if we did the same…only it was to enjoy and celebrate Luna’s night! Oh she’ll be beside herself with joy! Oh but I’ll have to draw up the proposal…the decorations…the refreshments…there’s so much thought to put into this!”

Spike had made his way down the stairs, eyeing the humming machine cautiously, fire extinguisher at the ready. He’d been through enough of Twilight’s experiments to know more often than not it was needed. And neither unicorn nor human seemed to be paying much attention to the needle clicking against the far end of the indicator in the danger zone.

“Well I know a couple ponies perfectly suited for designing and hosting big parties. Both of whom I’m sure would go crazy at the chance to get in the ground floor of a brand new holiday.” Jennifer was grinning widely.

Twilight nodded again. “You’re right! Oh I wonder if Fluttershy could put together a choir of nocturnal animals? Can bats sing like birds? I know they squeak so maybe they can put a melody together…the food is trickier. We can’t use apples like the summer celebration.”

“Well I’m her guest this weekend, I’ll put out feelers. Try to find out what sorts of food she likes the best. If this is in her honor we should be catering to Luna after all.”

“Right again Jennifer! With all these good ideas I’m beginning to feel like I should be threatened by you.” They shared a laugh…that died abruptly when the machine let out its first spark. Then another, and another. Crackling and humming dangerously it began to vibrate.

The baby dragon sprang into action, his extinguisher going wildly as he hosed down every inch of the sizzling, smoking machine. Jen snatched the node off her horn and the device calmed almost immediately. “Is…that supposed to happen Twilight?”

Eyes wide the unicorn cleared some of the foam from the machines indicators. “I must have calibrated it poorly, these readings can’t be right.” She heaved an annoyed sigh. “I’ll get it repaired and we’ll try again soon!” This brought a groan of protest from her assistant. “Later…for now I’m too excited about this holiday idea. I’m going to round up the girls and talk this out. Do you want to come?”

Jen waved a hand. “Nah I should get back to the farm, I have some homework to get to. I like to get it done sooner rather than later.”

“Excellent work ethic! I like that.” Spike rolled his eyes, causing Jen to grin. “Well I’ll see you soon I’m sure, and Spike make sure you clean up all this mess!”

If Twilight heard his wail of protest…she didn’t give any indicator. Jen offered him an apologetic smile and grabbed a rag, helping him clean up.

“Aw you don’t gotta do that I’m used to it.”

She shrugged a little. “It’s no problem…I broke the stupid thing after all.”

“Heh I guess that’s true. Wish she’d stop messing with all these…things though. Most of the time this is all they do. Explode, start fires, or make big messes.”

“Mm, I think he’s just curious. Though she does seem to go a little overboard at times.”

“Sister, you don’t know the half of it.” Jen was treated to all manner of mishaps Twilight had been getting up to down here. By the time she left her sides were aching from laughing so hard.

She was starting to settle into a routine over the next couple days. Applejack still had to wake her every morning, but bathing was made more lively by sharing the shower with Applebloom. The little filly was almost expectantly waiting for the girl to turn the shower on and begin their game. Class was going well, and Jen was in love with her history text book much to her teacher’s delight. Not so much the math book.

It was Wednesday morning and she was having trouble focusing on the day’s lesson. Something about the Griffonian Empire. “Alright everypony, why don’t you go out and enjoy your lunches. Jennifer please stay behind.” This brought a chorus of ‘oooo’s from the foals as they filtered out.

Jen approached her teacher’s desk timidly. “Uh…did I do something wrong Ms. Cheerilee?”

The earth pony looked up at her sympathetically. “Nervous about tonight?”

The girl blew out a breath and her shoulders sagged. “Really nervous. I’m not big on public speaking.”

“Normally I tell my students to imagine everypony wearing underwear if they’re nervous to help them relax…I have a feeling that won’t work for you.”

This brought a laugh from Jen. “No I guess not. I’m nervous but I can suck it up for one night. It won’t be so bad I’m sure.”
Her teacher hm’d softly. “Well remember you’re going to be asking all those parents to put the care of their foals in your hands, no matter how short a time it is. That’s a heavy responsibility, and you’ll want to make a good impression on them. It helps that you’re well known in town, and a known friend of some prominent townsponies.”

“Yeah Twilight said she’d help me organize a speech for tonight after school.”

“Why don’t you head over to the library now then? Sooner you get started the better prepared you’ll be.”

Jen had only been going to school for three days now…but a half day was a half day. That was just wired into her being. “Are you sure? I mean…”

Cheerilee waved a hoof. “It’s fine dear, you’re a model student in class though I wish you’d show as much enthusiasm for math as you do art and history.”

The girl’s eyes drifted to a picture of her teacher she’d sketched out during art period yesterday. The assignment had been ‘draw something in the class room’. Jennifer had surprised Cheerilee by choosing her as the subject, and doing a wonderful job capturing her likeness in pencil. “Alright! I’ll see you at the meeting tonight I guess?”

“I’m actually on the city council, so I’ll be there. See you tonight Jennifer.”

Jen burst out of the school with a grin, Applebloom caught sight of her making for the gate. “Where y’all headin’ off to Jenny?”

Still grinning ear to ear she turned to regard the filly, walking backwards. “Ms. Cheerilee says I get to leave early to work on my speech tonight.”

The other crusaders all let out a loud ‘awwww’ at this. “Hey! Maybe we can get our cutie marks in speech writing?” Sweetie Belle’s two friends did not seem to share her enthusiasm at the idea. With a laugh Jen made her way to the library, letting herself in this time.

The librarian had a small mountain of notecards stacked in front of her on a table, reading over each one slowly. “Uh…whatcha got there Twilight?”

The unicorn looked at her visitor and instantly scowled. “Jennifer! Aren’t you going to be tardy getting back to school?” Then her eyes widened in horror. “Are you...skipping class?” She could barely force the last out.

Jen laughed and shook her head. “No…Ms. Cheerilee let me go early to come over and work on my speech for tonight.”
“Hm. I don’t know how I feel about you leaving class early but if Cheerilee said it’s alright…”

Jen just rolled her eyes and sat across from Twilight. “…so…whatcha got there?”

Instantly the unicorn’s mood brightened. “Oh! Well this is MY speech for the Winter Moon Festival’s proposal.”

Eyeing the stack dubiously Jen frowned. “There’s like a hundred note cards there.”

“One hundred and fifty three to be exact!”

“You…don’t think that’s a bit much?”

Eyes widening again Twilight shook her head vigorously. “Of course not! This is a very serious issue we’re proposing tonight. Why isn’t yours going to be as long?”

“Uhhh….I was thinking like…ten would probly do me.”

“Ten? TEN? What kind of speech could you POSSIBLY fit onto just TEN note cards?”

“One that won’t put everypony to sleep?” Jen laughed as Spike wandered by the table and into the kitchen, commenting as he went.

Her laughter choked in her throat at Twilight’s glare. “Well…why don’t you get started and we’ll see what we need once you get what YOU think is enough.”

With a nod the girl took a pad of paper and a pencil from her bag and got to work. She tried to make it concise as she could. Spike was joking as he walked passed (Jen assumed, in fact he was not), but she wanted to get what she had to say out and done with as quickly as possible. Satisfied with what she had on paper she began transcribing it to the note cards, managing to fill eleven and a half which she offered to the highly doubtful looking Twilight Sparkle.

“Well it’s definitely to the point. And you do a good enough job outlining your reasons for the Daycare and what you intend to do there. I suggest you prepare some responses to questions.”

Jen wrinkled her nose in thought. “Like what?”

Twilight tapped a hoof against her muzzle. “Well what sorts of activities you plan. Will you provide after school snacks? Will you be available on weekends? What if you need to take disciplinary action?”

“Oh…yeah those are…good questions. That I SHOULD be able to answer.”

“They are. Also how much do you plan to charge for this service?”

Now that was something Jen had been thinking about for some time. Babysitting jobs the pay tended to vary wildly, and she really had little basis for a dollars to bits conversion rate. “Well…what would be fair?”

“Well I think an hourly rate needs to be established. You have to take the cost of running and maintaining your facility, while still making enough profit to have some spending money for yourself. I believe three bits an hour per foal would be a fair rate.”

Jen nodded doing a bit of math in her head. She could probably get treats at a discount from Applejack and Pinkie Pie. Maybe even with an IOU system until things got rolling. The activities were another story. She supposed she could just take them outside and have them do outdoor games of some kind, but then the foals could do those sorts of things on their own. She’d briefly considered asking Twilight to blow up her iPod again and play cartoons for them, but parents back home didn’t like their kids sitting in front of TV all day, she doubt the ponies would.

“Well arts and crafts? That’s something they like. And you could enlarge the ear buds on my iPod to speaker size; I have lots of kids’ music so that’s something to do. Sing alongs I guess. Oh…you guys have board games right? I bet I could borrow some from Pinkie until I can stock it with my own.”

Twilight was smiling as she nodded. “Yes. Those are all excellent ideas.”

“As for discipline…I mean am I going to need it?”

The unicorn shrugged a little. “Well sometimes foals can get a little out of hand and need to be reined in.”

“Well I guess time outs? And in severe cases I’d inform the parents. I mean it’s not like I can ground or spank them or anything.”

“Very good! I suggest you write all this down so you have it on hoof in case these issues are brought up.”

Jen was already writing, filling a couple more cards, before she started reading over the whole mess again. “I think I’m ready!”

“Excellent! You have just about an hour until the meeting, I suggest you go home. Freshen up and come dressed in your best.”

“Thanks for the help Twilight, I know you’re busy and I appreciate it.”

“Not at all. To be honest I’ve had a lot of time on my hooves with Princess Celestia being…busy elsewhere. Until she returns I’m mostly just left to my own devices for how I fill my time. Frankly it’s not something I’m used to.”

“Heh, well I’ll see you at the meeting!” Jen set a brisk pace for the Apple’s farm. She smiled as Pinkie Pie bounded out of the bakery to trot at her side.

“Heya Jenny-bean! Tonight’s the big night huh?”

“Yup. I’m goin to get ready right now in fact.”

“Well just relax! You’ve already got three of the five council members in the bag!”

This was new to Jennifer. She knew Cheerilee was on the town council and the mayor of course though she wasn’t sure if she’d been a guaranteed yes. “Who all’s on the town council anyhow?”

Pinkie tilted her head. “Well there’s Mayor Mare of course. Then Granny Smith. Mr. Cake, Cheerilee, and Filthy Rich!”
“Wow really? I don’t recognize the last one.”

“Oh he’s the owner of Barnyard Bargains! That big general store a few streets down from Sugarcube Corner! I’m sure you’ve passed it tons of times. Mr. Rich has stores all over Equestira, he’s super rich.”

Jen managed to not roll her eyes. With a name like Filthy Rich it’d be pretty ironic if he wasn’t. “He a nice guy?”

“Oh sure, not stuck up or snooty at all. He lives in Ponyville after all! His family helped found the town alongside the Apple’s you know?”

Jen did NOT know in fact. “No kidding?”

“No kidding! He’s got a lot of money but he’s super nice to everypony. Just real busy since I guess if you want that much money you’ve gotta work for it!”

Now THAT was a concept the girl was familiar with. While her family wasn’t rich, they were very well off. Mostly because her dad worked day and night, sometimes seven days a week. He was at the office at all hours. “I see. Hey is he an earth pony too?”

“Mmhm! Everyone on the council is…it’s tradition!”

Jen glanced at the charm bracelet dangling from her wrist. Specifically at the one charm she hadn’t bothered to try out yet, thinking it was the most dull and least likely to produce any interesting results. With a little shrug her fingers brushed it just gently enough to awaken the earth aspect.

Pinkie winced at the unexpected burst of magic around the girl. “Ooo lookit you!”

“What? Do I look weird?” She couldn’t feel her horn…or the wings she’d had the other day. But she didn’t feel normal either. She felt…centered. Scuffing the dirt with the toe of her shoe she found herself idly wishing she weren’t wearing them at all. With a curious frown she approached a large store front window.

“Holy six pack Batman!” She gasped a bit seeing her enhanced musculature. While she wasn’t a body builder or anything, she had some very visible muscles along her bare arms. Her t-shirt was somewhat ill fitting on her broader shoulders, revealing the hint of her much enhanced abdominals. Even her jeans were fitting tightly on her more muscular legs.

“Bet you could give Applejack a run for her money now huh?” Pinkie was giggling hysterically.

Gingerly she lifted an arm flexing the bicep, eyes widening again at the size of the muscle it produced. “Maybe Big Macintosh.”

She meant it as a joke but as Pinkie watched her twist and flex her new muscle, she wondered how much of that was true. She didn’t look like she was going to be dragging a house behind her anytime soon, but she definitely looked like she could handle a plow.

“You don’t have time to go all Rarity on me now Jenny-bean. Don’tcha gotta go get ready?”

This snapped the girl out of herself studying. “You’re right! Cripes. I’ll see you in a bit Pinkie! Let’s have dinner together tonight!” She dashed off for the farm.

And in record time she was there. It was like the landscape just flashed by her in a rush of wind and color. Blinking in astonishment she hopped the fence around the farm and trotted to the house. She’d just run a pretty fair distance in record time and wasn’t even winded. In fact she felt like she could run awhile more too.

The stallion she and Pinkie were just discussing was sitting on the porch enjoying the early sunset with a glass of juice. He raised a hoof in greeting then let it fall when the girl came into clearer view. Giggling at the look on his face Jen tossed him a little wink before making her way inside and upstairs.

Emerging from her room soon again clad in the fine silk blouse and skirt Rarity had crafted (even if they fit a bit more snugly than before), and her sneakers exchanged with the matching slippers, Jen ducked into the bathroom picking through the very meager offering of cosmetics. Just a bit of blush and lipstick was all she used. Taking a few minutes to weave her hair into a tight braid she stood back to admire her look. “Thank y’all kindly f’r this here chance t’talk with ya.” She snickered at her reflection.

“Think yer best stickin’ with the braid an fergettin’ the accent there young’un.”

Jen yelped and looked guiltily to the elderly mare standing in the door with an amused grin on her face. It looked like Jennifer wasn’t the only one to dress up for the occasion. Granny Smith had her hair in its usual bun, but a lovely silk bonnet on her head, and a finely crafted shawl thrown about her shoulders. “Sorry Granny Smith.”

The old pony chuckled and slowly made her way downstairs. “Oh t’aint nothin’ t’be sorry about. S’cute in a way. The braids a nice touch an so’s ya goin earth pony. Butcha don’t wanna overdo it or ya might make some folks think yer makin’ fun of em.”

Jennifer held the front door for the Apple family elder as they both stepped onto the porch. Glancing at Big Mac, still in the same spot on the porch she gave him another wink before accompanying the elderly mare into town. Plenty of ponies were making their way to towtown hall, and Jen suppressed a sudden onset of nerves.

“Now when they call yer name jus’ c’mon up. Introduce yerself, say yer piece an that’s that. Folk might have a couple questions but it’s nothin’ too serious.”

“Alright, thanks Granny Smith.” She gave the mare a smile as she joined the general flow into town hall, most ponies making a little space as she approached. It was standing room only inside, but she spied Twilight, Pinkie, and Rarity in a line against the far wall. The girl went to join her friends.

“This is where ponies that have business with the town council wait to be heard. They’ll call us up, we give our presentations and then they vote. It’s very simple darling, you’ve nothing at all to be nervous about.” Rarity gave Jen a warm smile, and tried to hide her exasperation at Twilight’s massive speech.

Jen drew more than a few curious looks. Not so much for her being present at the meeting, but that she was in line to address the assembled ponies. She kept her focus on the dais up front, trying to tune out the curious whispers. The town council filed in and took their seats behind the big table.

She tried to pay attention…but most of what was going on was pretty boring. Irrigation and taxes and the sorts of governmental stuff Jen had never really been interested back home. It wasn’t until Rarity prodded her firmly with a hoof that she realized everypony in the place was staring at her. Realizing they must have called her name she lurched forward and up onto the stage.

The assembled ponies seemed more amused than upset which was a good sign she felt. Slowly approaching the microphone she cleared her throat. “Uh…hello everypony. I’m…” She was struck with sudden inspiration. “…Jennifer Allen Pie.” She could hear Pinkie gasp excitedly before Twilight clamped a hoof over her muzzle.

She fumbled a moment before drawing out her note cards. The ponyfolk waited patiently as she collected herself. It was common knowledge she was basically a giant filly, so they showed the same patience they would any other youngster. Finally she got her speech ready.

“Ahem. I’ve been a part of this wonderful community for almost two months now. In that short amount of time the good ponies of Ponyville have shown me nothing but warmth and kindness.” She flipped to the next card, but felt her confidence rising as she heard a few ‘awws’ in the crowd. “I’ve noticed since I arrived that some of the more lively fillies and colts in town can get into a fair bit of mischief after school hours. Nothing malicious, but sometimes damage is done and business is disrupted and this isn’t good for anypony. Three specific fillies spring to mind immediately.” She smiled to show it was a bit of a joke, and was rewarded with much laughter from the crowd…while Rarity and Granny Smith did their best to look innocent.

She shuffled to the next card. “Now as I’m sure everypony knows, I’m not originally from around here.” She got another bout of laughs and felt more relaxed as she spoke. “Where I’m from parents tend to be a little stricter on monitoring their foals’ activities.” She silently thanked Twilight for looking over her speech and correcting the human terminology she’d written in her first draft. “There are plenty of families where both parents work during the day. In the time between school and them getting off work, they would leave their foals in the care of somepony else in a place we called a daycare.”

“The daycare is watched over by more mature adults who keep the foals occupied with games, activities, and pretty much just doing what foals enjoy doing in their free time. Only with some adult supervision to keep them out of trouble.” She took a deep breath. “My proposal is to open a daycare here in Ponyville. Miss Cheerilee has kindly offered to give me the old steeple on the school grounds for use. It will need repairs of course, but I’m confident I can turn it into a warm and fun environment for the foals to spend their time before their parents are ready to pick them up.”

“So um…yeah. That’s it…the floor is now open for questions.”

There was a loud rumble as the crowd of ponies began to talk all at once, the stallion she didn’t recognize, who must be Filthy Rich pounded his table with a hoof like a gavel. “Now everypony let’s have order! One at a time.”

Several hooves rose into the air, Jen pointed to a familiar gray pegasus. “Yes ma’am?”

Ditzy Doo flapped a bit to get over the crowd settling before the podium Jen occupied. “How much is this going to cost?”
“Oh! Well after discussing it with some more experienced ponies and factoring in the cost of snacks and activities we felt three bits an hour would be fair. It could be paid on a day to day basis, or a long term plan could be worked out.” She just added that last part on the spot but it seemed like a good idea. It also seemed to satisfy many of the ponies who were smiling and nodding.

A rose colored earth pony mare stepped up next. “How late would you be running your daycare?”

“Well from two thirty when school ends, until five o’clock. I’ve got homework of my own to do of course. And want to have dinner at home.” Jen smiled as the assembly laughed. “If there are extenuating circ*mstances and you’d have to leave a foal for a longer period of time something could be worked out where they could be picked up from my home.” This was something she’d mentioned to Pinkie, who seemed delighted at the idea.

Mr. Rich cleared his voice behind her. “I have a concern. What makes you qualified to look after our foals, being a filly yourself.”

Jen turned to address the business pony. “Well sir I’m sixteen, almost a full grown mare in my own right. I’m attending Ms. Cheerilee’s school more to learn about my new home than from an actual need for the basic math and literature educations. I’ll admit I don’t have a lot of experience with foalsitting, but I learned what I DO know from the best. While a firm hand is needed at times, most of what your fillies and colts need is simple supervision. I’d provide them a fun, safe environment to spend their time while waiting for you good ponies to be done with your days’ work.”

The Mayor stood. “I think we’ve heard enough.” She looked to her fellow council members, all nodding and smiling. “Very well. It is unanimously decided that Ms. Pie be allowed to start her business. The finer details will be worked out in the coming days, and she will be open for business…?” She looked at Jen questioningly.

“Oh ah! Well I’ve been asked to spend the weekend in Canterlot with Princess Luna, but I think…by the week after next I should be up and running.”

This brought a surprised murmur from the crowd, more that she was to be a guest of the princess than anything. “Very well, a formal announcement will be made soon.”

“Thank you very much everypony! I promise not to let you down.” Jen hastily stepped off the dais and to the refreshments table, getting a large drink of punch.

Pinkie was the first to her side. “Congratulations Jenny-bean you did GREAT up there!” She threw her legs around Jen’s waist in a tight hug.

The girl had to fling the arm holding her glass out to avoid getting punch all over her blouse. “Thanks Pinkie…I’m just glad that’s over.” She laughed a bit nervously. That’s when she noticed the pair of unicorns on stage now, frantically waving for Pinkie’s attention. “Uh…I think you’re up?”

The mare whipped her head toward the stage and yeep’d galloping up to join her friends, much to the crowd’s amusem*nt. Twilight lowered the microphone back to pony height and cleared her throat. “Hello everypony, I’m sure you all know I’m Twilight Sparkle. With me are Pinkie Pie and Rarity.” The ground practically shook from the cheering and applause.

The mares on stage all blushed a bit at the booming accolades. “Now as everypony knows, we have many holidays to show our love and appreciation for Princess Celestia.” Another thunderous round of applause. “Well it has been brought to my attention, that we have been inadvertently slighting our other princess, Luna.”

The crowd hushed now and exchanged nervous glances and whispers. The members of the council exchanged concerned looks of their own. They had just been told Twilight and her friends had a ‘big new idea’. Twilight waited for the muttering to die down before she continued. “I propose that on the night of the winter solstice…or the longest night of winter, we begin a NEW tradition. Right here in Ponyville. My proposal fillies and gentlecolts, is to host Equestria’s first ever Winter Moon Festival!”

The mood instantly changed in the hall. Now the ponies were talking excitedly among each other. Jen couldn’t hide a smile. If there’s one thing she’d learned about the ponyfolk…it’s that they LOVED an excuse to throw a celebration.

“I would be more than happy to handle all the planning, and relay what would be needed from all of you through the mayor’s office. Rarity and Pinkie would be working closely with me to make sure our first Winter Moon Festival is an event to remember.”

The Mayor leaned forward. “Do you have ANY details you could share with us Ms. Sparkle?”

Twilight gave a brisk nod and began shuffling through her notes, before Rarity stepped forward. “The general idea would be the same as the Summer Sun Celebration. The main difference of course being a nightly theme. We would stay up all night not in anticipation of the coming sun, but to celebrate Princess Luna’s beautiful night.”

With a little snort Twilight nudged Rarity aside, just as she began to speak again Pinkie jumped up in front of the microphone. “We could do all the yummy treats in silver and blue! And we could have fancy music and games and dancing and everything!”

At the resounding cheer Twilight rolled her eyes and tossed the rest of her speech in the trash. “Well I think that settles that. The solstice is Saturday after next yes?” Twilight nodded the affirmative to the mayor. “Well then…we have a lot of planning to do everypony. To prepare for Equestria’s first ever Winter Moon Festival!”

Twilight cleared her throat as the cheering died down. “Now…I would like to ask for everypony’s help in keeping this as quiet as possible. We want to surprise Princess Luna on the day of the festival.”

Nods and cheers of agreements met her request, and the trio left the stage. “Well that went pretty well! Oh but there’s so much planning to do. I’ll have to get started on the check lists…” Twilight was already out the door, leaving her friends shaking their heads in amusem*nt.

“Still…for an event like this I think Twilight’s organizational skills will be even more helpful than on the Wrap Up. At least for the first festival.” Pinkie and Jen could see the gears turning in Rarity’s head, already imagining the town done up in beautiful silver and blue banners.

Finally the human and her earth pony surrogate made their way toward the farm. “You’re being awful quiet, aren’t you excited for the festival? You get to plan the very first celebration of a new holiday you know?”

“Oh! No no, I AM excited for it…it’s just.” Jen frowned; she’d never seen Pinkie so tongue tied. “It made me happy to hear you say Pie was your last name Jenny. Really, REALLY happy! For a long time I thought you were mad that everypony has been just…sticking that at the end of your last name and you always say “No it’s Allen!” right away. I…I know I’m a silly pony who’s got cotton candy for brains Jenny…but I really love you a whole lot! And I know your human mom wasn’t…very good to you. I just want you to know you have someone who loves you, a TON…like she should have.”

Now it was Jen’s turn to be at a loss for words. She kept a slow pace plodding toward Applejack’s farm. “Pinkie I…” She swallowed. “…it’s complicated…how I feel about my mother. I mean I know she’s my mom and I SHOULD love her but…I don’t know if I do. That’s a horrible thing to say I know. I miss my dad, and love him a lot. And my uncle…so I KNOW how to feel that. But when I think of her there’s…nothing.” She stopped now kneeling down eye level with Pinkie. “I love you too Pinkie…but I don’t know if it’s the same way you love me. I wish I could say otherwise it’s just…this is hard. And confusing for me.”

Pinkie’s mane seemed in danger of deflating. “O…oh…I know. I know I’m just being silly and this is…sorta stupid.”

Jen put her hand on the pony’s shoulder. “No, you’re not being stupid at all. It really meant a lot to me what you said, and I really AM looking forward to moving into our house together. The sooner the better in my opinion.” She offered her a big smile.

Her words seemed to reinvigorate the mare, who threw her legs around Jen’s neck in a hug. “Well…that’ll have to do for now I suppose!” She ended the embrace and let Jen stand back up, as they resumed their walk. “So…excited for this weekend?”

Now the girl nodded eagerly. “I really am. I’m a little nervous I mean she IS a princess…but she’s been very nice to me when we talked before. AND she’s gonna teach me how to use my sword.”

Pinkie stopped at the gate. “Well, you need to get to bed. School in the morning right?”

“Yeah…I’ll see you tomorrow Pinkie Pie.”

The pony giggled as she trotted back to town. “See ya tomorrow Jenny Pie!” Pinkie’s smile grew even bigger when Jennifer didn’t call out to correct her.

Oof! Big chapter, biggest I've written for one of my stories so far I'm pretty sure. XD Just started typing and got into a groove I guess haha.

Chapter 6: Weekend at Luna’s Part 1

Friday was finally here and Jennifer could barely contain her excitement. She’d somehow managed to sit through the entirety of her classes Hearth’s Warming presentations, and she could say with certainty she understood the reason for the season as it were. The story with the windigoes was certainly interesting, but after hearing the seventh interpretation of it her focus had been slipping. When Cheerilee announced class was over she was on her feet and dashing for the door with the rest of the class.

She spied Applebloom and the other two crusaders trotting happily toward the run down steeple. She was eager to be on the train to Canterlot but responsibility came first. With a sigh she followed them over. “So what d’you think Bloom? Can you save it?”

The little earth filly nudged the door open…and it fell inward off the hinges. “Mmmm.” She trotted inside, fillies and girl trailing, remaining quiet as she slowly paced around. “It’ll take alotta elbow grease. This place ain’t worse off than our clubhouse, but it’s a whole lot bigger. Still! Ah reckon me an the girls can have it in ship shape fer ya by the time y’all come back from Canterlot.”

Jen’s eyes widened. “What? Oh no I can’t have you do it all on your own.” Which would be extremely ironic given the purpose for the renovations. “We’ll all do it together when I get back alright?”

If the girl hadn’t been in such a rush she would have noticed the sly look the fillies exchanged. “Of course Jennifer! We’ll wait!” Sweetie Belle smiled her angelic smile.

Scootaloo nodded. “For sure! We’ll totally wait!”

Finally Applebloom started nudging Jen out. “Yup! Y’all got nothin’ t’worry about! Have fun in Canterlot!”

Nodding absently Jen needed no more prodding. “Alright, you girls have a good weekend! I’ll see ya Sunday Applebloom!” Without a look back (if she had she’d see Applebloom already drawing up blueprints), she took off at a sprint for the farm. She was still in her earth aspect so she had little more than a light sheen of sweat from her long run. She’d been getting particular delight in how flustered her earth aspect seemed to get Big Mac, and never went without a chance to tease him.
Seeing the stallion busy kicking the trees in the orchard to free some frost she slowed and ambled toward him. Instantly he shifted his gaze from her to studiously focus on the ground. “Hey Mac!”

Not wanting to be rude he nodded a greeting. “Afternoon Jen.”

“Workin' hard?”

“Eeyup.”

“Want some company?”

“Eeyu-“ He caught himself. “Nope! M’sure Ah got it.”

She grinned and wandered to the next tree, dropping to all fours and mimicking his stance. She knew his eyes were glued to her. “I wanna try! So I just kick it?”

He bobbed his head in a slow nod. “Uh…yup.”

She coiled her leg and struck out as hard as she could. Suddenly a sharp CRACK rang through the orchard. Just as suddenly the stallions’ attention went from the comely young girl and to the tree. Said girl’s eyes were wide as she looked back at the tree…the tree that was slowly toppling. “Oh no-no-no…”

“WHAT IN TARNATION WAS THAT?!” Both whipped their head toward the barn, where an irate Applejack was galloping toward the pair.

“…y’know what? I think I got everything I need in my backpack! Homework and study stuff…sword, everything! I don’t need more clothes! I’ll wear this all weekend! See you when I get back Macintosh!”

“Y’best run faster’n ya ever run b’fore.”

“Y…yeah…” Casting one last glance at the furious farm pony drawing closer Jen wasted no time in breaking into a frantic run…leaving the farm and a hollering Applejack in her dust.

Jen didn’t slow her pace until she was nearing the train station, a surprised Pinkie Pie waiting for her. “Hey I didn’t think you’d be here so soon! It’s too bad the train’s just pulling out of the station.”

Hesitantly the girl cast a quick glance over her shoulder. She felt a chill run up her spine at the cloud of dust being kicked up from the direction of Sweet Apple Acres…and heading her way. “Know what Pinkie? I’ll get on this one!”

Eyes wide Pinkie looked from Jen to the slowly departing train. “This one? But it’s leaving! You missed it!”

“JENNIFER ALLEN! DON’T THINK AH’M NOT GONNA CATCH YA!”

Pinkie blinked again and hastily stuffed the ticket into Jen’s hand. “Well-bye-Jenny-bean-see-you-soon!”

Jen smiled a quick thanks to Pinkie and took off at a run for the departing train. It wasn’t up to full speed fortunately, so the girl was able to catch up quick enough. With a grunt she jumped and snagged the back rail of the caboose hauling herself over the edge. Looking back at the station she had time to see furious Applejack throw her hat to the ground, shaking her hoof at the escaped teenager.

If she weren’t so terrified she’d have found the scene hilarious, like a cartoon where the hero escapes the villain at the last second. Of course she was technically the villain in this scenario but those were semantics! With a sigh she turned to the train car and let herself in. Thank goodness ponies rarely if ever locked doors.

She managed to track down the conductor, who seemed more than a little surprised to see her, but when she presented the first class ticket (bearing the royal seal no less); he visibly relaxed and showed her to her car. Sinking gratefully into the seat she finally relaxed. NOW she had felt the dull burn in her muscles. She didn’t think she’d ever run so much in her entire life. Leaning her head against the window, she slowly drifted to sleep watching the gorgeous Equestrian country side slip by.

-Elsewhere-

“Are…are you absolutely certain m’lady?” The young night pony filly shifted from hoof to hoof before her beloved princess of the night.

Luna favored the young cadet with a smile. “I am. While unorthodox I feel this is a fine way to take her measure a bit. Besides…it may be fun.” She winked.

The filly didn’t seem to share her mirth. “If you’re absolutely sure m’lady…I will of course do my duty.”

-Jennifer-

Jen jerked awake when the train screeched to a halt and she heard the conductor announce, “Canterlot! Everypony disembark for Canterlot!”

Slowly she got to her feet and threw her pack over her shoulder, merging with the crowd departing the train. Most were Ponyvillians so they didn’t give her the odd looks she had come to grow accustomed to from new ponies. Stepping out onto the platform was another story, she was greeted by the gasps, gapes, pointing and whispering she’d been subjected to on the road through Detrot, and in Ponyville when she’d first been introduced. With a sigh she shrugged it off and set out for the castle.

She was surprised to see a very unhappy looking member of Luna’s guard standing in the street right off the platform. She looked young…maybe Jennifer’s age when she was a pony, though dressed in the intimidating armor that Twilight had said provided the glamor to give her yellow eyes and bat like wings. She was holding a sign that read “Jennifer Allen Pie”…naturally Jen approached.

“Uh…hi?”

The batpony let the sign drop from her mouth. “You’re Jennifer? …right that’s a silly question. I’m Echo, your assigned guard, tour guide, and all around assistant as ordered by Princess Luna.”

Jen blinked. “O…oh that’s not necessary really! I’m sure I can get by just fine.” She offered the pony a smile, but it faded as she noted how exhausted she looked. “…I’m guessing you’re not a morning pony.”

Echo managed a little chuckle. “That’s an understatement. None of us are really, but m’lady said you needed an escort and so here I am. Ready to get a move on?”

With a nod Jen fell into step beside her. The pony cast a curious glance up at her. “That all the luggage you brought?”
“Oh uh…yeah I left in a hurry. Really…excited to get here.”

“Oh! Well I can’t blame you for that. M’lady is a wonderful pony, I’m sure you’re in for the time of your life this weekend.”
Jen smiled. Echo looked a bit intimidating but she seemed nice enough. “So…you’re one of Princess Luna’s guards?”

“I am! …well…I’m one in training. I’m a cadet, still just a filly by my people’s standards.” Echo heaved a sigh and kicked an errant rock across the sidewalk. “It’s not fair, REGULAR ponies my age are full-fledged guards.”

“I feel ya. I’m going to school with foals who’re like ten years old. I’m gonna be sixteen next month and it’s a little embarrassing.”

“Huh. I’m sixteen! What a coincidence huh?”

Jen chuckled. “That is…I wonder if that’s why the princess chose you?”

Echo looked away suddenly. “That’s probly it. C’mon we’ll take a carriage the rest of the way, since we can’t fly and I don’t feel like walking and being gawked at the whole way.”

That was when Jennifer realized the attention she was receiving was being split equally between herself and the bat winged filly. They must not be very common outside the castle. After watching Echo unsuccessfully try to get a carriage to stop for them for several minutes, Jen gave a snort of irritation and just stepped into the way of the next empty one approaching.
The driver looked from the imposing, muscular human girl to the glowering night pony and seemed to have trouble deciding which to be more afraid of. “C…can I help you with something?”

Suddenly Jen’s scowl shifted to a radiant smile. “As a matter of fact yes! My friend and I are trying to get to the castle, would you be so kind? Princess Luna herself is waiting on us and well…I’m sure she’s not someone who likes to be kept waiting.”

“O…of course uh…miss? Yes of course hop on in!” He smiled timidly still looking from one girl to the other.

Still wearing her smile Jen climbed aboard, Echo following soon after. Once the door snapped shut they lurched forward, rolling toward the castle. “That was pretty excellent…the look on his face.”

Jen shared a smile with Echo. “Yeah it was. I’m guessing you guys don’t get around town much.”

She filly shrugged looking toward the window, squinting against the bright daylight. “No. Princess Celestia thought it best we integrate gradually with the natives.”

Something about that piqued Jen’s interest. “Natives? Aren’t you just pegasi wearing magic armor?”

Echo jerked and looked sharply over to the human, realizing she’d let something slip she shouldn’t have. “I ah…well of course! It’s just…” Seeing the girl arch a brow unbelievingly she sighed. “No. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you about other worlds?”

“Uh…no.”

“Right. Well…there’s a world very much like Equestria…you could call it Equestria’s shadow. Everything here casts a shadow there. My people are to put it simply, the shadows cast by ponies. M’lady Luna visited our realm regularly in her youth and was disturbed at our plight. I mean as scary as we look, imagine a dragon or manticore over there? Every day was a life and death struggle for my people.”

Echo had Jennifer’s full attention now. “So…what happened?”

“She shared our story with her sister Celestia…” Jen detected a hint of bitterness in Echo’s voice at the mention of the day princess. “Who eventually allowed us to migrate here to Equestria, giving us many dank and cramped caves to settle in. She was worried our…unique appearance would unsettle her precious little ponies.”

“She was obviously right. It probly doesn’t help you were scowling the whole time we were out there.”

This brought a snort from the pony. “Well Lady Luna fought long and hard for our rights, and got her sister to agree to let us out in public, in small doses…and under the ruse that we were normal pegasi magic’d up to look more…I don’t know, nightish?”

“Hm.” Jen leaned back in the seat, hands folded behind her head. “Things might be different nowadays. I mean the folk in Ponyville were…shocked and a bit nervous around me at first. But they warmed up pretty quickly. You guys should see if Luna will let you out a bit more. Stop lurking in the shadows.”

“LADY Luna…” Echo corrected. “Has suggested we do just that. Most of my kind are reluctant. Afraid we’ll cause a panic and wind up like the changelings, booted out of Equestria.” The pony frowned staring hard at Jennifer. “Aren’t you supposed to have a horn?”

“Eh? Oh that…” Jen shrugged. “I’ve been trying out all the forms my bracelet offers, earth pony’s been surprisingly fun. I’m like a borderline super hero.”

This seemed to confuse Echo further. “I don’t know about all that, but Lady Luna was expecting a human girl to practice her magic with. I doubt you can do magic right now.”

With a simple shrug Jen brushed the unicorn charm on her bracelet. With a flash her muscle was gone and her horn returned. “I can do that.”

Eyes wide Echo looked from the horn to the bracelet. “That…lets you become members of the other tribes?”
“Oh yeah. I can even go full pony but it’s still a little awkward for me. Why?”

“Does it…work for anypony who wears it?”

Thinking back to her little trip with Lyra the girl gave a nod. “It does. Lu…” She wilted at Echo’s warning look. “Lady Luna gave it to me to help me adjust to life in Equestria.”

The carriage came to an abrupt stop. “Canterlot Castle fillies!”

The pair climbed out of the carriage, and just as Jen began to reach for the few bits Pinkie had given her before she left, the driver charged away as fast as he could. “Huh. Maybe being scary has its advantages?” She turned a grin down to the night pony, who did not seem to share her mirth.

“Come along, m’lady should be rising from her slumber anytime now.” Jen followed Echo into the castle, stopping every now and then to admire some piece of artwork or statuary that caught her eye. There were plenty of daytime guards about, who gave the girl a curious look but were obviously told to expect her. The servants were a little more open about their curiosity, but all were professionals. Gradually the pair made their way through the main corridors and up a spiraling staircase.

Gently Echo nudged the door at the top open, and Jen had to work REALLY hard not to burst into laughter. There sprawled awkwardly across a massive four poster bed was Princess Luna. A huge stuffed bat clenched tightly in her forelegs, one hind leg raised in the air kicking now and again. Her lovely mane and tail had lost their sparkling stars, and lay flat on the covers a vivid blue color. An embarrassingly noticeable line of drool ran from her wide open mouth to pool on the pillow. Even under Echo’s warning glare Jen could only contain herself for so long…and against her will a bellowing “HA!” escaped her lips.

With a decidedly un-princess like snort Luna’s eyes rolled open and she glanced around blearily, prompting Jen to completely lose her composure and burst into wild fits of laughter. Eyes widening in alarm the Princess hastily rolled off her bed settling on her hooves…wiping at her muzzle hastily she did her best to regain her royal dignity. Whether it was seeing her liege’s comic attempts at looking impressive…or the girl at her side rolling on the ground howling with laughter, Echo began to snicker herself.

“IF YOU TWO ARE QUITE FINISHED.”

Both girl and filly’s laughter was cut short as the princess bellowed loud enough to send the pair scooting along the floor and almost back out the door. Echo immediately fell prostrate upon the ground; while Jen bowed low….though the laughter hadn’t left her eyes. “I’m sorry your highness I was a little…surprised seeing you look so normal when you slept.”

“Y…yes well…it is a pleasure to see you again fair Jennifer. I hope your trip was pleasant.”

“Yes ma’am, the train ride is always relaxing. I usually conk right out. I think I even drooled a little on my seat cushion.”

An amused snort came from the still bowing Echo, and Luna cast a warning glare between girl and filly…not entirely sure if she were being teased or not. “You may rise cadet.” Echo instantly climbed to her hooves. Luna’s horn began to glow softly as her mane and tail filled out and wafted gently in the still air, sparkling motes of light bursting to life throughout. Outside the sun had begun its lazy descent, and the moon just not peeking up.

“I am ever so pleased you accepted my invitation Jennifer. I believe we have a lot we can teach one another.” Luna walked past the pair and began to descent the stairs of her tower, Jen and Echo hastily following.

“Er…what do you have to learn from me Princess?”

“When last we spoke I believe I asked you to call me Luna did I not?”

Jen cast a quick glance at the aghast Echo before nodding. “Yes ma’am…er…Luna. Sorry. Habit.”

“As to your question…you are a bright young filly from another world. One I only visited once, and briefly at that. After the business with Discord I obviously could not resume my studies of your home. Though what I saw piqued my curiosity intensely. I am looking forward to hearing tales of your homeland.”

The girl gave a little nod. “I see. To be honest I’m a lot more interested in learning what you can teach me. Equestria is a lot more exciting than Earth.”

The princess laughed gently at that. “You truly think so do you not? I suppose that is to be expected when two beings from completely different worlds meet. I believe this will be an exciting weekend for both of us. Speaking of learning. While you are here I would like to begin your magical training in addition to studying our political system and swordplay.”

Jen simply shrugged. “I figured I’d start learning with Twilight but I have a feeling you could teach me a lot she can’t.”

Luna’s magical aura gripped a pair of doors and admitted the trio into a huge library. Rows of books went on so far Jen had to squint to see where they stopped. “I do not know about that. Twilight Sparkle is one of the most gifted unicorns I have ever encountered. I can share some personal magic’s, but I cannot think of a better teacher.”

A book drifted down from one of the many rows, to hover before Jennifer, who hesitantly accepted it. “This is an excellent prime for a beginner in magic. Required reading for most unicorn foals starting out.”

Glancing at the cover Jen saw it pictured a little unicorn filly sitting studiously while an older unicorn was pointing to a black board. ‘The basics of magic and you.’ “Well…I’ll give it a read.”

“I would also ask you to indulge me in a brief test of your ability. Very simple really. Touch your horn to mine and focus some of your energy through it. It will give me a general idea of your potential.”

This sounded vaguely familiar to what Twilight asked her to do earlier, which resulted in a sparking pile of metallic ruin. “Er…that might be dangerous.”

Luna gave her a warm smile. “Not at all child. I assure you that you cannot harm me. This is a simple test.”

Setting the book on a nearby table Jennifer approached the midnight blue alicorn slowly. With a deep breath she knelt before her, and Luna lowered her horn to meet Jen’s. Closing her eyes tightly she focused on her inner energies…feeling them swell out, up and through her horn. Then…she heard a dull WHUMP.

Not opening her eyes she bit her lip. “…Princess?”

The only sound was heavy breathing…than approaching hoofsteps as Echo came closer. “Uh…Princess Luna?”

Jen cracked an eye open…to see the princess laying prostate before her. “AGH I KILLED HER!”

Echo lurched forward putting an ear on the alicorns chest. “No! No she’s breathing! She’s fine!”

The panicking girl didn’t seem to hear her. “I killed her! I committed regicide! I told her it was a bad idea!” She whirled on the night pony. “What do I do?! W…we have to…we have to hide the body! We can bury her in the gardens!”

If she hadn’t been in such a state of panic she’d have seen the Princess’ eyes fly open in alarm, looking at the human girl’s back.
Jen stopped her pacing and took a few ragged labored breaths. “N…no we can’t do that. We’ll go get help! I’ll go find a doctor!”

Echo saw her liege relax visibly as the girl seemed to regain some of her senses. “There’s no need for that. It would be a bad idea in fact…you’ll be thrown in the dungeon for attacking the crown.”

This brought another agonized moan from the poor girl who sank to her knees distraught. “What do I do?!”

Casting a surprisingly scathing glance at the princess Echo stood in front of Jennifer. “She’s fine she’s in er…Alicorn…stasis.” That sounded smart enough. “It happens when they get an overload of magic, they do that to uh….acclimate it?” She peeked over Jen’s shoulder to see Luna giving her a comforting nod. “Yes! And…she’ll be fine in…a few hours…?” Luna shook her head. “…a day?” The princess seemed to be mulling that over then finally nodded. “Yes! A day!”

If Jen had noticed Echo’s peculiar speech patterns she didn’t show it. “O…okay…she’ll be fine in a day! W…well that’s something…what…do we do with her until then?”

Luna was shifting her eyes from Echo to the book lying on the table. “Uh…maybe that book…has something that can help?”

“Oh! G…good idea Echo!” Lurching to her feet Jen grabbed the book and frantically flipped through it. “Maybe it shows how to end the stasis thingy!”

At another shake of the head from the princess Echo frowned. “No…I think it has to run its course. But maybe there’s a spell in there or something to help us hide this…until tomorrow night?”

Jen was hopping from foot to foot anxiously as she scanned the table of contents. If she’d been in her right mind she’d have been SLIGHTLY suspicious that a chapter titled “Control Spells” was underline…but she didn’t pause to consider her good fortune, she just flipped to the chapter. “Oh! Oh! The first spell! It’s even circled! Ventriloquism!”

Echo rolled her eyes…either at Luna’s less than subtle machinations, or at the girls’ naiveté. “Well you don’t know a lot of magic though right?”

Jennifer’s eyes flew across the page. “It says this is VERY basic! The unicorns just have to establish a basic connection…which I can do! If the subject is willing or unconscious there’s almost no effort involved at all!”

“My that IS convenient.”

“It is! So…so I can just…do THIS…and…pretend she’s awake and stuff all night!”

With a flap of her wings Echo settled on the table before the suddenly excited girl. “You realize that means you’ll have to pretend to be Lady Luna all night? What if she receives petitioners?”

Jen snorted gently. “She told me she NEVER receives those, everypony’s too scared of her.” She thought she heard the princess snort, but looking back and seeing her still unconscious it must have been a snore. “We can just…get something to eat then uh…sit around on the throne all night?”

Now came the part Echo was REALLY not thrilled about. Jennifer seemed like a nice enough…thing. Human…filly. She was going with filly. Jennifer seemed like a nice enough filly, she had even shown her kindness which was something rare outside of her lady and her brethren. “You know there could be some opportunity in this for you.”
The girl looked up from the book to the pony lying on the table. “What? What d’you mean?”

Echo shrugged. “I mean, if you were controlling the Princess all night…you could have her do whatever you wanted. You could issue yourself piles of bits from the treasury, have her pass all sorts of crazy laws, the sky’s the limit!”

“Wh…what?! Why would I do that?! It’s bad enough I…I knocked her into…”

“Alicorn stasis.” Echo supplied.

“That! Bad enough I did that but now you think I should…do even MORE illegal stuff?! What kind of guard are you??”
Echo seemed a bit taken aback by the sudden vehemence in Jenifer’s voice. “Alright alright don’t get all bent out of shape, it was just an idea.”

Jen hmphed looking again back at the princess. “…I dunno, maybe this is a bad idea. I should just turn myself in.”

The night pony sighed. “There’s no need for that. I mean she’s not harmed, and she wouldn’t want to see you spend time in the dungeon. You’re right we’ll get something to eat, sit in the throne all night than go to bed. Maybe I can find us a deck of cards or something to pass the time.”

The girl’s breathing was slowly evening out…finally she stood. “Alright. You’re right…thanks Echo. Sorry I snapped. I’m…freaking out a little.”

Now the deception was weighing even heavier on the young filly. “Hey it’s alright, I’d be upset too.” She frowned down at her liege, who was doing a very good job looking completely out of it again.

“Alright the book says once I establish the connection…the puppet,” she gestured to the Princess. “Should respond to my mental commands…so…I just think and she does stuff?”

Echo shrugged. Now she genuinely had no idea. “I don’t gotta horn Jen. Magic isn’t my specialty.”

Nodding the girl turned back to the alicorn. “Right...now or never I guess…” With a frown of concentration she sent her energy toward the princess. She felt a little jolt as it reached the larger horn, and she willed her aura to spread down it to cover the princess fully.

“Hm...got something to cover your horn? Might give you away.”

“Oh! Uhhh….” Jen tugged her hood over her head. “Eh?”

“Yeah good enough. …did the spell work?”

Naturally Luna wasn’t unconscious…but she was willing. And she even bolstered Jennifer’s clumsy attempt with a bit of magic of her own, ensuring the spell took hold. She almost ruined the illusion by yelping in surprise when her body suddenly lurched back to its hooves.

“Oh! Look at that!”

Echo was watching with raised brows. “Right…so…dining hall?”

“R…right! Let’s…go?” It wasn’t easy focusing on making the princess walk while she walked herself. It got even worse when she hadn’t correctly gauged how quickly she was guiding her…and with a splintering crunch Luna’s horn…than head rammed through the door of the library and out into the hall.

Human and filly both gasped audibly, Jennifer horrified…Echo in amusem*nt. She had a feeling Lady Luna hadn’t quite thought this all out as thoroughly as she should have, and if she intended to keep the ruse up all night she was likely going to be sorry.

A loud yelp echoed from the hall and the pair could hear a muffled voice. “P…Princess Luna is…is everything alright?”
Jen exchanged a look of panic with Echo, the latter motioning toward the princess. With a deep breath the girl willed the princess to speak.

“YES I AM FINE! I SIMPLY…HAVE ALWAYS HATED THIS DOOR.”

“Turn down the volume!” Echo hissed.

“O…oh I…I see…well I’ll…have it removed at once! A…and replaced?”

“Very good! See that you do! Uh…good mare.”

Jen gave a helpless shrug to Echo, who was working harder and harder to contain her laughter. She couldn’t hide a snort as the princess suddenly jerked back into the room, taking a good chunk of the door with her. Hastily Jennifer worked the splintered wood from around the alicorns neck, and brushed some errant splinters from her back and mane.
“That…didn’t go so poorly right?”

The filly shrugged. “Other than making Lady Luna look like a lunatic, not at all.”

She was sure if her lady could move her face she’d be glaring at the cadet. Cautiously Jen peeked into the hall, seeing it clear she stepped out first, maneuvering Luna more carefully through the doorway. “R…right…Echo can you lead the way to the dining room?”

“Sure…c’mon this way. Nice and easy.” The bat pony took the lead of the unusual procession. Human girl walking with measured steps, regal alicorn princess doing the same, staring at the floor almost as if she had to focus on how to move her legs properly.

They drew more than a few curious gazes from the night guard and evening staff, though Luna’s reputation was still an intimidating one…and word about her fit with the door seemed to have spread quickly enough. Nopony wanted to be on the receiving end of an upset Princess Luna. A pair of servants hastily opened the doors for the little troupe, and they were soon in the dining room with a bevy of dishes being set out on the table.

Jen and Echo took seats on either side of Luna, who Jen directed to the head of the table. If the servants thought their princess acting odd they didn’t comment, simply began setting her meal for her. For a moment Jennifer was surprised at the breakfast food being laid out, then she recalled Luna and her night guard were nocturnal…plus those waffles looked awesome.

Apparently that line of thinking reached the magically controlled alicorn, who dipped her head forward, planting her face in the plate and laying into them loudly. Filly and human exchanged horrified looks, and Jen hastily had Luna straighten back up, bits of waffle falling from her muzzle.

The staff alternated between horrified and grossed out. “I REALLY REALLY LOVE WAFFLES.” Their princess belted out. The room was hastily cleared.

Echo had to close her eyes, taking deep breaths and counting back from ten…than twenty…she was down to around negative thirty before she felt safe to look up at her princess and not burst into laughter. A mortified Jennifer was cleaning the princess’ muzzle with a napkin. “It IS true though, Lady Luna loves waffles.”

Now Jen couldn’t hold it back, and she began to laugh at the whole situation. Soon enough the night pony joined in, and their laughter echoed through the dining hall and into the corridors beyond. Focus slipping again, her Luna-puppet was laughing maniacally in moments as well. The girls both blinked over at her…then started laughing all the harder, Jennifer actually falling out of her chair.

For her part…Luna was definitely beginning to have second thoughts about this whole ‘test the girls character without her knowing’ scheme. If things kept going as they were all of Equestria was likely to assume she was a raving lunatic. With an inward sigh she called up the magic to break the spell.

…or tried to. Realization slowly began to sink in. When she bolstered Jennifer’s magic with her own to help the spell take hold, she had inadvertently given the girl access to her own nearly inconceivable power. Without meaning too Jennifer was drawing on not only her own, but Luna’s magic as well to fuel the ventriloquism spell. Meaning that until Jennifer ended the spell on her own…it wasn’t ending. The princess didn’t panic…she knew when the night was over Jen would release her. She just prayed to any higher powers listening that nothing else could go wrong.

Once the youngsters had calmed some, the meal resumed at a more sedate pace. Luna had to admit she was impressed by the young human’s focus. She was managing to eat her own food, and keep the princess eating without making another spectacle with surprising deftness. What pleased her even more was the clear bond of friendship forming between the young night pony and the girl. She’d been growing ever more concerned about her guards’ place in Equestria…but watching the pair it seemed as though perhaps the time had finally come for the night ponies to step out of the shadows and join their fellow citizens.

“We should be heading for the throne room soon…I think it might be best if you go uh…full unicorn while we’re there. On the off chance someone DOES come in, this is gonna look weird enough without having a…human sitting there too.” Echo had finished off her plate and slid it aside, hopping off the chair.

With a nod Jen kicked off her shoes and wiggled out of her clothes, keeping the high backed chair between her and the ponies in the room to preserve some modesty. Gripping the unicorn charm firmly a bright flash lit the hall, than the clop of hooves hitting the ground. Slowly the girl turned filly peeked around the chair wearing the ill-fitting hoodie to conceal her horn. “Can you dump my clothes wherever I’ll be staying? I’ll meetcha in the throne room.”

It took Echo a moment to recover from the change. If she didn’t know better she’d say this was an ordinary unicorn filly (albeit one wearing a legendary sword who had metal all over her teeth). “Uh…sure. You know the way?”

With a nod the green filly led the enchanted Luna through the halls and to the throne room, parking the Princess upon the throne and seating herself beside it. Gazing up at Luna, Jen sighed softly. “I hope you’re awake tomorrow…this is too stressful.”

Slowly she eased onto her belly, and rested her head on her forelegs, gazing lazily at the big doors she knew led to the waiting rooms outside. She let her eyes wander across the beautiful stain glass windows depicting important moments in Equestrian history, allowing herself to smile seeing several featuring her friends.

Jennifer almost jumped out of her skin when the waiting room doors opened and the earth pony secretary she’d seen in the past hurried in. “Princess…you…have a visitor? Where is the human?”

Jen almost answered vocally but remembered she just had to think for the princess to speak. She made a mental effort to keep her from bellowing. “This is my student. Do not concern yourself with the human. What do you want?” Inwardly Jen winced, she was making Luna sound a little bitchy…also it was REALLY hard to talk without using contractions like she’d heard Luna do.

“Uhh…” The secretary seemed less sure of herself now. “W…well…there is a problem. A land dispute, the parties insisted this be settled by the highest authority.”

What?! Nopony was supposed to EVER want to see Luna?! “WHAT?! NOPONY EVER WANTS TO SEE LUNA!”

Jennifer managed not to panic as the secretary paled. “W…well I wouldn’t be so blunt but…but with Princess Celestia indisposed they...have to come to you.”

The filly knew how much Luna wanted to have her ponies come to her to solve their problems as well. She’d seemed so sad when she said none of them every petitioned her night court for anything. If she sent them away now she might not ever get another chance.

“Very well. Show them in.” That was better. Luna definitely had a gentle voice when she wanted to.

Slowly an earth pony shuffled in. He looked older, with a brown coat and grey mane. Jen was surprised to see the sideburns running along the sides of his muzzle. He was fussing with his tie and carried a weather beaten black hat around one hoof, having removed it in respect. The stallion kept his gaze lowered respectfully. “I appreciate you seeing us Princess.”

“Yes yes, let’s just get this nonsense over with.” In stark contrast to the earth stallion, a snooty looking unicorn trotted in, nearly bowling the poor fellow over. Jen took an instant dislike to his slicked back mane and flashy purple suit.

This was going to be hard enough to focus on without having to operate Luna and not speak aloud herself, so she smiled coming up with a clever solution. “My protégé here is studying to become a politician, so she shall be handling this dispute while I observe.”

Both stallions exchanged looks, but neither seemed to object over much, much to the filly’s relief. She straightened up a bit as they focused on her. “And your name miss?” The unicorn demanded more than asked.

“Oh! Yes I’m J….jeeeee….” Another look crossed between the stallions, before Jennifer was struck by another genius inspiration! She certainly was getting those a lot. “Jubilant Surprise Pie.” She beamed. That definitely sounded like a Pinkie-esque name, certainly something she’d name her own filly one day. The unicorn nodded but the earth pony narrowed his eyes.

“Pie?”

“Uh…yessir.” Her smile faltered a bit.

“…any relation to a Pinkamina Pie?”

“Um…if that’s a big fancy way of saying Pinkie Pie, yes. She’s my mother.”

Now Jen had never seen anyone’s jaw ACTUALLY drop before. Maybe someone’s mouth open in surprise, but never actually drop. She began to shuffle uncomfortably while the earth pony collected himself, the unicorn just looked perplexed.

“How old are you?”

“Um…I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business but mine.” Jen was feeling more nervous…where the hell was Echo?!
The stallion frowned and stepped closer, prompting the unicorn to do the same. “I think I have a right to know how old my own granddaughter is.”

Uh...what?

“Uh…what?”

“Pinkamina Pie is my daughter. I’m Clyde Pie. And if what you’re saying is the truth, I’m your grandfather.”

Uh oh.

Blinking slowly the filly looked from the earth pony to the princess, who spoke next. “I can assure you Mr. Pie that…Jubilant is indeed Pinkie Pie’s daughter.”

He seemed at a loss for words, plopping his backside on the floor. “So…I’m a grandfather?”

Now Jen was starting to feel a little bad. Who knows what this would do to poor Pinkie when her dad left. Of course judging by the way she’d been acting she’d probably be ecstatic come to think of it.

“Yes this is all very touching but I’m not here to witness your family reunion Pie, we have business to attend.” The unicorn fixed Jennifer with a glare. “I hope you can come to a fair judgment despite the familial relationship.”

The filly shrugged. “Well I mean, of course I just met the guy. It’s not like I really know him or anything.”

Her words caused the elder Pie to flinch, and his look hardened. “She’s right. Let’s get on with this so I can get back to work.”

“Would anypony like to actually tell me what the problem is?” The side door opened and Jen was relieved to see Echo enter and take her place beside the worried filly.

“Very well miss, I’m Duke Land Grab.” Jen managed not to roll her eyes, THERE was an honest name. “Going through my family records it turns out I own the land that Mr. Pie here is currently occupying.”

Clyde interrupted slamming his hoof on the floor. “Land the Pie family has been occupying for four generations!” Seeing the startled looks on the two young ponies’ faces (Luna was surprisingly composed at the outburst!), the stallion calmed. “I apologize miss. This has been a trying time.”

The Duke snorted. “Be that as it may, the land is mine. I own it, and now I want it.”

Jen furrowed her brow in thought. “Why now? What’s changed that it’s suddenly become important. From what I remember P…mom said she grew up on a...rock farm?”

Despite the situation Clyde chuckled softly. “Still calls it that does she? It’s actually a quarry Miss. We cut granite and sheet rock that gets sent all over Equestria for construction purposes.”

“Oh! Well that makes a lot more sense than a rock farm. I tried hard to figure out how somepony farms rocks but mom never really elaborated.”

Clyde’s smile faded. “My eldest, your aunt Black Opal uncovered a vast gem deposit down in the quarry. We’ve barely gotten the first jewels dug out before this…stallion,” (Jen had a sneaking suspicion stallion wasn’t what Clyde had meant to say), “…swooped in waving these papers and saying the land was his.”

“Can I see the papers?”

Baron Land Grab presented them with a flourish of her magic...to the ponies surprise Jennifer took them in her teeth and spread them on the floor before her, rather than using her own magic to do so. Silence reigned as she began to read over the documents before her.

She did her best to find some kind of hole to poke in the documents, but they seemed pretty clear cut. She was sure if her dad were here he’d find all sorts of legal loopholes and shenanigans to help Mr. Pie out. Slowly she shuffled them back together, but stopped and nosed out one of the last sheets. “Mr. Pie this map here, this is where your house is?”

With a cautious glance at the still silent, and seemingly day dreaming princess the earth pony approached, looking over the map. “Yes miss. The family farm house has sat there since well before I was born.”

Jen indicated the space behind it with a hoof. “What’s here? The part not on the map.”

Clyde leaned in a bit closer. “Well that’d be the quarry miss.”

Now the filly looked to the Duke. “Why isn’t it on the map?”

He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “Well I’m sure I have no idea, I didn’t draw up the papers myself.”

“Oh. Thank you Mr. Pie you can step down.” The stallion did so, confusion clearly written on his face. “It all looks pretty clear cut to me. The Duke does in fact own the land shown here on the map, regardless of how long the Pie family has been living there.”

At her pronouncement the Duke puffed his chest out further, while Clyde’s face fell. “So I have no choice but to ask Mr. Pie to relocate his family home to another location. Duke Land Grab of course may do what he likes with his land.”

“Thank you young filly, you are obviously wise beyond your years.” The pair turned to go, but Jennifer cleared her throat.

“Mr. Pie. By the authority invested in me by Princess Luna, I’d like to offer you a business opportunity.” Both stallions looked up at the filly in confusion. “It seems there’s a sizeable gem deposit in this unowned quarry and well, it’d be wasteful to let them just sit there with no one mining them yes?”

Realization slowly dawned on the earth stallion. “W…well yes I suppose so.”

Jen looked to the night pony at her side. “Echo about how much would a piece of land like that quarry cost?”

“Uh…I have no idea?” The winged filly seemed a bit out of sorts.

“Could you find someone who could find out for me, so we can get the proper papers worked out with Mr. Pie? Maybe we can issue some sort of loan or something. While you’re at it see what you can do about finding some reliable movers to get his house settled somewhere on the other side of his quarry.”

With a look from Luna to Jen, Echo nodded. “Y…yes ma’am right away.” She galloped from the room as fast as she could.
Jennifer was definitely starting to see signs of Pinkie in her father’s growing smile. The Duke by contrast looked absolutely livid. “Now hold on just one minute, I wanted that gem mine!”

Jen glanced at him as if remembering he was in the room. “Well I want lots of things but you don’t see me wearing solid gold underpants.” One of her uncle’s favorite sayings when she was being whiny and demanding. “You own the land the Pie family’s house is on. The Pie family is moving their house. This dispute is settled yes?”

“I...y…you…Princess you cannot let this…this travesty pass!” The Duke was practically purple in the face with rage.

Now Jen shifted her focus up to the Princess. “Jubilant was given full authority in the matter; she has resolved it to the letter of the law. This dispute is settled. Good evening Duke.” Jen had to hide a smile at how official she had made the princess sound.

Mouth opening and closing, the Duke spun on his hooves and stormed off, leaving an awkward Jen alone with the stallion who thought he was her grand-father. “I really can’t thank you enough miss.”

Jen waved a hoof. “No need for that miss business, we’re uh…family after all. Jubilant is fine.”

He chuckled and approached again. “I suppose we are at that. Thank you for this…Jubilant. You don’t know what it means to our family. Something like this is going to change our lives.”

“Well you should stop by Ponyville and let mom know the good news in person.”

The old stallion snorted. “Oh you bet your backside I’m going to stop over in Ponyville. I have a granddaughter, Princess Luna’s very own student and she didn’t bother to tell me…you’re HOW old?”

Jen winces. “Fifteen?”

Another angry snort. “…though I suppose Pinkamina’s not the only one to blame. We were all pretty hurt when she up and left. She’d sent letter for a while but…I was too stubborn to answer them. Then one day they just stopped…I guess she gave up.” He eyed Jen a moment. “I’m guessing she’s not your birth mother then.”

“Heh…no no I’m adopted. She took me in when I wandered into Ponyville with nowhere else to go.”

“Hrm. Sounds like her. Well…it was truly a pleasure to meet you Miss Jubilant Surprise Pie. I hope we see each other again soon. For now sounds like I’ve a meeting with some law clerks and the like.”

Jen offered a smile. “It was nice to meet you too sir. And stop by Ponyville, I think Pinkie would love to see you.”

Luna’s concern for the situation eased the longer Jennifer talked, and concern turned to pride at the girl’s resolution to the legal dispute. Even if the Duke brought it up again he had no legal legs to stand on and she could dismiss it outright. Though she was cursing the spell now more than ever…her nose was beginning to itch.

Echo was in the doorway, watching as Clyde left. “Well I sent a clerk to talk to Mr. Pie. I doubt you made m’lady more popular with the upper crust of Canterlot…but I have a feeling she’ll be seeing more of the common ponies in the near future when word of this gets around.”

Jen just collapsed on her back, legs splayed. “Uuuugh I thought I was gonna throw up like five times. And what’re the odds that guy would be Pinkie’s dad?!”

“Pretty unlikely there Jubilant Surprise.” The night pony smirked at the other filly, who gave a snort in response.

“Well I couldn’t just say Jennifer, that’d be a little obvious. And I Tried to think of a name Pinkie would think of.”

“I haven’t met her in person but I’ve heard the stories, pretty good shot in the dark I’d say.”

Jen rolled onto her belly. “So…now what?”

The pair passed the rest of the evening with the deck of cards Echo dug up. Now and again they’d have to stop when one of the staff or a guard had something to bring up with Luna, but they were such trivial details that it was easy enough to handle it. Poor Echo looked like she could barely keep her eyes open as she led Jennifer, who was leading Luna back to the princesses’ chambers just before sun up. “How are you not tired?”

The other filly looked away. “Promise not to tell anyone?”

Echo shrugged, her curiosity piqued now.

“I’ve been having…pretty awful nightmares for weeks. I tried to ignore them at first but they just got worse and worse…so finally I used a little bit of magic so I uh, don’t need to sleep anymore.”

The night pony tilted her head. “I thought you were sucky with magic.”

Jen shrugged now. “I am. It’s not unicorn magic it’s…” She glanced around the hall then up at the (she assumed), comatose princess. “…this.” She tapped the jewel around her neck. “I got it from Discord. As long as I use it for tiny stuff it’s fine. Just don’t tell anypony…people freak out about him.”

Echo sucked in her breath and shot her eyes up to Luna’s, who did not have a pleasant look in her eye. “Uh…yeah because he’s Discord.”

“I know I know.” They reached the chambers at the top and Jen guided the princess into her bed. “But the Sword of Harmony keeps its corrupting voice out of my head. It’s harmless. I’m not about to like…try making it rain lemonade or turn stuff into giant piles of bits or anything. I know I’m not SUPPOSED to use it I just…it’d been going on almost a week with no sleep. I’ve got everypony back home convinced I’m fine now. I pretend to sleep and it seems to work out.”

Her friend was relieved to see the hard edge in Luna’s eyes turn sympathetic. “Well…as long as you know what you’re doing, I won’t tell anypony.”

Jen smiled and sank to the floor of Luna’s room. “Thanks Echo. I’m glad I met you, you’re pretty cool.”

“Heh…back atcha.” The cadet glanced back at her liege flopped unceremoniously on the bed. “You can probly end the spell now; I bet her stasis’ll be over any minute.”

“Oh! Yeah good idea!” Jen severed the connection with her horn. Both fillies shrieked as the alicorn sprang from the bed and dashed from the room as fast as her hooves could take her, slamming the door opposite of the bedroom.
Looking to Echo, Jennifer frowned. “What’s in there?”

“The bathroom.”

I blame this stupid chapter on a good friend of mine. I mentioned the title to him and he said "Is it about Jen and her wacky friend killing Luna and spending the weekend pretending she's alive?" Well it is now.

Chapter 7: Weekend at Luna’s Part 2

Jen was still sitting on the floor of Luna’s bedchambers with Echo, nervously waiting for the princess to return from the ‘little filly’s room’. Echo once again was working hard to restrain laughter, while the poor human girl just chewed her lip nervously. Finally the lunar diarch stepped from the bathroom with as much grace as she could muster striding passed the girls to recline on her bed.

“It would seem I somehow missed the entirety of Friday evening. Could you explain what happened Jennifer?”

“Uhh…w…well I guess my magic put you into…alicorn stasis?” She trailed off lamely.

Luna of course bobbed her head in a gentle nod as if this were a common occurrence. “Ah, of course. Well no harm done as you can see. Though I AM rather tired. I presume you both brought me to my chambers immediately?”

“I…uh…that is…Echo said I’d be thrown in the dungeon so I did a ventriloquism spell and pretended to be you all night! But…but nothing really bad happened!” Jennifer finally paused to take a breath.

The princess looked to the night pony cadet sitting beside the rapidly panicking human. “Is this all true.”

The bat winged filly narrowed her eyes almost imperceptibly, surprising her liege. “Yes.” Was all she said, rather curtly.
Eyes still focused on Echo, Luna addressed Jennifer. “Well no harm was done then. I believe it best if we all try and get some rest. You may retire to your chambers Jennifer, while I speak with Echo for a few moments. This evening we can begin some of the lessons I promised.”

Sensing the tension in the room Jen stood. “Oh uh…okay…and I’m really sorry again Princess. I can’t say it enough. I…I’ll see you later Echo?”

Finally breaking the staring match with Luna, Echo turned to smile at Jen. “Yup! You’re stuck with me all weekend. Maybe I’ll hang around your room and we can do a sleepover.”

Slowly the girl was relaxing, and she managed a smile. “That’d be cool. Uh…sleep well Luna.” Quickly she stepped out and shut the doors behind her. Then beat a hasty retreat down the tower stairs and toward the guest chambers Echo had pointed out to her yesterday.

-Echo-

Echo kept an ear trained toward the door, turning to face Luna once she was sure Jennifer was long gone. “I won’t lie to her anymore m’lady. She’s a good filly…the first outside of my own clan to treat me like anypony else. To treat me like a friend. I’m not going to repay that kindness with lies.”

“Mind your tone cadet…and recall to whom you are speaking.”

Her ears flattened against her head, but the young filly didn’t back down. “I thought I knew who I was speaking to, but if this is how you treat those you claim to care about I…don’t know anymore.” She could see the shock in her lady’s eyes…and for once she didn’t care what Princess Luna was thinking or feeling. “I’m going to join my friend now…she’s still upset and I think it would be best to have some company. And…” She took a deep breath. “…and if you don’t tell her the truth I’ll resign my position this evening when you wake.” Neither bowing nor waiting for permission, the young cadet turned and left the chambers.

With a heavy sigh the lunar princess lay back in her bed. “…Tia would know how to handle this better…but is what she did to our last human visitor any kinder? Should I simply lock the girl in a tower until I am sure she is ready to be among our ponies…?”

-Jennifer-

She needed to get directions from a pair of drowsy looking day guard just starting their shift, but everypony in the palace obviously recognized her on sight and easily directed her. Gently pushing open the sizeable doors her breath was stolen at the sight of the room. It was probably big enough to fit the entirety of the Apple family farmhouse inside.

With a little grin she tugged her shoes off and let her toes sink into the absurdly plush carpet. “Jeez it’s like walking on a cloud…” Then her grin widened. “Of course pretty soon I’ll actually know if that’s true or not…if Pinkie ever lets me fly.”
Still her mood was improving again and she danced across the carpet, flinging herself backwards onto the colossal bed. She laughed again and rolled to the center. “Who needs a bed this big?!”

She shot upright as a gentle knock came from the door. “Er…come in?”

It was only Echo, the young filly entering and gently closing the door behind her. “You look like you’re feeling better.”
Jen gave a shrug. “I am…I mean Luna forgave me so nothing bad came of it right?”

The night pony simply grunted at that. “Could you shut the curtains? The sun’s almost up and it gives me the worst migraines.”

“Oh uh…sure!” Jen rolled off the bed and tugged the heavy curtain over the window. “Is that like a bat pony thing or just a you thing?”

The cadet was working her way out of her armor. “All my kind are sensitive to sunlight. We won’t burst into flame or anything, but it’s uncomfortable.” She suddenly gave a tremendous yawn.

“Jeez you’re really wiped huh?”

Echo eyed her in amazement. “Oh right…I forgot you magic yourself awake all day.”

Suddenly Jen’s smile turned playful. “…let’s go out.”

“Out? I just said I got bad headaches…plus I doubt the Princess would want you wandering around Canterlot unsupervised. And I really need to-“ Jennifer cut her off, tapping her nose with a finger while her other hand held the jewel around her neck. Suddenly the sleep fled Echo’s face and she shivered all over. “Oooo WHOA. That is…better than coffee for sure. Ok I’m awake but I still don’t think the big human should be…”

Jen interrupted again by gripping her unicorn charm and settling to the floor on her hooves.

“Hmph. Well…I still have my headaches.”

Using her teeth Jen removed the charm bracelet and tossed it at Echo’s hooves. “Well…then be a pegasus.”

Slowly the filly slid the bracelet up around her hoof. Delicately she placed a hoof against the pegasus charm. The flash of magic flared…and when it faded the night pony looked decidedly less intimidating. She kept her slate grey coat and ebon mane. But her wings were delicately feathered, and her eyes while still yellow looked the same as any ordinary pony.
Wonderingly she approached the mirror, staring at herself for a few moments, then slowly lifting and flexing the feathered wings. “Personally I think you look cooler normal…but this way we can go see the city and nopony’s gonna be gawking at us right?”

Jen was surprised to see Echo’s eyes a little watery when she looked back, but she blinked the happy tears away. “I can go out with the regular ponies! No one will be scared or run!”

The unicorn filly laughed. “Right. So…race ya!”

Pegasus yelped as unicorn dashed from the room, it was a run albeit a clumsy one. She could walk pretty well on all fours but running was another matter. Echo was similarly hampered as she seemed to have a little trouble with her new wings, the feathered appendages creating a lot of drag and slowing her down. Several bewildered guards merely watched as the teenage fillies barreled passed. A few made halfhearted attempts to rein them in...but they weren’t really hurting anything and seemed to be making their way out on their own.

Echo got her wings under control quicker than Jennifer got galloping down, and was the first from the castle by a wide margin. Still as Jen hurried to catch up her smile was as wide as the other filly’s. “So! Where should we go?”

It took her a moment to realize Echo wasn’t paying attention to her. The pegasus was sitting facing the rising sun, a look of wonder on her face at the beautiful splash of color across the sky. Deciding not to interrupt Jennifer sat on the cobblestone road beside her friend, waiting until she got her fill of the sunrise.

Echo didn’t speak until the sun was high enough that watching it was stinging her eyes. “No matter what else happens today…THAT makes this the best day of my life.”

Climbing to her hooves Jen set out along the road toward town. “Well then we better do a bunch of other cool stuff to make it REALLY memorable.”

“Holy…are you a blank-flank?!” Echo shouted a bit loud enough to draw the eye of several passing, and now chuckling ponies.

The girl turned unicorn’s cheeks began to burn. “Yes. I’m not normally a pony remember? I haven’t found my special talent yet.” Jen glanced at Echo’s flank, now visible without her armor. She had a cutie mark of three curving lines, each slightly larger than the last. “…what the heck is yours supposed to be anyway?”

Echo puffed her chest up with pride. “Every bat-pony can use a form of echolocation. Where we’re from there’s little to no light, so we got used to seeing with it. I can do all sorts of stuff with mine most can’t.”

“Oh…well that IS pretty cool I guess.” Attention drawn to her markless backside now Jennifer couldn’t keep her mind off it. She was starting to feel more self-conscious every time attention was brought to her lack of a cutie mark.

Noticing her friends discomfort Echo laid a comforting hoof across her shoulders. “Hey don’t sweat it. It’ll come in time. Nothing wrong with being a blank.”

‘Yeah except it seems like there is.’ The unhappy filly thought to herself. “Well whatever…let’s go find something to do. Where do the non-rich and stuck up ponies hang out in this town?”

Her question caused Echo to seriously think. Just about everypony they passed had their noses angled almost at a ninety degree angle in the air. “Well we could go down to the art district. Most of those ponies are still pretty wealthy but they’re cool and kinda artsy.”

“Ooo yeah! I love to draw! Seeing some pony art would be really cool!” Jennifer’s enthusiasm was infectious, and soon both fillies were trotting briskly through the streets.

“So Canterlot is split into all sorts of different districts. Government is where we’re leaving. The big noble houses and castle are there. The art district houses like, every kind of artist from painters to musicians. The crafts district is down thattaway, and further along is the markets. Ponies from all walks of life set up open air stalls there to sell their wares. It could be something fun to do tomorrow.”

“Sounds good to me!” Echo was leading them along a golden fence. The other side of which looked like some kind of cross between a hippie commune and open-air art jam. Ponies were reciting poetry on the streets. Artists sat with sketch books across their legs and easels set before them painting with mouths or magic. Then there was the music. All kinda of instruments could be heard each making their own unique sounds and melodies, yet somehow all blending together to form a beautiful symphony of sound.

Jennifer’s eyes were watering from the sheer joy the district was bringing out in her. It’d been awhile since she sat down to draw something, and she hadn’t noticed how much she missed working on her art until now. The pair crossed the golden gates into the district proper. “This…this is amazing Echo!”

Her friend chuckled good naturedly. “Well wanna start looking around?”

With an eager nod the pair was off again, this time Jen taking the lead. Echo seemed content simply to be out and mingling with other ponies. Everything was so random and chaotic here, the stuff oppressive atmosphere of the government district all but forgotten. They even seemed more relaxed than Ponyville. The unicorn filly was content just to wander aimlessly. Pausing to listen to a musician for a few moments, then she was off to watch a painter at work.

Angling across the verdant green park that dominated the center of the district, she gasped softly when she spied a familiar white and teal mane. Now heading right for the lyre playing pony, she slowed again as the gentle music rose up around the unicorn playing. Lyra was sitting upright of course, lyre held gently in her forelegs as she plucked the strings with her magic. The older unicorn’s eyes were closed as she let her music flow. A sizeable crowd had gathered around, and most were tossing bits into her open case on the ground.

Echo leaned in whispering in Jen’s ear. “She’s good…but what’s with the way she’s sitting? Wait is that...it couldn't be!”

The other filly smirked back at her friend. “It’s a LONG story…I’ll tell you later.”

Eventually Lyra’s song ended and she blinked her eyes open. “Thank you everypony! I’m glad you enjoyed. It’s a work in progress but the final piece should ready for its big debut at Fancy Pants’ upcoming soiree.”

She almost didn’t seem like the same pony Jen had befriended in Ponyville. She seemed a lot less…manic and high strung. More centered and relaxed now. When the crowd had thinned enough for her to approach she waved excitedly…causing herself to tip forward and slide in the grass coming to a stop at Lyra’s hooves. “Hey Lyra!”

With a laugh Lyra helped Jen back to her hooves. “Fancy seeing you here! What brings you to the good old art district?”
Jen shrugged. “Echo was showing me around Canterlot while Luna snoozes the day away. She suggested we should come here first.”

Lyra looked from Jen to her friend. “And this is Echo I presume? Nice t’meetcha. I’m-“

“Lyra Heartstrings! Oh I know who you are I have a copy of Plucking Your Heartstrings!” Echo seemed on the verge of exploding in fangirlishness.

Jen raised an eyebrow in amusem*nt. “Plucking Your Heartstrings? Really?”

The other unicorn gave a snort. “Hey Vinyl talked me into recording some of my songs on record. She didn’t mention she planned to sell it…and she sure didn’t run the title by me.” She gave Echo a little smile though. “It’s always nice to meet a fan though; I’d sign the cover for you if you had it here.”

Echo’s eyes widened. “I…I’ll go get it! You’ll be ok here right Jen? Right!” She galloped for the fence and spread her wings, awkwardly getting off the ground and into the air…making a beeline for the castle.

