Mirta

Option Three (Complete) [AiE, Luna, Twilight, Celestia]

Sep 18th, 2017 (edited)
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  1. Princess Luna's hoofsteps were dampened into dull thuds by a plush red carpet. Her eyes wandered around the deserted throne room, from the floral-patterned pillars to the blue and yellow stained glass windows to her right, as she trotted towards the gilded seat. The lingering remnants of sleep still addled her mind, but not so much she couldn't think of her sister. Perhaps she had left a note on the throne, like she sometimes did when she was busy.
  2.  
  3. She looked upon the noteless throne when she heard the rapid clop of hooves from the corridor behind her.
  4. “Princess Luna, you've got to come quick! Something's happened to Princess Celestia!”
  5. She turned around to see a gray unicorn in gilded armor galloping towards her.
  6. “What is it?”
  7. ”I don't know, Princess Luna, it was over in an instant.”
  8.  
  9. Princess Luna was woken up by somepony knocking on her door.
  10. “Princess Luna?”
  11. A male voice called for her from behind the door. She tore the covers off of herself with her magic and rolled off the bed, landing on her side before managing to get on her hooves.
  12. “Come in.”
  13. She sounded like she felt, groggy from being woken up early. As the door opened, she attempted to smile at the pegasus guardspony but only managed to grin creepily.
  14. “Princess Luna, your presence is requested in the throne room. Princesses Twilight and Celestia are there waiting for you. I was told it is important.”
  15. The guard saluted her as he spoke, his professionalism drawing a sharp contrast to the sleep-addled princess. Luna let out a sigh, hoping it would not be about parade preparations again.
  16. “Tell them I will be there shortly.”
  17.  
  18. The guard nodded and departed, leaving Luna alone to do her 'morning' routine. When she left her room few minutes later, her mane was neat and tidy, she was wearing her regalia and her mind was no longer a mess of half-remembered dreams. She quickly navigated the castle's corridors and soon found herself at the doors to the throne room, facing the same guard who had woken her up. He saluted her again and pushed the doors open.
  19.  
  20. Princess Luna entered the throne room with her head held high, her eyes demanding answers from the other princesses. Her sister was at the base of her throne, standing next to Twilight Sparkle. A scroll, wrapped in Twilight's magic, was levitating between the two. Twilight was explaining something about clothes to Celestia. They were both focused on the scroll and had not noticed her enter the room.
  21. “What is this 'important issue' that requires my attention this early in the day?”
  22. She made no effort to hide the annoyance in her voice, glaring at the other alicorns as they finally acknowledged her presence.
  23. “Ah, Princess Luna, it's uh...”
  24. Twilight looked up from the scroll, an ephemeral smile flashing on her face before giving way to a look of concern just before she glanced at Celestia for support.
  25. “What Twilight is trying to say is that an unknown creature appeared in Canterlot while you were asleep, sister.”
  26. “And what about this is important enough for you to wake me up early, sister?”
  27. Luna lifted one forehoof off the floor and made a jabbing motion towards her sister to further emphasize the last word.
  28. “Well, I wouldn't exactly call him a creature since he was wearing clothes and had items made of refined metals with him. In fact, there's plenty of reason to believe that he is not only intelligent, but also sapient.”
  29. Twilight's voice was buzzing with excitement as she fixed her eyes on the scroll.
  30. “You really should see the device that brought him here, the detail on that thing is incredible – I've never seen anything like it before. It's a bit like the electronic devices we have here but everything's so minuscule that it makes what we have look primitive in comparison. Even the steel used in its frame is of an incredibly high quality and...”
  31.  
  32. A sense of dread stirred in the Princess of Night as some memory surfaced at the edge of her awareness. Twilight's words faded out of her awareness as she looked over the rooftops of Canterlot through the stained glass window to her right. There was something familiar about the situation, she knew that. But what that something was evaded her. A stranger had arrived into Equestria from the Outside before, but when? Who was it? Why was it important? She closed her eyes and wracked her brain to remember.
  33.  
  34. Her stomach wrenched all of a sudden. She looked at the window. Yellow and blue. Her gaze shot from the window to one of the pillars adorning the room. It had flowers engraved into it. The mat she was standing on was red and muffled her hoofsteps. The throne behind her sister was golden.
  35.  
  36. ”Princess Luna? Is something wrong?”
  37. Twilight's voice called her name, severing the chain of thought and bringing her back to the present.
  38. “I... This room?”
  39. She looked around, feeling a cold sweat tingle on her skin. Twilight and Celestia looked at each other, concern showing on their faces.
  40. “Sister, are you certain that this creature is something truly unknown?”
  41. Her voice was high-pitched and she could not keep her eyes fixed on one spot. Luna regretted voicing her concerns as the two other princesses stared at her, confused.
  42. “What do you mean, sister?”
  43. Celestia was the first one to break the short silence.
  44. “I went through as many books as I could and found nothing like him. He's from an unknown family, maybe even genus.”
  45. Twilight made the scroll she and her sister had been reading float over to her.
  46. “Here, I wrote a description of him. It's in chapter two.”
  47.  
  48. Luna took the scroll into her magic and read. '...it is a mammalian biped.' 'It resembles the various monkeys found...' '...completely lacks a tail and is nearly hairless.' The more she read, the less she liked what she discovered. Her thoughts converged on a single, unfamiliar word: human.
  49.  
  50. Twilight Sparkle
  51. Twilight Sparkle and a guard were standing on a small landing in front of the door to the topmost room in one of the tallest tower in the castle. Holding a bowl of fruit with her magic, she was mentally preparing herself for the task ahead. All she had to do was to open the door to the alien's room and wait for the guard to deliver the bowl while observing the both of them in case something unexpected happened.
  52.  
  53. The guard next to her, Silver Spear, had volunteered for the task. That did not mean it was something he was looking forward to doing. His movements were twitchy, his breathing was a touch louder than usual and she could smell that he was sweating despite the castle's temperature being the same magically-maintained constant as ever.
  54.  
  55. Regardless of it all, the gray unicorn had a determined look in his eyes as he took the bowl of fruit from her magical grasp and surrounded it with his own aura to keep it afloat. Twilight had a knot in her stomach despite being certain that the alien held no magic of his own. No matter how strong he may be, she could restrain him should he do something unexpected. Of course, what she knew was only based on her own observations.
  56. And everypony made mistakes.
  57. “So. If you feel like he does something that threatens anypony's safety, just do as we practiced and light up your horn and I'll take care of it.”
  58. Her voice was not quite as steady as she would have liked, but Silver Spear glanced at her and nodded nevertheless.
  59. “Okay then, here goes nothing.”
  60.  
  61. The door opened silently, swinging inwards as she gave it a solid push with her hoof. She heard Silver swallow just as the room and its sole resident were revealed. The alien was near the window, sitting cross-legged in front of it, looking at the city below. Silver hadn't had time to even take a single step forward when the alien's head jerked, turning to face the door. They both froze in place, staring at each other.
  62.  
  63. Time stopped.
  64. Ta-Thump.
  65. The only sound was the beating of her own heart.
  66. Ta-Thump.
  67. Nothing moved.
  68. Ta-Thump.
  69. Nothing made a sound.
  70. Ta-Thump.
  71. The alien's eyes, brown and set deep in his skull, were not fixed on her, yet some long-forgotten instinct was screaming that she should flee.
  72. Ta-... Clop.
  73. Silver Spear's hoof hit the floor.
  74. He took the first step into the room, his eyes still fixed on the alien's. Twilight suddenly felt extremely aware of everything that was happening. Silver was about to take another step, the alien was still frozen in place, a bird flew past the window, she were waiting at the door like planned and the sound of hoofsteps could be heard from somewhere below.
  75.  
  76. The alien's reaction was so fast Twilight could barely follow. He placed his palms on the ground and twisted his body so his heels were against the wall with the balls of his feet on the floor. His eyes narrowed as he fixed them on the doorway. Twilight felt her own eyes go wide at the speed of his moves. She immediately spread her forehooves wider and lowered her head in preparation, her horn pointed at the bipedal creature. She was suddenly afraid. The alien's massive rear legs were coiled like springs and he had support from both the floor and the wall behind him.
  77.  
  78. But nothing happened. She watched the alien's face contort as the various muscles below the skin tensed and caused some of the features to move ever so slightly, producing an expression she could not read. Silver, having frozen in place as the alien had suddenly moved, took another step into the room. The alien opened his mouth and said something that Twilight couldn't understand and leaned on his hand, planting his behind on the floor again. The guard glanced back at her as the alien was doing this, his mouth slightly agape.
  79. “I don't think he's going to do anything.”
  80. He nodded at her and took another step. The alien was saying something incomprehensible and gesturing with his hands, but was ignored by both of the ponies. The ordeal was over in a few more seconds. Silver took a few more steps into the room before placing the bowl of fruit onto a chest of drawers and quickly retreated out of the room.
  81.  
  82. Twilight felt like she somehow understood the alien as she closed the door. The way he had his hand stretched out towards her, his fingers spread wide, and the single word he rapidly repeated as the door was closing had made him seem desperate. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Was that what he had said?
  83. She did not know.
  84.  
  85. ”Come in.”
  86. Her mentor's voice responded to her knock on the door.
  87. ”So, how did he react?”
  88. Princess Celestia did not even look at who came in before asking. She was on her balcony and was looking down at Canterlot, both her and the city illuminated by the afternoon sun. Twilight, coming from the shaded corridors, had to squint her eyes to look at her, so brilliant was her white coat.
  89. “I'm not sure. At first, it seemed like he would pounce at me. I was prepared to blast him with a spell but then... Then he just sat down and started talking.”
  90. Celestia turned to face Twilight, a part of her regalia mirroring the sun into her eyes for a split-second as she did so. She reflexively closed her eyes and looked away.
  91. ”Oh? And what do you think made him do that?”
  92. The sound of horseshoes hitting carpeted stone told Twilight that Celestia had come into the room with her, back from the balcony. Opening her eyes, she looked at her mentor again and saw a warm smile on her face.
  93. “If he had come at me as soon as he could have, he'd have been on me before I would have had a chance to react so... I think he chose to try and talk before doing anything else. When I was closing the door, he was repeating this one word-”
  94. Twilight attempted to replicate the sound he'd made.
  95. “-that I feel like means 'wait' but I just don't know.”
  96. Princess Celestia looked at Twilight quietly for a moment, the smile still on her face. Yet something about her eyes had changed when she heard the replication of the word.
  97. ”Looks like you have a lot of work ahead of you if you want to learn to understand him.”
  98. She gave Twilight a look that Twilight knew all too well. It was the one she gave before giving her a task that'd teach something she could explain in a few minutes but chose to have her figure out yourself.
  99. ”I believe your friend Sunburst would know how to get started.”
  100.  