Lyra watched her go with a laugh. “Pretty clumsy flier for a filly her age.”

The younger unicorn shrugged. “She’s not used to feathered wings I think. She’s one of Luna’s guards…a bat-pony I guess?”

“Er…r…really? One of those creepy night guards of hers?”

Now Jen’s smile turned to a frown. “She’s not creepy Lyra. In fact for someone with a reputation for being kind of a creepy spaz in Ponyville that’s surprisingly close minded.”

Lyra’s ears splayed flat against her head. “Oh jeez you’re right…that wasn’t cool of me at all. She seems like a really nice filly even if she’s uh…disguised. Your bracelet I’m guessing?”

The disguised girl nodded but her frown didn’t relent. “She doesn’t like having everypony stare at or avoid her…so I thought it would be a good way for her to get out into the city without being harassed. I didn’t think it was that big a problem.”
Her words only seemed to make Lyra more miserable, who was now lying flat on the ground groaning. “Aaaaagh I’m a horrible pony!”

Rolling her eyes at the melodrama Jen lay next to her friend. “You’re not a horrible pony. Just an ignorant one.” She finished with a smirk.

Lyra gave an indignant snort and glared up at Jennifer, but the frown eased a bit seeing her smile. “No…you’re right. I shouldn’t judge a book by a cover. A friend of yours is a friend of mine!” She stood again. “So you gonna set up and so some drawing of your own?”

In response Jen just raised her forelegs displaying her hooves. “Oh right you dunno how to draw with your mouth or magic yet huh?”

“Nope. Though I’m kinda tempted to go human and draw anyway…all this art is getting me in the mood.”

Lyra shrugged. “So do it when Echo gets back. The bracelet’ll let her keep her feathers until she uses the charm to switch back.”

The younger unicorn’s eyes widened. “What?! I’ll be naked!”

Lyra’s eyebrow rose. “You’re naked now Jennifer.”

“W…well…”

“You know you’re gonna have to get over this right? Just because you have fur doesn’t mean I can’t see your business. You’re naked.”

The filly pursed her lips and crossed her hind legs a little tighter, cheeks reddening up. Slowly she looked around the park…REALLY looked hard at the ponies. With the exception of a beret or artist’s smock here and there everypony WAS naked. “…well I don’t have a book. Or pencils!”

Now it was Lyra’s turn to smirk. “Well good thing you know somepony in the city who’s happy to buy her friend some art supplies! You sit tight and I’ll be right back!”

“Agh what?! Wait no!” But it was too late; Lyra was already gone on her way to one of the many supply dealers. With a huff Jen flopped back down and resumed her pony watching. Her ears perked up as she picked up a familiar unicorn stallion plodding through the park, his head low and hoof steps heavy. Brow furrowed in concern she approached him. “Uh…Fancy Pants right?”

“Hm?” The stallion, and it was indeed Fancy Pants raised his head. His normally perfectly styled mane was tangled and mussed; even his moustache was slightly skewed. The fine suit jacket looked rumpled, like he’d slept in it. “I say have we met?” He seized his monocle in his brilliantly golden aura of magic and drew it closer to Jen for a clearer look.

“O…oh! Sorry…it’s me, Jennifer the human?”

Recognition lit his face. “Oh! Well I say you make a rather lovely filly my dear. I do hope you’ll forgive my rough and tumble appearance. It’s been something of a long day. Several of them in fact.” He coughed gently. “Listen to me prattle on about my problems; I’m sure you have more important things to be doing today.”

The filly gave him a little shrug. “Not really! Lay it on me.” She finished with a grin.

“Hm. I suppose I could use a friendly ear…and one not looking to get bits or business tips out of the deal.” With a grunt he just flopped onto his belly in the grass. “You recall the mare with me when we first met? Fleur?”

Jen did, if only VAGUELY. “She was…really skinny and pink?”

The dapper stallion chuckled. “That would be her, yes. Well we had been a couple for a little over a year and I proposed just the other day.”

“I’m guessing by your less than cheery attitude she said no.”

“Quite right. Evidently she viewed our relationship as a political stepping stone.” Another heavy sigh came from him, and Jen noticed the dark circles under his eyes.

“Oh…I’m really sorry Fancy. That just shouldn’t happen to such a nice guy.”

“You’re kind to say so my dear. And thank you for listening. When one is surrounded by courtiers and servants all day it’s difficult to find somepony who genuinely cares for one’s feelings beyond what gains can be acquired from doing so.”
The filly was frowning now. “Jeez…it’s not like that in Ponyville at all. You know if you got nothing goin on you could hang out with me and my friends. Echo flew off to get a record for Lyra to sign…and Lyra ran off to blackmail me into drawing nude in the middle of the park but they’ll both be back soon.”

She smiled seeing him brighten a little at the prospect. “You know...I think that’s just what I need. A relaxing afternoon among some friendly ponies. And a group of lovely fillies at that.” He winked causing the filly to giggle. “Lyra you said? Not Lyra Heartstrings?”

“Mmhm! She’s the first friend I made in Ponyville in fact. I mean that I didn’t know before coming here.”

The mare in question was trotting toward the pair, a little bag held in her magical aura. “Hey Jen I got the goods! Oh! Fancy Pants! I didn’t know you two knew each other.”

“A passing acquaintance, but I hope that changes in the near future. She’s a lovely young filly. And it’s always a pleasure to see you of course Ms. Heartstrings. I can’t tell you how glad I was you accepted my invitation.”
Now Jen was looking from stallion to mare. “Invitation?”

Lyra set the bag down in front of the filly, who went about plucking the objects out with her teeth. “Yeah Fancy Pants invited me to play at his…what was it? Winter’s Solstice Soiree?”

“Yes that’s the one! You know Jennifer; I’d be delighted if you could make it.”

Lifting her head from the bag Jen blinked a moment. “Oh! I can’t. Ponyville’s having the Winter’s Moon Festival on the solstice.”

Both adult unicorns regarded the filly curiously. “The what?”

Jennifer gave a strangled little erk as she glanced sideways at Fancy Pants. “…w…well…it’s a holiday. Well…not really a HOLIDAY YET. One we hope to start. A sort of opposite to the Summer Sun Celebration…in Luna’s honor you know?”
“Well I say that’s a good deal better than any silly society party I’ll be hosting. What an absolutely smashing idea! What did the Princess think of this?”

Lyra was frowning a little. “And how come nopony told me?”

“Well…we’re trying to keep it a secret from Luna. We want to surprise her. And it was just decided at the town meeting the other day…you were here in Canterlot already weren’t you Lyra?”

The musician’s frown vanished. “O…oh right! Ehe he…”

“Now I wish I hadn’t invited so many ponies to my own event…I’d dearly like to be there to see her face when the surprise is sprung. Between you and I, our princess of the night can be a bit melancholy at times I fear.”

Jen shrugged. “So cancel your party. It’s like two weeks away right? Sides you were just saying you don’t have any real friends among the noble ponies yeah?”

The stallion settled in the grass before the girls. “You know…I just may do that. I did intend to visit Ponyville after Miss Rarity made it sound so appealing. Fleur would have none of it though…”

Jen and Lyra shared a smirk. “You know Rarity talks about YOU all the time.”

This seemed to grab his attention. “I ah…she does?”

Jen nodded eagerly. “Oh yes. It’s always ‘Oh Fancy Pants was such a gentleman! He made me feel so welcome! And so handsome too.’” The filly even did a decent job imitating the fashionista’s voice.

A flustered Fancy Pants cleared his throat several times. “W…well yes I did enjoy her company. She is a delightful mare after all…” He trailed off looking thoughtful.

Before the girls could begin giggling TOO hard, Echo made her less than graceful return, crashing to the ground with her precious album clenched tightly in her teeth. “Stupid feathers! How do they land with these things?!”

Jen glanced down at the cover…a picture of Lyra holding her lyre with a serene look on her face. “Well the title’s still awful but it’s a nice picture.”

Lyra gave a huff as she snatched the record in her magic, sliding a marker pen from the bag and signing her name across the bottom with her mouth. “There, one autographed copy!”

The winged filly took it almost reverently. “Best…day…of my life!”

Jen gave her friend a little nudge. “Echo this is Fancy Pants.”

The stallion regarded the filly with an arched brow. “Echo? That sounds familiar. Not Cadet Echo of Princess Luna’s night guard?”

Echo was backing up now, eyes glancing left and right nervously. “I…I should get back to the castle.”

“Well whatever for my dear? Your exploits are quite impressive for one so young. You could probably make captain in a few years…though you don’t look like any bat-pony I’ve seen.” His monocle drifted for a closer inspection of Echo.

“Actually she’s incognito as a pegasus. Some ponies are scared of her kind.” Jen rolled her eyes showing exactly how stupid she thought THAT was.

“Well I assure you I’m certainly not frightened of somepony for being a little different. I’ve always felt being different is a good thing. Why if we all looked and acted the same the world would be a rather boring place wouldn’t it?” His warm laughter seemed to set the nervous Echo at ease, who calmed visibly.

Once things had settled down Lyra gave Jennifer a less than gentle nudge. “Alright enough stalling. Get pink and get drawing!”

Jen shot her friend a glare but motioned for Echo to raise the leg bearing her bracelet. Gently she reclaimed the charm and slid it on her own foreleg. She was about to rest her hoof against the human charm when the bracelet gave off a little flash…a fourth charm had appeared. One sculpted to look like a bat-pony. “Whaaaat?! No way!”

The other three ponies leaned in curiously. Jen excitedly touched the human charm and flashed back to her old, horned human girl form. Then grinning ear to ear she only lightly brushed her fingers against the bat charm. With a flash her horn was gone…and a huge pair of bat like wings spread out from her shoulders. “Ohhh this is too cool!”
“W…well…I say that is…a striking change.”

“So like…if you stick it on Spike will you get a dragon charm?”

Echo was just staring as Jen stood and stretched her new bat wings to their fullest width. “Your eyes look like mine too Jen…”

The newly winged girl plopped back on the grass…too excited to even notice her nudity. “No kidding?! Oh man I bet I look AWESOME. I can’t wait to get back to the castle and see!” With a little effort she draped her wings across her shoulders like a cape. “Oh man…these beats feathers by a mile…though it’s a lot brighter out here than it was a minute ago…”
In fact it was almost painfully bright. With a heavy sigh the girl fingered the pegasus charm and draped her now feathered wings across her chest. “I’m totally doing bat all night tonight.”

Her little group of friends chuckled at her antics. “Alright enough talking, get to drawing.”

Jen frowned a bit. She took one of the pencils and flipped open the book. It’d been a long time since she’d drawn anything and she had no idea where to begin. Then she looked at the trio of ponies talking quietly from the corner of her eye, and she began to work.

Yesterday’s misadventures were all but forgotten as her mood soared to new heights. She had friends…friends she made all on her own and not just second hand through Pinkie Pie. She liked Twilight and the gang a lot…but this was different. Occasionally Echo would break from the group and try to peer at the sketch taking shape, but Jen always shied away or lifted a wing to block her view.

She was beginning to draw more of a crowd too…as the artful ponies of the district took note of the sudden appearance of a winged…furless biped sitting in the park, next to two rather well known unicorns no less. She tuned out the low chatter and focused on her work, now and again shooting another glance at one of the three ponies at her side. If she’d been more observant she’d have noticed a number of ponies beginning paintings or sketches of their own…only with her as the subject.
Rarely did her pencil work slowly. She was always brushing the lead across the page, or smudging a mistake with the eraser. She switched seamlessly to a new pencil when she’d finally worn the first down to a nub. At some point Fancy rose and purchased something from one of the passing vendors, returning with a quartet of candied apples. The ponies ate them swiftly while Jen took a distracted bite now and again.

Finally she set the sketch book in her lap and leaned back, hands propping herself up. She blinked owlishly around at the huge crowd she’d only just now noticed…then her cheeks turned red as the apple she’d been eating when she saw more than a few artfully rendered nudes of herself. Some depicting her just as she was sitting…others had taken more liberty. With a gasp she gripped her charm bracelet returning to her unicorn shape.

Noticing her discomfort Fancy Pants stood and addressed the assembled ponies. “Now everyone…show a little decorum to our guest if you would. She’s come a long way as Princess Luna’s personal guest. This is her first day in Canterlot and we want to give a good impression do we not?”

The assembled ponies took note of how distressed the subject of their excitement was becoming and hastily dispersed…all save one paint spattered mare who approached cautiously. “I’m sorry but I have to ask…who are you?”

“Hey wait! A green filly with no cutie mark and metal on her teeth? She’s the Princess’ student!”

Another voice piped up. “Don’t be silly; everypony knows Twilight Sparkle is the princess’ student.”

Yet another chimed in. “No this is Luna’s student…what was it? Jubilant something? The one Duke Land Grab is in an uproar over!”

Jen cleared her throat. “Uh…yes! Yes that’s me. Jubilant Surprise. I’m visiting my ah…mentor for the weekend.”

Now the chatter was raising again…most of it focusing on Luna, and wasn’t she afraid of her. “Er…no of course not. Princess Luna has been nothing but warm and kind since I’ve known her. I mean if she was such a nasty pony would she have agreed with my decision last night?”

This set many of the ponies back on their hooves as they considered the implications. Maybe the nighttime diarch wasn’t a pony to be feared after all? “What was that…thing you were before?”

Jennifer frowned now and she looked to Lyra for support…the mare didn’t disappoint. “Just a little experiment with some new magic! Nothing to get all worked up over!”

The first mare to approach Jen smiled now. “Well whatever it was, it had an exotic beauty. Would you be willing to pose as it sometime?”

“Oh ah…maybe? I mean I’m studying with the Princess…but uh…I guess next weekend? I’m supposed to come every weekend and Luna sleeps during the day.”

There was some murmuring of her not using the princess’ title…but most assumed since she was her student it was forgivable. “Well if you’d like to I’m here every Saturday…I hope to see you then!”

The center of attention allowed herself to relax when the crowd began to disperse. Lyra gave her a smirk. “Jubilant Surprise huh?”

Jen grunted. “I panicked and had to think of something pony sounding last night. Then I thought “What would Pinkie Pie name her real filly?”

“Mm…well you hit the nail on the head there I’d say…that name DOES have a very Pinkiesque quality to it.”

Fancy and Echo meanwhile were preoccupied with the drawing on the sketch pad. “Well I say my dear…I had no idea you had such talent.” With a little squeal of excitement Lyra raced over to see what Jen had done. She gasped softly.
One the page was a trio of ponies. Lyra was in her upright position, eyes closed in gentle repose with her Lyre in her hooves. Fancy’s disheveled appearance was cleaned up, and the gentlepony was sitting with a look on his face showing he was enjoying the music while levitating a tea cup to his muzzle. Echo appeared in her natural state, wings spread wide and hovering over the pair gazing down at the object of her fandom with a big grin.

Ever so gently Fancy Pants’ magic gripped the sketchbook, lifting it to his side. “Well I’m having copies made immediately, one for each of us?” At Lyra and Echo’s eager nod he chuckled. “And with your permission of course Jennifer. Or would you prefer Jubilant?” He winked.

She blushed. “N…no go ahead, I love it when people like my drawings. I’d like the original back though. And just Jen is fine.”

“Well then I shall be off! Lovely to see you again as always Miss Heartstrings, and a pleasure to meet you after hearing so many good things Miss Echo. Until next time.” With a courtly bow the stallion was off, happily levitating the sketchbook in his wake.

Jen had a little smile as he left. “Nice to see him in a better mood.” Seeing the others looking at her curiously she shrugged. “Bad break up.”

A pair of ‘ohhhhhs’ and knowing nods were the twin responses. “Me an Echo should probly get back to the castle Lyra, I’ll catch ya later!” The fillies started on their way back to the castle, Jennifer in unicorn form again.

“Can I see that? I kinda wanna go back to being myself.”

Jen glanced at her disguised friend. “Really? In public?”

The transformed bat pony frowned ruffling her wings. “It was nice spending a day in public but…I feel like I’m hiding from everypony…and even worse from myself. I don’t want to be accepted for being somepony I’m not.”

They stopped their walk as Jen shifted the bracelet from her leg to Echo’s, the latter using the bat charm to resume her natural form. With a happy sigh she pranced ahead a few steps and took to the air. Her wings beat a lot harder than a pegasus and her body had a tendency to rise and fall with each flap. It was an interesting spectacle and many ponies had stopped to stare.

Echo offered her friend her bracelet back upon landing…and Jennifer wasted no time pressing the bat charm for herself. In a flash her coat was still green, but a much darker, almost black color. Her mane and tail were now a vivid crimson red rather than their old auburn, and her eyes had yellowed with the slit pupils. “Ooo it’s like day time.”

The natural bat pony was frowning now at the looks of alarm on the other ponies’ faces. “I think you’re scaring them.”
Jen shrugged and resumed her trot, flexing her new wings now and again. “That’s their problem, not mine. This is a lot cooler than a regular pegasus.”

Echo soon fell back into step with her, the pair winding their way back through the streets. “Why don’t we just fly back? It’s a lot faster.”

The other filly gave an indignant snort. “I’m not allowed to fly yet.”

“Really? Says who?”

“My uh…caretaker, Pinkie.”

“Pinkie? As in Pinkie Pie? As in the bearer of the element of laughter? You weren’t making THAT up?”

Jen shook her head as the castle came into view. “Nope. I’m actually registered as Jennifer Allen Pie.”

“Wow…friends with Lyra Heartstrings and your mom’s a national hero!”

Green ears flattened against their owners’ skull. “She’s not my MOM…just my guardian.”

“Isn’t it the same thing?”

Jennifer kept her eyes on her hooves as they entered the castle unmolested. “No…not really.”

The fillies trotted through the halls to Luna’s throne room, intending to pass through it and up to the princess’ chambers. They were more than a little surprised to find a small crowd of ponies milling about in the petition chambers, Luna’s frazzled secretary zipping back and forth trying to get some order. “Everypony in an orderly line now! The princess will have time for you all but we must keep this nice and structured.”

Echo stepped to a pair of night-guards, a stallion and a younger colt. “What’s goin on guys?”

The elder shifted his attention to the cadet. “Oh hey Echo…and uh…who’s your friend? I don’t recognize her.”

Jen lifted a hoof in greeting. “I’m Jen, Luna’s human guest?”

If she’d been paying attention to the younger guard she’d have seen the goofy grin on his face as he was openly staring at her. “Oh! Well…you make a fine bat pony, should consider signing up for the guard.” He chuckled good naturedly before turning back to Echo. “Petitioners. After word spread about last night’s incident ponies apparently decided Lady Luna wasn’t some frightening monster and have been steadily filtering in the last hour or so.”

Echo looked really excited for a moment, before her face composed itself into a stony mask. “Oh. Well I’m sure Lady Luna is happy.”

The pair of guards was less reserved with their excitement. “Ecstatic! She was giggling like a school filly, you should have seen it.”

The night filly grunted softly. “Well we’ll go let her know we’re here now.”

The girls trotted passed the suddenly indignant ponies in line before one nudged the other. “Look it’s the green blank flank, that’s gotta be her student.”

“Wasn’t she a unicorn?”

“Makes sense she’s one of those bat ponies though…”

The sounds of conversation died as the throne room doors shut behind the fillies. Luna was indeed seated on her throne, working hard to keep a composed and properly royal look on her face though it was clear to them both she was positively bursting with excitement. “Did you see?! They are here to petition…me!”

Much less reserved than her friend Jen rushed up to the throne. “I saw! Congratulations Luna!”

“I owe it to you I believe Jennifer. I…” She stopped talking seeing Echo’s scowl. “…I have a confession.”

Taking a seat right in front of the princess Jen tilted her head. “You do?”

“Yes. I am afraid I tricked you last night. There is no such thing as ‘alicorn stasis’ and you certainly didn’t overwhelm me with your magic, impressive though it may be. It was a ruse perpetuated by myself and Cadet Echo as a test of your character.”

Luna’s face fell further at the hurt so clear in the filly’s large eyes. “I…a test?” She looked back at Echo. “You KNEW about this?”

“I…w…well I did Jen but you have to understand…”

Jennifer silenced her with an angrily raised hoof. With a little scowl for the princess and the cadet she gripped the human shaped charm on her bracelet, folding the bat like wings around her shoulders. “I’m going to my room. Good night.” Not seeming to care about her nudity for once she left the throne room with angry strides…ignoring the call from the once so cheerful alicorn to come back.

-Echo-

Echo watched the human storm off, wincing as she slammed the doors behind her. Angrily she whirled to glare at her princess. “Look what you did! My only friend and now she’s angry with me! This is what lying gets you, nothing but trouble every time!”

Luna’s wings flared as she rose stiffly from her throne. “Remember to whom you are speaking cadet!” Nopony had seen Princess Luna angry since an unfortunate incident in Ponyville on Luna’s first Nightmare Night free of the moon, and Echo was not pleased to be the first since then. “I am aware that I have wronged the girl and fully intend to find some way to make this up to her.” She calmed and took her seat again. “For now go to your friend. I cannot turn away my first real petitioners; I will find her when my duties for the evening are finished.”

With a quick glance back at the princess Echo hastily trotted through the walls towards Jen’s chambers. Gently she knocked. Several moments passed before the door finally opened. Jen looked down at the night pony, eyes still a bit red from recent tears. “Oh…it’s you. Look I’m just…gonna go to bed.”

Echo co*cked an eyebrow. “You don’t sleep.”

She gave a faint shrug and plodded back to the big bed, but didn’t shut the door on the filly’s nose. “You got me.” The girl just flopped face first down on the bed.

Hesitantly the pony entered and nudged the door shut behind her. She picked her way across the carpet and climbed onto the, laying on her belly so her muzzle was just in front of Jen’s face. “…I’m really sorry. I was acting under orders…but I promise I didn’t like it even before we were friends.”

Jen groaned softly and planted her face in the bed. “I believe you.” With a sigh she looked back up. “But I dunno…it really took me by surprise. I thought the princess I dunno…thought better of me? Like…why the test? Why’s it even matter that much? I’m nobody.”

“You’re not nobody…not to me. You’re my first real friend who I’m not related to you know? And you’re not nobody to Lyra. I can tell she like…I dunno REALLY cares about you. And what about Fancy Pants? You said he was really upset but you had him smiling and enjoying himself this afternoon.”

“Hmph. You know what I mean Echo. I live in Ponyville and go to school with foals half my age. I’ll admit I’ve had a bit of an exciting first month but now I’m just…” She shrugged. “On my way to becoming an ordinary pony I guess.”

The young cadet seemed to consider this for a few moments. “…I suppose it IS a little odd. Her showing so much interest in you. I mean you helped save Equestria from Discord recently but so did three of the element bearers…for the second time no less. And she never invited any of them for visits. Maybe because you’re an alien?”

“Mm. That could be it I guess.” She blew out another sigh. “Ugh…I was so excited and now all I wanna do is go back to the farm.”

Echo was frowning now. “I can fly you home if you want. We’re stronger than normal pegasus ponies and I can pull a small chariot alone.”

Jen studied her friend for a few moments before sitting up. “…why don’t you teach me how to use echo location?” She offered a faint smile.

A smile her friend hesitantly returned. “Ok…that could be fun.”

With a touch to her bracelet Jen was a full night filly again, rolling off the bed. “So! How do we do this?”

Echo took wing gently flying from candle to candle, snuffing each out in turn. Then she dragged the heavy curtain over the window blotting out the rising moonlight. “Can you see?”

“Mmmm…yup. There’s not a lot of light but you guys got crazy night vision.”

Gently landing on the carpet Echo rooted around one of the drawers in the bureau against the wall fishing out a silk scarf. “Alright close your eyes.” When Jen complied Echo tied the scarf around them. “Can you see NOW?”
“Heh…nope blind as a bat.” She stuck her tongue out.

Even knowing she couldn’t see it Echo rolled her eyes at the bad joke. “Alright…I’m not sure how to best describe doing this…maybe like…clearing your throat and screaming at the same time?” Jen flinched as Echo let loose a shrill keening shriek like whistle…it was really hard to describe. “I send out sound waves, and they bounce around the room and reflect off surfaces…when the sound comes back to my ears I can form a picture in my head.”

Brows furrowed Jen planted her hooves firmly in the carpet and cleared her throat several times. “I think…I feel SOMEthing in there…” Opening her mouth wide she did her best to scream and cough at the same time…and yelped a little as a wail similar to Echo’s came out. “Oh! Did I do it…gah!” She recoiled as the sound waves came back to her. It was hard to describe what it was like. As if someone was sketching out a black and white photo inside her head. She could see the room in startling clarity in her mind for a few moments before the images faded.

“Yeah you did it! Try firing it off a few times in a row. Imagine the images in your head are a photo you’re taking. Now if you take the picture a few steps to the left, everything would look like it’s in a different spot. When using echo location to move, you have to constantly update the picture so you don’t trip or run into something.”

After a few more practice trills Jen was slowly walking around the room. “This is really weird…but pretty cool at the same time. So what kinda things can you do with it that makes it your special talent?” Jen turned to regard Echo after she zeroed in on her location.

“Well I can shriek for a lot longer than most. Like a continuous wave of sound. I can make the pitch high enough to shatter glass too.”

“Ooo I’d wanna see it but I doubt the princess would appreciate us breaking the windows.”

“Wanna go out to the gardens? Lady Luna might be awhile still and it’s better than sitting around in your room for an hour.”
After Jen worked her blindfold off the pair made their way through the castle halls and out into the moonlit gardens. “Wow it’s beautiful. I always thought night time was prettier than day.”

“No kidding? You should think about becoming one of us then. Join the night guard hm?” Echo grinned as the pair trotted through the little path around the gardens.

“Mmm. I dunno about that. It’s super cool but I like Ponyville. And being a guard seems a little…boring?”

The filly at her side shrugged. “Fair enough…it IS a lot more standing around than I expected it to be.”

They wandered at a relaxed pace. Enjoying the cool night air and the good company. Echo veered sharply away to the right, but Jen regarded the left path curiously. “What’s down there?”

“Eh? Oh…dunno. No one goes over there.”

Now of course Jennifer’s curiosity was piqued and she immediately set off down the left. “Well why not?”

Echo caught up at a slower pace. “Dunno…nopony does is all. The staff say it’s haunted.”

Jen looked over at Echo incredulously. “HAUNTED? Do you really think if there was some spooky ghost living in their garden the princesses would ignore it? Quit being a scaredy cat.” Despite her bold words Jen had to admit there was a sort of…heaviness in the air. Rounding a corner there under a pair of twisted old trees stood an ancient looking statue of an alicorn. Overgrown with sickly looking vines. Both fillies stopped dead at the sight.

“…ok that IS a little spooky. It’s so dark in like…JUST this spot…”

Echo was backing up. “I want to go Jennifer. I don’t like this.”

Jen shot a look back at her nervous friend and approached the statue curiously. She shivered a little at the sudden drop in temperature. Wait? Shivered? She glanced down at the jewel hanging from her neck then back to the statue with a frown. It was definitely an alicorn. A larger than life sculpture if comparison to Luna was any indicator. The statue was almost a full head taller than Luna. It sneered down at the fillies with a contemptuous look frozen on its stone face. Ignoring the butterflies in her stomach Jen crept closer, tugging at some of the vines at the base to reveal a rusted and battered placard.

en a ax a

It was almost like somepony deliberately scratched away at the name on the statue. The oppressive feeling in the air was only getting worse and Jen could take it no more, she turned on her hooves and galloped full tilt away, Echo already rounding the corner ahead of her. Both fillies shrieked at the top of their lungs as they came face to face with a flesh and blood alicorn…who returned their scream with gusto.

With a cough Luna folded her wings against her sides glaring at the fillies. “What are you two doing over here?!”

Both shrank away from the fury in her eyes. “W…we were just walking around the garden…I…I made Echo come over here she didn’t want to!” Echo for her part was only nodding rapidly.

Sweeping passed the cowering fillies Luna stalked toward the statue staring hard at it for a time before returning. “…no harm is done, I apologize for frightening you. Echo will you please excuse us? I wish to speak with Jennifer alone.”

Eager to be away from the place the night pony didn’t bother with a goodbye, she just snapped her wings open and soared away toward the castle proper. Jen glanced up at the princess. “I…I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was…like…forbidden. There’re no signs of anything…”

Luna’s expression softened seeing the filly’s fear. “…it is I who should apologize. But ponies are advised to steer clear for a reason. Nopony knows why but being around that statue is…bad luck.” She nodded at that and began walking.

Jen had to step twice as fast to keep pace with the longer legged princess. “…bad luck? I Felt like something was going to lunge out and eat me at any second. Who WAS that?”

“Nopony. Do not concern yourself. Put all thoughts of her out of your head. I mean that Jennifer.” Luna’s tone sharpened again, commanding.

“Y…yes princess. Sorry…”

The lunar princess guided the nervous filly away from the statues and toward the flower beds. “Enough of such unpleasantness. You are my invited guest and I have done nothing but treat you poorly. For that I again offer my humblest apologies.”

Jen squeaked softly as the princess actually bowed low. “O…oh it…it’s alright you don’t gotta do that! I just…I was angry is all…and confused? I don’t understand why you felt the need to test me at all…”

Luna rose and regarded her for a few moments, seeming to be thinking hard about her answer. “You are the bearer of the Sword of Harmony, a powerful relic of Equestria. And you are holding half of Discord’s power around your neck…one of the greatest threats our land faced. Do you perhaps have a confession of your own?”

Now it was Jen’s turn to look contrite as her eyes darted away from the princess’. “I…I’ve been…using it.”

Gently the princess took the filly’s muzzle in hoof and tilted her head to face her. “For?”

Jen shrugged a little. “Sending letters to my uncle on earth…and…a couple trips home.”

“And?”

She shuffled on her hooves. “And…so I don’t get tired anymore. I can’t sleep since…you know…” A hoof brushed against the scar barely visible through the fur of her barrel.

“Then I believe I owe you another apology. One of my duties is to guard my citizens dreams against the nightmares that would plague their sleep…I fear taking on the burden of Celestia’s half of ruling has made it difficult to perform satisfactorily.” Luna’s expression grew stern once more. “Can you tell me truthfully that the amulet is having no effect on you?”

Wide eyed the filly nodded. “Y…yes I can! I don’t hear the voices at all. Believe me if I did I’d…I dunno…throw it in a volcano or something. I know I promised not to use it I just…I missed my uncle…a lot. You can’t imagine what it feels like to be a whole world away from your family.”

“Tell me…did anypony tell you of Nightmare Moon?”

Jen frowned. “A little. Twilight said that’s how she met Pinkie and the others. Princess Celestia sent her to Ponyville to uh…make friends and supervise the Summer Sun Celebration. Then some crazy mare called Nightmare Moon attacked and they used the elements of harmony to beat her?”

Luna chuckled softly. “That crazy mare was me.” Jen gasped and clopped her hooves over her muzzle. “I do not take offense…I was rather insane after all. A little more than a thousand years ago I tried to force Celestia from her throne and she had to imprison me in the moon. So…I do know something of being a world away from my family. I cannot fault you for wishing to see yours from time to time…so long as I have your word you will not use this power frivolously.

“You do. There’s a lot I could do with it…I miss burgers like every day, but I’d never use it for something that silly.”

“Very well then. …and perhaps allow yourself to sleep soon. I will personally see to it your dreams are undisturbed.”

Jen smiled a bit now. “Well I gotta admit I kinda like having all the extra time. And I get to enjoy the night and not worry about being a zombie the next day.”

“Well I Can hardly fault one of my little ponies for THAT now can I?” Luna smiled gently. “Now that ALL the unpleasantness is out of the way…I believe I promised you some lessons hm? I’m afraid I was more occupied the past two evenings than I would have liked…but why don’t you choose. Spell or sword?”

“Sword! Definitely sword!” Jen giddily shifted back to her humanoid form drawing the Sword of Harmony from its sheath in her shield.

Luna tsk’d softly. “We will not be training with REAL sword Jennifer. Follow me.”

The girl sheathed her sword a little disappointed, following the princess. She folded her wings across herself to provide a bit of modesty, but she really WAS finding it a little easier to walk about. “Think I might see if Rarity can make me some clothes that change WITH me…this is still a little weird.”

Without looking back Luna’s horn glowed gently and with a soft pop Jen’s shirt, pants, and shoes had materialized on her body. “O…or that works.”

Luna led her down some stairs and into what she assumed was a training room. Several night ponies were assaulting wooden dummies with hooves and a few had what appeared to be spring loaded blades that would flick from the armor on their forelegs. A pair of wooden swords and shields drifted from the rack near the wall, one set landing at Jen’s feet while Luna kept the other pair gripped in her magic.

“I will admit this is not my favored weapon, I typically fight with twin blades. But I am familiar enough with the sword and shield style. Shall we begin the lesson?”

Eagerly Jen gently slid the Sword of Harmony from her arm and laid it against the wall. Slipping the wooden shield over in its place she gripped her practice sword. “Ready!”

Luna drifted a set of training armor over and began to fasten it about Jen’s body…as best she could anyhow. “I believe I shall have some armor custom fitted for our next visit…”

Jen nudged the helmet away. “Thing looks dorky.”

With a raised brow Luna let it fall beside her…then thunked her solidly on the head with her practice sword.

A moment later a now helmeted Jennifer faced the Princess. “Now…I Suppose the most important and most basic lesson is to always keep your eyes on your opponent. Not just their weapon.” Luna began to weave her sword through the air in a slow, but intricate dance. “A skilled swordspony will lull a novice into focusing too much on their blade and before you know it…”

Jen had about a split second to blink as Luna’s shield snapped out and womped her in the face. With a grunt the girl staggered back holding her nose. “You will be struck by something else.”

Now Jen was starting to get a little agitated. “Fine. Anything else?”

“Yes. Never lose your temper in battle. If you get angry you stop thinking, and if you stop thinking…” The princess sword thrust in at Jen’s stomach, and this time the girl snapped her shield down to intercept it. “Very good.”

“Yeah that’s about all I did with Discord…block block block. Not that it helped in the end.” She wrinkled her nose in annoyance at the memory.

“Indeed. Well shall we go through a few basic motions?” A warm glow bathed the princess, when it faded Jen stepped back in surprise from the horned, winged woman clad in impressive gleaming black armor. “You did not think I would try to have you mimic my motions while I was a pony did you? That would be a little difficult.”

“N…no I guess not…just wasn’t expecting this.”

“Well…study what I do, and try to mimic it.”

To her credit Jennifer was a good student. Likely due to her interest in the subject. Soon she was moving beside the transformed princess. It was the same motion. Step forward and thrust. Shift the shield over her chest, then step back. Forward thrust, shield, back.

“Always keep your shield arm locked firmly. If your grip is too slack…” The princess spun suddenly and thwacked Jen’s shield, forcing it out to the side, and then prodding her in the chest with the tip of her sword. “…it is easy to knock aside.”
With a grunt the girl tightened her grip and resumed the motions. They’d drawn a small crowd of spectators by the time Luna called for her to stop. “Let us go through a little practice bout. Just to test what skill you already have.”

Shifting from foot to foot the girl nodded and took a few steps away from the princess. “Whenever you’re ready.”

As soon as she said it Luna lunged with a powerful thrust, and Jen snapped her shield down to catch it. Her relief was short lived as the princess swept her own shield up angling for Jen’s head but she was watching for it and swung her sword around to push it away. Of course this left her wide open to a jab in the side from the princess, and she hopped back with a hiss of pain.

“Good…very good. Swordplay is like a dance Jennifer. Your opponent your partner. You have to be focused on their movements, not just their weapons but their body. If I shift my hip one way it says I’m going to swing a certain way you see? Always be ready to flow. The dance does not end because you have blocked successfully, it ends when one partner can no longer continue.”

They came together again. Jen managed to block several attacks, and even give a poke of her own back, but inevitably every exchange ended with her getting a new welt or bruise. “We can stop if you like.”

The girl grit her teeth and shook her head. Luna quirked a faint smile and lunged in again. It wasn’t until the sun was beginning its ascent that the princess lowered her arms. Both women were covered in a sheen of sweat and breathing hard, (the younger in much worse shape than elder). Delicately the princess lifted the training weapons and set them back on the racks, resuming her equestrian shape. “I feel this was a very good first night. I’m afraid I require rest however, and should adjourn to my chambers.”

Plucking her usual weapon from the floor Jen followed Luna back outside and into the castle proper. “Would you be willing to come again next weekend? I promise no nonsense testing. We’ll get right to work.”

Giving a tired nod the ailing girl smiled. “Yup. I’m gonna getcha next time too.”

The alicorn laughed lightly. “We shall see. I have no doubt in time I will come away with my share of bruises. Refresh yourself and rest for a time. I will send Echo to take you home by chariot if that is agreeable?”

At Jen’s nod Luna turned for the stairs to her tower. “Thank you for coming Jennifer. And for how you handled your first evening here. It seems to have done wonders for my image. …though the cooks are trying to feed me waffles for all three meals…”

The pair shared a smile at that and parted. Luna to her chambers, Jen to her own. The human was happy to see a hot bubble bath had been drawn in the adjoining room, and she sank in with a low groan. The hot water was like magic on her sore body.

She didn’t bother keeping track of how long she enjoyed the bath…but it must’ve been awhile because Echo was poking her nose in soon. “Hey! I still can’t sleep y’know?”

Jen sat up with a yelp. “Oh jeez I forgot to take that off. Uh…how about when we hit Ponyville I’ll unwammy you? You can crash at the farm and fly back tonight.”

The pair made their way from Jen’s rooms and by the petitioning chambers, where they found Fancy Pants waiting. “Ah! Just the fillies I was looking for!” With a smile he returned Jennifer’s sketchbook, along with a pair of silver picture frames. Behind the glass of each one was a copy of Jen’s sketch. “The frames were a personal touch.”

Jen smiled and through her arms around the stallions neck in a huge. “Thanks Fancy, this is really nice.”

The flustered stallion backed up a step and cleared his throat. “Y…yes well. I look forward to seeing you again, if not next week than at the…” He glanced about sharply. “Event coming up.”

“Yes, definitely. If I have free time next weekend maybe I can see your home?”

He chuckled. “I think that could be arranged. And the invitation is open to you as well Echo. I hope to see you as is of course.”

The night pony scuffed a hoof on the floor. “I’d love to sir…thank you.”

“Well then! It looks like you fillies were moving with a purpose and I’ve delayed you long enough! Until next time my friends!” He trotted out with a chuckle.

Jen looked back down at Echo. “Ready?”

The filly nodded and soon Jen was packed and following Echo to a small chariot. “For single passengers, just in case.”

With a nod the girl climbed aboard while Echo hitched herself into the harness. “Ready for takeoff?”

“Yup! Let’s roll!”

Echo burst into a gallop tugging the chariot along with surprising strength. Spreading her wings the pair were air born with a few short flaps. Jen’s mouth split into an ear to ear grin at the sensation of flying. It was just as wonderful as the first time.
Soon they were soaring over the Equestrian country side, and Jen was leaning well over the edge of the chariot to see everything. It looked a lot different than at night. Her eye was drawn to the tree line at a sudden burst of pale pink magical light. She squinted at the point and gasped at what she saw. “Echo! We need to land! Right now!”

Hearing the urgency in her friends’ voice Echo didn’t question her, just angled downward and brought the chariot to a less than gentle rest on the rough dirt road. The wheels had barely touched the ground before Jen hopped out and took off at a run for the trees, tapping her earth pony charm as she went. The sudden surge of strength made crashing through the thick brush effortless.

Echo was flapping at her side, nimbly weaving around the limbs of the trees. “What?! What is it?!” She was surprised at the furious scowl locked on the girls face.

“I saw somepony I recognized, one of the ones helping Discord. She hurt Twilight and just got away with it!”

“Is she dangerous? We should let the guard know! Canterlot’s not THAT far back.”

Jen shook her head fiercely. “I’m not letting her get away again!”

With a crash she smashed her way through a particularly thick batch of foliage emerging into a wide clearing. There she spied her quarry. The ice blue unicorn in her gaudy star spangled hat and cape. Trixie wasn’t alone however. With her were two more….Jen assumed they were ponies. One had a shiny black carapace like a bug…with wings that flicked at his sides also resembling a bugs. He regarded her curiously, though it was hard to see what he was thinking with the solid blue eyes.

The other was even more striking. It looked like a unicorn mare encased in ridged glossy black armor. A fearsome helm hid her mane and made her ruby red eyes stand out sharply. The helm was stylized to look like a spider’s head, with the mandibles closing around the unicorns’ neck to secure it. She glared at Jennifer with hate filled eyes and spoke one word.

“Thief.”

Whoof! Big chapter! I really wanted to get it all in there so I could focus on the big encounter in the next one. :x

Chapter 8: A Chance Encounter

Jen and Echo were so preoccupied with her unusual appearance; they missed what the unicorn had said at first. Though the night pony seemed far more fixated on her companions than on the speaker. “That’s Trixie Lulamoon…she’s a wanted criminal. And THAT’S a changeling…they’re ALL criminals!”

The ‘changeling’ looked indignant. “Oi missy we ain’t ALL criminals, that’s racist plain an’ simple. How’d ya like it if I said ‘hey that’s a night pony they all suck blood an’ eat foals’ hm?”

Despite the situation Jen smirked down at her friend. “He’s got you there.”

“Tak enough!” The strange unicorn barked sharply. “We are not here for you to engage in banter with bizarre looking ponies. We are here for the thief and killer.”

Jen looked from the changeling…from Tak to the unicorn, then to Trixie standing behind the pair. The sky above should be bright and sunny but under the trees it was almost dark as night. She could see a faint glow coming from beneath the show mares’ obnoxious hat.

“Look I think you got me confused with someone else, I’m not a thief and I’m DEFINITELY not a killer.” Jen had hoped to reason with the weird mare, but the look in her eye showed she wasn’t here to talk.

“You wear your pilfered goods brazenly upon your arm. Tak and I witnessed you and your flying companion pass through the chasm over the still smoking corpses of my kin. You will return the shield and surrender yourself to justice, or I will take you by force.”

“Now hold on. I’m not surrendering anything and this was given to me!” Jen backed up a step, hand drifting to the hilt of her sword.

The unicorn snorted and her horn flared with a reddish light. “Tak deal with the flier!”

The changeling’s horn flared with eldritch green light as a blast of magic ripped through the clearing angling for Echo, but the young night pony was already airborne, wings pumping fast as she sped like an arrow at her foe.

Jen stumbled back fumbling to draw her blade as the unicorn charged. The mare was on her before she could fully draw it so she abandoned the attempt, bracing her shield for the coming impact. She was not disappointed. The unicorn spun and slammed her hooves at the girl’s chest but Jennifer snapped her

shield down to catch the blows. Even so she shrieked in surprise as she was suddenly sent airborne herself, crashing through the thick brush and smacking solidly into a tree with enough force to crack it.

With a wince the girl landed on her feet as the tree slowly toppled over behind her. She’d seen Rainbow Dash plow head first into a tree going faster than most cars, with little more than some dizziness to show for it. Her back was sore from the impact, but she landed on her feet relatively unharmed…the earth pony physique making it feel practically painless. Giving a soft grunt she drew her blade and lifted it to meet the expected charge…only to find herself alone.

Cautiously she stepped forward, eyes scanning the thick brush all around her. A rustle in the leaves overhead saved her as she instinctively raised her shield, in time to meet the mares’ next assault. Somehow she’d gotten over here and into the trees above. She crashed down on Jen’s raised shield with enough force to make the girls arm go numb…but it seemed the unicorn was surprised her quarry didn’t immediately buckle, and instead snapped out the pommel of her sword catching her in her unarmored belly and launching her back into the air.

Jen’s jaw fell open as the unicorn twisted in midair and landed on the tree behind her, hooves seeming to stick solidly to the vertical surface. With a growl she lunged for the astonished human.

-Echo-

Echo’s good mood had soured quickly. And her day had been off to such a good start too. The filly was dipping and darting through the high branches of the great trees, always the buzzing changeling right on her tail with frequent bursts of magic to try and knock her from the air. She cursed the fact that she’d not bothered to don her armor before departing the castle. ‘Won’t make that mistake again…if I live through this.’ She thought.

“C’mon kid land an’ I’ll make this quick like! I don’t wanna hurtcha really, our problem ain’t with you!”

The cadet grit her teeth and flipped suddenly darting over the surprised changelings head and bucking him with her hind hooves as she passed. “If you got a problem with Jen you got a problem with me!” Echo allowed herself a triumphant smirk, looking back and expecting to see the bug creature dropping like a rock. Instead she saw his body flare with green fire as he got…bigger. Longer legged, the solid blue eyes gave way to vivid red with pupils not unlike her own.

“Right then, hard way it is little filly!” With a snarl he sped forward suddenly far outclassing her speed. Echo let out a howl of pain as his horn flared while he passed, scorching a burn in her flank.

The pain was great enough she almost fell from the air, her wings faltered for several beats before she pushed it aside and forced them to work again. If the changeling was this much trouble Jennifer had to be having a hard time of it too. “You’re not the only one with tricks.”

Eyes blazing fiercely Echo’s jaw snapped open and she let loose a keening wail powerful enough that the air was distorted by the waves of sound rolling from her throat. Tak’s eyes went wide as the sound waves over took him and it felt like whole body was vibrating and threatening to shatter at any second. With a howl of his own he snapped his wings shut and plummeted below the tree line and out of sight.

Still ignoring the sizzling hiss from her flank Echo darted down after her opponent. She had to make sure he wasn’t going to cause trouble…this wasn’t an ordinary changeling obviously. He was on his hooves on the ground, barely standing and looking ready to topple at any second. Wanting this over quickly she sucked in her breath for another shriek…when suddenly a pale pink lasso of light snapped shut over her muzzle pinning it closed.

With a gasp she remembered there was another criminal in the clearing, and she looked to her side to see the line connected to Trixie’s horn, the unicorn strengthening her spell and forcing Echo to land.

“Get to Umbra and finish this quickly Tak! I can’t keep the sky shroud and her bound at the same time for long!”
Groggily the changeling nodded and his wings buzzed again lifting him into the air. “Be careful with her, she’s a lot tougher than she looks.”

The unicorn was too busy desperately trying to keep her focus to respond…and Tak buzzed by her toward the other battling pair.

-Jennifer-

Jen was…not doing too badly she felt. She hadn’t managed to catch this crazy mare with her sword, but she’d delivered a couple solid bashes with her shield and she herself wasn’t feeling hurt despite taking a buck to the hip. It throbbed dully but her choice of going into this with the earth pony charm was really paying off.

The unicorn was fast though. REALLY fast and REALLY strong. Definitely at least an equal match in strength and Jen’s better in speed for sure. The only advantage she seemed to have was that she was armed while the unicorn fought bare hooved. Oddly enough she didn’t seem to be using her magic for anything more than jumping and running up trees.

They were circling each other warily, each waiting for the other to make a move. “Look…I don’t wanna fight you! I don’t even know who the heck you are lady!”

The armored mares red eyes glared harshly from beneath her helmet. “I am Umbra, Princess of the Spiderkin. Are you truly so callous you have forgotten taking the lives of my kin so soon?”

Realization dawned on the girl. “Spiderkin? You mean those…giant spiders in the tunnels? You’re talking about THEM?”

“Yes! Them! Thirteen of my scouts, slaughtered by you and your companions!”

Jen scowled. “They attacked us first! We were defending ourselves!”

Umbra’s eyes flashed with rage. “Liar!” She charged as she shrieked. Jen briefly recalled her recent lesson with Luna. ‘Never lose your temper in battle. If you get angry you stop thinking and if you stop thinking…’ Turning smoothly she easily side stepped the unicorns’ reckless charge, then brought her shield down hard in the small of her back. With a grunt the mare collapsed and Jen wasted no time swinging her leg up in an awkward kick and sending her arcing through the air. She probably could have finished it on the spot by stabbing with her sword instead of shield…but something about killing a pony struck the girl as very wrong.

Intending to make sure she was definitely out of the fight Jen charged through the brush after her, shield raised. With a gulp she found herself face to horn with the changeling…Tak she thought his name was, and then she was blinded as a flash of green caught her square in the face. Reeling back she tripped on an exposed root and hit the ground hard.

A sudden weight smashed into her back forcing her harder into the ground, then hooves began to rain blows about her head…now THESE she was feeling, earth pony physique or not. Each slam of a hoof sent pain reverberating through her skull and she wanted to do nothing but let consciousness go.

An ear piercing keen split the air and the weight was flung off her, she head the changeling howl in agony as Echo’s sonic attack ripped through him again. With a groan Jennifer blinked rapidly, her vision slowly returning. It was a struggle to get to her hands and knees but she was slowly pulling herself up. She caught a glimpse of her friend darting overhead and tackling the changeling, hooves flailing and a constant barrage of shrieks right in his face.

Finally Tak slumped to the ground, unable to remain awake from the furious assault. “Hn…thank Echo…look out!”

So preoccupied with the changeling, Echo failed to notice the unicorn had gotten up, and caught a buck straight to the face. She didn’t even have time to cry out as she soared through the air and slammed on her side against a tree. There was a sickly snap as her wing was crushed between her body and the tree, then the filly hit the ground and lay still.

Umbra stomped to Jen’s looking down her muzzle at the slowly recovering girl. “This farce is ended.”

Now Jennifer definitely had increased power in her arms from the earth pony charm. Enhanced stamina, much thicker skin and stronger bones. But there was one thing earth ponies had in spades…and one thing you never wanted to stand near when you were in a fight with one. And that was indescribable hind leg strength…or just leg strength in this case. Hands set firmly in the ground before her Jen didn’t look back. She just said one word.

“Eeyup.” Then bucked her leg out and smashed it into the armored unicorn’s side. She was rewarded with a very satisfying shattering sound, and the sight of Umbra propelled away from her at speeds that would make Rainbow Dash envious. She crawled to Echo’s side and had to choke back tears at the sight. Her muzzle was bloodied and she had several cracked teeth. The cadets’ wing was bent and twisted at odd angles along the length.

She gasped aloud as Echo’s eye cracked open. “…she packs a wallop.”

Jen laughed now. “Well so do I…come on let’s get you…back…” She trailed off at the sudden flare of red light coming in the direction she’d sent Umbra sailing in. Both girls watched as she stalked back to the pair, one side of her armor shattered and gone…and a large feathered wing flared in her fury. Her whole body was sheathed in a crimson aura of magic.

Jennifer felt Echo shiver in terror at her side. “She’s an alicorn…” She barely whispered. “Jennifer you have to run! You can’t beat her! Alicorns are fueled by magic; she’ll only get stronger the longer you fight!”

One of Twilights (many) lectures flashed through the girls head. She’d been curious about the princesses and asked her about them…where they came from and that sort of thing. “Well nopony knows WHERE they originally hailed from. Some ponies think that the alicorns were created by the world itself, living embodiments of its magical power.”

Jaw set firmly Jen pushed herself to her feet, sheathing her sword. The alicorn…Umbra didn’t seem to care that she was suddenly unarmed. Inarticulately shrieking with rage she charged again. And again Jennifer side stepped the wild attack, but this time she slapped her shield arm over the unicorns haunches, her other hand gripping the jewel at her neck.

She could almost hear Twilight’s voice. “Well nopony can exist in your world in their natural state for long because of the lack of magic. You see all living things on our world draw power and life from the air around them, and without it well…we’ll grow sick and lose our strength quickly. It’s why we had to visit your world as humans!”

Jennifer’s arm was burning from the intense aura radiating around Umbra, but she held on and focused on Discord’s jewel. She felt the vortex of light raise up and engulf herself and the raging alicorn, then they dropped. Umbra panicked, snapping a hoof out and catching Jen in the chin. The girl’s head snapped back and she drifted away from her in a daze. The vortex shuddered and ended more abruptly than she was used to.

She was not standing on the solid ground outside her uncle’s cabin like she’d expected. She and Umbra were in the air…she caught a glimpse of buildings a lot taller than anything in Petoskey Michigan, then they were falling. She had NO idea where she was, only that she was dropping into an alley between too buildings. Desperately she reached out and snagged her hand around a fire escape, but she was falling too fast and the bar came loose, dropping her hard on her back to the concrete below.

Umbra fared no better, not even getting the slight slow in descent Jennifer had, she slammed hard onto the pavement cracking the stone and wobbling for a moment…before slumping over.

Already her aura was flickering and fading. And she looked confused and disoriented. Jennifer groaned and rolled onto her side, getting to her hands and knees again than slowly sitting up, regarding the dazed alicorn. “You ready…to…talk yet?”
The unicorns response came as a primal blast of magic, catching Jen square in the chest and launching her through the alley out into the street beyond. Shouts of alarm rose from the people on the sidewalks as she slammed hard into the building across the street and dropped to the ground landing on her feet then dropping to her knees with a little groan.

“Guess she still packs a wallop…” She winced as she heard the sound of camera phones clicking, and peeked up with a scowl. Most of the folk were just gawking as she picked herself up off the ground. She could see Umbra charging from the alley her way and she hastily drew her sword brandishing it at the crowd. “Move! Get outta here!”

NOW they were screaming and running from the sword waving lunatic…for the most part. A few of the braver and more curious sorts spotted the source of her distress…and the camera phones went off again to document the winged…horned…glowing horse engaged in combat with the sword wielding teenage girl. Most just figured it was some kind of stunt for a movie.

Umbra’s magical aura was flickering in and our sporadically but it hadn’t faded completely. She was still augmenting herself with whatever internal magic reserves she had on hand…and they were apparently formidable. Jen managed to fend off her charge with a well-placed shield, but the alicorn was growing wise to her tactics such as they were. She allowed the girl’s shield to push her, and spun with it rising on her hind legs and slashing the razor sharp ridges of her foreleg armor guards across Jennifer’s stomach.

Instantly Jen’s mind flashed back to the fight with Discord…the fight where she’d almost died from a nearly identical wound. Now it was her turn to shriek inarticulately in rage and panic…Luna’s lesson flown from her mind as she began to whip her sword in a rage fueled flurry. The sudden shift in the girl’s mood shocked the young alicorn who found herself rapidly backing away into the street. By now they’d drawn another crowd…some beginning to wonder if this really WAS fake or not.
The girl’s terror fueled adrenaline rush wouldn’t last long, but she didn’t waste it. Her sword opened up cuts on Umbra’s face and legs and only a timely twist of her body saved the alicorn from being skewered through her flank on the side with her shattered armor. Not knowing what else to do, the reared on her hind legs slamming her forehooves into the ground and releasing a burst of her stored magic, flinging the berserk girl back into the wall.

Jennifer had thought her plan a good one…if the alicorn was away from Equestria she’d weaken like any other pony. But it was taking too long…and she was tiring faster than her opponent. If she could use her magic…poor as she was at it, it might give her an advantage. Umbra seemed incapable of using either of the very basic magic’s that, while Jen wasn’t GOOD at, she could at least call upon. The downside was if she gave up her earth pony durability likely one blow from the fierce mare would finish her.

She glanced at the charm bracelet during the lull in the battle. It seemed Umbra needed a moment to collect herself as well. Jen had no idea if it would work…but she had to try. Hesitantly she carefully spread her fingers, tapping both earth and unicorn charms at once. She felt the familiar rush of magic, and an audible gasp from the crowd. She also felt something comfortingly familiar…her horn had returned, and her muscle had remained. With a scowl she sheathed her sword again and stood.

“This is the last time I’m asking you to stop fighting!”

The gathered spectators looked from the girl to the pony, the latter spat to the side. “I will not stop until you lie broken and beaten at my hooves!” She lunged forward…only to come to a grinding halt in mid-air. The crowd seemed unsure whether to gasp at the talking horse…or the girl with the glowing horn holding the talking horse in some kind of aura. Umbra writhed and squirmed in the girl’s unrefined telekinesis. Jen had little control over how hard she gripped anything and she was sure it was causing no small amount of pain to the mare.

Jen knew Twilight and Rarity could manipulate anything just by thinking about it…but she needed a bit more of a physical approach. Hand outstretched to help her focus, she clenched her fist and her aura tightened around Umbra who let out a wail of pain. Gritting her teeth Jennifer made a lifting motion…and the pony slowly rose into the air. Once she felt she was sufficiently high enough, the girl slashed her hand downward and her aura propelled the alicorn mare into the pavement, hard enough to throw up a huge dust cloud and leave a small crater.

The crowd began to slowly edge toward the crater looking in. There lay the pony…very much unconscious, the shards of her armor scattered about her prone form in all around her. With a grimace Jen touched the earth charm alone, and her horn vanished…as did the massive building headache fortunately.

Letting out a slow breath she sank to the curb, head in hands. Several tense moments passed before someone finally approached, a younger guy, maybe a couple years older than her. “Hey uh…you alright?”

With a little chuckle she ran her hands through her hair, looking up with a wry grin. “Sure. Sure I’m good. Where am I by the way?”

He blinked at that. “Uh…New York?”

“City?”

He nodded slowly.

“Cool…I always wanted to see New York…oh man...” There with the crowd she spotted it…what could only be some kind of reward from god, Celestia whoever. A hot dog cart. Pushing herself to her feet she trudged to the vendor who watched her approach wide-eyed, as if he expected her to sprout another head or something. “Dude…all I have is gold; can I give you like…a pile of gold for a hot dog?” She dug a handful of bits from her pocket, and his wide-eyed look went from horror to delight.

“Missy you can have the whole cart for all that!”

“I think just…two hot dogs’ll do. And a co*ke.” She plunked the pile of coins on his cart and accepted the horribly processed meat, taking a moment to inhale the smell before biting into the first. “Oh wow…I mean…they say New York has the best but….wow.”

The guy from before approached again. “So uh…what the hell happened here?”

Jen shrugged and popped the last bite of the first dog in, swallowing quickly. She was hungry. “Oh…crazy magical pony attacked me. They get weak in our world so I brought us here to make it a little more even.”

He could only slowly nod. “Oh uh….cool?”

“Well she was trying to kill me so yeah pretty cool…I mean I…” She paused to bite into the other treat. “…I feel bad. I’m not big on violence but y’know…crazy alicorn tries to kill ya, what’re you gonna do right?” She was too sore, tired, and bleeding too much to really bother with some nonsense song and dance number.

Another slow nod. “…right. That…makes sense?”

A few of the braver folks were climbing into the crater, prodding the downed pony curiously. The sound of approaching sirens began to keen over the air and Jen groaned. “Ugh…I guess that’s my cue to go…man I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty.” A couple quick bites demolished the other hot dog, and she chugged the pop, tossing the trash in a bin.

“Hey hey wait! Go? You just…magically appear and have a big fight with a magic pony in the middle of the city and you’re going?”

She shrugged at the guy. “What else am I gonna do? Get arrested and dissected in a lab or something? Besides she’s dangerous. I can’t just bum around the city and wait for her to wake up and go nuts again.”

“Well uh…I mean If you WANTED to you could come back after she’s in…pony jail? I could show you around.”

This was a new situation for Jen. She’d done her best to keep a low profile in school. She never dressed to draw attention to herself and pretty much avoided every human being her age like the plague. A guy wanting to what? Take her out? …and kind of a cute guy at that…was new to her. He was a little taller than she was which was nice since she was always tall in school. He had kind of a scruffy look going for him, tears in his jeans and a faded black Metallica t-shirt. He had nice looking eyes though, a pale blue, almost grey color. “Uh…maybe? I mean I’m pretty busy. Plus I don’t really know you? This doesn’t strike you as weird?”

Now he was grinning a bit. “Me asking a strange cute girl out is weirder than sword fighting a magic talking pony?”

He had a point there. “You got a point there. It’s weirder to ME I guess?” She laughed a bit. The sirens were definitely getting closer, but she was suddenly feeling reluctant to leave. “I’m Jen by the way.”

“Ok Jen…I’m Alex.” He drew a pen out of the back pocket of his jeans and took her arm gently in his hand, writing his number on it. “Gimme a call if you wanna hang out.”

She was blushing a bit as she took her arm back. “Uh…yeah ok…Alex. Maybe I will.” By now the cops had actually arrived and were approaching the scene. Jen had a number of fingers suddenly pointing her way. “Ok definitely time to go.”

She slid down into the crater with Umbra ignoring the shouts to stop from the cop. Frowning around at the scene she knelt down, resting one hand on the unconscious pony while her other went to her jewel…she willed them back to Equestria, leaving a very stunned crowd of people around a suddenly empty crater.

Jen breathed a sigh of relief as they emerged from the vortex back in the forest where she actually intended to go. The adrenaline rush was definitely gone by now and she ached all over…especially her stomach…AGAIN she thought with a grimace. Ignoring the incapacitated pony and changeling she limped her way to Echo…only to stumble as her vision suddenly cut out, replaced by a pale pink haze. “Wh…what the hell NOW?!” She didn’t like swearing…she always thought it was low brow, but she was at the end of her rope.

“I’m sorry girl but I can’t let you take them to the princess or whatever you’re planning. Friends aren’t something I have an overabundance of and I’m not losing them now.” Jen turned toward Trixie’s voice frowning. “I’m sure this is little consolation but I tried to talk her out of this…apparently she was very good friends with the…ghost? Of your sword or something along those lines.”

“I…don’t care about them. How’s Echo?” She wasn’t about to start arguing with the unicorn, she was too tired.

“She’s fine…well not FINE but she’s not dying. She’s asleep, unconscious…I don’t know. She’s breathing fine. I’ll send up a magical flare. Help will be coming soon.” Jen could hear her leaving…and suspected the changeling and alicorn were being held in her magical aura. “Is…” She seemed to want to say more. “…never mind. Of course she’s fine.” Then Jen heard rapidly retreating hoof steps.

With a sigh the girl first sat, then flopped on her back on the snowy ground. “…he WAS pretty cute…”

She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep for, but she was snapped awake by a less than gentle nudge with a hoof. She blinked and was pleasantly surprised to see anything…but more so to see Luna looking down at her in alarm. “What happened? Who did this to you?!”

Concern in her eyes the girl looked to where Echo had fallen, and breathed a sigh of relief as she was being tended to by a pair of guards. “I saw Trixie…the mare who was with Discord? I made Echo land and she lured us into a trap. Some…alicorn mare named Umbra was working with Trixie and a changeling…I think his name was Tak? I thought you, Celestia, and Cadence were the only alicorns princess.”

Luna suddenly grew very still. “Describe her to me.”

Jen frowned and rubbed her head. Her stomach was still bleeding but not as badly. “Uh…solid black coat. White mane, red eyes. Kinda spooky looking really.” She blinked as Luna was suddenly just…gone. A bright pillar of silvery light engulfed the princess and she vanished along with the light. Sitting there blinking dumbly for a few more moments she looked over her shoulder. “…can I get a lift to Ponyville guys?”

Ponyville it turned out was not very far from their location at all. The guards had loaded Jen and Echo into a larger chariot and they were being rushed into the (annoyingly familiar to Jen), hospital in town. Echo was rushed off to an operating room for her wing…while Jen was forced onto a gurney and taken to an emergency room for her cuts. A healing spell and several stitches later and she was back in what she suspected was her old room. Seeing Doctor Gentle Touch brought a little smile to her face. “We have to quit meeting like this doc.”

Despite the situation the stallion chuckled. “Well let’s see. Two new lacerations to go with the old one. Three broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder…we had a lot of fun trying to set THAT back into place with your crazy arms. Good thing I studied up on that in case little Spike got injured. Also you have several bruised vertebrae, and one has a hairline crack in it. Another good blow to the back and you’d likely not be walking again anytime soon. The back of your skull has SIGNIFIGANT bruising and was in danger of cracking wide open. Decide Discord wasn’t enough and you picked a fight with the princess?”

“Close! She was a little alicorn. Well little by their standards, she was like normal pony size.” Jen’s mood was drastically improving with the introduction of wonderful pony painkillers. “And a changeling, he’s the one that messed up my head.”

“I sincerely hope that’s the medication talking or that is a truly horrifying possibility that someone as powerful as our Princesses is running about attacking everypony they come across.” The doctor slid her chart into the holder at the end of her bed. “You just get some rest, we’ve notified your mo-“ Jen’s look cut him off. “Miss Pie and she’s on her way.”

Jen lay back and was about to let herself drift to sleep before she shot back up. “W…wait Doctor! What about my friend. Is Echo alright?”

He was frowning as he turned back to her. “She’s a bit of a tricky case. Her head wound we can treat fine…but she’s the first one of those we’ve ever had in the infirmary, maybe even in Ponyville. Her wings are like nothing we’ve ever seen. We’ve called for Fluttershy to come take a look; she has experience with all sorts of animals and if your friend’s wing is close enough to an actual bat’s she may be able to help.”

She sighed as he left. It was good that Echo was going to live…but the cadet seemed to love flying. Though Jen was sure if anypony could help her it’d be Fluttershy. “Ugh…Pinkie’s never gonna let me out of her sight again after this.”

Almost as if on cue she heard the shrill sound of a panicked Pinkie Pie shrieking. “Where’s Jenny?! I’m never letting her out of my sight again! This is all my faaaaaault!” Jen didn’t need to see her to know the water works had begun. Though more than likely the mare hadn’t come alone and one or more of her friends was hard at work consoling her.

Steeling herself for the inevitable, Pinkie Pie burst through the door and gasped at her charge’s condition. Once more Jen was heavily bandaged and in the hospital. With a cry Pinkie flung herself at the girl…who braced for impact, only to breathe a sigh of relief as the hyperactive pony was snared in a shimmering magenta aura. “She’s hurt Pinkie; I don’t think she wants you bouncing off her chest right now.”

Twilight and Applejack entered in close behind, the latter nudging the door shut. “What in th’hay happened to ya THIS time?”

Jen offered an embarrassed shrug and motioned for Twilight to let Pinkie down. She did and the pink mare DELICATELY climbed up on the bed with Jennifer, nosing at her in concern. “I got waylaid by an alicorn.” With a little smile Jen rested a hand on Pinkie’s back. Having her close was making her feel better.

The unicorn in the room scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. None of the princesses would do this.”

“Well I didn’t say it was one of THEM did I?”

Farm pony and librarian shared a confused look. “Well those are the only alicorns in…in the whole world!”

The girl could only offer a shrug. “Well she had a unicorn horn and pegasus wings. Pretty sure that’s an alicorn. I told Luna about her and she I dunno…beamed off to find her I guess.”

Twilight was shaking her head. “This is all very odd. Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

So she did. From spotting Trixie in the air to the end when she mixed two charms to slam the rabid mare to the ground with her magic on earth. Her story got little gasps here and there when appropriate.

“Oh I hope your friend’s ok…she sounds really nice!” Pinkie Pie seeing that the girl wasn’t in life threatening condition had settled down some and was content to rest against Jen’s side.

“She claimed to be princess of the SPIDERKIN? I’ve never even heard of them. Do you think she meant those giant spiders we fought in the tunnels?” All three could practically SEE the gears turning in Twilight’s head.

Jen nodded. “It seemed that way. She seemed a little crazy though so I guess it’s hard to tell. Still that would explain an alicorn no one’s ever heard of right? If she’d been living underground her whole life?”

The little scholar’s eyes lit up at the promise of a mystery. “It would! I need to research this; there might be some mention of these spiderkin in Clover the Clever’s library! I’m glad you’re ok Jennifer, I’ll be seeing you soon!” And she dashed from the room without waiting for a goodbye.

With a little chuckle Applejack rose to take her leave too. “Reckon I should get back m’self. Ah’ll be sure’n let everypony know yer alright.”

Then she was alone with Pinkie. The party mare was perking back up but still looked a little morose. “I’m really alright Pinkie. Did uh…your dad come by?”

Now her head snapped up. “Oh did he come by alright…JUBILANT SURPRISE.” She giggled. “AWESOME name by the way! Apparently his granddaughter singlehoofedly saved the Pie family from being thrown out on their tails.”

“Oh man you shoulda seen me at the castle. It was a disaster!” She recounted the weekend’s events, Pinkie taking great delight in the antics of her first evening there…though she promised to have words with Princess Luna about how mean it is tricking somepony like she did. “So there I was in the throne room, thinking I was SO clever. If I was going to impersonate your filly I had to have a name you’d pick right? So I was very proud as I announced it. Then your dad was like “I need to know how old my granddaughter is.” And I nearly had a heart attack!”

They both had a good laugh at that. Pinkie tilted her head rolling lifting Jen’s arm with a hoof. “What’s with the numbers?”
“O…oh uh…I sorta…met a boy in New York? He gave me his phone number…”

“Oooo! Was he a cutie patootie! I bet he was to catch YOUR eye.” Pinkie’s smile was wide and bright again.

With a non-committal shrug Jen looked away embarrassed. “I guess. I mean it’s not like I can have a serious relationship with a human back home. Pretty soon I’m gonna be as pony as anyone else in Equestria.”

“Well maybe. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friends and have fun while you’re still human though right?”

“Yeah…I guess. We’ll see I mean I did tell Luna I wouldn’t use my amulet too much.”

The pony’s lips pursed a bit. “I don’t know that you should be using it at ALL Jenny-bean…but I trust you to be responsible. You haven’t done anything bad so far, I don’t think you’re gonna start anytime soon. Just remember what the princess said, it’s a one way street and now that the process started if you try to spend too much time over there you’ll get sick.”

With a little nod Jen sighed. “I know Pinkie. I’ve only been back uh…four times if you count today which wasn’t exactly a social call. I get little headaches after an hour or so but nothing serious. I promise I don’t regret my decision, I don’t plan to go back to STAY…just I miss my dad and uncle sometimes.”

“Aw it’s alright Jenny-bean. Everypony can get home sick sometimes.”

A gentle ‘ahem’ came from the door, a nurse standing there. “I’m sorry ladies but visiting hours are ending. Jennifer needs her rest anyhow Ms. Pie. You can come back in the morning.”

Giving Jen an affectionate nuzzle on the cheek Pinkie hopped down. “You heard the nurse Jenny-bean! Lots of rest! I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow!”

A smile and a wave and Jen was alone in the room again. Not for long however, another gurney was being pushed in a little while later, Echo sleeping soundly on it. Her wing was wrapped tightly and sported a brace keeping it up and open. A doctor gently levitated her from the gurney to the bed next to Jen, a fretting Fluttershy trotting in close behind.

“Oh Jennifer you look…awful.” The pegasus seemed torn between hovering over her patient and her friend.

Jen just waved her hand dismissively. “I’m fine. Well…not FINE fine…but I look worse than I am.” ‘Just a few cracked and broken bones’ she thought, but no reason to get Fluttershy more worked up. “How’s Echo?”

Decision made for her Fluttershy settled next to Echo’s bed. “The poor dear wasn’t in good shape. I…don’t want to go into detail but she needed a lot of healing magic for her head. I was able to set the wing so it should hopefully heal up good as new in no time.” She glanced at the closing door then back to the bed ridden girl, her voice lowering. “The doctors asked me to stay close by to talk to her when she wakes up. I’ll just stay here if…if that’s alright with you?”

Settling back and closing her eyes with a smile the girl nodded. “Yeah Fluttershy…that’s alright with me.” She was so tired she lifted the wakefulness magic she’d cast over herself, and almost instantly fell asleep.

The nightmares were there of course. As if they’d been hovering on the edge of her consciousness just waiting to pounce once she let her guard down. This time it wasn’t just the single shadowy construct with a sword. It was joined by a second shadow, a pony with blazing red eyes. They took turns slashing, bucking, and pummeling her…the end was the same as always and she jerked upright in the hospital bed suppressing a scream. Fluttershy was sleeping on the sofa in the room. Jen angrily reactivated the magic to keep herself awake.

“Bad dreams?”

With a little jump she looked over to her side to see Echo peeking at her from the corner of her eye. “Oh Echo…I was so worried!”

They kept their voices low to let the pegasus sleep. Echo forced her co*cky grin on. “Psh a little thing like a full on buck to the face from a rampaging alicorn isn’t gonna keep me down. Er…for long…I hope…” She looked at her broken wing at that point. Her smile faded. “What happened? Did you uh…win?”

Jen took a sip from a cup of water on the stand by her bed. “I did. I drug her to my world…pony’s get sick and weak there. It wasn’t easy even after that…well…it was once I grew a horn and magically slammed her into the street. I don’t have very good control but I was looking to take her out not do a tango.”

“We make a pretty good team huh? Changeling prince and an alicorn?” Echo shakily reached a hoof out for a bump, Jen obliged.

“How d’you know he was a prince? He didn’t seem very…princely.”

“The eyes. Regular drones have solid blues, royalty have different colors. We had to take like…tons of boring classes on the subject after the big invasion.”

“Invasion huh?”

The girls spent the rest of the night sitting up talking. Echo doing the bulk of it, Jen wanted to hear all about the big invasion of Canterlot during the royal wedding a couple years back. Fluttershy was awake of course…and kept peeking up at the chatting fillies. Part of her said they should both be resting, but it was nice to see Jennifer with a friend her own age. Oh she and the girls cared about her, but it was more like a little sister relationship than a true friendship.

Feigning just waking up she stretched with a yawn. “Goodness it seems you two are wide awake for it being so late.”
The youngsters jumped at the sudden interruption, both looking like they were caught by their mother staying up late at a sleepover. “Er…sorry Fluttershy. Echo’s nocturnal and I uh…”

“Had trouble sleeping. I figured Jennifer.” The yellow mare dropped off the couch and approached the night pony. “And how is your wing feeling Echo?”

“Eh…sore. I’m guessing it’d hurt a lot more without that.” She waved a hoof vaguely at the IV feeding her pain killers. “You the one who set it?”

“Mmhm. We don’t see many of your kind in Ponyville and the doctors hoped my experience caring for animals would help you. It just so happens I had to set a poor little bat’s wing much the same way a couple weeks ago. A couple weeks of resting it and you should be in the air in no time.” Fluttershy smiled gently.

Echo was a bit unnerved at the kindness the pony was showing her. She still wasn’t used to normal ponies reacting to her without fear. “Well…thanks ma’am. I really appreciated it.”

“Oh it was no trouble at all. Really. It looks like you girls are going to be alright, so I think I’ll be heading home. Try to get some rest please.”

Once the mare was gone the girls settled back in their beds again. It was quiet for a time before Echo spoke. “Hey…how come you don’t just…make all your wounds disappear? I mean you could do that right.”

Jen shrugged, eyes drifting to the pendant resting against her chest. “Probly. But…I really try not to use this. I probably coulda turned Umbra into like…a rabbit or something but…I don’t want to push my luck. I really do try to use it sparingly.”
The sky outside was brightening and Echo was looking drowsy. “Why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll snag a book from the cart when it comes around again to keep myself busy.”

Echo didn’t seem interested in arguing, and soon Jennifer was alone with her thoughts. If Umbra was an alicorn, how many others were there out in the world…hiding or forgotten or just…keeping to themselves? And if there were others who exist or existed…who exactly was that a statue of in the gardens?

Big fight scene! How Umbra and the gang wound up there, and her subsequent meeting with the Princess will be in the upcoming Umbral Travels! Chapter 1 should be out...eh sometime soon! :x

Chapter 9: Open For Business

Mercifully Jen was able to leave the hospital the next day. Her cuts weren’t as deep and her bones would mend, but the doctor gave now familiar instructions to take it easy. Echo’s parents came to take her to a hospital in Canterlot for her recovery. “I’ll see you this weekend Echo, even if Luna doesn’t invite me to stay. I can get a hotel or maybe crash at Fancy’s place!”

An older night pony mare flinched at Jen’s familiar tone regarding the princess, but let it slide. She’d never seen her daughter so happy. “Alright! I’ll see ya in a few days then Jen!”

Applejack trotted in with a polite nod to the departing ponies, nudging a wheelchair to Jen’s bed. The girl didn’t bother trying to hide a grimace. “Heh…s’just til we get outside sugarcube. Rules an all. Doc says yer fine more or less. Fit t’do a couple chores I reckon.” Her smile was slightly less friendly in the teen girls’ eyes as she slid into the chair.

“Yeah? Well I do like to help out.”

“Glad t’hear it cause boy do I have somethin’ for you t’do! Pinkie sends her apologies by the by. Emergency at Sugarcube. Holidays an all. She’ll be ‘round the farm this afternoon.”

“I was wondering where she was. I know she’s gotta lot of work going on with all the holidays. Plus with the brand NEW holiday we have scheduled next week heh.”

One she was out of the building Jennifer got to her feet with just a faint grunt. “You earth ponies got it goin on when it comes to getting knocked around AJ.”

The Stetson clad mare chuckled as she set an easy pace through town toward her farm. “Well Ah surely can’t argue with ya on that one. Hey d’you mind swingin’ by the school? Got some homework ya missed yesterday.”

Jen wrinkled her nose. First day out of the hospital, getting make up work was not high on her list. Though seeing the way Applejack was eyeing her from the corner of her eye she shrugged. “Sure. If I gotta lie around I might as well study while I do it.”

“That’s the spirit! Nose to the grindstone. S’how we git things done the earth pony way. Yer figurin’ things out already an’ we ain’t even started on the farmin’ side of it yet.”

This brought a smile to the girl’s face as they made their way to her school. It was the middle of the day and the foals were all rushing about enjoying their recess as she stepped through the little gate. Of course the crusaders charged right over, Applebloom in the lead.

“Heya Jenny! Whadja fight this time?!”

“Was it a dragon? I bet it was a dragon!”

“Glad you’re out of the hospital already!”

With a little laugh she smiled down at them. “I fought a berserk alicorn like the princesses. But she was a lot smaller like a normal pony. It was pretty rough. Oh and a changeling! He was pretty tough too but my friend Echo took care of him.”
Three sets of eyes widened at the news alongside a chorus of ‘ooooos’. “Hey come ‘round back we got somethin’ ta show ya!”

With a shrug to the mare at her side Jen followed the excited little filles behind the school house. The old steeple coming into clear view, and looking significantly less old and run down, and more sparkling and brand new.

“Girls! Did you do this while I was gone this weekend?” Frankly Jennifer was astonished. She knew Applebloom was supposed to have a good head for construction and repairs but this was like a brand new building. Freshly dried paint in cheerful reds, yellows and blues covered the outer walls. Inside was equally pleasant. The wooden pews removed and replaced by several little work tables, likely donated from the school. Jen stepped around carefully examining every inch of the renovated building. Stacks of art supplies, coloring books, crayons and board games filled several cupboards.
“Those were Miss Cheerilee’s idea! She asked everypony t’bring in a game they really liked t’play so y’all’d have somethin’ fer us t’do on our first day!”

Sweetie Belle hopped forward bursting with excitement. “The art stuff is from Rarity! She has tons of if lying around her work room so she said we could take some!”

Where the old podium stood was a large wooden desk, very similar to their teacher’s but much newer. Delicately running her fingers along the top Jen walked passed it and peered around into the back room.

“We didn’t get a chance t’get t’the back room or the upstairs yet. Sorry Jenny.” Jen couldn’t help but laugh at just how despondent the little farm filly sounded.

“No it’s perfect Applebloom, really. And I kinda wanted to pitch in fixing it up anyway so this works out. Now I can help make the upstairs as pretty as you girls made the downstairs.”

Scootaloo piped up finally. “It was mostly Applebloom. All me and Sweetie Belle did was run around town collecting whatever she told us to.”

“Well it sounds like a team effort to me! You girls did an amazing job, really. Thank you SO much.” She caught Applejack making a little ‘keep going’ motion. “And uh…I’m very…proud of you?”

Three little cheers filled the room as the fillies bounded out bellowing ‘cutie mark crusader daycare fixers’ yaaaay!’ Applejack shook her head with a chuckle. “Y’all just made them fillies’ days y’know?”

“Well jeez did you see the job they did? How does Applebloom not have a cutie mark in carpentry or something already?”
The mare removed her hat running a hoof through her mane. “Well…now Ah don’t rightly know all the fancy scientifical particulars of cutie marks y’understand. But from what Ah recall it ain’t just about whatchur best at. Yer special talents gotta have meanin’ y’see? Like sure AB’s obviously gonna be workin’ with her hooves. Anypony can see that. Cept Bloom apparently. A cutie mark comes when we do somethin’ meaningful t’ourselves. An artist might make the perfect paintin’, a unicorn could figure out a tricky bit’a magic. No tellin’ how they work.”

Jen smirked a bit when Applejack finally stopped. “You sold yourself short Applejack. That was a pretty high falutin’ explanation if y’all ask me.”

“Hmph. Don’t think just cause yer ailin’ Ah won’t kick yer flank if ya ask for it. Go gitchur homework an let’s get on back t’the farm.”

“Yes ma’am!” With an over the top salute the girl marched by the mare…then hissed in pain as her exaggerated movements reminded her ‘by the way you have a pair of stomach lacerations and a few broken ribs!' Sufficiently cowed she shuffled back to the school poking her head in. “Miss Cheerilee?”

She looked up from her desk with a smile, a smile that faded seeing the numerous bandages, particularly the one around her head. “Oh dear should you be walking around?”

A little shrug was Jen’s response. “Probly not much, but I’m more or less ok. I’ll be back in class tomorrow. I wanted to say thank you so much for everything you donated to the daycare up there. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Oh nonsense. Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my students getting out on her own hooves…or…feet I suppose.” She giggled softly. She had a nice laugh, the kind that just made anyone hearing it want to smile too. “Though if you really want to repay me how about you come over for dinner this week. I have so many questions about what your old school was like.”

“Oh! I’d be happy to. Wednesday ok?”

“It most certainly is.” She slid open her desk drawer and handed Jen a work sheet, laughing again at the comical face fall. “It’s just fractions Jennifer. If you’re having that much trouble I could arrange a tutor?”

Back home anything beyond the bare basics never really occurred to Jennifer that they’d be needed. She certainly wasn’t going into work as an accountant or something. But she was about to start her own business any day now, maybe being a little more math smart wasn’t a bad idea? “Sure…a tutor sounds ok but I’m not sure when I’d fit it in with the daycare opening soon, magic lessons coming up and my weekend trips to Canterlot.”

“That’s a good point. You definitely have more responsibilities than the average student. Oh! I don’t suppose you’d be willing to come to school a little early? I’m always here a couple hours before school starts and would be happy to do review with you.”

Well that was a good solution, given that Jen had quit sleeping entirely. “Sure I can do that!” It’d be nice to have something other than aimless wandering about the town to occupy herself with.

“Wonderful! It’s nice to see such enthusiasm. Will tomorrow be too early to start or can you manage? I know you were hurt and need your rest.”

“No tomorrow morning’s fine. I hate just laying around doing nothing to be honest. Way too much to see and do to just sleep the morning away.” Jen shared a laugh with her teacher before again joining Applejack.

“Granny Smith’s whippin’ up a batch of them apple dumplin’s for ya, after y’all went crazy over em last time.”

“Hmph. I’d never had an apple dumpling before. And they’re really good. Especially with that hot cinnamon sauce and a big glass of cider….” She was practically drooling now, and the amused mare just shook her head leading the way up the road to the farm. Applejack veered off the main path a bit with a curious Jennifer following. Her curiosity vanished quickly when she saw the still downed tree lying where she’d kicked it over. “Uh…”

“I saved it for ya! Now don’t you worry none. We’ll give it a week or so b’fore y’gotta haul the stump out and roll this here dead tree off for kindlin’.”

“I’m really sorry about the tree! I had NO idea I was that strong!”

Applejack just chuckled softly and waved a hoof. “Don’t you worry none sugarcube, we all make mistakes. S’pose Mac’s partly t’blame. He shoulda warned ya not t’put yer all inta a buck.”

The pair made their way up to the house. “So you’re all like…strong enough to do that?”

“Well Ah surely am. An Mac’s a good deal stronger’n that. When we get t’yer proper earth pony lessons Ah reckon we’ll sortcha out an teach ya a little control.”

“Oh heh, probly a good idea.” Jen made her way upstairs to the guest room, stretching out on the bed with a soft groan. She was pretty sore all over still really. Rummaging about in her bag she fished out the framed sketch Fancy Pants had given her, setting it on the stand by the bed with a smile. She drew out the mostly empty sketch book next and copied the phone number from her arm into the inside cover for future use.

The afternoon passed quietly. Granny Smith and Big Mac were both by to check on the girl and see how she was doing but for the most part she was left to her own devices. Tsking a little at herself for having neglected what used to be her favorite past time, Jennifer began to fill more of the blank pages in the book. Mostly sketches of her friends drawn from memory…even a page with a smirking Discord and the fierce alicorn Umbra.

Jen heard the front door closed and the sound of excitedly bouncing hooves heading toward her room but she was busy sketching and didn’t look up. If the bounding weren’t clue enough the smell was, Pinkie always smelled vaguely of sugary baked goods. Not that the girl found it unpleasant of course.

Seeing what she was engrossed in the party mare crept closer and settled on the floor to watch. She didn’t have long to wait as the girl was just putting the finishing touches on the sketch of the imposing armored Umbra. Finally she set her pencil aside and offered the book to Pinkie, already knowing she’d be demanding to see it.

With a gleeful little squee she accepted the book and set it on the floor flipping to the start. “Ooo you got to hang out with your friends all together!?” Jen peeked down to see Pinkie was still on the first page. “Heh, yeah. Echo was showing me around, Lyra was performing in the district and Fancy just…looked like he needed a smile.”

Something in the last bit made Pinkie look up at Jen watery-eyed, but the girl was already lying back in bed staring at the ceiling. “You know you’re pretty awesome at this art stuff Jenny-bean. Maybe you’ll get your cutie mark in THAT huh?”
Rolling her eyes and not at all realizing the irony of the coming statement given her conversation with Applejack just a few hours earlier Jen sighed. “Nah it’s nothing special.”

Pinkie was smart enough about the rules of a growing filly to know you can’t push the cutie mark on them, it had to be discovered or it would be meaningless. She asked little questions here and there, and finally settled on the last drawing staring at it for awhile.

“The changeling called her Umbra. She’s the alicorn that attacked us. She was pretty scary.”

The mare hm’d softly and tilted her head regarding it. “You know I always thought you did an amazing job with your drawing Jenny-bean. The faces especially, you always get the emotion just right.”

“Yeah I’ve never seen someone hate me like she did.”

“I don’t see hate. She just looks really sad to me. Her eyes do anyway…like maybe she lost something important!”

With a little grunt Jen snatched up the book and stared at the sketch. “…maybe. Well she’s gone now.” Snapping the book shut she hopped off the bed. “You staying for dinner?”

“Well since you invited me!” With a laugh the pair made their way downstairs. Pinkie to chatter with Applejack, Jen to set the table. She’d set the table and take care of the dishes every night. She wasn’t much use in the kitchen when it came to cooking, but at least she pitched in with the cleaning.

Soon the Apple’s and the Pie’s were seated at the dinner table digging into the generous portions the way only earth ponies, (or human girls magically tuning into earth pony magic) could. “So I’m gonna be leaving early for tutoring with Miss Cheerilee from now on, she’s not satisfied with my math progress.”

“Hmph. Dunno why ya care bout the fancy numerical’s anyway Jennifer. All that hooey ain’t done no pony no good.” Applejack nodded firmly, before her brother cuffed her upside the head. “Uh…but it’s still good t’get a nice rounded education?”

“Eeyup.”

Jen smirked at their antics. “Well I don’t mind. I prefer to be out and about than cooped up in the house all the time anyway. Plus if the tutoring gets done quick enough I might get a chance to head into the daycare and do some cleaning where the Crusaders haven’t fixed up yet.”

“Well if yer gonna be muckin’ about with mah work Ah s’pose Ah best come inta school early too.” Applebloom had started to clear the table, expertly balancing dishes on her head.

Her older sister regarded her with a raised brow. “Yer volunteerin’ t’go inta school EARLY?”

“Sure if Jenny’s goin in early. Miss Cheerilee MIGHTA told me mah math grades weren’t so good neither…an Ah’d rather do tutorin’ in th’mornin’ b’fore school than stayin’ after an not gettin’ t’play with mah friends.”

Scrutinizing the little filly as if she were going to detect some sort of mistruth Applejack just nodded slowly. “Well…Ah s’pose it’s alright. Long as ya know yer there t’study.”

While the Apple sisters talked Jen stood walking with Pinkie to the door. “I’ll walk you home. I wanna swing by the library and grab some books anyway.”

“Alrighty! Thanks for dinner everypony!” Goodbyes said mare and human departed back toward town. “Oh…I almost forgot! We gotta go to town hall tomorrow and fill out some papers to get the ‘Pie’ off your name.”

Jen walked with her fingers laced behind her head, enjoying the breeze that felt pleasant to her thanks to the magical warmth her gem provided. “Well, I mean we don’t HAVE to do it. It doesn’t bug me THAT much.”

Pinkie Pie was doing an extraordinary job of keeping herself calm and collected, not wanting to explode and possibly spook the girl into changing her mind. “Well if you don’t mind I guess we can just leave it as is.”

“I don’t mind. It’s sorta nice. Having an Equestria family name. Makes me feel a little bit more like I belong y’know?”

The mare gave Jen an affectionate nuzzle at her hip. “Oh Jenny, you DO belong. Heck you have your own shop uh…sorta! Lots of friends and everypony seems to like you ok? So don’t EVER say you need to feel like you belong. Because you do.”
“Heh…alright alright, sorry. Consider the matter settled!” Jen knelt and gave her a hug as they reached Sugarcube. “Maybe we should’ve just hired Applebloom to build the house. She sure fixed up that steeple fast.”

Pinkie giggled brightly at the idea. “Oh she’s smart as a whip when it comes to that kinda stuff! Sleep tight tonight Jenny-bean, ok?”

“I will Pinkie. G’night!” With a wave over her shoulder Jen headed to the library knocking softly. She had to wait a few minutes before a sleepy looking Spike answered.

“…d’you know what time it is?”

“Er…no. Not very late?” Looking up the moon was on the rise but still…

“Hmph. Twilight it’s Jen!” Waddling back upstairs muttering about crazy mares never sleeping he was soon replaced with the librarian.

“Well good evening Jennifer! What brings you by?” She held the door open further for Jen to step inside, closing it once she was in.

“Well I was looking for some books. History books specifically.”

“Oooo!” Twilight clopped her hooves a bit in excitement, causing Jen to grin. “Well we have plenty on the subject that’s for sure! Though maybe you’d like to narrow it down a little?”

The unicorn led Jennifer to the history section, it was rather impressively stocked. “What d’you have on alicorns?”
“Oh! Well hm…” Her horn glimmered as she began to grab books from various shelves.

Jen took a seat and looked over each book in turn, frowning a little. “These are all about Luna, Celestia, and Cadence.”
Twilight quirked a brow. “Well of course, they’re the only alicorns in the whole wide world Jennifer. Er…well except the one you ran into yesterday.”

Drumming her fingertips on one of the book covers Jen plopped her chin into her other hand. “Have you been in the royal gardens?”

“Well of course, plenty of times. Oh I had this favorite tree to sit under while I studied.”

“Well I found this statue. It was an alicorn, and the name was scratched off the base.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide while they darted back in forth before she leaned in to whisper. “You don’t mean the one in the far corner all covered in vines?”

“Yeah that’s the one! Who is she?”

The mare responded with a snort. “Nopony. It’s just a creepy old statue.”

“Then why’s it have a name on the base?”

“I…well…that is…” Twilight seemed at a loss for words. “…that is a very good question. You actually got close enough to examine it that much? Nopony ever goes NEAR it! It gives them the willies.”

“The willies isn’t very scientific…” Jen commented dryly. “But I did. I cleared some of the vines from the base and saw a scratched out name.”

“I’m sorry Jennifer, if it IS a statue of a real pony her name has been forgotten centuries ago. You’d need to find a library over a thousand years old to find books I haven’t read myself by now. I’ve studied every piece of known literature on the princesses and never once has an alicorn besides the three been mentioned.”

Grimacing at her search being ending before it even began Jennifer blew out a frustrated sigh. “Oh well. That wasn’t the only reason I dropped by. I was wondering when we could begin magic lessons.”

Twilight emitted a gleeful squeal more akin to something Jen would expect from Pinkie rather than the bookish librarian. With a soft POP she vanished only to reappear a moment later with another POP. All manner of books, quills, and scrolls gripped in her hooves and magical aura. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask! I have lesson plans already prepared! I also devised a spell to test your magical aptitude rather than the obviously unreliable machines. IN fact if you don’t have to dash we could get started right away!”

Jennifer did in fact NOT have to dash, and any time she could fill with friendly company rather than aimless wandering in the darkened streets was welcome. “Sure let’s do it. Wanna start with the aptitude measurement first?”

Heaping the study supplies on a handy table Twilight nodded beaming widely. “I would! I tested it on myself earlier so I know it works. All you have to do is well…sit there! Oh! And if you could please adapt your unicorn aspect.”

Glancing down at the bracelet on her wrist Jen chewed her lip with a frown. If she went unicorn she’d lose the earth pony durability and healing and she’d probly be ailing a lot more than she was now. The solution was rather simple. Delicately touching both earth and unicorn symbols, her horn sprouted while her earth physique remained.

“Oh my! I didn’t know you could use two at once. Have you tried three?”

The girl gave a shrug. “Well my wings are kinda useless in or out of a fight so I didn’t feel the need to try and bring them out when I was fighting Umbra. I didn’t want to give up my earth strength but I noticed Umbra never used her magic offensively so…I tried unicorn and earth mixing. It worked and well bam. I dropped her with a little magic slam into the street. Though when I do two like this I start to get headaches.”

Twilight was busily scribbling everything the girl was saying to a scroll. “Fascinating. We’ll have to consult the princess on this. It might be dangerous and I’d suggest not doing it often. It could be as simple as growing pains of a sort. Your body is trying to use two types of magic at once and it’s likely not used to that.”

“That makes sense I guess.” Jen rubbed the back of her neck and tapped just the unicorn symbol, grimacing as her body dwindled to normal and her aches magnified. “Well…ow…let’s get this done.”

With a deep breath Twilight shut her eyes and her horn began to glow brightly. When her eyes opened they were solid pools of magenta light. Slowly she trotted around Jennifer. “Well…I don’t think the machine was wrong after all. You have an IMMENSE mana pool…more like a mana lake to draw from. Would you mind changing to your earth form?”

Eyebrows raised the girl did as she was asked, sighing in relief as she bulked back up. Nodding slowly Twilight circled her again. “Very interesting. All of your mana intake shifted from your horn to your feet. Would you do pegasus now?” Again Jen complied after gently tugging her shirt off. Her new wings fluttered a bit. “And now through the wings. Just like anypony else draws their magic. Now…please do two at once.”

Touching earth and unicorn again Jen shuffled a bit where she sat working to stay comfortable on the floor. “And now from horn AND feet. Not only that but you’re drawing the mana in from both sources fully. When in such a state you’ll likely be able to sustain spells far longer. Would you please do all three?”

Tentatively Jen glanced down at her bracelet. “I can’t promise I can do it for long alright? I’m getting a little headache as is.”
Gently the mare rested a hoof on the girls’ hand. “I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or hurt yourself. But if I’m going to teach you magic, and if the other girls will teach you about their own tribes we need to know exactly what the tools we have at hand can do. You won’t have to do it long, and if it hurts just change right back okay?”

With a deep breath and a little smile Jen spread three fingers apart and touched the pegasus, unicorn, and earth charms. She felt a little jolt run through her body as she did otherwise…nothing. “Hey my headaches gone too!”

“Mmm. You’re drawing mana in from all three sources evenly now. I believe the headaches were coming from two opposing mana sources clashing against one another. But when you have all three sources open the energy flows in evenly from all and mixes with your already existing pool. You can go back down to just one.”

Again she tapped just the unicorn charm, leaning her back against the couch for support. “So…how come I have so much?”
“Well…this is just a theory mind you. But I believe it has to do with you coming from a world with NO mana. Equestria is saturated with it. All life needs and uses it to do pretty much everything! I believe when your mana starved body arrived in our world it began to draw in as much as it could as fast as it could and just started OVER filling you. Even after you reached a safe level it seems that the foreign matter of your body is telling Equestria ‘no I don’t have enough yet, give me more!’ so it does. Everypony has a limit to their mana so eventually your intake will level off and normalize I’m sure.”

Jen wrinkled her nose trying to wrap her head around the concepts. “Is there such a thing as too much? Like could I be in trouble?”

Gently the scholarly unicorn shook her head. “I’ve never heard of that happening to be honest. And while you do have a vast mana reserve it’s still less than my own though admittedly greater than many unicorns I’ve seen. This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to learn and cast any spell you like of course. It just means the ones you DO learn will have more force and lasting power to them. Still if you’re worried I’ll mention this to the princess in the letter asking about the charm, alright?”
“I’d appreciate that Twilight. Sorry if I’m being a pain it’s just a little scary y’know? Not knowing.”

“Of course. It’s no trouble at all!” She was in fact already scrawling the letter. “Well it looks like we have plenty of energy to work with so that’s good to know! Now we’ll do a very simple test to determine what level of magics you can learn!” Carefully Twilight levitated a number of scrolls over and rested them before Jen. “Each one of these contains a spell written in the language of magic! All you have to do is open and see if you can make sense of the words. If you can, you can learn that level of spell. Easy right?”

“Sure that sounds easy enough.” Though she was sick of sitting on the floor by now, so Jen scooped them up and spread them on a table in front of the sofa, settling on the couch and getting comfy. Gently she undid the first ribbon and read the scroll. “I can read this one! It’s for light right?”

“Yes! Very good. Of course I’d be surprised if you couldn’t read that, those are the very basic spells.”

Nodding slowly Jen rolled it back up and regarded the other nine before her. She made it through the next two without trouble, but the third she frowned squinting her eyes hard. “It’s like…the letters are squirming and changing around.”
“Oh! Well then there we are. Up to level two, not bad at all!”

Jen regarded her with a frown. “Two? But there’re ten scrolls and I can only get up to the THIRD.”

With a little laugh the unicorn rolled them all back up tucking them away. “Well yes but understand many foals can only ready the first, maybe second level. And while I know you’re not a little filly you’re essentially on the same level as one in terms of magical aptitude.”

“Oh so I’m right where I should be. Where can you get up to?”

“Six!” She said with a little too much enthusiasm. “I’m almost to the seventh too. Maybe a year or so more of study. It’s very exciting.”

“Wow you’re only up to six? You’re like…the most magical unicorn ever.”

Blushing a little at the compliment Twilight cleared her throat. “Well the spells grow exponentially more powerful and complex with each level. Nine are spells like raising the sun and the moon and so far only the princesses can do them in this day and age. It used to be more common for unicorns to wield such powerful magics. SOMEday I hope to get there.”

“So how do I learn spells?”

Floating a book into Jen’s lap Twilight adopted her lecturing tone. “Well every spell has a unique set of words that must be mentally pronounced perfectly while you focus your mana into your horn. When both of these factors are achieved you cast the spell! Some magic like levitation and personal shielding are intuitive to every unicorn and require no mental component. Your Find It spell is basic magic but with a very rudimentary mental component. You think of what you want, focus mana and poof.”

“Hm. That all makes sense. You’re pretty good at this teaching business.”

Another blush was creeping across Twilight’s cheeks. “Well! Let’s get to learning some magic! Before we can begin learning ACTUAL spells, you need to learn control.”

Remembering the sandwich she rocketed into the stratosphere the first time she tried to levitate something Jen couldn’t disagree. “So how do I do that?”

“Practice, practice, and MORE practice!” Jennifer thought she sounded a little too excited at THAT too. “Now you CAN levitate things however you use far too much force. An apt comparison would be using a sledgehammer to squeeze juice from an apple. You’ll get the juice, but you’ll make an awful big mess at the same time.” Trotting over to a little box Twilight nudged it open with her nose. “These are spheres made of solidified mana! They can be bent, broken, smashed, squashed and torn into a thousand little bitty pieces and instant SNAP back into shape. Go ahead and take one.”

Jen stood and moved to the box to do so but Twilight blocked her path. “Up bup! From over there.”

“Oh! Right…” Retaking her seat Jen focused on the balls within the box. Slowly her horn flared to life with its forest green aura and the box began to shiver…then the entire thing rocketed into the air and smashed into the ceiling. Miraculously the box fell to the floor unharmed and three mushy looking spheres hung in her magic, spheres that were rapidly being compressed to a thin almost two dimensional line.

“Close! Only take ONE of the balls. Drop the other two while maintaining your grip on the first.”

Jen narrowed her eyes doing her best to comply with Twilight’s instructions. Squinting hard at the field with the three suspended magic globs her field began to compress at first just squishing the balls together. Sweat was beginning to bead on her forehead as she practically glared at the offenders. With a soft pop first one, then the other fell to the ground leaving one very flat ball squeezed in her magic. “Ha!”

“Very good Jennifer! Excellent. Now relax your grip so the ball returns to its normal state.”

Biting her lower lip she worked on doing as instructed. Her aura began to fade as the ball slowly relaxed. “Easy peasy!” As soon as she finished the second word the field brightened again squishing the ball flat. “…hmph.”

Twilight laughed lightly. “It’s alright Jennifer. You’ll get the hang of it. The ball is yours to keep. Practice with it in your free time alright? When you can pick it up without crushing it flat as a pancake we’ll work on making it more complicated alright?”
“Sure thing Twilight. Should I just take it with me?”

The little unicorn nodded cheerily. “Mmhm! I ordered them specifically to act as a teaching aid for you. Oh and don’t worry!” She floated a thick book into Jen’s lap. “You have normal studies to do too!”

Jen glanced at the cover. “Basic Magical Theorem and Application by…was the author’s name really Dry Lecture?”

“Oh yes! He has some of the best, most informative texts on the field of magic!”

Taking a deep breath the girl gave a nod and stood, book in hand ball in her magical field. “Well I should go get started on this exciting bit of reading! Thanks Twilight Sparkle. I’ll come by when I got the hang of this ball alright?”
“Alright. Have a good night Jennifer, and sleep well!”

With a little smile Jen stepped out of the library. It’d gotten late and the streets were more or less empty as she made her about the quiet town. She idly considered floating the book before her eyes to read as she walked but all that’d result in was a flat, exploded, or shredded book and Twilight likely wouldn’t appreciate that.

Knowing Granny Smith, Applebloom and more often than not Applejack were all early to go to bed she entered the farm house quietly. Big Mac was sprawled on the sofa by the hearth, a cheery fire already burning and warming the house. Without a word Jen plopped down next to the big stallion on the free cushion. He had his small work table unfolded before himself laden with all manner of receipts, bills, and invoices.

Neither said a word for a while. Jen had let the ball fall into her lap and switched to the book. It was about as engaging as she’d expected. “Jeez I can’t believe someone could make magic boring.”

She was rewarded with a chuckle from her companion. “In mah experience unicorns by an’ large do their best t’make everything boring.”

The girl gasped a bit and shoved his shoulder. “That’s not very nice.”

“S’pose not. Don’t make it not true.” He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Still no sleepin’?”

Poking her nose back into the book she shrugged. “Don’t see the point really. I have heaps of stuff to be studying and I’m not missing sleep. Shouldn’t YOU be in bed?”

“Nope. Someone’s gotta see t’the financin’ matters ‘round th’farm. AJ dropped outta school early on an Granny…well Granny’s gettin’ on in years. Ah s’pose Applebloom c’n take over if’n she sticks around. Smart filly like her could do good for herself anywhere really.”

The conversation wasn’t conducive to focusing on the book, but Jen wasn’t complaining. “I don’t see her going far from home.”

“Mm.” Silence reigned for a time and she went back to her book. Even managing to get through a few pages before she realized Macintosh was staring at her.

“Er…what?”

“What madeja decide t’stay. Here Ah mean, away from yer own family.”

Jennifer was frowning now. “Suppose I don’t have much of a family to miss. I mean my dad loves me, I know that but he’s always working. Always. He was home for maybe two of my birthdays and three or four Christmases. Mom was around less and I’m pretty sure she did NOT love me.” She half expected the family oriented stallion to comment there but he was quiet, content to let her speak. “Only other family is my uncle. I know he loves me too but he’s not exactly a people person.”

“No friends?”

“Nope.” She smirked imitating one of his favorite words which drew a bit of a smile from him. “None that’re human anyway. I kept to myself in school. Not a lot of kids in my neighborhood. I do miss some things, meat especially but everything I left behind I’ve just gained so much more y’know?”

“S’pose when ya put it like that a fella can hardly blame ya.”

“Sure I’ve almost been killed twice, but I haven’t regretted my decision once.” Hearing no more questions she cracked the book again. She passed several nights this way in the last few weeks. Big Macintosh was something of a night owl, staying up late to work on business around the farm while the fillies of the family slept. He’d caught her sneaking out a couple times before she confided the source of her energy to him. While concerned he was content to let her make her own choices and mistakes.

Papers tidied and filed away properly he finally rose with a stretch. “Night then.”

“Night Mac. See ya tomorrow.”

“Eeyup.”

Jen always marveled at how such a big guy could move so quietly on hooves over a hardwood floor but he managed to get upstairs and around the hall with barely a sound. She made her own way upstairs once the fire had died down, finishing the first chapter in her bed by the light of her horn. By the time she’d forced herself through the chapter she could hear Applejack stirring before sun up as always. Figuring it was a good a time as any to get ready for her early tutoring session she slipped into the hall toward the bathroom, getting a surprised glance from the mare.

“Figgered Ah’d have ta buck ya outta bed this morning’. Getting’ AB up ain’t gonna be a hoot.”

“I’ll get her. You go on down and do whatever it is you do at this ungodly hour.” She gave the farm pony a nudge toward the stairs as she cracked the family fillies’ door. Hearing the ‘good luck’ tossed her way from the departing mare. At first she just gave the slumbering filly a gentle shake. “Hey Applebloom, time to get up.”

All her gentle ministrations got was a filly who was burrowing more firmly beneath her covers. “We’ll do it the hard way if you want to?” When Applebloom clapped her hooves over her pillow tugging it firmly over her own head Jen sighed and scooped her up ignoring the squawk of protest.

Carrying the weakly squirming filly to the bathroom Jen plopped her in the tub and turned the shower on. Now she got a much stronger reaction as the cold water splashed over her fur Applebloom gave a little shriek and recoiled away from the water.

Jen was grinning ear to ear as she finally joined her in the shower once the water heated up. “Well good morning Applebloom! Ready for some early learning?”

“How in th’hay are y’all wide awake already? That just ain’t fair! Even Applejack likes a cup a’coffee in the mornin’.”
“It’s a human thing. Don’t sweat it. And you’re already learning something. You learned that if you drag your hooves you get a cold shower wake up.”

Jen heard the tell-tale swish of filly-tail preparing to snap but she didn’t react fast enough and got a sharp crack across her backside for her teasing. “Hey I’m very seriously injured you know!”

The little filly grunted and rolled her eyes, before she actually got a look at the horrible bruises and cuts lining the girls’ skin. “A-ah’m sorry Jenny Ah didn’t realize y’all were so roughed up!”

Jen winked down at her. “Gotcha. It looks worse than it is. But don’t poke me around the middle…that’s about as bad as it looks.”

Their usual morning game was somewhat more tame than usual but both were clean and (one of them) dressed as they made their way downstairs to a simple breakfast of oatmeal. Applebloom was a bit more subdued than usual on their walk to school, but she seemed to be perking up quick enough.

Cheerilee true to her word was already inside arranging her lessons for the day. “Good morning girls! I wasn’t expecting you too Applebloom but it’s nice to see you. Let’s get started hm?”

It really wasn’t as bad as either girl was expecting. And being able to talk to their teacher in a one on one setting was making the elusive fractions far easier to understand. After just an hour both had a much firmer grasp on the concepts. “You’re making wonderful progress the both of you. Why don’t you go outside for a little bit before everypony else shows up.”

Leaving their things at their desks they went out back to the daycare. Applebloom was as awake as usual by now. “Alright! Let’s get started Jenny! Ah’m gonna start fixin’ up this old staircase. Think y’can get the backrooms cleaned out?”
“Sure thing boss!” The elder girl grinned at the little filly’s commanding tone, but took it with good grace. This was Applebloom’s area of expertise after all. Taking up a broom one of the fillies had left against the wall Jen got to work sweeping years of dust from the back. There were several rooms off the hall back there. “Maybe a reading room…or a study room for the foals who wanna do homework…”

Musing quietly to herself she worked the broom in slow easy brushes. Her aching ribs twinged a little in protest but she shrugged it off. Three of the four back rooms had been cleaned by the time the sun had begun its rise into the sky courtesy of the far off princess of the Crystal Empire. She could hear students begin the trickle into school but she wanted that last room done. Nudging the door open she stopped at the entrance way.

There against the far wall was a large SOMEthing under a moldering old sheet. The room was dimly lit and casting unpleasant shadows. What was really unsettling was the feel of the room. It felt…cold. Cold and oppressive. Scowling at her childishness Jen stepped closer to the shrouded object. Tentatively she reached the broom handle out to the sheet, hooking it and tugging it off. She gasped when it fell away.

There in the corner of the room was a stone statue. A very familiar stone statue. It was the alicorn from the garden. The stone was chipped here and there, and one of the wings was missing but it was undeniably the same superiorly aloof look on the sculpted mares’ stony visage. “Hey Applebloom!”

It took a moment for the filly to get to the back having worked her way up most of the stairs. “What’s up Jenny? Wh…who the hay is THAT?”

Jen shrugged frowning thoughtfully. “I dunno. Would you run and get Miss Cheerilee for me?”

Seeming all too eager to be away from the room and statue Applebloom was dashing away as fast as her little legs would carry her. Only one set of hoof steps returned. “Jennifer? Is something the matter? Applebloom seemed pretty spoo-oh goodness what in Celestia’s name?!”

Now Jennifer was confused. It was giving her a slightly creepy feeling but her teacher looked absolutely horrified. “Miss Cheerilee? What is it? Do you know who this is?”

Shaking her head rapidly the school pony backed away. “N-no I do not Jennifer. But there is something…very WRONG with that statue. Can’t you feel it?”

Jen frowned turning back to regard it, arms crossed across her chest. “Hrm. It’s not pleasant looking I’ll give you that. And it feels a little creepy…but I mean…it’s just a statue.”

“I…y-yes of course! You’re right I don’t know what came over me.” Despite her words the mare still looked skittish. “I suggest you get rid of it before any of the other foals come across it. This isn’t the sort of thing that fosters a healthy environment for them. You can be tardy to class while you find something to do with it.”

“Hm. Well no reason to wait.” Jen focused her energy into her horn and out at the statue. It wasn’t very heavy at all really and lifted easily in her mental grip. Like always she was holding far too hard and cracks began to form in seconds. Soon the statue was cracking and crumbling to rubble that Jen swept from the room and out into the yard behind her almost-ready daycare. “There, problem solved.”

“Yes! Well you certainly handled that nice and quick. Let’s get to class hm? I’m sure Applebloom and her friends would love to help you this afternoon in finishing up.”

Jen followed her teacher back to the school house proper and took her seat. Usually she could sit through the day’s lessons without any trouble but there was so much going on all of a sudden. She could be practicing her magic or finishing up the daycare. Stuck behind a school desk for six hours was almost tortuous by comparison.

Normally she was more reserved when the final bell would ring, but not so today. Jen was on her feet and running for the door like the rest of the students. Unlike the bulk of them she veered off for her daycare trailing only a little behind the Crusaders. She could already hear Applebloom giving her cohorts instructions.

“Um Jennifer can I help?”

Jen blinked down at the little voice piping up at her side. It was Dinky, the little unicorn filly looking up at her with big eyes. Smiling she knelt down. “Sure if you want to. We’re not playing in there though it’s hard work.” She assumed. Her contribution had been sweeping thus far.

Dinky bobbed her head eagerly. “I really do! I wanna help!”

With a smile Jen led the way. “Hey Applebloom! Can you find something for Dinky to do?”

“Well sure! Why don’t y’all c’mon up Dinky! Ah could use somepony t’hold th’nails while Ah do th’hammerin! Ah sent Scootaloo and Sweetie out t’pick up s’more supplies.”

Brow furrowed Jen walked to the bottom of the stairs as Dinky eagerly charged up them to get at Applebloom’s side. “Applebloom…where’d you guys get the money for this?”

“Oh! From the Mayor a’course. Didn’t Ah tell y’all about th’bits she sent for ya t’spruce the place up?”

“Uh…no. You did not.” Jen deadpanned, hands on her hips.

“Oh! Musta forgot! Well Ah just sent th’last of it off with th’girls anyhow so Ah s’pose it don’t matter none anymore anyhow right?” She offered a small smile seeing the growing frustration brewing on her friend’s face.

Taking a deep breath to keep from exploding Jen had to admit it was money well invested. Provided the upstairs wasn’t absolutely ruined. “As long as we can finish the job Applebloom, otherwise your sister might need to hear about this. You shouldn’t have spent that money without asking.” ‘And the mayor certainly shouldn’t have left it in the care of Ponyville’s most notorious mischief makers.’ She thought.

“Sorry Jenny! We just wanted t’surprise ya is all.”

Dinky was looking from one to another worriedly as they argued, holding a nail between her forehooves timidly. Jen let the breath out before finally nodding. “Alright. You just gotta work EXTRA hard to make every little bit count right?”

Seeing the danger had passed Applebloom perked back up. “Don’t worry the Cutie Mark Crusaders got this covered! Oh and uh…Dinky Doo too.” She added for their visitors benefit.

With a last nod to the working fillies Jen dropped her pack on her soon-to-be desk and drew out her practice ball tossing it into the air and snagging it with her magic. She was mostly just massaging it with her aura to get a feel for holding objects. With the ball warping and stretching overhead she reclaimed her broom and went to work sweeping out the rest of that last room.

Floors, walls and ceilings cleaned of dust and cobwebs Jen moved on to the mopping. This place had to sparkle! She could hear the other crusaders coming and going, unloading a LOT of supplies she hoped. Little hooves tapping the floor behind her drew her attention. Dinky was carefully floating a scrub brush and entering the room behind Jennifer, vigorously scrubbing any spots too stubborn to be swept up by Jen’s mop. The older girl envied the fillies’ obvious control over her magic.

“All done helping Applebloom?”

She nodded. “Mmhm! The stairs are all done and the crusaders moved onto the rest of the upstairs. I wanted to come down and help you though.”

With a smile Jen ruffled the filly’s mane. “Thanks Dinky. It hurts too much to bend over just now so you’re a huge help.” Jen couldn’t help but smile at the adorable filly’s tongue sticking out of her mouth as she worked to scrub a particularly bothersome spot.

Four fillies and one human worked their afternoon away while their fellows were out playing or getting up to whatever it was little ponies got up to. A few times Jen was tempted to go investigate the heavy hammering and sawing she’d hear upstairs but just looking about she could tell the building was in good hooves.

“Well I think we can’t get these floors any cleaner Dinky. Let’s see how the crusaders are doin' upstairs.” She led the way up the stairs, admiring how sturdy the rail was. It was her first time in the second floor. She was surprised to find a small kitchen appliances included. There was a bathroom down a short hall and what looked like a small study across from it. At the end of the hall was a larger room used for a bedroom if the moldering old bed was an indicator. The trio of fillies were in the midst of gleefully destroying the ruined furniture for transportation to the trash.

“Well fillies, I think this daycare is JUST about ready for business.”

Four little cheers rose up before Sweetie Belle tilted her head. “What’s missing?”

With a smile Jen made her way back downstairs. “Pinkie picked this up for me from the Sofa and Quill this morning and snuck it over while you girls were working so hard.” Happily she picked up…

“It’s a big piece’a wood.”

“A big FLAT piece of wood.”

“A big flat blank piece of wood.”

“It’s a sign!”

Jen nodded proudly to Dinky. “Yup! It’s not just ANY sign. It’s OUR sign. We built this place so it belongs to all of us. So let’s get to painting it!” Jennifer too the lead on THIS part of the project, gently directing the fillies and keeping an eye to make sure it’s looking tidy. When the base was applies she took over in bright letters painted across the sign.

Stay and Play Daycare

“Now! The final step!” With a smile she stuck her hands in the baby blue paint and planted them at the bottom of the sign beneath the name, leaving two perfect handprints. Not wanting to be left out the fillies all took a color and the hands were soon joined by four pairs of hoof prints.

Soon the new sign hung above the door, pronouncing the building open for business. Two excited crusaders and one little unicorn departed leaving Jen and Applebloom to clean up. “You know we’ll be up and running probly by the end of the week.”

“Well great! Ah bet everypony’s gonna have lotsa fun in here pretty soon.” The filly beamed proudly.

Nodding slowly Jen stepped outside shutting the door behind them. “You know this is all thanks to you right?”

“Aw shucks t’weren’t nothin’. Side’s it wasn’t just me Sweetie an Scootaloo helped out, an Dinky too!”

Kneeling down and resting a hand on the filly’s back Jen swept her hand out to the suddenly like new building. “Just take a minute and REALLY look Applebloom. This is your hard work sitting right here. All we did was whatever YOU told us to. This is all you.”

Frowning gently Applebloom seemed about to protest again before she turned again to look at the building. She rose to her hooves and slowly trotted up resting a forehoof against the door. “Y’know? Ah reckon this IS somethin’ ta be proud of…ain’t it?”

Jen winced at the sudden flash of light coming from the filly’s flanks. When she looked again adorning each side of Applebloom was the symbol of a crossed hammer and saw. Seeing the filly’s eyes growing huge with wonder, the girl just smiled. “I reckon it is.”

Chapter 10: Joke’s On You

“Ahhhhhh!”

“Alright I think that’s enough. You can close up.”

Working her jaw back and forth Jennifer slowly shut her mouth. “So can they come off yet?” She was seeing the Ponyville dentist, Dr. Bright White (she managed not to laugh upon meeting him too) about getting her braces off.

“Frankly Ms. Pie I’m not sure why they’re there in the first place. Why don’t you just use a basic straightening spell?”
A brief flash of irritation flashed across her face. “You can straighten teeth with magic here?”

The older stallion raised his eyebrows. “Well of course. Why haven’t you come by sooner? Those barbaric…braces you called them? Look quite uncomfortable.”

A little groan escaped the girls’ lips. “Well can you get em off?”

“Hm. Open again please.” She obliged stretching her mouth wide. She could faintly see the minty green glow of his magic as his horn ignited. There was an uncomfortable tugging sensation around her teeth then…the prison of metal that had them trapped for so many years popped loose. “Well those were on there good.”

Almost giddy with excitement she ran her tongue over her teeth and whipped her head around to admire her metal free smile in the little wall mirror. “Oh doctor you are officially my favorite stallion in Ponyville!”

With a warm laugh he gently tilted her head back into place with a hoof. “Open please.”

Happily she obliged, working hard to keep the huge smile from distorting his view of her teeth. “Well they all look strong and healthy. No cavities and everything’s nice and properly aligned. You have a clean bill of dental health Ms. Pie. Quite a feat considering who your caretaker is.”

Now it was her turn to laugh. “Yeah Pinkie’s not exactly the poster pony for healthy eating is she?”

“She is not. But she certainly takes good care of her chompers. Never had a cavity.” He led his patient up to the front desk. “Ms. Pie here is all set to check out. We’ll see you in six months for a cleaning alright?”

“Yes sir! And thank you again!” Almost wonderingly she was working her lips over her teeth luxuriating in the sensation of a braces free mouth. Jen was practically skipping as she left the office. Ponyville had slowly been transforming over the last few days. The weather team was keeping the skies clear in honor of the upcoming Winter Moon Festival and midnight blue and silver banners hung from every roof and awning in town. In the center of town near the markets a large stage was being constructed and ponies were busily making last minute preparations. The whole thing was set to take place outside and the banquet tables were just now getting arranged. There would be no food on them until tomorrow, but there were plans to have all day buffets going.

Older ponies were excited at the prospect of a new tradition beginning in the little town, and the foals were excited at any excuse to have a party. Nopony was working their regular jobs today, and Cheerilee had closed school for the holiday. Jennifer was on her way to Berry Punch’s sports bar to meet her teacher for lunch. Stepping through the doors it was almost like being in a similar establishment back home. Instead of flat screen TV’s broadcasting the game though they had radios at most of the table’s covering ongoing or past classic hoofball matches.

Spotting the magenta earth pony mare in a booth near a window Jen joined her with a smile. “Hey Miss Cheerilee.”

“Oh please, when we’re not in class just Cheerilee is fine. We’re practically the same age and you calling me miss all the time is making me feel old.” She laughed.

This was news to Jen. She assumed Cheerilee was far older than herself. Of course it was so hard to tell with the ponies. “How old ARE you? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“I’ll be twenty two next February. Rarity and I were in the same class in school you know?”

“I did NOT know. I figured you were like…teacher age I guess.” She rubbed the back of her head a little. “Sorry back home there aren’t a lot of young teachers.”

Cheerilee’s gentle laugh filled the restaurant. “Oh it’s alright. I suppose I can come off a bit more mature than most mare’s my age. Since the subject’s come up though I have so many questions about how school is handled by your people.” She was pulling a notebook from her saddlebags. “If you don’t mind?”

“Of course not! S’why I’m here right.” Now free of her braces Jennifer was in the sort of mood that nothing short of the end of the world could diminish it.

The education specialist had a seemingly endless litany of questions for education and the educational system in the human world. Jen did her best to answer everything she could in as fine a detail as she could manage. She was surprised at the menu, particularly all the egg based dishes. But she wasn’t disappointed in the fried egg sandwich and fruit salad. It’d been a bit of a chore finding protein. It was late in the afternoon before Cheerilee’s seemingly endless curiosity was satisfied.
“It’s amazing how many similarities there are really. Though your foals certainly stay in school a good deal longer than ours. Some unicorns go to advanced schools to learn higher end magic but that’s about it.” Tucking her note book away she had a warm smile for her most unusual student. “Thank you again for this Jennifer, I really appreciate you taking time out of your day.”

Jen just waved her thanks off. “It was no big deal. I had the dentist this morning, then I was going to go find Zecora and invite her to the festival tomorrow.”

Cheerilee’s cheer vanished. “Go FIND Zecora? You don’t mean in the Everfree do you?”

“Well that’s where she lives right?” Jennifer was already sliding out of the booth.

“W-well yes but…but the Everfree is one of the most dangerous places in Equestria!”

Jen couldn’t help but chuckle at the mare’s concern. “I think I’ll be fine. To be honest I’ve been waiting for a good reason to go exploring in there for weeks now but things kept getting in the way. I don’t think anypony’s let Zecora know about the holiday. Pinkie says she keeps to herself a lot.”

Cheerilee was clearly not happy with this. “I think you should make sure it’s alright with Pinkie Pie before you go in.”
With a roll of her eyes Jen just headed for the door. “I’ll be FINE, really.” She was halfway to the forests edge before hoof beats sounded behind her. Glancing back she was a little surprised to see her teacher following, seeming intent to go with her into the feared forest. “Cheerilee you don’t have to go in there with me.”

The mare frowned glancing back at town. “If you INSIST on going in there I’m not about to let you go without adult supervision.”

Now Jen smirked a little. “What happened to ‘you’re not that much older than me’?”

Cheerilee nervously pawed the ground with a forehoof. “How are you even planning on finding Zecora’s hut?”

Jen’s smirk turned to a smile as she tapped her horn. “With the first spell I ever learned! I call it the Find It spell. I just focus on what I’m looking for and it leads the way.” Without another word she called up said spell, her horn indicating a place SOMEwhere in the forest. It wasn’t right around the corner but she could tell it wasn’t too far off. “Come on Cheerilee it’ll be a little adventure. Maybe you’ll have an exciting story for the foals in class Friday.” Jen lead the way into the dark forest.
After a bit of hemming and hawing…and a not insignificant amount of nervous pacing the mare broke into a gallop after her adventurous student. Once inside Jen really didn’t see what the big deal was. It was a big forest, but it was a forest just like any other. “See? This isn’t so bad right?”

Cheerilee had managed to get the worse of her nervous trembles under control. “I-I suppose n-not…”

“So my daycare opens Friday after class for the first day of business. Any advice for me?” Jen figured if she got the pony’s mind off her surroundings she’d relax soon.

“A-advice? W-w-well…I suppose…you have to have a firm hoof when dealing with that large a group. Th-they’ll probably test you at f-first. Once you establish yourself as an authority figure however, they should respond well and calm right down.” It was working; her fearful jittering was fading fast. “Oh! A nice trick is to have some treats or something similar to reward good behavior. Though most of the foals from class shouldn’t give you TOO much trouble with.”

Jennifer was only half listening to Cheerilee ramble on. A gentle nod or prodding would keep her talking, and when she was talking she didn’t have time to let her imagination dredge up things to fear that weren’t actually there. Of course Jen wasn’t stupid, she knew there WERE dangerous things in the forest but she was well schooled in woods lore and was keeping an eye out for tracks and the like to indicate something unpleasant had been nearby.

Despite the unpleasant stigma of the forest Jen was finding it a really lovely place. It was so wild and untouched by civilization. She found herself growing more at ease. Only once did she found something that made her a bit wary, a rather immense paw print that she wisely guided her teacher away from seeing. It was a little less than a half an hour by the girl’s reckoning before they came to a small hut in the forest. Set against a large tree with all manner of large tribal masks adorning it. “I think this is it!”

Cheerfully Jennifer knocked on the door and stood back to wait. Despite being there to ‘look after Jennifer’ Cheerilee was crowing close to the girl peeking out from behind her legs. The door opened revealing the resident zebra. “Oh my now this is a surprise! A pair from Ponyville standing before my eyes.”

Cheerilee offered a thin smile, but Jennifer seemed completely at ease. “Hi there Zecora! We met the other day remember?”

Stepping back to admit her guests inside the zebra rose a brow. “Do you think I have such a weak mind I would forget meeting so rare a find?”

“I suppose I do stand out a little don’t I?” Jen and Cheerilee stepped inside gently shutting the door behind them. “We came out here to invite you to the Winter Moon Festival tomorrow.”

Eyes wide the zebra looked at Cheerilee incredulously. “You braved the forest of Everfree to bring me news of such frivolity? I had thought you possessed more wisdom, but coming out here like this was simply…dumb.”
“W-well…Jennifer insisted and I couldn’t let her go off alone now could I?” The earth pony sounded a bit defensive.
Jen gave a little shrug. “To be honest I was curious to see more of the Everfree. I used to explore the forests of my own world and wanted to see a little of this one.”

Zecora stood appraising the girl quietly for a few moments. Her eyes roaming from the shield on her arm to the gem hanging from her neck. “Hm.” She moved to stand before her large cauldron dumping a few herbs within and churning it slowly. “You are a curious child Jennifer Allen Pie; you have already been wounded enough for a normal pony to die. Yet here you stand still seeking new sights, however if the Everfree you wish to explore you must do it right. When your festival is over come and find me, I will be your guide through this forest of Everfree.”

“Are you sure? I’d hate to inconvenience you ma’am.” Though she couldn’t hid the hint of excitement in her voice.
Without looking up from her work Zecora nodded. “Pinkie Pie is a dear friend; it would not do for your life to come to an early end.” She finally looked up. “I will come to your town’s new holiday; it will be nice to have a day just to play.”
“Oh well…great! I guess we’ll see you tomorrow then! C’mon Cheerilee let’s get back before anypony notices we’re gone.”
“Oh ah, yes. Well we’ll see you tomorrow then Zecora. Have a lovely day!” The pair ducked outside and started back toward town.

Within the small hut the sagely zebra frowned down at the images revealed in her brew. “Many challenges lie ahead…the girl must find great strength to overcome them.” Sighing sadly she shook her head and banished the images. It hardly seemed fair for one so young to have to endure such great hardships.

“See? This wasn’t bad at all right?”

Cheerilee still seemed a bit nervous but not as bad as before. “I suppose not. It can’t be all bad if Zecora lives out here all on her own.”

Smiling at her teacher’s increase in bravery Jen let her eyes wander around taking in the scenery. “Hey lookit those!” Hopping off the trail Jen pushed through some brush into a vast field of beautiful blue flowers. Cheerilee trotted close behind.

“Well these certainly are lovely; I’ve never seen a breed of flower like this in Ponyville.”

Eagerly Jen plucked up several handfuls of the blue flower. “I’ll make a bouquet for Luna at the festival tomorrow. She loves the color blue. Like everything in her room was blue.” She laughed as she gently tucked them into her pack.
Her teacher gently cupped one giving it a light sniff. “Hm doesn’t smell edible, but it is a unique scent. If you have enough we should be going. There aren’t monsters around every corner like everypony leads you to believe but…there ARE dangerous creatures here.”

With a nod Jen stood and once more took the lead, soon reaching the edge of the forest. The sun was already on its way down to their surprise. “Guess we were in there longer than I thought. I should probly get back to the farm. I’ll see you at the festival?”

Cheerilee smiled. “You certainly will! And…Jennifer?” Her student looked back. “Thank you for letting me tag along. I know I was probably just a nuisance but it was a little…fun. Getting out and doing something like this.”

Jen’s smile broadened. “You weren’t a nuisance. If I grew up hearing ghost stories about the place my whole life I’d probly be a bit more scared of it myself. But if you let being scared stop you from doing anything, you won’t do much at all.”
With a gentle shake of her head the mare trotted to her home. “And I thought I was the teacher.”

The farm house was quiet when Jen got back. With a shrug she took the flowers from her pack and plopped the bunch into a vase she found in the kitchen, filling it with water and carrying them to her room. Setting it on the stand by her bed she lay back planning to get some sketches done while the imagery of the forest was fresh in her mind.

Resting her head against the back board of the bed she drew out her pencils…then…she yawned. A big yawn too. Closing her mouth and blinking in confusion she looked down at the gem around her throat, it was still glowing. While pondering refreshing the magic that kept her awake, she loosed another tremendous yawn. Unable to stop her eyelids from drooping closed she soon nodded off, the cloying scent of the flowers filling her room.

As sleep came so too did the nightmares. The shadowy humanoid and alicorn waiting to brutalize her in her unconscious state. Steeling herself for the coming pain she was surprised as silvery beams of light ripped through the nightmarish creatures and Luna landed lightly before her. “I see you have finally allowed yourself to sleep again. I have been keeping a particularly close eye on Ponyville in the hopes you would allow yourself rest.”

Gradually lowering her guard Jen sat on the formless ground. “I didn’t really mean to fall asleep but…thank you.” Chewing her lip she looked up at the alicorn looming above her. “Luna…who was that alicorn that attacked me?”

The princess looked away, unable or unwilling to meet the girls gaze. “A deeply personal and complicated matter I fear. I hope you will indulge my keeping the secret to myself for a while longer.”

Not at all satisfied with the answer, but not able to exactly force more information from Luna she gave a grunt. “Fine.” Rubbing her arms she looked about her blank dreamscape again. “Has anypony let you know you’re needed in Ponyville tomorrow?”

Grateful for the change in topic she nodded once. “Yes but the messenger was very tight lipped about the particulars. Ms. Doo suggested I arrive tomorrow before the sun set, and blind folded no less. Would you care to elaborate?”
A smug smile found its way to the girls face. “It’s a deeply personal and complicated matter I fear. Now if you were willing to spill the beans on Umbra…?”

The princess snorted as delicately as one can. “I shall be in Ponyville in response to your town’s mysterious request Jennifer. I believe I will even arrive with a blind fold. My curiosity is not easily piqued, but your fellow villagers have managed to dos o.” She turned her head looking at something only she could see. “Now however I must depart. I wish you a pleasant nights rest. We shall speak in person on the morrow.” With a powerful flap of her wings, the princess was gone.

The muzzy headed feeling of waking after a restful night’s sleep was a surprisingly welcome comfort to Jennifer. It’d been so long since she’d felt this way she hadn’t even realized she missed it. She was still on her back in bed but something felt…off. There was an almost painful weight on her chest. With a grimace she flailed about assuming she was about to send her heavy oaf of a dog onto the covers beside her. Instead she hit…herself?

With a little wince of pain she idly rubbed the oddly…warm, sensitive and soft protrusion on her chest. Grunting she opened her eyes fully and looked down gasping audibly. There on her chest…sat a rather impressively sized pair of breasts. With a strangled yelp she cupped the increased mass on her chest with both hands as if trying to disprove their presence.
Slowly she sat up grimacing at the increased strain they generated on her back. Then the morning’s next surprise fell into view. Her hair while never SHORT, was never allowed to grow much beyond her shoulders. But a thick silken strand of auburn gently fell across her face, chest, and ended at her waist. Confusion only growing she ran her hands through her hair finding it impossible thick and full. Confusion was giving way to panic as she struggled to her feet. Everything felt off! Getting to her feet walking was nearly impossible with her newly enlarged hips (and she assumed her butt had grown to match her chest).

Clumsily stumbling to the bathroom she fumbled with the matches to light the candles inside. The face looking back in the mirror was only barely recognizable as her own. Her horn still had the same dark green hue but it was hard to see more than the tip protruding from her massive mane of auburn locks. Her nose was smaller and her lips were (in her opinion) outrageously puffy. Scowling at the overly sexified face in the mirror she made a few kissing motions.

“What the hell IS this?!” Curious to see if this…bizarre super puberty extended to her pony self she held her fingers on the unicorn charm. Soon finding herself on fours hooves, and drastically different even as a pony. She was as long legged as ever, but the rest of her body had grown to accommodate it. Her barrel was slender, flaring into rounded flanks and a delicate barrel. Longer necked than before, even her muzzle was larger and slender. One thick lock of her mane fell across the left eye.

Soon she was panicking, prancing from hoof to hoof and rushing downstairs. “Applejaaaaaaack!”

The Apple family was already sitting down to breakfast. “What’s all the ruckus sugarcub-uh-what th’hay happened t’YOU?!”

Applebloom looked over wide eyed. “Wooooow! She looks like onn’a them fancy models in Rarity’s magazines!”

The family stallion was trying very hard to look anywhere but at the model quality filly…or was she a mare now? In the room.

“I just woke up like this! My human body is even worse! My chest is enormous now!”

“Huh…well Ah s’pose ya ARE at the age when yer body is changin’ an what not. Guess if nopony ever gave ya th’talk Ah might as well sitcha down an take care of it m’self.”

The silky green coated mares’ cheeks were burning. “I know what puberty is Applejack! Is this how it happens for ponies? You just…POOF grow up over night?”

The farm pony was fussing with her hat. “Well no…Ah don’t rightly know what all brought this on t’be honest. It ain’t natural Ah c’n tell ya that much. Maybe ya oughta go an see Twilight?”

“Y…yeah I bet Twilight’ll know what to do! Thanks Applejack! I’ll see you guys at the festival later!” Excited at the prospect of the mystery being solved the leggy mare galloped from the farm to the town proper. “Huh…can’t complain about the longer legs, I’m makin great time!”

So preoccupied with enjoying her longer strides she failed to take notice on the effect she was having on the townsponies. Most notable the stallions, though more than a couple mares were walking headlong into fence posts and trash cans trying to keep their eyes swiveled on the gorgeous new mare in town. Gradually she began to take note of the less than chivalrous looks she was garnering and old nerves began to flare. Picking up her pace when she noticed a number of stallions approaching bearing flowers, candies, and all other manner of gifts she once more broke into a gallop keeping ahead of the shouting herd. Not even bothering to knock she burst through the library door slamming it shut behind her, chest heaving as she sucked in deep breaths.

Twilight and Spike were in the main room talking with a little filly. A very…familiar looking filly. Magenta coat, pink and magenta mane. “…Cheerilee?”

The threesome in the common room looked to what they assumed must be a panicking celebrity fleeing a throng of fans. It was the filly who spotted the lack of cutie mark and familiar coloring of one of her students. “Jennifer? Is that YOU?!”
Nodding and wide-eyed the mare locked the door and hastily snapped the curtains shut. “I just woke up all…adult and…” She looked back and forth as if expecting somepony to be eaves dropping. “…curvy.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Your human form is altered too?”

Resting a delicate hoof on the human charm Jen regained her ‘normal’ shape. The curvaceous adult with a unicorn horn. Spike hastily looked away from the naked woman blushing furiously. Twilight never took her eyes from Jen, just lifted a hoof over Cheerilee’s eyes. The filly only gave a soft ‘oh my’.

After the initial shock wore off Twilight approached. “This…this is simply not possible. I’d say somepony has been experimenting with age magic but you…and I mean no offense…absolutely could NOT turn out like this based on your younger self. You’re almost at the age you appear to be now and you look NOTHING like this.”

“You think I don’t know that? I mean I always hoped I’d get a LITTLE bigger in the chest department but this is ridiculous! Tell me you can fix it!” Glancing down at the little filly she hastily amended. “Us!”

Twilight looked from Jennifer to Cheerilee with a thoughtful frown. “It IS an odd coincidence this happens to the two of you on the same morning.” Jen took the opportunity to change back to a pony form. “What were you two up to yesterday?”

Both ponies looked at one another and shrugged. “We had lunch. Then went to tell Zecora about the festival. The only magic I did yesterday was practice my levitation with the practice ball. I definitely didn’t get into any spells or something.”

Jennifer stepped over and had a seat next to the filly Cheerilee. Twilight tapped a hoof to her chin. “Did you touch anything at Zecora’s? Any of her herbs, plants or potions?” Both ponies shook their heads. “Anything in the forest itself?”

Jen shrugged now. “No. Just some flowers, nothing weird. They were just regular old plants. We didn’t eat em or anything.”

Spike had remained silent until now, but he was looking more and more incredulous as Twilight began to rattle off all sorts of questions to the mare and filly while pulling down books. “Really? Really Twilight?”

The three ponies turned to look at the baby dragon. “Really what Spike? We’re in the middle of a crisis!”

“Everfree forest. Flowers. Crazy transformations the next morning?” The little dragon was smiling smugly as realization dawned on the unicorn.

“Were the flowers blue? Did you BOTH touch them?”

Jen and Cheerilee shared a look and both shrugged. “Well sure.”

“Poison joke! I knew we’d figure it out with careful analyzation of the situation.” With a disgusted eye roll Spike went back to shelving. “It’s a magical flower that grows in the Everfree. Instead of giving ponies a rash however it tends to play pranks on its victims. Jennifer you don’t like to draw attention to yourself and now you’re a physically perfect specimen of feminine beauty. And Cheerilee has always had a love of her students so it must have taken that and dropped her back to their age.”
The little earth filly blinked. “I’ve never heard of this poison joke.”

Twilight nodded as she retrieved a small green book. “Well it’s only native to the Everfree forest and we don’t exactly do a lot of study out there. The GOOD news is this is very easy to reverse. You just need to take an herbal bath.”

The afflicted ponies both let out relieved sighs. “The bad news is I don’t have the herbs on hand. When Zecora arrives for the festival we’ll have to ask her to provide them. You’ll be back to normal this evening.”

The relief was swiftly fading. “So we have to spend the entire DAY like this?” The prospect of being chased around town by every single stallion (and a few mares) was not appealing to Jennifer.

Cheerilee seemed equally unenthused. “I was supposed to be organizing the class play! The students have been working for days to get everything ready for the princess. Oh they’ll be so disappointed.”

Having found the page she was looking for Twilight was busy jotting down the necessary measurements for their cure. “Well Jennifer, you should go see Rarity. She can whip you up a promise bracelet. Once everypony sees you’re spoken for they’ll leave you be.”

“Huh. That works on TV shows back home I guess it’d work here.”

With a little mm-hm Twilight replaced the book on its shelf. “And Cheerilee was Jennifer scheduled to appear?”
“Oh um, yes she was though she has a very small part as per her request.”

“Well then that’s easy enough to fix! You take her place in the play and SHE can be in charge of organizing. It’ll be a good trial run for looking after a large group of foals. After all it’s going to be her new job soon.”

The mare glanced down at her regressed teacher. “I guess if it’s alright with Cheerilee…?”

Cheerilee perked her ears. “Well that COULD work. It’s a simple little performance really, mostly just a welcome to the princess and a thank you for making such a pretty sky. And I’d be there to help Jennifer if she got in over her head.”

“Excellent! You see a level head can solve any problem.” Celestia’s prize pupil seemed quite pleased with herself.

Jen lifted her head to peek out the window a bit. “There’s still a huge herd of ponies waiting to propose to me outside.”

Rolling her eyes Twilight came to stand between the pair. “Right, well we can take the quick way over to the boutique.” Without warning her horn flared and the three ponies vanished with a soft POP, only to reappear down the street outside of the Carousel Boutique. “Here we are! Now I really have to dash there are tons of things that still need getting ready before tonight! I’ll see you two later!”

Watching her gallop off Jen sighed a little. “Well it’ll be an awkward day but at least we know this isn’t permanent right?” With a little laugh she nudged open the door to the shop, holding it for her pint-sized teacher.

“I suppose so. Besides it might be a little fun getting to be a filly again.” The cheerful earth pony’s mood was brightening fast.

The interior was a flurry of activity. Bolts of fabric, spools of thread, and glittering gemstones whisked through the air fastening to garments on ponequinn all over the shop. Rarity was in the center of the storm of fashion, her horn glowing brightly as she worked on the last minute requests that seemed to come from just about every mare in town. Sweetie Belle was tucked into a corner looking thoroughly miserable. Cheerilee made her way toward the other filly as Jen approached Rarity, gently clearing her throat.

“Oh I hope this isn’t another order because I am simply-“ She trailed off as she caught sight of one of the most gorgeous mares she had ever laid eyes on, let alone seen inside her shop. “C-can I help you madame? Are you…perhaps lost?” She blinked realizing she was turning away what was obviously a wealthy noblepony. “Of course you’re not lost! A lovely mare such as yourself wants only the best, and that is certainly what you’ll find here at Carousel Boutique!”
Wide eyed Jen shook her head rapidly. “Rarity it’s me!”

Recognizing the voice (even if it was a touch huskier than the norm), and the striking green coat and auburn mane the fashionista gasped. “Jennifer? What in the world happened to you?”

Casting a wary glance at the windows as if expecting somepony to catch sight of her in the shop and start another stampede Jen shuffled toward the back of the store. “Poison joke. It got Cheerilee too.” She nodded in the filly’s direction.

“Well this is hardly fair! I looked like some…wooly mountain goat and YOU get turned into a mare who looks like she stepped right off the ship from Prance on her way to Hoity Toity’s next big fashion show!” A little pout was beginning to form on her muzzle.

Jen waved her forehooves hastily. “It’s NOT all that great! I was causing a stampede as every single pony in town tried to propose to me!” The look Rarity was giving her was NOT one of sympathy. “You know how I feel about y’know…crowds and attention and stuff.”

The jealousy was softening as the unicorn realized that this was indeed a nightmarish situation for the shy girl. “Yes I suppose it wouldn’t be very fun for you would it? I assume you came to me needing something?”

Nodding nervously Jen scuffed the floor with a hoof. “Twilight suggested you could give me a promise bracelet? So everypony would leave me be.”

“Ah! Why that’s an excellent idea. That’s our Twilight always coming up with good ideas hm? Now let’s see what we have to work with. Platinum would be a good color on you I think…” Musing to herself the marshmallow colored unicorn went to work. Her magic bringing out a small hunk of the precious metal soon flattening and shaping it into a thick bracelet. Amber colored topaz flitted from one of her many gem chests inlaying themselves into the bracelet. “Not my best work but it’ll do hm?”

Lifting her leg Jen allowed Rarity to slip the bracelet on. “Who do you plan to say gifted this to you by the by?”

“Uh…you?”

The look Rarity shot her could have put a co*ckatrice’s gaze to shame. “I certainly think not. The last thing I need is for word to spread that I proposed to some mare I’ve known for so short a time. The scandal could ruin me! No you’d best think of somepony to be your temporary beau.”

Jen wiggled her leg a bit letting the bracelet settle. “Oh uh, guess I’ll think of something if somepony asks. Thanks a lot for this Rarity, I owe you one.” She finished with a smile.

“Oh not at ALL darling, what are friends for after all.” The glint in her eye was at odds with the words coming from her muzzle. “Of course if you felt OBLIGATED to repay this gesture in some way…”

With a laugh the verdant mare shook her head. “Short of the money this thing is actually worth, name it.”

Jennifer hadn’t spent a lot of one on one time with Rarity since coming to Equestria. If she had she’d recognize the look in the fashion pony’s eye as one to beware if you were not a fan of extravagantly fancy outfits. “Well! I’m sure our dear Twilight is in the process of brewing a cure for you and Cheerilee?”

Jen shrugged. “She’s missing some of the herbs. We gotta wait til we see Zecora tonight.”

Rarity was already nodding before Jennifer had finished. “A mare of your exquisite grace and beauty isn’t something that wanders into Ponyville every day. And tonight is a special celebration. You’ll likely be about the princess for a good amount of it no less. I would like you to wear a dress I design. The publicity would be unfathomable!”

“Er…dress? Tonight? One of…YOUR dresses?” Jen’s eyes darted about to the frilly, poofy, gem studded monstrosities filling the shop. She was sure they were very NICE dresses, and that they would be desired by tons of mares anywhere in Equestria. She however was not what one would call ‘high society’ and much preferred jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers so beat up they should have been pitched years ago.

“Of course! Designed especially for you. Why you’ll very likely garner more attention than Princess Luna!” She eep’d a little realizing this was probably the wrong thing to say to convince the reserved girl to go along with the idea. “…well I won’t lie to you, you WILL be getting a fair bit of attention. But you’ll be with Princess Luna and nopony is going to make a big scene with her about. It really would be wonderful for my business too. I’ll understand however, if you’re too uncomfortable with the idea.”

Chewing her lip she finally let out a soft sigh. “Only if you promise that ponies can see my promise bracelet. If you can work that into the mix we have a deal. …and my sword.”

Rarity’s face fell at the last stipulation. Gingerly she lifted the foreleg it was attached to and eyed it critically. “…I suppose if that’s how it must be, that’s how it must be! Let it never be said Rarity is not one to accept a challenge. Now up! Onto the pedestal here I need your measurements.”

Gingerly the large mare climbed atop the pedestal standing patiently as the tape measure wrapped about her body and measured various lengths. She couldn’t help but hear little disgruntled huffs coming from the unicorn as she measured her waist and flanks. “Problem?”

“No not at all dear!” Though her cheer sounded a bit forced. “It’s just so unusual for a mare to have so nicely shaped flanks and so slender a waist.”

If Jen was understanding her right…she was jealous of her figure. After spending years having the exact same feelings about most of her fellow classmates she couldn’t suppress a little smile at the new sensation. “I hope it’s not a problem.”
“Of course not. Hop on down dear. It’ll be sometime before it’s ready but you now have my full attention! You are going to absolutely DAZZLE everypony at the festival tonight.”

“Oh. Well I guess I better go find my pretend fiancé for the evening too. When should I come back?”

“Hm.” With a glance to the clock Rarity looked from Jen to her notes. “Four o’clock. That gives us a little time to make any last minute adjustments that are needed and still leave you most of the day for yourself.”

“Alright, thanks again Rarity.” Jen gave her a smile before making her way to the chatting fillies. “Hey I need to get going for a bit, do you wanna come with or stay with Sweetie Belle, Cheerilee?”

Their teacher glanced upwards. “I think I’ll stay with Sweetie Belle.” She magenta filly lead the mare a few paces away. “She’s a bit upset about Applebloom getting her cutie mark. She’s worried the crusaders are going to break up. I think she just needs somepony to talk to for a bit, she’ll come around.”

Casting a glance at the despondent unicorn filly Jen hm’d softly to herself. Applebloom just got her mark the other day. She’d expected her friends to be excited but she didn’t consider the possibility that their little gang would splinter over it. “Well they’re still friends, I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’ll see you at the rehearsal?”

“Of course. Rehearsal starts at five, the play begins at six. Don’t be late now!”

Jen couldn’t help but grin at the little filly adopting the authoritative tones of her teacher. “Yes ma’am. And don’t YOU be late getting all wound up with all the games going on.” Snickering a bit at the indignant huff Jennifer cantered back outside. She instantly drew attention again, but this time it was dampened significantly when everypony began to notice the bracelet on her foreleg. Feeling a LITTLE better she made the hike back to the farm.

She spied Applebloom trotting down the road and waved her over. “Hey Bloom. If you got time you should go see Sweetie Belle, she’s a little upset.”

Confusion spread on the filly’s face. “How come?”

“Well, she’s worried that now that you have your cutie mark you’re not gonna wanna hang out with her and Scootaloo anymore.”

A very adult eye roll was her response. “That silly filly, she worries ‘bout th’craziest things! Thanks Jenny Ah’ll go talk t’her right away.”

Pressing on Jennifer was soon back on Apple family property. The population seemed to have boomed since she left this morning. A couple dozen earth ponies were now racing to and fro manning ovens, rolling dough, mashing apples, and working on preparing enough food to feed a town. Trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible she slipped into the farm house proper, finding Applejack and Granny Smith hard at work as well preparing pies it looked like. “So I got a case of poison joke.”

“Heh is that all? Well Ah s’pose that’s a relief. Easy enough t’set right. S’pose Twi’s on the case?”

“Yeah. We gotta wait til tonight for her to get some herbs but me and Cheerilee’ll be our old selves soon.”

“Cheerilee too huh? What were y’all doin’ in th’Everfree t’bein with?”

Jen shrugged. “Letting Zecora know she was invited to the festival tonight. I saw the flowers and thought they were pretty. Suppose I better get rid of em. They’re in a vase upstairs.”

“Uh huh. An make sure ya don’t touch nopony else with em neither! Now scoot Ah got me a lot t’get finished b’fore t’night.”
Starting for the stairs the mare glanced back. “Hey where’s Big Mac?”

Waving a distracted hoof at the stairs Applejack grunted. “Up in his room doin’ who KNOWS what. Dunno what got he’s up to when he should be helpin’ out.”

Lightly climbing the stairs she lifted a hoof tapping on his door. “Big Mac?”

There was a pause. “Yup?”

“Can I come in?”

A longer pause before the door clicked open and he stepped out. It was hard to make out a blush beneath that cherry red coat but she managed to. “Sort out what happened to ya?”

A nod. “Poison joke. Made me sexy cause I don’t like the attention it’d bring.”

He frowns a touch at that. “Reckon that makes sense. What can I do for ya?”

I lift my leg displaying the promise bracelet. “Be my fake fiancé for the day?”

This time it was a much longer pause as he stared at my delicately raised foreleg. “S’pose you musta caused a fierce ruckus in town for a hair-brained scheme like this?”

It’s easy to forget how intelligent the soft spoken stallion is. “I did. It was pretty awful. I know lying isn’t the best policy and all but it’s just for an evening. And only if anypony actually asks.”

“Hm. Just fer th’night then.” He stepped out of his room fully with a sigh pulling the door behind him. “Best git down there an help out with whatever AJ wants doin’. Dunno why she always drags me inta cookin’, only thing Ah end up addin’ t’the mix is somma th’food vanishin’.”

Jen giggled a bit at that. “Better you than me! And thanks Mac, I know this is making you a little uncomfortable. I really appreciate it.”

“Eeyup. Til t’night then.” Jen listened to the huge stallion make his way downstairs before getting to her room and scooping up the poison joke in her magic and crushing the flowers into a b.b. sized ball of evil chest bloating blue mush. Frustration vented she carried it outside and to the edge of the farm, flinging it as hard as she could back into the forest.

“And good riddance!” Flowers disposed of and fake fiancé acquired the mare made her way back to town. Sugarcube Corner would be a feeding frenzy with all the prep work the cakes and Pinkie were up to so she passed it up in favor of the outdoor café for lunch. Spying a familiar pair of mares she pulled up a seat beside them. “Hey Lyra, Bon-bon.”

Both stared for a few uncomfortable moments before recognition clicked in Lyra’s eyes. “Wow puberty hits humans HARD.”

“You think this is bad you should see what happened to my human body.”

This was the wrong thing to say. While Lyra had gotten over much of her crazed curiosity with Jennifer’s species, some still remained. “Ooo let’s see!”

Knowing that refusing the request would only result in badgering she frowned a little and resumed her human form, wincing at the unfamiliar weight on her chest again. At least the seat had more cushioning.

“Holy cow! You could feed a whole village of starving foals with those udders!”

Blushing furiously Jen changed back to unicorn shape with a pouty scowl. “It’s not funny Lyra!”

Bon-bon just watched with wide eyes. “Is this normal for human girls? Do you all get so…big when you get older?”

Lyra and Jen simultaneously said no, and both started to laugh. “I blundered into poison joke yesterday. It did this.”

“Ohh I remember that stuff! Twilight Sparkle and her buddies had the same thing happen a couple years back. …it was pretty funny I’m not gonna lie.”

The waiter was by, and even managed to behave professionally while he took Jen’s order to her pleasant surprise. “So what happened, you get proposed to already? Who’s the lucky pony?”

Jen flicked a glance at her promise bracelet. “Big Macintosh.” Rolling her eyes at the looks of shock she got she continued. “It’s just to keep everypony from harassing me til I can get fixed tonight.”

“Oh! Smart. We’re taking a break from the prep work we’ve been doing. Bon-bon’s been working her ovens overtime and I’m performing tonight after Fluttershy’s little bat choir.”

“Oh! Well cool. Bat choir huh?” Jen thanked the waiter as he returned with her honey suckle sandwich. Those suckers were good eats. “So how’ve you guys been doin?”

It was Bon-bon’s turn to answer. “Wonderful thank you for asking Jen. We had a great dinner with Lyra’s parents in Canterlot the other day.”

“Sounds fun. I didn’t see much of the city myself. Maybe this weekend I’ll explore it a little more.” Jen made short work of her sandwich, frowning at the clock on the wall. “That the time? I gotta scoot. I’m heading up the school play and I should get there early. I’ll see you girls tonight!”

Lyra watched her go before turning to Bon-bon with a grin. “So d’you think-“

“NO Lyra, we are not inviting your magically altered human friend to form a herd.”

“Hmph. You’re the one who was staring at her plot as she left.”

Her fillyfriend had no response to that.

Chapter 11: Winter Moon Festival

A few foals were already making their way toward the school by the time Jen arrived. Cheerilee was already in the building, along with the crusaders and a couple others. Most were doing last minute reads from their scripts.

“Hey everypony! We all getting ready for tonight?”

A little chorus of cheers went up from the foals. Cheerilee breaking off from the group to join the eldest in attendance.
“Here’s the attendance roster. Just check off when anypony arrives. If they come late make a check minus so I can have words with them next time we’re in class about being on time.”

“Oh! Sure thing Miss Cheerilee. Heh I feel really silly calling you that now.”

The little filly grinned. “You’ll do fine. Just relax. Most of the students already know what they’re doing Miss Pie.”

This brought a little squawk from the mare but Cheerilee just giggled and rejoined her fellow actors. With a huff Jen began to check off the foals in attendance. By the time rehearsal was set to start only two fillies were missing. Just as she was about to go looking Silver Spoon trotted in alone.

“Silver Spoon? Where’s Diamond Tiara? She’s supposed to be playing Princess Luna!”

The spectacled filly backed away from the strange yelling mare. “Sh-she’s sick! I came to let everypony know she wouldn’t be able to make it…who are YOU?”

A brief flash of irritation crossed Jen’s face. “I’m Jen. Poison joke, made me a mare. Go ahead and join the class.”

Cheerilee spotted the look of worry forming on her student’s face and trotted over. “Something wrong Miss Pie?”

Jen glared down at her. “I hope you’re happy, somepony heard you call me that and now they ALL are. And yeah…Diamond Tiara’s a no show.”

“Well that’s alright. It’s why we have understudies. Who’s supposed to take over for Diamond Tiara?”

Feeling a bit silly at panicking over nothing Jen checked the list. She’d forgotten some of her classmates either couldn’t get parts or chose to be an understudy. “Sweetie Belle it says. Hey Sweetie Belle!”

The little unicorn trotted over. “Yes Miss Pie?”

Shooting a death glare at her fillyfied teacher she turned back to Sweetie. “Diamond Tiara is sick, so you get to be Princess Luna tonight.”

Her eyes popped wide and she shook her head rapidly. “No no no I can’t be Princess Luna! I only signed up because we HAD to for our grade!”

Jen frowned. “What’s the problem? Didn’t you study your lines?”

“I did! I know all the lines I just…” She leaned in whispering. “I’d have to sing in front of everypony.”

“So?”

“So? So I can’t do that! I’m not very good and they’re all going to laugh at me!”

Jen looked to her teacher for help, but she was staying frustratingly silent. “I…well…” She WANTED to say every kid stinks in school plays and the only people there to enjoy them were the parents, but she had a feeling that’d spread like wildfire among the class.

She had to settle on the floor to be closer to eye level with the filly. “I know it’s a little scary, having to be up in front of everypony with them all watching. I know I’m too big of a chicken to do it, it’s why Cheerilee is filling in for me.” The filly’s eyes widened at this revelation. “But you’re a lot braver than I am Sweetie Belle. You guys have done so many crazy, scary things! Fluttershy even told me you three went into the Everfree alone; I had to have Cheerilee with me.”

The earth filly nodded when Sweetie Belle looked at her curiously. “Your whole class is counting on you now Sweetie. If you don’t go up there than everypony’s hard work the last week will have been wasted. You don’t want that do you?”
“W-well no I don’t but…I don’t think I can sing in front of everypony.”

Jen tapped her chin as she thought. “Well how about this? When it comes time for your song, I want you to close your eyes. Then take a minute to imagine you’re all alone up on the stage. Nopony else in the whole auditorium but you. We’ll try it in rehearsal and see how it goes, if you STILL don’t think you can do it after that you won’t have to. We’ll figure something out, alright?”

“You promise?”

“Cross my heart, hope to fly. Stick a cupcake in my eye.” Invoking the most sacred of all oaths Jen went through the arcane movements to seal the ritual.

This did the trick and Sweetie Belle dashed off to join her fellow actors. “You handled that very well Jennifer.”
Jen chuckled and stood moving toward the auditorium herself. “Well we’ll see if it worked. Then we can make the congratulations.”

All the foals were busy getting into their embarrassingly adorable star costumes. The bulk of the class was playing stars. Scootaloo was the more important role of the moon, and Sweetie Belle was the lead as Princess Luna. A few parent volunteers were moving here and there helping everypony get ready. Jen looked down at her transmogrified teacher. “I need to run to the boutique for my fitting soon. Is it alright if I duck out for a few minutes?”

“I think it should be fine. It’s going to be a bit yet before we’re even ready to go over the lines and I can take over again if you’re running behind.”

Making a dash for the door Jen found herself back in the boutique. “Ah! Perfect timing Jennifer I was just putting on the finishing touches!”

Swallowing the lump in her throat Jen dared to look at her dress for the evening. It was shockingly…plain. The silvery silk glittered in the light of the shop but it was lacking in the usual million dollars’ worth of gemstones. A single sapphire would hold the clutch at her throat and keep it fastened. The material would cover her sides and (embarrassingly blank) flanks. Silvery blue slippers would complete the simple ensemble.

“I copied the design of Rainbow Dash’s gala dress I’ll admit. Since you seem to share her dislike of higher fashions I felt this would make you look fabulous and allow you to be comfortable at the same time.”

Jen paced around it slowly before ascending the podium and allowing Rarity to magically settle it around her shoulders. “It’s a bit plain for your work isn’t it?”

“Well yes I suppose it is. But one works with one’s model in these situations. You have very little beauty held in reserve that needs bringing out. I could probably drape the bathroom curtains around you and call it fashion.”

This brought a laugh from her model as Rarity made a few last minute adjustments. “Should I wear it out or what?”