  101. Princess Luna
  102. Princess Luna trotted towards her sister, who was sitting on her throne and going through some papers with her secretary, while letting her eyes wander from one floral-patterned pillar to another as she passed by them.
  103. “Sister, have you seen Twilight?”
  104. Celestia threw Luna a single, bored glance before returning to the paper she was holding with her magic.
  105. ”She said she'd be taking the evening train to the Crystal Empire.”
  106. Her voice was dull and lacked energy, as it always did whenever she'd had a difficult day.
  107. “And why would she be going there when the duty you have assigned to her is in here?”
  108. Glancing at Luna again, she lifted the paper so it covered her muzzle, no doubt to hide a mischievous smile. Luna wasn't certain what she got out of making her former protege do things the hard way, but she'd known her sister long enough to be sure that she was going to keep doing it.
  109. “You did not think of telling her that, perhaps, the captive needs to eat more than a single bowl of fruit a day? He's at least twice the size of an average pony!”
  110. Celestia let the paper drop somewhat, revealing a neutral face. Luna noticed a slight twinkle in the corner of her eye, though.
  111. ”You wound me, sister. I did not know you thought of me as so heartless.”
  112. She glared at her sister, not in the mood for silly games.
  113. “So you have considered the detail. Good.”
  114. Preparing to leave, she rolled her eyes which, to her annoyance, made Celestia smile and giggle quietly.
  115. ”Since you seem so worried about our guest, why not take care of the issue yourself?”
  116. Ignoring her sister, Luna turned around and trotted out of the throne room to do as she had suggested. But only because that had been her intention from the beginning.
  117.  
  118. She'd confirmed that the alien had eaten the fruit by looking through the peephole that Twilight had made before going to the kitchen to prepare another bowl. She'd even found the guard who'd taken the bowl into the room and asked which fruit it'd had in it to include some variety. Twilight had also had the plumbings of the guestroom changed to “acquire a stool sample”, as she'd put it herself, but that was something she'd have to handle herself. If her theory about the alien being an omnivore was correct, and Luna had no reason to doubt it wasn't, he'd need something more than just fruit to stay healthy. But for now, fruit would have to suffice.
  119.  
  120. Piling as many kinds of fruit into the bowl as she could, Luna's mind returned to the conversation she'd had with the guard. Silver Spear, a gray unicorn in the standard gilded armor of her sister's guard, had told her about Anonymous' peculiar reaction to ponies.
  121. A gray unicorn in gilded armor.
  122. She shook her head to banish the foreboding thoughts. Now was not the time to be pondering half-remembered ominous dreams.
  123.  
  124. Luna knocked on the alien's door out of courtesy, neither expected nor received an answer before pushing it open with a hoof. He was lying on his bed but stood up the moment he saw her.
  125. Tall.
  126. That was her first thought of him. And he was. Considerably taller than she was, slightly exceeding even her sister's height if not for her horn. He stared at her with his oddly small eyes. It made her feel uneasy, as if she was doing something she wasn't supposed to.
  127.  
  128. “Greetings! I have come to bring you something to eat.”
  129. She knew he couldn't understand her, but hoped that hearing her voice would make him feel at ease. He responded by saying a short, indecipherable line. His speech did not remind Luna of any of the numerous languages she'd ever heard. It was truly otherworldly. But hearing it gave her an idea. If such a thing was within her power, she could visit his dream. Sometimes, instead of speaking, ponies would wordlessly transfer their thoughts to her when she visited their dreams.
  130.  
  131. Luna moved into the room slowly, pausing after each step. She was pondering whether what she thought of would be possible when she noticed that the alien's eyes were fixed on her horn. His head turned slowly to follow her movement, his eyes completely still from her point of view. The intensity of his stare sent a shiver down her spine. He was still standing next to his bed, not having moved from the spot, when she placed the full bowl she'd brought with her next to the one that Silver Spear had brought a few hours earlier. The other bowl only had a few apple cores, banana peels and some other remnants in it.
  132.  
  133. Done with her task, Luna turned to face him and met his stare with her own. For a split-second, their eyes met. His forward-facing eyes, made to track whatever they were fixed on, bored into hers. A rush of adrenaline filled her veins.
  134.  
  135. To her relief, he immediately averted his eyes and looked at her mane. Something about his eyes changed, accompanied by some subtle movement of the various features of his face, but she could not interpret his expression. Luna decided to put her prejudices to the test.
  136.  
  137. Moving one hoof at a time, doing her best to appear nonthreatening, she slowly crept closer. His eyes moved back to her horn, then to her eyes and down to her shod hooves. Still inching closer, Luna studied his face and its alien features. His brow furrowed as he shifted his gaze from her hooves to the emblem she wore on her chest and then to her crown. She saw him part his lips slightly, heard him draw breath, even noticed the movement of his tongue inside his mouth. But he said nothing, only held his breath for a second before letting it out and closing his mouth.
  138.  
  139. The alien did not react to her inching closer to him before her muzzle was within the reach of his arms. That was when he lifted one hand to his chest and, after a second of consideration, stuck it out towards her. Luna stopped and instinctively drew her head away from the hand. She looked at him, puzzled as the alien nodded and wiggled the fingers of his outstretched hand. He clearly wanted her to do something with the hand, but what? She wished to talk to him, her mind brimming with questions to ask, but the language barrier voided any such wishes. Instead, she perked up her ears and tilted her head slightly to the side. He responded by tensing his cheek muscles, causing the corners of his mouth to move upwards somewhat.
  140. A smile, in other words.
  141. Glad that they had found at least some common ground, Luna responded to his smile with her own.
  142. “I hope your dreams are not as difficult to read as your face, newcomer.”
  143.  
  144. She felt like she was taking a great risk when she slowly moved her head and gently bumped one of the alien's fingers with her muzzle. The risk turned out to be nonexistent as the alien slowly curled all but one of his fingers into a fist and used the remaining one to stroke the fur on top of her snout. Luna was amazed at how gentle his touch was: his finger moved on top of her fur without causing it to press against her skin.
  145.  
  146. Her mind was conflicted when she left the room a minute later.
  147.  
  148. Twilight Sparkle
  149. Twilight Sparkle returned to castle when afternoon was turning into evening on the day following her departure. The train was nearly empty and nopony stopped her to take a photo, or to ask for an interview, or for an autograph while she passed through Canterlot. It was as if she was just a unicorn again.
  150. In other words, totally amazing!
  151. But, as much as she would have liked, she couldn't spend the evening in the city. She and Sunburst had enchanted four amulets, now safely in her saddlebags, with with potent translation spells. Each one of them had slightly different combinations to increase the chance that even one would work.
  152.  
  153. She couldn't wait to try them. There was so much to ask about his home world and his life and what kind of beings his species were. Were they kind and loving like ponies? Hardy and difficult to approach like griffins? Proud and strong like dragons or something else entirely? How did they get their food; were they hunters or farmers? What sort of a society did they have? What sort of ethics did they follow? And what about their history? It had to be at least as exciting as that of Equestria!
  154.  
  155. Twilight giddily trotted through the main gate just as the sun was setting, the sky a blend of yellows, oranges and reds. The display was especially flagrant thanks to some high-up clouds being lit from below by the last rays of daylight. It was as if Princess Celestia had decided to gift the entire region with a piece of her very own art.
  156. ”Princess Twilight?”
  157. She brought her eyes down from the display above and faced the guardspony who had addressed her.
  158. “Huh? Yes?”
  159. Being called 'Princess Twilight' still confused her when she wasn't paying attention, and she'd been absorbed in admiring the skies.
  160. ”Princess Luna requested to send you to her as soon as you arrived. She should be in her room now, raising the moon.”
  161. Blinking twice, she tried but failed to come up with a reason why Luna would want to see her with such urgency.
  162. ”Okay. I'll go see her.”
  163.  
  164. “Princess Luna?”
  165. Twilight called for her as she knocked on her door. She hadn't even visited her own room to leave her saddlebags before she'd come here.
  166. “Come in.”
  167. Luna's response was immediate, and Twilight gave the door a firm push to open it. The room was dark, the lights unlit. She saw Luna on her balcony, her silhouette visible against the last glow of dusk. Her mane and tail seemed like rifts in reality, windows to the night sky, and Twilight could swear that her eyes glowed ever so slightly. The moment did not last; Luna's horn flashed in her soft aura and the lights came on, filling the room with their light and flooding out the ethereal glimmer in her mane and tail.
  168. ”I believe my sister-”
  169. Twilight winced at the bitterness in Luna's voice as she spat out the reference to Princess Celestia.
  170. ”-sent you to the Crystal Empire yesterday.”
  171. “Well, not really sent me but...”
  172. A few alternatives formed in her mind as she paused, attempting to come up with the right words to defuse the situation.
  173. “...rather, pointed me in the right direction.”
  174. Luna glanced her way, looking down her muzzle as if Twilight's presence was something insulting.
  175. “Uh, Sunburst had some fantastic ideas that I would've never thought of and we made so much progress that-”
  176. “It is fine, Twilight Sparkle. You simply forgot that you had a guest to take care of before rushing off to do your research.”
  177.  
  178. ...
  179. Uhh.
  180. Her mouth was left hanging open as her mind attempted to catch up with what Luna had said and what it meant. She'd completely forgotten about the alien and his needs. She hadn't even instructed the guards to bring him something to eat.
  181. “Hehe.”
  182. The kitchen. Now.
  183. “I'll just... go make sure he isn't... starving.”
  184. Luna glared at her as she began reversing out of the room, the dark alicorn's muzzle up in the air as a sign of disgust.
  185. “Worry not, I have taken care of your duties in your absence. Your guest is fine.”
  186. Twilight's emotions tumbled after the back-and-forth, leaving her stunned for a second.
  187. “And that is not why I called you here.”
  188. Luna's shod hooves clopped on stone as she came closer, her mask of feigned disgust dropping and revealing eyes wide with distress.
  189. “He needs your help, Twilight Sparkle. Ask him why he came here. Everything else should be secondary.”
  190. “What do you mean?”
  191. Luna drew a sharp breath and glared at her with narrowed eyes. It made Twilight flatten her ears as she thought the other princess would snap at her. Instead, Luna remained still for a second before looking down at the floor between them while letting out a sigh.
  192. ”I visited his dream last night.”
  193. She spoke slowly, pausing between words.
  194. “What I saw was... disturbing.”
  195. Lifting her gaze, she looked at Twilight with pleading eyes.
  196. “It is not for me to divulge the dreams I visit unto others. But, if you had seen it, you would agree that he is in the need of the aid of the Princess of Friendship.”
  197. She'd regained her composure and her voice had returned to normal, but her eyes told Twilight that she'd seen something that touched her deeply. It encouraged her to believe Luna.
  198. “I... I'll try to help him.”
  199. She really wanted to, but how?
  200.  
  201. Twilight left the room a few minutes later. Luna had refused to talk about the plea for help, claiming that going into any detail would be divulging his dream, but did say that nobody had fed the alien that night and suggested she do it. From the way Luna said it, Twilight got the feeling that she didn't like keeping him captive. Thanks to her own imprisonment on the moon, she thought. She doubted that was the reason why Luna was interested in him, though. That, she suspected, had to do with how his arrival reminded her of her own return.
  202. They had both been feared.
  203. But Luna had had Celestia and the Elements of Harmony help her and Ponyville, and the rest of Equestria, overcome their fear of each other.
  204. The alien had no-one.
  205. That would also explain why Luna thought he needed Twilight's help.
  206.  
  207. The tray full of foodstuffs floated above her as she climbed the stairs to the alien's room. This time she'd included some common pony foods like some bread, a cupcake, a hayburger and a bowl of carrot soup. She'd the soup found in the kitchen and heated it. On top of an assortment of fruit, of course. She knew he wouldn't stay healthy on a diet of nothing but fruit. The thought reminded her that the change in plumbing should have produced results by now. She'd have to see to it after testing the pendants. It should be an informative, if unpleasant, task.
  208.  
  209. As she reached the landing in front of the door to the alien's room, she banged her hoof on the door thrice before pushing it open. He was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, looking her way and holding some metal wire he'd been bending into a cube. Twilight was about to cry out for the guards, thinking that someone other than her or Luna had been in the room, when she noticed that the wardrobe was open and some of the coat hangers were missing.
  210. That was where he'd got the wire from.
  211.  
  212. His eyes moved from her to the tray while she was still looking at the wire cube he'd made. She set the tray down on the floor next to him and watched as he reached out and touched the side of the bowl of soup with a single finger. At first he did it very briefly and then again for a few seconds. He must've seen the faint plume of steam rising off it and realized it was hot. Luckily, he didn't seem to mind that Twilight had forgotten to bring a spoon.
  213.  
  214. She took out the four pendants from her bags as he sipped the soup, nodded at the bowl, and took another sip. She were levitating one of them towards him, hoping he wouldn't mind, when he noticed the movement and looked at the pendant. His eyes followed it, his head craning upwards as Twilight lifted it over him, but he made no effort to stop her from slipping it on. He cocked an eyebrow and looked at her after she was done, then returned his attention to the soup bowl.
  215.  
  216. “Does it work? Can you understand me?”
  217. Twilight got ignored as he drank some more soup. That one would have provided the most accurate translation...
  218. Sighing in disappointment, she focused her magic and took the failure off him. He jerked as he saw her aura suddenly light up around his neck, nearly spilling some of his soup.
  219. “Sorry! Didn't mean to startle you.”
  220.  
  221. He looked at her again after she'd put on the next necklace, lifting his shoulders and tilting his head to the side. The third one produced no response, other than him grabbing an apple while ignoring her. He noisily bit into the apple as Twilight took out the last of the enchanted pendants. This one was far more general than the others, but its translation would not be as accurate. She swallowed and put it on him, as she had done with the others.
  222. “I hope at least this one works...”
  223.  
  224. His reaction was immediate. He had been about to bite into the apple again, but froze the moment Twilight spoke. Turning slowly, he looked at her. His eyes darted from one feature to another as he studied them.
  225. ”So, you have known this language all along.”
  226. He sported a heavy accent, overpronouncing most consonants. Or it could be just the spell.
  227. “No, no, it's a tra- wait, it doesn't translate into the language you're the most familiar with?”
  228. That was what it was supposed to do, at least.
  229. ”Translate? You just switched languages into one I know.”
  230. His hands moved slightly when he spoke, but the gestures told you nothing.
  231. “That is what it sounds like. But actually, the spell in the necklace tries to find the meaning of whatever you say or hear and translates it into its closest equivalent in whichever language you or whoever you're talking to is most familiar with. Or, that's what it's supposed to do.”
  232. She brought a hoof to her chin as she tried to figure out why the spell didn't work as intended. If only Sunburst was here, he seemed to always have some unorthodox method to try.
  233.  
  234. ”I suppose I will believe you.”
  235. Anonymous' words broke her train of thought.
  236. “I- OH! Where are my manners?”
  237. She'd been so caught up with the spell's failure that she'd completely forgotten to introduce herself.
  238. “Hi, I'm Twilight Sparkle. What's your name?”
  239. ”I am Anonymous.”
  240. As he paused, Twilight felt a bit stupid for forgetting that the amulet would attempt to translate his name as well. He was going to be Anonymous, at least until she could tweak the spell. Perhaps if she fiddled with Greenhorn Twospell's generalization spell...
  241.  
  242. Anonymous had crossed his arms and was watching her silently, not looking like he was about to say anything despite having sounded like he would continue.
  243. “Soo... Would you mind if I asked a few questions?”
  244. Twilight grinned and hoped she didn't look too eager as she pulled the list of 25 most important questions from her bags. She'd made it on the train back to Canterlot.
  245. ”A few?”
  246. He glared at the list, making Twilight feel like a filly caught with her hoof in the cookie jar.
  247. ”No, I do not. But only if I get to ask some as well.”
  248.  
  249. Twilight stumbled into her room with her eyes flagging at half-mast. At first he'd seemed like he was trying to make it end as quickly as possible, giving one-line answers and unspecific fluff. Then she'd asked about the device that'd brought him here. That was...
  250. Well, he reminded her of Princess Celestia, in a way.
  251.  
  252. When he'd realized that Twilight had no idea what he was talking about, he'd taught her the basic operating principles of each part and why it was necessary. And instead of flat out explaining that, he'd given her the laws governing their function and then coaxed her on with just the right questions until she'd combined them just right and reached the conclusion on her own.
  253. Then he'd asked his questions. At first, they'd seemed easy and basic. Like “how did you float the tray?”
  254.  
  255. But, as it turned out, his world – and he, by extent – had no concept of magic.
  256. Twilight let out a sigh and rubbed her tired eyes with a hoof while lifting the bags she still carried off her back and onto the floor.
  257. Inspired by him, she had tried the same approach as he had taken. But she'd known the physics behind electronics, just not the application. He'd had no clue whatsoever about magic.
  258. It hadn't worked.
  259. Leaping onto the bed, she worked her way under the covers and attempted to empty her mind. And immediately fell asleep.
  260.  
  261. Princess Luna
  262. He had the same dream again.
  263. Luna quietly landed behind him, careful not to disturb anything. He was sitting on a mat in front of a glass wall, a divider between the space they were in and the dream proper. On their side, there was the mat that continued for some distance in every direction before fading out. On the other side was a meeting room, with a long table, a video projector and some twenty people. They were sitting at the table, each one having a small sign with their title on it in front of them. The projector was displaying some graphs and other fiscal data. The talk was about how the profits of the corporation were down from both last quarter and last year. Anonymous, one of the people in the room and the only whose nameplate wasn't his own but belonged to someone who couldn't have been bothered to come and had sent him instead, was asked what he thought about the plans of laying off people.
  264.  
  265. ”I told them firing people from product development was a bad idea, but did they listen?”
  266. The real Anonymous, one sitting with Luna on the other side of the glass wall, had become aware of her presence.
  267. ”I told them that finding new people who can be taught to be good at what they do wouldn't be easy, but did they listen?”
  268. He was holding one palm on the glass wall, gently tapping it with his middle finger.
  269. ”I told them that firing the people who had been there for years would give us a bad reputation and make it even harder to find competent replacements, but did they listen?”
  270. His tone became exasperated as he ranted on.
  271. ”I told them all this but did they fucking listen?”
  272. He turned his head to glance at Luna before looking back into the meeting room, not the least bit surprised by her presence.
  273. ”I was supposed to be yet another yes-man, saying 'Yes, yes, yes, of course you are correct oh Great and All-Knowing.'”
  274. Knowing that trying to stay out of sight was now pointless, she trotted beside him and sat down to watch. He glanced at her again and the scene in front of them changed.
  275.  
  276. The glass wall was gone. The room was replaced by a vast, flat and snowy expanse of a frozen lake. Behind her was a rocky, wooded shore, the firs topped with white snow. The scene was illuminated by a three-quarter moon, hanging high in cloudless and starry sky, which painted everything in a silvery hue. The snow shimmered with tiny flashes of light whenever Luna moved her head. The air was completely still and so cold that the hair in her nose froze when she drew breath. It was completely silent, not even the faintest of sound could be heard.
  277.  
  278. ”I wasn't laid off, but promoted to be the head of department.”
  279. Anonymous, clad thickly from head to toe and sitting on a rock some distance to her side, broke the silence.
  280. ”From then on, every failure was my fault and every success was thanks to the new strategy.”
  281. He pushed himself off the rock, his feet sinking into the snow up to his knees, and gazed up at the stars. Luna, trotting gracefully on top of the snow without even leaving hoofprints, moved his way.
  282. ”It was fine for the first year, but eventually I let it get to me.”
  283. He lifted one foot, leaving a neat hole in the snow, then moved it forward before putting weight on it. He took a few steps like that before you got to his side.
  284. “Don't dwell on the past so much. You can't change it.”
  285. She placed a hoof on his shoulder, the gesture made possible thanks to the snow nullifying their height difference. But, as soon as she touched him, he flinched visibly and turned to look at her, his eyes wide with fear. He looked away immediately, embarrassed by his reaction.
  286. ”I try letting go, but it keeps coming back.”
  287. This time, he didn't react when she put her hoof on his shoulder.
  288. “It just keeps coming back.”
  289.  
  290. Dawn was about to break when Luna ended her vigil in the dream world. It had been an easy night. The few nightmares she encountered were dealt with ease, and she had spent most of the time simply meandering from dream to dream, marveling at the wonders that ponies' minds could conjure.
  291. One thing troubled her, however.
  292. Why had Anonymous reacted the way he did when she touched his dream self? Was he frequented by nightmares in which some beings sneaked behind him? Luna had not felt even a trace of anything such tonight. That did not mean it couldn't have happened earlier, before his arrival to Equestria. She could, and decided to, ask him once he was awake, but there was no guarantee he would remember if he'd had such dreams – or be willing to talk about it. Plus he had stayed up late with Twilight, so she would most likely be asleep when he'd wake up.
  293.  
  294. ”How was your night, sister?”
  295. Celestia greeted her like she always did when Luna made her way into the dining room.
  296. “Easy enough that I had time to make sure even yours was peaceful, sister.”
  297. Her body was yearning for rest, but she made herself sit down in front of the plate her sister had prepared for her.
  298. ”I could tell. Thank you.”
  299. Even though such sweet treats were not precisely her favorite, Luna knew that her sister prepared the pancakes personally just for her. And she had been shown how important they were to her sister.
  300. “I only wish I could understand what made Anonymous' dreams so... disturbed.”
  301. Staring at the smiley face made of fruit that's in front of her, she concentrated her magic and made her knife cut it in half.
  302. ”Oh, how come. I was meaning to talk about him.”