“Of course not! You must be REVEALED darling. One doesn’t plod around town in her gown. I’ll bring it with me to the play and you can change when it’s finished.”

“Speaking of the play your little sister is now playing Princess Luna. The regular had to bow out so she’s being bumped up.”
“Oh how exciting! I simply must have a front row seat in that case!”

Stepping down once Rarity finished with her Jen grinned. “I’ll make sure to reserve you one. Are we all set here?”
“We are. You’re free to return to your directorial duties.”

Making her way back to the shop Jen spied a familiar rainbow colored tail hanging off a low flying cloud. Twilight would pitch a fit if she caught Rainbow Dash lazing about so close to the festival beginning. Gripping a sizeable pile of snow in her magic she lifted it up over the snoozing pegasus…then released her hold. She was treated to an enraged bellow as she re-entered the auditorium.

The class had just taken the stage and were beginning their opening lines as Jen found a seat near the front. Sweetie Belle was actually doing a good job with her lines, and the enchantments rigged up by Twilight had her mane and tail billowing just like the princess’s. A little glitter dust provided by her elder sister for the role and she made a fine miniature princess.

The big moment of her song arrived and she seemed about to freeze up, before she glanced at Jen and saw the older pony scrunching her eye shut tight. Sweetie Belle took a moment to do the same. Slowly her erratic breathing eased and normalized…and she began to sing. Everypony, from her fellow class mates (save her two best friends), and the few volunteer parents in the audience stared mouths agape at the unicorns melodious voice. It wasn’t a very long musical number, just a little thing about how sad the princess felt for her lonely moon. When the song ended that was the ‘stars’ cue to jump out and dance about showing the moon wasn’t alone after all.

It was of course a metaphor for Luna not being alone and that her subjects did in fact care for her. Which was the whole point of the entire festival after all. Thunderous applause met with the finale of the song and little Sweetie Belle was red as a tomato. The rehearsal finished without a hitch and everypony hurried back stage to make preparations for the actual play. As Jen arrived behind curtain Sweetie bounded up to her. “It worked just like you said it did!”

“You did great Sweetie Belle. And you’ll do just as great during the real thing. There’ll be more ponies there but just do what I said and you’ll do fine, right?”

“Uh huh!” Cheerilee approached as Sweetie rejoined her friends. “What about me Miss Pie? Wasn’t I fantastic in my role as star number seven?!”

They shared a laugh at that before Cheerilee looked at the time. “Shouldn’t you be getting to town square? Princess Luna should be arriving any minute now.”

Jen shrugged. “You don’t need me here?”

“No no everything’s just fine. None of this would be happening without YOU Jennifer, you should definitely be there when she arrives.”

The mare scoffed. “I just mentioned the idea to Twilight; she’s the one who put it together.”

It was funny seeing such a young filly nod sagely. “True but it was still your idea. Nopony even thought of an event like this until you came along. Go be there for the princess.”

Not needing further prodding Jen was out the door and making her way to town square. A small crowd was slowly beginning to gather and many seemed torn between adoring gazes for the gorgeous mare in their midst, and eager anticipation for their princesses arrival.

“I must say you matured rather quickly my dear. Is that normal for your kind?” Jennifer grinned wide, recognizing the cultured tone.

Turning to regard the approaching Fancy Pants she waved a little embarrassed. “Hey Fancy. Poison joke, made me older and hotter.”

“Aha! Well I’ve seen it at work before and it has certainly produced favorable results on you Jennifer. I hope this isn’t indicative of what you’ll really turn out like or I may have to ignore our age difference and take a chance at wooing you myself.” He gave her a wink to show he was joking.

Finding herself more comfortable around a friend she allowed herself to laugh. “I really doubt this is what I’ll wind up as in a few years if my human form is any indicator. It’s not exactly me. I can’t wait to get cured.”

“Hm.” The cultured stallion joined the mare sitting on the plain ground. “It’s an admirable spirit that is so eagerly willing to throw away such physical perfection. You’re truly a remarkable young filly, and I consider myself fortunate to count you among my friends.”

Her blush was threatening to return as she cleared her throat a little. “Oh stop, really. It’s not that big a deal.”

He chuckled gently. “Yes very well.” His eyes were scanning the crowd, trying to seem casual but Jen detected a faint note of urgency in the usually collected stallions’ posture. “You haven’t seen Miss Rarity about have you?”

‘Aha!’ the mare thought to herself, allowing a smug grin to form. “She’s busy making some last minute preparations. She’ll be at the play during the opening ceremonies though. I’m sure you can catch her there.”

“Good good…and look here comes the guest of honor.” It was a faint blot descending from Canterlot, but a few more ponies spied it and a cry went up to keep quiet. Pinkie Pie, the grand mistress of ceremonies had arrived and was demanding the crowd’s silence. This was a SURPRISE and she wouldn’t be very surprised if she could hear the crowd chattering excitedly. No pony dared contradict her.

Pinkie was joined on the stage by Twilight Sparkle and the mayor, and everypony watched in hushed anticipation as the princess’ chariot touched down gently in the town square. Luna was indeed wearing a blindfold and was helped down by a beaming Echo. The young cadet’s wing was still tightly bound but she seemed to be on the mend.

It was all the assembled crowd could do not to laugh as Luna unceremoniously stumbled on the steps leading up to the stage. “I swear if this is some prank by Jennifer I will-“ She was cut off by Echo removing the blind fold. The princess’ threat died in her throat as she looked about wide eyed at Ponyville. The town had been decorated in dark somber hues punctuated by bright silvers and enchanted stars and moons hanging from every building that glowed gently. Disbelieving eyes roamed about the town then up to the banner hanging above her head with the glittering letters “WELCOME PRINCESS LUNA” shining brightly.

Giving the princess a moment to take in the sights around her Twilight finally stepped up to the microphone clearing her throat gently. “Good evening everypony. I would first like to take the opportunity to thank you all for working so hard for making our very first Winter Moon Festival what promises to be a wonderful success!” A cheer went up from the townspeople. Jennifer grinned when she saw the princess silently mouth the occasion’s name. “As everypony knows we celebrated the Summer Sun Celebration on the longest day of the year, by watching Princess Celestia raise the sun in the morning. It was brought to my attention by one of the younger residents of the town that a similar holiday should be held in honor of Princess Luna raising the moon, on the longest NIGHT of the year.”

The lunar princess’ eyes roamed the crowd now, seeking precisely whom she knew to be responsible for this. And while she was surprised at the green mare she found she of course knew precisely who she was. “I’m sure everypony is eager to get to the games and buffet tables,” a laugh from the crowd punctuated this statement. “But before we get things going in full I would just like to welcome Princess Luna to our town on this special day just for her. On behalf of Ponyville, and Equestria herself we want to say thank you Princess Luna, for the wonderful night you bring us at the end of each day.”
Twilight stepped aside making room for Luna herself to approach the mike the crowd all loosed a thunderous “THANK YOU PRINCESS LUNA!” as she eyed the unfamiliar device uncertainly for a moment. She was standing very still, eyes lowered. Several long moments passed, long enough for the crowd to begin to grow nervous. Had they offended her somehow? When she finally raised her eyes they were glistening with tears.

“I find myself…overcome at the moment. I have been a princess for nearly two millennia and seen countless sights both wondrous and terrible in my long life. But never could I have dreamed of what I see before me. It is no secret that a little while ago I had a bit of a jealous streak regarding my sister.” She smiled now showing the crowd it was alright to laugh, which they did. “I cannot help but wonder if things would have been different had wonderful, large hearted ponies like yourselves existed back then.” She paused again letting her words sink in. “I do not believe there are words to properly express just how much your efforts this day mean to me. All I can say is thank you. Thank you citizens of Ponyville from the bottom of my heart. Were it in my power to do so I would see you all made lords and ladies of this wonderful country of ours, for surely you possess greater nobility than many of those who hold such titles in Canterlot. While it would be unfair of me to show favoritism to one group of my subjects over another, I can honestly say that Ponyville now has my eye firmly settled upon it. If you ever have a need that I can fill I pray you, do not hesitate to ask. It would be my honor…nay my privilege to fill those needs.”

Everypony in the crowd was somewhere between glowing with pride and about to break down and weep at the generous words from one of their immortal rulers. That is until a bright pink party mare snatched the mike. “Well enough with the talking! This is a party so…let’s party!”

Pinkie Pie’s words seemed to snap the townsponies from their enspellment and they all cheered again, many breaking from the crowd to partake in the prepared festivities. Fancy Pants was a bit misty eyed himself as he walked with Jennifer toward Luna who was still on the stage. “I dare say your little idea was a success. And I believe I just might have to look into getting some property in Ponyville for myself. Perhaps a summer home?”

Luna was speaking with the mayor, but Jennifer could see the princess tracking her from the corner of her eye. Jen approached and remained a respectful distance allowing her conversation to end. Echo spied her and trotted her way head tilted curiously. “Is this a human thing?”

Jen was getting a little tired of that question. “No I got cursed. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“Huh…that’s not the worse curse I’ve ever seen.”

Now the green mare was sticking her tongue out. “Try being harassed by every stallion in town all morning then see how much you like it.”

The night pony rubbed the back of her head. “Yeah that sounds pretty awful…do you uh…not like stallions or something?”
If Jen weren’t so focused on Luna she may have detected an odd note in Echo’s voice. “Eh I don’t have anything against stallions I’m just…I dunno not looking for one?”

Her friend brightened at the answer. “I see! What about that promise bracelet?”

Jen idly lifted her leg. “It’s fake. A friend’s pretending to be engaged to me to keep me from being hassled. There he is!” She spied Mac over at the Apple family stand and waved, he returned it with a faint smile.

“Oh. And he’s JUST a friend yes?”

“Heh, yeah he’s a sweet guy. I’ve been staying with his family while me and Pinkie’s house is being built.”

The must more astute Fancy Pants cleared his throat. “If you ladies will excuse me I think I’ll go find Miss Rarity. I hope to see you both later this evening.”

Luna politely excused herself and made her way to Jen’s side, draping a wing across the mare’s back and guiding her from the stage. “Could we speak privately for a few moments before I have to raise the moon?”

A twinge of concern fluttered in Jen’s chest. WAS she upset after all? Should she have told the princess of the planned celebration? “Of course…” She followed her to a semi-secluded alley between two nearby buildings.

“What inspired you to bring this idea before Twilight Sparkle?”

Jen shuffled nervously. “Well...it was the first day of school. For ME that is. Cheerilee was talking about the Summer Sun Celebration and I asked when the holiday for raising the moon was. She said there wasn’t one and it just kinda…went from there.”

Luna’s expression was unreadable for a moment, before she folded both wings about the mare and rested her head against the back of her neck. “Thank you Jennifer. You’re a good friend and through every action you take you only further validate my decisions.”

Jennifer timidly returned the hug and stepped back scuffing the ground with her hooves. “I-it was nothing really! Twilight, Rarity, and Pinkie did the heavy lifting.”

“Perhaps. But none of this would have happened without you. And so again I thank you. Now…shall we return? I have a moon to rise.”

They both walked toward the stage, but when Jen tried to veer off and join the gathering crowd the princess stretched a wing and gently guided her back to her side, forcing her to follow her on stage. Surprised whispering went up from the crowd at this as nopony really knew quite what to make of the extra mare on stage. Luna finally released her hold as she ascended the short dais looking down over the town, Jennifer standing at the bottom of it eyes focused on the princess….the less she saw of the crowd the better.

No words were spoken by the princess as her horn flared to life. Her magic growing stronger and stronger as she cast her gaze out to the horizon. Ever so slowly the celestial body she held dominion over began to raise, a sliver of silver on the horizon as it rose into the sky. Everypony began to cheer as it rose higher and higher. Slowly at first, than faster and faster the stars began to wink into existence in the sky. This night had an extra flair however. Spelled out beneath the moon in twinkling stars was “Thank You Ponyville”. The ground practically shook from the strength of the cheering at that.

The night sky tended to, Luna smiled down over the crowd. “Now…somepony mentioned a play by the school foals?”

Jennifer made it backstage just as the foals were getting the final touches on their full costumes. Rarity had supplies glitter dust for the stars and moon so now all the little ponies were glinting and glittering in a dazzling array. “Alright everypony! Moms, dads and the princess are all waiting! Let’s go give them the best show they’ve ever seen!”

A little chorus of cheers arose as the school foals scampered on stage. Sweetie Belle hung back waiting for her cue. Jen rested a comforting hoof on her back. “Just remember what to do when the song comes up right?”

The little filly straightened up and nodded, determination burning in her eyes. “Right!”

Rarity beckoned Jen down from the stage and the larger mare joined the unicorn. “Let’s get YOU into your dress.”
“Oh! Right. Well now’s as good a time as any.” Jen held still while Rarity whisked the dress about her shoulders.

“You neglected to tell me Fancy Pants would be attending the festival.” Rarity tugged the laces on the slippers a bit tightly.

“Did I?” Jen smiled innocently. “You know he looked a little nervous about seeing you. I think he has a bit of a crush.”

Giving a very ladylike hmph Rarity went to work brushing out Jen’s mane. “I doubt THAT very much. He was involved with Fleur for some time.”

“Mmmm….you didn’t see him at Canterlot. And you didn’t see him at the opening ceremony; he’s interested in your Rarity.” Jen snapped her eyes shut as the other mare blew some glitter dust into her mane.

“He IS a charming fellow isn’t he? Very handsome too…I…perhaps I’ll seek his company after the play. Now let me get a look at you.” Jen stepped back head held high. “Yes. Absolutely perfect. And if anypony asks where you got your dress…?”

Jen adopted Rarity’s cultured tone. “From Carousel Boutique of course! Where everything is chic, unique, and magnifique!”

“Absolutely perfect darling. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve a performance to watch.”

Now clad in her dress for the evening Jen retook her position just behind the curtain watching from side stage. Sweetie Belle was just getting ready for her musical number. Her knees were only shaking a little, but at a glance to a smiling Jennifer she took a deep breath and began to sing. At first with her eyes closed, but at about the half-way point she peeked them open. To see an audience full of ponies staring enraptured at the miniature siren on the stage. Her resolve almost faltered but she pushed on to the end. The applause was absolutely thunderous and Luna’s bellows of “ENCORE, ENCORE!” at the top of her lungs threatened to bowl the ponies sitting in front of her over.

The little filly portraying Luna was smiling bright enough to rival the sun. The actors and actresses took their bows and slipped backstage all chattering excitedly. Parents and siblings were filtering in to congratulate the junior thespians.
Everypony gasped softly and bowed as the princess herself arrived backstage, making right for an alarmed looking Sweetie Belle. “I wished to personally commend your fantastic talents on stage young filly. You nearly drove me to tears with your crooning.”

Sweetie wrinkled her nose in confusion now. “Crooning?”

“Your singing little filly. Truly your voice is among the most beauteous I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. I do hope you shall grace me with another song in the future.”

“I-I-I…k-kay? D-did you REALLY like it?”

Now it was Luna’s turn to be surprised. “But of course. I would not say so otherwise.”

Brows furrowed the little filly took a seat as she pondered this. “Huh. Rarity always told me I was good but I figured it was just cause she was my sister!” The sister in question rolled her eyes as she worked to wipe the makeup from the blue-painted filly. She dropped the rag she was using to clean Sweetie Belle with at the sudden flash from her flanks. Adoring them proudly was a musical note ending in a heart.

Jennifer wisely made her retreat in time to avoid the ear piercing shrieks of delight. Stepping out into the fresh night air she took a deep breath and chuckled, shaking her head. It was funny how easy it was for those fillies to get their marks once they got it through their heads what they were amazing at. Alone for the first time this evening she took the opportunity to stroll through the festival. Now and again a curious mare would inquire about her dress and she gave the rehearsed answer every time.

Everywhere she turned there were smiling ponies having a good time. It seemed the festival was an unmitigated success. “Heya Jenny-bean! Oooo you sure blossomed fast!”

Jen rolled her eyes and looked back with a smile. “Hi Pinkie Pie. I’m sure Twilight already told you what happened.”
With a giggle the hyperactive earth pony nodded. “Of course but I had to sneak one in there. Having fun?”

“I am! Did you see the play?”

“Mmhm!” Pinkie helped herself to several cupcakes. “Cheerilee said no school tomorrow didja hear?”

This was new to Jennifer. “I hadn’t. I guess I’ll have to find something to do with my afternoon now.” She laughed a bit. She’d been running around like crazy the last few days, the prospect of free time was a pleasant one. “Maybe I’ll visit dad before I have to open the daycare.”

“I think that’s a good idea. Since the princess said its ok it’d be a good idea to see your human family sometimes. I’m sure he misses you.”

“Yeah…” Jennifer frowned a bit as she nibbled a cupcake of her own. Her ears perked up as she spotted Zecora in the crowd waving her over. “Oh! There’s Zecora. I’ll see ya in a bit Pinkie!”

The zebra looked Jen up and down as she approached. “Poison joke has victimized you I see; I have the herbs needed to restore you and Cheerilee. If you would be so kind as to fetch your friend, I can brew your cure and have you both on the mend.”

“Oh! Great, it’d be nice to be myself for a little bit tonight! I’ll go grab her.” Carefully making her way through the crowds back to the auditorium she spied the little magenta filly trotting for the door as fast as her little legs would go. “Cheerilee! Zecora has our cure!”

Relief flooded the fillies face. “Oh thank goodness. I forgot how hard it is getting around with such short legs.” She laughed gently as the pair made their way back to the zebra, who in turn led them to the spa. Twilight Sparkle was there with the keys.

“Aloe and Vera didn’t want to leave the festival but they said we could use the same tub as before.” The little group was soon standing before a large wash tub. Twilight gently removed the dress from Jennifer. Zecora wasted no time in adding the herbs, and both ponies practically dove into the mixture.

The surface of the water churned for a few moments before a mare and filly poked their heads up. Only this time the mare was magenta and the filly was a green coated teenage unicorn. “We’re back to normal! Thanks SO much Zecora!” Jen flung her dripping wet forelegs around the zebra in a tight embrace.

Laughing gently she disengaged from the hug. “No thanks is needed to help I am always happy, just have more caution next time you enter the Everfree. “

Cheerilee was climbing out of the tub. “We absolutely will Zecora. Thank you so much for this.”

Twilight drained the tub while the two sopping wet ponies dried off. Cheerilee excused herself to go enjoy some of the adult activities in the festival, while Jen looked helplessly at the now too large dress.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Rarity gets it back. You go have fun.”

With a grin Jennifer bounded for the door. “Thanks Twilight! I’ll see ya later!” Back out in the festival she wasn’t getting so much as a second glance from anypony, and that suited her JUST fine. The promise bracelet was left behind with the dress, and she was relieved she hadn’t needed to tell anypony that Macintosh had given it to her, she didn’t want to cause any hassle for the stallion.

Gorging herself on perhaps a few too many sweets it wasn’t long before she needed a spot to sit and let her stomach settle. Spying an unoccupied bench in the park she reclined with a soft sight.

“Mind if I join you?”

Glancing up Jen smiled to see Echo approaching. “Course not! You having fun?”

The cadet pulled herself up onto the bench with a little nod. “I am. It’s weird having so many ponies just…talk to me like I’m one of them.”

Jen laughed. “You ARE one of them. Bat wings and cat eyes don’t make you some kind of monster.”

Echo smiled back a bit. “Back to normal I see.”

“Mmhm. Zecora got us fixed right up. She’s pretty awesome.”

The night pony was fidgeting with her hooves a bit. “I think you look better like this.”

Jen blinked a couple times. “Oh uh…thanks! It’s kinda a relief lemme tell ya-“ She was cut off as Echo leaned in suddenly and planted her lips against Jennifer’s.

It was a quick kiss but one with undeniable romantic intent. The bat winged filly looked down bashfully then back up. The look of surprise on Jen’s face was probably not what she was hoping to see. She opened her mouth to say something then closed it again and got up. “I-I’m sorry!”

Jen tried to find her voice to call her back as she dashed off but all that came out was a little squeak. That had been her first kiss. A pony was her first kiss. A pony FILLY was her first kiss. Why did Echo kiss her? Did Echo…like her? Like…LIKE like her? …did she LIKE like Echo? No of course not. Echo is a pony and a filly. She didn’t like either of those! …did she?

With a loud groan she let her head drop and thunk solidly onto the bench. “…ow.” Maintaining that position for a while became boring and she was soon on her hooves plodding toward town square slowly. It was beginning to get late. The foals were few and far between and many of the adults were heading home for bed.

Luna smiled as she spied the green filly. “Jennifer! Will you be coming to Canterlot tomorrow evening? I would enjoy your company for the weekend again.”

Numbly she nodded. “Uh…huh. Sure sounds nice?”

Concern was clear in the princess’ eyes. “Is something amiss?”

Jen blinked and looked up. “N-no…nothing you need to worry about. Really! It’s…nothing.”

Not quite convinced but not wanting to push Luna simply nodded. “Very well. Thank you again for this night Jennifer. I hope it becomes as loved a tradition as the Summer Sun Celebration.”

A genuine smile spread on Jen’s face. “You deserve it. Really. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”

Jennifer briefly tried to spot Echo in the crowd but she couldn’t pick the night pony cadet out. With a sigh she made her way home and right up to bed.

She didn’t sleep of course. And as the sun began to rise she took an early shower in human form and got dressed. Slinging her bag over her shoulder she left a note telling Applejack where she’d be today, then gripped her amulet and willed herself home.

It had been a great night despite the…confusion at the end and she was eager to share the story with her dad. “I’m hoooooome!”

The house was dark and quiet. It was early but not THAT early. With a little frown she began to wander. “Dad? Daaaaad?” Every room was empty and she frowned. “Must be at the office.” She tried her uncle next. The cabin door unlocked and no one within. Of course that wasn’t TOO unusual. It was hunting season. With a defeated grunt she flopped into her uncles’ beat up arm chair.

“Hmph. Come all the way from another dimension and no one to talk to.” Chewing her lower lip she dug out her sketch book and looked at the phone number scrawled on the inside cover. With only a moment’s hesitation she called.
It rang twice before someone, a tired sounding someone answered. “….’lo?”

“Hey! Alex. It’s Jen. From the uh…magical unicorn fight?”

“…oh. Oh right THAT Jen. I thought it was the Jen that saved the Statue of Liberty from Godzilla. What’s up?”
“Well I’m in town and d’you wanna like…hang out?”

There was a brief pause on the other end. “Er…sure. Sure are you in the city?”

“No but I can be in a sec. Gimme an address and I’ll google it then pop over.”

“Ok. Cool…cool. My folks are gone for the day so…it’s a good time. Just a sec.”

Resting her uncles’ ENORMOUS phone in the crook of her neck Jennifer took a seat at his antique computer. Soon enough she had a map and address. “Alright! I’ll be right over!”

A quick swirl of multi-hued lights later and she was standing outside a pretty nice apartment building. Hitting the buzzer for the apartment Alex had given her she was soon riding the elevator to the top floor. Nervously knocking on the big penthouse doors, she was relieved when Alex answered and not like a butler or something. “Jen! C’mon in. You want a drink?”

Jen blinked but followed him inside. “Oh uh…sure. Anything not carbonated is cool.” She took the opportunity to look around. His folks must be pretty loaded if they had such a nice place in New York City.

“Go ahead and grab a seat in the living room!” Jen glanced at the kitchen as she passed seeing him pouring a couple glasses of juice. She smiled and took a seat on the couch.

“This’ a nice place.”

“Thanks. Mom’s a designer and dad’s an investment banker.”

She accepted the glass of juice with a smile. “That’s cool. One of the ponies I’m friends with is a fashion designer.”
This caught him by surprise. “So there’re more of those ponies? And they have like…jobs?”

Jennifer sipped her juice nodding. “Mmhm! Oh they do pretty much everything we do here. I’m personally friends with a musician, a farmer, a librarian, a baker, a vet…and one of the princesses.” She added the last bit with a little hint of pride.

“Oh cool…cool. That’s…cool.” Alex was flexing his hands a bit, looking around.

“Hey…you ok? If I’m making you uncomfortable I can…uh…” She blinked. It felt like the room was spinning a bit. “Uh…izzis juice like…expired?”

He was frowning as he gently took the glass. “I’m…I’m so sorry! They threatened my family if I didn’t do it!”
Even through the growing fuzziness alarm bells were beginning to sound in her head. With a scowl she fumbled for her amulet but her arms didn’t seem to want to reach that far. Grunting softly she reached for her charm bracelet groping for the earth charm. Instead she brushed the pegasus and her wings exploded from her back forcing her from the chair and ruining her shirt.

“Wh-whad you…do t’me?” She staggered toward him groping for the hilt of her sword. The door splintering in from behind caused her to whirl drunkenly almost sending herself sprawling to the floor. She caught sight of two men in dark suits raising what looked like…guns? Weird looking guns she idly thought. Then with a pair of pft sounds the wires streaked from the tasers connecting firmly in her chest and abdomen. She was so numb from the drugged juice she mercifully couldn’t feel the jolts of electricity.

“Watch the wings. The boys at the lab don’t want her damaged.” She feebly tried to struggle as she felt herself being hauled off the ground. “Jeez she’s still not out, kid’s tough.”

“Well no sh*t you saw the video. She left a crater in a brick wall and shrugged it off.”

She was conscious as they carried her to a waiting van…then unable to fight it any longer, she fell unconscious.

So chapter 10 ended up being hyooge and I split it into two. Hence the double post today. :x

Chapter 12: Home Again

She was cold. That was the first thing Jennifer realized as she struggled back to the world of the waking. Really cold. Whatever she was laying on was hard and absolutely frigid. She could faintly make out voices and the hum of some sort of machine. With some effort she managed to lift her eye lids if only faintly.

“She’s waking up. Miss Allen you need to hold perfectly still while we complete the scan.”

It was a voice over some kind of microphone or speaker or SOMEthing. Recollection of how she came to be here began to filter in and she began to panic. Eyes wide open now she was in some kind of…glowing metal tube? Strapped to a metal table, her wrists, ankles and waist bound securely and to top it all off she was naked. She began to strain at the straps holding her down, her wings flapping wildly as she arched her back enough to allow them some movement.

“Sedate her before she hurts herself!”

Through the haze of fear gripping her she heard the door open and footsteps approach…then felt a pinch in her thigh. She felt the horrible numbness beginning to spread again and thrashed all the harder.

“A higher dose, the girls’ metabolism is off the charts. She’ll work it out of her system before it takes full effect.”

Another pinch, then another and she was losing energy. Slowly she settled back, and slowly lost consciousness again.
The next time she woke up she wasn’t quite so cold at least. And she was more comfortable. Cracking an eye open she looked around. She was in a small room; the only furnishing she could see was the less than comfortable bed she was laying in. A huge mirror dominated one end of the room with a heavy looking metal door next to it. She was still wearing the Sword of Harmony on her left arm, but her right arm was strapped to the bed. Finding it locked her hand flew to her throat. The amulet possessing half of Discord’s power was gone, as was the charm bracelet.

She was in a flimsy hospital gown this time, backless to allow her wings some freedom of movement so that was something. Doing another quick glance around the room she spotted cameras in every corner of the ceiling, and frowned pulling the blanket tighter against her chest. She moved into an awkward sitting position with her wrist cuffed to the side of her bed.
“Hello?”

She waited for a response for several moments, receiving none. Scowling to herself she lifted her shield to her face, gripping the hilt of her sword in her teeth and slowly inching it free of its scabbard. Once it had grown to its full length she transferred the hilt from her mouth to her right hand and smoothly sliced through the binding on her wrist. Working her hand open and closed several times to get the circulation flowing again she jumped and leveled her weapon at the door as it hissed open.

It was a woman. IN the same dark suit as the men who kidnapped her. She was older than Jen, but still pretty young. Her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. She was carrying a tray of food, and eyeing the unsheathed sword in the girls hand warily.

“So…I brought food. Please don’t stab me.”

It was so simply requested that Jen almost laughed. Almost. Instead she did her best to look intimidating, wings flaring a bit. She was rewarded with the woman actually stepping back, staring at the feathery appendages. “Who are you? Where am I?!”

The woman didn’t back all the way out of the room. “How about you put the sword away, and we can talk.”

It wasn’t a question or a request, but Jen was pretty sure if they COULD have taken the sword they would have when they stole her jewelry. Slowly she slid it away into its sheath in the shield.

“Huh…so that’s really magical yeah?”

“No, the scabbard is actually a portal device to the sword dimension. It allows swords of any size to fit inside.”

“Heh. You’re kinda a smart ass. That’s fine.” The woman approached cautiously, eyes on the girls still flared wings. “You mind putting those down too? You kinda thrashed a bit when we came in and broke Agent Johnson’s nose with them.”

Agent. So was it the government who took her? Slowly she relaxed her wings and the woman; the agent relaxed her posture offering the tray. Jennifer’s stomach very loudly growled and she snatched it, eyeing the less than appetizing fare with a frown.

“Sorry, military food y’know? We’ll get some decent stuff for you soon.”

That didn’t really put her mind at ease. It implied she’d be staying for a while. But her hunger couldn’t be ignored and she was soon tearing into the tasteless food with abandon. The woman stepped out for a moment returning with a chair, which she planted in the middle of the room and seated herself on. Jen kept an eye on her while she ate but otherwise tried to ignore her.

“So. I’m Agent Miller. You are currently a guest of the United States government. As I’m sure you can guess, your little show in New York the other week caused quite a few ripples. Some kid caught it all on his phone and threw it on YouTube.”

Jen remained silent, as she finished the tray and set it aside. She was starting to feel a little jittery, being cramped up in such a small room. Knowing she couldn’t run if she wanted to. Stupid pegasus instincts.

“The project head here is Dr. Sanders. We were ordered to escort you in for questioning and a medical examination. The good doctor felt you were a flight risk and instead ordered you brought in by force, and I apologize for that.”

“Well if you’re sorry that makes it ok.”

This brought a chuckle from the agent. “Well good, I’d hate to think there were any hard feelings. So obviously we have a couple questions for you. The more cooperative you are the smoother this will all go for you.”

“Where’s my amulet? It’s dangerous and you people are going to hurt yourselves. You have NO idea what it can do.”

Agent Miller co*cked her head listening to something over her earpiece. “Tell me about it.”

Debating briefly on how much she should actually share Jen frowned. “It contains a lot of magic. Chaos magic specifically. It used to belong to like, the god of chaos I guess? It drove the dude insane over time and he made every…one’s life miserable over there. If it’s more than a hundred or so feet from me it’s going to start whispering to everyone around it and pretty soon you’re going to have your very own lunatic with god like power running around.”

“If I wasn’t looking at your wings and your magic sword there I’d wonder how you said all that with a straight face.” She raised an eyebrow at the girls constantly bouncing leg and fidgeting hands. “Relax we’re not going to hurt you or anything.”

“Hurt me MORE you mean? No I’m part pegasus right now and they don’t like being cooped up.”

Again the agent co*cked her head. “Can you fly?”

Jen shrugged. “Is it POSSIBLE? Yes, do I know how? No.”

“Hm. What makes this amulet safe for YOU to carry around then?”

Jen nodded at her shield. “My sword is pretty crazy magical too, it blocks out the whispers.”

“Would you be willing to leave it near the amulet then? They won’t return it to you, think you’ll use it to vanish but my superiors believe you when you say it’s dangerous.”

“Why didn’t you just take it when you did my other stuff?”

The agent chuckled. “Oh they tried. As soon as they touched it zap! Big pink flash and the doc went flying across the room. They used this big mechanical arm deal to grab it and they almost pulled your arm out of the socket trying to get it off. I’m guessing that’s part of its charm?”

“Yeah…it picks the wielder I’m told. And no I won’t give it up. If you have a room for me closer to the amulet that’s just as good.”

“That could be doable. For now let’s go for a walk. You promise not to run? I don’t want to taze you.”

Jen frowned. “I don’t want to GET tazed again, so fine. Can I have some pants?”

“Heh. You can have some clothes, yes.” Miller stepped out, returning in a few minutes with a white tank top and camo pants.

Rolling her eyes a bit the girl pulled the pants on then slowly drew her sword, carefully keeping it away from Agent Miller. She used it to cut the bulk of the back off the shirt before sliding it on and letting her wings spread. “I don’t suppose I can have my bracelet back.”

“That’d be a no. We know it’s how you ah…swap around your extra bits and the higher ups felt it best if you couldn’t kick down a steel door or send everyone here flying with your mind.”

With a scowl that clearly said that was exactly what she intended to do if she got her hands on it, Jen slid her sword away. She tugged on the too-big boots provided and stood. She followed the agent from the room into a long hallway. A lot of guys in dark suits and shades were milling about, more than a few keeping a careful eye on their ‘guest’.

It felt good just to be out of the tiny room and able to move. “Can we go outside?”

“We can. But if you’re lying about the flying thing they’ll bring you down and that’s it for your walks.”

Jen rolled her eyes but didn’t comment, just followed Miller through the complex. She couldn’t hide a frown as they passed some kind of huge lab. She could FEEL Discord’s amulet in the room but she knew there was nothing she could do about it right now. The sunshine on her skin when they made it outside was one of the best feelings she’d experienced in a while. “How long have I been here?”

“Two days. You kept waking up and thrashing so they had to keep sedating you.”

Jennifer had to resist the urge to take off at a run into the large field outside. It was pretty warm given that it was the beginning of December. “Where are we?”

“We’re in a military installation outside of Houston, Texas.”

“How long are you going to keep me here?”

Agent Miller didn’t answer that one. “Where have you been? Where did you pick up all this…magic? Where’d that black horse you were fighting come from?”

The girl didn’t answer immediately. She was looking up at the sky, wings spread wide as she drank in the ‘fresh’ air and sunlight. “Another world. Another dimension? I dunno. Not earth I know that.”

Miller had a clipboard she was scrawling her answers onto. “You don’t know for sure?”

Jen shrugged. “I never cared enough to ask.”

“Are they a threat? Do they plan to invade our world?”

Now Jen laughed. “WERE they? No of course not. I don’t think there’s been a war in Equestria for over a thousand years. And that’s not an exaggeration.”

Agent Miller was frowning now. “What do you mean ‘were’ they?”

Jen lowered her wings and crossed her hands behind her back, starting to walk at an easy pace. The agent close at her side. “I guess I can tell you a little about Equestria. That ‘horse’ I was fighting is, as far as I can tell the dominant sentient species on their world. They prefer ‘ponies’ by the way. There are four kinds, earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi. I’m pretty sure you can gather what each of the three does from watching my fight with Umbra. The fourth kind are the alicorns who have traits of all three mixed in. There’re only a couple, Luna, Celestia, Cadence…and Umbra I guess.”

Miller was furiously scratching down everything she was saying. “So the whole world is filled with these ponies?”

“Yup! They’re for the most part very peaceful. Umbra is definitely an exception but hey every race has its bad apples right? Anyway these alicorns are their princesses, their rulers. And no I dunno why they don’t go by queen, I guess princess sounds nicer?” She shrugged. “Luna and Celestia use their magic to raise the sun and the moon respectively each day.”

The agent was staring at her now. “Is that like…a metaphor or…?”

“No. The ponies do everything in their world. They make the weather, they keep nature going, and they care for the non-pony animals. All of it on them. I think they even grow rocks but that’s a bit fuzzy. No Luna and Celestia literally have the power to move the heavenly bodies they’re named after.”

“Alright…back to what you said before…”

“Right! Well, see the problem YOU guys now have is I’m very good friends with Princess Luna. Like sleepovers at the castle and she’s taken me under her wing kinda good friends. If they haven’t already, everypony’s going to be looking for me soon. They knew I was coming back to visit my dad so they might not worry too much if I’m a day or two late. But pretty soon they’re going to get worried. Then they’re going to come looking. And once the immortal princess of the night with the power to roll the moon around the sky finds out what you’ve done to me…” She shrugged again. “I doubt she’ll be very pleasant.”

Agent Miller opened her mouth to say something but Jen interrupted. “Then there’s Discord. While we’re not besties, I think he and I are what you could call friends. He’s the guy who ACTUALLY owns that amulet you’re playing with in there. He has the other half. I can’t say they’ll drag him into this for SURE, but if they do and HE’S the one who comes looking well. You’ll wish you were dealing with the angry moon princess.”

“Are you implying these creatures would declare war on our country…on our world just to get to you?”

“I dunno if they’d see it as a declaration of war. So much as disciplining a naughty kid. Luna would come, pick me up and that’d be the end of it. Discord…eh…he might stick around. I know this is a pretty hard concept to wrap your head around but some of the people there are immortal, like in the literal sense. They’ve lived thousands of years and if you think a sword that fits into a tiny scabbard is impressive well…they’re packing real magic.”

Jen could tell by the look on the agent’s face that she absolutely believed everything she was saying. “Let’s go back inside. I need to ah…confer with my superiors.”

The girl was feeling pretty chipper by now. “Sure thing. Thanks for letting me come outside.”

Miller didn’t speak again and just escorted Jen back to her room (cell Jennifer was calling it). Alone again she lay back on the bed with a soft sigh. For all her bravado earlier she didn’t even know if they could reach earth anymore. With Celestia MIA Luna couldn’t open the portal alone, and Discord was who knows where. Still…it was fun seeing the agent go white as a sheet like that.

She was alone long enough to start getting bored again, and was soon on her feet practicing her stances like Luna had taught her. Slow easy movements with her sword. This got boring after a while too, and she settled on the floor resting the blade across her lap, eyeing the runes along its length. Gently she touched the only one she had been able to activate so far.

“…can you hear me?”

Aye.

Jen yelped and jumped at the unexpected voice, but settled again. “Do you uh…know what’s going on?”

T’would appear we have been captured by thine own people.

“Yeah that’s about right…I don’t suppose you can help?”

If thy desire is escape I can assist thee in fighting thine way out, but it would be a bloody battle. I would recommend against calling me forth however.

The girl frowned. “Why?”

Recall the air in thine world be toxic to thee now. Already thy reserve of mana is draining at an alarming rate. Summoning my shade would draw upon it faster. Soon thou whilst not be able to survive. Yon amulet is what sustains thee in this realm. Separated from it…

“…I’m dying.”

Aye.

Jen heaved a sigh and let her head rest against the wall at her back. The door opened again and Miller entered. “Who’re you talking to?”

Jennifer lifted the sword to indicate the glowing rune. “Bleeding Heart. My sword’s last owner. Her spirit or whatever is in the sword.”

Miller took a seat in her chair again, seeming at ease with the girl having her sword out in her lap. “Can she speak to me?”

Aye but t’would require a summoning.

“She could if I wanted to summon her physically.”

“Well will you?”

Slowly she shook her head. “No. It’ll just kill me faster.”

Now the agent was frowning. “What do you mean?”

So Jennifer explained the mana as best as she could recall from Twilight’s lecture. And how the lack of it on earth would eventually kill any unprotected equestrians. “I guess that’s why Celestia made the girls actual humans when they visited earth.”

“Visited earth? These…Equestria people have been here before?”

Jen just shrugged a little. “Yeah…I…” She sighed. “I guess they come regularly. Something about seeing if we’re ready to y’know…integrate or whatever? So far I don’t think we’ve passed the test.”

“Integrate how?”

Another shrug. “I dunno. I was in a whole other world y’know? Filled with magic and adventure and REALLY good people. I didn’t really care a lot about stuff back on earth anymore. I only popped back a couple times to visit my family.” Slowly she sheathed her blade. “I mean we’re a lot more technologically advanced so I’m sure there’s stuff they’re interested in learning about. And for their part can you imagine what they could do for the environment? Pegasi teams clearing the air, unicorns purifying water. Earth ponies could turn the Sahara into the American heartland in a few weeks.”

“What’s stopping them then? If they’re so kind and benevolent?”

“I’d guess fear. I mean they’ve had their share of conflict in the past but for the most part they’ve had a peaceful utopia going for a thousand years. Can you imagine that? A THOUSAND years with no war, no combat zones or anything. I think they keep checking on us to see if we’ve reached that point where they’re comfortable enough to introduce themselves. You have to admit in general we’re not the most friendly to outsiders.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Miller was clearly not happy with how her talk went with her bosses.

“You’re not going to let me leave, are you?”

Slowly the woman shook her head. “Dr. Sanders isn’t convinced that you’re not just making all this up so we’ll let you go…and unfortunately the buck stops with him. He thinks there’s too much opportunity in that amulet and bracelet of yours.”

Jen was immediately frowning now. “You’re not trying to use them are you?”

Miller shrugged. “A couple volunteers have tried the bracelet. We have one of each of its uh…whatever it makes. The bat one was a bit of a surprise. I don’t think they were happy about winding up with hooves but we figured out a light touch keeps them mostly human like you.”

Jennifer shook her head with a frown. “More than likely all you’ve done is condemn them to the same thing you have me. Now that they have Equestria in them they’re probably going to go through mana starvation. I can’t turn fully human anymore with it.”

Miller brightened a bit. “Well they seem perfectly healthy so far. So maybe it’s not as bad as you think? The guys have been having a good time trying out their enhancements, though the flight attempts haven’t been very successful yet.”

“I…look I’m…tired. Do you actually want something form me right now or are you just here for a friendly chat? If you are I’m not really in the mood.”

The young woman frowned again. “I’ll let you get some rest. If you need anything knock on the door and they’ll send me in.”

Jen climbed back into the bed once she was alone again. With no amulet to ward of sleep she was finding it harder to keep her eyes open. The little headache forming in the back of her head wasn’t helping matters either.

There were no nightmares, she was thankful for that at least. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep but it was dark out by the time her door opened again. With a frown she noted it wasn’t Agent Miller but a big guy with a nose brace. He didn’t look at her with a lot of kindness. “Up. Doctor wants to run some tests.”

Keeping a straight face she climbed to her feet. This must be the dude who got his nose busted by her wing. She twitched them a bit as she walked passed him into the hall, and didn’t bother to hide her smile as he flinched back, hands flying to protect his face. Another agent was in the hall, who seemed to find it as funny as Jen did.

“Yeah I can see what you mean man, look at this kid she’s huge. You’re lucky she didn’t take your head off.”

Nose splint roughly grabbed Jen’s shoulder and her smiled faded as she snapped a wing into his chest, lifting him off his feet and sending him down the hall a few feet. The other agent was fumbling with his taser before he realized she wasn’t attacking him. “So tests?”

“Uh…y-yeah kid down the hall, this way.” He definitely eyed her with a bit more respect.

“Sorry I don’t like being man handled.”

He shrugged. “Eh I don’t blame ya. Keep a lid on that when you’re with the doc though, guy’s a little squirrely and he IS in charge. He won’t hesitate have us drop you.”

She shrugged and folded her wings tightly against her back. “Where’s Agent Miller?”

“Sleep. She’s got day shift, we got night shift. I’m sure I don’t have to say this but if you make any sudden moves in here you’ll get a few thousand volts in your butt, got it?”

Another shrug as she crossed her arms over her chest while he swiped a keycard. It wasn’t the same lab as the one holding her amulet but she could feel it close by. She entered first with her chaperone close behind. Her frown deepened when she spotted four big jarhead looking guys. Each with a very clear pony feature at work testing their new attributes in what looked like a gym. Watching them all from an observation deck must be Doctor Sanders she guessed. Tall and bald with small round glasses the guy practically screamed cliché movie villain.

Her escort led her up to the doctor and sat her on a stool. “Ah! Subject one is here. Get some blood, saliva, and bodily fluids then we can put her in the gym with the others.”

His assistant was a middle aged woman who looked like she had a look on her face like she was always sucking on a particularly unpleasant lemon. Roughly she seized Jen’s wrist and tugged her arm out straight. With a little cry of protest her wings began to flare…before the agent behind her rested a hand on her shoulder. She calmed as the woman took some blood then stood staring.

“…what?”

“You heard the doctor, I need saliva. Mouth open.”

With an exaggerated ‘ahhhhh’ she opened her mouth wide and stuck her tongue out. The agent stifled a chuckle but the woman just swabbed inside her cheek and stepped back, offering her a cup. “Shouldn’t there be something to drink in this?”

“Fill it.”

“…fill it?”

“With your urine, I don’t have all night.”

“Are you…” She looked back at the agent behind her. “Is she serious?” Then back to the woman. “You want me to pee right here?”

“The doctor said…”

Said doctor was storming over looking less than enthused. “Imbecile, of course she’s not going to just squat and pee on my floor!” His assistant cringed away and he looked to Jen’s escort. “Take her to one of the side rooms, bring me the cup then put her in the gym.”

With a curt nod he led Jennifer back into the hall, across the way to a bathroom and took a position outside one of the stalls. Giving a little huff she stepped in and did her business, offering him the cup with a smile. “For you!”

Gingerly he pinched it between two fingers and walked her down to the gym. “Thanks. Did…you pee on the cup?”

She shrugged as he opened the door. “Sorry, I was nervous.” Her smile said she was definitely not sorry and he jogged the cup back up to the lab.

All eyes turned to watch her enter the gym. She felt a little sad for these guys suddenly. They probly had no idea what was in store for them soon. “What’s up?”

The doctors’ voice crackled over the PA. “Subjects 1 through 5 will move to the treadmills for endurance testing.”

Not excited at the prospect of being shocked again Jen followed the enhanced soldiers to a set of treadmills, claiming the one on the far left for herself. “So you guys come here a lot or what?”

Her fellow pegasus aspect took the one next to her chuckling a little. “You’re a pretty spunky kid. You were hardcore throwing down with that unicorn.”

“She was an alicorn actually. She had wings under her armor. That makes it a lot more badass. They’re like immortal gods over there.”

The doctor barked begin and the five began to jog. “No kidding? So like you CAN mix and match those little charms?”

She shrugged. “Yeah but I wouldn’t, it’ll just speed up the process.”

“What process is that?”

“Mana starvation. You’ll die a lot quicker.”

The three nearest her all faltered almost at the same time, it was funny. She DID laugh when the big earth aspect guy on the end gave a ‘what’d she say’?

“What the hell is mana starvation?”

So she explained surprisingly calmly as she jogged with the four soldiers about how mana worked, and how they were all going to die since there wasn’t any to nourish their new equestrian physiologies.

“That’s uh…not true right? You’re just f*ckin’ with us?”

She shrugged flexing her wings. They’d been running for a good ten minutes now and she was barely feeling it. In fact the only one who looked like he was tiring was the unicorn. “Anyone getting headaches yet?”

The unicorn soldier was the first off his treadmill, collapsing on his back and breathing heavily. “Yeah horn head there’s been whining about migraines, the doc said it’s just cause of the growth or whatever.”

“Yeah no. I’ve done unicorn a ton; in fact it’s what I usually go for. It makes sense he’s burning out first, they need more mana. Every time he tries to use his magic he’ll make it happen a little faster.”

Said horn’d soldier was looking a bit concerned (and also like he wanted to heave from the running) the others were regarding her with a mix of disbelief and fear. “Well let’s say that IS true, how do we get rid of these wings and stuff?”

She shrugged again. “You don’t. I mean I dunno how. You could probly cut em off or whatever but I doubt that’d help. The only thing to do for it is to get to Equestria. I mean that I know of. Maybe doctor evilsteen up there can come up with something for you guys before you burn out.”

The night aspect was the second one down, leaving the two pegasi and earth pony jogging along. The speed was increasing slowly but steadily. “You’re pretty f*ckin’ calm about all this kid. I think you’re full of it.”

“Guess we’ll see won’t we?” She didn’t hide her snark, but she also didn’t give the usual smirk to go with it. She didn’t feel much like smiling. She wasn’t tracking the time, but by the time the slab of muscle on the end stumbled off his treadmill she was feeling the burn in her legs.

The pegasus soldier kept shooting her little looks, sweat beading on his forehead. “Somethin’ wrong?”

“How the hell are you still going?”

“Oh. I’m told I’m a glider class pegasus. We’re built for stamina and long distance. See how your wings are shorter than mine? Means you’re built for speed, also means you’re taking the fall a bit before me more than likely. Plus I have a pretty hefty storage of mana to draw on, and pegasi use their magic for their flight so they can keep trucking away for a while.”

He was gritting his teeth. She could see he was straining not to tumble off. She was definitely reaching her limit, but he reached it just a bit before her. With a furious expletive he stumbled a step and went down much to his fellows delight. Slowly her own treadmill slowed and she climbed off.

“Subjects 2 through 5 return to your barracks. Subject 1 to the lab.”

Huffing at the lack of a provided towel Jen was in a considerably more sour mood than before as she dripped sweat following the agent up to the lab. Again she was seated on the stool. The doctor finally looked her way. “I’m going to ask you some questions and you will answer succinctly and truthfully.”

“Or?”

He seemed taken aback at her having spoken at all. “Or? Or what?”

“That’s what I’m asking. Or what? What exactly are you going to do if I’m not cooperative? Throw me in a cell? Shoot me? You’d be doing me a favor I doubt mana starvation is fun.”

He was scowling now. “I am in control here. This is MY facility and you will do as I say!”

“Mmm. Nah. You’re kinda a jerk. Tell you what. You give your questions to Knuckles behind me here, or to Agent Miller and I’ll talk to them.” It had been awhile since she got to go toe to toe with an overbearing authority figure, and the few times her mother DID mix it up with Jennifer the older woman was the one typically storming off in a huff, leaving Jen to herself. Judging by the pleasant shade of purple Sanders was turning; she didn’t think this would be much different.

“How DARE you speak to me like this?! Do you have any idea who I am?! I could order that agent behind you to shoot you and he would do so without hesitation! Maybe you’ll be a bit more talkative after he shoots one of your kneecaps off hm?!”

She flinched back, mostly to avoid the spray of spit. “If you knee cap me how’m I gonna do your stupid physical tests? I bet you’re wondering how I outlasted four grown and well trained guys. Plus you won’t kill me or anything I’m pretty sure you’re not the head of whatever these guys all are, FBI maybe? You look like a movie FBI agent. So they wanna know what I know. I’m guessing all YOU’RE in charge of is my blood and pee when it comes down to it.”

Jen got to learn that day that when a bald guy got mad enough even his head turned purple. She braced herself as he raised his hand back preparing to strike her, before he spun and took his anger out on his assistant instead. Jennifer didn’t feel too bad for her, she was kinda a bitch. “Get her out of my sight!”

She was hastily ushered out by her evening escort. “…that was pretty ballsy kid.”

“Mm. I’m not kidding about dying. I probly got a week or so before I keel over. Those poor guys even less. And I was pretty much right about everything, right?”

He shook his head chuckling softly. “Pretty much. Sanders IS in charge of the facility but he takes his orders from the very top. And those orders are to keep you fit and happy. Well…y’know as happy as you can be in this situation.” They walked in silence for a bit, the agent leading her down another hall. “You think I look like I could be in a movie?”

“Oh totally. Square jaw, good hair, black suit and shades? So you gotta name or am I sticking with Knuckles?”

“Heh. Agent Samson.” He swiped his card on another door revealing a shower room.

“I think you’re officially the guy I hate the least here now.” She happily ducked into a shower stall. The hot water felt great on her sore muscles. All too soon however she was back in her cell flopping into bed. With a sigh she drew her sword. “Still there?”

I will always be here Jennifer.

Gently Jen ran her fingers along the runes of her blade. “Wanna tell me what these do?”

Alas I cannot. Thou must discover their useage for thyself. However I can advise on how best to do that.

“Well I’m not goin anywhere. Advise away Bleeding Heart.”

Very well. To learn of the blade you must learn of its origin. In an age long past there existed an order of knights dedicated to championing the cause of the common pony. We were known as the Order of Harmony. Twas before the rule of the mighty alicorns that we were first founded. Using the most powerful of magics our sorcerers crafted each of the thirteen knights of the order a blade capable of inheriting a new ability from their bearers.

Each sword was unique. Some great broadswords, others pairs of daggers. The one thou bears be the only sword and shield. As the original knights began to reach their twilight years, each took a squire and began to train them to take their place. Once each squire harmonized with their destined blades, the knight passed it along and stepped down. Tis a shame our order is no more, thou wouldst make a fine squire.

Jen grinned a bit at that. “Think so?”

But of course. The blade would ne’er have chosen thee if it believed thou were unworthy. Within thee lies each of the tenants of harmony. Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity, Honesty, and Laughter. Risking thine own life to save a land not your own be not a feat to scoff at young Jennifer. Now that the blade has come to thee, tis time for thee to learn to harmonize with it. Once this task is complete its powers will be thine to command.

She was sitting up now, keeping the sword resting horizontally in her lap. “So…how DO I harmonize with it?”

Tis the simplest, and most difficult of tasks. Each bearer becomes one with the blade in their own way. Some fast and meditate for days. Others embark on perilous quests. It could be argued that thou hast already completed such a quest, but it must be undertaken with the intent of becoming one with thine blade.

“Hm. I don’t think I’m going to be going on any big quests while I’m here, so that leaves fasting and meditation.”

Tis the same path I undertook when seeking to unite with the blade perfectly as well. Forego material pleasures for three days and focus your attention inward as much as possible. Complete this and the circuit between thyself and the blade will begin to open.

No more words were needed. Shifting to the floor Jennifer knelt on her knees keeping the sword on her lap. With a deep breath she sat and tried to keep her focus off of her seemingly hopeless predicament. If she was going to die in some tiny cell she was going to accomplish this one last thing beforehand.

***

“Hey kung fu master, you want breakfast?”

Jen started and blinked in surprise at the door. There stood agent Miller with another tray of food. “Eh? What time is it?”
“Seven. Didn’t know how early a riser you were but the surveillance guy said you were just sitting here so…I brought food. What are you doing anyway?”

Slowly the girl rose to her feet stretching. She didn’t THINK she’d fallen asleep but she felt refreshed, if still a bit achy all around her joints. The headache was back too. “Harmonizing with my sword.”

“Of course. Silly me.”

Jen cracked a smile now. “The sword is alive sorta, remember I told you yesterday? It has the last wielders spirit inside.” She lifted the blade to display the runes. “Each one of these unlocks a different ability in the blade. So far the only one I’ve managed is to summon Bleeding. If I want to use the rest I have to harmonize with it she said. So I’m stuck here doing nothing, might as well do that.”

“Fair enough. We can’t take it from you or do anything to it really. We tried to seal the blade into its scabbard and it fried the tools. So, you hungry?”

“Starving. But I can’t eat for three days.”

“…fair enough. You wanna go back outside?”

“More than anything. Except for going free of course.”

“Of course. C’mon.” Miller led the girl through the compound back outside. “So I heard you met the good doctor last night. He’s not a fan of yours.”

“I’m not a fan of his so we’re even.”

“No one’s a fan of his, but he’s in charge.”

Jen spread her wings again once the sun was shining down on her. “I meant what I said when I told him I didn’t care who he was. And Samson pretty much confirmed the doctor couldn’t touch me without pissing off his bosses anyway so…meh. You’ve been ok to me so if you got questions I got answers.”

“Well let’s start with an easy one. How did you wind up in Equestria?”

Jennifer was walking again. Twitching her wings now and then. She went into the story of her weird babysitter Pennie. How she vanished one day with barely a goodbye. Meeting Luna at school, finding the portal. The whole mess with Discord.
“So that’s where you got those scars on your abdomen?”

“The biggest one. The two smaller ones were from Umbra. But Discord is the one who almost killed me.”

“And now you’re buddies?”

Jen shrugged. “His magic drove him insane. Apparently he was human once and the princess’ thought if they accelerated his acclimation to Equestria it’d make life easier on him. Instead the massive influx of mana drove him crazy. Go figure right?” Jen had made it about halfway into the fenced in field outside the compound before she slid her sword free and began to go through the motions Luna taught her. “His head cleared up enough for lucid conversation once he got around my sword for a bit. Really he just wanted someone to I dunno, empathize with? Pal around with? I offered to ease some of his burden and he agreed. That’s where the amulet came from. He has the other half.”

“So that little gem isn’t some kind of…magic battery. It contains half the magic of a guy who could alter reality by snapping his fingers?”

“Yeah and it sends out whispers to anyone nearby trying to talk them into using it for wacky shenanigans.”

“Whispers that your sword blocks.”

“Yup.”

“So. After all the mess with Discord you settled in…” She checked her notes. “Ponyville? Didn’t your parents have anything to say about this?”

Jen shrugged again, slowly swinging her sword in a wide arc. “I talked to my dad. He gave me his blessing to stay with Pinkie. He knew she’d take care of me.” A frown slowly formed on her face.

“Can you tell me about the ponies you lived with? What they were like?”

“I ah…” Her late night talks with Fluttershy. Harassing Rainbow Dash whenever she caught her napping. Learning from Twilight and Cheerilee. Working with Applejack. All the hard work Rarity put into her clothes. Giving Lyra the chance to live her dream, helping Fancy feel better after his break up. Seeing Applebloom and Sweetie Belle get their cutie marks. She wanted to be there for Scootaloo’s too. Echo…Pinkie Pie. “…I think I’d like to go back inside.”

“Jennifer? Are you alright?”

She shook her head. “No. Can we go inside, please?”

With a frown Miller lead her back to her cell. “I’m going to push for you to be moved closer to the lab with the amulet. Even if there’s a chance it’s as dangerous as you say it’d be best to have you close by to counter it.”

Jen knelt again facing the corner of her cell. She drew her sword and went back to her meditations. Or tried to anyway. It was hard with all the tears.

She wasn’t disturbed again until evening. It was Agent Samson. “Hey kid. Testing time.”

Jen stood smoothly and sheathed her sword. This time she wasn’t surprised at the time gap. “More jogging?”

“Eh who knows? The doc’s got all kindsa crap for you guys to do. Dig the meditation by the way. Do it myself. Helps keep your mind sharp.”

“Yeah? I’m doing it to make my sword more magic.”

“Hey that’s cool too.”

Jen found herself liking the somewhat unusual agent the more time she spent around him. She found herself back in the gym in short order. There were only three guys present this time. “Hey where’s the unicorn dude?”

The pegasus solider frowned. “Sick. He couldn’t get out of bed.”

The guys were all looking pretty pale in Jen’s eyes. The winged duo looked worse off than the earth, but earth ponies used the least mana so that wasn’t a surprise.

“It’s true isn’t it? What you said? The…mana whatever?”

“I wish it wasn’t guys. I really do.” The mood in the room was definitely not pleasant.

The doctors’ voice soon crackled over the pa. “All subjects are to report to the weight station.”

The huge earth aspect guy lumbered over. “You can’t do anything without that weird stone right? The one in the lab?”

Jen frowned a little. “It doesn’t even have to be ME using it. If you can get it to your buddy I can tell you how to use it to help him.”

Sander’s was losing it in his little booth. “What are you doing?! Report to weight station!” The four looked to the door as it seemed to unlock itself.

“Right. Let’s get this kid her jewel.” Jen smiled a little seeing it was Agent Samson who unlocked the door.

“Look…you take care of yourself and my men and then right back to your room, right?”

She looked down at the sword on her arm with a little sigh. “Right. In fact I don’t even have to touch it. You can do it.”
“Oh yeah? Well cool. Always liked magic y’know? The stage kind, I didn’t know there was a real kind til uh…recently.”
He led them back into Sanders’ lab. “What do you think you’re doing agent?”

“What I’m empowered to do in the case that you’re found lacking in your work doctor. You recklessly put men under my command in life threatening danger playing with something you didn’t understand. Now give me the gem, or I’ll have Simmons here take it.”

The huge earth aspect human cracked his knuckles to punctuate the statement.

“I-I’ll be filing a report with your superiors!”

“You do that. The gem. Now.”

With a fierce scowl the doctor opened the test chamber holding the amulet. Samson didn’t wait for him to offer it before snatching it from its resting place. “Alright let’s get to James and see if we can’t undo this…mess.”

The unicorn enhanced agent looked awful. Thin, pale, and sweating heavily. He could barely lift his head as the group entered. “Alright kid…how do I do this?”

Jen rubbed the back of her neck. “Uh…try picturing him as an ordinary human again.”

Samson raised an eyebrow. “That’s it?”

“Yeah it’s not exactly complicated, it’s chaos magic held in a gemstone so you just kinda…think and it works.”

Agent Samson frowned down at his ill subordinate clenching the amulet in his fist tightly. Slowly bursts of magic surrounded the man on the bed, when they faded his horn was gone. He was normal again. “He still looks like sh*t.”

Jen shrugged. “Well he’s human not healthy, I’m sure he’ll bounce back now that he doesn’t need mana.”

Looking to his other agents they were soon normal as well. “I kinda dug the wings, bummer.”

Samson looked to Jen. “Alright kid now you.”

Before she could protest the light was whirling around her feet, but not touching her. Her sword was humming dangerously. “Stop! Stop she thinks you’re attacking me!”

Instantly the lights dissipated. “Your sword won’t let me cure you?”

She gave a rueful little shrug. “It doesn’t like the chaos magic. I’ll be fine.”

“Kid aren’t y’know…gonna go the way they were?”

She shrugged again. “Probly. But if I do I want to be equestrian. It’s my home now y’know? Where I belong.”

The restored agents were crowding around their buddy’s bed as Samson walked Jennifer back to the lab, returning the amulet. “I’m going to file for someone new to come in and handle your physicals. You’re a good kid and don’t need to put up with a nut like that.”

Jen eyed him quietly as they went back to her cell. “I’m kinda surprised you didn’t poof yourself up a million bucks or something.”

He laughed. “I like my job. Usually it’s more exciting than babysitting. Of course I’m babysitting a kid with wings and a magic sword so I guess this is exciting in its own way too.”

Jennifer knelt on the floor, sword before her again. “Got any cool stories?”

Samson was quiet for a time studying the young girl kneeling on the floor of the cell. “Sure. It won’t disturb you? Me talking all night?”

She shrugged. “Nah. I don’t really like the quiet. Ponyville’s always got folk coming and going. Lots of chatter. There’re really no strangers there y’know?”

“Sounds like an awesome place.” He settled on the floor across from her and started to talk. By the time he was through the first story, an extraction in Cambodia…she was already deep in her meditation.

Agent Miller came in the morning with a breakfast tray again. “Jennifer? Rise and shine kiddo.”

Slowly the girl opened her eyes, gently running her fingers along the blade in her lap. “You know my sword has a name? A unique one of its own? Its name is Mercy."

“Oh yeah? It tell you that?”

She nodded a little. “It did. …I think. I didn’t talk to Bleeding Heart or anything but this morning I just…knew.” She gave a small shrug.

Miller regarded her quietly. “You look sh*tty. You need to eat something. And get some real sleep.”

Jen rose to her feet sheathing her blade. “I’ll eat the day after tomorrow.” Her head was throbbing annoyingly and she felt flushed. But mentally she felt…very good. “Did you have questions for me today?”

With a grunt of resignation the agent set the tray aside. “My superiors want to know what sort of defenses we would need to protect against the equestrians.”

“Hm.” Jen didn’t wait for Agent Miller to invite her out; she just started for the doors to the outer area. She didn’t speak again until they were out in the sun. “I don’t think there’s anything you could really do if they came looking for a fight. You saw the kind of punishment I shrugged off and I wasn’t even half-pony. I mean I guess a strong enough gun could take down one of them but I dunno if you could get through a magical shield y’know?”

“I suppose that’s a good point…”

“Plus I know Luna can walk through anyone’s dreams while they sleep. She could probly do some messed up stuff to somebody’s brain while she’s in there if she wanted to.”

“She sounds pretty…I dunno, scary.”

Jen laughed. “I suppose she could sound scary but she’s really very kind and gentle. She only gets upset when someone she cares for is in danger.”

She let that thought hang in the air meaningfully. Miller of course picked up on it and cleared her throat nervously. “So Agent Samson told me about last night’s escapade. Sanders is being taken off working with you and assigned strictly to examining the artifacts you brought back.”

With a little smile Jennifer sprawled out on the crowd facing up at the sky. “That’s good. Are those guys okay?”

“They are. Agent James is looking much better. Though Samson said you refused to let him help you too.”

Jen shrugged again. “This is who I am now. I don’t have any interest in rejoining the human race.”

“Just like that? You’d rather die than be one of us again?”

That was a tough question. She had to consider her answer at length. “…I think so.” She cracked an eye open gazing up at the incredulous looking agent. “Haven’t you ever felt like you didn’t belong Agent Miller? Like you weren’t where you were supposed to be?”

Slowly the woman lowered herself to sit on the ground by Jen’s head. “Sure. It’s called being a teenager.”

Jen grinned. “Right. And when you become an adult you find where you fit in right? For you it’s the FBI I’m guessing?”

Frowning a little Miller saw where she was going. “And for you it’s a magical land of talking ponies.”

“Yup! For me it’s sword fighting chaos gods, spelunking in giant spider infested caves and getting kicked in the face by crazy alicorns. It’s going to school with fillies and colts half my age, baking cupcakes with the mare who wants me to call her mom, and studying magic in a giant hollowed out tree with a unicorn.” Looking over her shoulder at her wings she frowned. “I was supposed to start learning to fly soon. Rainbow Dash was so excited to teach me.”

“You wanna try now?”

Jennifer closed her eyes letting her head rest on the ground again. “I do. More than anything. But I promised Pinkie I wouldn’t until she Ok’d it.”

“You wanna tell me about Ponyville today?”

Jen chewed her lip a little. Then she began to talk. All about her days in the little town since she got out of the hospital. From the weekend in Canterlot, than back in the hospital. Miller was even laughing at points in her story here and there, especially about Lyra and her infatuation with humanity. “Me and Pinkie’s house is probably ready…I was uh…I was gonna live with her. That was th-the plan anyway…” She frowned feeling tears on her cheeks now. She tensed as she felt Millers arms around her shoulders, the older woman holding her close and letting her cry. “I…I just want to go home…”

Miller had never considered herself the ‘maternal’ type. But seeing the poor girl crying was just too much for the usually steely woman to take. She let her get her tears out, just sitting patiently until Jen’s quiet sobbing finally stopped. “…feel better?”

She sat back wiping her eyes, smiling a little. “No. I’m so hungry.”

“You CAN eat something you know?”

Jennifer ran her fingers along the edge of her shield. “…soon. I started this; I have to see it through.”

Miller gently helped her to her feet. “Well let’s get back inside. My shift’s almost up but if you want I can sit with you tonight.”

“You don’t have to do that. Samson’s an alright guy and I’m just going to be kneeling on the floor with my sword anyway.”

She didn’t need Samson to wake her this time. When the door opened she roused herself. “Hey kid, how goes the inner reflection?”

“Pretty good. I learned my swords name and I’m like…THIS close to figuring out the first rune.”

“Very cool. You think you’re up to a little activity? New doc wants to see whatcha got.”

With a shrug she stood. “Sure why not? Long as it’s not another two hour jog.”

The new doctor was business-like but he wasn’t a huge jerk at least. He just did a routine physical on her. Pretty easy stuff in Jennifer’s opinion. “Well Miss Allen it looks like physically you’re in perfect health. I can’t find any cause for your deteriorating condition. I’ve been studying your blood and your cells seem saturated with a form of radiation I’ve never seen before.”

Jen cleared her throat gently. “It’s probably the mana.”

“I read Agent Miller’s documentation. I’m inclined to believe it too. Nothing short of returning the amulet to you will help though will it?” She shrugged helplessly and he sighed. “We have very strict orders to keep it out of your hands. There’s NOTHING else we can do?”

Jennifer frowned a little. “My bracelet? If you let me use my earth aspect instead the mana drain would slow down a lot I think. Earth ponies don’t need a lot.”

The doctor looked to Agent Samson looming off to the side. “Agent? Do you think it safe to return it to her?”

He shrugged. “Yeah the kids got nowhere to run to even if she can punch through her cell door. The amulet’s chamber would need close to a nuclear blast to open without the code. And you won’t do anything stupid right kid?”
Mustering up the most innocent smile she could she nodded. “Of course not.”

Samson of course didn’t buy the act for a second, but he did open the chamber next to the amulet and retrieve her bracelet. She snatched it and invoked the earth charm. Instantly a lot of the aches eased away. Not ALL of them but she WAS feeling better.”

Doctor Hammond was just staring slightly open mouthed. “That…that is physically impossible! Look at her musculature! And those wings…she just…physically transformed!”

Agent Samson rolled his eyes and retrieved the bracelet from Jen, placing it back in its chamber. “You look better.”

She smiled. “I feel better.”

Hammond insisted on another physical of course, and dismissed her so he could compare the differences. “So you could probably send me through the wall if you wanted to now huh?”

Jen shot him a little smirk. “Probably. But I don’t want to. You’re right, I know I have nowhere to go and you and Miller have been nice to me. I have a feeling breaking half the bones in your body would change that.”
He laughed. “Maybe a little. So! You left off at the giant spiders last night.”

Still smiling she resumed kneeling on her floor, and resumed her story too.

Agent Miller was bringing the usual breakfast tray to Jennifer’s cell when she saw the bright pink light glowing from inside. With a scowl she flung open the door. Samson was still in there, watching the girl curiously. A gentle nimbus of light was sheathing her body and a faint breeze was stirring her clothes and hair.

“What…what the hell is going on?”

Samson shrugged. “It started sometime around four am. She was kneeling there then the sword started to glow, then SHE started to glow. I didn’t know what was going on but I didn’t want to leave her alone. You might wanna go get Hammond.”
Miller didn’t need to be told twice. She returned with the doctor in short order. He slowly ran a small handheld scanner across the room. “Well it’s not radioactive whatever it is.”

Agent Samson laughed. “It’s magic. She’s…harmonizing with her sword. That’s what she said right?”

When Hammond made to approach Samson snatched his arm pulling him back. At the doctors outraged look the large agent picked a pillow up off the bed and tossed it Jen’s way. There was a sharp CRACK and a flash; the pillow flopped to the floor on the other side of the room smoldering.

“Ah…well thank you agent. That would have been unpleasant.”

With a grin Samson showed his slightly charred hand. “It is. She said three days of fasting and meditation, this is day three. So whatever’s going to happen…I think we’ll see it tomorrow.”

By now there was a sizeable crowd outside the room. Most lost interest when it was clear nothing was going to happen anytime soon. Only Agents Miller and Samson stayed in the room, while Doctor Hammond kept bringing in more and more of his toys for ‘readings’. “She’s a good kid. She doesn’t deserve all this.”

Samson shrugged a little. “I don’t disagree, but we have orders.”

“I don’t think they’re very good orders.”

He shrugged again. “I don’t either…but that’s the job Miller.” He glanced at the sketch book Miller still had under her arm. “What’s that you got?”

She blinked down at it as if just now remembering she had it. “It’s hers. It was in her bag when you and Johnson snatched her.”

Silently he flipped through the book, stopping at each page. “Kid’s got talent.”

“That’s mine.”

With a shout he dropped it and jumped to his feet. So engrossed were the agents in the sketch book they hadn’t noticed the bright glow had faded from the room. Jennifer was still sitting calmly in her place on the floor watching them quietly.

“Kid! You’re…are you alright?”

She didn’t answer at first, just looked down at the sword in her lap. Delicately fingering the first rune on her sword. “Want to see something cool?”

The agents shared a brief look, Miller nervous and Samson the exact opposite. “No. Yes!” Agent Miller was glaring at her male counterpart as Jen stood holding her sword out horizontally. Then she quickly reversed it and thrust it into her own stomach.

Both agents shouted in alarm and leaped for her, but stopped when they saw her big grin. “Eh? Eh? Pretty neat right?” She smoothly slid it up her belly, through her chest and out the top of her head. “The first rune of the Sword of Mercy, the blade can’t harm anyone ‘pure of heart’.”

Miller was scowling angrily but Samson just chuckled. “Pretty high opinion of yourself kid.”

Jen shrugged and sheathed her sword as her images each winked out of existence. “Heart told me if I wasn’t pure enough to do that, I’d never have been chosen to bear the sword.”

“That wasn’t funny Jennifer! What if you hurt yourself?!”

Her smile faded seeing the concern on the female agent’s face. “I uh…sorry I’m just excited. I’m learning how to properly use the sword and all.”

“Alright. Well you’re fine and I’ve been awake for about thirty hours now so I’m going to bed. You’re on your own tonight kid.” Samson ducked out of the room. Leaving a still scowling Agent Miller.

“Sorry…really.” Jennifer certainly sounded it.

Shaking her head Agent Miller just sighed. “You alright to eat now?”

At Jen’s eager nod the agent finally cracked a smile. She returned soon with a tray heaped with double the usual portions. Which Jennifer made short work of. “Ohh your garbage army food tastes awesome. You know you don’t have to hang around. I’m fine. Y’know besides the mana drain thing. I’ll probly just talk with Heart some.”

“You sure? You were kinda…in a bad way the other afternoon.”

“I…yeah sorry. Just…I miss them. I miss home.”

“Right. Alright you get some sleep. Some REAL sleep. We’ll go for a walk tomorrow ok? You can tell me about Canterlot.”
Waiting a moment for Agent Miller to get clear of her room Jennifer finally allowed her legs to collapse and drop her back onto the bed.

Twas a foolish decision to invoke one of the blade’s abilities Jennifer. Thy mana is nearly gone.

“Yeah I know I just…wanted to feel the connection y’know, before I check out.”

Yon bracelet is back in they posession. Invoke thy unicorn aspect and reclaim the amulet. Thy magic is raw but powerful.

“Trust me if Samson is telling the truth about the box it’s in, and I don’t doubt he is I don’t have enough magic to get it open.”

I see. Tis a shame this is how thy journey must end. I had such great hopes.

“Sorry I let you down Bleeding Heart.”

Nay…tis not thy fault child…in truth I found your company quite pleasant, short a time as we had.

This cause the girl to smile. Her head felt like it was threatening to split in half the throbbing was getting so strong. She just felt…tired. Closing her eyes she sank back on the bed taking slow even breaths. “I wish I could’ve said goodbye to Pinkie. At least the breeze is nice.”

Wait. Breeze? Brow furrowed in confusion she blinked her eyes open. There was a…crack in the room. Not in the wall, or the big two way mirror, or the door. There was a crack in the AIR. Just hanging there. As she watched it began to widen slowly. Colorful light filtering through. Red, pink, blue, orange, purple…it was like a rainbow was cracking its way through the very air.

Staring at the phenomenon for a moment Jennifer realized something else. Her head was still pounding but…not as bad. Suddenly there was a deafening BOOM as the crack blew wide open and an oscillating tunnel of rainbow lights ripped from the hole impacting on the opposite wall. Instead of a crack there was…a hole. Slowly a man emerged. Dressed in very impressive looking armor. He was really handsome, with warm eyes and dark blue hair streaked with lighter electric blue streaks. What really drew Jennifer’s eye was the pure white horn parting his hair. “Is this her?”

Another man joined the first. Twice as muscled but this one had a face Jen recognized. The farm pony turned human smiled at first, and then frowned seeing the poor condition the girl was in. He was wearing the jeans, boots, and flannel shirt he’d worn on his first visit to earth years ago. “Eeyup.”

Both transformed stallions began to look around wildly as alarms began to blare. They were joined by a young woman, with alabaster skin and flowing blue black hair. Bearing both a horn and a pair of wings. “Finally. You have no idea how much trouble you have caused Jennifer. I believe it is time to go home yes?”

Tears were welling in Jen’s eyes as she struggled to sit up. Seeing the effort it was causing the unfamiliar man scooped her into his arms. “Let’s go.”

“W-wait! Discord’s gem and my bracelet! They have it in the lab here!”

Luna’s eyes flashed in anger. “They have not only imprisoned one of my citizens but robbed her as well? Show us to this lab Jennifer. Captain Shining Armor will see to your safety.”

The stern eyed man’s horn glowed to life and surrounded the foursome in a purple bubble…Shining Armor (why did that name seem familiar?) looked to the door. “Mac would you do the honors?”

With a chuckle the farmer rolled up his sleeves. “Eeyup.” Lowering his shoulder he slammed his body into the heavy metal door which buckled from the force of the blow. The small group could hear shouts of alarm from the other side, and the transformed stallion scowled. “Sticky door.”

Another ram and it went flying off the setting to clatter on the floor of the corridor. Immediately the dozen or so agents on the other side fired off their weapons, all rebounding harmlessly from the captain’s shield. “Which way?”

Jen lifted a hand directing them out into the hall. The captain was surprisingly gentle as he carried her from the room. She could tell his focus was on maintaining the shell protecting them. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead as more bullets pinged off the shield. “If we could pick up the pace I won’t complain.”

Luna’s face was contorted into one of the more fearsome scowls Jen had ever seen. She hadn’t before been able to imagine the gentle princess capable of such anger. “Retrieve the gem Captain. I will see to our attackers.”

Shining Armor looked like he wanted to protest, but one glance at his princess’ face and he inclined his head sharply setting off with Jen and Macintosh. The princess stepped smoothly from the bubble coolly regarding the men reloading their obnoxiously loud arms.

A chorus of terrified screams followed the trio up the hall to the lab sending shivers along all their spines. “We almost there Jenny?”

“Uh…y-yeah Mac the lab’s through that door.”

Rolling his neck the huge man lowered his shoulder again ramming the door hard. With a startled shout he rebounded and fell flat on his backside. “…stickier door.”

“You need one of these.” The three turned to see Agent Miller approaching, holding a keycard in one hand. Macintosh was on his feet moving on her threateningly when Jen reached out a hand and laid it on his arm.
“It’s alright Big Mac…she’s a friend.”

Both men shared an uncertain glance but stepped aside as Miller slid her card through the reader, the door hissing open. “I don’t have clearance to open the amulets case.”

The agent gasped suddenly as a slim but impossibly strong hand clamped down on her shoulder, gripping hard enough to force her to her knees. “L-Luna don’t…please she’s trying to help.”

Miller looked up to see a very unhappy looking woman gazing down at her. The woman’s eyes were impossibly deep, eyes that had seen more than the young federal agent could ever hope to see in her lifetime. Slowly the princess relaxed her grip. “You owe Jennifer a debt. Without her words you would be in the same state as your fellows.”

Letting it go at that she moved to join the others in front of the chamber holding the amulet. “The humans are neutralized Captain, you may relax your shield.”

Gratefully he did. “Thanks princess. Working magic here feels like putting my horn through a rock crusher.”

“Indeed. The faster we are away from this wretched world the better.” Her horn flared angrily as she reached out to the chambers holding the amulet and bracelet. Macintosh backed up a few steps and Shining Armor carried Jennifer back toward the door as the princess’s aura flared brighter and brighter. With an angry bellow the chambers collapsed inward, then exploded out into shards of shrapnel. With a delicacy belying the power just displayed the gently plucked the jewelry from their resting places returning them to Jennifer. “NOW let us be off.”

“You can’t take it! It speaks to ME! It’s MINE!” A frothing Doctor Sanders was shakily aiming a handgun toward Luna. Before Shining Armor could raise his barrier a loud BANG echoed through the air.

Luna was bowled over as Agent Miller threw herself at the princess tackling her to the ground. “Fool! Get off of me you…” Luna’s voice trailed off as she saw the welling pool of blood forming from the wound in the woman’s back. Eyes blazing with fury she rose to her feet thrusting a hand at the human who dared to attack her. Swirling black shadows pooled around his feet and darted into his eyes. Slowly the doctor sunk to his knees, mouth locked in a silent scream.

Looking down at the wounded woman Luna slowly lifted her into the air carrying her along with the others toward Jennifer’s cell and the waiting portal. Agent Samson was blocking the door. All around the hall the rest of the agents seemed to have received the same treatment as Sanders.

“What did you do to my men?”

“They are trapped within their own worst nightmares. They will survive the experience unharmed, physically at least.”
He looked to the wounded Miller held in Luna’s magic. “And her?”

“Dr. Sanders tried to shoot the princess…Agent Miller leapt in the way.”

Samson frowned at the girl in Shining Armor’s arms then looked back to Luna. “You realize this is an act of war.”