  303. Celestia set down her knife and fork and looked at Luna with a smile on her face.
  304. ”I know Twilight was working on a way of understanding him and returned last night. Did you happen to hear whether she made any progress?”
  305. “She told me she had made four amulets to translate his speech and was going to test them. Since she spent several hours in his room after that, I would assume she was successful.”
  306. Luna skewered one half of the pancake with her fork, cut off a small piece and ate it. Too sweet for her taste, as always.
  307. ”Then perhaps I should talk with him. I have to admit, I am rather curious.”
  308. As she threw a sideways glance at Celestia, Luna noticed that her sister's eyes were out of focus as if she was looking at something that was very far away.
  309. “Is something bothering you, sister?”
  310. Her eyes quickly refocused and fixed themselves on Luna.
  311. ”Ah, no. Of course not.”
  312. She smiled at her in a way that was supposed to be reassuring, but her response had been just a touch too fast and her tone had been just a touch too light.
  313.  
  314. Twilight Sparkle
  315. ”Princess Twilight!”
  316. Someone was banging on her door.
  317. “Haa... Just a minute, Spike...”
  318. Muttering the dragon's name was enough to jolt a bit sense into her sleep-addled brain. He was not here, she'd left him in Ponyville.
  319. Then who...?
  320. “Come in!”
  321. She slipped out of bed just before the door opened to reveal Silver Spear.
  322. ”Princess Twilight, you are needed in the throne room!”
  323. The sun was somewhere above and behind him, shining into the room and burning her eyes.
  324. “What time is it?”
  325. ”A bit before noon, princess.”
  326. WHAT? She'd slept in?
  327. “Oh no, oh no. How's my mane? Is it okay?”
  328. She dashed past the guard before he had time to react.
  329.  
  330. Twilight didn't slow down before reaching the hallway leading to the throne room. Stopping there, she spent a moment to catch her breath, and then trotted right in. Celestia was alone in the room, peering out of a window.
  331. ”You were faster than I thought you'd be.”
  332. She turned around, her eyes stopping on Twilight's mane.
  333. ”Although I would not have minded if you had taken the time to do your mane.”
  334. “Uh, sorry. I thought I'd slept in and was late.”
  335. Celestia giggled softly.
  336. ”It's fine. I knew you were tired after last night. How did it go, by the way? With Anonymous?”
  337. Twilight slowly trotted closer to her as she looked at her throne and lit up her horn.
  338. “It went great! There's so much to learn about him and his kind that I don't even know where to begin.”
  339. A hairbrush, silver and inset with flawless gemstones, floated out from a small compartment inside the back of the throne, surrounded by Celestia's magic.
  340. ”Yes, and...?”
  341. She left the question hanging, expecting Twilight to continue.
  342. “I... didn't forget to bring him something to eat or to ask about how he used to eat?”
  343. She wasn't sure what her mentor was trying to get at.
  344. ”And what did you teach him?”
  345. Celestia made a circular gesture in the air with her hoof.
  346. ”Turn around and sit down.”
  347. “Uhh...”
  348. Twilight did as instructed and sat on the floor.
  349. “I tried to teach him about magic, but it didn't go too well. I mean, how do you explain something to someone if nothing even remotely like it exists in his world?”
  350. She heard Celestia's hoofsteps come closer.
  351. ”Do you remember the very first lesson I taught you?”
  352. She felt the brush gently stroke her mane a few times, then again with just enough force to straighten it out.
  353. “'Friendship is Magic'?”
  354.  
  355. Princess Celestia thoroughly brushed Twilight's mane and tail while the they talked about how to introduce the concept of magic to someone like Anonymous. She even moved back to her mane after she was done with her tail. Twilight concluded that it meant she liked doing it. She was about to tell Celestia that her mane must've been fine already, but then realized there was no-one else whose mane she could brush while casually chatting about something she was interested in. Her mind jumped to some unpleasant conclusions about her mentor being lonely despite being constantly surrounded by ponies, leaving Twilight at a loss for words.
  356. ”Hm? Did you come up with something?”
  357. Celestia noticed her sudden silence and inquired about it.
  358. “No. It's just... I mean... Why did you go back to brushing my mane when you were done with my tail?”
  359. She hoped the princess wouldn't mind her asking a silly question like that.
  360. ”It is not very often that I get to do that to someone, even if I'd like to. So, I treasure every moment of it.”
  361. The brushstrokes stopped, and Twilight turned around to see Celestia looking out of one of the windows with her eyes focused on something Twilight couldn't see.
  362. ”I am worried, Twilight.”
  363. The usual grace of her voice was gone, and her tone was lower than usual.
  364. ”I went to see him before you woke up and asked him to tell me of what he thought as the most important moment in their history. He... told me of the Sun King and the French Revolution.”
  365. She paused to let out a sigh, which Twilight thought sounded sad.
  366. ”His people are no strangers to bloodshed, tyranny, slavery and war. Their history is full of examples of conquest, colonialism and extortion of the weak. They even discriminate each other based on color. I cannot risk Equestria becoming a target of such practices.”
  367. Her voice steadily filled with determination as she went on.
  368. ”We must find out how he managed to break through the barrier separating our worlds and do what we must to make sure it can not happen again. Even if...”
  369. Celestia let out another, deeper sigh and let her head droop down.
  370. ”Even if it means he will become stuck in our world, where no-one will ever truly understand him, for the rest of his life.”
  371. She ended her monologue in a voice that was barely above a whisper.
  372.  
  373. Twilight was at a loss for words.
  374. Sure, she had considered that he could be dangerous. But the way he acted and spoke...
  375. No, she could not believe that he bore any ill will.
  376. It was not as if Celestia's concern was completely baseless, though. Even if Anonymous was what he seemed to be, the rest of his kind could be different.
  377. “What... what should I do, then?”
  378. An image of Princess Ember and the dragons floated to her mind from the depths of her memory.
  379. ”Keep doing what you have been doing, and try to make him feel welcome. Try to find out why he came here.”
  380. The memory of Ember was suddenly replaced by a memory of Princess Luna.
  381. ”'He needs your help, Twilight Sparkle. Ask him why he came here.'”
  382. When she had made her request, she had not had the safety of Equestria on her mind.
  383. “I will do my best.”
  384. Twilight decided not to mention what Luna had said. It felt like it was something she would've told Celestia herself if she wanted her to know.
  385.  
  386. After her meeting with Princess Celestia, she learned what Anonymous had eaten prior to his arrival. Almost everything he'd eaten had been cooked. The bulk of the volume consisted of plant-based matter ranging from raw carrots to processed grains. On top of that there was some animal-based produce. From the sample Twilight had acquired, she managed to recognize cheese, egg and two kinds of meat that she thought were chicken and pig. The analysis also revealed that his digestive system was unable to process the less nutritious parts of plants and that those simply passed through, which explained why he had not eaten the hayburger last night.
  387.  
  388. Twilight was writing down her findings after disposing of the sample when her stomach reminded her that she hadn't eaten anything since waking up. There was a lot to ask from Anonymous, and while Princess Celestia had probably given him something to eat, it had been a while ago. She decided to eat with him.
  389.  
  390. The theme of the day was beans. Twilight had read from somewhere that beans had a lot of crucial... something for omnivores, and were tasty on top of that. It had taken a while to convince the royal cook that cooking everything was absolutely necessary and that absolutely no hay could be used, but the end result, now on a tray that was floating behind of her, smelled delicious. It was mainly composed of a sauce of beans and carrots on top of rice.
  391.  
  392. She knocked on Anonymous' door before giving it a swift kick to open it. He was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, holding a pencil and writing something on a piece of paper. Only having moved his eyes, he looked at Twilight form underneath his brows. It made her feel like she was barging in on something important. As he recognized her he flashed a smile, set down the pencil and lifted his head.
  393. ”Twilight Sparkle.”
  394. The way he said her name, especially his hard 'r' in 'Sparkle', made her want to remind him of its proper pronunciation. But Twilight's eyes happened upon the pendant he was wearing. It reminded her that it was only due to the inaccurate translation spell.
  395. “Hi. I brought us something to eat.”
  396. His eyes fixated on the tray as she placed it on the floor between the two of them.
  397. ”Looks like-”
  398. He said something the spell failed to translate, and then shrugged.
  399. ”Well, at least it is warm.”
  400. Twilight was trying to figure out what he had meant when he suddenly stood up. Her eyes went wide and she instinctively took half a step backwards as he seemed to double in size.
  401. ”Oh, sorry, I... Well, should I move more slowly?”
  402. “Ah, no, no. It's just... I wasn't really paying attention. Just sit down and let's eat.”
  403.  
  404. “Soo... how do you like Equestria?”
  405. Twilight broke the silence with the first question that she could think of. Anonymous had sat down after she asked him to, and had eaten quietly since then.
  406. ”I am not sure.”
  407. He glanced up from his plate and at her.
  408. ”Perhaps you should show me more than this one room if you want to find out.”
  409. ...oh. Right.
  410. “I'd like to, but I'll have to ask Princess Celestia first... I'm not sure if she'd like me letting you out.”
  411. ”Celestia? The tall, white one with hair like a flowing rainbow?”
  412. Twilight nodded.
  413. ”I thought she was the queen with how she acted when I asked who she was.”
  414. He blew some air out of his nose, producing a 'hmph' sound, and smiled.
  415. ”She understood that I had no way of knowing who she was and introduced herself, but for a second she looked at me as if I was some fool.”
  416. Talking about Princess Celestia reminded Twilight of the task she had given her.
  417. The smile that Anonymous' tone and accent had brought to her face melted away.
  418. “Say, Anonymous. Why did you leave your world?”
  419.  
  420. He was quiet for a long time, staring at the half-eaten meal in front of him, the smile and chipper mood from earlier gone.
  421. ”I-”
  422. He stopped himself before saying anything else and shook his head.
  423. ”There was this... thing I discovered a few years back that just would not leave me alone. I am... was a product developer and ran into it by accident while running some tests and never had the time to look into it before... before now.”
  424. Twilight sat patiently, nodding at him to tell him to continue.
  425. ”When I figured out what it actually was and what I could do with it, I tried to stop and even destroyed everything I had made so far because I knew that if it were to fall into the wrong hands...”
  426. He shook his head again.
  427. ”But it would not leave me alone. The more I tried to forget, the more I found myself thinking about it. It was too important.”
  428. Lifting his head, he looked at her, his eyes boring into hers. They were full of...
  429. Tears formed in his eyes.
  430. ”I knew that no-one would believe me if I told them that I had found a way to nigh-instantaneously travel any distance, so I built a prototype as a proof. It took me a long time, but I finished it and ran the first test a few days back. It... did not go as planned. It should not have been possible, but somehow the machine entered a positive feedback loop that I could not stop.”
  431. He closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.
  432. ”The last thing I remember before waking up here is ripping out the power cable.”
  433.  
  434. Princess Luna
  435. ”...so, to summarize: The creature, who introduced himself as Anonymous, has not displayed any signs of violence towards anypony despite the size difference and the fact that he is partially carnivorous. We have discovered a way to talk to him, and that he is at least as intelligent as any one of us. There is, however, reason to believe that not all of his kind are as benevolent as he is. Consequently, we have decided to do everything we can to prevent any more of his kind from gaining access to Equestria.”
  436. Her sister's word echoed in the hall, the only other sound being the scribbling of press ponies' pens as they took notes.
  437. ”Yes, go ahead.”
  438. Celestia pointed towards one of the reporters who had a hoof in the air. Luna rolled her eyes and said goodbye to her hopes of the 'brief press conference' she had agreed to have with her and Twilight.
  439. ”Why is Anonymous not here himself?”
  440. ”I believe Twilight knows the answer to this one. Would you?”
  441. Celestia looked at Twilight, sitting behind her from Luna's perspective, and nodded.
  442. ”He, uh...”
  443. Twilight stammered, thrown off by suddenly being cast in the spotlight.
  444. “I asked if he wanted to come a bit before we began but he said he dislikes reporters for personal reasons and declined.”
  445. Her recovery was immediate, and she even managed to sound casual. It reminded Luna of the time she'd spent with her in this room after her ascension. She'd sat where she was now and Luna had been playing the press and trying to come up with the most difficult and least expected questions she could. She had been a fast learner, just as her sister had told her.
  446.  
  447. ”Okay, we only have time for one more question.”
  448. Luna jerked in surprise as she heard the line she was hoping for, but not expecting in the least. The reporters' prattle filled the room as her sister threw you a sideways glance and flashed a smile.
  449. ”There's something you should know about him that we didn't have time to tell about.”
  450. Celestia's voice was just barely loud enough for her to hear. She was briefed on what Twilight had found out before the conference, but they had practically dragged her there straight out of bed, so it was understandable if there was something else.
  451.  
  452. “There was something you wanted to tell me?”
  453. Luna was in Celestia's room, where she had requested her and Twilight to come after the conference.
  454. ”Yes. After Twilight talked to Anonymous today, she asked for a sample of his blood. He agreed to give one.”
  455. Her sister's horn lit up and a drawer under her desk opened. A small glass vial of dark red liquid, coated in her magical aura, floated out of it. She made it float over to Twilight, who then took it into her magical grasp.
  456. ”I didn't think there would be anything special with it, but...”
  457. Twilight continued from where her sister had left off, a serious expression on her face.
  458. ”I'm... I'm not sure. It seems like it's... well, you should see it for yourself.”
  459. The vial floated over to Luna and she intensely stared at it for a second but couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.
  460. “Is there something I should see?”
  461. Looking at the other alicorns, she felt a little dumb for not realizing what was so special about the blood.
  462. ”Try levitating it yourself and you'll see.”
  463. She skeptically raised an eyebrow at Twilight before focusing her magic and grasping the vial with it.
  464. “What-”
  465.  
  466. It hit her.
  467. Hard.
  468. It was like an explosion of raw magic going off inside her, starting from her horn and rapidly flooding her veins with pure, glowing power. It felt as if her body was filled with molten steel. She opened her mouth to scream.
  469.  
  470. But, as suddenly as it began, it ended. All that was left was a feeling of raw magic coursing through her veins, empowering her spell thousandfold. She nearly crushed the vial before being able to adjust to the surge of energy.
  471. “What?”
  472. She was at a loss for words, much of her attention focused on containing the magic.
  473. “I'm not sure how, but it seems like his body is absorbing vast amounts of Equestria's magical energy.”
  474. Luna barely listened to Twilight's words, still trying to prevent accidental outbursts. The power inside her was slowly settling down to a more manageable form, though.
  475. “But- He- Whe- Does he know?”
  476. “He hasn't said anything about it so I don't think he does. But even if he did, I'm sure that he can't use it since he lacks a horn or anything else he could use as a focus.”
  477. She felt her sister's magic tug at the vial and let go of it. The ludicrous amount of power rapidly drained away, leaving her feeling like her own magic was but an insignificant speck.
  478. “How did you pick it up like you did? I was completely overwhelmed and it seemed like you weren't affected at all.”
  479. Twilight and Celestia glanced at each other as Luna asked her question.
  480. “It happened to both of us on the first time, but Twilight found a way around it. A deflection spell will prevent it. Even a weak one.”
  481. Luna threw her sister a skeptical look before focusing on the vial, now resting on Celestia's table, and did as she had suggested.
  482. ...Nothing. Just as she said, the deflection spell blocked the surge.
  483.  
  484. “What do you think we should do?”
  485. Celestia's question confused Luna as she had been about to ask the same thing herself.
  486. “I haven't-”
  487. There was one thing that sprang to her mind.
  488. “It feels a bit wrong to keep him locked up. He hasn't done anything wrong and even this-”
  489. She pointed at the vial with a hoof.
  490. “-isn't really his fault.”
  491. The room was silent for a moment.
  492. “I admit, you have a point. What do you think, Twilight?”
  493. “Huh? Sorry, what?”
  494. Twilight had had an absent look on her, and now looked at her mentor with a hint of red on her face while Celestia repeated what had been said.
  495. “I agree, he hasn't done anything. On the other hoof, I'm certain there are some who would be ready to hurt him if they knew about this issue. But I just remembered that there's something important I have to take care of in Ponyville.”
  496. “I think we're done here, unless...”
  497. Celestia looked at Luna, one eyebrow cocked.
  498. “I do not have anything to add.”
  499. “Okay, see you tomorrow!”
  500. Twilight trotted to the balcony, spread her wings and leaped off. Luna wondered what could have been important enough to make her leave out of the blue like that.
  501.  
  502. “What do you think of all this, sister?”
  503. Luna was still looking at the spot where Twilight had dived off the balcony from when she heard the grating of wood on wood, caused by her sister closing the drawer she'd taken the vial from. She then heard her sister's deep, long sigh.
  504. “I don't like it. I don't like it one bit.”
  505. Celestia spoke slowly and her voice was deeper than usual.
  506. “I feel as if we are being drawn into another conflict. I'm not sure why, but it reminds me of the return of the Crystal Empire.”
  507. Luna turned around to face her sister, only to find her staring at a spot on the floor in front of her, an empty expression on her face. She wanted to say something comforting and place her muzzle on her sister's withers to make her feel better, but a certain half-remembered dream haunted her.
  508.  
  509. “I have felt it too, sister.”
  510. Luna spoke quietly, hoping to soften the impact of her words.
  511. “A gray unicorn, a guard in your gilded armor, gallops into the throne room, shouting my name.”
  512. It was as if the memory had come to life in her mind, as if the hurried hoofsteps were echoing in the room as she spoke.
  513. “'Princess Luna, you've got to come quick! Something's happened to Princess Celestia!', he says.”
  514. She closed her eyes and saw the floor of polished marble, shiny enough for her to see her own reflection.
  515. “I ask him what's happened, but he does not know.”
  516. Celestia's worried face filled her vision as she opened her eyes.
  517. “I know there is more to the dream, but I was woken up at that point.”
  518. A heavy silence filled the room.
  519. “I agree with you about one thing, sister. I do not like this, not one bit.”
  520. Luna closed the distance between them, her insignia bumping into her sister's regalia, resting her muzzle on her withers. Celestia reciprocated in kind. She also felt her sister's hoof on her back. Closing her eyes, she listened to her heartbeat and let the warmth of her body drive away the lingering remnants of doubt.
  521. “But whatever there is to come...”
  522. “We shall always face it together.”
  523. They said the last part together, as if one.
  524.  
  525. The door to her sister's room closed behind her.
  526. “I still think we should tell him, he can keep a secret.”
  527. They had concluded that Anonymous was in need of the services of a tailor, and that Luna would take him to one tonight. But her sister had insisted that they keep him in the dark about both their ominous feelings and the properties of his blood. Celestia's point of view was understandable: a few careless words in the wrong place and rumors would start to spread.
  528. “I'm worried about what could happen to him if someone like Chrysalis found out.”
  529. For a moment the only thing to be heard was the sound of Luna's and her sister's hooves as they headed towards the tower where Anonymous was. Then she heard her sister sigh.
  530. “You're right, sister. I should trust him more, and not think of him as a threat but as a friend.”
  531. Luna looked to her side, at her sister, glad that she had let go of the role of a lone ruler she took on all too often.
  532. “Perhaps you should ask him if he wants to be more than friends. It is not often that you get to be with someone your own size.”
  533. Celestia rolled her eyes at her younger sister's quip and lightly kicked Luna's flank. It stung, but Luna knew how much Celestia hated what she just did. Which was precisely why she did it.
  534.  
  535. “Hello? Anonymous?”
  536. She knocked on his door before opening it with a quick flick of magic. Anonymous had been sitting on the floor, drawing something on a piece of paper. He was now silently eyeing Luna and her sister.
  537. “I see you're enjoying the things I sent you earlier. Did you take a look at the book, too?”
  538. Luna glanced at her sister. There was a light smile on her face and her eyes were slightly narrowed, telling of her eagerness to hear his reply. She hadn't told she'd given him a book, and Luna wondered which one she'd chosen.
  539. “I did look at the book, and I found out that this-”
  540. He tugged at the chain of the pendant he was wearing while Luna rudely stared at him in surprise.
  541.  
  542. He... had an accent. A strong one. She hadn't expected him to have one, he hadn't had one when they'd met in his dream.
  543. “-does not work on writing. So, I could not read it.”
  544. The way he pronounced his R's reminded her of something. Lotus and Aloe, Ponyville's spa keepers. Their accent was similar to Anonymous'. Not identical, but close.
  545. “That's a shame. It's such a well written book. But, that's not why we're here.”
  546. “What, do you want to ask who is the single most influential poet in known history? Or do you perhaps want to know how the Haber-Bosch process works?”
  547. Luna nearly chuckled when she saw her sister's face. It was like she was about to say 'Eh' but was frozen halfway.
  548. “What my sister is trying to say is that we are here because we thought you would enjoy an evening out in the city. And we heard that you need clothes to stay warm and it's autumn so we thought you would appreciate a visit to the tailor.”
  549. She received an annoyed glance from Celestia for stealing her lines.
  550. “You're letting me out of this room?”
  551. Anonymous' expression changed into one she couldn't read, but the tone of his voice suggested that he was surprised.
  552. “That's good. Because I don not know how the Haber-Bosch process works.”
  553. “There's a few things you should know before you leave. I was told you don't remember anything of what happened immediately after you arrived.”
  554. Luna let her sister speak. While she liked to annoy her, she neither wanted nor liked to take it too far.
  555.  
  556. “The ponies at the market told me that your arrival was preceded by some disturbed happenstances. Then you appeared from what they described as a perfectly black sphere.”