“Truly?” The princess arched a brow as she approached the much larger man, unconcerned. “You have taken one of my citizens against her will, imprisoned her, and seemed willing to sentence her to death for the crime of what? Being different than yourselves? I had hoped my sister’s opinion of your people was skewed. The world young Jennifer came surely could not be as dark a place as she told me. And yet here we are. I will be leaving with my charge now. As there is little you could do to stop me even were you foolish enough to try.”

“But by all means human, declare yet another war. I will happily answer your childish challenge on the field of battle. Admittedly it has been many centuries since I have taken the field of combat myself, but you will find I am still quite adept at the art of war.” Samson was slowly lowering his gun. “Ah, intelligence at last. Are you capable of seeing to your comrades wound or must she come with us?”

Slowly he approached looking over Miller’s gunshot wound. “It’s not good but we can patch her up.”

“Very well I leave her in your care. I will return at some point in the near future to check on my saviors’ progress and see that she is being treated well. If she is not you and I will have words once more.” The way she said that implied there would be very little talking. She slowly lowered Agent Miller into Samson’s arms and turned to the three behind her, a gentle smile returned to her face. “Shall we get home then? I know Pinkie has been eager to see you Jennifer.”

The stunned girl only nodded slowly. “Y-yes ma’am.”

“Lovely. Gentlecolts? After you.”

Jen looked over Shining’s shoulder to find Agent Samson smiling a little. She lifted her hand in a wave and he did the same. She saw him long enough to see he was rushing Miller down the hall toward what she hoped was the infirmary…then they were through the portal.

The trip was certainly smoother than using the chaos jewel. Emerging on the other side they were in Luna’s throne room. Twilight was wearing a delicate looking tiara, while Applejack, Rainbow, Fluttrshy, Pinkie, and Rarity each bore a necklace with a gem shaped like their cutie marks. The six mares were concentrating hard it looked like, their gems glowing brightly and maintaining the gate. Once the foursome was through they blinked their eyes open and the portal snapped shut.
Shining Armor gently set Jennifer on her feet, and Luna returned the three to their natural pony forms. The girl barely had time to get her bearings before she was tackled by a flying pink blur. “Jenny-bean! You’re home! I was so worried when you didn’t come back the first night! Then I thought well maybe she’s just having a sleepover with her dad! But then more and more time passed and you didn’t come home and everypony got worried so we came to see the princess and she did some magic and found out you were being held prisoner!”

Jen laughed as Pinkie finally stopped to suck in a huge breath. She cut the mare off by throwing her arms around her neck and hugging her fiercely. “It’s good to be home.”

-Earth-

Doctor Sanders ignored the janitorial nobodies busy cleaning his lab. He was too intently focused on the readouts of his screen to pay them any mind. Just as he suspected, the amulet wasn’t magic. What rubbish! It DID give off a powerful energy signature however. And all energy could be reproduced…

Why my chapters keep gettin bigger?! :o

Also sorry for Bleeding Heart's atrocious fancy talk. I do my best but I'm sure it's not right haha

Chapter 13: Business Opportunities

Hey dad! Uncle Derek! Hope this letter finds you well and not like in a federal prison. I’m sure by now you guys saw the video of me floating around the net and the FBI or whoever kidnapped me last time I was home has probably talked to you. I’m sure everything’s ok though since Princess Luna scared the crap outta them when she came to rescue me. I’m back in Equestria and totally fine. I was a little sick for a couple days but I’m back to a hundred and ten percent!

I know it’s been a few weeks since you heard from me and I’m sorry I was just a little freaked out I guess. I wanted to come home for Christmas but I guess I was scared they’d try and snatch me again. Pinkie Pie and my friends did a great job putting together as nice a Christmas as they could from what they remembered. Twilight made this big elm tree grow in town square and the ponies decorated it with pretty much everything they could get to stick to the branches. There was all sorts of stuff glued to the poor ‘Christmas’ tree but it was a lot of fun anyway.

We just had Hearth’s Warming here! It’s like pony Christmas but it comes in January instead of December. It was a nice story about how the country was founded and how friendship conquers all or something mushy like that. I kinda phased in and out of the play.

Business is booming at the Stay and Play Daycare! That’s right I officially own and run my own business. Though Twilight Sparkle helps a lot with the financial end of things. I mostly have the foals play board games or work on homework or something. Every Friday I have Twilight make my iPod huge and I play a Disney movie for them. I get tons of pop ins Fridays but I don’t mind, the more the merrier right? I even have a little helper. Her name’s Dinky Doo. She’s super cute and follows me everywhere. Her mom’s not around a lot, she’s crazy busy with work and always off with some weird stallion I see around town now and again. But she helps me make snacks for the other foals and stays after everypony goes home to help me clean up. She’s a great kid.

Cheerilee says I don’t need to go to school anymore, I’ve learned everything I need to learn to be a fully functioning member of Equestrian society. I’m kinda bummed I won’t get to do the whole graduation deal with the rest of the class but I guess it was kinda weird me being like twice their age. It’s kinda nice though, I’m super busy studying magic and working with my sword so the free time is great. I usually drop by the school around lunch time and eat lunch with her. We’ve become pretty good friends. I make little hikes into the Everfree Forest just outside town and she’s started going with me on them. There’s a bit of a taboo among the ponies on going in there but she’s getting over it.

Pinkie Pie’s house was finished not too long after I got back and I’m all moved in. It feels nice to have a place of my own again and not just a guest room in someone else’s house. I’m grateful to the Apple family and they were really great to me while I was staying there but it’s just not the same y’know? Pinkie loves it of course. Now she can throw all the parties she wants and not have to worry about disturbing her land lords. We only have one neighbor, a unicorn named Vinyl Scratch but she doesn’t mind the loud music. Usually she invites herself over when Pinkie’s throwing one of her parties, not that anypony minds. Vinyl’s pretty cool and Pinkie always says anypony’s invited to her parties, the invitations are just formalities.

My magic lessons have been going well. Twilight says I’m showing ‘appropriate progression for a filly my age’ so that’s pretty cool. I can levitate stuff pretty easy now and not make it explode or anything. I’ve learned a couple spells, mostly little ones. Casting a spell is kinda like going over a math problem in your head and as I’m sure you remember I’m not a huge fan of math.

I’m kinda sorta seeing someone now. I know that must seem weird, dating a pony. It’s still a little weird for me too but I dunno Echo’s really nice and really seems to like spending time with me. We just do little things, mostly when I go for my weekend visits at Canterlot. Echo’s a cadet in Princess Luna’s night guard so time off is hard to come by sometimes. I’m taking things really slow though, so don’t worry about that.

Anyway my last bit of news is the biggest. I’m starting flying lessons today! Pinkie’s finally agree to let Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy start teaching me. I can’t wait to sit on a cloud! Pegasus ponies here literally make the weather. Rainbow can jump up and down and make it rain out of the clouds. It’s so cool and I can’t wait to get up in the air.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to come see you guys again. I’ll probably wait awhile before I try again in case those dudes are lurking around wanting to grab me again.

Love always,

Jennifer Allen Pie

Smiling down at the letter on her writing desk Jen gently rolled it up, sealed it with a ribbon and clasping her hand around Discords amulet, split it into two and sent the identical scrolls to their destinations. Dinky was just finishing sweeping the floor and setting the broom back in the corner as Jen came around her desk stretching.

“Payday!”

Jen grinned a bit. “Thursday already huh?” The little filly nodded eagerly and Jen climbed the stairs of her daycare to the second floor. Digging the key to the backroom out of her pocket she unlocked the little broom closet she’d converted into an office and with exaggerated looks back at the filly moved her body to block the safe inside as she twisted the combination. It was a little game she played with Dinky, and the filly obliged with a huff every time.

Business had been good. Despite the enthusiasm at the town meeting not everypony was convinced Jen’s new service was worth spending bits on. That is of course until the first week passed and the only Cutie Mark Crusader related damages came on the weekend when Jen was away at Canterlot. After that nearly every filly and colt was enrolled.
“Know what I think Dinky?”

Her helper perked up. “What?”

“I think we should open YOU up a bank account. You’re not a little filly anymore right? You have a job and everything. Part of growing up is having a bank account.”

Dinky Doo was an intelligent little filly. Certainly more clever and mature than a lot of her classmates, but a somewhat shaky home life has a way of maturing a child. “That’s a good idea! Can we stop by my house and get my piggy bank first?”
Jen shrugged and switched from her unicorn to her earth aspect, scooping the contents of the safe into a heavy canvas bag she kept for the purpose of transferring her funds from the safe to the bank. “Sure I don’t see why not. It’s on the way after all.” With a little grunt of satisfaction she hefted the heavy bag over a shoulder, relocked the office and led the way from the daycare.

By now the human girl had become something of an ordinary sight in the little town. Only drawing surprised looks from out-of-towner's passing through. Being closely associated with Ponyville’s premier party pony had gone a very long way toward the townsponies accepting her as one of them and just about everypony she passed had a smile and a cheerful hello for her, greetings that she happily returned.

She let Dinky take the lead as the energetic little unicorn galloped up to her house. Even working her little legs at full speed Jen had little difficulty keeping pace with her. The filly huffed as she usually did when Jen walked her home. “The door’s locked…again.”

Smiling a little Jen nudged the window open and boosted Dinky through, having to wait only a moment before she came out the front door, a smiling ceramic pig clutched in her periwinkle magical aura. “Got it!”

“Well then let’s roll! I have to meet Rainbow and Fluttershy soon.” Ponyville’s branch of Equestria’s Bank and Loaners was near the center of town. The sturdy square building was purposefully designed to resemble a huge version of the many vaults contained within. Every branch of the bank was magically linked to the other, so anypony could pop in for a quick deposit or withdrawal in whatever city they happened to be in. Each vault was keyed to a pony’s specific magic signature so the door would only open for the owner.

At Twilight’s insistence Jennifer had opened an account after her first week of earnings came in. Her personal agent was an older stallion named Quick’n Loan. There was a short line so she helped Dinky get her bank open to speed the process along once they got to the front.

“Well Ms. Pie! Just the filly I was hoping to run into?”

Filthy Rich’s deep baritone was easy to recognize, and while Jen thought his filly was a bit of a brat the stallion himself had been only congenial in her dealings with him. “Afternoon Mr. Rich. What can I do for you?” She knew he vastly preferred his last name to his first, and made it a point to address him as such. Which always seemed to please him a good deal.

“Well I was wondering if you had time to discuss a bit of a business proposition. Would you be available for dinner this evening? Eight o’clock?”

Looking a bit confused she shrugged. “I suppose…I’m starting my flying lessons today but I doubt we’ll be out too late. Pinkie doesn’t want me flying after dark.”

“Good! Good you know the address right?” Of course she did, it was the only mansion in Ponyville.

“Yes sir. I’ll be there, thank you. Er…I don’t suppose you can tell me what this is about now?”

The business pony chuckled. “I prefer to talk business in a private setting. I’m a bit of a traditionalist that way I’m afraid. I think this could be a good opportunity for the both of us however. I look forward to seeing you! I’m sure Diamond Tiara will be delighted too. She always has such nice things to say about your daycare.”

Jennifer sincerely doubted THAT. No foal spent more time in the time out corner than Diamond Tiara did. Cheerilee might be somehow blind to the filly’s bullying but Jennifer certainly was not. “I look forward to seeing her too of course.” Dinky shot her an incredulous look that went unnoticed by the stallion as he departed.

“I thought you didn’t like Diamond Tiara.”

Jen shrugged. “I don’t but her dad’s a nice guy and he’s inviting me into his home. A little fake politeness never hurt anypony.”

The filly gave a slow nod tucking this new nugget of information away. Soon enough Jen’s agent was freed up and he cheerfully waved her over. “Well if it isn’t Miss Pie, my favorite alien client!” They shared a laugh at his usual greeting.

“Hello Mr. Loan. Here for the weekly deposit and my friend here is ready to open an account of her own.”

The stallion had a wide smile as he looked down on the little filly. “Well today’s a big day for you than miss…?”

Dinky shyly peeked out from around Jen’s legs. “Doo sir. Dinky Doo.”

“Ah! Dinky Doo! Your mother does business with us. Savings Bond handles her accounts if you’d like to work with her?”
Dinky shook her head. “No sir! This is fine.”

“Well then! Let’s get Jennifer’s deposit taken care of and then we’ll see about opening your account hmm?” He led them to the vault chambers and had Jen heave her bag on the scale. A low whistle escaped his muzzle. “Five hundred and ten? Miss Pie I think you bring more in every week.”

Jen laughed. “Up to thirty four foals a day now. Three bits a head five days a week! Some’ll go to taxes and upkeep for the daycare of course but the rest…” She shrugged. “I don’t have much to spend money on. Princess Luna paid for our home to be furnished.”

Her banker chuckled as she rested her hand against vault 1402, the door swinging open and the stallion emptying her bits into the room. It was a huge vault and the pile of money within seemed rather tiny by comparison, but it was hers.

“Almost forgot!” She counted out twenty bits and added them to Dinky’s little pile. “A weeks pay for a week’s work!”

The filly beamed proudly not noticing the smile shared by the adults. “Alright Miss Doo let’s see about your vault hmm?” Quick lead them a few doors down. “Here we are 1415 just freed up so this one is all yours. All you have to do is rest your hoof on the plate there…that’s the way.”

Timidly Dinky placed her hoof where instructed. A little jolt ran along her horn and through the plate which shifted to the periwinkle color of her aura, than the door cracked open. “Bits on the scale please Miss Doo.”

Dinky seemed to take particular delight in being called ‘Miss Doo’ and grandly poured her bits on the scale. “Forty two!” You needed at least one hundred bits to open an account, and when the banker looked up at Jen with a raised brow she nodded toward her own vault. Reading her intentions clearly he smiled. “Well everything’s in order Miss Doo if you’d please deposit your money.” While the filly dashed into her own vault Jen discreetly slipped back to hers and counted out the rest of the bits Dinky would need, tossing them in behind the filly as she rocketed back out.

“All done! So I have my own account now?!”

Mr. Loan chuckled. “Indeed you do! Now you have a 5% interest rate on your bits. For every year a bit sits in your vault you’ll get one fifth from us as a thank you for using our bank.”

Dinky was considerably better at math than most of her fellows. She co*cked her head. “So if I have a hundred bits in there for a year I only get five?”

Jen laughed. “Well yeah but it’s five bits for doing nothing. And look at mine; I have a little more than a thousand in there right now. So I’ll get fifty for nothing in a year. And that number will just keep going up as I save.”

The filly digested this new information. “So the more I save the more I earn?”

“Exactly right Miss Doo. What a smart young filly.”

She frowned a little. “If all my money’s in the vault how will I buy anything?”

“You can withdraw your bits whenever you like, as long as you keep it above a certain number for insurance reasons. You don’t have to worry about that though.”

Jen gave her a smile. “I think you should leave what you have in the vault alone for now Dinky. Next week you can keep ten bits, and save the other ten alright?”

Bidding farewell to their banking agent the pair left. “That’s a good idea. Then I can still have spending money but I’m saving more too!”

“That’s the idea. I need to get to Fluttershy’s cottage now though. You be alright from here?”

“Mmhm. Thanks Jen! I had fun today.”

The human girl laughed and gave her little friend a pat. “Good. Bankings not the most exciting thing in the world but it’s important. I’ll see you after school tomorrow. It’s movie day!” She left the filly practically buzzing in excitement. Her iPod had a veritable library of cinema inside it and an animated Disney movie a week seemed to blow the foals minds. Plus she always went by Bon-bon’s confectionary for a small buffet of candy.

She switched to her pegasus shape on the walk to the cottage. Fluttershy lived on the very edge of town just outside the Everfree. How such a timid pony tolerated living so close to the supposedly monster infested forest remained a mystery to the girl. Her musings were interrupted by an alarmed cry from behind.

“Look out!”

Of course the shout came too late and she barely had time to register it before she was ploughed over by a scooter rushing by at break neck speeds. The little orange pegasus filly behind the attempted vehicular manslaughter screeched to a half. “Oh man, you ok Jenny?”

With a grunt she picked herself up off the ground. “I’m great. You need to be more careful with that thing Scootaloo. You could hurt somepony a little less sturdy than I am.”

“Yeah sorry! I’m just REALLY excited! Aren’t YOU?!” Her little wings were buzzing hard enough to actually lift her off the ground a bit. Jen had noticed lately the little filly was buzzing a few inches off the ground more and more.

“Oh! Are you going to learn to fly with me?”

The filly nodded fast enough Jen was afraid her head was going to pop free of her neck. “Yup! Rainbow Dash said it’d be cool with you! I-it uh is right?”

“Of course! I guess I better go full pony for this hm?” Ducking behind a tree Jen shed her clothes and tucked them into her bag, changing to her full pegasus shape and trotting back out, slinging it over her back. “So. Excited for tomorrow? I picked a good movie.”

Scootaloo was already fired up over the prospect of learning flight from her idol. Heaping what was fast becoming every foal in town’s favorite activity atop that only set her buzzing faster. “Of course! What’re we watching?!”

“Either Aladdin or the Lion King. Both are favorites of mine. Really there aren’t a lot of bad ones. Maybe Toy Story 2? You guys seemed to love the first one.”

“There’s ANOTHER one?!”

“Heh. A two and a three. I guess that settles that.”

Their teachers for the evening were chatting outside Fluttershy’s cottage as the fillies approached. “Hello girls. Who’s ready for an exciting evening of wing care and proper take off procedures?”

Both young ponies exchanged an ‘is she serious’ look at Fluttershy’s seemingly earnest question. Dash of course noticed it and grimaced a little. “Sorry girls but she’s right. Gotta start with the basics. If I had MY way we’d be in the sky already but uh…” She gulped and looked at a nearby tree were a certain pink mare was poorly concealed. “…uh safety comes first of course!”

Neither filly wanted to invoke the unpredictable wrath of Pinkie Pie so with muted ‘yays’ they split off with their individual instructors. Jennifer’s large majestic wings closely mirrored Fluttershy’s own, while Scootaloo had the short rapid flapping appendages common to Rainbow Dash’s class. While Dash would inevitably be more fun, a small part of Jen had to admit Fluttershy would likely be a better instructor.

Jen followed curiously as Fluttershy lead her back into the cottage. “Don’t we uh…gotta be outside for flight lessons?”

“Oh. Well yes. Normally. But first you need to learn a very basic activity pegasi engage in. I can see by the condition of your wings that you haven’t been taking proper care of them.” It seemed to dawn on the timid mare that this could be construed as an insult. “O-oh dear. I mean I’m sure you’re not doing it on PURPOSE of course b-but nopony told you how to properly preen!”

‘Wow she almost raised her voice to a normal level.’ “Nope. Haven’t heard of preening. That’s a bird thing right? How they fix up bent feathers and stuff?”

“It is! It’s also a very social activity for pegasi. Since we can’t reach the feathers at the base of our wings we have to help each other a little. Usually Rainbow Dash helps with mine, but I told her I wanted to wait so you could learn.” She spread her own wings wide. When Jen looked close she could in fact see some of the feathers looked a little crooked, a few a little bent. “We preen for a few reasons. To keep our feathers properly aligned for optimum flight. To remove bent, broken, or molted feathers that are being a little sticky. And to apply a fresh coat of saliva to our feathers.”

Jen wrinkled her nose. “Why does the last part matter?”

Fluttershy tucked her wings back in. “A pegasus’ saliva acts as a sort of…sealing agent. It helps waterproof our feathers and keep them nice and strong. Now we can do the traditional method which is to directly use our mouths to preen. This can be a little intimate, so if you’d be uncomfortable with that there are special combs and brushes we can use.”

“Mmm. I think the traditional approach. I mean I AM supposed to learn how to be a proper pegasus right? And I dunno…” Jen scuffed a hoof on the floor. “I mean it’s not like ROMANTIC intimate right?”

“N-no! Oh goodness no of course not. But somepony’s don’t like such close contact. Preening is normally done by family or very close friends.”

The verdant filly smiled a little. “After all the late night talks you have with me I think we fall into the last category don’t we?”
“Yes we certainly do. I just wanted to be sure you would be comfortable. I’ll demonstrate on myself, and then you’ll practice on some of the feathers you can easily reach. Once you’re ready we’ll move onto the ones we need one another for. Does that sound good?”

Nodding eagerly Jen settled on her haunches to watch. Fluttershy slowly extended her wing and sat close enough for the filly to clearly see her mouth as she lipped and nibbled at the bent feathers, slowly working them back into place at the end of her wing. “There now. Why don’t you try?”

Brow furrowed in concentration she extended one of her wings then bent it over her face a little awkwardly. It took a few tries to get it into proper position. “Sorry I haven’t really moved them like this.”

Her instructor shook her head smiling gently all the while. “This isn’t a race. We have all the time in the world. You take as long as you need.”

With a determined nod Jen refocused on her task. It was a little uncomfortable holding her wing like she was but she ignored the discomfort and went to work. Tentatively taking the nearest feather in her lips she gave an experimental nibble. “It tastes a little…waxy?”

“Mmhm. Your wings must have a coat of saliva included when you grew them. But it seems to be wearing off judging by the poor condition of your feathers. Go ahead and do a few more.”

Nodding again she set to work. A couple times she bit down a little too hard, or tugged a bit too much which hurt…a lot. But she was soon getting the hang of it. “I think I got it!”

“Oh very good! Let’s give it a try hm?” Fluttershy spread her right wing out wide. “Take your time, find the bent feathers and go ahead and get started.”

Jen had to scoot much closer, almost brushing up against Fluttershy as she moved in to examine the older pegasi’s wing. Now she understood the part about it being an intimate act, she was close enough to feel Fluttershy’s body heat. Tentatively she took the first bent feather she could find and worked to smooth it out.

“Oo! Sorry…Rainbow Dash says my wings are a little sensitive. Very gently please.” Frowning at having hurt the gentle mare Jen eased her approach a good deal; her movements slow and deliberate as she gently smoothed the feather back into position. “That’s much better, thank you Jennifer.”

Moving at the more sedate pace the filly kept up her work, her tail flicking now and again as she focused. With time and care however first one wing was finished, than the other. “All done!”

Fluttershy rose to her hooves and moved to a mirror against the wall examining her wings with a critical eye. “Very good Jennifer! Absolutely wonderful. Now let’s get you taken care of hm?”

Taking a deep breath Jen nodded and settled on her belly like Fluttershy had, spreading her wing as wide as she could. “You can relax just a little.” She did. “Tsk. I suppose this is partly my fault. I should have mentioned this earlier. You spend a lot of time with wings and it just never occurred the usual wear and tear would build up.”

Jen winced as she felt Fluttershy go to work. At first it was a very alien sensation, having someone TOUCH her wings at all wasn’t something she was used to, let alone nibbling and licking at them. Though as the more experienced pegasus went to work a comforting warmth spread from her feather appendages. It felt like the time her mother drug her to the spa for a day and she got a massage. It felt gooooood.

The mare stifled a giggle when she heard the filly she was tending to heave a tremendous sigh and visibly relax. She didn’t even seem to feel it when Fluttershy plucked an errant feather here and there. She was a good deal more experienced than Jennifer of course, so she was able to move from one wing to the other in half the time even with so many more feathers needing attention. Without a word the green coated filly closed one wing and spread the other.

All too soon in Jen’s opinion Fluttershy stood. “All done! How does that feel?”

With a goofy grin the young pony wobbly got to her hooves flexing her wings open and closed. “Amaaaaazing! It feels so much better! I hadn’t even realized anything was wrong!”

Fluttershy giggled softly. “Well once a week you need to have this done. Rainbow Dash and I get together Wednesday afternoons for our preening. You’re more than welcome to join in.”

“I will! Thanks!” Still grinning Jen folded her wings back against her sides. “What’s next?”

Smiling at the filly’s eagerness Fluttershy lead her back outside. “Next we’re going to climb that little hill there and let the wind blow over our wings. You need to get a feel for the subtle shifts against your feathers. It’s not quite the same as being up high but it’s a good place to start.”

Jen could see Rainbow and Scootaloo already in the air a little. The small orange filly was taking big running starts and leaping up, hovering for a few moments. That looked a lot more exciting than letting the breeze blow over her wings. Of course Scoot had been a pegasus her whole life so she probably had a good head start on a lot of this stuff. With a resigned sigh she trudged up the hill.

“We’ll take this nice and easy. Today I just want you to spread your wings and try to concentrate on the feel of the wind on your feathers alright?”

With a nod Jennifer did as she was instructed. “I didn’t realize there’d be so much to this.”

Fluttershy settled on the ground comfortably before the filly. “Well flying requires a little more effort on our part than on that of pegasi like Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo. They can make do by beating their wings faster. If we tried that we’d just fall.”

The young pony closed her eyes just trying to focus on the feel of her wings in the gentle breeze. It DID feel different on the large feathers at the edge than on the smaller ones of her inner wings. She listened patiently as Fluttershy explained thermals, air currents, and up and down drafts. After some silence she peeked an eye open to look at her instructor. “Can I ask you something?”

Nodding gently the mare smiled. “Of course. You can ask me anything.”

Jen looked down at the ground. Her wings were starting to get a little tired from being held open so long but she could last a bit longer. “Well. Is it uh, normal for two fillies to…mmm…date?”

“Oh. Oh! Oh my. Well that is um…are you sure I’m the best pony to ask about this?”

Jen shrugged a little. “Well I’m pretty sure Twilight wouldn’t be very helpful about romance. Same with Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash…and Applejack. I could ask Rarity but I uh, feel comfortable talking to you?”

The timid mare took a deep breath. “Alright. Well. I don’t know if normal is the right word. Oh that doesn’t sound right does it? It’s not uncommon of course; there are so many mares to stallions after all. Only the most traditional and stuck up of ponies really have a problem with it I think.” The poor pegasus was blushing furiously. “I’ve um, dated both.”

This was a bit of a shock to the filly. “Really?!”

Hesitantly Fluttershy continued. “Yes. To me personally the outside doesn’t matter as much as what’s on the inside. If a pony would show interest in me, and they were um…my type…I’d give them a chance. I don’t think love cares if your special somepony is a mare or a stallion, just that they’re right for you. D-does that help?”

Jennifer nodded looking contemplative. “I think so. That makes a lot of sense too.”

Feeling especially bold Fluttershy inched closer. “Is there a certain pony you have in mind?”

Now it was Jen’s turn to blush. “W-well um…remember my night pony friend? Echo?” At the mares nod she continued. “Well we’ve kinda sorta…been dating. A LITTLE. I’ve never had a boy or uh…girlfriend before so this is all really new to me.”

“Hm. Do you prefer fillies to colts?”

Jen’s blush intensified. “I dunno. I don’t think so? I mean…I never really looked at the girls back home in an uh, romantic way.” She frowned a little suddenly. “Of course I didn’t really show a lot of interest in the boys either. Except for Big Mac when he visited with Applejack that one time.”

Fluttershy giggled softly. “Well who WOULDN’T with Big Mac?”

Jen gasped at the scandalous remark and they both shared a laugh. “I guess that’s true. Maybe it’s like you said…the inside matters more than the outside? I mean there’s no way Echo thinks the human me is cute. I look pretty bizarre compared to all of you.”

When Fluttershy nodded in agreement Jen huffed a little. “Well I can’t disagree with that. You do look unusual. O-oh my. Not BAD of course! Just um, different.” She took a moment to regain her composure. “I think the best advice I can give you is to follow your heart. Do you care for Echo?”

“I do! I think she’s my best friend here in Equestria. …or Earth I suppose.” She laughed at that. “We have tons of fun together and she’s really smart and funny. I really like hanging out with her.”

“Hm. Can you see yourself doing romantic things with her though? Or do you just like being friends?”

Jen’s frown returned. “I dunno. We haven’t really done anything super romantic. We usually just walk around the city together or hang out at the art district. Like I said I’ve been taking it slowly. I guess maybe I should try a more…date-like setting?”

“If you’re serious about giving it a try I think it’s only fair to Echo that you sort out your feelings soon. It’s never fun to hurt a friends feelings, but it will be a lot worse if you don’t say anything to her down the road and she gets the wrong idea.”

“You’re right. When I go to Canterlot tomorrow I’ll…ask her on a proper date. I definitely have the extra bits at least.” She blinked suddenly. “Oh man! What time is it?”

With a soft eep Fluttershy took off for her cottage, Jennifer’s tone instilling a bit of panic into the easily startled mare. She returned swiftly. “T-ten to eight?”

“Gah! I’ve got to get going I’m supposed to be at Mr. Rich’s in ten minutes for a dinner!”

“Oh dear he lives clear across town.” With a gentle flap of her wings Fluttershy made her way to the other practicing pegasi. “Rainbow Dash? Jennifer needs to get to Filthy Rich’s house right away.”

Jen swallowed at the dangerous gleam that lit in the speedster’s eye. “RIGHT away?”

To her horror it only intensified at Fluttershy’s nod. “RIGHT away. She has a fancy dinner to get to and she’s almost late.”

A toothy grin split Rainbow’s muzzle and she ruffled Scootaloo’s mane. “I think we hit a good stopping point anyway squirt. Same time tomorrow alright?” She didn’t wait for the filly’s response. A flap of her powerful wings carried up into the air above the three pegasus ponies and Jen followed her ascent curiously.

“You might want to brace yourself Jennifer.”

Before she could get the ‘why’ that was forming on her lips out there was a sudden burst of sound overhead. Rainbow had halted her ascension and snapped into a dive streaking through the air and curving around toward Jen’s backside. Realization dawned on the poor filly and she stood stock still as Rainbow Dash snatched her under the forelegs as the pegasus rushed passed, lifting her into the air. A loud wail of fear and excitement filled the air above Ponyville as Jennifer was hauled at top speed by the top speedster in town.

***

Feather Duster painted her perfectly practiced smile on her face at the gentle knock that sounded from her employers’ front door. She’d been the Rich family’s maid for years and while the stallion of the house was a kind sort of fellow the mare and filly of the family demanded perfection from their servants. She’d been told to expect their dinner guest by eight o’clock, and she seemed to have the good manners to show up just on time.

The maid couldn’t hide a soft gasp as she opened the door to admit the filly. Her mane and tail were blown straight back as if she’d just walked here through a tornado. “G-good evening…Miss…Pie?”

Jen was still blinking the tears from her eyes. “O-oh…you must be Mrs. Rich! Sorry about my hair, I took the Rainbow Dash express.” She laughed nervously.

Well that explained the disheveled appearance. “No I’m Feather Duster, the Rich family’s maid. The family is just getting to the table now. Would you ah…like to freshen up?”

Carefully scuffing the dirt from her hooves on the welcome mat, to Feather Dusters dismay she shook her head. “Nah I don’t wanna be late. Sides it’s just my hair.” She made a token effort to smooth it down some.

“V-very well. Right this way Miss Pie.”

“Oh just Jen is fine.”

The interior of the mansion was just as fancy as the exterior. Lots of art hung from the walls. A big chandelier dangled from the ceiling. The doors were ornately carved dark wood. It looked like a miniature Canterlot castle really. Here and there a few ponies she assumed were other servants bustled about. Feather Duster delicately opened the door to the dining room. The table was a huge affair heaped with all sorts of delectable looking fruit, many of which Jen couldn’t identify.

“Miss Pie has arrived.”

To her surprise six ponies were seated at the table. Diamond Tiara in the center of the massive monstrosity and next to her was her friend and toady Silver Spoon. Jen didn’t dislike the spectacled filly as much as her friend. Generally once Diamond Tiara wound up in the timeout corner for the day Silver became a pretty bearable filly to be around.

A frowning pink mare that could only be Diamond’s mother sat beside whom Jen assumed to be Silver’s mom since they had almost identical coloration. At the head of the table sat a suddenly grinning Filthy Rich and at his side was another stallion with similar coloring to the Silver mares’ only reversed.

He boomed a deep laugh at Jen’s appearance. “Flight lessons going well then?”

She found herself relaxing. Despite the fancy setting the stallions’ good nature had a habit of putting anypony dealing with him at ease. “Flight lessons are going fine. My new style is courtesy of Rainbow Dash rushing me over. We lost track of time.”

Another laugh came at her answer. “Well introductions I think! You know Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon of course.” The former shot Jen a little scowl while the latter offered a little wave when her friend wasn’t looking. “My beautiful wife Diamond Shimmer and Silver’s mother Silver Polish.”

Both mares had a nearly identical look of ‘why is this filly in the dining room and not working in the kitchens’ that just about everypony that came to Luna’s night court while Jen was in attendance seemed to have. Both murmured equally un-genuine ‘It’s a pleasure’s.’

“Last but not least Sterling Silver! One of my best business partners.”

The other stallion in the room was eyeing Jennifer carefully, but his smile seemed genuine enough. “A pleasure to meet you Miss Pie. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Jen took the varying attitudes of the wealthy ponies in stride and wore her best smile. “A pleasure to meet you all as well. Thank you again for the invitation Mr. Rich.” To her surprise she was offered the seat immediately to Filthy Rich’s left and she slowly lowered herself into it. The fillies were closer to the middle of the table while the mares were at the opposite end. Jen didn’t much mind being away from them.

“Congratulations are in order I think? You’ve been formally announced as Princess Luna’s student. That’s no small feat.”
Jen blushed a little at the head of house’s unexpected announcement. Luna had made their relationship official at her last weekend trip. “Oh! Well thank you sir. It’s nothing special really. I’m just learning about politics and such from her.”

The Silver stallion raised an eyebrow. “From what I’ve been hearing you’ve been doing a little more than learning about how the court works. Word is the princess has you take something of an active role.”

This was true. Every now and then, usually twice a night or so the princess would urge Jennifer to share her opinion on the occasional petition. “Well mostly she just asks what I think. It’s not that big a deal.”

“She routinely follows your advice though doesn’t she?” This was also true. Of course she tended to side with the common pony over the nobles more often than not. Typically there was always a clever little loophole to help the worse off party while keeping to the letter of the law.

“Well I guess. Only when it’s the right decision though.”

Filthy sat back as the servants brought in the first course, a (to Jen’s mind) pleasantly simple celery soup. She could hear a few complaints about the common fare down the table but neither stallion nor filly seemed to mind. “You’ve been making more than a few controversial decisions. More than a few important ponies aren’t big fans of yours.”

Jen eyed the soup like an old enemy rearing its head. More specifically the soup SPOON she was expected to use with her hooves, a skill she still had not picked up. After a few unsuccessful attempts, much to her hosts’ amusem*nt she resorted to sipping from the bowl. “I guess. I suppose I don’t really care what they think? I have my friends and the princess likes me so what do their opinions of me matter?”

She heard both a gasp of astonishment from the mares at the end of the table at her uncouth eating habits, and a little giggle from the Silver filly. “That’s a fine attitude to have young lady. More than a few of the Canterlot snobs are none too pleased at a pair of earth pony families finding as much success as ours have.”

Sterling nodded in agreement to that. “Unfortunately true. Many of the old blood unicorn families look down on earth pony business ventures. It can be a chore getting anything done from time to time.”

This wasn’t exactly news to Jen, but she’d never heard it voiced so clearly. Typically the grievances in court were a unicorn on the noble end and an earth or pegasus pony on the common. “I’ve sorta noticed that in court.”

The small talk continued throughout the meal. The mares seemed happy to pretend Jen wasn’t there and that suited her just fine. Mr. Rich and Silver were both nice enough guys even if the economic talks that began toward the middle of the meal lost her interest. Dessert came and went and everypony rose from the table. “Well let’s make our way to the study hm? Get the business out of the way.”

Jennifer was pretty curious about the whole reason for her being here, so with a half-hearted ‘thanks for dinner’ thrown out to the mares in general she followed the stallions to Filthy’s study. It was shockingly similar to her father’s back home really. He poured a trio of drinks into small glasses handing one to each of the ponies in the room. After an experimental sniff Jen happily identified it as apple family cider and sipped a little.

“Well let’s get right down to it hm?” She nodded and had a seat across from the stallions. “Your little business has been doing quite well for itself Jennifer. You did one of the absolute best things a pony can do in the business world. Find a need that wasn’t being filled, and fill it. Best of all it’s a very basic need that can be done by most anypony and for very little personal cost.”

It was Sterling’s turn to speak now. “Filthy and I didn’t get to where we are now by ignoring an opportunity when we see one. Your daycare idea has potential to grow into a very profitable enterprise. We’d like your permission to open branches of the Stay and Play Daycare in Manehattan and Minneighsota.”

Filthy took over. “Sterling and I would front the cost for opening and running the new businesses until the profit starts coming in. It’d be a bit of an investment for the both of us since opening a new business in some of the bigger cities requires quite a few bits. Permits, buying the building, business licenses all sorts of legal red tape. Still seeing the success you’ve had in our little town it only makes sense that taking this to the big cities would be equally if not more profitable.”

This was all a bit of a surprise to Jennifer. She didn’t know what to expect when she was asked to come here but it sure wasn’t opening franchises of her daycare in other cities. “Uh…well whaddo you need me for? Can’t you just…do it?”

“Very true. We could just open our own out in the city and change the name around. But that’s not how we like to do business. When a pony comes up with an idea it’s in our shared opinion that the pony in question deserves the recognition earned. We think a fair split of the profit is 75/25. As said before this will be a considerable investment for Silver and I, and while it is your idea we’re the ones who stand to lose out if it doesn’t take off out in the bigger cities. Now assuming that it does take hold like we expect it to, you’d be able to buy your way into an equal partnership once things stabilize and you have a few more bits to your name.”

The young filly sat back on her haunches a bit firmer. This was all coming as a big surprise. She definitely didn’t start the daycare with intent of making money. Sure it was a happy by product of the business but she mostly did it to give herself something to do and to help out around town in her own way. “Uh…well sure. I mean twenty five percent is more than the zero I’m getting now right?” She laughed a little.

“Ha! Quite right. I have the paperwork drafted here. It just talks about what we just talked about, the locations and agreed upon split of the profits. The buy in clause is there too of course. If at any time you raise the bits to pay for a third of the cost to open the new franchises you’ll receive an equal third of the individual franchises profits, including owed back pay.”
Having not quite mastered the art of writing with her mouth Jen had to revert to humanoid shape to add her signature to the stallions’ own. Both seemed a bit surprised at her sudden transformation having never witnessed her changes in person. Documents signed she dropped back to four hooves soon enough. “Anything else?”

“Heh. No Miss Pie I think this covers it. Unless you have another huge money making idea in that head of yours.”

About to laugh off the comment she paused and both stallions leaned forward at the sudden look in her eye. “How much have you guys heard about the movie day we have on Fridays?”

***

In addition to nearly every foal in town, more than a few grown ponies (including Pinkie Pie of course), there were a pair of wealthy stallions in attendance as Twilight enlarged Jennifer’s iPod in preparation for movie day. The candy table was of course nearly empty as Jen made her way to her giant sized entertainment device. “Hello everypony and welcome to movie day!”

There was the usual cheer that accompanied this. It was fair to say every foal in town (and Pinkie Pie) looked forward to Friday afternoons as the highlight of their week. “By popular demand we’ll be showing Toy Story 2.” Excited exclamations of ‘there’s a two?!’ rose from the crowd. With a laugh Jen cycled through the title list and got the show started, taking a seat in the back next to the visiting stallions.

Not twenty minutes into the film they rose and beckoned her to follow them outside. “Please tell me that those names you were flipping through on that big screen of yours are each a different movie?”

Jen grinned at the excitement in Filth Rich’s voice. “Yes sir. I know Equestria already has movie theatres but the movies you guys show are kinda….”

“Awful?” Sterling supplied.

“Well I wasn’t gonna say AWFUL…just not as high quality? I mean we’ve been doing movies for like sixty years or something on Earth? Probly longer I guess. I’m not big on history over there.”

“Can you get the movie out of that thing and onto a proper film reel?”

Jen shrugged. “Twilight thinks she can use a Copy and Paste spell she calls it. It works for books and pictures and stuff, and a movie is just a bunch of rapidly moving pictures.” Probably an overly simplified explanation but it did the job.

“Young lady if you can get the films out of that and onto the reels we can get them into the theatres.”

With a little nod Jen frowned. “There're all sorts of genres. Comedy, horror, romance, action. Before I leave for Canterlot this evening how about I teach you two how to play the films? You can spend some time going through what I got and see what you think would work best?”

“Sounds like a fine idea to me. Now…let’s get back in there. I want to see the rest.” Jen laughed at the adult ponies’ excitement for the children’s movie, but she wasn’t too surprised. Plenty of adults back home loved them and humans weren’t nearly as whimsical at the ponies.

Once the film had ended and the crowd was on their way home, Jen left Dinky to start the clean-up while she instructed Mr’s Rich and Silver on how to operate her iPod. “Twilight said it could stay big, she’ll pop in periodically and refresh the spell. Just remember what I said about the ratings. If there’s an R on there it’s likely to have some graphic violence or harsh language.”

“Consider us warned Miss Pie.” Filthy gently tapped through the titles, grinning when he found Toy Story 3. “I believe we should get started on our research right away don’t you Sterling?”

With a laugh Jen helped Dinky clean up and slung her bag across her back. She was starting to get used to the idea of picking up so much with her mouth, but now and again she’d hesitate at the odd sticky wrapper or cup. “How come you weren’t human today?”

Jennifer shrugged as she led the filly outside. “I’m in pony training! Luna wants me to learn about each tribe and how to live like them so I’m gonna be spending all day as each for a couple weeks probly. I’ll only change when I need to.”

“That makes sense.” Dinky kicked a rock gently as they walked. She always got a little moody on the trip to the train station.

“Got any big weekend plans?”

“Not really. Probly just do my homework. Twilight Sparkle’s gonna start tutoring me in my magic tomorrow though so that might be fun!”

Jen resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Generally studying with Twilight was the opposite of what she considered fun. Of course Dinky was a lot more academically minded than she was. “You know I bet you will have fun.”

“What about you? Are YOU doing anything fun this weekend?”

Other than intending to ask another filly on a proper dinner date which could turn out to be a huge disaster? “No just the usual. Night court and sword play. I ALMOST got her once last week.”

“Ooo! Was she mad?”

Jen laughed. “No she wasn’t mad. Proud I think. She wants me to get better after all. That’s why teachers teach I guess.” Flashing her ‘royal passage’ pass to the pony working the ticket booth today she took a seat with the crowd awaiting the train. “I’ll see you Monday right? You keep out of trouble.”

Dinky puffed her cheeks a bit huffily. “I never get in trouble!”

With another laugh Jen rose as the train began to approach. “I know Dinky. I’ll see you later alright?” Ruffling the filly’s mane she boarded the train, waving as it departed as she did every week.

Frowning at the mirror in the washroom of her private car she stared at herself. “So Echo! Dinner tonight? My treat? …no that’s lame. Echo would you like to go out with me? …also lame. Hey Echo, how about you show me your favorite restaurant!” With a groan she flopped onto her bed.

“…ugh.” This was gonna be harder than she thought.

Chapter 14: Romance and History

The train rolled in with its usual piercing screech, jarring Jen from her sleep. With a stretch she rolled off the bunk landing with a ‘thunk’ on her hooves. It took a moment to work the compartment handle open with a hoof (she still wasn’t too keen on putting her mouth all over everything), grabbed her bag and slung it across her back. Thusly equipped she joined the throng of ponies departing the train.

She drew her share of looks in Canterlot still, but for more than one reason. She was known as Jubilant Surprise among the ponies of the capital city, Princess Luna’s student and often times weekend advisor to the night court. Most of the elite ponies were not big fans of hers, whereas the more common laborer ponyfolk made it a point to angle for their court dates to fall on a weekend day. She still bore a painfully blank flank, something extremely unusual in a pony her age. And she seemed to have a habit of shifting from tribe to tribe, including the much misunderstood night pony clan.

Of course there was one member of the Canterlot elite who was always glad to see her, and the feeling was very much mutual. A wide smile split her muzzle as she spotted Fancy waiting on the platform for her. “What’re you doing here? You don’t have some giant charity whatever to be hosting?”

Her friend’s rich laugh drew a few curious looks from some of the other ponies on the platform. “And a pleasure to see you this evening Jennifer. Why yes I AM well and yourself?”

She grinned at his ribbing and the pair stepped off the platform onto the streets. “It’s nice to see you of course, just a surprise. You’ve never been at the platform waiting for me before.”

He gave a little nod. “True enough. I wished to catch you before you got engrossed with your duties to the princess. You may recall the little soiree I had to cancel to attend your festival?”

“Uhh…yeah! I do actually.”

“Well it’s been rescheduled for tomorrow evening. I’d be delighted if you could find the time to attend.”

Generally she went out of her way to expose herself to most of the Canterlot elite, but she’d wanted to see her friend’s place in the city for a while now. “Uh…I can probly get away for a few hours. Luna’s usually busy when she first wakes up anyway. We don’t tend to get down to business til like midnight or so.”

“Wonderful! And feel free to bring a friend as well. Perhaps a certain filly you seem to be in the company of most of the time you’re in our fair city hmm?” He eyed her with a playful smile.

Jen for her part blushed furiously, the exact reaction he was angling for. “Actually that’s a good idea. I was uh, trying to think of someplace nice to take her this weekend.”

The older stallion sighed dramatically. “Ah to be young and in love again.”

This caused a bout of incredulous sputtering from the filly at his side, but he was laughing again to show he was joking. “H-hmph. You’re hilarious. Speaking of being in love, is RARITY going to be there?”

It was the debonair stallion’s turn to blush now, though it was far less noticeable than Jennifer’s. “She is as a matter of fact. As my guest.”

“Juuuuust a guest?”

He was quiet for a few minutes as they walked, drawing a curious look from his companion. “How well do you know Miss Rarity, Jennifer?”

“Mmm. Dunno. Not as good as like, her close friends like Fluttershy and Twilight but I’ve spent some time with her I guess. Why?”

“I find myself at a bit of a loss in regards to how to approach ah…courting her. At first glance she seems like any other mare one could find in Canterlot, but she’s not from Canterlot. She was born and raised in Ponyville. She has much deeper layers to her character than many of the flighty and irreverent ladies one can find amongst my peers.”

Jen’s tail twitched a bit, a sure sign she was thinking deeper than she tended to on a subject. “Well. You don’t have to do anything to impress her, she goes on and on and ON about the time she first met you. The Wonderbolts derby, which I’ve never been invited to…” This drew a smile from the stallion, and a mental note in his head to get her tickets. “The yacht parties and stuff. She loved those things but she also loves picnics with her friends. And her pet play-day with that awful cat of hers when they all bring their pets to the park. She does her best to not show that side of herself but there’s a bit of country girl in her.”

“I suppose it makes sense given she’s lived her entire life in a rural town like Ponyville.”

The filly nodded. “Yeah. And she’s a lot tougher than she looks. The stuff with Nightmare Moon and those diamond dog guys and everything. I guess she is a lot deeper than she seems at first. But you gotta remember she’s the element of generosity right? I mean all my clothes here came from her and she refused payment for any of it. But y’know you’re a really nice guy too. You got us those cool frames for that silly picture I made, and somepony anonymously donated a pretty big chunk of change to Ponyville to aid toward the festival. I have NO idea who that coulda been.”

Fancy Pants chuckled softly. “That transparent am I?”

“Eh besides Mr. Rich there was only one rich dude who knew about the festival. And Mr. Rich wasn’t subtle about the bits he was throwing around to make sure it would be a big affair.”

“Yes he’s a good fellow isn’t he?”

Another nod from the filly. “Yeah. I actually went into business with him and Mr. Silver. They wanna open Stay and Play’s in Manehattan and Fillydelphia. Just signed all the paperwork the other day.”

“Is that so? Well maybe you’ll be hosting a high class dinner party of your own soon hm?” He chuckled good naturedly and she laughed along with him.

“I doubt a few daycares are gonna make me rich. But it’s nice to think about huh? …though I guess you DON’T have to think about it since you know what it’s like.”

“Quite right. Though at times I consider giving it all up you know? My fortune is all inherited from…I don’t know my many greats grandfather. I see ponies like Miss Applejack and Miss Rarity. Ponies like YOU Jennifer, making your own way in the world and often I wonder what that must be like. How satisfying might it be to truly work for ones oats? To create something your own hooves.”

“So why don’t you?”

He was quite for a time as he mulled over his answer. “Fear of the unknown I suppose? I can host an excellent get together. I’ve a way of diffusing tense situations with a few choice words. I’m not especially skilled in magic. I was quite the fencer in my day though! I entertained joining the guard once or twice but…what’s the point when you think about it? If there’s a threat the princesses can’t handle I doubt a regular pony like myself would do much good.”

That was a good point, and something Jen herself had been pondering for a while. “I think this actually falls into the category of ‘problems over my head’.” She gave him a bit of a self-depreciating grin.

Fancy merely scoffed. “You underestimate yourself Jennifer. Perhaps you don’t have a world view tempered by a few extra years but you’ve a good head on your shoulders. And sometimes it helps to simply talk about one’s problems with a friend hm?” Jen’s pace had been slowing more and more until they were practically shuffling along. “I don’t suppose something’s bothering YOU hm?”

She huffed. “It’s Echo. I like her, a lot. But I dunno if I LIKE like her y’know?”

“Aha. I suppose it’s a bit trickier with your prior friendship. You worry that if you don’t feel the same way about her that she does you, she won’t wish to remain friends?”

Jen kicked a stone across the sidewalk, wings flexing in agitation. “Yeah. Where I come from, my world that is…it’s kinda frowned upon. Two uh, fillies being intimate.”

Her friend quirked a brow at that. “Is it? How very odd. Why on earth would anypony care about such a thing?”

“I think religion mostly? I dunno I never really cared enough about the topic to really look into it. Back home I was always a bit of a loner. Once Pinkie left I got even more withdrawn. I never really thought about dating ANYone, let alone if I preferred guys or girls.”

“So perhaps some of your hesitation is based on a sense of…taboo…from your old world?”

“Yeah. That’s it exactly. I talked to Fluttershy about this and she said she thinks what’s on the inside is a lot more important than out. If I could see myself spending my life with the other person than colt, filly, unicorn, pegasus…pony or griffon. Whatever. None of that mattered. All that matters is love.” She laughed. “Kinda corny.”

“Perhaps. But Fluttershy sounds like a very intelligent young mare. All I can add is that you most assuredly would face no prejudice here about dating another filly. In fact I think the only curious looks you’d get are choosing a night pony as your mmm…companion.” He was about to say ‘mate’ but Jen seemed skittish as it was.

She smiled a little now. “Thanks Fancy.” Even at the snail’s pace they had eventually reached the castle. “I should go drop my bag off and stuff. Um…do I need to dress up for the party?”

“You don’t have to. You certainly won’t be stopped at the door; though it’s traditional for a high society party for the guests to come dressed in their best.”

“Alright. I’ll see if Luna has something for me to wear. I should probly be like, dressing nice when I sit with her in court anyway? I’ll have to talk to Rarity when I get home Sunday.” Exchanging goodbyes the pair split, Jen making her way into the palace. The night guard was in the process of taking their posts and each had a friendly word to say to the visiting filly. She’d been making it a habit to wander the palace and learn as many of their names as she could.

Politely refusing several offers to carry her bags she just made her way to her usual room. It was always waiting for her; Luna kept it free all week long in case she made a surprise weekday visit. Of course with her job and various lessons back home that hadn’t happened just yet. Casually tossing her bag on the bed she checked the time. Luna would probably be getting breakfast about now.

Trotting down to the dining room sure enough the princess was seated at the table, eyeing the huge stack of waffles with quiet dismay. “They will not stop serving me these every evening, no matter how I protest. Apparently I very emphatically declared my love for them your first visit here.”

Jen just stuck her tongue out and took a seat next to the princess. “Serves you right for tricking me like that. I almost had a heart attack.” Awkwardly scooping a small stack of the waffles onto a plate of her own she took the syrup pitcher in her mouth, leaving a small trail along the table as she brought tit over and poured the bulk of its contents on the plate, flooding it with the sticky substance.

Luna watched the entire display with a raised brow, her fork levitated halfway toward her mouth which was hanging open a bit. “…are you well Jennifer?”

Eyeing her old foe, the fork she looked from it to her hoof then sighed. “M’fine. I’m officially in pegasus tribe training! So…no changing unless it’s an emergency.” Her wings flared a little as if to punctuate her statement and she gave up trying to grip the fork with her hoof, settling instead to just eat off the plate with her face. Much to the attending servants’ dismay.

The princess had to work very hard to keep from laughing at the young pony’s clumsy eating method. “Perhaps you should ask your more adept pony friends how to use your hooves properly soon?” She had resumed eating in her far more refined manner.

Swallowing a huge mouthful and doing her best to lick the syrup from the fur around her muzzle Jen shrugged. “Yeah probly a good idea.”

Eyeing her student’s wings she smiled gently. “I see you have learned to care for your wings.”

Nodding eagerly now she grinned. “Yeah! Me and Fluttershy did a preening. It was pretty awesome.” Slurping down most of a glass of orange juice (the rest spilling as she lifted the cup with just her mouth), she looked at Luna thoughtfully. “Who does yours?”

“My wings?” Luna spread her own, far more impressive appendages wide. “Typically I tend to them myself. When our schedules allow Celestia and I would preen one another. I am told she would do it with Cadence as well when I was away. Magic makes it a little easier to reach the feathers my teeth can’t.” She shot the filly a wink.

Jen giggled. “Makes sense.” Tongue sticking out in concentration she slowly placed her hooves on either side of a donut, gently lifting the pastry to her mouth. “Have you ever heard of the Order of Harmony?”

“Of course. Though I have not heard anypony mention it in…my…it must have been centuries since they were disbanded.”

“Why’d they break up?”

The princess gave a very dismissive shrug. A bit too dismissive in Jen’s opinion. “It was so long ago I surely cannot remember. Why the interest in a long dead order of knights?”

In response Jennifer just lifted the leg bearing Mercy and rested it on the table.

“Ah of course. Your bond with your weapon has been growing steadily has it not? How many runes can you call upon?”

Jen’s wings ruffled proudly now. “The first four. I can’t cut good guys, I can shield myself, I can shield other people, and I can summon Heart at will. Though the last one really takes it outta me. Just two left and I’ll have learned em all. Heart says that there used to be a way to add a new rune but it was lost or something. I was wondering if you had any books on the order I could look at.”

A long pause before Luna eventually answered. “I do. I will let the guard know you are to be given access to the Starswhirl wing in the royal library. That is where all books on the Order of Harmony are stored.”

Jen tilted her head. “As in Starswhirl the bearded? The old unicorn dude Twilight is crazy about?”

With a little chuckle Luna rose from her cushion. “The very same. He was a founding member of the order.”

Now Jen’s interest was piqued. “Really? What was he like?”

Another laugh now. “A true rapscallion. Any moment he did not have his nose buried in some book or another he was trying to woo another filly to his chambers. He was quite the charmer from what I have heard. Of course he was an amazing sorcerer. Go to the library and fetch a book. You can study on the order while we hear the petitioners tonight hm?”
Nodding eagerly Jen was off. She hadn’t actually been in the library much but she knew where it was. The guard stopped her at the gated Starswhirl wing however. “Sorry Jubilant butcha know this is off limits.”

She grinned though. Some used her human name, some her pony. More often than not in Canterlot it was her pony name. “Princess Luna gave me permission. You can check with her if you like.”

He nodded to his fellow guard who flapped off toward the throne room. “Sorry I believe you but rules y’know?”

Planting her rump on the floor she shrugged. “No biggie. I wouldn’t want you guys getting in trouble cause I wanna read an old book.”

“Whatcha lookin’ for in there anyway? No offense but Starswhirl's magic is a bit above most filly’s pay grade, even students of the princess.”

“A book on an old order of knights. My sword was made for one of them, and I guess Starswhirl was one of the founding ponies of the order. Luna says there’re a few books about it in here.”

The guard, Jen recognized him as Sky Shredder winced at her informal use of Luna’s name. “I gotcha. And uh…Lady Luna…please.”

She just gave him a ‘really?’ look but shrugged as he shuffled uncomfortably. “D’you know where Echo is? She usually meets me at the station.”

“Cadet Echo? She’s on leave. Half shifts cause of the wing? It takes a long time for our wings to heal if something happens to them. She’ll be good as new in a few more weeks. Word is her mom’s keeping her on a tight leash.”

It then occurred to the girl that she had NO idea where Echo lived. “Does she live nearby? I’d like to visit.”

He shifted again. “Well…I mean she DOES. Lady Luna had us settle in the crystal caverns below the city once they were rediscovered. There’s an entrance in the castle gardens our lady uses when she visits. You’d need an escort though; it can be confusing for newcomers down there.”

With a smirk she hmm’d. “Well you don’t look too busy. Or does it really take two of you guys to guard a wing in the library? Get a lot of burglars in here?”

“Just one in the six years I’ve been assigned to this post. Ask Lady Luna if it’s alright and I’ll be happy to show you around.”
His partner returned soon and Jennifer was admitted into the sealed library wing, Sky Shredder at her side. “You have to be very careful in here. Some of these books are older than the princesses themselves.”

Jen carefully stepped away from a shelf she was about to examine. “So where d’you think a book on an ancient order of knights would be?”

The guard shrugged. “Eh…history? We’re not exactly magic users so don’t have a lot of call to come in here.” He led his charge around the room to a shelf clearly labeled History, and both went to work. “What exactly are we looking for?”

“Anything on the Order of Harmony.”

“Huh. Neat name.” They searched in silence for a little while. The shelf stretched on for some ways. Sky Shredder examining the upper shelves while Jen took the lower.

Almost the very last shelf (of course), Jen shouted in excitement. “I found them!” The night pony landed beside her and his wail of alarm when she moved to grip one of the books with her mouth nearly gave her a heart attack. Blushing furiously she returned to her mostly human form and delicately took a pair of the old tomes. One simply labeled “The Founding of the Order” And the other, a much smaller book called “The Arms of Harmony”.

“Sorry about uh…shrieking in your ear Jubilant. Just y’know…ancient books…not for handling with the mouth. We usually only get unicorns in here.”

With an apologetic smile she held them close to her chest while her wings folded over her front half to preserve some modesty. “No it’s my fault, I wasn’t thinking. Let’s get these back to my room then we can go see Echo.”

She practically sprinted the path from the library back to her room. Her escort stopped off in the throne room for the needed permissions to leave his post for a time. By the time Jen returned, back in pegasus form he was waiting for her at the doors. “Lady Luna has approved the request; let’s get down to the caverns huh?”

Jen was prancing at his side excitedly. “I’ve always wanted to see where you guys lived. I pictured like…you all sleeping upside down in a bell tower somewhere.”

This brought a curious look from the night stallion. “No…we live in regular homes. Well I guess not so regular since they’re carved out of crystal but still. Guess that’s normal up at the empire though huh?” He laughed a little.

“Yeah I’ve heard a little about it. Supposed to be really beautiful. I’m gonna try and get up there soon t’check it out.”

Another pair of night guards was posted in front of a large pair of doors set into the ground in the garden. At a word from Sky Shredder they pulled them open revealing a staircase sloping down. “Huh, guess you need light or something.”

With a little sigh Jen tapped her night charm, her coat and mane darkening, eyes altering and wings shedding their feathers in favor of the bat shape of a night pony. She’d already broken her ‘no changing’ rule once today, twice wasn’t gonna kill her. “Nope!”

“Huh. Didn’t know you could do that too. Well let’s get going then.” They began their descent. It was pretty dark but not pure darkness like Jen expected. Little shafts of light would poke through the ceiling above here and there providing enough illumination to her darkness sensitive eyes that she could see almost as clearly as if she’d been up in the bright moonlight.

As they made their way off the staircase and into the proper caverns, Jennifer thought it was a reflection of any normal pony town. Cheerful little homes were carved right from massive stalactites and stalagmites. Whether their homes came from the ground or ceiling didn’t seem to deter the bat winged ponies darting here and there. Some market stalls were set up with ponies selling fruit or crafts. Jen heard the whispers begin once the residents began to notice her. Odd coloring aside the shield she always wore everywhere made her easy to identify as Luna’s student. The night pony tribe held Luna in an almost deific level of reverence, and a little of that awe transferred to the filly their lady had chosen as her personal protégé.
“So whaddo you guys call your town?”

The stallion shrugged while leading her through the smoothed down crystal lanes of the underground town. “We don’t really have a name for it. We just call it the Crystal Caverns. It’s not so much a town as another district of Canterlot really.”

“That makes sense I guess.” They stopped before one of the large stalactites descending from the ceiling. Craning her neck upward Jen could make out a door and little windows carved into the surface of the crystal. “Er…think I could get a boost? I dunno how to fly yet.”

Sky Shredder tilted his head. “It’s not like pegasus flying, just beat your wings and up you go.”

The young night pony spread her wings and gave them a couple experimental flaps. “Faster, y’gotta beat em fast or you’re not gonna get any lift.”

Jaw set firmly Jennifer began to flap harder. She gasped a little as her hooves rose off the ground just a little. “Keep going, you’re doin it!” The burn of a heavily exercised muscle was starting to form in her wings but she pushed through the pain, eyes focused on the open doorway of Echo’s home. It was so close! She stretched her forehooves out and used them to heave herself onto the little ledge before the doorway, letting her wings fall limply at her sides.

“Pretty good. Though we usually get ourselves a running jump to get going. Makes it a lot easier.” He was grinning as he gave her the tip after its usefulness had passed.

Rolling her eyes Jen raised a hoof and knocked on the outer wall where a door would be. A night pony mare soon appeared regarding her with a frown. “Why in the world are you banging on my wall?”

Jen stepped back hastily almost slipping over the ledge before remembering where she was. “Ack! S-sorry ma’am I’m uh, Echo’s friend? Is she home?”

Now the older pony took a moment to really look Jen over, eyes widening as she took in the green coat and unique shield on her foreleg. “O-oh of course. Please come in I’m so sorry for my rudeness.”

With a look to Sky Shredder she followed the mare inside. “No I didn’t know the rules for um…knocking? I’m use to there being doors on the doorways of houses usually.” She laughed nervously.

“Hm? Oh yes I see. We don’t have to worry about the temperature in the caverns and usually the only reason one of us would go to another’s home is if we needed something specific or were invited. No real reason for doors here.”

“Huh. That’s actually kinda nice really. Echo wasn’t at the train station to meet me so I was a little worried.”

“She’s been trying to fly a lot the last few days and it’s putting extra strain on her recovering wing. If she doesn’t stop she might even unset the bone again and have to start all over. I’m Shimmer Gloom, Echo’s mother by the way.”

“Ooo that’s a pretty awesome name. I’m Jen. Or Jubilant I guess. Whichever you prefer.” Jen could see the resemblance. They had the same dark gray coat and purple mane, but Shimmer Gloom’s had a more lustrous quality to the color. Appropriately enough almost like it shimmered in the dim light of the caverns.

“I know who you are of course. Everypony down here does. I’m honored Lady Luna’s protégé is a personal friend of my daughter.” She gave Jen a little smile. “I get to brag about it when the other mother’s go on about how great their foals are.”
Most of the rooms in the home had dark curtains drawn over the entrances for privacy. Shimmer Gloom lead Jennifer up a short flight of steps carved from the crystal they made their home in, stopping at one such doorway, the curtain drawn. “Echo? You have a visitor.”

“What? Who’s visiting ME?” The filly drew the curtain aside then yelped when she spied her visitor. “Jen! What’re you doing here?”

Jen caught the excited cadet as she threw her legs around her neck in an embrace, returning it with a firm squeeze. “You weren’t at the station. I wanted to see how you were doing.” Echo gently rubbed her cheek against Jennifer’s bringing a blush to the green filly’s face.

With a gentle shake of her head Echo’s mother left the pair alone. Jen looked around Echo’s room curiously. It was a lot like she’d expect of any teenager’s room back on earth. Posters up on the walls, mostly the Wonderbolts and a singer Jen recognized as Sapphire Shores. Bits of clothing were tossed haphazardly here and there, and Echo’s training armor was piled up in a corner by the doorway. Her bed was carved of solid crystal but within was a weird mushy mattress. Gingerly she pressed a hoof down and it dented inward, before slowly filling back up. “What the heck is this? A water bed?”

Echo laughed and hopped up. “We sleep on compressed shadow. Kinda like how pegasi sleep on clouds I guess? Some night pony’s can manipulate the stuff same as they do the clouds.”

“Neat.” Gingerly Jennifer climbed up settling her weight on it. It felt kinda like her dad’s memory foam bed. Super comfy though.

Echo’s wing was still sported bandages over the sight of the break but it was looking much better. “So you just came to check on me, or didja want a little alone time in my bedroom?” The cadet’s grin faded at the uneasy expression suddenly forming on Jen’s face. “H-hey I was just kidding! I know you wanna y’know…go slow.”

Twiddling her hooves Jen sighed. “Echo why d’you like…like me? I mean you know this isn’t what I really am, I can’t be really pretty to you when I’m in my real shape. I know why we’re friends. We have fun together and stuff but…why do you LIKE me?”

The young cadet frowned a little, twitching an ear toward the doorway. “Well. I guess the same reasons I like you as a friend are why I like you as my um…fillyfriend. You’re smart and funny. A-and really brave! Chasing down Discord and fighting that crazy Umbra mare. And you really care about other ponies, I can tell. You even care about us. Not many ponies do y’know? They think we’re creepy and should just be guards. They don’t like us walking around the regular city streets. But when I’m with you…I just don’t care about the looks and the whispers. You make me feel normal.” Tentatively Echo rested a forehoof over one of Jen’s. “And I think you’re beautiful. Even in your freaky naked alien body. Your mane is the same, and your eyes are the same. Your eyes never change; even now they’re the same eyes I could spend all day staring into.”

By the end Jennifer’s blush had returned full force, and she found herself inching her muzzle closer to Echo’s. The cadet needed no further prodding, pressing her lips to the other filly’s in their first mutual kiss. It was perhaps a bit on the wet side, with both fillies’ forgetting to breathe through their noses but such was the way of youthful first kisses. When they broke apart both had to take a moment to catch their breaths.

“S-sorry I’ve been so…weird. This is super new for me, I’ve never had a uh, special somepony before. And back home filly’s dating fillies is frowned on. But if you don’t mind being patient with me I’d…I’d really like to be your fillyfriend Echo.”

The cadet gave the green night pony an affectionate nuzzle against the neck. “And here I thought you already were.”

This brought a nervous laugh from Jen whose wings twitched open gently. “I guess I already was.” The two sat in silence for a time, just enjoying one another’s presence. “Ack! Sky Shredder!”

Echo wrinkled her nose in confusion. “The library guard?”

Jen nodded. “Y-yeah, he was my escort down here. He’s probly still waiting for me outside.” She clambered off the bed stumbling a bit on the floor. “I gotta get going. Oh! Tomorrow we’re going to a party at Fancy Pants’ so wear something nice!”

The filly almost bowled Shimmer Gloom over as she dashed from Echo’s room, giving a little squeak. “S-sorry ma’am…”

Echo’s wings flared. Well one of them did, the other twitched. “MoooOOOooom! Were you listening in?!”

Her mother gave a disinterested shrug. “Of course not, I was just on my way up to my own room.” She fixed Jen with a little smile. “I’ll make sure she has something appropriate to wear tomorrow night Jubilant.”

“Oh! Um…good. Thank you ma’am. I should get going. I’m sure Luna’s wondering where I am too! I’ll see you tomorrow Echo! Feel better!” The excitable filly rushed from the house meeting up with her very bored looking escort. The two of them soon on their way back to the castle proper.

***

It was a time of great turmoil for our people. The three pony tribes depended on one another for survival of course, but they would bicker and fight constantly over every minute matter they could. The pegasi held complete dominion over the weather, the unicorns controlled the moon and sun, and the earth ponies our source of food. If I live a thousand years I will never understand why the pegasi and unicorn tribes insisted on treating the earth tribe so poorly.

Though I suppose it has to do with the knowledge that they have nowhere else to go. The griffons were to the north, the dogs to the south, dragons east and apes west. In all directions we had enemies. Not just enemies but predators, creatures who would prefer to eat a pony rather than simply end his life. A terrifying prospect to the nearly powerless earth ponies. While they may possess great physical strength, it is little use against the talons of a griffon, the mighty fire of a dragon, jaws of the dogs and weapons of the apes.

Our survival stemmed from the pegasi and unicorns wielding their might to keep the many enemies of our kind at bay. Even a mighty dragon would fear the tornadoes whipped up by the pegasi. The griffons were all but at their mercy in aerial combat. They had no need to actually engage in hoof-to-claw battles when they could simply cast lightning and hail at their foes. Our ground bound foes were equally helpless against the unicorns’ magic. What use were a dogs powerful jaws or an ape’s sharp spear when they could not get near the target?

That is not to say we never suffered any losses. Pegasus wings grow weary and a unicorns mana reserves could run dry. It took many years but with a shocking inevitability earth pony villagers were consumed and lost to our enemies. Even with the feeling of superiority the mightier tribes held in regards to the earth tribe, they knew if every earth pony was gone they would soon follow by way of starvation. And so my king and the pegasus commander came together to work out a more permanent solution to our problems.

I was a humble apprentice at the time serving alongside my dearest friend Healing Touch, under Meteor Trail the royal sorcerer. So named for his still famed ‘star fall’ spell, capable of doing exactly as the name implies. Calling stars from the sky to rain havoc upon his foes. It was truly an awesome display of destructive power, but a single casting is enough to render his mana drained for days at a time. While initially the two leaders met cordially, negotiations soon fell apart. Both too headstrong and stubborn to come to an agreement. King Diamond Dust commanded our master to come up with a solution.

Meteor Trail was understandably distressed. While a powerful sorcerer he was getting on in years and was reaching the end of a very long life. He began spending all his time in his research laboratory leaving Healing Touch and myself to our own devices for the most part. It was perhaps the first time our master had given us so much free time. We of course attempted research of our own. I focused my efforts on a powerful and permanent barrier while Healing Touch sought magics to calm the fury in our enemies’ hearts.

It was one such evening Meteor Trail’s grandson, Comet Streak visited us in the library. Comet was never terribly adept at magic and had instead opted to join the military. While he never understood his grandfather’s works, he would always make it a point to check up on the old stallion. Often the only visitor he had. Such strong familial devotion was a fine trait for a pony to have I Felt, particularly among our tribe where one generally cared for their elders to the extent of how much they could help them ascend the social hierarchy. Not so with Comet Streak, his loyalty to his grandfather stemmed from a nobler place.

At Comet’s side was his shadow, the mare Silent Step. I admit I was never terribly fond of the dark unicorn…she always gave me an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach. Most likely due to her position as one of the king’s shadowy assassin’s. She was a mare of few words though I could tell her devotion to Comet Streak was strong. I once attempted to learn what made her choose the life she led. How she could take the life of another with barely a thought. She only shrugged and claimed “I do not do what I do for pleasure, but because it is a necessity in this dark and dreary world. My greatest hope is that one day my talents will be useless and I will be forced to find a new line of work.” An honest answer and one that I would remember for the rest of my days. But she was always like that. Spoke rarely but always directly, and often with brutal honesty.

Healing Touch cared for Silent Step far less than even I did. She was the most skilled healer in the history of our tribe, developing many new spells and techniques for the preservation of life. I suspect she saw Silent Step as her antithesis, a pony directly opposed to her very being. She kept her nose in her book studiously ignoring the militaristic pair, until one of her own friends arrived.

I myself was cheered at the sight of the royal chef. She had a pleasant demeanor that was punctuated by her overabundance of generosity. In a time of tight rationing she made a specific point to ensure that I and my fellow mages were well fed. Healing and Abundance (at times I am unsure if she is named for her generous nature or for the size of her flank, she certainly enjoyed her own works), had been friends far longer than I have known my fellow apprentice.

Of course where Abundance went her apprentice followed. The stallion was the youngest of us, barely more than a colt at the time. Aptly named Sunshine, either named for his bright yellow coat or his ability to brighten the disposition of anypony he came into contact with I am unsure. The young fellow was training to be a bard but in this dark and perilous time the need for professional song crafters was rare, and so he found himself in the employ of the royal chef.

The six of us began to converse. Healing and I glad for a reprieve from our studies, Comet and Silent having no place else to be while waiting for the audience with his grandfather, and our tower was always the last stop on Abundances’ rounds so she and Sunshine were free to relax and enjoy idle conversation for a time. Inevitably the light topics grew heavier until we finally reached the point of our own works. Neither I nor Healing Touch had heard from our master in days so we were more than a little surprised when his door banged open and he gazed down at us, (perhaps a touch wild eyed).

“You!” He exclaimed pointing vaguely at the six of us. “Come to my work room. Right away.”

I spoke first. “Whom master?”

“All of you! Don’t make me repeat myself foolish colt. Upstairs now. Straight away. All six of you.”

Exchanging confused looks we did ascend to the highest point of my master’s tower. What awaited us within nopony could have ever imagined…

“….Jubilant?”

The filly blinked up from the book in front of her hooves blinking a few times. She was seated on the cushion she always took beside Luna’s throne, The Founding of the Order open before her. Luna had assured her it was fortified with plenty of enchantments she could turn the page with a hoof or carry it in her mouth without damaging it. “What?” Was all she eloquently replied.

This drew a bit of a surprised gasp from the petitioner before the princess and her student. It was unlikely anypony heard one of their fellows address either of the princess’ so brusquely.

Luna only smiled gently however. “This is Spellweaver, one of the professors at Canterlot’s school for gifted unicorns. He has a request specifically for you.”

Jen blinked again seeming to recall where she was, and looking properly chagrined. “I’m so sorry sir. This is a uh…really good book.”

The older stallion laughed warmly bringing a smile to the nervous filly’s face. “Think nothing of it young miss; I’ve been known to get lost in a good book or two of my own. Drives the wife batty.” He tossed her a conspiratorial wink. “What may I ask has you so enraptured?”

With a quick look to the princess at her side Jen carefully closed the book and showed the cover to the professor. “It’s this old group of nights founded by Starswhirl the Bearded. My sword was made for one of them like a billion years ago and I wanted to learn more.”

This brought a grin from the old fellow. “Well that’s certainly a coincidence. I came to talk to you about your sword in fact. I was hoping you’d allow myself and a few colleagues to study it. Such powerfully enchanted objects are very rare in this day and age. The exact methods used to make them lost to us in the times of turmoil many, many years ago. Not quite a billion but close.” He chuckled.

Trepidation flicked across the filly’s features as she rested a hoof against Mercy on her arm. “O-oh I um…I dunno…it’s…special to me.”

“Well if it helps we’d like YOU to be there too. I understand you’ve formed a powerful bond with the blade, anypony with a lick of magical sense can tell that. It’d never leave your sight. And we’d not do anything to harm it.” He laughed suddenly. “I doubt we could if we wanted to. Rumor is Starswhirl himself had a hand in crafting it.”

This seemed to go a long way toward easing some of her nerves. “Well I suppose that’d be alright then. When did you wanna do it?”

“Your earliest convenience.”

She shrugged. “Tomorrow morning? I have lessons with Princess Luna after court finishes but I’m free most of the day until this thing I have to go to in the evening. I could come by whenever.”

“Wonderful! The earlier the better. Would you be able to come say seven am? I could have breakfast prepared for you.”

“Sure. I’ll see you then.”

He lowered himself into a deep bow. “Thank you for your kindness Miss Pie. And thank you for allowing me to make my request in your court princess. I wasn’t sure how to best approach your student.”

Delicately Luna inclined her head. “Think nothing of it. I am always pleased to meet my subjects personally.”

Luna turned to Jen once the professor had departed. “I take it you find the book interesting?”

Jen nodded eagerly. “Very! I was just getting to a good part too…” She not-so subtly tried to hint.

“Oh? Well then you have something to look forward too after our lessons this evening are completed.” She smiled faintly as the filly huffed. “Court is over for the night. Leave the book in your room and come to the practice hall. It is time for you to get a new bruise or two.”

Blowing a raspberry at the immortal alicorn of the night Jen trotted back to her room, tossing the book on her bed (her woefully non-shadow stuff bed), and made the short trip to the practice hall. Her custom crafted training armor sat waiting for her, and she reverted to humanoid unicorn shape to don it. While she could wield Mercy in any form, her bond was strongest with the unicorn active. Luna had told her she’d progressed far enough along where real weapons would be used in their practices. The princess had a spell over the area so neither combatant would be cut, just bruised if struck.

I find myself strongly desiring to leave yon princess with a bruise of her own Jennifer. Let us strive to land a blow of our own this night hm?

Jen grinned at Bleeding Heart’s unusual enthusiasm. “We’ll see. We’ve been getting really close the last couple times that’s for sure.”

Luna took her usual place across from Jen in the square. They had drawn quite a crowd already, their training sessions had grown more and more impressive to watch over the past weeks and now most every off duty pony in the castle showed up. The princess held her shield and sword in her magic, and both combatants bowed formally before slowly moving toward the other.

As always Luna made the first move. Her sword slashing out at Jen’s shoulder but the girl snapped her shield up to block and in the same fluid move lanced out with Mercy, very nearly striking Luna’s shoulder. This brought a soft gasp from the crowd. She’d been improving but nopony suspected by how much.

Luna herself raised an eyebrow and stepped back smoothly. Now she was on the defensive as Jen pressed her attack. Mercy left a gently glowing trail of pink as it cut through the air. Always Luna’s shield met the blades swings and thrusts with a resounding clang. Jen gave a swift thrust at the princess’ face and wings flaring she reared back on her hind legs forcefully slamming her shield against Jen’s sword.

However rather than the expected ring of metal on metal, there was only the smooth hiss of air as the shield met no resistance. Luna had fallen for her student’s feint, and before she could get her bearings the girl had already spun inside the shields reach and slapped the princess with a solid THWACK against her flank. Luna let out a very undignified whinny as she reared back again and awkwardly cantered away from her attacker. Obviously more surprised than actually hurt she still lifted her hind leg gingerly.

The crowd was deathly silent. Nopony really expected the girl to ever actually strike Lady Luna. The princes slowly let weight return to her leg. Jen had certainly put all her strength into the swing and it clearly smarted, a little welt showing against her otherwise unblemished fur. While not a powerful warrior Luna hadn’t been physically struck in countless years. She was vaguely recalling not being fond of the sensation.

Of course no one looked as astonished as Jennifer herself. Hastily she sheathed Mercy. “I-I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to actually…HIT you!”

Luna regarded her curiously. “No? What precisely was your intention then? Are you not here to learn the art of swordplay?” Slowly the girl gave a nod. “Did you think you could do this without every striking your instructor?”

“W-well…I mean…”

Gently the alicorn placed her practice gear back on the racks. “Wait here one moment Jennifer. I will return soon.”

If anypony outside the hall saw the princess prance about blowing on the forming red mark on her flank with little tears welling in her eyes they would mostly certainly take the sight to their grave. Jen shifted from foot to foot nervously waiting for Luna to return, the murmuring of the crowd growing stronger. Was the girl going to be punished? It didn’t seem like it but for somepony to actually STRIKE the princess…

Silence descended once again as Luna made her return. Jen felt an odd…pulse coming from Mercy as her eyes fell upon the ornate sheathes strapped to Luna’s sides like a pair of saddlebags. Gently the princess drew the long, curved blades holding them before herself crossed over her face. Each was a scimitar of the finest quality. Moonstone gems carved into stylized crescent moons decorated the pommels. The blades themselves were far more striking however. The surface of the blade looked to be carved right out of the night sky, complete with stars that seemed to change and shift depending on how one looked at them. Most surprising of all to Jen at least were the runes carved into the blades. Three on each sword, from the base working their way toward the tip.

“Those aren’t…”

“Nightsinger. One of the original six arms of harmony crafted for Silent Step, the assassin. Passed to her squire, than passed to me by him when I was myself inducted into the order. You have shown me you are ready for the next level of your training Jennifer. Shall we begin?”