  557. Celestia paused to look out of the window. Her ears perked up as if she had heard some sound.
  558. “They were understandably afraid of you and ran away. I doubt anypony will run from you now – in fact, most of them should be curious and welcoming – but try to remember what sort of a first impression you made.”
  559. “Okay, so no unholy rituals to summon eldritch abominations from the Beyond. Got it. Was there anything else?”
  560. Her elder sister's head jerked back from the window as her narrowed eyes fixed on the alien. Luna knew that the short, silent moment was because she had just barely stopped herself from snapping at him. She mentally congratulated Anonymous for somehow managing to get under her sister's skin in a way she had never managed to.
  561. “Yes.”
  562. Celestia's tone was indeed snappy as she continued, and he did not miss it.
  563. “Hey, I was not being serious. I just forgot that I am now in a world where what I said can be taken seriously.”
  564. He lifted his hands to his sides, palms facing upwards, and shrugged. Luna wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean, but assumed it to be some sort of an apologetic gesture.
  565. “There is one more thing you should know.”
  566. She glanced at her sister, who nodded.
  567. “You gave a blood sample earlier and we have studied it. It has reacted very strongly to Equestria's magic, absorbing vast amounts of it. It seems like the magic stored in it can easily be used by anypony. Thankfully, it does not seem to affect you in any way. But there are some less than savory characters in Equestria who would go great lengths to acquire such power. So we would ask you to keep it a secret unless you want to attract these beings.”
  568. Anonymous stared at Luna, one eyebrow arced and his arms crossed. It made her feel like he thought she was dumb.
  569. ”So if it does not affect me and you want me to keep it a secret, why tell me at all?”
  570. She was about to answer when she heard him draw a sharp breath.
  571. ”Great. So not am I only a scary monster, but my blood is also valuable enough for some to hunt me. What a wonderful situation I have got myself into.”
  572. That had to be sarcasm, she concluded, and did her best to remember his tone and expression to recognize it in the future. The more she learned about him, the more he reminded her of a pony.
  573.  
  574. Luna took a deep breath, inhaling the cool autumn air of the castle courtyard. It smelled faintly of rotting leaves. A chilly breeze blew past her as she looked back at Anonymous. He was looking up at the cloudless, starry sky and his breath was forming thin streaks of silvery mist in the wind. There was a peculiar hint of a smile on his face even though she saw him shiver.
  575. “Are you cold?”
  576. The wind tickled her fur but the chill hadn't found a way through. Anonymous' clothes must've not done so well.
  577. “A little. It was not this cold back home. I just-”
  578. He fell silent all of a sudden. Luna saw the slightest of smiles that'd been on his face fade away as he slowly brought his gaze to his own feet.
  579. “Never mind. Let's just... go. It's cold.”
  580. His voice had changed, too. It was quieter, lower and monotone, and lacked not only enthusiasm but hope as well.
  581. “Is something bothering you?”
  582. She tried to make herself sound casual, but some of her worry seeped into her voice. Minute signs of conflicting emotions flashed on Anonymous' face as he watched her turn around and close the distance between them. He remained silent for longer than she thought he would but finally let out a sigh and opened his mouth.
  583. “A week ago, I visited my mother.”
  584. Luna did not recognize the tone he had, but it was one she hadn't heard him use before. It sounded more dramatic and lacked the quirkiness he usually had.
  585. “She invited me to eat, so I went there and ate. Then she asked how I had liked the food. Only, differently from how she usually did it. I am not sure how to describe it, but I knew she expected something from me. I told her the truth – that the food was good and I especially liked the salad because the tomatoes were excellent.”
  586. Anonymous glanced up at the sky again before looking at her, a warm yet somehow sad smile on his face.
  587. “I could feel the happiness in her voice when she told me they were the tomatoes she had grown herself. She had spent the whole summer worrying about them, wondering if they will have time to ripen because it had not been very warm. Calling me when she was away and asking me to go and water them when it was dry. But, early autumn was mild and they did have time to ripen. And I had just praised them, and her efforts.”
  588. He closed his eyes as he let out another sigh, the smile melting from his face again.
  589. “And now I can not figure out how I ended up here, or how to get back. I have redone most of the calculations and they check out. It should not have been possible. Repeating it to get back should not be possible, and I am not sure if I can even repair the thing to even try.”
  590. Luna was not sure how to respond. She wished to tell him that everything was going to turn out fine, that he could be happy, but she also knew that he could not return – she, her sister and Twilight had all decided it was too risky.
  591. “Would you mind if I bought you a drink?”
  592. She settled on the two things she thought she could safely offer. A drink, and an ear.
  593. “I think... I could use one.”
  594.  
  595. Twilight Sparkle
  596. “Twilight? We're in Canterlot now, you should wake up.”
  597. She felt a gentle jab on her side. The first thing her tired mind could comprehend were the immaculate locks of royal purple next to her. Then a sudden flash of panic overtook her as she heard the train's wheels screech and felt the deceleration push her into the backrest of her seat, but it passed when she looked out of the window and recognized the familiar scene of Canterlot Station. A steady rain pounded the roof of the carriage, creating a soothing hum. The few other ponies who were in the early morning train with them were gathering their bags and getting out their umbrellas. She hadn't meant to sleep in the train, but explaining what had happened to her friends had taken longer than she thought. Pinkie had kept asking about when she could throw a welcome party when Twilight was trying to explain that they should be prepared in case something happened.
  598. “Oh. When did I fall asleep?”
  599. Twilight gently shook her head and rubbed her eyes to force herself awake.
  600. “Soon after we left Ponyville. I thought about waking you up, but you seemed so tired that I didn't dare.”
  601. Rarity flashed a soft smile before levitating her saddlebags onto herself. She had surprised Twilight in Ponyville Station earlier that morning when she had turned up with a letter from Sassy Saddles. She hadn't been sure what Sassy had meant by 'Princess Luna left an express request for several sets of clothes for something else', but the request for help at the end was clear enough.
  602. “Ah! There. I knew I had one.”
  603. An umbrella, glowing with Rarity's magic, floated out of one of the bags. Twilight regretted not packing one herself because while she knew a spell to keep herself dry, she would have preferred the mundaneness of one. Spell always attracted attention.
  604.  
  605. A transparent, lavender-tinted dome appeared above Twilight with a crack as she cast the spell.
  606. “Are you sure you don't want me to go buy you an umbrella? I know a store just down the street.”
  607. Her friend was looking at the dome above her with one eye squinted and a hoof at her chin. They were on the street just outside Canterlot Station, where their paths would split. Twilight would go towards the castle and Rarity in the other direction, to her boutique.
  608. “Rarity, it's supposed to keep me dry, not look good.”
  609. “Hm. I suppose there is no convincing you. Well, ta-ta. And do come by in the evening, I know the perfect place to eat.”
  610. “I'll do my best to make time for it. See you later!”
  611. They waved goodbye to each other and Twilight set off towards the castle.
  612.  
  613. Someone knocked on her door a few hours later while she was relaxing.
  614. “Twilight?”
  615. She recognized Celestia's voice immediately.
  616. “Come in.”
  617. She jumped off her bed and landed on her hooves just as the door opened. Celestia walked in with her usual grace, but there was concern on her face.
  618. “I spoke with Luna before she went to bed and there were some things she wanted you to know.”
  619. She looked at Twilight as she spoke instead of looking around to see if the room was unkempt like she usually would have. It made Twilight perk up her ears and wonder whether something had happened.
  620. “First, she wanted you to know that the tailor she took Anonymous to, Sassy Saddles, accidentally pricked him with a needle. The tiny droplet of blood she drew did not seem to affect her in any way.”
  621. Maybe the effect only appeared if his blood was present in sufficient quantities, or maybe it had to be drawn with his approval. It could even depend on the time of the day. Or maybe it just did not affect anyone but alicorns. Twilight noticed she had been holding her breath while she thought and nodded at Celestia to tell her to continue.
  622. “Luna also hoped that you could show him the device that brought him here. She... did not want to tell him that he can't return home and hoped it would be broken beyond repair so nobody would have to.”
  623. “Well, I can talk about it with him. There's a lot I want to learn about it, too.”
  624. Her mentor nodded absentmindedly while looking at the blue sky through the window.
  625. “I sometimes wonder if I make the right decisions.”
  626. Celestia slowly turned her head to look back at Twilight.
  627. “He misses his mother, Twilight. Was the decision to keep him here the correct one? Who am I to say that he can't go back to his family?”
  628. Her tone was something Twilight hadn't heard her use before, and she suddenly realized how little she knew about her mentor.
  629. “I told myself that I cannot risk all of Equestria for one stranger, but... it is not only him. I did not think to ask about his family, his loved ones. Does he have a wife and foals waiting for his return?”
  630. Celestia closed her eyes and turned her head to the side, but Twilight saw the wetness in her eyes.
  631. “Is his brother waiting for him to show up for something they promised to do?”
  632. Twilight understood.
  633.  
  634. She stared at the open book in front of her. It was supposed to be something easy to read to help her calm her nerves but she could not bring herself to read more than the first line. The printed words echoed meaninglessly in her mind as her thoughts were irresistibly drawn to the conversation she'd just had. She felt a surge of elation for being one Celestia had chosen to trust with her feelings, which then faded into puzzlement as to why the wise leader had reacted so strongly to the alien's homesickness, before settling into a gnawing unease about seeing the ruler of Equestria at the verge of tears. She hadn't known how to help her. She hadn't known what to do to make her wise and benevolent teacher accept the undesired consequences of her own decisions. She hadn't known how to act to ease her worries. She still didn't know. Maybe if she had been more thorough with the alien she would've known. Maybe if she had been honest with her and told her what Luna had said. Maybe if she hadn't left for Ponyville out of the blue last night, maybe she could've been there for support when she needed it.
  635.  
  636. Twilight shut the book with a slam. Her eyes wandered around the room, looking for distractions. The bed wasn't perfectly made. It glowed in her aura for a second and the sheets shuffled and straightened out. The quills and scrolls on her table weren't in order. They glowed in her aura for a second and arranged themselves into neat rows and piles. Her saddlebags were laying in a corner. They glowed in her aura for a second and flew into a closet. The coat hangers in the closet weren't spaced evenly. They glowed in her aura for a second and-
  637. There was an alien, metal-framed device in the closet. The device that had brought Anonymous into Equestria through some arcane means. She picked it up with her magic and left the room.
  638.  
  639. Her hurried knocks rang on the door to Anonymous' room. She barged in without waiting for an answer. The alien was sitting at a desk, a pencil in his hand and some paper in front of him, and looking at her with an arced brow.
  640. “Hi! I... brought this thing.”
  641. The device, which she had been levitating behind her, moved between them. The alien said nothing. His brows scrunched momentarily as he looked at the thing, then rose as he recognized the object enveloped in the lavender aura. He stuck a hand out towards it, palm facing up.
  642. “Can I take a look at it?”
  643. Twilight hesitated for a second, but made the device float over to his hand. His fingers wrapped firmly around one of the tubes that made up the frame and she let her magic fade. The device fell a little before he could adjust for its weight.
  644. “I've been trying to figure it out but I have to admit I've got no idea what it's supposed to do.”
  645. He spun around so his body faced Twilight as well.
  646. “Well, it is...”
  647. He put both his hands on one side of the device and produced two snapping sounds before pulling out one of the two green boards that made up the thing.
  648. “It is a bit hard to explain. But it is based on three very precise resonance circuits that create an oscillating electromagnetic field that seems to- do you have a multi meter? I need to check if these still work.”
  649. He'd been examining the board as he spoke and tapped some components on it with a finger. They looked a little darker than the rest.
  650.  
  651. Twilight watched Anonymous' nimble fingers work with the meter, occasionally measuring some component and writing down the value. His explanation on how the device worked intrigued her. She drew immediate parallels to Mirehoof the Mysterious and his famous final theorem. Mirehoof had been an ingenious unicorn with a gift for more theoretical magic. His final theorem was about the very essence of magic itself, and it suggested that it had not one but three resonance frequencies. He'd theorized that the frequencies were not exact but shifted constantly and that no being could ever be capable of adjusting their spell fast enough to follow. But Anonymous had claimed that his device adjusted itself sixteen million times a second.
  652.  
  653. “Hey...”
  654. “Hm?”
  655. Anonymous looked up from the board he was holding.
  656. “How did you come across the frequencies? You said you were doing something unrelated and just happened upon them.”
  657. He looked at her silently for a moment, then turned the board around in his hands and pointed at a small metal box that was soldered to it.
  658. “We found that. Well, that is a small piece of it, but we found something. It looked like a gray and black stone but on closer inspection we found that it had a flawless crystal structure unlike anything we had seen before and that it produced a signal on very specific frequencies when we ran a current through it. I noticed some oddities about the signal but since the frequencies were not anything useful to us at the time, we just wrote them down and moved on.”
  659. Twilight looked at the small metal box. Inside it was something that resonated with the essence of magic. She felt a lump forming in her stomach as she turned her head a little and saw the bulges caused by veins on the backs of Anonymous' hands.
  660. “Say, would you mind giving that to me for a moment?”
  661. There were only a handful of substances that could resonate with magic. One of them was on top of her mind. Literally.
  662.  
  663. She ripped the board out of Anonymous' hands with some force. He protested, but she was not listening. She had to know. She had to be sure. If they'd been wrong from the beginning, if what was in his veins wasn't Equestrian magic... She ripped the tiny piece of metal off the board.
  664.  
  665. The board fell onto the ground with a clack. Twilight was staring straight ahead with unseeing eyes. Her mouth was left open and she was completely still, not even breathing. She had just seen a shard of a unicorn's horn inside a device from another world. Twilight did not understand.
  666.  
  667. Anonymous said something unintelligible as he bent down to pick up the circuit board. He studied it intensely, lifting it to within two hoof's widths from his eyes.
  668. “Mmh. It does not look like you damaged it but there is no way to be sure without testing it.”
  669. Twilight finally remembered to breathe as the alien carefully placed the board on the table next to him and fixed his eyes on hers. He looked irritated as he drew breath, but that turned into something she could not interpret as he held the breath for a second.
  670. “Is there... something wrong? You look like you saw a ghost.”
  671. Something wrong!?
  672. “Eh.”
  673. There was so much wrong that she couldn't even think straight.
  674. “How- Don't you know what that is?”
  675. How had it got there? What had happened to the unicorn? Where had they found it? Twilight felt like speech was too slow a method of communication as her mind raced on to raise even more questions.
  676. “It is... some mineral?”
  677. “No, it's...”
  678. She tapered off and stared at the alien, blinking a few times in silence. He had raised one brow and tilted his head slightly to the side.
  679. “It is a piece of someone's horn. A unicorn's horn.”
  680. Had he really not known? She'd thought they'd somehow come across somepony and cut off their horn. But he really seemed to believe that it was just a piece of some rock. That, or he was the best liar she'd met. But it didn't look like that as he picked up the board again. Twilight waited quietly for at least a minute as he turned and moved around the board to make the light hit the shard on it in different ways.
  681. “We thought it was soft for a rock but we never considered...”
  682. He set down the board again and turned his head to look at Twilight's horn, his brows squished together. Then he froze completely for a second before his eyes went wide and became unfocused and his brows rose.
  683. “No. That... makes too much sense.”
  684. Turning around in place, he picked up a pencil and started furiously scribbling something on paper.
  685.  
  686. Princess Luna
  687.  
  688. His dream was different this time. They were in the same space, with a mat and a glass wall separating him and Luna from the real dream. Anonymous was sitting right by the wall, hugging his knees and watching the meeting. The mood in the meeting room was jubilant and the CEO was pleased to announce record profit. Anonymous' dream version in the meeting room, whose nameplate was actually his now, was the only one who wasn't happy.
  689.  
  690. “They said I should be proud of myself because they made a lot of money.”
  691. Luna looked to the side, at Anonymous.
  692. “They didn't care that I hadn't had enough time to do my job properly because they fired so many developers.”
  693. He was resting his chin on his knee, still watching the meeting in front of them.
  694. “I told them that our new products wouldn't be ready in time.”
  695. His tone was dull and monotone, like he had already given up.
  696. “They told me I lacked ambition and should come up with better ways to utilize my resources.
  697. He lifted his chin off his knee and turned his head to look Luna in the eyes.
  698. “I even gave them examples of how I didn't have time, but of course they neither understood or cared.”
  699. There was a look of sadness on his face and a tinge of hopelessness in his voice.
  700. “I should've understood that the only thing that matters is the impression you give and not how good a job you actually do.”
  701. Luna spread a wing and draped it around his shoulders as he let out a sigh and let his head fall so his forehead hit his knee with a faint dunk.
  702. “It is not wrong to take pride in your work and do it properly.”
  703. She felt his muscles twitch slightly as her wing touched him.
  704. “If only my superiors had thought so too.”
  705.  
  706. Luna was not sure when she transitioned from being a dream warden to being a dreamer. She remembered practicing a duet with her sister's dream self and helping Pinkie Pie defeat the evil giant monster muffin, but she did not remember going to sleep herself. She felt like it was soon after she had directed the alien's dreams away from his past, but she only became aware of it just before she woke up.
  707.  
  708. The way the sunlight managed to peek through her room's thick curtains told her that it was afternoon. It was early for her to wake, but she did not feel tired so she rose from bed and drew back the curtains. The sky was mottled with gray clouds and the tiling on her balcony was still damp. With an uncharacteristic spring in her step, she turned around and headed to the bathroom.
  709.  
  710. Luna was sitting in the dining room, having breakfast, when Twilight wandered in.
  711. “Princess Luna? Thank goodness you're awake.”
  712. Her voice was unsteady and her moves twitchy as she approached.
  713. “Twilight. Come, have something to eat.”
  714. Luna gestured at the foodstuffs on the table in front of her, hoping that having something to eat would make it easier for Twilight to talk. She waited until Twilight had planted her flank on the seat opposite of her.
  715. “Was there something you wanted to tell me?”
  716. She watched her squirm in place for a moment, and for some reason felt as if she was interrogating her.
  717. “Oh, I just can't decide what to do.”
  718. Twilight held her head between her forehooves, resting her elbows on the table.
  719. “At first Princess Celestia started doubting herself and then I didn't know what to do. Then I ran into the device that brought Anonymous here and decided to go talk to him. We talked for a bit but then it turned out that the device contains a piece of somepony's horn!”
  720. She let let her head fall onto the table with a bonk.
  721. “Then he said something about how he'd come across it but then he just went quiet and started drawing something and now he just says he needs some time to think. I feel like he's hiding something, but I'm not sure what to do about that – if he doesn't want to talk, what am I supposed to do?”
  722. “Well.”
  723. Luna paused for a while, trying to absorb what she'd been told while simultaneously trying to think of what her sister would do. She wished to question the alien about how he'd acquired a piece of an unicorn's horn and how he'd made it work despite possessing no magic of his own, but knew that Twilight would've told her already if she knew something about it.
  724. “Why don't you just wait for a while?”
  725.  
  726. “Wait? But I can't sit around doing nothing when there's so do! I still need to find out why my translation spell doesn't work like it's supposed to, research ways to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future and-”
  727. “Twilight.”
  728. Luna closed her eyes momentarily before looking at her distraught companion.
  729. “I understand your frustration, but sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. If he needs time to think, then you should give him some. Try to place yourself in his situation: trapped in an unknown world and at the mercy of aliens.”
  730. “I...”
  731. Twilight fell silent for a moment, her ears pressing against her skull.
  732. “I hadn't thought of that.”
  733. Her voice softened and her speech slowed. She stared at a half-eaten bagel that was on the table between the two ponies.
  734. “When I've talked to him he's always seemed so... quick-witted and headstrong that I just thought he was fine with it.”
  735. She looked up at Luna, her eyes wide.
  736. “He is lost and alone, Twilight. He needs a friend, more than anything else.”
  737.  
  738. The door in front of her swung open before she had time to knock. Celestia and her assistant, the latter with some scrolls, were inside.
  739. “Oh. I didn't know you were awake.”
  740. A smile spread onto Celestia's face and there was warmth in her voice, but Luna sensed some disquiet within her. The slightest pause between recognition and reaction was enough for her to tell – though she was certain that nopony apart her would've noticed that.
  741. “I was hoping you would have some time. I believe there is something you should know.”
  742. “Time for you? Always.”
  743. Celestia stepped to the side to let Luna in while glancing at her assistant and nodding. Luna let the unicorn pass before trotting into the room past her sister.
  744.  
  745. “It's about him, isn't it?”
  746. She spoke as soon as she'd shut the door. The warmth was gone from her voice, replaced by tiredness. The sudden shift surprised Luna, making her turn in place to face her sister. Celestia had let her head fall so her back and neck formed a straight line and her eyes were downcast.
  747. “Have faith, sister. I bring no ill tidings.”
  748. Luna's shoes clopped on the bare stone floor as she approached the only pony who would never leave her. She softly prodded her sister's cheek with the top of her snout.
  749. “It's not him I'm worried about.”
  750. Celestia kicked the floor with a hoof, causing Luna to twitch at the unexpected sound, and was suddenly standing tall and proud and full of determination. She turned to look at Luna, the sorrow in her eyes forming a stark contrast with the rest of her.
  751. “Have you ever seen a pony get driven to insanity when their dearest goes missing? Have you seen the sunken eyes of someone who has been searching for a month? The messy coat and protruding ribs of someone who has been looking for a year? The pure despair after a decade?”
  752. She shook her head.
  753. “I cannot condemn anyone to such a fate.”