Questions were racing through Jen’s mind at this. Luna was a Knight of Harmony? Why didn’t she mention it before? Just how old WAS the princess? Frowning gently however, the girl nodded and took up her ready stance.

If the assembled ponies enjoyed a show before now they were treated to what equated to a symphony of combative quality. Luna wove her twin blades in a dizzying dance before her as she advanced on her young opponent. Luna’s many lessons running through her head Jen still found it hard not to be distracted by the dancing stars across the whirling blades. The princess looked no less determined than her student however as she came at the girl.

A thrust at her side was met by her shield, while a slash toward her hip was parried by Mercy. Jennifer was backing up all the while and the ring of steel on steel was punctuated by the occasionally meaty thwack as one of NIghtsinger’s dual swords found its way through the human girl’s guard. Jennifer was s clearly on the defensive the entire time, being walked about the training circle by the princess as she slashed, stabbed, and swung her blades in a never ending dance.

The crowd gasped aloud as a bright pink barrier suddenly burst to life around Jennifer, the second rune of her blade flaring brightly. Both swords of Nightsinger were forcefully repelled leaving the princess wide open to Jennifer’s sudden thrust. Catching her square in the breast bone. With another horse-like whinny the princess hopped back, surprise flashing across her features, before she smiled and dipped her head. “If you are to bring your blade’s true power into this I think it only fair I do the same.”

Jen’s shield flickered away as she watched Nightsinger come back together and slowly weave before the princess once more. The first rune on the twin blades glowed a gentle blue, and then the swords vanished. Jen blinked in surprise then shrieked in pain and shock as she felt one slap her thigh and the other jab her chest.

Growling in frustration as the invisible blades hammered at her more and more she called her shield back up. “Heart!”
The fourth rune of her sword flared to life as the spectral image of the ancient knight leapt from her blade. Luna used her wings to propel herself back from the sudden flurry of strikes coming from the long dead unicorn. Somehow Bleeding Heart could pierce the invisibility magic of Nightsinger and she was skipping and dodging unseen blows.

Not one to let a friend fight her battles for her Jennifer soon re-entered the fray. She was still unable to see Luna’s weapons but the princess was now hard pressed to defend against both of Mercy’s wielders. Jen yelped at a sudden swat to her backside and whirled to find nothing of course. Realizing her error she spun back in time to catch one of the pommels of Nightsinger striking her solidly in the nose.

Seeing her mistress in distress Bleeding Heart redoubled her attack. Though the knight fought fiercely it was clear to the watchers that Luna was gaining the upper hand judging by the stumbles and silent yelps of the spirit. The relentless rain of blows was too much for her to bear and she dissipated to mist, rejoining Jen’s blade. Luna turned to see if the fight had left her student yet, only to find the girl not where she was last standing. Wincing at the impending strike the princess was not disappointed as Jen used a two handed swing to swat her on the royal flank opposite of the first one stuck.

Eyes blazing she whirled on the clever girl she had foolishly underestimated. She stopped her assault however and Nightsinger winked back into view. Blood was streaming freely from the girls obviously broken nose. With a frown Luna sheathed her blades prompting Jen to do the same, albeit with some reluctance. “I apologize Jennifer. It has been sometime since I wielded Nightsinger. I fear I let the excitement of the moment sweep me along and I did considerably more harm to you than intended.”

The heat of the moment dying down Jen smiled a little and shrugged. “It’d ok. I was tryin da gitcha good too.”

Luna quirked one of her small smiles. “Let us get your nose tended to and perhaps we shall enjoy a long soak in the royal baths. I find my flanks could use some soothing.”

Jennifer suspected her everything could use some soothing after the thrashing she had just endured. But she found herself grinning widely.

A fine display this evening Jennifer. Thou art well on thy way to becoming a fine example of a knight of the order.

This caused the girls smile to grow even wider. I bet Luna has trouble sitting down for days.

A warm laugh came from the spirit within her sword. Aye, that she will.

Awkward kisses, old books, and a royal whupping! I liked writing this one.

Chapter 15: Harmony

The young pegasus let out a loud groan as she floated lazily across the surface of the swimming pool sized royal bath tub. The bath chambers were big enough to fit her entire house from Ponyville within them. Everything was a pristine black marble, while scented candles lit the room in a dim light. A huge window emitted plenty of silvery moonlight. All and all it was very relaxing.

Luna was in the process of gently easing herself into the steaming water ensuring the filly’s attention was away from her she bit her lip in a pained expression as her throbbing flanks hit the hot water, but the pain was soon washed away by the comforting warmth. Face returned to its impassive mask she regarded the young pony sharing the tub with her.

“Your nose looks better Jennifer.”

The happy filly only gave a lazy nod in response. A quick healing spell fixed the break, but not the black eyes the blow had caused, giving the young pony a raccoon-like mask. The princess did feel terrible at the vicious strike she’d delivered but of course her young protégé brushed it off with barely a word. The more time she spent in the girl’s company the more sure she was of her decisions thus far.

Eventually Jen got her wits about her enough to shift and settle her rump on the shallower end of the tubs floor. It obviously had to be deep enough to accommodate the much larger alicorn, but there was a shallow side for normal sized ponies. “So spill it. How come you didn’t tell me you were in the order? You knew I was looking into it.”

Luna sighed gently. She knew this would be coming. For a moment she cursed revealing her weapons to the perceptive girl, but more than likely she would have discovered it on her own anyhow. “The order of harmony was disbanded centuries ago Jennifer. Before my banishment. I did not believe it relevant. Until you returned from your exploits bearing Mercy I suspected most of the Arms of Harmony had been destroyed or lost forever.”

Jen’s ear flicked gently at a couple key phrases. “You said the order WAS disbanded, not that it DID disband. So someone broke it up?”

A quick flash of…something crossed the normally composed princess’ face. “We will speak of this once, and only once Jennifer. I will tell you what I CAN, if you give me your word you will not delve further into what caused the order to disband. Will you?”

Eyes wide Jennifer could only nod. After another moment’s hesitation Luna began. “Understand there is a reason I am vague on this subject, only my sister and I recall the truth of those horrible times and it must remain that way. After Discord was dethroned, but before Celestia and I took the throne there was…another ruler. Her reign was brief but caused more damage than Discord could ever hope to do. She forced the order to break apart. When we tried to defy her she slew most of our number and scattered the rest.”

Jen was inching forward more and more with every word. “And?”

“And nothing. That is all I will tell. And I will hold you to your word not to poke your nose into this issue deeper. I have only said this much to prevent you from doing just that. If you value our friendship at all Jennifer, you will not look into this further. It is far too dangerous; the evil you could inadvertently unleash would mean the end of all we know.”

At first disappointed, but the weight of Luna’s words sunk heavily into Jennifer. Slowly she nodded. “Yes princess…I-I want to know more but if it’s REALLY so important I don’t I won’t go looking. I can keep reading about the order though right?”

Now Luna smiled gently. “You may. I would be happy to answer any questions you have as well. It was a wonderful time of my life, being chosen as Nightbringer’s new bearer. Celestia we inducted as well of course. Her sword Corona rests in her chambers, the original bearer was Comet Streak. I will show it to you if you like?”

“I would! D’you know anymore?” Jennifer was practically hopping on her hooves now…that is until her body reminded her painfully of the royal thrashing she just received. That went a long way to subduing her enthusiasm.

“Only one. Princess Cadence was accepted by Convalescence crafted for Healing Touch. I am unsure of the exact circ*mstances leading up to her receiving the scepter as it occurred during my banishment.”

Jennifer looked to Mercy lying beside the rub. “So who owned Mercy?”

“Starswhirl the Bearded was Mercy’s original bearer. He passed it on to his squire but rather than retire from the order he crafted the first of the new Arms of Harmony for himself. He never left the order until the end…” She trailed off with a frown.

“So besides Mercy, there’s Nightbringer, Corona, and Convalescence…that means healing or something right?”

“Or something.”

“How many were there in all?”

“Thirteen when all was said and done. Though only six were crafted at first. I’m sure your book would prove more illuminating on that subject than I could.”

Jen sank into the water a little further. “D’you miss Celestia?”

The alicorn sighed softly. “I do. We were separated for a thousand years, than reunited for so short a time before we had to split again. Still it’s not forever. She’ll be back soon enough.”

The filly resumed her lazy floating. “Can’t wait to meet her.”

“Mmm. I hope the two of you get on as well as we do.” It was nearly time to raise the sun, and Luna gently nudged Jennifer out of the tub. “Alright I must get ready for my rest and I am sure you would like to get further in your book before you must go to the university and meet Spellweaver yes?”

“Oh! Good point.” Gingerly she pulled herself from the groaning a little as her aches made themselves known again. “Maybe we do something besides sword practice tonight…”

Luna laughed lightly and gentled dried the pair with her magic. “Perhaps a good idea.” Jen followed her out then frowned as the princess made for a room she’d never been in before.

“That’s not your bedroom is it?”

“Hm?” Luna glanced back. “No but I have another guest staying in these chambers and I try to make it a point to check on her before I rest each day.”

Jen furrowed her brow. “Is she sick? I can help out during the day while you sleep.”

With a quick look into the partially opened room Luna frowned a touch. “That won’t be necessary. She should be on her hooves again soon; you can meet her then hm?”

Curious but more interested in returning to her book Jen shrugged. “Alright then. G’night Luna.”

With a smile and a nod to the filly the princess waited for her to leave before stepping into the darkened room. Sighing softly she settled on the bed beside the young recovering alicorn. “I hope you two get along. You’ve so much in common…”

***

We reached my master’s chambers and found them to be in a terrible state of disarray. Books lay scattered about the floor, some with pages torn from the bindings and plastered about the walls. Magical diagrams and theorems I was only beginning to comprehend in my own studies wove an intricate tapestry about the room.

“Master perhaps you should get some rest?” I knew my efforts were in vain but I had to try.

He frowned at me for a moment, uncomprehending. “Rest? Soon, soon.” The doors slammed shut behind Sunshine, the last of us to enter. The poor colt leaped nearly a foot in the air much to Abundance’s amusem*nt. “You six are friends yes?”

It was fair to say we were all on friendly TERMS with one another certainly. Friends may have been a strong word, but I didn’t want to upset my already unbalanced master. “Yes sir I suppose we are.”

“Good! Good the spell will be much stronger if there’s already a bond.” Without warning he lifted the six of us into the air with his magic, at first alarmed we slowly calmed as he gently maneuvered us to one of the six magical diagrams drawn onto the floor of his chamber. Curiously I examined the intricate runes along the outside of the circle.

“Master what is all this? What’s this about?”

He seemed to be growing more excited as he moved from one pony to the next, examining us each closely. “What is the most powerful force on Terra, Starswhirl?”

I shrug. “Harmony of course master. It’s one of the first lessons we learn as foals.”

“Harmony! Precisely!” To my surprise the circles we stood in were beginning to illuminate themselves. Colored magical light began to spread along the intricate patterns of the runes as if an unseen painter was spreading a brush across them. My master looked to Sunshine, the youngest of us. “Tell me young colt, what are the six tenants a harmonious pony must have within himself to be in balance?”

Sunshine seemed to be taking everything going on around us the best, watching his own circle gently filling with a warm blue light. The colt’s tail twitched excitedly as he was clearly enjoying the goings on. “That’s easy sir! Laughter, kindness, honesty, loyalty, generosity, and magic!”

“Quite right young fellow, very well done.” My own circle was filling with a faint magenta glow. Gentle’s was pink, Comet’s red, Silent was surrounded by an orange glow, and Abundance was a deep shade of purple. “What is the most powerful form of magic known to ponykind, Healing Touch?”

My friend frowned timidly and gently prodded the now fully glowing pink circle surrounding her body. “Ah…oh um, evocation master?”

Our master clicked his tongue reproachfully, then stopped. “Oh I suppose it’s not your fault you’ve been misinformed. That would be my fault wouldn’t it?” He laughed, the slightly manic tone doing little to assuage the nerves of those of us not quite as comfortable in the obviously powerful ritual. Little arcs of energy were flickering across our hooves, the colors matching the circles. “No my apprentice, though that was a good guess! No the most powerful magic a pony can wield comes from the bonds we form with our fellows. Think of it! One unicorn is strong enough to lift great weight with our magic yes? Twenty of us come together to move the sun and the moon each day of course.”

I caught on quickly. “Are you suggesting you’ve found a new way to harness the bond between ponies for some new purpose? A way to help protect ourselves from our enemies?”

“Precisely! When performing the raising ritual for the sun and moon we form a temporary bond uniting our mana pools to grant access to a very powerful spell casting. What if one could form a PERMANENT bond with his fellows hm? A bond that not only shares mana, but all of ones strengths with the other.”

The four less magically minded ponies had remained silent, allowing Healing and myself to do all the talking. “Sir are you suggesting you wish to form such a bond between he six of us?”

“Yes! You each strongly embody one of the core tenants of harmony! Imagine the things you six will be capable of when you share your might with one another. Each bringing something very different to contribute, but in the end when all six elements are combined…if my theory is correct…you will each find perfect harmony within yourselves. Imagine the feats you’ll be capable of! Nopony has ever dared try and tap into the force of harmony itself but I believe when this is finished you’ll be able to do just that!”

Abundance finally spoke up. “Sir, I mean no disrespect but I’m a simple baker. A very good baker but a baker none the less. Shouldn’t something this…important be kept among the soldiers and sorcerers?”

Comet and Silent both looked less than enthusiastic about the idea. “Yeah I don’t know about this grandfather. This is all a little…weird. Can we have a chance to think about it?”

Meteor looked taken aback. “Think about it? This is your duty you foolish colt. This could be exactly what’s needed to save us all! Think about it! There will be no THINKING about it!”

“Master with all due respect…what you’re proposing I admit is very exciting. The possibilities are astounding but I feel the only way the bond you wish to forge between us will truly take hold is if we’re all in agreement. Please allow us a short time to discuss it amongst ourselves?”

I was used to my master’s little bouts of manic activity and found a calm rational mind was generally enough to get through to him. He was still for several moments before the light surrounding us abruptly went out. “Yes. Yes that’s an excellent point Starswhirl. Work this out quickly. I’ll return momentarily.”

Everypony present breathed a sigh of relief as he left. Abundance spoke first. “He’s…alright, isn’t he?”

I chuckled. “He is, but when he discovers the answer to a particularly tricky question he gets excited. I meant what I told him however, this is an amazing idea and the opportunity presented to us is too good to pass up. However I also meant it when I said this must be a mutually accepted bond. Forcing it on somepony will likely pervert the results.”

I was not at all surprised when Healing stepped to my side immediately. “Well I’m with you Starswhirl.”

Sunshine was next, bounding over to me with his usual energetic flair for everything he did. “Me too! This sounds fun!”

Hesitantly Comet Streak took a place beside Healing Touch. “I’m not gonna pretend I get what all this is about but if my grandfather thinks it’ll help our tribes I’m with you.”

Abundance sighed softly as she cantered to stand with Sunshine. “Someone has to keep an eye on you. Spirits know what you’d do with…whatever power this is going to give you if nopony’s there to keep you out of trouble.”

Only Silent Step didn’t come forward. She regarded us with a frown, though there was something I’d never seen before in her usually dark eyes. A deep sadness. “I can’t. I don’t know what the royal sorcerer thinks he sees in me but it’s not there. This isn’t something for a pony like me.”

Four of us shared an uncomfortable look. Her words weren’t anything we could really disagree with. It was Healing Touch, the pony who seemed to care for Silent the least that approached the mare. “Nopony here is perfect Silent Step. We’ve all done things we wish we could take back I’m sure. Yours might be a bit more…extreme than ours but when it comes down to it you’re a pony just like the rest of us. You care about your kingdom and your tribe. I think that’s enough to warrant you standing with us. And if your actions bother you this much, it’s never too late to change.”

The assassin stared at my friend for several long moments, before she silently took her place at Comet Streak’s side. With a satisfied little smile Healing Touch came back to me. No sooner had we decided than our master returned. “Well back to your circles! We have a ritual to perform!”

We all took our places, and the ritual began again. The circles glowing brighter and brighter. So brightly I found it hard to make out anything outside of the magical diagram I was standing within. Suddenly-

Another, more insistent knock sounded at Jen’s door. “Jubilant? The chariot is here to take you to the university! The driver’s waiting!”

With a scowl at the closed door the filly reluctantly rolled off the bed to her hooves and gently tucked the book into one of the saddlebags she slung over her back. Hopefully she’d have time to keep reading while the professor ponies examined Mercy. She followed the impatient day guard to the waiting chariot and clambered inside.

It wasn’t a terribly long ride to the university. Jen hopped down from her ride with a quick thank you to her driver before trotting up the path to the school grounds. It reminded her of pictures she’d seen of the big colleges back home. Huge campus grounds, students milling about the lawns and hanging around the doors of the school itself. Only this particular college was for unicorns. Everywhere she looked ponies were practicing spells of some sort.

She poked her nose into the main building following the signs to an administration office. After a brief wait she was standing before a bored looking older mare. “Can I help you?”

“Oh! Um…I’m here to see Spellweaver? I have an appointment I guess.”

A brief flash of recognition crossed the secretaries’ features. “Oh you must be the princess’ student. I thought you were a unicorn?”

Jen shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“…right. Spellweaver’s set up for you in lab c. You’ll want to go outside and follow the path around the building to find the labs. You can’t miss it. It has a big C on the building.”

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes the filly chirped a pleasant ‘thanks!’ and was off on her way again. Trotting around the main building she did indeed see a cluster of smaller ones along the path. A sign indicated labs A-K were to the left so left she went. Finding C was simple enough; the door was unlocked so she let herself in. Unicorns were rushing about in some sort of a frenzy ranging from all ages it seemed. Spellweaver was in the center of it all directing his charges. “Ah! Miss Pie you’re here!”

Jen offered him a smile in greeting and cantered to his side. “Well I said I’d be. And you don’t need the Miss Pie stuff, Jen or Jubilant is fine.”

“Of course, of course. You didn’t strike me as the sort to stand on ceremony. Never had much use for it myself. There’s a breakfast table set up there for you.” Jennifer followed the stallion through the small crowds to a table laden with all kinds of breakfast foods, (minus bacon of course…sigh). “Are you able to ah…change between tribes at will?”

Jen who was busy clumsily scooping some eggs onto the plate via ladle in her mouth gave a muffled ‘mm hm’.

“Ah! Would you be willing to adopt the unicorns for this morning? The arms of harmony were originally crafted with them in mind and we’d like our initial analysis to be as pure to the original source as possible. I don’t know how being a pegasus or earth pony might affect your bond. We’d like to study that in the future but for now the base unicorn is preferable.”

With a little shrug Jen shifted to her unicorn state by pressing her hoof to the proper charm. “Simply amazing. Of course that’s our princesses for you. The things they can do with magic…” He sighed wistfully. “And your horn is fully functional?”
Rather than a verbal response Jen shifted to using her levitation magic to fill her plate. “I can do basic stuff and a few simple spells. Twilight says I have tons of mana but I don’t have a head for the complicated spell work.”

He regarded her curiously. “Exactly how much mana is ‘tons’ of mana?”

“Umm…I dunno. She just said a lot. She didn’t really give me a basis for comparison or anything. She sounded impressed if that helps!” She WAS pretty hungry and was starting in on her now-heaping plate.

“Would you mind if I performed a brief examination?”

She shrugged. “Nope. Is it just the same thing Twilight Sparkle did? To peek at my magic or whatever?”

Nodding gently he smiled. “Or whatever, yes. A bit of that and a bit to see exactly how much mana you’re taking in. I’ve studied what little recorded information there is on your world. One of the perks of having such a high rank at the university is I get access to often restricted information. If I’m being completely candid it’s not just your sword I was curious about. I feel I must apologize for not being perfectly honest with you before.”

Jen laughed a little. “Hey it’s cool. As long as you don’t wanna like dissect me or anything. I can understand being curious about the alien suddenly wandering around your home.”

He joined in her laughter. “No nothing so morbid I assure you. Though come to think of it that would be interesting, to see how you tick as it were.” He hastily waved his forehooves at the dawning look of alarm on the filly’s face. “Aha! Not by cutting you open of course! There are spells that would allow us to see your innards while you’re very much alive.”

Jen was in the process of searching for the nearest door before Spellweaver's last comment. She relaxed and chuckled weakly. “Scared me for a minute there professor. I could be human for this if you want. As long as my horn is there my magic’s no different whether I’m all or part pony.”

“Oh if it’s no imposition that would be fantastic.”

Setting her plate aside she retrieved a stretchy pair of shorts and something akin to a sports bra from her saddle bag, worming them awkwardly onto her quadruped body. It was an idea Rarity came up with for her, something she could carry around in case of an ‘emergency’. She was glad she remembered to bring them with her for once. Gently tapping the human charm she stood up on two legs again, the clothes now fitting properly.

“Ah! Yes the nudity taboo. Fascinating quality to have.”

Jen shrugged and sat cross legged on the floor taking her plate again. “I mean we don’t have fur so the whole clothes thing started off as a necessity. We don’t control our weather so the only way to fight the cold was to bundle up. I guess the ‘it’s wrong to be naked’ stuff came later.”

“Is the cold a concern for you? You’re not very heavily clothed and it IS rather drafty in here.”

“Nah my amulet keeps me warm all the time when it’s near my sword. A happy little side effect of the magic in them hating each other I think.”

“Ah of course…” He eyed the gem hanging around her neck dubiously. “Half of Discord’s magic is it not?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry as long as I’m near Mercy it’s not gonna cause any trouble.”

This seemed to ease his concern somewhat. “Well! I’m sure you have things you’d rather do today than listen to me prattle on, shall we get to the testing floor?”

Setting her empty plate back on the table Jen stood, slinging her saddle bags over her shoulder and followed the professor down into the main lab. It was only vaguely similar to Dr. Sanders’ lab on earth. There were a few machines and it had the same sterile environment feel to it. But the exam table Spellweaver had her climb onto was comfortably padded.

“Only you can touch Mercy correct?”

“I think so. The people back on earth who tried got shocked by it. A lot.”

Tentatively the aging stallion reached a hoof toward the shield. It hummed with a faint warning of magic but he pressed on resting his hoof against the surface lightly. He was gently nudged away. “Guess it likes you more than them.”

He laughed. “Indeed though not enough for me to hold it I suppose. Would you place it on the other table just there? That’s not too far to ah…cause trouble is it?”

Shaking her head she slid off the table and removed Mercy from her arm. “You want the sword out or in?”

“Out please.”

She drew the blade and every eye was riveted as its full shining length was revealed. The runes glimmered faintly across its surface as she laid it out beside the shield.

“I’ll be heading up the examination of the sword Jubilant. My assistant son Spell Twister will see to examining you. His specialization is in new medical magic’s so you’re in good hooves.”

Another stallion trotted to the table she had resettled on. The family resemblance was only in the eyes. Twister had the same dull grey eyes his father had, but his coat was a shockingly neon green color. “Hey there! I’m gonna be looking around at your insides today.”

Jen laughed at his casual approach. “Just be gentle with me.”

“But of course. You don’t have a thing to worry about this is a pretty simple spell.” A few glimmering crystals drifted into the air above the girl as she laid out on the table. “These are recording gems. They’re going to capture everything the spell reveals so we can study it later without forcing you to sit there alright?”

“Sure I guess.”

“So basically the spell I’m going to use is a selective invisibility. Rather than make your whole body invisible I’m going to do it in layers. We’ll start with your skin. Once it’s invisible I’d like you to do a few basic movements and stretches so we can see how your muscle works.”

“Huh. That’s kinda neat. Sure I can do that.”

“Good, good.” His horn glowed with a gentle rosy light. It spread across her body and soon she could see the veiny red muscle her skin normally hid. She was caught somewhere between grossed out and intensely fascinated as she lifted a hand flexing her fingers. Watching the way her muscle shifted and rippled with each movement.

“Please stand.”

She did as he asked. Spell Twister had her do a few basic movements. Walking a few steps, jogging in place. Stretching her arms over her head and bending at the knees. “Hm. Remarkably similar to a minotaur in musculature, though obviously significantly diminished physical power. Alright Jubilant you can lay back down.”

She did as he began the next level of the spell. The muscle faded away to reveal her bones and organs. The odd sensation of curious and ew gross was back in full force as she stared down at her own chest wide eyed (not that anypony could tell of course, her eyelids being invisible and all).

Spell Twister was standing on a booster next to the table eyeing her inner workings with a critical eye. “Not so different from us really. Everything’s more or less arranged in a similar manner if shifted for bipedal rather than quadrupedal. I see something extra in the digestive tract, likely to help digest meat? You’re an omnivore right?”

“Oh uh, yeah. I eat meat, veggies, fruit. If it’s edible I eat it.”

“I see some deep scar tissue along your abdomen here, is that normal for your kind?”

“No. I got that when Discord nearly cut me in half.”

The young stallion shifted uncomfortably. “A-ah! I see…so that’s not…always there on a human?”

“Nope.”

“You can go ahead and sit up if you like. Do you mind letting the crystals record some of your bodily functions at work? “

“Ehh…I guess not? This is a little weird but it’s not hurting me or anything. I’m not gonna like…go sterile or something from this am I?”

He chuckled. “No you’re perfectly safe.”

“Oh cool, cool. So I just…sit here?”

“If you don’t mind. A half hour to an hour should be more than enough data.”

“Hm. It ok if I read my book some?” She was already reaching for her bag.

“Oh! Ah, of course. Dad’s going to be busy with his spells over your sword for a bit so he probly won’t need you for a while.”
Smiling she cracked the book and found her place.

***

Suddenly magenta shafts of light erupted from my chest. Five of them each spearing out of the circle that held me and I presume into the other ponies assembled. My suspicion was confirmed as identical spears of light made their way back through the circle and INTO my chest; only each of the five was a different color. One for each of the other ponies participating.

I am hard pressed to describe the exact sensation. How could a sea pony explain breathing water to me? The very concept is so foreign, so impossible to comprehend without experiencing it first-hand that I believe it impossible to do so. That is what this was like. Feeling the bond form between the six of us there are simply no words to describe it. The best I can do is that it suddenly felt like I was missing five appendages I never knew I lacked, and then all of a sudden they were there.

The lights faded abruptly, but the connection remained. Would always remain. I don’t know how I knew that but I did. A feeling of light headedness threatened to sweep my from my hooves but I shook it off and looked about at my fellows. Sunshine was flat on his back hooves kicking lazily in the air as he guffawed at nothing; evidently he didn’t try to fight the dizziness but embraced it. Abundance was sitting on her haunches regarding the rest of us quietly. Comet and Silent were grinning at one another. Silent Step was grinning; I don’t think I’ve ever seen that pony crack the smallest of smiles let alone wear one that could rival Sunshine’s.

Healing Touch was regarding me with her usual calmness. I’m not sure what I expected when she stepped in closer to me, but her kissing me was not high on the list. She broke the embrace soon, too soon in my opinion and whispered softly in my ear. “You should have spoken up sooner Starswhirl; we’re not getting any younger.”

Teasing laughter and gentle catcalls came from the others as I blushed hotly. Our master looked supremely satisfied. “Six ponies bonded together in perfect harmony. You are what we have been waiting for. You can stand against the cruel monsters of the world and protect our people.”

Four of the six of us were certainly capable of doing just that. While Healing and I were no soldiers we had a considerable wealth of knowledge in combative magic’s. Healing Touch preferred the healing schools of course but in a time of constant war and strife everypony must be prepared. Comet and Silent were both well acquainted with the battlefield. Only Abundance and Sunshine were questions in our minds. Would they be able to take the field? Should they be forced to?

Baker and apprentice realized the scrutiny they were under from the rest of us, and neither disappointed. “I may not be a great warrior like Comet Streak, or a powerful sorcerer like Starswhirl but I’m willing to do my share. Even if it’s just making sure we’re all well fed out there.”

Ever cheerful Sunshine grinned his cheerful smile. “No way would I let my friends run out there into danger without me! Somepony has to make sure Abundance stays safe after all.”

We shared another laugh. It was decided. We would take the field together, for good or ill we’d not be separated. The king was pleased to have his ‘perfect warriors’ but I chafed at the name. We all did. We were deployed to the eastern border without delay. Our king wanted as impressive a display of our new might as he could muster and felt the dragons were the way to send a clear message.

Our group was tense as we neared the battlefront. We could see the great plumes of black smoke from the dragons’ breath some distance away. Teams of pegasus warriors flitted here and there over head and the flash of lightning mingled with spell fire as our kind battled the fiercest of our foes. Healing Touch and I discussed the possibilities of a spell to lay such beasts low, while Comet and Silent Step debated for a more direct course. We were all greatly enhanced by our bond and they felt blade and arrow would be enough. Truthfully feeling the strength in my limbs I found I couldn’t entirely disagree, but I was a sorcerer. The idea of physical combat felt a bit beneath me.

Our discussion grew more heated and nopony noticed Sunshine had split from us to approach the fighting on his own. It was Abundance of course who noted the colt’s absence and our arguing halted immediately as we began what ended up being a very quick search. We were drawn through the twisting mountain pathways by the sound of…singing. It was Sunshine of course, singing at the top of his lungs, magically amplifying his voice.

To our horror the largest dragon any of us had ever laid eyes on (and the first Abundance had ever laid eyes on) descended toward the serenading colt. We were close enough to make out the words by now in our rush to save the foolish lad. Comet and Silent with weapons bared, Healing and myself preparing the mightiest spells we knew. A wasted effort I am pleased to say. Sunshine, sitting on the little ledge and extolling the virtues of a smile of all things had the dragon’s undivided attention. Smiles he claimed (in verse, I don’t recall the exact words), could soothe any hurt feelings, forge strong bonds of friendship, and all around improve anyone’s day. Not just anypony.

Most shocking of all of course, was the dragon’s reaction. I’m fairly certain nopony had ever seen one of the beasts smile before yet that was all it could be described as doing. First smiling, than laughing. With a bellow it called to more of its fellows who approached the scene curiously. Sunshine had spotted us by then and eagerly beckoned us closer. He began a new song about the wonderful feelings the bonds of friendship could elicit and I am shocked to say Silent Step was the first to lend her voice to Sunshine’s cause. First the assassin, than Abundance and Healing were quick to join in as well. Comet Streak gave me a helpless shrug, sheathed his mighty blade and was soon belting out the words in his mighty baritone. Almost against my own will I felt the melody slither its way into my head, the words of the song I had never heard before unfolded in my mind and I was singing like a dullard with the rest of my friends.

The sounds of battle had died about us and both sides of the conflict merely listened in rapt attention. We sang song after song, all pleasant insipidly cheerful numbers but I must admit, most very catchy and pleasant. Finally our throats grew hoarse and Sunshine seemed to run out of topics to turn into song, so he just looked up at the leader of the mighty wyrms and said, “So what d’you say? Wouldn’t you rather be friends with us than keep trying to eat us?”

This seemed to amuse the mighty beast. “Eat you? You ponies taste terrible. All stringy and gamey. We want your gems.”

Ponies laid down their arms and pegasi dropped from the sky in shock at this pronouncement. Sunshine laughed. “Is that all? Well why don’t we go talk to King Diamond Dust! I bet he’d love to share some of our gems with you in exchange for something YOU have!”

A quick exchange among the beasts occurred. “We will meet with an emissary of your king here. How soon may I expect him?”

I took the lead now stepping forward in Sunshine’s place. “Tomorrow evening mighty dragon. One of the pegasi will fly ahead of us to deliver the news and your emissary will be here as soon as they are able.”

Slowly he nodded his ascent. “Very well. Thank you noble bards, your songs were both inspirational and soothing to our weary ears. Travel well and know you have a friend amongst the dragons.” His piece said the dragon departed leading his fellows from the field and settling across the border calmly.

Sunshine just smiled as always when we turned to him incredulously. Abundance began to wallop the poor lad upside the head on our trek back to pony territory. “Running off alone! Singing to dragons! Worry me to death!”

He laughed it all off of course. Later I asked him what made him think such an insane idea would work. He shrugged as if it were obvious. “Everyone likes to be shown a little kindness Starswhirl. Dragons have hearts and friends and families too. Maybe all we really need to do out here is try and be understanding of our neighbors a bit more.”

Wise words from the unlikeliest of sources. How I wish the rest of our battles were so easily solved with warm feelings and happy songs.

“Jubilant?”

Jen blinked up from her book. “O-oh! Sorry I was…”

Spellweaver laughed softly. “Enjoying the book. I’m sorry to interrupt but we’re ready for you now.”
To her relief her skin was visible again. Seeing her insides working was neat for a bit but it got creepy fast. Mentally marking the page she shut the book and slid off the table sliding Mercy back to its place on her arm. “So whaddo you guys want me t’do?”

“We’d like you to demonstrate the swords abilities if that’s at all possible? We’ve learned a good deal about the enchantments binding the magic to the sword. I was right about not being able to hurt it if I wanted to, it’d take somepony as powerful if not more so than the princess to scratch it.”

Jen lifted the blade with a shrug. “Sure. The first rune makes it impossible to hurt good folks.” She flipped the blade around demonstrating by sliding it through her chest smoothly, and out her side. After initial gasps of alarm the studious unicorns resumed their note taking. “Runes two and three make shields for myself, and others.” The pink bubble of energy formed around first herself, than around Spellweaver.

“Can you maintain it? We’d like to test its strength.”

“Sure knock yourselves out.”

First Spellweaver began to press on the shield from the inside with his magic. Soon his colleagues were pitching in all gripping, crushing, and pulling at the shield with all the energy they could muster. After enough abuse it finally cracked and fell apart. Though the assembled ponies looked suitably impressed. “I’ve only gotten up to the fourth one…but I’m sure I’m close to the fifth.”

She ended the demonstration by calling forth Bleeding Heart. The spectral pony cantered about the lab before resting at Jen’s side. “Astounding! She can affect the physical world I presume?”

“She can break stuff if that’s what you mean, yeah. I can’t have her out long, it really drains my batteries.”

“Oh don’t strain yourself then, we have all we need for now. Thank you so much for putting up with all this today.”

Jen laughed and touching her charm shifted back down to pegasus shape. “No problem. My big plans today were to read and pick up a dress for some party I’m going to tonight.” She tucked the book back in her saddle bags and wiggled out of her clothes, sliding them away too. “What exactly are you guys hoping to find?”

“Well. The method of creating such lasting enchantments has been lost since the time of Starswhirl the Bearded. It’s my hope that examining your sword could unlock the mystery of permanent enchantments.” Spellweaver was walking her back out of the lab.

“Oh cool. Well if you want me to swing by again just ask. My days are usually pretty dead while I’m in Canterlot.”

“I’ll keep that in mind Jubilant. Thank you again, and have a lovely day!”

With a smile for the old stallion Jen took her leave, trotting back into the city and leaving the university behind her. “Mm. If I were a fancy dress shop where would I be…?”

“A fancy dress SHOP? Why in the world would you need a shop darling? You have ME.”

Jen jumped nearly a foot in the air as she whirled to find Ponyville’s premiere dress maker standing behind her, a dazzling smile on the mare’s face and several shopping bags floating on either side of her. “Rarity! Jeez you scared me. I didn’t think I’d run into you til tonight.”

Rarity gasped audibly as she took in the many bruises dotting the filly’s coat, and the very prominent pair of black eyes. “What happened to you? You have to look your best for tonight Jennifer! Honestly fillies these days!”

The filly laughed a little. “Training with Luna got a little more…intense than usual. I nailed her! On the flank! Twice!”
To her credit Rarity did a remarkable job holding in her laughter at the announcement. “And she ‘nailed’ you back? On your everything? Twice?”

Jen huffed. “Maybe. She has invisible swords! How is THAT fair?”

“Mmm it does sound a trifle one sided I’ll admit. Come along, you can tell me all about it on the way to your suite in the castle.”

With her typical easy-going shrug Jen set into an easy trot alongside the older unicorn. Regaling Rarity with the story of the (despite her numerous wounds) best training session she’d entered into with the princess so far. The conversation turned to her newest passion, reading up on the Order of Harmony.

“Hm an order of knights who defeated a horde of rampaging dragons by singing to them? That certainly is a fanciful tale dear.”

“I don’t think it’s made up…the book was written by Starswhirl after all. He’s pretty renowned right?”

“True enough. I suppose it’s entirely possible. Our little Fluttershy chased off a full grown dragon with a few stern words after all.”

None of the guards gave either pony a second glance as they passed through the castle gates. Jennifer leading the way to her suite and getting the door. “Now! Let’s see about getting you cleaned up. It’s a big night after all.”

Jen let her saddle bags flop onto the floor by the bed. “Is it really that big a deal? It’s just a dinner party right?”

Tut tut. A dinner party with the cream of the Canterlotian crop darling. You want to make a good impression don’t you?”

Knowing there was no point in arguing with the stubborn mare Jen allowed herself to be drug before the as of yet untouched vanity in her room. “I’ve already made a pretty strong impression on a lot of the noble ponies. I don’t think ‘good’ is the word to use though.”

“Ah yes you have been making a name for yourself haven’t you Jubilant Surprise? Still there’s always a second chance hm?” Rarity was busy applying a veritable pound of makeup in an effort to conceal the bruises across Jen’s muzzle. “And not to worry about your dress, I resized the one from the festival for you; it should fit like a dream.”

“Oh, well cool. You brought it with you?”

“Well of course. I knew you likely wouldn’t pack any formal wear. Your fashion tastes run more along Rainbow Dash and Applejack’s lines after all.”

“Ehe…true.” The filly frowned suddenly. “How’d you know I’d be going to the party?”

“Eh? Oh…well…Fancy Pants told me of course.”

“Oh, yeah that makes sense.”

Jen fussed only a little as Rarity straightened her tail and main. It took more than a little effort on the unicorns’ part to get all the tangles from the young pegasi’s hair but she pressed on resolutely. She lifted her head compliantly as Rarity fastened the dress about her neck and let its length fall across her back and flanks. “There, if I didn’t know better I’d say I was looking at a proper young lady.”

Sticking her tongue out Jen blew a most spectacular raspberry.

“Aaaand there the image goes. Come along we’ve a carriage to catch.” Rarity had changed into what Jen figured must equate to a ‘slinky black number’ among pony folk. The dress was cut to expose some of her flank, and rode low on her chest.

“Hoping to seduce poor Fancy tonight?”

Rarity merely scoffed lightly. “A lady does not ‘seduce’ her intended beau.” She grinned playfully as the pair made their way from the castle. “Particularly when he’s already wrapped around her hoof.”

Jen gave a scandalous gasp and nudged the mare. “Why Miss Rarity I do declare.”

A brawny earth pony helped the ladies into their carriage and they were soon trundling along toward Fancy Pants’ stately Canterlot manor. “This is exciting, I haven’t seen Fancy’s place yet.”

“Neither have I. He’s been to Ponyville for a few visits, and we meet up at the café here in Canterlot but I haven’t been to his home yet.” Rarity was fidgeting gently. “Has he ever…asked about me?”

“As a matter of fact we talked about you yesterday. I don’t know if it’d be fair to Fancy to tell you what we talked about…”
Rarity was suddenly nose to nose with the filly seated across from her. “You must tell me what he said! You must! YOU MUST!”

“Ok ok! Calm down!” Ruffling her wings a few times the filly settled once more. “If you MUST know, he wanted tips. On how to WOO you.”

“And?!”

“And…” The coach was rolling to a stop. “You’ll just have to wait and see!” Jen raced from the carriage before Rarity could snag her with her magic, ignoring the fashionista’s wails. The manor did not disappoint. While it was no Canterlot Castle it was at least three times the size of any building in Ponyville. A cobblestone path lead up to the manor proper, flowers and fancifully styled shrubbery lined the path the entire way.

Echo was milling about outside the main doors. Dressed to the nine’s in her finest dress uniform. It made her look…pretty impressive. Her normally wild and untamed mane was slicked back and shimmered like her mother’s in the dimming sunlight. The navy blue suit coat bore the insignia of the night guard proudly on one side, while a trio of medals decorated the other. The night pony cadet smiled at Jen approached. “How do I look?”

Jen couldn’t resist. “Very handsome sir. Have you seen Cadet Echo? She’s supposed to be my escort this evening.”
“I can’t say that I have miss…?”

Dipping into a courtly bow Jen affected her best snooty Canterlot accent. “Pie good sir. Jennifer Allen Pie.”

“Miss Pie. It seems your escort has stood you up. Perhaps you’d allow me the pleasure…?” Echo did a pretty good Canterlot noble herself.

“It would be MY pleasure.”

“Oh no it’s most certainly mine.”

“Oh but I insist it’s my pleasure…”

“Oh will you two knock it off!” Rarity had caught up by now and look less than amused by their antics. “Get inside before somepony sees you making mules of yourselves out here.”

Both fillies hastily dashed inside, missing the amused smile forming on Rarity’s face.

Jen hesitated once inside however. “It’s pretty dark. Where is everypony?”

Her date for the evening shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe there’s like a ball room or something? Shouldn’t there be a ton of butlers…butling around here?”

Rarity scoffed. “Honestly you two just follow me.” The young pair fell into step behind their guide. For a pony who’d never been here before Rarity was certainly walking with confidence through the halls of the estate. Finally she stopped before a large pair of double doors. “Here we are. Best manners now girls, this isn’t some Ponyville ho down.”
With a flourish she threw open the doors to the ball room. “SURPRISE!”

Jen nearly fell over from the shock. A huge banner hung from one end of the ballroom to the other with the words “Happy Birthday Jenny” stretched across it. Twilight and Spike, Applejack and Big Mac, Dash and Fluttershy were all there. Lyra was setting up on stage Bon-bon happily seated beside her. Cheerilee was smiling behind four little fillies, Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Dinky Doo, their teacher keeping a close eye on the precocious trio. Rarity trotted passed the stunned filly with a smug smile, taking her place at an equally happy looking Fancy Pants’ side. And of course there was Pinkie Pie, who wasted no time in tackling Jen to the ground.

“Did we getcha? Did we?!”

The filly squirmed free of Pinkie Pie and nodded dumbly. “Uh…yup. You got me. Is it REALLY my birthday?”

The assembled crowd was laughing. “Yup! It REALLY is. I can’t believe you REALLY forgot! But I mentioned it was coming up to Twilight and she said you hadn’t said a word to anypony and I figured you’d been SO busy lately you completely forgot! Which you did! So then I started talking to everypony else and Rarity said you were really good friends with Fancy Pants and maybe we should invite all your other pony friends! Then Fancy Pants INSISTED we have the party here! That’s why I’ve been gone so much this week I was here setting up! And boy was it worth it.”

Pinkie sucked in a deep breath to presumably resume her tirade when Jen tugged her close for a tight hug. “Thanks Pinkie. This is really nice.”

Some of the manic energy left the earth pony as she returned the filly’s embrace warmly. “Of course Jenny-bean. You deserve it. Sixteen is a special birthday for anypony.”

The pair parted and Jen walked into the party proper with a snickering Echo at her side. “YOU knew about this?”

“Oh yeah. Pinkie Pie hunted me down in the crystal caverns. Scared my mom outta her mind. We still dunno how she got up to the door.”

Jen shrugged. “That’s Pinkie Pie.”

Everypony was dressed in their best. Rarity was worried her little ruse would upset Jen if she were the only pony there in formal attire. Still it didn’t put a damper on the fun. Games were played and gifts were opened. Luna arrived late in the evening and the festivities showed no sign of slowing. Everypony had to clear the dance floor once Luna joined Twilight Sparkle in seemingly spasmodic flailing about but as the hour grew later Lyra struck up a slow song. Using her magic to continue the lyre’s music she took to the dance floor with Bon-bon.

Fancy paired with Rarity of course and a blushing Echo made her way to Jen’s side. “So d’you like…wanna dance?”

Jennifer’s blush matched the other filly’s. “S-sure…if you wanna I mean.”

The pair took to the dance floor cheeks burning hotly but both smiling warmly with eyes only for the other. They mimicked the older ponies on the floor, standing close together, heads resting over the others neck as they slowly swayed across the dance floor.

Cheerilee had a seat next to the smiling Pinkie. “They make a cute couple.”

“Mmhm. I’m glad she found a special somepony so fast. She’s such a sweet filly. She deserves all the happiness she can squeeze into her life. I remember when she was the shy little girl back on her world. Now look at her. Fighting monsters, dating, running a successful business. She’s pretty much all grown up.” Pinkie couldn’t hide a soft sigh.

“True. But you shouldn’t feel sad Pinkie Pie. The best part of taking care of a foal is when you see them stand on their own, ready to go out into the world.”

“Oh I know. It just makes me think of the time I COULD have had with her. I knew she wasn’t happy at home, I should have made Princess Celestia understand she belonged here with me.”

Unseen by either mare Princess Luna sat in the shadows behind the pair listening intently. A flicker of pain crossed her features at the mention of her sister. They’d had so short a time together before they were separated again. At least this time it would be for a year, two at the most rather than an entire millennia. Her melancholy vanished when she looked to the dance floor and found the young fillies dancing happily, if a touch clumsily.

The song ended and the couples got refreshments or moved off to chat quietly together. The party was winding down it seemed. Luna approached Jen and Echo. “Cadet I wonder if I could borrow your date for the evening? I promise to return her promptly.”

Echo made a show of having to think about the request. “I suppose. Just don’t have her gone too long.”

Jen followed Luna curiously as the alicorn lead the filly from the ballroom and onto the patio outside overlooking the gardens. “I am told that sixteen is something of a milestone in a young girl’s life Jennifer.”

“Oh. Yeah I guess it is. Heh if I were at home dad would probably have a car for me.” She laughed lightly.

“Well obviously that would be a difficult gift to provide. I suppose I could fetch one from your world if you like, but I do not think you will get much use of it here.”

Jen laughed again. “No of course not. Who needs to drive when you can fly?” She spread her wings for emphasis.
“Indeed. Still this is a special time in your life and I felt compelled to provide a special gift.” Luna’s horn glowed brightly as a pure pink, perfectly round piece of rose quartz gem flicked into existence to hang before the pair. It shimmered with a warm rosy light and Jennifer felt an immediate connection to the stone.

“What…what is it?”

“The missing piece of Mercy. Each of the Arms of Harmony is a set. The weapon and the armor. This is your armor. The armor of a knight of harmony Jennifer.”

The young pegasus delicately released the catch at her throat allowing the dress to slide to the floor of the patio. She shifted back to her human state and reached for the gem, only to have Luna lift it from her reach. She turned a questioning stare to the princess.

“It is my pleasure to give this to you Jennifer, but you must know precisely what you are accepting. The sword you wear proudly has chosen you as its bearer, it has determined you to be worthy of the title of Knight. If you accept this, you accept the burden that comes with knighthood. The lives of your fellow Equestrians must hold greater value to you than your own. You must be prepared to give up your life in defense of theirs. You must carry yourself in a manner befitting a Knight of Harmony. Accepting this Jennifer, you are saying you are ready to leave your childhood behind fully, and step into the realm of adulthood.”

Jen was staring quietly at the gem hovering just a few feet in front of her nose over the balcony.

“Furthermore, I would expect you to no more live a being split between two worlds. The Knights of Harmony were a powerful force for good in Equestria. They were a symbol of what it MEANS to be equestrian. I cannot force you to choose this, but I believe you should adopt your chosen equestrian name as your own. Fully embrace the life you have chosen to live. This is a good deal for you to take in and I do not expect you to make your decision immediately.”

Jennifer remained quiet for a bit longer. “I could still send letters?”

“Of course. I would not ask you to completely ignore your distant kin, but your focus; your heart would have to be entirely devoted to Equestria. As mine is, as Celestia’s and Cadence. As everypony who has accepted the burden of the title you seek to claim.”

Luna was not in the least surprised as Jennifer squared her shoulders and unhesitatingly reached out to claim the gem. An unseen force guided her hand to place the gem against the leather sheathe holding the shield to her arm. It melded smoothly with the brown leather as the material hardened and took on a metallic sheen to match the shield itself. The sleeve spread to cover her hand in a gleaming gauntlet, soon the metal had spread over her shoulder and across her back than down her other arm. The armor formed tough but flexible plates down her chest and back. The greaves and boots settled around her legs and feet comfortably. Finally a gleaming helm took shape around her head concealing her hair.
Jennifer stood fully covered in her new armor. From head to toe she was protected by gleaming plates of pale pink metal tempered with gold filigree. Despite the fanciful colors it was powerfully enchanted and would protect her from threats both magical and mundane. She stood a little straighter than before too. Luna smiled as the girl looked far more a woman suddenly.

“How does it feel?”

“…surprisingly comfortable given I have nothing between my skin and a bunch of metal. I guess it’s part of the magic.” Her wings flexed from the slits at her back. “Is it supposed to be uh…human shaped?”

“Yes. It is enchanted to fit the wearer no matter their shape. Were you to change forms while wearing your armor it would change with you.”

Jen raised her hands flexing them and getting a feel for the armor. “It’s pink isn’t it?”

“It is.”

She only sighed softly. “Still pretty cool. Can I see yours?”

Luna raised a brow and lifted a forehoof to the large gem set into the torc she always wore. Pressing it gently her own body was encompassed in silvery blue light. When it cleared she was armored much the same as Jennifer, though the armor was a deep navy blue lined in silver.

“…and mine’s pink.”

I much enjoy pink. Twas my favorite color when I lived. It was no small feat to have Starswhirl alter the enchantment of my arms and armor to match it.

So this is YOUR fault Heart?

You look lovely. Like a true knight Jennifer.

Luna retracted her armor. “I suggest you do the same, I do not battle armor is proper attire for a birthday party.”
Sheepishly the girl mirrored Luna’s movements, touching the gem at the sheathe on her arm and retracting her own armor. “Thank you Luna. This is…a wonderful gift.” The young woman gave the princess a tight hug, which she returned.
“No less than you deserve Jubilant. I expect you to live up to the expectations that armor demands.”

She was unusually serious as she nodded. “I will Princess Luna. I promise.”

“Wonderful. Now I believe we should return to the party. Echo is probably growing agitated.”

Resuming her full pegasus shape Jen wormed back into her dress. The pair made their way back to the party. Many of the guests looked ready to drop over from exhaustion and seemed much relieved at the guest of honors return so they could properly bid her good night and give their well wishes. Most were staying in rooms provided by Fancy Pants at the manor and drifted off to bed.

Echo and Jennifer were soon alone on the balcony as a dutiful group of servants worked to clean the ball room. Jen’s impressive pile of gifts were collected with care and already on their way to her suite at the castle.

“So I bet you’re wondering what I gotcha.”

Jen laughed. “I figured night pony’s didn’t do gifts or something on birthdays.”

Giving her fillyfriend a swat to the flanks with her tail Echo grinned. “Of course we do.” The night pony drew a small box from the pocket of one jacket.

Jen worked it open with some difficulty, smiling at the heart shaped crystal inside. “Wow it’s really pretty Echo, thanks.”

Echo shuffled nervously. “It’s not just a pretty rock Jennifer. It’s a heart stone. My kind give them to those important to us. They always come in pairs.” She tugged at a delicate silver chain tucked under her collar letting the matching stone fall loose. “As long as our feelings remain true for one another we can always tell when we’re happy and healthy.”

“O-oh…wow Echo that’s…amazing. Thank you.” With a good deal more reverence Jen worked the chain over her neck letting the heart stone fall against her chest next to the other gem. She frowned a little seeing them next to each other. IT somehow felt wrong even if the chaotic gem was a gift from a friend. She gently flicked it from around her neck and looped the chain of Discord’s gem around the hilt of her sword.

The young pair settled down on the balcony resting against the other tightly. They didn’t feel a need to move until well passed the sun had made itself known.

I'm having alot of fun writing Starswhirl's stuff. If I wasn't already doing Jen and Umbra at the same time I'd be tempted to turn the original Order of Harmony into a full blown story of its own. XD

Thought about making the Knight's armor a torc like all the princesses have but decided that would be a bit on the girly side for the male members of the order haha.

Chapter 16: Dinky’s and Dragon’s

After our success with the dragons we were more than enthusiastic about the other fronts. If we dealt with the most difficult of our foes with nothing more than warm feelings and a few jaunty tunes, surely the rest would be as easy if not easier. Even Silent Step seemed to be in high spirits. Abundance surprised us all by hauling the supply wagon on her own. Evidently her sizeable bulk wasn’t just the result of over-indulging in her own cooking; she was the strongest of us by far.

It was a little over a week to travel from one border to the next for us. We shared tales of our youths mostly, just simple stories to pass the time. It was a pleasant enough way for us to travel. We had an official escort of proper soldiers for our own protection, not that we needed it. We soon reached the border to the great apes jungle nation.

The fighting was much more brutal here, the beasts’ wielded crude but effective weaponry raining death with catapults and smashing us with their stone clubs. Sunshine opted to allow the more martial minded of us to take the lead. Silent Step and Comet Streak decided to have the assassin remove some of the ape generals, while Comet, Abundance, Healing and I struck directly. Sunshine was left to guard the wagon. He was only sixteen winters at the time and we felt it unnecessary to expose him to bloodshed.

Our foes were ill-prepared for the power we brought to bear against them. Comet Streak’s mighty sword cleaved foe after foe. Abundance had picked up a massive war hammer for herself and cut a wide swath through the brutes. Healing Touch made herself useful the way she knew best, getting the wounded from the field and tending their wounds. Of course my own spells were the most impressive on the field. My magic amplified many times over by the shared bond with my fellows, I had soon chased the beasts from the field. We thought the day won until Silent Step slid from the shadows warning us of massive monsters coming from the jungle.

Towering boar beasts lumbered out of the trees, each carrying perhaps a dozen ape spear throwers on their backs. The huge creatures shrugged off my mightiest magic’s, and we were soon routed. Many brave ponies lost their lives that day but my friends and I managed to escape. I began to realize our mundane weaponry and spells would not be enough. If we were to be the champions of our people, we needed proper armaments.

I gathered my friends and explained my idea. To imbue some of our own essence within a weapon of our choosing. Silent Step, Abundance, and Comet Streak all had their weapons chosen already of course. Sunshine and Healing Touch seemed uncomfortable with the idea, but both understood the necessity. The colt took a slim rapier for his own, he was always fascinated with stories of the travelling bards and claimed most carried such blades. Healing Touch refused a blade; instead choosing a simple scepter to imbue with her essence hoping it would bolster her healing magic’s. I myself chose a simple sword and shield. I only intended it as a focus for my magic so the actual weapon mattered little.

The spell was simple enough, though no unicorn had ever attempted to bind a piece of themselves to an object. I went first. It felt odd. Not unpleasant or painful, just an odd feeling of part of myself leaving my being and merging with the weapon. The others watched with baited breath as I experimentally charged the sword with my magic and took a swing. The shockwave it unleashed sheared the boulder I wanted to practice on in half, and dug a sizeable gouge through the land beyond it before dissipating. Needless to say the others were quick to follow my example.

Thusly armed we took the field once more. Obviously things went quite differently. The apes were no match for the fury our weapons unleashed. Sunshine again opted to remain away from the fighting and nopony argued with his decision. Even Healing Touch was sending dozens of apes into a magical slumber with a wave of her scepter.

It wasn’t until the battle was nearly over I noticed Healing was no longer at my side. She lay some distance behind me, an ape spear having pierced her side and pinned her to the ground. Silent ran to her aid at my call, but Comet, Abundance and I…we pressed on. We pressed on with such a fury I shudder to recall the sensation. Such simplicity in such ferocious anger. You no longer worry that you bring weapons and magic against a fellow sentient, only that we wanted what hurt our friend to pay. And pay they did.

Their defeat was total. Their army decimated and perhaps a dozen in all survived the battlefield. Comet and Abundance seemed satisfied. I alas, was not. My master Meteor Trail was famous for his starfall spell. A spell I had never been able to wield before. Well I cast it that day. Not just one but hundreds of streaking lights bombarded the apes jungle homeland. When my fury had finally cooled…nothing was left. The lush beautiful jungles were replaced by cracked and broken wasteland. A land ponies to this day still call the badlands…

“Jenny! You’re gonna be laaaaate~”

Jen lifted her head from the book looking to the door. “Is it almost noon already?” She was reclined on her bed, in pegasus form of course with the book open before her forehooves. Her bedroom was rather spartan still. She had a rather in-ornate set of furniture. The plush bed she was laying in, a writing/drawing desk in front of the window and a few clothes in the closet (both pony and human). Mercy now adorned with Discord’s gem rested against the door frame of her room. Rolling off the bed she retrieved her precious sword and poked her head into the hallway.

Pink was naturally the dominant color of the rest of the house. Her own room was a pastel blue, the color of a sunny sky. Pinkie naturally insisted on the plushest, cushiest of all furniture for her home. It was still chilly out and a fire burned low in their cozy little fireplace. The mare of the house was on her way to the bakery, having stopped at home to ensure her charge wasn’t lazing the day away in bed until she had her own job to get to.

“It’s ten t’noon Jenny-bean. And you know how antsy in the pantsy they get if they have to wait for you!”

Jen gulped. Preening day with Dash and Fluttershy was the one day she couldn’t be late. Bad enough she’d have to listen to Rainbow Dash complain about waiting, but she’d get that…disappointed look from Fluttershy. With a quick nudge of affection to Pinkie’s flank the filly galloped from the house toward Fluttershy’s place as fast as her hooves could carry her.
Today wasn’t just preening day though. Today was it. THE day. Fluttershy promised today they wouldn’t just be standing on a big hill feeling the wind. They wouldn’t be gliding along the ground. No…today they would FLY. The goal for the day was for Jen to reach a cloud and sit on it. Not so grand a task, but an exciting one for Jennifer.

She threw the door open a BIT harder than intended and it hit the wall with a sharp BANG drawing a soft yelp from the timid owner of the cottage. Grinning with a touch of embarrassment Jen slid to a stop before a frowning Fluttershy and guffawing Rainbow Dash. “I’m here!”

Sighing softly the more serious of the pair closed the door. “We heard you coming halfway up the path Jennifer. Lost in your book again?”

Rubbing the back of her head with a hoof she shrugged. “Yeah. I’m close to the end. Starswhirl just like, wiped out the whole ape race with a spell to summon tons of meteors! You know the badlands used t’be a jungle?”

Rainbow Dash perked up. “No kidding? That book actually sounds pretty cool. Fighting dragons and crazy monkey monsters!”

Fluttershy clicked her tongue reproachfully. “No dragon slaying while we preen Rainbow Dash. This is a quiet peaceful time.”

Dash and Jen knew better than to argue with Fluttershy over…pretty much anything really. While the timid pegasus would go along with nearly anything her friends asked of her, if she put her hoof down on a subject one risked bodily harm by trying to force the issue. Jen hadn’t actually seen her snap but she’d been told in hushed tones that it did in fact happen, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

She may grumble a bit but the daredevil pegasus really did look forward to Thursdays every week. She protested a bit at Jen’s inclusion into she and Fluttershy’s circle, but eased up once she realized the faux pony wasn’t as hapless at the delicate activity as she expected. Dash was lighting a few scented candles while Fluttershy poured some tea.

Rainbow Dash made sure the curtains were closed around the windows. After a certain Foal Free Press incident she was taking no chances in having her image tarnished by being caught on film indulging in her softer side. Room secure and ambiance established the three winged ponies settled into their early afternoon activity.

Jennifer sighed heavily when it came to her turn and the duo went to work over her wings. Maybe she should have her iPod shrunk back down for these days. Find some soothing music to go with the tea and candles, that’d be heaven. Gradually the thought she’d been entertaining for the last couple of days struggled to the surface of her pleasure laden thoughts. “Mmm…whaddo you guys think’a askin’ Luna t’join us?”

The filly yelped suddenly as Rainbow jerked her head up, a feather in her mouth. “Luna? As in PRINCESS Luna? I’m pretty sure she has like a dozen servant ponies to do this for her.”

Fluttershy’s reaction was far less extreme; she only paused in her work to consider the idea. “She must be lonely with Celestia gone. I think it’s a wonderful idea Jennifer. Of course you should invite her.”

Jen nodded lazily. “She said she uses magic to do it with her sister being away but I dunno…it feels wrong that she has to do it alone.”

Dash had settled back to her own work by now. “…I guess that’s true, no pony should have to preen herself.” She smoothed an errant feather eliciting a happy groan from the filly. “I thought about askin’ Scootaloo to join us too. She says her mom does it for her but her folks are both earth ponies y’know? It’s not really the same. I’m sure she’s read plenty of books and everything but without wings of her own…” She shrugged.

“I think that’s very nice of you Rainbow Dash. Of course you can ask Scootaloo join us.” Fluttershy plucked a feather that needed removing drawing a hiss then a happy sigh from Jen.

“Are you sure? I mean I don’t wanna start bringing in tons of ponies and make you uncomfortable Fluttershy.” Rainbow Dash eyed the left wing critically; satisfied with her work she sat back.

Her fellow mare did likewise, giving Jennifer some time to bask in the lethargic sensations post-preening brought about. They always did her last as she got particularly lazy after. “Normally I’d mind more but this is a quiet, peaceful time. Everypony knows that, so there should be no problem.”

“Mmmm zzzfwah…” Jennifer eloquently contributed.

“Well as long as you’re both cool with it alright.” Both older ponies eyed the youngest in their midst with a bit of amusem*nt. “I’ll go get things set up for her while she uh, recovers.” With a little smirk Dash zipped out the door.

Giggling softly to herself Fluttershy went about dousing the candles and cleaning the cups used. A lazily smiling Jen soon joined her at the sink, working with painful slowness with her hooves at drying the cups Fluttershy was cleaning. “You’re getting a little better with them.”

“A little. It’s weird, the less I think about it the easier it is for me to do it…of course whenever I’m finally lifting or holding something I think “I’m doing it!” then I drop it.” Gingerly she placed the last of the cups on the pegs their owner stored them on. “I’m a lot better with my mouth but still a little grossed out picking some stuff up.”

With a gentle nudge against Jen’s flank, Fluttershy started to lead the way outside. “Well progress is progress, no matter how slow or small. I learned that the hard way.”

“Ooo I sense a story!” Jen bounded ahead of the older pegasus eagerly working the door knob of the cottage open with her hooves.

“I suppose there’s a little one…we can talk about that or we can get you up in the air.”

This was just the thing to distract the curious filly from the embarrassing story. “You’re right! Let’s get in the air!”

Rainbow Dash had been busy. The usual grey cloud cover was gone from overhead, having been relocated far closer to the ground making the area around the cottage look as if it were covered in a heavy grey fog. “So this is in case you crash and burn! I don’t want Pinkie Pie mad at me for breaking you or something. Fluttershy’ll be with us for most of the way but she doesn’t like going high up so you’re with me today.”

With an encouraging nod from her usual instructor Jen climbed the practice hill she’d been doing her glides from. “Just remember everything I’ve told you about feeling the wind shifting on your feathers. Today you’re going to fly up to that cloud waaaay up there that Rainbow Dash left out for you, you see it?”

Jen had to squint a little but she did indeed see the lone cloud floating in the sky. “Uh huh.”

“All you have to do is fly up to the cloud and sit on it. Just keep calm and relaxed. Our own magic is all about keeping us in the air and helping us get down nice and safe. Your body should know what to do you just have to do what it tells you ok?”
Jennifer gave another nod, taking deep breaths. This was it! Time to fly. Another deep breath and she set her hooves, rear end raised and tail flicking back and forth. With a last intake of air she broke into a short gallop and jumped flaring her wings wide. Immediately she began to coast through the air in a lazy downward direction but today wasn’t about gliding. Feeling the first small gust brush across her muzzle toward her wings she flared the feathery appendages just so, catching the draft and lifting a little higher into the air. With a mighty flap she rose a little further.

Fluttershy passed her smoothly flapping her own large wings in slow, lazy motions. Rainbow was dashing back and forth overhead her own wings going a mile a minute. Jen did her best to ignore the speedster and focus on Fluttershy. Taking her cues from the more experienced flier she twitched her wings in the slow gentle motions a drifter pegasus used to keep herself aloft. It was slow going, but she was gradually climbing higher into the air.

It was hard to resist the impulse to beat her wings rapidly like she did as a night pony. Focusing on Fluttershy ahead of her, slowly climbing higher and higher made a big difference. Unsure at first what to do with her legs she settled for tucking them closer to her body, just dangling there they created a lot of extra drag. So preoccupied was she with focusing on the older mare she hadn’t even realized how high she’d gotten. With a little gasp she realized she was already at the cloud she was supposed to be aiming for.

With an elated cry she flopped on the cloud bouncing lightly. It felt soft, springy, and super comfy just like Echo’s bed did. “Lookit that! You’re a natural kid!”

Fluttershy landed lightly next to Jennifer while Dash zipped about overhead. “All the way to the cloud on your first try. I’m so proud of you Jennifer. Do you want to try flying a little up here? The wind’s trickier.”

Now that she had a chance to sit and rest her wings a dull ache was working its way through the muscle. “I think I’m good for some more! I’m a little sore but not bad.”

“That’s the spirit! Why don’t we getcha buckin’ some clouds? I can take her from here if you wanna head back down Fluttershy.”

The timid pegasus certainly seemed to be considering it. With a little peek ground ward Fluttershy flexed her wings. “I’ll be alright. I think I might watch from here though and um…offer moral support?” She smiled weakly.

Jen was too elated with the sensation of her first real flight to mind much. With a gentle nuzzle against Fluttershy’s cheek she was off chasing after the much faster Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy wasn’t exaggerating about the wind being different this high up. The currents shifted, swelled, and flowed all around her constantly requiring her to shift her wings and flick her tail to compensate. It was a little touch and go but she was managing. As long as she focused on riding the wind currents she really didn’t have to flap very much at all to stay aloft.

Rainbow was gleefully leading her from cloud to cloud. “Alright there’s two ways t’do this! Just flip around and give it a buck…” She demonstrated by doing just that. Beating her wings rapidly to hover in place she delivered a swift kick to the cloud causing it to dissipate on contact. “But your type don’t like hovering, so you guys usually take a more head on approach.” With a fierce grin Dash burst through another cloud head first.

With a little nod the filly chose her target, a fluffy gray number who was just begging to be ploughed through. Happy to give her foe the end it so desired Jennifer pumped her wings to get a bit of speed and smashed through, forehooves leading. She passed through the other side with a soft *pft* sound. With a little laugh she shook the water from her mane and face. “It’s filled with water!”

Dash easily kept pace with the slower flier and smirked. “Well duh, it’s a cloud! C’mon let’s smash a few more of these bad boys then maybe you can kick out some snow.”

It was easy to lose track of the time up there among the clouds. Unable to see the hustle and bustle of the town going about their day a pony could imagine there was nothing to the world but the endless sea of dull gray fluff. A few hours of bucking clouds and kicking out snow passed before a concerned Fluttershy hunted down the adventurous duo. “Jennifer school’s going to be letting out soon. You need to get to work.”

“What?! It’s not three already is it?”

Both mares gave simultaneous nods. “Gah! I gotta go I’ll see you girls later!” Smiling suddenly Jen tucked her wings in close to her sides allowing herself to fall toward the ground. Feeling the updraft she’d been waiting for she spread her wings wide and coasted over the town toward the school house. Flying was everything she’d imagined it to be and she honestly never wanted to touch the ground again. Alas responsibilities reared their ugly heads. She probably couldn’t run a daycare comprised mostly of unicorns and earth ponies from the air. Not to mention wielding a sword in her mouth might be awkward while trying to stay aloft.

The daycare was in view before she came to a rather startling realization. She hadn’t practiced proper landing. When she would glide, landing was just a matter of letting yourself eventually come to a stop. She could probably do the same thing but she was so high up she’d likely wind up in the middle of the Everfree if she tried gliding to a stop. With a little sigh she searched around the school yard for an appropriate snow drift.

Miss Cheerilee’s class was (for the most part) attentively listening to their teacher’s final words of the day. It was almost time for the bell to ring, that meant they got to leave! True most of them only left to walk to the building immediately behind the school, but it was a place of fun and play rather than sitting still and learning. The sudden appearance of a wailing green streak plummeting from the sky outside the window to crash into a big pile of snow interrupted what remained of her lecture. With a quick glance outside to ensure the new flier was alright, Cheerilee sighed.

“I think that’s it for class today everypony.”

***

Glitter. Jennifer was beginning to think offering glitter to the foals she watched over for their various art projects was perhaps a bad idea. Though it did lend a bit of festive color to the interior of her work place.

“You know, maybe we should take glitter off the list of art supplies.”

We. Jen couldn’t hide a grin at that. Dinky was as always helping her clean up after the day. Thursdays were especially more work for Dinky Doo since Jen would be up in her office getting the deposit ready which left Dinky alone for about an hour to clean.

“I was just thinking that myself.” She ruffled the filly’s mane. She didn’t trust her hoof/mouth writing with her account books so she’d always go back to human to fill them out. “Looks like we’re done here.” Jennifer very seriously counted out twenty five bits for Dinky.

The little unicorn eyed the bigger-than-normal pile curiously. “How come there’s five more?”

Jen shrugged slinging the hefty bag of coin over her shoulder. “You’re a really big help, and business is booming. Hard workers get raises.”

Dinky was practically skipping all the way to her vault, gleefully proclaiming she’d gotten a raise today to anypony that so much as glanced her way. Jen had to pause and eye the significantly larger pile of coin in her vault curiously. “Hey Mr. Loan what’s with the uh…multiplication going on in here?”

“Oh Mr. Rich didn’t tell you? Your portion of the proceeds from your franchise businesses are being deposited to your vault automatically. Not to mention your first film debuted in Manehattan last weekend. It was apparently a hit.”

“Oh! Well…cool I guess.” She checked the taller at her vault…it was up to nearly six thousand bits. “Guess I can buy into an equal partnership sooner rather than later at this rate.” With a little chuckle she resealed her vault. ‘Maybe give some to the Apples too, for the weeks they let me mooch off ‘em.’ She thought to herself. She knew Rarity would steadfastly refuse payment for the clothes she generated, calling them gifts. She could always commission a dress as a way to pay her back.

The walk to Dinky’s house was short, of course the house was dark and door locked. Jen frowned a little at the normally cheerful filly’s sigh. “Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight? Pinkie’s always got something good cookin’.”

“Sounds good to me!”

Strolling back through town in her (over the past couple weeks) rarely worn natural self Jen considered going back to full pegasus, but Bleeding Heart wanted her to get in some work with her sword tonight and that required hands.

The house was unusually quiet for this time of day. Pinkie was usually chattering to either of the house hold pets, a neighbor, or a visiting friend. The door was unlocked of course…who would break into everypony’s favorite party planner’s house? Spotting a note on the table Jen read it curiously.

“Hey Jenny-bean, had a party emergency! Found out it’s Cranky’s birthday today and was totally unprepared. There’s a fruit pizza in the fridge for you and Dinky! Don’t forget to feed Gummy and Izzy!” She frowned a little as she came to the end. “How’d she know you were coming over?”

Dinky shrugged. “Dunno. What’s a fruit pizza?”

“Oh! A little invention of ours. Probly not the healthiest dinner ever but then again neither is regular pizza right?” She was met with a blank stare; of course Dinky would have no idea. With a little grin Jen retrieved the meal from the fridge. The crust was hoofmade pie dough and in place of sauce was a creamy vanilla icing. The toppings were up to the eater of course, Jen preferred cherries, oranges, and a big slice of apple at the top of every piece. Naturally it was lacking Pinkie’s usual inclusion of ‘everything else’ on her own half. The other half of the pizza was filled with blueberries, raspberries, and black berries.

Dinky hopped about excitedly. “Those are my favorites!”

Shaking her head at the mystery that was Pinkie Pie, Jen fetched some plates and divvied up the slices. “Of course they are.”

Before sitting to her own food Jen split a can of dog food for the resident dog and gator. She always felt it a little weird…feeding dog food to an alligator but what else was he gonna eat? Chores completed (of which she always had few, for such an energetic party animal Pinkie Pie was actually pretty tidy, and Jen kept her messes confined to her own bedroom), she sat to enjoy her own food.

The two ate in companionable silence. Dinky rarely enjoyed home cooked food beyond the occasional batch of muffins so the meal was a special treat for her. To Jen it was mercifully without the flair of Pinkie Pie’s culinary experimentation. At times it was great, others…well pickle juice and peanut butter were not a good mix.

Meal finished the elder of the pair went about clearing the dishes while the younger watched quietly. “So what’re you thinking of doing when you finish school Dinky?”

“Well…I thought about being a mail mare like momma for a bit.”

Jen nodded as she started to stack the plates. “Yeah? I bet she’d like that.”

“Maybe. Now I wanna keep doing what I’m doing now though.”

The teen looked over her shoulder. “You mean help me in the daycare? Isn’t that kinda I dunno…dull?”

Dinky blinked. “YOU do it. And I like helping! It’s a lot of fun. And you look like YOU have a lot of fun playing with us and stuff…I guess it is a little silly.”

With a little smile Jen ruffled her mane again. “Nah it’s not silly Dinky. It’s nice. And it IS fun. I bet you’d be great at it. Heck maybe you can run the place someday.”

The unicorn perked up. “Really? You think so?”

Jen shrugged. “Sure. I’m only doing it cause it’s a good way to make bits. I plan to travel in a couple years. First I wanna see Equestria then I want to go beyond. The dragon lands and griffon empire, down to Zebrica. I’m gonna see it all.”

“R-really? You wanna see where…dragons and griffons and zebras live?!” Dinky shuddered at the idea.

Jennifer laughed as she grabbed a couple books from her room. “Really. It’s always been my dream to travel and see new things. Back home everything’s pretty much discovered. Almost every inch of our world is mapped out and stuff y’know? But here…there’s so little you guys have documented outside of Equestria. I could be like Columbus or Magellan! …uh…I could be a famous explorer.”

Dinky’s eyes were shining a little. “Wow I never thought of it like that! You could see stuff nopony’s ever seen before!”

“Exactly! I’d be the first Equestrian to like, see the dragon lands in years. I’d explore the jungles of Zebrica! Climb the mountains of the griffon empire…course that’s not for a bit yet. Pinkie wouldn’t even let me fly without her say so I doubt she’d ok me wandering off to dragon land for a couple years yet.” Jen glanced at the clock on the wall. “Alright I gotta hit the library than I’m off to practice. Heart’s been nagging me for a while now.”

I do not NAG, I gently remind.

Rolling her eyes Jen looked back at Dinky. “You want me to walk ya home or can you get there ok?”

The little filly shook her head standing up from the table. “I can get home by myself. Thanks for dinner Jen, and thank Pinkie for me too.”

“Heh, you’re welcome over anytime Dinky. I know Pinkie doesn’t mind. She loves pop ins. Usually Vinyl smelling whatever she’s cooking next door and dropping by…” Jen shut the door as she and Dinky stepped out, one headed for home and the other for the library.

***

“Twilight’s not here.” Jen blinked and jumped back a bit as Spike abruptly slammed the door in her face.
She stood in front of the door for a minute before knocking again, frowning this time.

The surly looking young dragon glared up at her. “I SAID Twilight’s not here. No book check outs when she’s gone and she’s studying in that weird library so she won’t be back until late.”

This time when he tried to slam the door she jammed her foot in the way…glad she’d bothered to throw shoes on. “What the heck’s your problem Spike?” Sure she wasn’t exactly best friends with the little guy but they’d always gotten along well enough when she was at the library.

He puffed up his chest looking about to go on a tirade…when he just deflated suddenly. “I guess it’s not really your fault. She’s had her eye on him ever since her big trip to Canterlot a while ago.”

Aha. So that was it. With a little smile she let herself in shutting the door. “This’ about Rarity and Fancy Pants huh?” Twilight’s owl was eyeing the girl carefully as she set her (just barely!) overdue library books on the table.

The dejected dragon nodded sullenly. “I thought I really had a shot y’know? We kinda had this moment during my uh…big dragon rampage.” He heaved another sigh. “And now he’s ALL she ever talks about!”

Jen gave him a sympathetic smile kneeling down to eye level, resting a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not so bad Spike. Besides she’s like OLD compared to you. Don’t you want someone…more your age? And species?”

He huffed looking up at her. “You’re one to talk. You’re pretty cozy with that night pony when she visits.”

“Who Echo? That’s different. I’m usually a pony when we go out remember? Plus I’m gonna wind up as one for good sooner or later Spike.” She displayed her bracelet for emphasis.

Suddenly his eyes were fixated on the dangling jewelry. “Yeah…yeah you DO turn into a pony to go out with her don’t you?”

Looking from his suddenly laser focused gaze to the bracelet on her wrist Jen stepped back clapping a hand over it. “Ohhh no! No no Spike that’s not a good idea. I don’t even know if it WORKS for dragons. Plus this seems like something Twilight would freak out over. And d’you really wanna come between Rarity and Fancy?”

Spike clutched at her shirt giving her his biggest puppy dog eyes. “Pleeeeeeease Jen! This could be my last chance! She’s my true love! I’d help YOU if you needed it!”

Chewing her lip Jen ruffled her wings in agitation. “…FINE. For ONE night. And if Twilight finds out about this I’m telling her you like…over powered me and ran off with it, got it?”

Gleefully the little dragon released her and danced from foot to foot, claws eagerly extended as she slid the bracelet off and offered it to him. He didn’t even hesitate to fling it over his wrist and grab at the unicorn charm. A little flash went off and…to Jen’s surprise a pretty handsome colt stood in his place. He really was only a little smaller than she was when she went pony. His light purple coat and green mane were pretty striking, the mane standing up in rakish spikes.

“So? How do I look?”

“A lot older than I expected. How old ARE you Spike?”

The new pony was a lot more adept at walking on all fours than Jen was when she first started. He wouldn’t be galloping anywhere anytime soon but he could definitely walk about. “Fourteen in a couple weeks.”

“Huh. I’m only two years older than you? I thought you were like…I dunno five or something the way the girls all treat you.”
He rolled his eyes. “I mean in dragon years I guess I AM a baby. Dragons take forever to grow up I guess. Naturally I mean. Princess Celestia said it was uh…a combination of mental and physical maturity.”

Nodding a little Jen slid the bracelet from his leg. “Alright so here’s the deal. I’m gonna be out a little ways north of Fluttershy’s cottage practicing. After you see Rarity you come find me, and we get you back in scales. Deal?”

“Deal! Thanks Jen this means a lot to me!”

Jen was nearly bowled over as he awkwardly raced from the house in the direction of Rarity’s boutique. With a bemused sigh she glanced up at Owlowiscious. “Can you lock the door behind me.”

“Hoo.” Was his response. Not one to be suckered into another of his little games Jen just nodded politely and stepped out the door, sliding the bracelet back on. She quirked a brow when she felt a fifth charm against her skin. Lifting it to eye level she smiled. “Well well…look what Spike gave me…”'

***
As Jen passed the Doo house she was dismayed to find Dinky moping about on the porch. “Hey Dinky…you need a boost?”'
The filly sighed. “I guess…” She perked her ears suddenly. “Can I come with you?”

“Ehh I dunno Dinky. It’s not very exciting, and it might be dangerous.”

Truly she be safer with us than sitting here in the dark alone no? Mercy cannot harm the filly either way, even with what I plan to teach thee this eve.

Eyeing her traitorous sword she shrugged. “Alright you can come along. But you gotta be quiet ok? I’m trying to learn something new and sometimes I need to concentrate hard.”

Dinky’s eyes widened and she nodded solemnly. “I promise.”

“Alright let’s go then.”

They walked in silence for a time before Dinky’s curiosity got the better of her. “So didja learn all he runes yet?”

Jen nodded with a faint smile. “I did. Just finished the last one last night. Number five lets me take someone’s wounds onto myself, and number six lets me heal quickly. I guess Bleeding Heart thought that’d be a good inclusion based on the fifth rune.” She chuckled a little.

“So if somepony’s hurt bad you can make it so YOU’RE hurt instead, and then heal yourself? How come the fifth rune isn’t just healing somepony else?”

Jen shrugged. “I guess back then regular healing magic was really rare. And the bearer before Bleeding Heart was named Martyr so it kinda fits. A little depressing if you ask me.”

“A lot depressing…” Dinky squinted at Jen’s bracelet. “Hey was there always a dragon on there?”

With a laugh Jen shook her head. “Good eye, and no it just showed up today.”

“Ooo can you turn into a dragon now?”

“I think so. I was gonna try it out after practice. I guess we’ll find out together huh?” Jen flashed a toothy grin as they passed Fluttershy’s cottage. It was dark inside; the pegasus was probably at the party Pinkie Pie was throwing.

Another twenty minutes of walking had the pair in a large clear field with nothing but snow in most directions, the border of the Everfree could be seen on the girls’ right. The moon hung high in the sky lighting the world below in silvery radiance. Dinky settled comfortably on the ground watching excitedly as Jennifer drew Mercy from its sheath. One of the runes glimmered brightly and the filly gasped as the spectral image of an armored unicorn took shape.

Jen switched from pegasus to unicorn aspect, then brought out her armor…drawing another gasp from the spectating filly. She looked very much like the ghostly knight now…at least in what she was wearing. Identical suits of armor, shields, and blades were drawn as the pair took several steps from each other, raising their blades in a salute.

As if some unspoken agreement passed between the duo they charged at the same instant, blades flashing and shields rising to block. Dinky flinched at the loud clash of steel on steel, but found herself unable to look away. Human and unicorn moved in perfect harmony with one another. When one stepped forward the other was already mimicking. Each swing and thrust of the blade was met by an identical swing and block from the other combatant. It was almost like a dance of sorts. The way they would spin, step, hop back, twirl and block.

Bleeding Heart hopped back and snapped her sword up in another salute, and Jen did the same. This time when they came together they were no longer mirroring one another. They attacked each other with gusto now. The far more experienced knight slipped through Jennifer’s guard more than a few times, but the girl was holding her own. Heart began to force Jen back with a sudden flurry of strikes from her blade and Dinky thought her friend was surely done for, before her horn flared to life and blew Bleeding Heart across the field.

The ghostly mare twisted in the air and landed smoothly on her hooves, charging back in. Thinking to stop the specter of her blade the same way she did Umbra, Jen reached out with her magic to hoist the unicorn into the air. It worked…for a moment. Then Heart summoned her own magic and broke the hold the girl had over her, bringing her copy of Mercy down in a powerful overhead swing, using her falling momentum to lend strength. Jen managed to get her shield in the way but the blow staggered her, sending her to her knees. Heart landed smoothly and spun, driving her hind hooves into the girls armored stomach sending her flat on her back with a groan. Gently the mare rested the tip of her blade under Jennifer’s helm.

Dinky had to resist the urge not to charge to Jennifer’s rescue, her fears were swiftly banished when Heart sheathed her sword and stepped back. A grumbling Jennifer sat up, banishing her armor. “I almost had you that time!”

Of course. Thy strategy of flopping about the ground akin to a beached flounder was quite inspired. Very nearly did I fall for thy ruse.

Dinky yelped now. “I heard her!”

Almost as if they had forgotten they had an audience girl and ghost turned to Dinky. “Oh…yeah when she’s outside the sword anypony can hear her. Dinky, this is Bleeding Heart.”

Tis a pleasure to make thy acquaintance Dinky Doo. I am Dame Bleeding Heart, Knight of Harmony.

The little filly seemed stuck somewhere between excited and terrified. This WAS a ghost after all, but it was a nice ghost. She had to be if she was friends with Jen. She dipped into an awkward little curtsy. “N-nice to meet you Miss Heart.”

Jen eyed the spirit curiously. “I didn’t know you were like a noble or something.”

Dame is merely the title of a lady knight Jubilant. Were there an actual knighthood remaining t’would be thy own title in time. Excellent useage of thy magic by the way. It took me by surprise; truly thou art growing in skill at an acceptable pace.

Smiling thinly Jen dipped into a sarcastic little bow. “Your praise means all the world to me. Speaking of magic…time to go back. I’m getting worn out.”

Inclining her head Heart vanished into Mercy once again. Dinky stepped closer curiously. “D’you come all the way out here because you make so much noise practicing?”

Jen shrugged and rolled her neck and shoulders. “Partly. The other part is while I was trying to harmonize with Mercy I needed it to be very quiet. It took a lot of sitting still and concentrating to get to where I am now. Speaking of, Heart has something new to teach me so I need you to be quiet again Dinky.”

Eyes wide the filly hastened back to her previous seat and settled down calmly. Jen settled into her familiar kneeling position with Mercy spread across her lap.

Thy mastery of Mercy be nearly complete. Only one ability remains before a rune of thine own can be added. Tis the most simple, but dangerous of the abilities of the Arms of Harmony. The blade can be used as a focus for thy spell casting. While thou are clearly no sorceress, thy magic reserves are mighty and can be focused through the blade to produce spectacular results. There is only danger if thy power wrests itself from thy control. Do not fear overmuch, the only harm that can be caused is to the landscape about us.

Alright…so the can’t hurt innocents extends to this? That’s good to know. So what do I have to do?

Tis simple. Summon thy magic; though instead of focusing through thy horn, use Mercy as the conduit for release. For now t’would be best to use as little as possible. Thy reserves are formidable to say the least, and a full release would be most devastating to the countryside.

Dinky Doo was watching wide eyed as the girl knelt in the snow, her blade glowing brightly and a similar glow surrounding her eyes. She gasped yet again as the glow suddenly vanished and Jen blinked her eyes open, getting to her feet. Still not saying a word the human girl held Mercy’s tip pointing into the distance away from herself. Again her eyes closed as her horn began to glimmer to life. The verdant green aura snaked down her arm and into the sword much to the filly’s surprise.
Slowly the glow around the blade began to intensify so much it was hurting Dinky’s eyes to look…but she refused to look away. The aura started to lick and twist away from the sword, covering Jen’s arm in roiling magic. Without warning she snapped her other hand to the blades hilt and drew the sword back, slashing the air with a shout. Still refusing to shut her eyes Dinky watched, mouth agape as a wave of roiling green magic ripped from the sword and tore its way across the field, leaving melted snow and scorched ground in its wake.

Woozily Jen blinked her eyes back open and fell back on her butt in the snow. “How wuzzat?”

Wild and unrestrained, but impressive. Ten more than we can go home.

With a disgruntled huff she got back to her feet. Repeating the act again and again. While it didn’t really get any more refined she managed to belt out the requisite ten before thudding back onto her rear end.

Dinky didn’t approach until she had sheathed Mercy. “…that was amazing!”

Jen gave her a sleepy grin. “Yeah? It feels uh…draining. And I didn’t even put all my juice into it.” Sprawling out on the snow the girl settled down to gather her strength again. She was already feeling her mana slowly filling itself back up.

The little filly crept closer settling in the snow by Jennifer, almost touching Mercy’s shield with her nose. “I think I figure out what I wanna do when I grow up.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

Dinky just smiled softly, not answering. “Hey Jen?”

“Mmhm?”

“Did you have any brothers or sisters back home?”

Jen turned her head to regard Dinky. “Nope. It was just my mom, dad, and uncle. I didn’t even have any cousins. It was a small family. My grandparents were dead before I was born and Uncle Derek never got married.” Lifting her wrist with the bracelet to eye level she sighed at the comfortable feeling that came when her noticeably depleted mana filled itself. “What about you?”

“Nope, it’s just me and momma. I never met my dad, and momma doesn’t like talking about him. She has a stallion friend who comes over a lot but they both say he’s not my dad. He’s really nice, and brings me presents and stuff…but I believe them. He doesn’t FEEL like a dad you know?”

Jennifer shrugged. She was definitely not the person to talk to about forming deep familial bonds. “I guess. I’m sure if he were your dad he’d say something. So is that why she’s not around a lot? She’s running around with that guy?”

“Sometimes. She works a lot too. Usually she’s gone before I wake up for school and when she does come home it’s not until after dinner time.” The little filly’s voice grew softer. “Miss Cheerilee told me I shouldn’t get upset with her. When momma was a filly something heavy hit her head and hurt her real bad. They tried to do healing spells but they couldn’t fix it all the way. That’s why her eyes go wrong sometimes and she runs into stuff a lot.”

Jeez this wasn’t exactly where Jen had expected this conversation to go. She eyed the frowning filly from the corner of her eye. “Well. Since I came to Equestria I’ve been getting a bit of a family of my own y’know? There’s Pinkie Pie of course. And me and Echo have been getting really close the last few weeks.”

Dinky giggled now. “Kissy face close?”

With a smirk Jen flicked Dinky’s nose. “Maybe. And there’s this one filly who follows me around a lot. She’s kinda like a little sister.”

“Oh? Do I know her?” Of course the quick witted filly was wise to Jen’s game, but she was happy to play along.

“Probably. She’s in Miss Cheerilee’s class.”

“Hmm…Scootaloo?”

“Close.”

“Oh! It must be Sweetie Belle.”

“Getting warmer.”

“I know! Diamond Tiara!”

“Yup. Diamond Tiara is the little sister I’ve always wanted. You can tell by how close we are right?”

Dinky giggled again and inched closer, resting her little body against Jen’s arm. “So are you gonna turn into a dragon or what?”

“Why not?” Swinging her legs into the air, she brought them down using the momentum to heave herself into a sitting position. “Step back a little. I dunno if I’m gonna like get huge or something.”

The filly scampered a little ways away to give Jennifer plenty of room to try out her newest charm. Jen eyed it a moment before she gripped the dragon shaped charm. She felt the familiar rush of magic roll over her body. It faded with the usual quickness. She noticed the lack of weight on her head. Her hair was gone. Slowly she raised a clawed hand to her head running it along her scaly scalp. She felt a somewhat wild growth of spines adoring her head. Craning her neck around she saw they ran the length of her back and tail and were the same crimson color her mane became when she was a night pony. Her scales were the same blackish-green as her night pony coat too.

A grinning Dinky Doo trotted over. “I don’t think you’re an adult dragon Jen.”

The little green dragon blinked at suddenly being eye level with Dinky. With a grimace she looked down to find the same pudgy belly Spike sported. She was indeed a baby dragon. She might be a LITTLE taller than he was but not by much. “Oh man what a gyp!” Even her voice squeaked out higher.

Dinky lost it at that, falling on her back and flailing her hooves in the air as she squealed with laughter. Jennifer felt a spectacular pout coming on, and only through sheer force of will did she keep it from coming out. She settled for sticking her tongue out at the filly, squeaking at the alien sensation of the slender reptilian tongue snaking out and waggling in the air. She hastily pulled it back in.

Dinky’s giggles finally subsided as she rolled back to her hooves. “You’re so cute! Like a girly green Spike! I like the spines on your head though, they look a little like a mane!”

Jen ran her hand through them again. “Yeah? Well let’s get back to town and I can see what I look like.”

The filly pranced circles around the much slower moving dragon. Jen found if she broke into a waddling little run she could move quicker but Dinky’s renewed giggling put a stop to THAT right away. Slinging her shoes over her shoulder they made their way back to Ponyville. “Hey can ya breathe fire?!”

Jen cupped her hands over her belly. “I think so. I feel something really warm in here. Want me to try?” At Dinky’s excited nod she furrowed her brow and rubbed her little snout in thought. Grinning at the sudden inspiration she took a deep breath and belched as loud as she could. A sudden gout of vivid pink fire leapt from her mouth and spiraled into the air.

“Woo! You did it! And it was pink like your sword!”

With a grumble she snapped her mouths hut. “It’s a pale red, not pink.”

“It’s pink.”

Mercy is pink. I specifically had it altered to be so.

“Pale red!”

Neither filly nor ghost was listening.

***

Jen dropped Dinky off at her house then headed out in search of Spike. The normally dependable little guy hadn’t shown up for the switch back to his dragon self and Jennifer was a little worried. She’d gotten a few curious looks from the ponies still about in the evening, but she was a small enough dragon no pony seemed to be overly concerned with her presence. Then once they spotted Mercy on her arm they shrugged it off to another of the human resident’s eccentricities.

She didn’t have to go far to find the dragon turned colt. He was talking and laughing with Sweetie Belle. Jen ducked back around the boutique’s wall and peeked out at the chatting ponies. Both seemed to have that vaguely tense but excited feel she had around Echo lately. Rarity finally poked her head out.

“Sweetie Beeeeelle, say good night to Spike and come inside! You can see him tomorrow after school. It’s bedtime!”

Reluctantly the young pair parted, and Spike was practically floating as he made his way passed Jen’s hiding spot. With a huff she took off after him pumping her little legs. “Spike!”

He turned and jumped at the sight of her. “Whoa! What happened to YOU?” He squinted suddenly. “…am I that fat too?”

With an indignant squeak Jen clapped her hands over her belly. “It’s not fat! It’s-it’s insulation! And yes you are!” Smoothing her ruffled spines she stared up at Spike. “So it looked like you and Sweetie Belle were having a nice talk.”

Spike blushed and scuffed the ground with a forehoof. “W-well…Rarity kinda um, shot me down. She said I was very handsome and a true gentleman, but her heart was promised to somepony else. I bumped into Sweetie Belle on my way out and we got to talking and well…I have a date tomorrow!”

Jen laughed a little. “Well congratulations.” She dangled the bracelet at him. “Now change back.”

The colt immediately adopted a defensive stance. “What? Why? I have a date! What if she doesn’t like dragon-me!?”

“That’s the REAL you Spike, she knows that. If she didn’t like dragon-you she wouldn’t have asked you out tomorrow. Besides we had a deal.”

Grumbling all the while the young unicorn allowed the dragoness to slip the bracelet over his foreleg. With a heavy sigh he changed, leaving a pair of baby dragons in the middle of the street. He handed her bracelet back. “Huh. You’d think I’d find you cute but…I don’t.”

Brow furrowed huffily she refastened the bracelet around her wrist. “Gee thanks.”

“No no! I didn’t mean it like that. Just…I guess I like ponies over dragons?”

His fellow reptile shrugged. “Maybe? I mean you’ve lived around them since the second you were hatched. I guess it’d make sense. Maybe you’re just a pony at heart.”

Spike gave a little nod. “I’ve kinda been thinking that for a while now. Ever since that disaster with the dragon migration.” At her questioning look he sighed. “Long story, ask Twilight or Rainbow Dash. Anyway…maybe think I could use that bracelet again?”

“I don’t see why not. As long as you get Twilight’s permission from now on. I don’t want an enraged Twilight Sparkle blowing the wall off my room looking for me cause I turned her dragon into a pony.”

“Heh she wouldn’t do that. …maybe. Yeah I better make sure it’s alright with her first.”

“I think that’d be best. If she gives the okay come find me tomorrow before school lets out alright? I’ll give you the hook up.”
“Will do! Thanks Jen, I’ll see you tomorrow then!”

With a little wave he waddled his way back up to the library. Grimacing at how adorably silly he looked Jen felt she’d had quite enough of looking the same and returned to her human state. She was pleasantly surprised to find a large pair of green draconic wings at her back. Less excited about the creepy lizard tongue and fangs. Her hair was intact though it felt heavier. Running a hand through it she found it felt similar to her spines, only longer and more abundant. There was still the warmth in her chest and stomach.

“Huh, now this could be handy.”

***

My fellows spoke little to me. None condoned my actions. They all understood why I did what I did, even if they didn’t all agree with me. Silent Step nodded her approval silently and Comet Streak just gave a resigned shrug. “The heat of battle.” He’d told me. It could make a pony lose his mind, seeing a comrade fall. Only Healing Touch was no mere comrade to me. She was my closest and dearest friend, and I had hoped something more once this war nonsense was settled.

I knew some healing magic but nothing near the level Healing was capable of. The spear had been removed and her wound bandaged, but the field medic told us it didn’t look good and suggested we take a moment to say our goodbyes.
They did. Comet and Silent together murmuring a few words over her far too still form. Abundance gently kissed the top of Healing Touch’s head before leaving her alone with myself and an unusually quiet Sunshine.

Words failed me. I simply had nothing to say. What could I say? That it was unfair? That we deserved a life together? That I had such big plans for the two of us? It all seemed so selfish. This wasn’t about me, it was about her. I again glanced at the other pony in the room. The young colt had been sitting in the corner quietly with his rapier drawn, resting on the ground before him. His nose was just barely resting against the hilt.

Without warning his eyes fluttered open and he rose, blade gripped in his magical aura he sat down by Healing’s head, and began to sing softly. I had to strain to hear the words.

“Hush now quiet now, it’s time to rest your sleepy head…”

A lullaby? I suppose it was somewhat fitting. The ever cheerful Sunshine was unlikely to have any funeral dirges in his musical repertoire after all. I turned my attention back to Healing, again trying to find something to say. To my astonishment the site of her wound was glowing in a pale yellow light. The same light as Sunshine’s own magic. I looked to the still crooning colt to find his blade was glowing brightly. Particularly one point along the metal just above the hilt. As I watched a rune began to shape itself in the blade.

Sunshine’s voice had been rising steadily until he was practically belting out lines of the supposed lullaby at the top of his lungs. Smiling all the while. His less than gentle singing had drawn the rest of our friends back, most likely to admonish him for his breach of etiquette. They all stopped staring slack jawed at the sight of the colt’s brightly flaring magic that surrounded both himself and our near-to-death companion. Ever so slowly Healing Touch’s eyes fluttered open, and she smiled softly. “I love that song.”

Sunshine finished and flashed her his biggest grin. “I know you do. Even though it’s a lullaby I thought it might be a good one for you to wake up to.”

I seized Healing’s bandages in my own magic and tore them away. There was no sign she had ever been wounded at all, save the smallest of discolorations in her newly grown patch of fur. I couldn’t help myself, I tackled Healing Touch off the table and to the ground in the fiercest embrace I could manage.

Confused and not realizing how close to death she had come she returned my hug, gazing at our happily crying friends in astonishment. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

We all shared a laugh and despite her protests the medic insisted she be left alone to rest. While reluctant to leave her side I had questions for Sunshine. “How did you do…what you did? That wound was terrible enough that it would have taken every spell Healing knew to remove it.”

The young colt shifted as we all stared him down. “Well…my sword told me I could add something more to it than I already did. Something…unique.”

“Your sword…TOLD you?”

He laughed a little. “I know how that sounds, but yes. Ever since the bit with the dragons I’ve been hearing the tiniest of whispers in the back of my head. While everypony was in with Healing Touch I decided to really concentrate on the voice. It um…helped take my mind off her.”

I nod, I can understand the need. “So then what?”

He shrugged. “I just felt…more in tune with the sword. I’m calling it Hymn by the way. I think it fits and he needs a name. Anyway, Hymn told me that I could make my mark on him, and give him a little something extra then just being a really fancy sword and second horn to shoot magic out of. So…I did.”

So simple an explanation, but of course Sunshine was not a mage. He didn’t study advanced magical theorem and wouldn’t really know any of the convoluted terms to describe an inanimate object not only gaining sentience, but enough awareness to impart advice to its owner. I look at my own weapon speculatively as the others are now doing. “So you…gave it what exactly Sunshine?”

He beamed. “A song of course! The lullaby, Hush Now. Singing the lullaby can bring out a really strong healing spell now.”

I chuckled. “Of course, a song.”

The journey back home was a quiet one. Five of the six of us intently focused on our own weapons trying to hear the mysterious voice Sunshine spoke of. Comet Streak was the only of us to manage it. His broadsword now named Corona, he could invoke the heat of the sun itself it would seem to set the blade alight.

Word of the devastation in the ape kingdom had spread quickly. The dogs and griffons had already abandoned their fronts to fortify their homes in preparation for our imagined attack. King Diamond Dust was more than pleased to say the least. With the treaty among the dragons, the apes wiped out, and the other two now chased into their various holes it seemed peace had come to our land at last.

We could not have foreseen the newest threat to our peaceful existence would come from within. Seeing the power we wielded against our outer threats, the king decided it was time to bring the other two tribes fully in line. The pegasi were willful and only worked with us when war time called for it. The earth ponies chafed at being treated as second class citizens and would be surly and uncooperative from time to time.

We were sent immediately to Pegasopolis with an ultimatum. Swear fealty to the crown or be destroyed utterly. The king reasoned that our magic was great enough we didn’t need pegasus ponies to control the weather, and If such was the case one of the smaller cloud cities would be elevated to their capitol’s former glory if they were willing to obey.

This mission sat well with not one of us. Perhaps before the ritual we would have thought nothing of attacking a fellow pony but now…now the racial barriers that seemed to important a few short weeks ago now seemed utterly inconsequential. I worked a simple spell to allow us cloud walking and we levitated ourselves to the grand city in the sky.

The pegasi were surprised to say the least at our sudden appearance. Surprised and wary. Many had been at the front when I razed the ape’s country to the ground and correctly suspected the reason we had come. Still none wished to actually engage us in open combat and we were ushered through the city with as much haste as proper decorum would allow.

The pegasus ponies were a rigid and militaristic tribe. That’s not to say they had no artisans or members of their tribe who followed gentler paths, but the military ruled here. Their current Commander was a fiery mare by the name of Lightning Streak. I’d only been in her company once when accompanying my master to a meeting of the tribes’ leaders. She was hard headed and stubborn, but cared deeply for her people.

Our guide halted us before what I assumed to be the Commander’s quarters. “Commander Lighting Streak has requested she speak with Starswhirl Lulamoon alone.”

This was a bit of a surprise. Not so much that she wished a one on one conversation, but that she knew my embarrassingly silly clan name. I could hear the others save Healing Touch snickering behind my back. Doing my best to salvage what little dignity I could I nodded my ascent. “Of course.”

The commander was certainly an imposing mare. Standing nearly as tall as many stallions she gazed at me with a surprisingly resigned look in her normally blazing magenta eyes. She had a deep blue coat and a rather striking yellow and red streaked mane. “Master Magi, it’s a pleasure to receive you and your valiant companions in our fair city. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

I bow as deeply as if I were standing before my own king. “Commander, our thanks for receiving us and seeing me so promptly. I…wish we were here under better circ*mstances…”

She raised a hoof silencing me. “So Diamond Dust has sent you and your fellow warriors to bring us into line properly hm?” She sighed softly looking out the window of her office to the city below. “Despite my reputation Starswhirl, I am not some hot headed private eager for constant battle and bloodshed. Word of your deeds is spreading quickly from every town and settlement in the kingdom.” Now she turned back to me. “So, as commander of Pegasopolis and leader of all pegasus pony cities I pledge my fealty to you.” Now SHE bowed low.

I admit I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected the pegasi to put up a fight and was not looking forward to the ensuing combat. “Wonderful. I truly am sorry we had to meet personally for the first time under such circ*mstances. I’ll bring word of your compliance to King Diamond Dust right away.”

Now she raised her head, fixing me with a hard stare. “You misunderstood me I believe. I swear fealty to YOU, Starswhirl Lulamoon. And your fellow warriors. We respect strength in the pegasus tribe and you and yours have displayed a might never before seen by ponykind. Not only your military might, but your ability to peacefully mediate disputes as seen with your actions toward the dragons.”

The only way she could have surprised me more is by lunging across the office and driving her spear through my chest. “I…I see. I…appreciate your sentiments commander but…we are servants of the king. We hold no actual political power.”

Lighting Strike kept that iron gaze fixed on me, refusing to let me look away. “I am well aware of your position Starswhirl. But I believe you and yours are not here eagerly seeking the battle your king wishes. I think you wish peace. Peace between all three tribes. No doubt you travel to speak with the earth pony chancellor next. I believe he will feel similarly.”

Blinking dumbly I shook my head. “I…WE are not leaders Commander. We are…mages, soldiers, and cooks. Given great power yes, but still we were not bred and educated for such a role as ruling a kingdom.”

Her gaze softens now and she smiles faintly. “I believe you Starswhirl. But I am of the opinion that great leaders do not seek out their positions but have them thrust upon them. I have given you my answer Master Lulamoon. You may do with it as you will. I look forward to speaking with you again soon.”

I was too stunned to even bow properly, merely staggered from the office. The others were crowding around me, asking how it went but I didn’t speak until we were back on the ground. “Commander Lighting Strike said she ah…swears fealty to us.”

My fellows shared looks of confusion. “To us? To the unicorns you mean?”

I shook my head. “To US.”

Sunshine was already guffawing at the concept, and Abundance looked close to laughing along with him. Comet and Silent both had similarly speculative looks on their faces. Only Healing seemed to share my trepidation. “Surely she meant our king. WE can’t be in charge of anything!”

Comet Streak and Silent Step seemed to have reached an agreement. “Why can’t we?”

“We’re commoners for one thing. Mages and soldiers certainly but we’re not nobles!”

Silent Step spoke now. “Diamond Dust’s family wasn’t born nobility. Nobility is granted by a pony with a sparkly hat when one of his fellows kisses his hooves enough, or dumps enough wealth into his coffers. We can rule this kingdom just as well, if not better than he could.”

Healing was still shaking her head slowly, but she seemed to be considering it. Sunshine and Abundance both sat back silently. They were only cooks after all, a good deal further removed from the proposed position we take than the rest of us.

“We’re talking about committing treason here! Going against the pony we swore our lives and fealty too. We can’t just…just TAKE OVER!” The stress of the past few days was starting to weigh heavily on me I will admit.

Healing Touch finally spoke. “We don’t have to be rulers. We don’t have to seize power from the king to achieve peace. Instead we become peace keepers, protectors of all ponykind. Ensuring everypony is treated equally and fairly among the three tribes.”

Her words stilled our argument. The others were all nodding and smiling at the idea. “The king won’t like this.”

The mare I had come to love so dearly snorted in a most un-ladylike fashion. “He doesn’t need to LIKE it, merely accept it. I don’t like the idea of throwing our weight around anymore than you do Starswhirl, but it’s time for a change. The war among the other races is over, at least for now. It’s time we looked at ourselves and began tending to the problems among our fellow pony’s. Do you really think it’s fair the way the earth tribe is treated?”

With a resigned sigh I realized I had lost the debate. “Alright…we’ll try your idea. We’ll meet with Chancellor Rocksteady and see what he has to say about this…idea. Then we’ll speak with the commander again before returning to the king. Agreed?”

It was unanimous. The weighty discussion over Sunshine hopped happily to my side. “So what’re we gonna call ourselves?”

“Who says we need to call ourselves anything?”

He shook his head at me like I was a school foal asking an obvious question. “If we’re gonna change the whole kingdom ponies are gonna want to call us SOMEthing! I’d rather pick the name ourselves then just have them call us something like “The Super Six!” …actually that’s not bad.”

Abundance sighed and tugged him by the tail. “He’s right though Starswhirl. Not about that name it’s terrible, but if we’re going to establish ourselves as some sort of authority figures well…we should have a title if nothing else.”

“Alright fine. What do we call ourselves then?”

A few names were thrown around. Comet Streak was quite taken with the Warriors of Harmony. Healing Touch frowned gently. “I don’t want to be known as a warrior. Warriors seek out combat for the thrill of battle. That’s not what we’re doing here. We’re protectors, defenders of the peace. We’re knights.”

“Knights. The Knights of Harmony?” Everypony was unanimous in their happy nods. “Alright then. We’re The Knights of Harmony.”

“Jenny? Were you up reading all night again?”

Jen shrugged looking to the door to see a still drowsy Pinkie Pie on her way to the kitchen. “It’s a REALLY good book Pinkie. You should check it out when I’m done with it.” She set the book aside rolling off her bed to her hooves. Back in pegasus shape she followed Pinkie to the kitchen.

“Want some breakfast? I was thinking blue berry pancakes!”

“Sure Pinkie, that sounds good. How’d the party go last night?”

“Super-duper! You shoulda come!”

“Well I like my evening routine y’know? I’m almost ready to add my own rune to Mercy too.”

“Ooo what’s it gonna do?! You should make it shoot balloons! Or streamers! Or balloons and streamers!” She was grinning ear to ear now…it certainly didn’t take her long to wake up.

“I’m probably gonna try and think of something more in keeping with Mercy’s other runes. I doubt Bleeding Heart would approve of me shooting streamers everywhere.”

I certainly would not.

“Well I’m sure you’ll think of something great.” The conversation slowed some as Pinkie focused on her cooking. “So did you and Dinky have a nice night?”

“We did. I was thinking of seeing if she wanted to come with me to Canterlot this weekend. D’you think her mom would mind?”

The mare shrugged a little as she flipped three pancakes neatly onto a plate. “Nope. Ditzy loves her little Dinky a lot but she’s been looking after herself for a long time. It’s hard for Ditzy I think. With her head and all. Plus she had Dinky when she was so young. Ditzy’s the same age you are y’know?”

Jen blinked. “I did NOT know. It’s so hard to tell how old you guys all are.”

Pouring a couple glasses of juice Pinkie brought breakfast to the table and the pair started to eat. Pinkie Pie patiently helping Jen if she needed a hoof with her utensils or silverware. “You’re gettin’ pretty good with your hooves Jenny-bean.”

“Slowly but surely! So what’s the big celebration coming up? I heard somepony’s at the market talking about something called Winter Wrap Up?”

Pinkie gasped. “That’s right this is your first Winter Wrap Up! Oh you’re in for a doozy of a treat! Every winter we clean up the season with no magic. It’s tradition you know?”

Jen tilted her head. “Clean up the season?”

“Of course! Snow and ice don’t melt themselves Jenny-bean. We have to make bird nests and bring them back north and clear away the clouds! That’ll probly be your job since you’ll be a pegasus and all.”

“Huh. I knew pegasi made the weather but I didn’t think you guys like…changed the seasons and everything. You really have to do EVERYthing for yourselves don’t you?”

“Yup! It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun. You’ll see.”

Jen helped take care of the dishes and walked with Pinkie to Sugarcube Corner. “Whatcha doin’ today?”

The younger pony shrugged. “Dunno. Probly spend all day flying.” She grinned widely at the prospect.

“Just be careful! Try not to crash!”

They shared a laugh and a quick hug then Pinkie was heading in to work. With a little smile Jen turned from the doorway, got a running start and leapt into the air.

Humongo chapter! I wanted to stop around 8 thousand but I couldn't quite reach a stopping point I liked. :x
Sorta starting to feel I shoulda put the original Order of Harmony in their own story, but I'm already writing this and Umbra's stuff haha. A third might be a little much.

Also that stupid owl's name is CRAZY to spell. I had to wiki it. XD

Anyway hope everyone's still diggin the story. Just a few chapters to go before the big finish! I'm pretty excited for it myself.

Chapter 17: Knightly Duty

“You didn’t forget anything right?”

Dinky shook her head rapidly. “Nope! Got my toothbrush, homework, and my nice dress! All packed.”

Jen smiled ruffling the filly’s mane with a hoof. “Alright well let’s get a move on. The train to Ponyville leaves in an hour.” Pulling the door open, the elder of the two waited for the younger to zip out of the suite before she followed behind her. “Didja have fun?”

“I did! And Princess Luna is so nice. And your fillyfriend Echo! And Mr. Fancy Pants! And uh…well Umbra was a little scary but Tak and Trixie are nice too*.” Dipping a wing Jen allowed Dinky to climb onto her back and she set out at an easy canter. They were taking an early train back so Luna and Echo were both sleeping and had said their goodbyes the night before.

They took a carriage to the train station. Normally Jen liked walking through the streets but with Dinky along they’d more than likely get side tracked a dozen times on the way to the station and they needed to be back in town sooner rather than later. Twilight was very insistent about everypony knowing precisely what they’d be doing for the wrap up tomorrow. Flashing the pass Luna issued her bearing the royal seal she and Dinky were ushered onto the train and to one of the private cars.

“So is that what you do EVERY weekend? Come to the castle and be all official with the princess then do sword fighting and fun stuff during the day?” The excited filly was talking fast enough to make Pinkie proud.

“Pretty much. Echo and I went out to a late dinner but you were in bed by then.”

Dinky huffed. “I don’t know why you couldn’t just make ME not have to sleep too!”

“Ehh…” Jen’s eyes drifted to the jewel bound around the hilt of Mercy now. Echo’s heartstone had taken its place at her neck. “I doubt your mom’d be wild about me crazy about me using Discord’s magic on you.”

Cheeks puffed up Dinky looked ready to go into pout mode anytime now. “Not like she cares WHAT I do.”

“Hrm. Did you finish all your homework?” When the filly started to look shifty Jen mm-hm’d. “Well you got a couple hours before we get to Ponyville. Crack those books.”

Rolling her eyes Dinky did as she was told. Jennifer likewise retrieved her own book.

***

Our meeting with the chancellor went much the same as Commander Lighting Strike. We had barely set foot in the town before he and his aides were bowing and ushering us into a grand feast thrown in our honor. I had to be rather assertive to convince them that we were in fact not interested in ruling the land, merely lending our aid to anypony in need. While confused at first, he came to realize we were genuine in our goals and the celebration began in earnest though everypony seemed to share in the jubilation. It was…unusual to see the earth pony’s so happy. Unusual but pleasant.

As Healing Touch no doubt intended it to do, this meeting with the worst off of our kin strengthened my faltering resolve. Seeing the hope in their eyes at the prospects of bettering their lot in life warmed even Silent Step’s heart. The trip back to the castle my fellows all talked excitedly amongst themselves. Making plans, sharing ideas. Silent managed to bond with her blades and add a rune of her own. She named them Night Singer.

King Diamond Dust seemed less than enthusiastic at our return. I do not doubt he had spies among the other two tribes and our plans no doubt reached his ears before we returned. His gaze was stern as he glared at the six of us from his throne.

“Explain to me why I should not have the six of you executed immediately for treason.”

My master was at his side watching us intently, but not saying anything. The others of course looked to me, and I stepped forward. “The simplest answer would be that you could not. If you brought the power of every unicorn in the kingdom to bear on the six of us I doubt it would be enough. We are not here to conquer or seize your throne. Keep your crown and title. We are here to inform you of the new status quo.”

The king looks outraged, but I continue. “The earth ponies and pegasi have already agreed to work together. An equal share of the earth pony’s food will be given in exchange for fair weather. This offer extends to the unicorns as well in exchange for raising the sun and the moon. If you do not wish to enter into the treaty then you will not be forced to do so. The unicorns are free to grow their own food and manipulate the weather over their lands however they please.”

There is much chatter among the king’s advisors. “You seem to be under the mistaken impression that they no longer need us. Nothing will change! If they refuse to fall in line we will refuse to raise the sun. Let us see how well their food grows in perpetual night.”

I shake my head. “No sire, you are mistaken. When Meteor Trail bonded the six of us it gave us more than enough magical power to tend to the sun and moon ourselves. We need no grand ritual or council of mages to perform the deed. Nor do we need pegasus pony’s to change the weather, or earth pony’s to grow our food. But we do not wish to do this. We’re all ponies’ sire. Being born with a horn or wings does not make us inherently better than our fellows; it simply gives us different way to contribute to the greater good. If we were a united people we would have had no need for some ritual to give the six of us power, everypony would be as strong. Only together, united in harmony will our people grow and strengthen. My fellow knights and I will be spending the night outside the castle. We expect your answer before noon tomorrow.”

I bow, just barely and turn to go. My fellows falling into step with me. The doors barely close behind us before the uproar begins. Noblepony’s bellowing and making their demands of the king. We do not speak until we exit the castle. Abundance and Sunshine begin setting up our campsite immediately. Comet Streak smirks at me. “Well that went well.”

I could only sigh and shake my head. “I just hope cooler heads prevail.”

Abundance glances at me worriedly. “Can we really raise the sun and the moon ourselves?”

“Of course. You saw what my star fall spell did to the ape’s entire nation. In comparison shifting the heavenly bodies is simplicity itself. Healing Touch and I participated in the spell frequently and likely the two of us alone could manage.”

Silent Step was sitting on the edge of the path leading up to the castle, gazing off in the distance. “What do you suppose is going on out there?”

Curiously we join her and look out. The largest earth pony settlement is just barely visible. Pegasopolis has been moved nearly directly over it. The pegasi are swooping to and fro gathering a multitude of cloud stuff and forcing it down to the ground where we can barely make out teams of earth pony’s hauling stone toward the mist.

“I…have no idea. They’re not fighting so it can’t be anything to worry over. We’ll wait for the king’s answer then go see what’s going on tomorrow.”

While I would much rather be down there than up here it wouldn’t look very good if we just ran off before getting Diamond Dust’s answer. Abundance prepares us a hearty meal from the few vegetables we have left. No real point in rationing when the earth ponies are more than happy to give us whatever we wish.

After the meal Silent Step melts into the shadows as she always does. Everypony sleeps well knowing she’s watching over us. Healing Touch settles on the ground beside me, a small smile on her face.

“I did it.” She shows me her scepter, a single rune at the base of the handle. “I named it Convalescence…the rune can cast my most powerful healing spell. Just once a day before it needs to recharge but still.”

I return her smile. “Congratulations. And a fitting name.”

“And you? Have you tried to bond with yours closer?”

I look at the sword sheathed around my barrel and to the shield strapped to a foreleg. “I suppose I should shouldn’t I?” Gently I unbuckle the sword and shield resting them on the ground together. Closing my eyes I focused on the weapons as if I were focusing on my horn to cast a spell. I could feel the connection waiting to be strengthened. For a time I had no idea what sort of rune I’d want to impart.

Perhaps the star fall? Then I recall the devastation wrought by the same spell over the apes’ nation. Surely the brutes were monsters that killed and ate my fellows but I didn’t just kill the warriors. The women and children huddling in their homes were not spared the spells devastating effects. Then I knew what the sword needed. A warm glow encompassed both sword and shield. When it faded the sheathe had melded and become a part of the shield. Curiously I drew the blade, pleased to find the rune settled at the base just above the hilt on the blade.

“So? What does it do? What’s its name?”

I snapped the blade back into the sheathe and slide the shield back over my leg. “Mercy. Its name is Mercy. The rune will make it impossible for me to harm an innocent with either the blade’s power or my own spells.”

Healing Touch smiles then and gently nuzzled my cheek. “A fitting name and a worthy ability.” She gazed at me through half lidded eyes, and with a small smile beckoned me to follow her from the fire. I won’t include in detail what happened next, but let us just say that Healing Touch and I were wed soon after.

The next morning a messenger arrived. “By order of his royal majesty King Diamond Dust, the six of you are hereby banished from Unicornia on pain of death. Further, the king agrees to the terms set forth and shall accept an equal share of earth pony food in exchange for moving the sun and the moon. That is all.”

He rolls up his scroll and trots back inside head held high. If any of us were at all upset by our ‘banishment’ we didn’t show it. We had done it, united the three tribes without a single drop of blood being shed. Nopony knew how long it would LAST of course, but for now there would be peace and cooperation in our small valley. Official business settled we eagerly set out for the earth pony village. The pegasi and earth tribe seemed to have worked through the night and…

“Now arriving in Ponyville!”

Jen blinked and shut her book with a sigh, sliding it away in the saddlebag. Dinky happily packed away her now finished homework and both made their way from the car to join the crowd waiting to disembark. The filly clambered back up onto Jennifer’s back and the two were soon stepping off the platform.

“So we should check in at the library for our assignments tomorrow huh?”

Dinky shrugged. “The foals don’t really have much to do. Except stay out of the grown-ups way.”

“Mm. I can drop you off at home first then.”

The Doo house wasn’t really out of the way so after Jen helped Dinky inside (through the window again, she needed to talk to Ditzy about a key for Dinky), she headed for the library. There was a constant flow of pony’s coming and going from the large tree Twilight made her residence in. Jen made her way in eventually. There was a huge billboard dominating one wall of the library, with three neat rows of names. They were split into weather, animal, and planting. Spying Lyra checking over the lists Jen wiggled her way through the crowd toward her friend.

“Hey Lyra! So what’s goin on here?”

The mint colored mare broke into a grin. “Heya Jen. We’re seeing what teams we’re split into this year. It’s usually the same every year but sometimes we get shuffled around a bit. Just look through the teams to find your name, it’s all alphabetized.”

Jen gave a little nod as she started to scan for the J’s. “So whaddo you do?”

“I wake up animals. Twilight came up with the idea for some of the musicians to play some peppy tunes for them to wake up to y’know? Puts em in a good mood right off the bat.”

“So what do pegasi usually do?”

The unicorn shrugged. “Weather mostly. Cloud bucking and cleaning snow off roofs and trees. Oh, and Ditzy Doo goes to bring back the southern birds.”

Jen glanced back with raised eyebrows. “By herself?”

Her friend gave another shrug. “Well Ditzy’s kinda a living natural disaster. She means well of course but still. She always gets lost bringing the birds back so it’s kinda a good way to keep her outta town while we take care of work here.”
Now the younger pony was grimacing. “She can’t be THAT bad can she?”

Lyra rubbed the back of her neck. “Ehhh…yeah. The one year we didn’t have her on bird duty she ended up kicking up a blizzard up in the clouds. Set us back a week.”

“Hm. I don’t see my name up here. Where’s Twilight?”

The mare chuckled now. “Oh she’s upstairs quadruple checking all the preparations. I’m sure you can go on up.”
Thanking her friend Jen climbed the stairs finding a very frazzled Twilight going over an almost comically large roll of parchment. “Hey Twilight…sorry to bug you but I can’t find my name on the teams.”

“What? Oh Jennifer I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure where to put you to be honest. What with your multitude of talents. Do you have any requests?”

“As a matter of fact…”

***

“I’m home!”

Pinkie was for once in the house in the middle of an afternoon. “Heya Jenny-bean! How was Canterlot? Did Dinky have a good time?”

Trotting by the party mare Jen dropped her saddlebags off in her room. “It was good. I managed to get Luna a couple times! Umbra’s feeling better which I’m not gonna lie, is a HUGE relief. I still can’t believe I hurt her so bad. Dinky had a great time of course, she loved the art district and Fancy Pants took us to see a Wonderbolts race.” She stopped in the kitchen posing a bit, waiting for Pinkie to notice her.

Deftly sliding a tray of cupcakes from the oven the mare finally turned to face her ward. “Aww animal team? I was hoping we could be on weather together! I skate on the ice so it melts even.”

Jen huffed and folded her wings over the brown vest she was wearing. “I can’t even skate on two legs let alone four Pinkie. I’m gonna be flying south to get the birds with Ditzy Doo.”

“Oh! Well that sounds like fun! Though it’s a long way to fly. Are you sure you can do it?”

“I can. If I gotta I can just do earth and pegasus together, then I’ll have super stamina to go with the wings!”

Pinkie hmm’d softly tilting her head. “Isn’t that kinda like cheating?”

“Is there a RULE that says anyone can’t use her magical charm bracelet to be two tribes at once?”

The pink mare settled on her haunches tapping her muzzle with a hoof as she pondered the question. “Nope! Guess you’re in the clear Jenny-bean! Just be careful and listen to Ditzy ok? She’s been doing this every year.”

“I will. Now are we gonna ice those cupcakes?”

Pinkie beamed happily, and the pair set to work.

***

They must have worked through the night and all morning. Somehow they were combining their two magic’s, earth and pegasus to meld the cloud and stone together forging a great citadel of solid cloud stuff. Nopony had ever seen the like before; of course no two tribes had ever had a reason to come together in cooperation outside of the battlefield. A great cheer rose from the crowds as our approach was noticed.

The chancellor himself paused in his work to greet us. “Welcome noble knights! We had hoped to be finished before you returned but we’re nearly there. Of course it’s unfurnished inside but we’ll remedy that soon enough.”

The others of course waited for me to take the lead. “What exactly is this chancellor?”

Commander Lightning Strike landed beside the massive earth stallion. “Our gift to you, for the peace you’ve forged. Your order needs a proper base of operations does it not? I met with Chancellor Rocksteady last night and we agreed to attempt what you see here. Pegasus pony’s and earth pony’s working together for the first time. Noble knights we present to you, the Citadel of Harmony.”

The commander and chancellor stepped aside to allow us unfettered access. A small walkway was ‘carved’ into the solid cloud stuff leading up to the gates of the near finished citadel. Cautiously we climbed the unusual material and entered the gates. A true keep was taking shape within, the walls smoothly sculpted with no seams whatsoever where the cloud bricks came together. My companions each set out excitedly to explore in pairs while Healing Touch stayed at my side.

The leaders of the tribes followed us closely. “We trust it’s satisfactory?”

I laughed. “Satisfactory? That’s not quite the word I’d use Commander. Amazing, mind boggling, fantastic, wonderful. Pick one or all of them I’d say you’ve earned it. This is truly a miracle of pony ingenuity. This is exactly what we hoped would come of this union. You two have only proven precisely what the others spent all day convincing me of.”

The chancellor stepped to my side. “Well we can’t do enough for what you and your fellow knights have done sir. If things keep going as they have been this is going to become a wonderful place to live, you just wait. How did the king take the news?”

Healing frowned softly. “He agreed but we aren’t allowed in our homes any longer. Though I suppose this is home now? I think we came out ahead on this deal.”

I couldn’t help but nod in agreement. The chancellor smiled suddenly. “Follow me; we have something else to show you.” The leaders lead the way through the citadels halls down a ramp to what I assume is some sort of basem*nt. A huge heart carved from some sort of quartz crystal was hanging in the center of the bottom chamber. Thin filaments of cloud stuff branched from the heart and into the walls. “Lord and Lady Knight, we give to you the heart of the citadel.”

I could feel the palpable magic radiating from the heart. It was the powerful magic of the earth tribe. Most ponies are under the misconception that unicorn magic is the strongest but we just pull mana from the air to produce effects. The earth tribe draws their strength from the very world itself. This heart was infused with more concentrated magic than I had ever seen. “What is it?”

The chancellor puffed his chest with pride; the commander seemed content to let him have his moment. “This heart is crystalized earth pony mana. The cables are solidified pegasus mana. Once the spark of unicorn magic is introduced…” He gestured with his hoof toward the heart. Healing and I shared a quick glance before we approached and fed some mana into the heart directly.

The results were instantaneous. It began to glow with an intense inner blue light that spread to the cloud cables attaching it to the walls. Thin steams of concentrated mana began to spread out along the walls until the room was bathed in a bright blue glow. The whole citadel began to shudder gently as it started to move. The chancellor just looked more and more excited while the commander spread her wings but kept her composure. Healing and I raced from the room back upstairs. The entire citadel was slowly lifting into the air, hovering perhaps a hundred feet off the ground.

“How…how is this possible?” After my own feat of magic with the star fall spell this shouldn’t have surprised me. But of all the fantastic things I’d seen already this was by far the most unimaginable.

“Now that’s it’s been activated the heart will constantly draw in the mana it needs to keep itself flying. You should be able to direct the citadel to fly higher or lower, and to move from place to place by directly connecting yourselves to it. Really any unicorn can do it; it doesn’t have to be one of you.”

“This is truly amazing Chancellor. Commander. With any luck this will inspire our own tribe to see just what cooperation can bring about.”

The citadel was completed by the end of the evening. Several young earth ponies’ and pegasi insisted on volunteering to staff the keep. It was soon stocked with food, arms, furniture…really anything a pony could want in a home. The unicorns abided by the peace, but it wasn’t until King Diamond Dust passed on and his daughter Gleaming Gemstone took the throne that the unicorn tribe entered into the cooperation with gusto. Unicorns bolstered our ranks in time as well.

As the years passed we found we did not age, I would be the first to discover it was the fundamental connection we had forged with the force of harmony itself that was so intrinsic to the existence of all life on our world. Healing Touch and I were wed of course. Comet Streak and Silent Step were the first of our number to have a foal of their own.

A problem arose when the pair came to me seeking to have their bond with harmony severed. They didn’t want to outlive their own child. With great reluctance I agreed to their request, if they could find suitable inheritors for Corona and Night Singer. We came to find that six ponies could not police an entire country, and consulting my masters’ notes I had learned the ritual to create more knights. There were thirteen of us in all, each with their own weapon that we named collectively The Arms of Harmony.

Both accepted my terms and within the week their bond was transferred to the new knights. In time they forged bonds with Corona and Night Singer like their first owners had, adding runes of their own. Abundance was the next to leave. She’d married an earth pony stallion and wanted to settle down with him. Only Sunshine, Healing Touch, and myself remained of the original order. I did not begrudge them their choices though I came to miss them dearly. I kept watch over their families.
The next difficulty came when Healing Touch herself told me she was with child. As the others before her she wished to leave the knighthood. With a heavy heart I aided in this…though I could not leave my position as commander of the order. It caused me great pain to see my beloved age as I remained young and vibrant for years to come. I wanted so dearly to be with her but…I worried for my fellow ponies too much. She passed away after living a long, happy life. Seeing our daughter bear three grandfoals before the end.

I kept in close contact with my family for years. Eventually I passed Mercy on to one of the other young knights, and crafted a staff for myself to fulfill the same purpose my old sword had. Chancellors, Commanders, and royalty came and went but I was confident the order would endure. It wasn’t until two most unusual fillies came to our land with their equally strange mother that things would change for the worse. Celestia and Luna inherited Corona and Night Singer, and more exemplary knights I could not ask for. Alas if only I’d paid more attention to their mother

Jen frowned as the sentence just ended in the middle of itself. She glared down at the book and gasped softly. A number of pages were just…TORN right from the book. It picked up again later in the story.

finally defeated at such a great cost. I cannot imagine the pain the two endured in doing what they did but the threat is ended. Though I fear the order is irrevocably shattered, I know our land will be in good hands with the powerful sisters leading.

I hope that whoever finds this journal learns from its words. Do not repeat the mistakes of old. The tribes were meant to be united as one people, in harmony together. And if one of you fillies finds this I hope you are able to restore the order to what it once was. If anypony is up to taking my place it’s either of you. Yes Luna, EITHER of you. Stop comparing yourself to your elder sister. You’re every bit the knight she is.

-Starswhirl “the bearded” Lulamoon

Gently she closed the book with her hoof, frowning down at it. So…it was Luna’s mom who ruined the order? Was that possible? She wanted to ask Luna about it right away but if it had to do with the end of the order she’d promised not to speak of it. Her frown turned to a scowl as she carried the book to her room tucking it away to be returned on the weekend.
The sun was just beginning to rise as Pinkie trotted from her room. “Mornin’ Jenny-bean! Holy guacamole that’s some frown you have! We need to turn that upside down, it’s time for the Wrap Up!” She cheery mare paused. “Actually it’s time for breakfast! How about some chocolate chip pancakes!”

It was almost impossible to be in a bad mood around Pinkie Pie. Slowly the filly smiled. “That sounds great Pinkie. Sorry I just finished my book and it was missing like…a whole chapter.”

“Aww that’s too bad! Maybe Twilight has a copy?”

Jen shook her head and followed Pinkie to the kitchen, getting out the chocolate chips while Pinkie started on the batter. “No the book is super old and rare I guess. I think it was actually Starswhirl’s journal.”

“Ooo you should show it to Twilight for sure then. You know what a big fan of his she is! Did I tell you about the time she dressed as him for Nightmare Night?”

With a little laugh Jen shook her head, and was regaled with the story of Luna’s first visit to Ponyville upon her return from the moon. “So it’s basically Halloween?”

“Yup! You just missed it last year but this year for sure, me and you trick or treating up a storm!”

Trotting back to her room Jen wiggled her vest over her head and worked her forelegs through the wholes, finally flexing her wings through the back. By the time she got back to the dining room pancakes were already hitting the table. A glass of orange juice (Pinkie sword never to tell Applejack), was waiting for the filly as she sat to eat.

The two enjoyed a quiet breakfast and parted as Pinkie made her way off to her own chores. Jen cantered to the Doo house, knocking gently. A stallion opened the door. Tan coat, deep brown mane a bit on the messy side. “Well hello there! Say do I know you?”

Jen stepped back, taken aback by his very in your face greeting as he got almost nose to nose with her. He had what sounded like a Trottingham accent like that colt Pipsqueak from school. “Er…no?”

His brow furrowed as he stepped out of the house and paced about the young pegasus, looking her over closely. “Green coat, Mercy on her foreleg, no cutie mark. Ah! YOU must be Jubilant Surprise!”

Fluttering her wings a bit as she grew flustered by the odd earth pony Jen shifted on her hooves. Of course she did sort of standout being as old as she was and having no mark…plus her sword. How’d he know its name? Maybe Dinky told him. “Uh…yes sir. And you are?”

He grabbed her hoof in his own shaking vigorously. “VERY honored to meet YOU miss. Oh you’re doing such great things. Have done such great things? You did already defeat Discord yes?”

Now she was feeling like maybe waiting for Ditzy to meet her someplace else, this guy was a nut. “Uh…yeah I did…so is Ditzy home or…?”

“Oh! Oh yes of course. Your first Winter Wrap Up. It must be very exciting! Let me go fetch her hm?”

Jen watched him race back into the house and let out a deep breath. “Hour glass for a cutie mark, he must make watches or something.”

The stallion returned soon with Ditzy in tow. The grey pegasus was wearing a vest identical to Jen’s own, while the stallion had a brown one. “Well ladies I’m off! Snow to plough and all. Have a wonderful flight.” Jen heard him mutter something about ‘THE Jubilant Surprise’ before he was out of ear shot.

With one last concerned look for the departing stallion she turned to Ditzy. “S-so…that’s uh…your…colt friend or?”

Ditzy watched him go a moment before looking to Jen. “Hm? No no nothing romantic or anything…” Jen thought she heard a tone of wistfulness in there. “Just friends. Traveling companions I guess? Well don’t worry about him, I know he can come off a little odd but he’s a really nice pony.”

Jen’s tail twitched. “He’s definitely weird, but he DOES seem nice enough I guess. He sure seems to know me. I guess I must be a little famous huh?”

Ditzy shrugged. “He’s like that when he meets certain ponies sometimes. I stopped trying to figure it out; I’m just along for the ride most of the time!” She smiled brightly. “So ready to fly? I’ve never had company on the trip before.”

Thoughts of bizarre stallions with hourglass cutie marks fled Jen’s head. “Ready and waiting ma’am!” She snapped off a smart salute.

The other pegasus giggled. “Well then let’s move out private! We have some birds to find!”

Both spread their wings and had equally ungraceful take offs. Jen managed to bump into the roof of the Doo house while Ditzy ploughed through a tree ripping off plenty of branches on her way through. Once both were in the air and clear of anything to impede their flight things evened out a good deal. Like Jennifer, Ditzy had the larger wingspan of a glider pegasus and they gradually climbed above the cloud cover with the occasional powerful flap of their wings and catching any updraft they could.

The pair flew in silence for a time. Having heard the rumors of how often Ditzy would fly in the wrong direction Jennifer kept an eye on the rising sun making sure they were indeed headed south. She’d been assured that once they got near the destination Ditzy would unerringly find the birds.

“So…is that stallion who you’re always running around with? When uh, Dinky is alone?”

Ditzy shifted one eye to focus on the filly at her side. “Yeah um…he is. I dunno if I said it before but thanks for being there for my muffin. I know it might not seem like it but I really do love her to bits. I just…”

“You just weren’t ready?”

The other pegasus nodded. “I guess not. I mean I moved to Ponyville from Cloudsdale when I saw she wasn’t a pegasus so we could stay together. Sometimes I think she’d have been better off if I just gave her to a family on the ground and stayed away.”

Jen flared her wings to catch a particularly large thermal. “She loves you a lot Ditzy. She wishes you were around more but…she really does love you.”

“I know, and I love her too of course. I tried giving up my travelling for a little bit you know? But when we spent so much time together things got…hard. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it but when your foal isn’t the same tribe there’re always problems. I wanted to teach my filly to fly, to preen with her. She needs someone to teach her magic. I talked to Mrs. Cake about it a little bit. It’s even worse for them having one of EACH y’know? She’s worried they’re not going to be able to give their little foals everything they need. The sad thing is they can’t.”

Jennifer’s voice was quiet. “Maybe they can’t. The Cakes can’t teach their kids magic or how to fly but does that mean they should just ignore them? It might hurt her a little to not be able to learn something so important from her mom, but I promise you that feeling like her mother doesn’t care about her hurts a lot worse.”

Ditzy’s nostrils flared as she turned to regard Jennifer, both eyes fixed squarely on her now. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. And I don’t think I want to talk about this anymore. Let’s just fly.”

With a soft grunt Jen let the conversation die. They’d flown far by now, leaving Ponyville well behind them. The dark gray clouds were beginning to thin out, giving way to dusty brown dirt roads beneath them. Jennifer kept her eyes fixed on the ground happy to have anything distract her from the unpleasant conversation. A small dust cloud was rising below. Squinting she could make out a pair of ponies galloping from a nearby rocky outcropping. Not too far behind them came a pack of what looked like big dogs from up high.

“Ditzy! Do you see that?”

The mare was clearly still not happy with Jennifer but she glanced down. “It looks like a bunch of diamond dogs are chasing those ponies! What do we do?!”

Jen immediately began to descend. “Go on ahead! There’s only a few of them, me and Heart can handle this easy…er…right?”

Aye, there be only eight of the beasts, a good first outing for a fledgling knight I think.

“Yeah we got this! We’ll see you soon Ditzy!”

I suggest thou uses thy human shape utilizing all three tribes aspects. While thy armor will protect thee from their fangs and spears t’would be good to have as much force as possible. They pose little danger to thee, but the pony’s we race to protect could be harmed.

Jen flared her wings wide as she began to drift downward in a lazy spiral. Touching the human charm first she floundered in mid-air as her wings adjusted to the altered body shape. Hastily she applied her fingers to the three primary pony tribe’s charms and felt a rush of strength as her horn and muscle grew in. Calling up her armor next she found it was nearly weightless against her new physique and her wings continued to carry her down at a steady pace. Her eyes widened behind the visor of her helm however as one of the dogs hurled a spear catching one of the fleeing ponies in the flank.

Scowling fiercely the girl angled her body forward and tucked her wings in close going into a dive. Her horn shimmered as she sheathed herself in an aura of magic to lessen the coming impact. Maneuvering between the pony’s and closing dogs she flared her wings at the last second, flipping herself up right and skidding across the ground in a (semi) smooth landing. Coming to rest just before the now astonished duo of pony’s she turned to the pack of dogs, wings flared wide as she drew Mercy.

Announce thyself and thy intentions Jennifer. Be formal and forceful.

With a little nod the young knight squared her shoulders and cleared her throat. “I…ah…” She swallowed back the sudden bout of nerves. “I am Jubilant Surprise, knight of the Order of Harmony. I…order you to leave these ponies alone?”

Not particularly forceful, are thou asking them to leave them be?

Sh-shut it I’m doing the best I can Heart! What are these guys? Are they dangerous?

In my time the dog clans kept to their holes, but anypony who was caught unawares by the curs wound up enslaved and eventually in a cook pot. I sincerely doubt they have changed much in the centuries since my death, given the circ*mstances.

The dogs had come to a halt as well, looking at the newcomer in confusion. She took the time to study them in turn. They were about her height though a good deal more muscled than she was. Wearing rusty armor of their own and carrying crude stone spears, their leader growled at his underlings.

“Kill pony’s! Kill knight! That armor peels off, we cooks knight too!”

It sounds like they haven’t changed much.

The dogs pulled back and hurled their spears. Jen’s first instinct was to shield herself but she recalled the pony’s cowering behind her and invoked the rune to call up a pale pink shield around them. Their cries of alarm turned to relief as the spears bounced harmlessly from the magic bubble. One errand spear made its way toward Jennifer but she batted it aside with her shield.

The pack again hesitated before their leader began to bark wildly, whipping them into a frenzy. They charged and Jennifer braced herself. Her breath was coming in quick gasps as she realized this wasn’t practice, this was the real thing.

Calm thyself Jennifer. Facing Discord and Umbra will surely be more difficult than this. There are many of them but they are cowardly and weak. Send a few running with their tails between their legs and the rest will follow. Remember thy lessons with the princess.

Swallowing her fear she gave a resolute nod and waded forward into the oncoming pack. The first to reach her received Mercy’s shield solidly across his face as Jennifer back handed him, sending the brute spiraling to the dirt with a pitiful whine. Feeling heavy paws settle on her shoulders she spun swinging Mercy about and catching another in the side of the head with the pommel of her weapon. It too fell whimpering.

Now the pack seemed more hesitant quickly forming a circle around the girl, snarling and barking with the occasional lunging snap, but the attacker would always leap back before Jennifer could bring her weapons to bear. Growing tired of the game the girl again reached out with her magic sending a raw blast of mana forward and catching two more dogs in its path. The stench of singed fur filled the combatants’ nostrils and the leader of the pack threw his head back loosing a tremendous howl.

The others broke ranks and bolted for the rocks and for a moment Jen thought it was just as Heart had said. With a last look to make sure the dogs were gone she turned to the two she’d saved. A pair of unicorn stallions, twins she’d guess. Both had beige coats, red mains with a white stripe, blue and white striped vests with old timey straw hats. The only real difference was their cutie marks and one had a moustache. The mustachioed one had a mostly full apple missing one slice, while his brother’s mark was the apparent missing slice.

“You guys okay?”

“It would seem we are thanks to your timely intervention dear ah…girl? I’m Flam, this is my brother Flim. Is there anything you can do for him about the ah…”

Flim, the one with the moustache had a spear pretty solidly wedged into his left flank. “Spear in my rear? It’s not the most comfortable experience I’ve ever had.”

Jen lifted her visor and knelt down eyeing the spear. “Well I’m not exactly a medic. Heart?”

The rune on her sword flared and both brothers let out a yelp at the spirits sudden appearance. The spear is only deep enough to remain lodged. The stallion will be fine. You can remove the spear then either bandage it or heal him, though you’d take the wound onto yourself Mercy would heal it in moments.

Taking a deep breath Jennifer gave a nod. “Alright, I can fix you up. This’ll probly hurt though…” She reached to grab the spear just as a tremendous roar issued from the rocks the dogs ran off in. Three ponies’ and one human turned to the sound.

A massive beast was lumbering through the rocks, smashing its way through the stones. It was the size of a small building back in Ponyville, with three snarling canine heads. “Wh-what the hell is that Heart?”

Tis a spawn of Cerberus. Normally the beasts are quite docile but this one must have been trained by the dogs to attack on command. This is a formidable foe Jennifer. Though one we must face or the brothers will surely perish. I will fight at your side.

Jen definitely didn’t like the sound of concern in Heart’s voice but the spirit was right. If she flew off Flim and Flam would be easy prey for the monster. Steeling her nerves she slammed her visor shut and raised Mercy. “Can you get your brother out of here?”

The stallions looked surprised. “What about you?”

She turned back with a helpless chuckle. “I’m a knight. This is apparently what we do. You guys just try to get to safety.”

Flam lifted his brother with his magic gently and started to run. The beast roared seeing its prey escaping and charged the group. Hoping to end the fight quickly Jen charged Mercy with her magic. Once the blade glowed fiercely she swung it in an upward arc releasing the stored magic in a powerful wave of verdant energy. The charging Cerberus took it head on and the magic slammed into the monster throwing it into the air to land hard on its back with a resounding boom.

Panting heavily from the exertion Jen flashed a smile to Bleeding Heart at her side. “W-well…that wasn’t so bad huh?”

Heart didn’t seem to share her elation. Her attention was focused on the beast that was now getting to its feet again. This time all six baleful red eyes were focused solely on the young knight. With a gulp she tensed her wings preparing to take flight…but the brothers still weren’t far enough away to be safe. Shaking thoughts of fleeing from her head she took a deep breath and alongside her spectral companion charged to meet the creature head on.

Do not fear Jennifer, so long as thy mana remains strong the beast cannot pierce thy armor.

“In other words no more big magic shots unless I’m sure it’s not getting up again. Awesome.” Their conversation ended abruptly as the beast pounced. Heart nimbly skipped to the right while Jennifer dove to the left. It chose to follow the girl who wounded it, swinging one of its massive paws down upon her. She managed to get her shield up for all the good it did. The tremendous paw slammed down and flattened her into the ground.

It had her pinned from the waist down and was grinding her further into the dusty earth. Even through her armor Jen could feel the tremendous pressure the thing was putting on her legs and she was afraid they’d break any second. Gripping Mercy in a two handed hold she lifted the blade and plunged it down nearly to the hilt into the top of the paw.

With an ear piercing yowl the beast lurched onto its hind legs. Jennifer kept her grip on Mercy and was flung into the air as the Cerberus reared. Her blade came loose and she was soon flying freely into the air tumbling head over heels. Gritting her teeth she snapped her wings open beating them frantically and slowly righting herself.

Bleeding Heart hadn’t been sitting on her flanks the whole time. The ghostly knight had dashed off to get a running start, and as Jen was flung into the air Heart galloped at the monster, using her powerful hind legs she leaped high into the air and stabbed her own copy of Mercy in at the creatures left most neck. The spirit’s blade cut through smoothly and a gout of blood burst from the wound. The left head sagged limply and the beast gave another mournful howl.

Angling herself over the monster Jen snapped her wings shut and dropped onto its back. She was nearly thrown off as it slammed its front paws back to the ground. With surprising swiftness it rounded on Bleeding Heart and the center heads jaws snapped down upon the spirit. Jennifer screamed and nearly fell from her perch as pain ripped through her chest when the monsters fangs tore into the spirit of her sword. Eyes blurring from tears of pain she summoned Heart back to the blade. The pain faded but didn’t vanish altogether.

M-my apologies Jennifer. Twas quicker than I expected. The brothers are safe now; we should quit the field while the beast is blinded by pain and rage.

It sounded like great advice that Jen really wanted to follow. But if they ran now this thing could attack the next group of ponies that wandered by. Trying to push the pain in her chest and legs out of her mind she ran up the monsters back toward the remaining heads. The Cerberus thrashed trying to dislodge her but her wings made for excellent balance while she ran. With a shout she coiled her legs and sprang forward, using her wings for extra momentum she lifted Mercy over her head and plunged it into the top of the central head of the monster.

All at once the beast collapsed like a puppet whose strings were cut. Jennifer was sent tumbling to the ground as the monster fell. She managed to twist as she fell and landed on her feet, dropping to her knee with a grunt. Rising she prepared to finish the creature off. Her angry scowl dissipated in an instant.

The right head was whining pitifully, not unlike her own dog when she was being disciplined back home. It was lifting its right forepaw weakly, but the rest of its body seemed to be as dead as its other two heads.

“Heart…what do we do?”

Nothing Jennifer. With the central head slain its heart is stopping. It will be dead in moments. Well done.

The light slowly faded from the eyes of the last head, and as the creature fully died Jennifer felt anything but proud. “I-I guess. I mean…it was a monster…we did what we had to…right?”

Aye. Do not doubt thyself, who can say how many innocents were fed to the beast. Let not its pitiable dying moments color thy feelings. Twas a bloodthirsty monster that would have slain thee and anypony else without a second thought.

With a sigh Jen sheathed Mercy and banished her armor. Her chest was covered in a line of angry blue-black bruises where the monster had gnawed on Heart. Using her find it spell she set out to track down Flim and Flam.

“Does it…get any easier? The uh, killing?”

It never did for myself. I pray it does not for thee. When thy heart becomes hardened to the idea of taking a life, even one so foul as the cerberus thy worthiness to bare Mercy would be called into question. Take solace that the blade could wound it at all; it cannot harm those that do not deserve it.

Feeling a little better at that Jen nodded slowly. She found the twins hiding between a sizeable pair of boulders. Flim had grown paler and his brother didn’t look much better.

“Ehe…afraid I’m not used to much physical exertion.”

His wounded brother nodded emphatically. “We’re more idea stallions you see. Is the ah…monster gone?”

Smiling weakly she gave another nod. “It is. Now let’s see about that spear huh?”

Without her armor she was basically naked before the two, but she was too sore and tired to care. Gently laying Mercy on its side she looked to Flam. “Can you hold him down while I pull it out?”

Gulping the brothers exchanged a nervous look but Flam did as asked, using his magic to keep Flim pinned firmly. With a grimace Jen took hold of the spear and yanked it out. It came free with an unpleasant tearing sound and drawing a horrific screech from Flim. Blood began to flow freely from the wound and she grimaced as she saw the serrated edge of the spear head. “Oh jeez…alright buddy hang on.”

She hadn’t actually USED this rune before and she wasn’t too keen on trying now. Worry not. The rune I added heals the wounds taken by Martyr’s rune rapidly. It shall hurt I’ll not lie, but will heal in moments.

The stallion had passed out from the pain. Gently running her fingers along the blade she called out to the fifth rune. It glimmered faintly as she directed its magic to the bleeding hole. A faint pink light enveloped the wound as it vanished as if it’d never been to begin with. Jen’s eyes widened and she screamed in shock from the fierce pain that burst to life on her hip.

All the strength fled from her right leg as she flailed tumbling to her side. She was caught by Flam’s magic before she hit the ground. “Now what do we do?!”

The sixth rune was glowing brightly and a warm light was spreading over the wound in Jen’s hip. “N-nothing…thanks for catching me…oooo man that-that smarts. My sword’ll heal me…fast I hope.”

Flim was already stirring as the hole in Jen’s hip stopped bleeding and had nearly vanished entirely, though she had a new scar for her troubles. Flam gently set her back on her feet. Her hip throbbed painfully and with a scowl she invoked the pegasus charm’s magic fully, settling on four hooves.

Both brothers looked a bit unnerved by her sudden change. “So are you a human that becomes a pony or vice versa?”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “You know about humans?”

Both grinned now. “Well of course! Wonderful creatures, absolutely fascinating!”

Flam was nodding at his brothers words. “Some of our best ideas came from them! Found some old magazines in the woods outside the family homestead.”

Flim picked up the conversation. “Went to work on trying to recreate anything we could out of those catalogues.”

The young pony was nodding slowly as the stallions explained. Her other eyebrow shot up as she noticed their flanks. “Hey your cutie marks changed!”

Both looked back and offered chuckles and shrugs. Flim had a large gear overlaid with a screwdriver while Flam’s was a small gear and pair of pliers. “Well not many ponies are fans of the technological wonders we produce.”

“Fear of the unknown you see.”

“So we learned a spell to change our marks to fit whatever profession we’re currently engaged in.”

“Pony’s feel more comfortable doing business with somepony whose special talent is their business.”

Jen’s head was snapping back and forth between the pair as one picked up where the other ended. “I guess that makes sense…”

Flim gasped and stomped a hoof into the ground. “We didn’t thank you!”

Flam frowned at his brother. “Are you sure? That doesn’t sound like us.”

“Quite sure brother.”

“Well if you say so…”

As one they turned to Jen bowing their heads. “Thank you for your help Lady Jubilant.”

Jen urked. “L-lady?”

“Well you said you’re a knight right?”

“And that’s a knight’s title isn’t it?”

Is it?

Technically dame, but lady works just as well and sounds less…’goofy’ as thee would say.

I would. “Just Jubilant is fine guys.”

“Say wait a minute!”

“A green filly with no cutie mark?”

“Who changes shape more than a changeling?”

“And carries around a magic sword?”

“Aren’t you Princess Luna’s young protégé?” The last they said together.

She laughed. She found the quirky stallions pretty funny. “I am, yeah. It’s no big deal though.”

“No big deal she says!”

“Modesty’s an excellent trait mother always said.”

“We have to repay your kindness.” They shared a quite look of embarrassment. “Do you ah…think you could do us one more favor?”

Shaking her head Jen laughed again. “As long as it’s not fighting another giant three headed monster, sure.”

“Well it’s our means of transport.”

“We had to abandon it.”

“Broken wheel you see?”

“Would you be willing to er…watch over us while we retrieve and repair it?”

Sighing softly she went back to her three tribe-human hybrid form. “Lemme guess, it’s back with the dogs?”

At their slow nod she sighed again. “Well I’m in for the long haul. Let’s get your ride back.” With some reluctance she called her armor back. The cool metal felt kinda nice against her hip at least. She had a bit of a limp but they made decent time.

They passed through the rocks into a mazelike collections of pathways cut into the stone. They moved slowly but the few dogs they saw took one look at the stallions’ escort and didn’t hamper their progress. Jen grinned a little when they reached their transport. It looked almost like a car! Or maybe a…parade float? Definitely some kinda steam punk thing. It was actually pretty cool. One wheel had snapped off the rear axle and the brothers went to work on the repairs.

“…hey wait a minute. You were in Ponyville a couple years back right?”

Both shared a nervous look. “Ah…you wouldn’t happen to be acquainted with the Apple family?”

Hands on her hips Jen glared at them. “Good friends in fact. You two tried to steal their farm.”

In unison they tugged their hats from their heads. “Our biggest regret was how we behaved in Ponyville.”

“It was our first real outing you see, we were so proud of the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 it sort of…”

“Went to our heads.”

“We thought about going back and apologizing but what we did to that family…”

“Was absolutely unforgiveable.”

Jen felt her anger melting away. “I think they’d surprise you guys. The Apple family is super nice, and if you wanted to play fair this time I bet they’d even go into the cider business with you. I know they’re always hard up for bits.”

“You really think so?”

She shrugged. “I do. At the very least you should apologize though. They’re good folk over in Ponyville.”

Both had to nod at that. “Maybe it’d be a good idea to make a side stop.”

They had their vehicle up and running soon. Jen was a little excited to ride on it even if it moved a quarter of the speed an actual car did. There was something much cooler about riding on something these pony’s had made themselves and not in some factory. Clear of the rocks Jen hopped off. “Alright you guys, you got it from here?”

“Absolutely! You sure you won’t accept a few of these jewels as thanks?”

Jen shrugged. “Nah I got plenty of bits. I’m just glad to help.”

“Well then thank you again young lady. We look forward to hearing of your future exploits!”

Jen laughed and waved goodbye as the duo set out on their loudly clanking contraption.

Truly thy behavior was worthy of the knightly title you claimed today Jennifer. I am proud to be your companion in this journey, and look forward to seeing thou grow into a fine mare.

“A few months ago if someone said they wanted to see me grow into a mare I’d think they were weirdoes Heart.” Once more in pegasus shape she took to the air heading in a generally southern direction. She ran into Ditzy Doo coming back with a huge flock of birds hot on her tail.

“Hey Jen! How’d it go?”

“Eh…saved the day. The ponies are safe and the monster’s gone.”

“Well then good job! I found the birds, didn’t even get lost either.”

It seemed like Ditzy had gotten over their argument and the two made light conversation on the way back to Ponyville. The town was wildly different from the place they left this morning. The sky was cloud free and not a single snowflake could be seen. The grass was already greener and small buds had grown in on the trees.

Pinkie Pie was easy to spot of course. The party pony was in the middle of leading the town in a musical number about the joy of the coming spring. With a little laugh Jen landed lightly nearby waiting for them to finish. She felt the usual urge to join in but shrugged it off. While she was feeling better she wasn’t much in the mood for a big song and dance.

“Jen! Hey Jen!”

The filly turned to the calls, seeing Spike running as fast as his little legs could carry him. She trotted over to meet him halfway. “What’s up Spike? You want my bracelet again?”

“Oh! Uh…sure! But…that’s not why I was looking for you!” He had a scroll clutched in his claws. Glancing down at her hooves she looked up at him with a shrug. “Oh right! Let’s see.” He cleared his throat. “I have a mission of the utmost urgency for you Jennifer. I realize you may be busy with other obligations but pray you can rise to this new challenge. Princess Cadence and Prince Shining Armor in the Crystal Empire are in desperate need of your help. This is a very delicate matter and you must not speak of the events to anypony. Plan to be gone for the entire week. No pony is to accompany you on this journey. I will come to the Empire myself as soon as I am able to check on the progress of your mission. You will be a guest of the Princess while you are in the empire. Your train pass has been updated to allow passage to the Empire. Depart at your earliest convenience.”

Rolling up the scroll Spike torched it with a little puff of flame. “Sounds important, you better get going.”

Jen frowned. “I just got back! …but it DOES sound important.” With a heavy sigh she looked to the cheerful Ponyville ponies. “Oh well…I DID wanna check out the Empire anyway. I better go pack a bag.”

She’d have to cancel the daycare service for the week of course. Dinky couldn’t run the whole place on her own. It would’ve been nice if she could have asked any of her friends along, but Luna was pretty specific in her letter. Huffing softly she began to pack her bags.

Slinging them over her flanks she sought out Cheerilee asking her to notify the parents. “I’m really sorry if it wasn’t from Luna herself…”

The earth mare laughed gently. “You don’t need to explain Jennifer. If the Princess needs somepony they get their flanks in gear. Don’t worry everypony will understand.”

***

Pinkie was a bit more difficult to convince. “But it’s so far! And she wants you to go all by yourself?!”

Jen shrugged a little on her way to the train station. “I’m gonna be staying in the palace with Princess Cadence and Shining Armor, Pinkie. Nothing bad is gonna happen. It’s just for a week and it sounded really important.”

The mare stubbornly shook her head. “Well then I’ll come with you!”

Sighing softly Jen showed her pass at the station. “You can’t Pinkie. Luna was REALLY specific. I’d LOVE it if you could come but…please don’t make this so hard.”

Heaving a sigh of her own Pinkie Pie scuffed a hoof on the ground. “I’m sorry Jenny, really. I’m just worried. Don’t think I didn’t notice that new scar on your flank. Where did THAT come from?”

“Uhh…a may have saved a couple ponies from a pack of dogs and a rampaging Cerberus?”

Pinkie bristled angrily now. “A…you…cerberus?! You…you’re just a filly Jenny! You can’t be…running around fighting giant monsters! I-I forbid it! You’re um…grounded!”

Jen frowned now. “I’m not a filly Pinkie Pie. And you’re NOT my mother so STOP acting like it! I’m GOING to the Empire and if this is how you’re going to act…” She faltered for a minute. “If-if this is how you’re going to keep treating me when I get back I might have to look into a new place to live.”

Pinkie Pie recoiled as if she were slapped. Her big blue eyes wide and Jen felt her chest tighten at the moisture gathering there. W-well…if that’s how you feel…fine. I-I won’t…tell you what to do Jennifer.” Head low the normally cheerful mare turned and plodded back toward town.

Jen was already moving to chase after Pinkie when the conductor called out. “All aboard! Train for the Crystal Empire is now departing! Aaaaall aboard!”

Sighing softly the filly cast one last look at the straight mane'd Pinkie Pie before turning and boarding the train.

*Jen and Umbra reconcile in chapter 8 of Umbral Travels. So if you're not already reading it you can pop over and check it out.

Three chapters to go and Settling In is finished!

Chapter 18: Secrets and Lies

The train ride to the Crystal Empire was almost a full day so Jen had a lot of free time to do…nothing. She’d finished her book and since she couldn’t bring anypony along with her, her only company was Bleeding Heart.

“Hey Heart, were you there when the order was broken up?”

I was not. A cadre of dragons had gone berserk and I was tasked with dispatching them. I felled the beasts but succumbed to my wounds. I know not how long it was from my death to the death of the order. Did Luna not tell you to stop pursuing this subject?

The filly grunted softly and rolled onto her back flexing her wings with a sigh. “Yeah I know. I’m just…curious I guess. Maybe I’ll ask her about it when I get back. Hey! Did you know Luna and Celestia when they were younger?”

I met the sister’s only once. When they received their arms and were inducted as full knights. All in the order are required to attend when one of the thirteen were replaced.

“What were they like?”

Mm. We spoke only briefly. Luna seemed much the same as she does now. Quiet and thoughtful. She preferred to let her sister do much of the talking. Now Celestia was the exact opposite. Very much a fan of her own voice and prone to action without thought. I heard a little of their exploits. They always achieved their goal but with a good deal more property damage than any other knight before them.

“Huh. That doesn’t sound at all what I’ve heard about Celestia from Twilight.”

Bear in mind she has had nearly two millennia to mature Jennifer. Tis a long time.

“Oh, yeah that’s a good point. Jeez it’s hard to imagine they’re so…old.”

Assuming they were the age they appeared at the time, they are no older than I.

“You’re a ghost Heart, it doesn’t count.”

Of course. Have you given anymore thought to your rune?

“I dunno. I’ve had a couple ideas but none of them really…fit with the Mercy motif. How’d you come up with yours?”

The knight I received Mercy from was…zealous in her belief that she should take all the ills of the world upon herself, thereby sparing her fellow pony from suffering them. While I applaud the thought I had little interest in eventually crippling myself permanently as Martyr had. I added the rune to heal wounds taken by Mercy to avoid such a fate.

“Oh. Yeah that’s a good point. The only one I like so far is a rune that would allow me to teleport to my friends’ side. Think that’s doable?”

Aye. Thy mana is certainly potent enough to impart a permanent enchantment of that sort to the blade. Though learning the spell of teleportation may prove quite the challenge. If memory serves spell casting is not thy forte.

“Hrm. That’s true. I dunno, I’ll keep thinking about it. Maybe I’ll make a list or something and we can look over it together.”
I would be honored to assist thee in any capacity Jennifer.

Jen jerked upright as her door slid open. “Aha! Thought I heard somepony familiar.”

Standing in the doorway was the changeling Tak, in his public pegasus shape. “Heya kid! Howya doin’?”

Blinking at the sudden appearance of the strange creature but happy for a distraction Jen grinned. “Good! What’re you doing here? Are Trixie and Umbra with you?”

“Yup! We’re ridin’ in th’regular cars with the normal ponyfolk.” The changeling prince casually let himself into her car looking around with an appreciative whistle. “Princess Luna sure takes care’a you don’t she?”

With a sheepish grin Jen shrugged. “Yeah I guess. I’m on official royal business.”

“Ahh say no more. Hush hush an all that I bet?” At her nod he chuckled. “I know how all THAT goes. Don’t miss it fer a second t’be honest. All that royal rulin’ nonsense can give anypony a headache.”

Jennifer had a hard time believing the goofy changeling was familiar with the subject but she didn’t see any need to comment. “So what’re you guys doing? I guess Umbra’s all better?”

Tak flopped back on one of the plush cushions in the royal car and helped himself to a few grapes from a nearby bowl. “We’re takin’ our show on up t’the Empire. Trixie always wanted t’see it an she got Umbra all fired up about a whole city made’a crystal so…here we are. An’ she’s doin’ good. Back’s a lil stiff back in that coach car…”

Jen rolled her eyes and laughed. “You guys can ride up here with me. There’s more than enough room.”

A look of (very fake) contrition crossed the stallions’ features. “Are ya sure? We’d hate t’impose.”

“Yeah I’m sure. It’s fine.”

No sooner had she finished speaking then the door slid back open admitting the two mares. Trixie smiling broadly as she took in the very posh royal car, while Umbra simply looked embarrassed. “You just HAPPENED to wander by my car and hear me talking to Heart huh?”

“Oh well y’know…”

Umbra huffed. “We saw you from the window when we boarded the train at Canterlot. I did not wish to impose but Tak and Trixie insisted you would not mind.”

“Hmph! Don’t rope Trixie into this; it was all Tak’s idea!” The showmare’s words were a bit hard to believe as she made herself just as comfortable as Tak in just as short amount of time.

The young alicorn settled down more slowly, eyeing her companions with a small frown. “If you wish your privacy we will leave.”

Jen shook her head. “No you guys are more than welcome to share the car with me. I was in for a lonely trip. I wish Luna had told me a bit more about why I’m going to the empire.”

The company was certainly unusual but Umbra and her friends were good folk once you got over their oddities. “Jennifer do you happen to have that book by Starswhirl with you? I was hoping to read it for myself.”

Jen glanced over at Trixie, curious about her dropping her third person manner of speech but shrugged. “Sure you can borrow it for a bit…but you gotta be like SUPER careful or Luna’ll kill me.” Fishing out the book the filly passed it over to an eager Trixie, who wasted no time cracking it open.

Tak was happily gorging himself on all the good cheer in the air. Jen looked to Umbra and found the young alicorn staring rather intently at her bracelet. “Uh…did you want something?”

Looking guilty at having been caught staring Umbra shifted on her cushion. “Your bracelet. Will it work for anyone?”

With a shrug Jen worked it to the end of her hoof and flicked it Umbra’s way. “Go nuts. But I kinda need it back.”

Gingerly the ebon coated mare worked it over her own hoof and up her leg. “How do I activate it?”

“Just press a hoof to the charm you wanna change to.”

Nodding slowly she did as instructed. The familiar silver light filled the car. IN the alicorns place was…a human woman. Very tanned skin and the same snowy white hair and red eyes. Modest curve and an impressive musculature made for an impressive looking woman. Her black feathered wings were impossible to hide now, and her horn still stood proudly on her forehead. Slowly the young woman was flexing her hands open and closed with a small smile.

Tak moved over to sit with Jen. “Her family, the folk who raised her were shaped like you. From the waist up I mean. Kid’s probly always wondered what it was like.”

Jen oh’d softly and nodded. “Well uh, happy to help?”

Umbra’s smile was growing. “I want to grab something!”

Not one to let such a comment pass Tak grinned. “I got somethin’ for ya t’grab!”

Umbra looked confused while Jen and Trixie pelted the changeling with a barrage of pillows. Punishment properly meted out the unicorn went back to her book while the pegasus turned back to Umbra. “Why don’tcha get a drink from the ice box? You can pop the tab with your fingers and everything.”

The alicorn turned human tried walking upright, and didn’t make it very far before she settled for crawling on hands and knees to the drink cooler. “How do you move about with only two legs?”

Jen shrugged. “Lots of practice. Baby humans crawl like you are now when we’re first born. I’m sure there’s some kinda smart explanation I never bothered to learn.”

Her childlike smile never fading Umbra eagerly grasped a can of apple juice. Ever so slowly she worked her fingers around the tab and popped it open with a little delighted squeal. Slowly she took a drink. “This is…more fun than I expected.”

Tak finally dug himself out. “Well now I wanna try! Gimme.”

Looking at Jennifer for permission first, when the filly shrugged indifferently Umbra worked the bracelet off and offered it to the changeling. “What do you need this for? You change shape at will.”

Lifting his hoof for Umbra to slide the bracelet over he shrugged. “We gotta stay kinda the same mass. Like when I squish down to a pony or a drone shape I get pretty beefy y’ever notice?”

“Now that you mention it I suppose I have. I assumed it was to make yourself appear more impressive.”

“I don’t need t’look more impressive. My natural awesomeness oozes no matter what shape I take. Observe!” With a flash there was another human in the train car. This one male, with slicked back blueish hair and eyes as red as Umbra’s, though he had the same catlike pupils he had as a changeling. His twisted horn remained, as did the insectoid gossamer wings. “Whoa this is freaky. My hooves are all wiggly.”

Jen blushed and looked away from the VERY nude human guy in the cabin. “Hey gimme the bracelet.”

Tak fumbled with his new hands before slipping it off and working it over Jen’s hoof. “Wow these things ARE handy. Haha, handy. Get it?”

Trixie didn’t look up from her book; she just sent a new avalanche of pillows to bury the man in the car. With a little smile Jen eyed her new charm. “Huh, I thought I’d get alicorn and changeling.”

Umbra raised a brow. “That is how you acquire more charms? Have other races use your bracelet?”

“Yeah. My fillyfriend Echo became a normal pegasus and I got the night pony charm. Then my dragon friend Spike wanted to impress a mare so I picked up dragon too. I guess alicorn is just a mix of the three tribes so it doesn’t need it?”

Shrugging a little Jen tapped her new charm. The rush of her body changing was weirdly familiar now, even if her new shape was the weirdest she’d been in yet. Her coat had become a glossy black buglike shell. The feathered wings were gone replaced by insectoid gossamer. Her horn was back even if it stuck out in a jagged crooked shape. She blinked up at the others with eyes identical to Tak’s save they were green rather than red. She could feel the fangs in her mouth. “Ooo this is weird.” Even her voice had an odd buzzing quality.

“Hey! Yer a royal changeling huh? Must be cause’a my awesome genes.”

Jennifer was busy buzzing her wings experimentally. “Oh yeah? What’s the difference?”

“Eh about two feet’a height and more magic. Plus if ya run inta any drones y’can totally boss em around.”

With a laugh the young changeling grinned. “How do I y’know…change?”

“Oh. S’real easy. All ya do is focus yer magic up an picture whatcha wanna be. Even th’littlest hatchlings can do it.”
Smiling mischievously Jen eyed Trixie a moment before doing as Tak told her. She could feel the familiar sensation of her mana waiting to be tapped swirling around in her middle and brought it to her horn. Changing as a changeling was a lot different than with the bracelet. The bracelet was a sort of instant poof…this time she could feel her body softening as chitin became a blue fur coat. Her mane flowed freely in a new silvery white color. Her wings vanished and soon there were two Trixie’s in the car.

“There ya go! Easy right?”

Clearing her throat Jen-Trixie smirked. “The great and powerful Trixie demands a can of juice! Fetch it for her before she drops a giant star bear on your heads!”

Tak was howling with laughter by now rolling around the floor of the car clutching his sides. Even Umbra looked to be working hard to avoid laughing at her friend’s expense. Trixie looked up from her book glowering. “Oh very funny.”

Flicking her head Jen tugged Trixie’s hat and cape over to herself, settling them about her head and back. “Prepare to marvel as Trixie performs magical feats your tiny NORMAL pony minds could only dream of!” Flourishing her hooves Jen reached behind the recovering Tak’s ear coming back with a bit. “Behold! Trixie has pulled a bit from your ear!”

Umbra finally lost her composure and her soft titters joined Tak’s renewed guffaws. Trixie’s lips were pursed tightly but Jen could see she was fighting back a laugh of her own. Smiling gently the disguised girl floated Trixie’s clothes back to her. “That’s actually pretty fun to do.”

“It’s called showmareship. You have a flair for it. If you get tired of Equestrian politics or whatever it is you do with the princess let me know. I’ll find a spot for you in the show.”

Jen relaxed her disguise returning to changeling form. Just in time for the door to slide open and an angry conductor to poke his head in. “I know this is the royal car but everypony is complaining about the noise and…” The stallion trailed off as he took in the two humans and changeling sitting in the car with a unicorn mare. Slowly he backed out and slid the door shut.

“…eh I’m sure nothing bad’ll come of that.”

***

Naturally the foursome was greeted by a dozen angry looking guards from the Crystal Empire. Each was back in their normal shape (or disguised normal shape in Tak’s case). “We know at least ONE of you is a changeling! You’ll all come with us to the barracks for questioning until your true identities are confirmed.”

Smiling sheepishly, saddlebags over her flanks Jen approached. “I can clear all this up for you guys real quick. I’m Jubilant Surprise, Luna’s student? I’m here to meet with Princess Cadence and Prince Shining Armor. I can explain everything, really.”

Their captain’s stern gaze never faltered. “Very well, word will be sent to the Princess. Until then you WILL come to the barracks to await her arrival. Princess Cadence may be the youngest of the alicorns but she’s still got enough magic to put four changelings in the ground if you bugs try anything funny.”

Tak was bristling at the insults thrown around about his people but Trixie and Umbra both leaned into him from either side offering silent comfort. Umbra was clothed in a black cloak covering her already hard to spot wings, with a hoof to shield her eyes from the rumored radiance of the empire. With a sigh the disguised stallion fell into step with the other ponies.
Despite the unpleasant circ*mstances all four visitors to the empire were stuck by its beauty. Everything shined and glittered with dazzling radiance…including the ponies now that they were in the bright sunshine. Happy ponies trotted by chatting and shopping like any other pony town, save these ponies looked to almost be made from the crystal their home was named for. Their small procession received more than their fair share of stares, mostly because of the armed escort.

Too soon in their opinion the impromptu tour ended and they were led into a small room. “You’ll remain here until the Princess or prince consort arrives to question you directly. Don’t give us a reason to be sorry for trusting you this far.” The imposing guard pony slammed the door shut and all four could hear an audible click as the door was locked.

“So uh…does the princess know about Tak?”

Umbra nodded slowly. “Yes. Luna sent word that I would be coming with a changeling companion. Even so she felt it best we keep his identity secret from everypony in the empire save the royal couple.”

Sighing in relief Jen grinned. “Well then there’s no problem.” Even knowing it was all a misunderstanding it wasn’t exactly a pleasant wait. All four turned as the door opened admitting a powerful looking white unicorn stallion. Jen recognized him instantly as one of her rescuers that came for her on earth.

Slowly he gazed about the room of nervous ponies, focusing in on Tak. With a quick jerk of his head he motioned for them to follow. “On your hooves. We’ll talk once we reach the palace.”

Jen’s smile faded a bit at his stern tone, but she withheld comment until the angry stallion gave the go ahead. They were briskly lead from the barracks through a back door. Several guards looked unhappy at being ordered to remain behind but Shining WAS the prince consort after all. The former guard captain kept glancing over his shoulder at his charge seeming to have trouble deciding which to be focusing his ire on. He ushered them through the streets at a brisk trot.

The crystal palace was a huge spire of beautifully sculpted crystal reaching nearly to the clouds as far as Jen could see. Several staircases led upward from thin legs supporting the palace. Beneath the spire was a gently pulsing heart carved of crystal.

Heart d’you see that? Think it’s anything like the one that powered the citadel?

Possibly, though ours was far larger. Powerful earth pony mana permeates the air of the empire. I have heard tell this heart can be used to protect the empire in times of dire peril.

“Don’t dally back there!” Jen was snapped from her silent conversation at Shining Armor’s shout. The filly galloped back to the group blushing at the chastisem*nt.

The stallion lead them up the nearest stairway and into the palace proper. None of them got a good look at anything as he kept them moving at a brisk pace through the corridors, allowing them to stop once they reached a spacious office. Shutting the door behind them Shining took a seat behind the desk. “I’d like somepony to explain to me why there are rumors spreading like wildfire through the empire about a changeling invasion.”

All four shared guilty looks. Jen cleared her throat softly. “W-well…didn’t Luna tell you Tak would be coming?”

“Yes. And Cadence allowed it against my will I might add. But she was lead to believe he would keep himself disguised as a pony at all times. Now that the ponies KNOW a changeling is in the empire rumors and panic are going to spread like wildfire!” The punctuated the statement by slamming a forehoof on his desk.

The little group was looking properly contrite. “Um…it wasn’t his fault sir. The changeling they saw was me.”

His eyes widened as he rounded on Jen now. “How is that possible?”

A frown instantly appeared on his face as she lifted her leg to show the charm bracelet. “It um…picks up new forms when some other species uses it. Tak and Umbra were being human and I wanted to try being a changeling…”

Slowly the prince nodded. “I see. It was still very irresponsible. Especially you three. She’s a filly but you’re all adults and should know better.”

Jennifer was bristling a bit at the implication but it was Umbra who spoke now. “Yes. You have our apologies. It was a very poor choice in judgment on our part that lead to this situation at all. The fault lays with myself over any of the others.”
The powerful stallion grunted softly. “You three are free to go. Keep your noses clean, we’ll be watching. Princess Luna is vouching for you but as far as I’m concerned you’re potentially dangerous criminals running loose in my city. Don’t make me regret it.” With a deep sigh he looked to Jen. “As for you…we’re going to make an official announcement. Explain to the public who you are and how you…change shape. We’ll say I dunno, it’s part of your education on Equestria alright? That should settle everypony’s mind.”

“Yes sir. That sounds just fine.”

Nodding firmly he again looked to the young alicorn and her friends. “Your wagon is waiting for you at the train station. I’ll have one of the guards escort you to it. The empire can be confusing for first time visitors.”

Trixie looked relieved to hear it. Umbra bowed her head. “Thank you, we will not cause any more trouble in your city. You have my word.”

“Go ahead and hold onto the book if you want Trixie. I’ll be here for a week according to Luna so as long as you drop it off by then and be SUPER careful with it…”

“I will Jennifer. Thank you, it means a lot to me.”

Tak had remained silent throughout the exchange, not even meeting Shining Armors eyes. The three bid farewell to Jen and took their leave, leaving the filly alone. Shining’s demeanor softened instantly. “Well that was a little bit of unexpected excitement hm?”

Shuffling from hoof to hoof Jen still looked rather contrite. “I’m REALLY sorry about all this.”

He shrugged. “It’s fine. I can’t blame you for being curious. It was just bad timing. There’s bad blood between ponies and changelings at the best of times, but Equestria was nearly conquered by them a couple years ago. Just hinting that one is around can start a panic. I’ll talk to Cadence and we’ll address the people this afternoon. Did you get a chance to have breakfast on the train?”

“No we kinda stayed up super late then got woken up when it pulled into the station. Then uh…we got arrested.”

Stepping around his desk the stallion opened the door with a smile. “Well let’s get something to eat hm? Cadence inherited her aunt’s sweet tooth and I have to fight for my morning donuts.”

“Ooo I haven’t had a donut since I came to Equestria. Can’t get one ANYwhere in Ponyville. It’s practically criminal. Can I drop my bags off first?”

“Oh sure. C’mon we’ll go by your rooms first. You’re staying across from our uh…other guest.”

“Other guest? Does this have something to do with why I’m here?”

“It does. I’ll let Cadence do the explaining.” The matter settled for now Shining Armor took Jen to the west tower. The room was a bit smaller than the one in Canterlot but no less comfy. Plus it was like, all made out of crystal which was super cool in Jennifer’s opinion.

“This is why I stayed y’know? You can’t see big crazy cities made out of crystal back on Earth.”

Shining chuckled as he led the way back down to the dining room. “Well I’ll give you that. Your world has plenty of interesting stuff in it though. I love all those crazy sports you humans play. We have hoofball and racing. Not much else besides some track and field.”

Jen eyed him curiously. “You’ve studied my world?”

“Oh! Uh…well yeah had to. Y’know for the…rescue?”

“Oh…yeah that makes sense. Worried the Red Wings or something would be guarding me?”

“Something like that.” A pair of crystal pony servants opened the doors admitting the duo to the dining room. This was almost identical to Canterlot’s…maybe it was some kinda universal palace design or something? The table was just as big but most of the food was piled at the head where who Jennifer rightly assumed was Princess Cadence was seated, happily piling up pastries onto her plate. She was very pink…no doubt Pinkie was a big fan of hers. Her mane and tail had a unique three toned color scheme, yellow pink and purple. Oddly they weren’t flowing around like crazy like Luna’s did. The princess of the crystal empire looked up as her husband arrived with their guest and smiled widely.

“Hello! Welcome to the Crystal Empire, Jennifer. I’m sorry I wasn’t at the train station to meet you. Shining insisted I stay here ‘for my protection’.”

The young pony shrugged flexing her wings in the act. “Oh it’s not a problem. We had a little excitement and from what I hear you guys have had more than your fair share of changeling trouble. I’m sorry to’ve caused such a hassle.”

“That’s putting it lightly. Would you like some breakfast?”

“More than anything.” Jen took the cushion on Cadence’s left while Shining took the one on her right. Eagerly she began scooping what few donuts remained (Shining Armor managed to get ahold of one himself). Dissatisfied with the amount Jen turned to the stacks of pancakes and bowl of eggs happily heaping up her plate.

“Looks like you have some competition for the morning gorge dear.”

Cadence huffed. “She’s a growing filly; it’s not THAT much food.”

Her husband had a far more modest amount of food on his plate. “And what’s your excuse?”

“Hmph. You know I have a big appetite.”

“That’s not the only thing that’s going to be big if you keep at it like that.” He was smiling to show he was just teasing.

“Mmhm. So Jennifer, how have you been enjoying Equestria?” The princess had to purse her lips to keep from laughing at the eager young ponies less than delicate dining room manners. Jen had still not managed to master utensils with hooves so she just dug in face first.

Washing down a huge mouthful of food with the weirdly sparkly juice, Jen grinned. “Oh it’s been great. Except for Discord and Umbra nearly killing me. And fighting the cerberus the other day…other than THAT it’s been great.”

Shining just raised incredulous eyebrows. “You fought a cerberus? What was this?”

Jen had started in on a jelly donut by the time he started his question. Swallowing it nearly whole she shrugged. “Like Monday I think? Wrap Up day I remember that. Me and Ditzy Doo were flying south to get the birds right? Then I saw these ponies being chased by a pack of diamond dogs. So I swoop down and am all “I am Lady Jubilant knight of the order! Get lost!” They did not get lost. So I smacked ‘em around then they brought out this cerberus that I uh…killed.” Her enthusiasm faded a good deal at that.

The prince looked stunned but Cadence gently brushed Jennifer’s cheek with her wing. “I’ve never been forced to take a life myself, but I’m told it’s never an easy thing to do. You’re a very brave young pony Jennifer.”

“Mmf. Thanks. I had Bleeding Heart with me though so I wasn’t all on my own. It was pretty terrifying though.” She laughed a little.

“Bleeding Heart is one of the ancient knights right? The previous owner of Mercy?”

Jen nodded resting her leg bearing Mercy on the table. “Yup. I can talk to her and call her out when I need to. It’s crazy rough on my mana though.”

“You know I’ve read that Mercy is the most powerful of all the Arms of Harmony. It’s not too surprising since Starswhirl himself crafted it. He was the most powerful unicorn of his time, if not of all time. Though Twilight might give him a run for his money.”

Shining puffed his chest with pride now. “That’s right! Little Twily’s well on her way to being the best mage of all time.”
“All I know is Mercy, Night Singer, and a little about Corona. And then you have Convalescence right?”

With a little nod the princess tapped her torc. “I do. How has your bonding progressed?”

Jen had cleaned her plate in record time and settled back, belly full. “I’m ready to add my rune. I just dunno what I wanna add.”

“It’s a big decision. Fortunately there’s no rush since as far as I know my aunts and I are all that remains of the Order.”
“How’d that all work out anyway?”

Cadence daintily made her way through her sixth donut. “Well Convalescence was the only arm my aunts saved besides their own. I was exploring the palace when I was younger and blundered into Aunt Celestia’s trophy room. I found it in a case there and well…it wanted me. So now here I am.”

Jen listened quietly to Cadence’s story. “Wish mine was that easy. We almost got eaten by giant spiders underground and me and Rainbow Dash fell off a cliff. We found Bleeding Heart’s resting place down there with like ten dead dragons.”

Four dead dragons Jennifer.

Jennifer flicked Discord’s gem more prominently into view from its place on her hilt. “I noticed the gem was getting warmer the closer I got. Mercy blocks out the whispering it tries to make you go all…crazy Discord with.”

“Well your story is certainly more exciting than mine. I’m sure you have plenty of exciting stories from your time in Equestria.” The princess sat forward a little eagerly.

“Dear while I’d love to hear her stories myself, we have a bit of official business first? Not to mention you haven’t explained WHY we called her out here.”

Cadence’s face fell. “Poo. You’re right. Alright Shining, you get the address to the people ready while I show Jennifer her reason for coming.”

The couple shared a kiss before the stallion departed, leaving the girls alone. “Well! Let’s go see your job for the week hm?”

Swallowing back a sudden bout of nerves Jen rose and followed the princess. “I’m not sure what exactly I can do that you can’t. Unless you need somepony who can turn into a human, dragon, or changeling.”

“Dragon and changeling? How does THAT work?”

“My bracelet? I poke a charm and poof.”

Cadence frowned, gently lifting the bracelet from Jen’s leg to examine it. “You have SIX charms? How come you get SIX?!”

Jen stepped back looking confused. “Uh…w-well…I found out if someone who’s race isn’t on the bracelet uses it a new charm forms. For them to change back right? Only when they DO, the charm sticks around.”

“O-oh…that’s…interesting.” The princess returned the filly’s bracelet. “I’m sorry I ah…don’t know what came over me!” She forced a laugh, leaving Jennifer to stare curiously.

They continued on in silence for a few moments, heading toward the west tower again. “So…who’s their other sister?”

“Hm?”

“Well Celestia and Luna are your aunts right? Luna’s never talked about a second sister.”

“Oh! Well…I’m…adopted. I was too old to call Celestia mom so I went with aunt instead.”

“Oh. That makes sense. So how come you’re a princess and not an empress?”

Cadence smiled now that the questions turned to an easier subject. “Well the empire used to have an emperor but he wasn’t exactly a shining example of what ponykind has to offer. They switched to kings and queen’s for a bit. Then their last king was unpleasant to say the least. So now they get a princess! I was a princess in Equestria before the empire returned so I was happy to keep the title.”

“That’s kinda neat. Though how come Luna and Celestia don’t go by queen?”

“The same reason. I don’t know the whole story but I guess the previous ruler left a bad taste in everypony’s mouth. I’ve only just met Luna what with the whole banished to the moon business, but Aunt Celestia would never tell me about it when I asked.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little, I dunno…weird?”

“I did. But I’ve come to learn that Princess Celestia doesn’t use her ‘listen or be severely punished’ voice lightly.”

Jennifer lapsed into silence at that. This was the mare who turned Discord to stone for over a thousand years and locked her sister in the moon for a millennia of her own. “Alright here we are…it sounds like she’s awake.”

Curiously Jen followed the princess into the room across from her own. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but a scowling alicorn filly with a white coat and pink mane and tail (what’s with ponies and pink?) wasn’t it. “…wait did you drag me out here to BABYSIT?”

The filly’s eyes blazed and she leapt from the bed. “BABYSIT?! Do I look like a BABY to you you…goofy looking pegasus! What kind of color is GREEN for a coat anyway? You look like some kind of giant vegetable!”

Cadence cleared her throat gently. “Jennifer, I’d like you to meet Princess Celestia.”

Thoughts flashed back to all the stories Twilight and Luna had shared with Jen about the benevolent, wise, and gentle princess of the sun. “Well does the giant cabbage have something to say or did you bring her here to just GAWK at me?” The shrilly shrieking little filly didn’t quite measure up to her image.

Jennifer felt her wings involuntarily begin to rise as her anger did. “Hey! You watch your mouth you little brat!”

The pint sized princess’ mouth fell open in shock. “You…you can’t talk to me like that you….you…PEASANT! I am a princess! Princess of the sun! I’ll…banish you! To um, to…a place far away! Then put you in a dungeon to the place I banish you to!”

Jen narrowed her eyes snorting down at the little brat. Diamond Tiara was nasty but this was bordering on ridiculous. Rounding on the adult princess Jen didn’t look to be calming any. “WHY am I here princess?”

Cadence draped a wing over Jen’s back and gently lead her from the room, shutting the door behind them. “I don’t know what to do!” All at once her demeanor shifted from the friendly composed princess to…a sleep deprived wreck. Jen was just noticing the feathers out of place on her wings and the circles under her eyes. “I’ve been a foal sitter my whole life! Foals love me, I’m great with them! But she…she’s so…AWFUL! I’ve tried every trick I learned and nothing works. She’s always so mean and angry. She destroys anything breakable we let near her. We’ve had to start keeping her in her room at all times.”

Glancing back at the door the pegasi’s wings slowly settled. “Why is she like that? What’s going on?”

Taking a deep breath the princess composed herself best she could. “It’s an alicorn thing. Every century we need to…take a break. A week of magically induced sleep allows us time to recharge our mana. Only with Luna gone Aunt Celestia couldn’t just vanish for a week. I was too young and inexperienced to look after Equestria alone so she kept putting it off. After the Discord incident she finally succumbed only…she needed more than a week long nap. She had to totally rejuvenate herself. She was a newborn foal when we brought her back. She looks about six or seven now so she’s aging rapidly. Luna says she’ll get her memories back as she ages but until then…”

Jen was frowning now. “Until then you’re stuck with the little brat?”

Cadence winced, but nodded. “We are. I’ve tried bargaining, bribing, pleading, begging, games, books, everything! Nothing’s working.”

Jennifer could think of ONE thing the princess hadn’t tried. “I think I have an idea.” Brushing her charms quickly she traded her wings for a horn and stepped back into the room.

“Oh…the cabbage is back. Why are you a unicorn? Too dumb to fly? Oh wait you have to be smart to do magic too!”
Jen ignored the jibes and looked around the room slowly. Reaching out with her magic she flicked open the large trunk against the far wall. Jackpot. Snapping the lid shut again Jen hoisted the toy chest into the air and started to leave.

“Hey! Th-thief! What do you think you’re doing!”

Jennifer paused at the door. “Toys are for fillies who can behave. You can have them back if you eat your breakfast like a good girl. If not…the books go next.”

The little white alicorn charged across the room delivering a little kick to one of Jen’s hind legs. “You can’t do that! I’ll tell Cadence!”

Keeping the chest hovering in the air Jen turned and leaned in close to Celestia the filly. “Wanna know a secret?”

Now Celestia may be an extremely mean little filly right now…but every kid, pony or otherwise loved secrets. Despite herself she was learning forward to hear.

“I’m in charge now. Cadence asked Luna to find her the meanest, toughest foalsitter in all of Equestria. So here I am by royal decree. It’s going to be just YOU…and ME from now on.”

The little pony’s eyes widened in horror, and she didn’t protest again as Jen left, gently shutting the door behind her. Passing the quietly watching Cadence she opened her own door and plopped the toy chest against her bed. “We’ll see if punishment doesn’t straighten her out a bit.”

The gentle princess was chewing her lip now. “You don’t think you were too harsh?”

“Mmm. I have a couple problem fillies at the daycare. They’re the school bullies and Cheerilee for some reason turns a blind eye to their nonsense. After spending almost a solid week sitting in the corner for two hours after school they came around. They’re not perfect, but they can interact with their classmates without making them miserable.”

“I see…I’ve never had to punish any of the foals I looked after. You won’t be…too stern will you?”

Jen shook her head. “No I’m not gonna spank her or anything. I didn’t get punished a lot as a kid but the worst was when they took stuff away. So we’ll start with the toys, than the books. Then we’ll move on to sitting in the corner and no dessert.”

“Oh dear. Well I’m glad you’re here. I don’t think I’d be able to do all that to her. She practically raised me for years I just…don’t know what to do.”

“Well you’ve got me for the week! I’ll see what I can do. Should we go find Prince Shining Armor?”

Cadence nodded still watching Celestia’s door worriedly. “I suppose. And you don’t need the titles. Just Cadence and Shining Armor will be fine.”

***

The address to the general public went pretty well. The crowd of shimmering ponies were pretty worked up at first but once the royal couple explained things, and Jennifer demonstrated her bracelets abilities they were all calmed quickly enough.
Soon Jen was back upstairs. Cadence and Shining had their own duties to attend to but both trusted Luna’s judgment, and so trusted Jennifer with Celestia’s care. The young unicorn stared at Celestia’s door for a moment, before going into her own room and settling in front of the toy chest. Gently nosing it open she rummaged for a bit, digging out a coloring book and box of crayons. Than using her magic she nudged Celestia’s door open, and while in full view of the doorway she sprawled on the carpet in her own room and went about coloring.

It didn’t take the filly long to investigate the open doors. “Hey! Those are mine!”

“Well. It’s in the toy chest, that’s in my room now. So that makes them mine. And I felt like coloring.”

Celestia’s cheeks puffed and her little wings flapped a mile a minute as she stomped about in a circle…not leaving her doorway. Apparently Cadence was firm when she needed to be and the filly seemed unwilling to cross the threshold. “I’m going to start screaming!”

Not looking up from her picture of ‘Daring Do’ Jen’s magic fetched her iPod from her bag. Resting it in front of herself she stuck the ear buds in her big pony ears as best as they’d go before turning it on. “Go ahead!”

Cadence wasn’t the punishing type; she DEFINITELY didn’t seem like the ignoring type. Jen saw Celestia take a deep breath from the corner of her eye and braced herself…she’d seen Luna bellow angrily and wasn’t sure what to expect. Instead of a keening wail…the filly deflated slowly when she realized Jennifer wasn’t even looking at her. Still pouting a little she crept to the very edge of her doorway. “…what is that?”

Jen looked over moving one of the buds out of her ear. “What’s that?”

“…I said what is that?”

“Oh. It’s called an iPod. It plays music.”

Celestia wrinkled her nose. “Is it magic?”

“Nope. Just a tiny machine.”

“I want to see it.”

Jen lifted it with her magic, holding it in clearer view for the filly across the hall.

“No…I want to see it up close!”

“Oh. Well…I suppose you can come in my room.”

Celestia’s royal rump hit the floor as her pout escalated. “Cadence said I’m not allowed.”

“Who’s in charge now?”

“…you?”

“Yup. You can come to my room.”

Gingerly…as if expecting the princess to descend on her at any second Celestia stepped a hoof out of her room. When it was clear no such princess was about to materialize she dashed across the hall as fast as she could, eyes wide and breathing heavily. Her wings flexed a bit as she calmed and cautiously approached the older pony in the room. Eyes flicking from Jen to the iPod she crept closer until she could clearly see the little device. “How does it work?”

Jen set her crayon aside and turned to face Celestia fully. “You move through the song titles with this little button, than when you find the one you like you push this one and it plays.”

Jennifer had it playing from her Disney playlist so she just popped the cord for the buds out and let the regular speaker take over. “Under The Sea” began to play loudly. Celestia’s eyes widened and she bolted back toward the door at the unexpected noise. Slowly she calmed and crept closer again. “That’s amazing! Are there tiny musicians inside?”
“Nope. You guys have records right? I guess it’s best to imagine it like a tiny record player.”

Her wings flexing with her nerves Celestia crept closer again, prodding the iPod with her hoof. When it didn’t jump up and bite her she gently picked it up in her forehooves turning it over. When it became clear it did nothing other than play music she lost interest quickly enough. “I want my toys back.”

“That’s nice.” Jen went back to her coloring.

Celestia bristled, wings flexing open again. “I ate breakfast and didn’t yell at the servant or anything! I did what you said!”
“Hm. That’s true. Why don’t you color with me?”

Eyeing her new authority figure suspiciously Celestia settled on the floor next to her, taking one of the crayons in her mouth and going to work coloring the birds in the picture a painfully dizzying array of multi-hued splendor. For such an eyesore the filly selected each color after careful study. Jen couldn’t help but remember when she was just starting out drawing; it took her forever to pick the color on anything when she decided to color her pictures.

“So. How come you give Cadence and Shining Armor such a hard time?”

The filly shrugged. “…dunno.”

“You sure you don’t know? Cadence is really nice. She just wants what’s best for you.”

Celestia’s purple orbs started to smolder with anger again. “No she doesn’t. She wants to keep me locked up in the castle forever.”

“What makes you say that?”

The miniature sun princess’ composure snapped and she slammed her hooves down on the book, snapping the crayons in her way. “Because it’s true! She never lets me go outside! She doesn’t let me see anypony but the servant who brings my food! And that Shining Armor is no better! He won’t even let me go to the bathroom alone!”

Jen eyed the broken crayons with a little frown. “If I go talk to Cadence do you promise to stay in my room and behave?”
Celestia gave a noncommittal shrug.

“I asked you a question Celestia.”

The filly winced. “…fine. I promise.”

Jen smiled. “Good. And pick up those broken crayons too.”

Celestia huffed, but she was already doing so as Jen stepped outside shutting the door behind her. It was simple enough to get directions to Cadence’s throne room. The princess was holding court much the same as Luna did. Fortunately a very bored looking Shining Armor was also in attendance, and he was all too happy for the excuse to sneak out.
“What’s up?”

Jen glanced back toward her room. “What’s the deal? You guys keep Celestia stuffed away in her room all day every day?”

Shining frowned a little pulling her away from the throne room. “We can’t let anypony know about her condition. If word gets around that we’re one sun princess down the griffons or dragons might start getting ideas.”

“I think that might be why she’s so uh…nasty. I mean she’s a little kid right now right? Kids like to run around and play outside and junk. She needs to get outta here.”

The stallion was nodding. “I don’t disagree but there’s no way an alicorn filly isn’t going to get tons of attention.”

Jennifer’s eyes lit up and she grinned. “What if she wasn’t an alicorn?”

***

“Alright so here’s how it works. You put on the bracelet and touch the charm you want. Just pick one then we get to go outside.”

Celestia stared at the charm bracelet wide eyed. “There’s a dragon! And…a bat? And some kinda bug?”

“Yup. Night pony and changeling. I think it best you stick with one of the regular pony tribes.”

Nodding slowly she filly fidgeted with the bracelet over her foreleg. “And Cadence said it was ok?”

“Who’s in charge?”

Biting her lip Celestia poked at the earth pony charm. She yelped as her wings and horn vanished. “It really worked! I’m an earth pony?”

Jen reclaimed her bracelet. “For the afternoon. You ready to go outside?”

Slowly Celestia began to smile. “I am!”

“Alright. First thing’s first. You’re name isn’t Celestia. How about uh…Sunny Days?”

Now she was frowning a little. “What’s wrong with my name?”

Jen shrugged. “Nothing. But nopony is supposed to know you’re here right? It might look funny if a filly named Celestia with your coat and mane is running around, earth pony or no.”

“I guess Sunny Days is a nice name…”

“Alright you’re Sunny Days. And I’m your older sister Jubilant Surprise, got it?”

Nodding a little Celestia fell into step with Jen as she nudged the door open. The filly had to force herself not to charge ahead. She was going outside! She didn’t want to upset the at times scary pony watching over her.

Shining Armor was waiting at the end of the hall watching with the hint of a frown on his face. Celestia’s canter slowed and stopped altogether as she gazed up at him. “Hello Prince Shining Armor! I was about to take my sister to uh…a park maybe? Introduce yourself.”

The little filly peeked up at the prince. “Hello…I’m…Sunny Days.”

Slowly his frown faded. “Well that sounds like fun. And it’s nice to meet you Sunny Days. Why don’t I escort you ladies? I know a good park. Lots of foals playing there. It’s a holiday today so nopony’s in school.”

“That’d be nice. Thank you. You say thanks too Sunny.”

“O-oh yes. Thank you sir.”

Shining looked over Celestia’s head at Jen with a raised eyebrow, mouthing ‘wow’. The young mare shrugged with a smile. “Well…let’s go see that park hm?”

***

“You’ve been here an hour and look at her!”

Jen laughed. She was sitting with the prince at the large public park near one of the empire’s schools. Celestia was racing about with a group of foals engaged in some game or another. “I’m sure Cadence is an awesome foal sitter in most cases, but sometimes kids need y’know…a firm hoof.”

“I guess it just never occurred to me to PUNISH…” He dropped his voice. “To punish Princess Celestia of all ponies. That was a good idea you had with your bracelet too.”

“Eh it was kinda an obvious solution when you thought about it. I’m sure if you guys had one you’d have done the same thing.” She laughed.

Shining didn’t seem to share her mirth. “Yeah you’d think…so. How are you doing Jennifer? After that mess with those men back on your world?”

“I’m fine. I mean…it was scary and I was pretty sure I was gonna die. But a couple of the agents were pretty nice. I mean you met Agent Miller. She’s the one that helped us and took that bullet for Luna.”

“She seemed like a good woman. I know somepony’s who’re familiar with your world think all humans are greedy meat eating monsters, but I know different. I’ve seen plenty of examples of the good your kind has to offer, and can bring to Equestria for that matter. If it weren’t for you Discord would probably be ruling us all.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Meh. All I did was some fast talking and nearly bleed to death in an ancient castle. If it were for Twilight, Pinkie, and Rainbow Dash I’d probably be wreaking havoc right alongside him by now.”

“Well what about those ponies you saved from the diamond dogs? Where would THEY be without you?”

“…in their belly?” She laughed. “I get what you’re saying, and thanks.” Jen ran a hoof along Mercy’s shield. “I’m doing well though. Not sure WHAT I’m doing. I’m running a daycare, revolutionizing the film industry, training to be a knight for an order of knights that doesn’t exist, weighing in on Equestrian politics on my weekends, and dating a member of the same sex and different species.”

“Sounds like you’re trying to figure out just what you want to be doing with your life. I think there’s a word for ponies like that. Back in my day we called them teenagers.”

Jen stuck her tongue out. “Very funny. But you’re right, I know it’s part of growing up and all. I wish my stupid butt mark would show up and tell me what I’m supposed to be doing.”

The stallion laughed now. “That’s not really how it works. A pony gets their cutie mark when they discover what they’re destined to do, what makes them TRULY happy. Do you have anything like that?”

With a heavy sigh Jen flopped onto her side. “I dunno. I love the daycare and my weekends with Luna. I love to fly and my practicing with Heart at night. I love drawing too. I just dunno.”

“Well don’t think about it too much. Your mark will come when its time, I promise.”

Jen fidgeted with her hooves. “What if it never does? Cause y’know…I’m not a real pony.”

“Hm. I can’t tell you I know a whole lot about how cutie marks work beyond what we learn in school. I’m just a soldier y’know? I’m a prince now but that’s still who I am where it counts. We try to look at things simply. And from what I can see you’re a pony. Maybe not JUST like anypony else. Most ponies don’t swap between tribes, or turn into humans and changelings. But you’re all Equestrian where it counts.” He poked her gently in the chest.

With a little grin she rested her hoof over the spot. “…you’re a lot like your sister. You don’t use the same big words she does, but you’re a lot smarter than you look.”

Now he laughed. “Well thanks so much.” He looked back at the park, seeing Celestia still happily at play. “How’re things at home? You’re living with Pinkie Pie right? THAT’S gotta be an experience.”

Jen’s cheer vanished abruptly. “…it’s fun sometimes. But she’s really…over bearing. Always trying to mother me. We had a big fight before I came up.”

“Sounds like she’s just worried about you. When you disappeared for those few days she was in a panic, running all over ready to burst into tears at any second. She was up in arms the first night you didn’t come back but her friends convinced her you were just staying overnight with your father. When you still weren’t back the next night she made Twily send a letter to Princess Luna and got the whole rescue in motion.”

A loud groan came from the young unicorn now. “I know. I know she worries I just...I had a lot of independence at home. My dad was always working and mom when she WAS home was trying to plan her next night out and away from the house. I got to come and go as I pleased. When dad knew they’d both be gone for a while he’d hire a babysitter. That’s how I met Pinkie y’know? When she and the others were on their study trip or whatever. Dad hired her to babysit me. Dunno how he got her number…or where she got her phone. I should ask her sometime…”

“Hm. It sounds like you were…ignored most of the time.”

A little frown found her lips and she shrugged. “I guess. Not by Pennie though.” She was smiling a little now. “I’d never had anyone want to y’know…spend time with me doing stuff I liked. She loved looking through my sketch books or going on our nature walks. I…jeez I’m kinda an idiot huh?”

“Kinda. You’re one of those things? Oh! Teenagers! I forgot. Old age and all. I’ve heard your kind can get ornery with authority figures.”

With a grunt Jen bucked him in the flank sending him right off the bench. “Oops! My teenage rebelliousness got the better of me!”

Without warning a bright magenta bubble popped into being around Jennifer, bouncing her off the bench and rolling her gently along the grass. “Only one way I know how to deal with teenagers. Discipline.”

Frowning a little Jen gave the bubble an experimental kick. When it didn’t give she charged her horn and punched into it with a shot of magic. The prince looked a bit surprised by the force behind it, but his bubble shield didn’t fade. With a smirk he gave it a gentle kicking sending it, and its occupant rolling across the park. “Hey everypony! Who wants to play a little hoofball?”

Jen’s eyes widened as the ball rolled about sending the world spinning end over end. “Don’t you dare!”

Of course all the fillies and colts cheered at the unusual spectacle and soon poor Jennifer was being kicked back and forth from one end of the field to the other. It was approaching lunch time before the bubble finally popped and a very dizzy young mare spilled out onto the grass. “Ohhhh….”

Celestia was giggling wildly as she and Shining Armor approached. With a little chuckle the prince levitated Jen from the ground settling her on his back. “I think I’m ready for lunch. Let’s head back to the castle.”

Jen was in no fit to agree or disagree. Celestia nodded cheerfully. “Alright! Thank you for taking me here Shining Armor.”

“Thank Jennifer; it was all her brilliant idea.”

Glancing up at the green pony…who was looking a bit greener than normal Celestia’s ears folded back. “…maybe I’ll say thank you later.”

***

Jen opted to skip lunch and instead spend the afternoon recovering on her bed. It’d been an hour and she was still a little dizzy when she tried to stand up. Celestia was happily playing with a few soldier toys and a big dragon doll at the foot of her bed. The little filly was restored to her former alicorn status and Jen’s bracelet was back on her leg where it belonged.
Just as the young mare was feeling up to joining her charge on the floor there was a soft knock at the door. Without getting up Jen used her magic to swing the door open. “Oh, hey Cadence. What’s up?”

Cautiously the elder alicorn eyed the filly in the room. “I just wanted to see how everything was going so far…”

Celestia spared the princess only a brief glance before happily going back to her game. “Just fine. I’m recovering from being the ball in a hoofball game earlier but other than that…”

Now the filly giggled delightedly earning a huff look from her foal sitter. Cadence again stared at her regressed aunt. “Can I speak to you for a moment Jennifer? Privately?”

Nodding a little Jen hopped off her bed. “I’ll be back in a minute Celestia. You stay here alright?”

Getting a distracted ‘um hm’ from the princess-to-be Jen followed Cadence from the room shutting the door behind them. “Why don’t we chat up in my room?”

“Alright…I’m not in trouble am I?”

“Oh no! Shining said you were delightful this afternoon and that you’re obviously working wonders with Celestia. I just wanted a chance to have a private chat.”

Relaxing now Jen fell into step with the princess. She and her husband made their home at the top of the tower she herself was staying in. Their chambers were much the same as her own if bigger obviously. A small kitchen was set in a nook off to one side while another doorway led to their wash room. “Tea?”

“Please. I’ve gotten a taste for it thanks to my weekly preening’s with Fluttershy.”

Cadence smiled faintly as she set the kettle on to boil. “That must be nice. Living in Ponyville. …doing normal things with normal ponies.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “I guess. I mean it’s not all normalcy. Discord, crazy alicorns, diamond dogs. What was it like when you were a filly?”

With a very unprincess-like snort Cadence flopped down on a plush cushion. “Not quite the same. Aunt Celestia meant well but she could be very strict. I was never allowed to set foot outside the castle except for the occasional trip to the garden and that was always under heavy guard.” Seeing the look of concern forming on Jennifer’s face, Cadence waved a hoof. “Don’t misunderstand I really did have anything I wanted. Except well…what you have. The freedom to have a semi-normal life.”

“Well I mean, you were a princess right? You alicorns are super rare. I guess I can understand a little caution. I’m just a human kid who bops around from tribe to tribe.” Frowning a little Jen tapped a hoof to her chin. “You know I thought I’d be seeing more permanent parts appearing by now. It’s been a few months.”

Cadence regarded her curiously. “What do you mean?”

“Well the acclimation y’know? Me turning into an Equestrian? Luna said it’d take a year or two but I dunno, during the race I had parts popping up all over. Right now if I’m human all I have is whatever tribe’s dominant aspect I belong to at the time.”
“Hm. I’m afraid I don’t know much about it myself. Magic isn’t my strong suit.” The kettle began to whistle and without raising the princess poured a pair of cups and drifted them over.

“Really? Me too! I suck so bad at spells. Like I know a couple easy ones but that’s about it. I’m leaning toward staying pegasus to be honest. But I’m gonna be going earth pony when I get back to Ponyville. I’m gonna help the Apple family on the farm.”

“Oh that sounds like so much fun! You’re so lucky. Princess Luna seems to give you a lot of free reign.”

“Well she just wants me to find where I belong I think. I’m pretty sure it’s not as a unicorn. Twilight says I have great potential for magic but I dunno, it’s super boring? I’d rather be outside flying or doing stuff with my friends than stuck in a tree reading all day.”

“I know exactly what you mean. I hated all the magic and history and those sorts of lessons. I’d have much preferred to be…I don’t know a weather mare maybe? I bet I’d have been good at it.”

Jen grinned playfully. “So go make some weather. Just cause you’re an alicorn doesn’t mean you HAVE to be a princess right?”

Cadence took a small sip of her tea, smiling a little while Jen fumbled with the cup in her hooves. “Aunt Celestia certainly seemed to think so. I do good things for the crystal ponies, and they need to be shown some kindness. They’ve had many dark times and it’s time for them to get a little cheer injected into their empire. Maybe one day when things calm down and they can have one of their own lead…who knows?” Another light sip. “And what of your own future Jennifer? Do you plan to remain settled in Ponyville? I hear only good things about your daycare, even all the way out here.”

Jen finally got the cup to her lips sipping a moment…before with a grimace she remembered she was in unicorn shape. Huffing at her own stupidity she transferred the cup to her magical aura for holding. “Nope. I’m gonna stick around for a bit. On earth I’m not really an adult yet. I know that’s not how it works here but y’know…it’s ingrained in my head that I get to be on my own when I hit eighteen. I want to explore the unmapped territories of the world.”

“Oh? That certainly sounds ambitious and exciting.”

Happily sipping at her tea now Jennifer shrugged. “Back home we already have everything mapped out. Here though you guys have so little documented beyond Equestria other than “so-and-so lives here”. I want to change all that.” She stared down into her cup quietly for a few moments. “I was also thinking of trying to find more Arms of Harmony. It seems like…I dunno something worth doing?”

“Planning to reform the Order?”

“Ha! Me? No nothing like that. But I dunno…it was important at one time right? Maybe somepony important like Luna or Princess Celestia would consider it if more of the arms were found.”

“Hm. I think you sell yourself short Jennifer. You’ve done some great things since you’ve been here. I’m sure more greatness is in store. You shouldn’t dismiss your own accomplishments so easily.” Slowly she rose. “Would you excuse me a moment? I need to use the little filly’s room.”

Jen blinked and nodded. “O-oh sure. I’ll just uh…wait here.”

Laughing gently the princess stepped through the other doorway gently shutting the door behind her. Setting her teacup on the floor Jen cantered toward a large vanity bearing dozens of photographs stuck to the mirror. With a little grin she saw most were pictures of a little filly Twilight Sparkle. More than a few of Cadence with her now-husband, and even a couple with her aunt. It was a shockingly ordinary looking bit of furniture for an immortal pony princess to possess. She was about to turn away when something resting in the vanity caught her eye.

The faintest glint of a silver chain could be seen resting in partially opened drawer. Against her better judgment Jen’s horn lit and the drawer slid open fully. Her eyes widened at what she found.

A delicate silver bracelet, almost identical to the one around her own foreleg rested within the drawer. The only difference was instead of bearing a half dozen charms this one only held one charm, a little silver human.

Eyes narrowed in suspicious Jen slid the door back to its former position. “So! Cadence is kinda a funny name for a pony.”
The princess was just stepping from the washroom. “You think so?”

“Mmm. Well most of them are named after y’know…stuff or the things they do. Twilight Sparkle, Shining Armor, Rainbow Dash…Luna. Cadence sounds more like a human name than anything.”

There was a slight pause as the alicorn in question smiled. “Well my full name is Mi Amore Cadenza. I just prefer Cadence.”
“Huh. I don’t really see how the two are connected.”

Another brief pause, if Jennifer wasn’t staring so intently at the princess she might have missed the faint frown. “Well…Cadenza and Cadence sound a bit alike don’t they?”

“Hm. I guess they do. So! Princess Celestia adopted you?”

Now her smile was back, warmer this time. “She did. When I was just a little filly.”

“So what happened to your parents?”

The smile vanished instantly. “O-oh well…I…don’t like to talk about it.” She didn’t sound as sad as someone would expect of somebody talking about losing their folks. Jen wasn’t exactly tight with her parents but them dying would probably leave a sore spot for her. No Cadence sounded evasive.

“No? Sorry I’m just a bit curious about where you guys come from?”

“Who?”

“Well alicorns. I mean there’s only three of you. Well four counting Umbra now. So where’re the rest of you?”

“Oh! Uh…well…these are…really questions you should be asking Princess Luna I think.”

Jen was slowly advancing and the princess was slowly stepping back. “Why? Is it some big secret? Something I should maybe know about that Luna’s been hiding from me?”

Cadence ‘eep’d’ softly as her rump hit the back wall. “H-how about send her a letter? Right now! I bet she could be here in a flash! Oh she’s probably asleep we should wait until tonight!” Her smile was big, faltering, and totally fake.

Not saying a word Jen reached into the vanity and retrieved the charm bracelet. Cadence’s smile fell as she followed its path through the air with her eyes. Wordlessly the young mare laid it at the princess forehooves.

“How about you contact Luna now?”

Cadence stared down at the bracelet, her bracelet for a time. “You have to understand Princess Luna did what she did to make this easier on you Jennifer, and for the safety of all of Equestria.” She didn’t bother to pick up the bracelet, but her horn glowed brightly bathing her body in its baby blue hue of magic. Jen stepped back as the alicorns body dwindled and shrank. Fur and tail vanishing, hooves softening. Soon a young woman sat in Cadence’s place. Her hair the same Technicolor craziness and her eyes remained their gentle amethyst color. The large golden torc hung off her neck a bit comically, and she rested her crown on the floor with the bracelet.

“The bracelet is really just for Shining now. He wanted to you know…do it for me.” She was blushing gently. “You have to understand the power we have here Jennifer. What you did with Discord spoke volumes for your character, but you’re a young girl. Sometimes power can go to a person’s head you know? Princess Celestia handled my arrival in Equestria by keeping me under her care at all times. I wasn’t allowed to go outside or make friends. It was five years before she finally let me venture from the castle. I was only eleven when I came to Equestria. Being told you were destined to…to rule over people as a princess? That’s a lot for a little girl to take in.”

“Luna took the opposite direction with you. She gave you the freedom to go out and live among your future people. To learn what they had to offer and how you could best serve them. Maybe she should have told you the truth from the beginning; I don’t know exactly why she didn’t. You’ll have to ask her that. But I do know she had, and still has your best interests at heart. We’ve talked a lot since she was back, especially over the last few months. She’s very proud of your progress you know?”

The whole time Jennifer was staring down at her forehooves. Did you know about this?

Nay. I had no idea Jennifer. Luna and Celestia were ponies when they joined the order, and this is the first time I have met Cadence. This is…good news is it not? Does not every young filly wish to be a princess?

Grunting softly Jen looked up at Cadence. She slowly rose to her hooves. “I’m….going for a walk. Please don’t follow me or send the guards to chase me down. I’m not in a very good mood all of a sudden.”

Cadence remained seated on the floor, not moving until Jen turned the corner and started her way down the stairs. “…oh Luna is going to be so angry at me.”

***

Celestia glanced at the door as it opened, and her eyes went as big as saucers at the naked human girl with a horn plodding into the room. She followed her movements silently as she knelt down and retrieved some clothes from her bags getting dressed in her jeans, hoodie and sneakers. “Is…everything ok?”

Glancing down at the filly the girl shook her head. “No I uh…don’t think so. I guess you knew about this too?”

The young pony furrowed her brow. “I…think. A little? My memories are fuzzy a lot. Coming and going but I remember you. Humans. I remember that’s what I was…and my sister, and Cadence too.”

“How long ago did you really come here Celestia?”

Snorting a little in frustration the filly shook her head. “I don’t remember yet. I’m sorry. Is…there anything I can do to help?”
Jen chuckled softly. “No I don’t think so. I’m just going to go for a walk. I’ll be back soon, don’t worry.”

“Ok. Is it um…alright if I stay in your room? I kinda like it.”

“Sure. I don’t mind.” Jen gave her a quick pat on the head before departing. She popped her ear buds in and cranked the volume on her iPod, studiously ignoring the surprised stares from the staff. Shining Armor was standing by the stairs from the palace, watching her in concern. She refused to meet his gaze and just climbed down and made her way onto the streets of the city.

The crystal ponies gave her several curious looks but they’d seen her human form on the balcony during the announcement earlier in the day so no panic began.

Jennifer please talk to me. Your pain is my pain now, what concerns you?

What DOESN’T concern me Heart? I just found out Luna’s been lying to me from the second I set foot in her stupid castle. I thought we were…I dunno what. Friends at the very least? This seems like something kinda huge to keep from me.

Aye. I suppose it does. Though thine requested opinions during the night court make sense now do they not?

Hmph. So what she was grooming me to be a princess the whole time? What am I supposed to be princess of? Foalsitting?

I know not her motives Jennifer but before thine anger grows try to consider it from her perspective. Would thou have been happier locked away in the castle as Cadence was?

Of course not. I just don’t see why she had to keep this a secret? I guess she wanted to…to test me? To see if I was worthy? That kinda makes it worse.

I suppose it does. This is a betrayal of the trust thou hath given the princess. Even so, try not to get too angry. We would not want to inadvertently destroy half the empire in a tantrum.

Heh…I know. When I’d get mad back home I went on long walks. It helps clear my head. That’s all I’m doing.

Very well. Perhaps we can find a place to spar yes? That always seems to ease thy mind.

Nothing like getting smacked around by my swords ghost to clear the cobwebs. That’s actually a good idea Heart, let’s see if there’s space in that park.

With a destination in mind Jennifer’s steps became more purposeful. She got a few blocks into the city before one of the large buildings caught her eye. A ‘Public Library’ sign hung over the entrance.

Hey wasn’t the Empire gone for like a thousand years?

Aye if the stories are to be believed and I have no reason to doubt them. Wicked King Sombra sealed it away for a millennia as punishment when he was dethroned.

So…maybe they have some old books? Some old unaltered books?

…perhaps.

Grinning now Jen bounded up the stairs and into the library. A few ponies milled about within wandering the shelves. The oldest looking stallion Jen had ever seen was shakily maneuvering a book cart along the shelves, placing books back in their places. He didn’t shine and shimmer like the other crystal ponies, but the girl shrugged it off. He was the first normal looking pony living in the crystal empire aside from the royals she’d seen.

“Excuse me sir?”

He looked up and Jen flinched back involuntarily. His eyes seemed to have an unpleasant red hue burning within the pupils. When she blinked it was gone, and he smiled a very gap toothed smile. “How can I help you young lady?”

Rubbing her arm a bit Jen hesitated. She was getting a weird feeling from this old stallion. “Uh…do you have any books on the Order of Harmony?”

“Of course, of course. Right this way.”

He set a slow pace as his old bones carried him through the shelves to the history section. Had Jennifer, or Bleeding Heart for that matter, been more attentive to their surroundings they’d have noticed the old mare sleeping in the head librarian’s office was in fact not sleeping at all but very much deceased. Both were more focused on finding the tidbit of knowledge on their ancient order than examining every half opened door they passed alas.

“Ah here we are…this is a good one.” He nodded to the exact book Jen was seeking. ‘The Founding of the Order’.

Slowly she took the book from the shelf and felt an odd little tingle run through her fingers. She nearly dropped it but shook off the sensation. “Is there a reading room I can use or something?”

“Of course. Up the stairs there. All the doors are unlocked, take your pick.” His near toothless smile split his face again.

With a hasty thanks Jen took the stairs two at a time. Finding one of the private rooms unoccupied she settled on the cushion and eagerly flipped through the pages. “They’re here!”

Read then. Let this infernal mystery be ended.

***

Luna was not in a good mood. Not only had she been awoken more than a few hours early by a near panicked Cadence, but the crystal princess was in her human form no less. “Explain to me again…very slowly how this happened?”
The image of the young woman in Luna’s mirror took a deep breath. “We were chatting in my room. I went to the bathroom and she must have been looking at the photos on my vanity. The drawer was open or she was snooping, I don’t know which. Either way she…well she found this.” Cadence held up her bracelet.

Luna’s nostrils flared angrily. “She is not the type to snoop so you or your husband’s negligence is the cause of this latest catastrophe. No doubt she is hurt and angry, she tends to jump right to anger in such situations not that I can fault her in this case. Keep an eye on her, she is not likely to cause trouble but if trouble finds her I expect she will react harshly. I will be taking the next train to the Empire.”

Turning to the doorway where she knew a pair of guards waited she bellowed. “Fetch me Cadet Echo! Tell her, her presence is needed IMMEDIATELY!” The sound of two pairs of hooves galloping at top speed greeted her ears. “Where is Jennifer now?”

Shifting uncomfortably under Luna’s angry gaze Cadence offered a wan smile. “She’s at the library. She’s in human shape so not hard to keep tabs on. Everypony remembers her.”

Luna took a deep breath nodding slowly, before her eyes widened abruptly. “Get her! Get her away from the library immediately! Send Shining Armor and drag her back in a shield if you must but get her out of there NOW!”

Cadence’s own eyes widened in alarm at the princess’ sudden urgent tone. Nodding dumbly she stumbled to her feet and dashed from her rooms, only just remembering to become a pony again on the way.

Wings flared and trembling Luna trotted to her balcony. “…I am sorry sister, this is too urgent.” A panic would grip all of Equestria as the sun abruptly set in the middle of the afternoon, giving way to Luna’s bright moon.

A frenzied Echo flapped right up to Luna’s balcony. “L-lady Luna? What is it? Why is the moon out now?”

“I do not have time to explain. Come close cadet, Jennifer is in terrible danger and we must be off.”

That was all the young guard needed to hear. Tucking her wings in she gripped her lady around the foreleg. With a burst of silvery radiance the princess and cadet vanished into the pillar of silver light, whisked to the moon for instant transport to the empire.

***

Alas if only I’d paid more attention to their mother, Galaxia. I may have seen the coming trouble. At first she was much like her daughters. Quiet, calm, composed and eager to learn. While Celestia and Luna joined the knighthood she remained with the unicorn aristocracy. Slowly insinuating herself into their court with threats both implied and acted upon. They were so powerful, the three mares from another world. The sisters confided in me their true natures and that of the mare accompanying them. Apparently when they first arrived in our land they were alone and helpless, before being discovered by the young mare who was even then serving as their body guard. I learned little of her before she disappeared but she struck me as a good sort.

“What kind of name is Galaxia? I guess it’s in keeping with the Luna and Celestia theme huh?”

Aye. Read on.

Neither paid any attention to the distant rumble, passing it off as thunder.

Time passed as it tends to do. I thought little of Galaxia as I saw less and less of both her and the unicorn court. Things progressed as usual. We had little to do in the knighthood save ordinary peace keeping. Most turned to us to settle disputes and the like and we were only too happy to mediate. We never ruled, merely offered our services as a neutral third party eager to keep things peaceful.

I still thought nothing amiss when Galaxia requested a knight run an errand now and again. I knew enough to know she’d attained a noble title of her own but she only seemed to have Equestria’s best interests at heart. My concern started to grow when the knights she sent out stopped returning. It was not unusual for one of our number to undertake long journeys, often sending little word of their progress but months passed without word.

Young Bleeding Heart had already been missing for a time and I was preparing a search party for her when news of some sort of otherworldly visitor drew my attention elsewhere. I accompanied Celestia and Luna to the far reaches of our lands to a forest known as the Everfree. A creature that resembled a male ape had taken up residence within the forests boundaries. He identified himself as Daniel, a young squire in a knight hood from his own world. He was friendly and eager to cooperate, if a bit surprised at our appearance. Apparently where he is from ponies do not talk, but are simply beasts of burden.

With the most powerful of our order away Galaxia saw her chance to strike against the Citadel itself. Her magic was somehow greater than her daughters by a significant amount. The powers of the heavens themselves seemed to be at her beck and call. The Citadel was destroyed utterly, reduced to rubble and buried beneath the ground. The sisters and I returned with our strange visitor in tow, completely unprepared for what awaited us.

It had all been a part of her plan to remove the only threat to her planned rule. Galaxia somehow drew power from the adoration of the unicorns that fell under her sway, growing in strength with each new sycophant. And she had many. Preaching the perfection of the magic using unicorn race she felt it was her destiny to lead them and bring the other two tribes under their sway as laborers. Once the tribes were dominated she planned to extend her reach.

Celestia and Luna stood against her but were swept aside with no effort on Queen Galaxia’s part. I am a powerful spell caster but seeing the raw magic the queen wielded I knew I had no chance. I spirited the sister’s away along with our new friend Daniel to the Everfree. Magic worked oddly there and if anyplace was safe from her reach it was the most unusual forest.

A great darkness had grown in our land like a cancer, spreading and infecting everything it touched. I fear the queen is unstoppable. The sisters and Daniel make plans to fight back, trying to drag me into them…but I know a hopeless cause when I see it. My beloved citadel…my order of harmony that my friends and I worked so hard to establish. All of it gone in an instant.

It was then that Celestia and Luna revealed to me they too were from the same world as Daniel. Their protector assisted them in blending in by giving them pony shapes, but they were just as human as he. They hoped that by accelerating Daniel’s absorption of mana he would be able to tip the scales and dethrone their mother.

Against my better judgment I prepared the ritual. It worked…after a fashion. Rather than a pony Daniel became an…amalgamation of many of the creatures found in our land. I worried what the sudden influx of power would do to his mind, but he assured me he was in control and willing to do what must be done for us. Truly the lad embodied the knightly spirit, and had things ended differently I’d have happily inducted him into our own order.

Daniel’s battle with Galaxia was truly devastating. Our country was ripped apart by the forces the two unleashed. Celestia and Luna leant their own power to the struggle but even still the queen was proving a match for all three. It was then I began to ponder where her power came from, and if it could be severed. Acting quickly I crafted a spell of forgetfulness. Possibly the most potent spell I’d ever created. I recalled the sisters and they agreed to lend me their power.

While Daniel struggled alone against her we three enacted the ritual. All at once the sounds of battle vanished. The creature Daniel had become looked confused for a moment, before he smiled and vanished as well. No trace of the thing he was fighting could be found. The sisters were devastated at the apparent death of their mother and departed my company immediately.

Galaxia was gone. Gone and forgotten. I will now begin removing every trace of her existence I can find and place powerful spells on this journal so that nopony save one of the order may open it. If her name would be remembered and spoke aloud there is a chance she might return. And heaven help us if she does.

The important thing is Galaxia was finally defeated, but at such a great cost…

Jen frowned snapping the book shut. “Jeez that’s a little crazy.”

Aye. I think it best we depart, and take this book with us for Princess Luna to deal with herself.

“Yeah good idea…” Jen stood with a frown turning to the door before gasping and stumbling back, tripping over the cushion and sprawling on her back.

In the doorway stood a middle aged woman. Hair black as pitch and eyes the same inhuman obsidian color. Small lights twinkled within those ageless depths and the woman’s hair writhed and twisted constantly. Huge feathered wings, just as black and filled with twinkling motes rested on her back, while an identically colored horn jutted from her forehead. A smile spread on her lips.

“My savior.”

Big chapter! Two to go to the end of Settling In! :o

Chapter 19: Heroes Rise

“Nothing to say? You summoned me back after all. I’m naturally grateful.” The woman, Galaxia herself stepped closer peering down at the stunned girl. “Well let’s get a look at you.”

Her horn flared with an intense black light as her aura snapped around Jennifer and hauled her into the air. She’d been moved about with unicorn magic before but this felt…wrong. Cold and twisted. She flinched, her own horn glimmering as she tried to break the hold. The deposed queen didn’t so much as flinch from the girl’s efforts. She just spread her hands wide and jerked the girls’ limbs out from her body as she slowly paced around her.

“You’re a bit of a scrawny thing aren’t you? Not much to you at all really. Except that little sword on your arm…and what’s that?” Gingerly grasping Jen’s arm, Galaxia turned it over to get a better view of Mercy’s hilt. “Well that little gem feels familiar. The buffoon’s magic is in there? Half at least. How quaint, he finally found a little friend.”

Her aura vanished abruptly and dropped Jen back onto the cushion she’d been reading on. With a gasp she clutched her arms tightly to her chest trying to restore the circulation. “Oh it’s not that bad. Just the cold void of space!” She laughed lightly at her own little jest. “Jennifer yes? I’ve had my eye on you for some time now.”

Teeth chattering the girl looked up at her. “H-how?”

“How am I here? Or how was I watching you? When my traitorous daughters deposed me, they did so by removing my name from nearly every creature’s mind in Equestria. I needed a living breathing Equestria to remember me. It’s the creature I struck my bargain with couldn’t free me. Undead you see? As to the second well…you’re one of us. A displaced human wandering a land of irksome talking beasts. I was curious if you had the potential to be something great. Alas…you do not.”

Seeing Galaxia’s horn shine with that awful light again Jen called out to Mercy, covering herself in a thin shield that blocked out some of the cold, even as she was hoisted back into the air to drift slowly behind the woman as she paced from the room. “No you’re just like them. Weak, insipid, content to…join the herd as it were. What you, that whiny foal Cadence and my daughters don’t seem to grasp, is we are BETTER than them. They are animals girl, beasts of burden here for our amusem*nt and convenience. Some are slightly better than others, the unicorns have some intelligence. But the earth and winged ones? Pah.”

Galaxia walked with strong purposeful strides, pausing before the librarian. He licked his lips chancing a glance up at her. “An honor to see you in the flesh your majesty.”

“Mmm. The one you seek is in the city. Their defenders will be here soon. I trust I can count on your assistance? Once they are dealt with the pureblooded alicorn will be yours.”

Eyes blazing red again he bowed low. “Oh I have just the thing highness.”

Jennifer gasped in horror as his flesh began to slough off, plopping to the floor like melted wax. A boney horn appeared at his forehead while skeletal wings rattled from his shoulders. The wings looked odd, like they were bolted unnaturally into the bone. The skeletal pony’s voice was deep and surprisingly melodious for such a horrid creature. “I will set the final preparations into motion. It should not be long.”

“Go then. Succeed in this last task and all you wish for will be yours.”

With a clack and rattle of bone he bowed and vanished as his horn flared with a hellish orange light. “Good help is hard to find, but if one looks hard enough she can always find those worthy of sharing her company.”

Jen’s shield was cracking under the pressure of Galaxia’s magic and that horrible cold was seeping in again. “L-let me g-g-go!”

“Hm? Oh.” With a casual flick of her wrist Jennifer was sent careening through the air at alarming velocity. She flailed a moment before slapping her hand over her bracelet. She bulked into her earth aspect just as she hit the window on the second floor of the library, shattered the glass and was sent sprawling onto the street.

Jennifer your armor!

“R-right.” Teeth still chattering she summoned up her armor and drew Mercy from its scabbard.

The doors to the library burst apart sending splinters and chunks of wood scattering across the street. Screams of alarm mingled with a few pained cries as the wood lodged in a few unfortunate ponies rose from the streets. “Yes! Yes little horses of Equestria! Your true queen has returned! Herald the arrival of Galaxia!”

Her moment of triumph was short lived. A bright beam of silvery light lanced downward from the moon that had somehow appeared in the afternoon sky, striking the queen and sending her sprawling with a resounding boom. When the dust cleared Princess Luna stood on the library steps garbed in her own suit of armor. Eyes and horn blazing she focused on her fallen mother. Jen ran to the princess’ side. Echo peeked out from beneath her liege’s legs. Jennifer wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or worried at her being there.

“Jen! You’re ok!” The night pony flung herself into Jennifer’s arms, forelegs wrapped tightly around her neck. “I was so worried.”

Returning the embrace quickly Jen tugged Echo away just as fast. “Echo you have to get out of here, she’s dangerous.”
With a scoff the young guard pony landed beside her fillyfriend. “Lady Luna’s here now, everything will be alright.”

If what the book said was true Jen wasn’t so sure. Already Galaxia was picking herself up off the ground. “Why is that little Lucinda I see in that big girl armor? You should know better than to attack your mother girl. Where’s Celestine?”

“Witch! You may have freed yourself but not for long! I will send you back where you belong!” The princess of the night’s eyes blazed with the force of her unleashed magic as she lunged toward her mother. Tsking softly the woman raised a hand, her horn glowing faintly. Luna’s charge was halted instantly and the imposing alicorn squirmed in the magical grasp.
“Poor little Lucinda, or do you prefer your horse name Luna? Has it been so long you’ve forgotten? Your blood is my blood girl. You are MINE.” Her horn glowed brighter as she clenched her fist. Luna wailed as her body folded in on itself, her armor retracting and leaving the pale skinned woman who had come to earth to rescue Jen gasping on the ground. “That’s better. I will never understand why you insist on cavorting as one of these animals. Now…where…is…Celestine?”

Luna struggled but her mouth began to work against her will. “In…the palace! She is…recovering from...years without rest!” She gasped as her mother released her grip.

“There now, was that so hard? You were always such an unruly girl. I don’t enjoy having to discipline you.” With barely a second glance at Luna and Jen, (she hadn’t even given Echo a FIRST glance) Galaxia turned to the palace. Her horn flared as she vanished with a soft pop.

Jen and Echo rushed to the weakly rising Luna’s side. “M’lady are you well?!”

“No. I cannot believe my foolishness. How could I have overlooked the books in the empires library? And now she is free, back to torment our home. We must stop her before she regains her full strength!”

Jen’s eyes widened. “Her FULL strength? She just flicked at you and dropped you!”

The older woman shook her head slowly. “It is because I am her kin. She can control our blood. But you, Echo, Cadence…she must exert effort to hold you back. We have a chance.” Luna recalled her armor and adjusted the scabbards of Night Singer on either hip. “We must hurry; I fear what she has in store for Celestia!”

The three broke into a run for the palace, only to run right into Shining Armor, Princess Cadence and a small contingent of the guards. “What’s going on here?! Princess Luna?”

The transformed princess shook her head. “No time! My mother is returned and Celestia is in danger! We must hurry! Cadence I am afraid you will need your armor for this.”

“O-oh…yes of course I…I’ve never had to actually use it…” The young princess fumbled with the gem on her torc. Delicate white armor formed around her body trimmed in shimmering pink. A small scepter topped with a warmly glowing blue gem popped into existence before her muzzle and she gripped it in her magic.

Shining Armor was not a stallion that needed long winded explanations. Something threatened the pony he’d served for most of his adult life and that’s all he needed to know. Wheeling the astonished guards about, they charged to the palace en masse.

Jen retracted her armor along the way to get access to her bracelet again. Without missing a beat she pressed against several of the charms at once, only recalling her protective plates once her wings and horn had returned.

Echo was flitting over their heads worriedly. “There’s a lot of magic coming from the palace m’lady!”

As the group reached the palace steps a tremendous explosion rang out blasting them all off their feet and hooves, sending everypony and the two humans sprawling to the ground. Two women emerged from the smoke. Galaxia and…who could only be Celestia. Covered head to toe in a huge shell of thick golden plate mail the solar princess, now her rightful age no doubt artificially accelerated by her mother stomped over the shattered bits of the crystal heart. With deliberate slowness she reached over her shoulder drawing forth the massive broadsword strapped to her back. The surface of the blade flared and roiled like the surface of the sun itself.

Worst of all were Celestia’s eyes. They were blank and unseeing. A faint black glimmer of magic surrounded them; she was being controlled by Galaxia. “Mother! Release her and surrender! You ‘re not strong enough to match all of us!”

Galaxia smiled wickedly to her youngest daughter. “I know that Lucinda. Even with Celestine at my side you’re little friends are more than a match for us. If only I had another helper…any volunteers?!” Her horns glow intensified again as Luna rocked back clutching her head. With jerky, unnatural movements she staggered over to stand by her sister, drawing her twin blades and facing down the others.

Equestria’s defenders seemed unsure of what their next move should be. Celestia and Luna stood between them and their quarry. So they not only had to somehow overpower the two most powerful ponies in the entire world, but then have enough strength left to deal with their even stronger mother. All seemed hesitant to attack their benevolent princesses; unfortunately the decision was made for them.

Both sisters charged forward as one. Celestia running for Cadence and Luna for Jennifer. They moved unnaturally however. Jerking backwards and twitching to the side. Obviously they were fighting their mothers’ control. Not only that but they weren’t bringing their magic into the fight…there might be a chance after all.

Jen rushed ahead to meet Luna’s charge. Weeks of sparring with the formidable princess had given her a bit of insight to her fighting style. And now that she had her weapons solidly gripped in a pair of hands and not floating around willy nilly in magic the field was more evenly matched than ever before. Or so the girl thought. Raising her shield to meet Luna’s first jerky swing she barely registered that the until-now unused third rune was glowing fiercely. When the slim blade met her shield she was sent hurtling through the air with enough force comparable to a Big Macintosh buck.

Skidding along the ground with a metallic screech, her armor throwing up sparks every which way she staggered back to her feet. “What the hell was that?!”

Cadence was having troubles of her own. The nimble alicorn was barely managed to stay one step ahead of Celestia’s unnaturally swift swinging Corona. “It’s their rune! Their blades empower each other when they’re near each other! We have to separate them!”

Blowing out a quick gust of air Jen focused on her horn. She didn’t move to block this time as Luna charged once more. At the last moment she jumped to the side letting the princess stagger passed. If Luna had been fighting with her full faculties the dodge would have been less effective, but the princesses’ inner struggles were aiding Jen’s efforts. As she began to turn Jen swung her fist up with a shout summoning all the magic she could under Luna. Her efforts were rewarded as a powerful green blast ripped upwards catching Luna and hurling her far into the city.

“Echo you stay and help Cadence and Shining with Celestia! Heart and I will deal with Luna!”

Echo looked about to protest but even with Celestia’s blade slowed the princess was like a living juggernaut. The guards’ spears had broken harmlessly on her armor leaving Shining and Cadence alone to contend with the powerful solar diarch. “Alright! But you be careful!”

Nodding once Jen spread her wings and got a running start. Focusing her magic around her legs she used it to give herself some extra oomph as she leapt into the air, wings beating frantically to gain altitude. A large plume of smoke heralded Luna’s position in the city. With one quick glance back at her friends battling Celestia, she dove toward Luna’s landing place.

***

“I don’t…” Shining had to duck a swing of Corona. “…suppose that…” He nimbly leapt backwards as the princess’ huge sword dug a deep furrow into the street where he’d been standing. “…scepter of yours has any good tricks in it?!” He kept throwing up shields of magic but Celestia slashed through them with little more effort than if she were cutting through paper.
It was Cadence’s turn to rear back as Celestia unexpectedly rounded on her. Corona just barely grazed her breastplate but it heated up like it had been lying in a fire for an hour. Yelping her horn flared in tune with her scepter as the metal cooled. “A few! I don’t know if they’ll work on her though!” She concentrated again as the second rune along the scepter glimmered.

The combat paused for a moment as the controlled princess began to laugh. At first gentle giggles but then deep hearty guffaws as she staggered to one knee, uncontrollably laughing like a lunatic. Shining glanced at his wife, brow raised. “What was THAT?”

“The second rune of Convalescence! Softly Spoken was a renowned diplomat; she added the rune to instill calm emotions to angered parties. It can actually amplify any emotions to apparently debilitating effect.”

“That’s my wife.” Their celebration was cut short as Celestia’s laughter abruptly stopped. She slowly rose to her feet again charging the royal couple. Both prepared to defend themselves until a sudden harsh flash of light lit the area. Cadence and Shining Armor recoiled with screams equal parts shock and pain. Corona’s sun like surface had momentarily brightened to the ACTUAL brightness of the celestial orb, and blinded both ponies.

Shining erected a powerful barrier between his wife and the princess, fruitless of an effort it may have been. The expected blow never fell, as a keening wail pierced the air announcing the arrival of Echo. Wings flapping furiously she dove in at Celestia fearlessly, mouth wide as she released a wail powerful enough to shatter the stone around the raging princess’ feet. Celestia was flung back from the force but Echo wasn’t finished. Landing she spun sharply on her forehooves and drove delivered a buck with her hind legs directly into Celestia’s abdomen, lifting her into the air and sending her to smash into the ground a few feet away. Not missing a beat she slammed her hind legs back to the ground and was in the air again, circling for another pass.

Princess Cadence was blinking her eyes rapidly, calling upon her scepters first rune the burning pain eased and her vision returned. Turning to her husband she administered the same treatment. “We need to separate her from Corona, but don’t touch it!”

“Right!” Her husband charged back into the fray as his princess struggled back to her feet. It was tough going for the large armored human. Echo was constantly swooping down to deliver another sonic scream and knock