  754. Her eyes closed and her voice fell to but a whisper.
  755. “Not after I had to live through it myself.”
  756. Luna looked at her sister with her mouth slightly agape, then curled her forehooves around her neck and pulled her into a hug.
  757. “For the first twenty years I hoped that it was only the Nightmare sealed on the Moon and that you were elsewhere, lost and forgotten.”
  758. She felt her sister's forelegs on her own back and was squeezed tight against her.
  759. “Shush now, my sunshine. I am here for you. Shush now, little sunshine. The night has come again.”
  760. The corners of her eyes felt damp as she recited lines of the poem.
  761. “Shush now, my sunshine. Cast away your sorrows. Shush now, little sunshine. It is time to sleep.”
  762. Whether the poem had the intended effect of consoling Celestia or not was something she couldn't see, but either that or the embrace worked. She felt the forelegs on her back loosen their grip somewhat and was no longer locked in a desperate grasp of someone afraid of losing her, but rather in a soft hug with someone who was her only lasting friend in the eternity ahead. The tears were long gone when they finally let go of each other.
  763.  
  764. “So why did you come here, sister?”
  765. Luna was sitting on next to her sister on the bed, both of them looking at Canterlot's rooftops through the window.
  766. “The alien believes he can mend the device of his. He has made a list of replacement parts he needs.”
  767. She had originally intended to tell about last night and what she'd found out during the time she'd spent with Anonymous in Canterlot, but she felt like her sister was not ready to find out about his homesickness and the other reasons he felt he needed to return for.
  768. “That, and Twilight found out that the heart of said device is a shard of an unicorn's horn.”
  769. The bed beneath her shifted as her sister leaned backwards in surprise.
  770. “A shard of a... but how? How has he got it?”
  771. “He refused to talk about it, saying he needed some time to think.”
  772. A heavy silence filled the room for long while. Luna felt Celestia staring at the side of her head.
  773. “You cannot bridge the void between worlds without an anchor... He got here because the shard came home, but how did it get there? Is there some other connection between our worlds?”
  774. Luna did not answer, letting the silence return for another while.
  775.  
  776. She was researching multiverse theory in the castle library when Twilight found her.
  777. “Princess Luna? Anonymous asked for you, I think he wants all of us to go there.”
  778. She looked up from the book and at her, then slammed the book shut and rose on her hooves.
  779. “That is unusual. I don't think he's asked for anything before.”
  780. Twilight let out a soft giggle for some reason.
  781. “I chatted with him a little and – well, you'll see.”
  782. She turned around and waved her hoof as a sign to follow. Luna thought it was weird of her, but went after her regardless.
  783.  
  784. The alien was sitting on his bed, resting his chin on his palm with his elbow on his knee, when Luna and Twilight came into the room. He glanced at the ponies, let out a drawn-out breath and stood up.
  785. “Hi there. I have been thinking and...”
  786. His hands fiddled with the hem of his shirt and his pockets like he wasn't sure where to put them.
  787. “What I said about the frequency crystal was not the complete truth. I had my doubts about it and tried looking into it but when I asked around all I got were vague responses discouraging me from looking further. Then I tried looking on the internet – a nigh-infinite database of digital information – but soon ran into sketchy sites so I stopped because I was afraid of being put on some watchlist.”
  788. “Watchlist? But that's not what...”
  789. Twilight tapered off as Anonymous lifted up one hand with its palm facing towards her. Luna didn't remember seeing the gesture before, but the result seemed to please the alien.
  790. “I am sorry for misleading you, Twilight Sparkle. I was afraid of what you may do to me if told the truth. The item was sold as an occult curiosity, a component for black magic. Back home nobody cared about that because everyone but a few weirdos knew that magic did not exist but Celestia gave me the impression that you are not very fond of such things.”
  791. He looked away as Twilight drew a breath and looked like she wanted to say something. But she never did, only holding the breath for a while with her mouth open before letting it out again.
  792. “Neither of us, or my sister, would have done anything to you. We understand you come from a different world, and have seen more than enough actual black magic to know you bear none.”
  793. It fell to Luna to keep the conversation going.
  794. “But not all ponies are as versed in the subject as we are, so it would be wise to not spread the information too much.”
  795.  
  796. Twilight Sparkle
  797.  
  798. “I really meant it when I said you could trust me with anything, you know.”
  799. Twilight turned around as soon as Luna had closed the door behind herself. She would not have minded her presence, but felt like the alien would be more responsive with just the two of them in the room.
  800. “I want to help you, but I'm just not sure what to do. You leaving out important details didn't exactly help me with that.”
  801. Anonymous, sitting on his bed, slapped his hands onto the top of his thighs and straightened his slumped posture.
  802. “Well, if you want to help me, I have a list of parts I need. Two 50 pF capacitors, anywhere between 40 to 80 pF is fine, one 3.3 nF...”
  803. Twilight watched him as he spoke. She surprised herself when she found out that she couldn't pay attention to the intricate and detailed list of replacement parts he was reciting. Her attention was drawn to the way he didn't quite meet her eyes, the oddly twitchy fingers and how he kept glancing at the door. She realized there was something on his mind he didn't want to talk about. She didn't know what it was, but had a feeling it was something important.
  804. “Say, Anonymous.”
  805. But could she convince him to do something he didn't want to?
  806. “Could I have another sample of your blood? I mean, I want to make sure you're doing as well as you were when you arrived and then there's a few things I really could use a confirmation for and- yeah.”
  807. She grinned sheepishly, hoping her last second dodge hadn't sounded too awkward. The alien, a bit miffed after being interrupted, raised a brow at her before shrugging.
  808. “I guess I could let you take another one.”
  809.  
  810. She held the needle as steady as she could while fighting the urge to look away. A wave of disgust passed over her as the tip punctured the skin on Anonymous' arm. Ponies' coats hid the macabre details when she'd drawn blood from her own kind, but the alien's hair was so sparse that she saw the bulge caused by the needle move as she looked for a vein. She felt sick, but managed to hold on until a stream of blood started flowing into a vial she was holding below the needle. The alien remained calm through the ordeal, gazing out of the window at nothing in particular, though his breathing became a touch louder when the needle entered him.
  811.  
  812. “Here, press this on the wound.”
  813. Twilight passed a cotton swab to the human, a touch of excitement seeping into her voice. On the first time she had used a shield spell because she had been concerned of his blood carrying some contagious pathogen, this time she'd been worried of the surge of power making her break the needle inside him. With the medical instrument safely on a table, she let the spell fade away and prepared for what was to come. Steeling her mind to remain in control, she was... disappointed. It was like a wave of warm water that washed over her. The absurd explosion of raw magic that had threatened to tear apart her body was nowhere to be found.
  814.  
  815. She stared at the vial in anticlimactic silence, her lips parted by the countless questions her mind threw at her.
  816. “Is something wrong?”
  817. The alien's voice shocked her back into the present.
  818. “Oh, I, um... Remember when I told you about what your last sample did?”
  819. He was looking at her with his head slightly tilted to the side, either concern or bafflement on his face – Twilight couldn't tell which.
  820. “Yes. You talked about some magic something or the other. Asked me to not tell anyone about it; I have not.”
  821. “Well, that's-”
  822. Twilight stifled an urge to lecture him about the details, lifting one hoof off the floor and shuffling her wings as she did so.
  823. “Close. You blood contained a vast amount of raw magic. And now it doesn't. I'm not completely sure what it means, but if my theory is right, then I was wrong about the source.”
  824. If the magic in him was that of his own world and he was slowly using up the reserve, then that'd mean he'd run out soon. And when it ran out, he would...
  825. Twilight had to admit she had no idea.
  826. “Is that a bad thing or a good thing?”
  827. “I... I don't know! I've never seen anything like this before, I'll have to do some research and ask Princess Celestia about it, maybe she'll know something.”
  828. She had thought he didn't interact with magic in any way and he had claimed magic didn't exist in his world, but the result she'd just got contradicted all that. Maybe. She couldn't make sense of it.
  829. “Well, you go do your research. I will be right here, in this tiny room with nothing to do.”
  830.  
  831. She didn't realize what he'd meant until she'd spent an hour in the library. The pang of guilt was twice as bad because she remembered how he'd drawn out the words “tiny” and “nothing.” It'd been so clear but she'd been too focused on her theories to realize it. Maybe he would forgive her. She was about to go ask Celestia for advice and then she could go tell him the news and... and ask him to join her as she'd go and take up Rarity's offer for dinner? Rarity should understand, and she wasn't one to judge a book by its cover – or an ape by its accent.
  832.  
  833. “I admit, I'm not quite sure what to make of this.”
  834. The golden glow dissipated from around the vial of blood as it settled on Celestia's desk.
  835. “Though I am curious about the reason for this change. You said you have a theory about it, didn't you Twilight?”
  836. “Oh. Yes. Um...”
  837. She had to gather her thoughts for a moment, regretting not making notes in the library. Celestia turned back from the desk to face Twilight with a gentle, knowing smile on her face.
  838. “Well, the simplest explanation would be that he was full of magic when he arrived here and that magic is now slowly either leaking out or being used up. How the magic got into him is something I'm not completely sure about: either it's the magic of his world that's seeped into him over the years or it somehow got deposited in him as he crossed into Equestria.”
  839. She offered a shy smile, hoping that the theory she'd worked hard on wouldn't get outright crushed as something outlandish. Her mentor kept the suspense for a second, eyeing her silently before nodding.
  840. “That is the simplest and most plausible explanation, and the one I also came up with. It begs one question, however: what will happen once he runs out?”
  841. Celestia's hooves clip-clopped on the floor as she turned around and slowly moved towards a window.
  842. “If it's true that his world has no magic, then nothing should happen. But if he were to be mistaken and has been using magic without even knowing...”
  843. She quietly gazed at the sky through the window for a short while, then looked back at Twilight. The smile on her face was gone, replaced by a look of concern.
  844. “He could be in danger. I don't want to take that risk, so I think we should let him return home.”
  845. Twilight shuffled her wings nervously and looked away for a second before managing to gather the confidence to respond.
  846. “I'm glad you said that. I was thinking of the same thing but wasn't sure how to say it.”
  847. Letting out a sigh, she faced her mentor again with renewed determination.
  848. “I was planning on bringing him along as I go out tonight, so we could get what he needs from Canterlot and then let him fix that device of his tomorrow. He should have enough left to last for a day or two... I think.”
  849.  
  850. Twilight wasn't sure how to do it as she climbed up the stairs that led to Anonymous' room. Should she barge in and just announce that they were going to go pick up the parts he need and then have dinner with Rarity? Or should she knock and apologize for not realizing what he had meant before suggesting an evening out? He really should have said something when he realized she was going to just leave him there if he'd really wanted to come with her, it's not like she could read thoughts... But she was the Princess of Friendship and couldn't make obvious mistakes like that. It wasn't like he was especially subtle about it, quite the contrary.
  851.  
  852. She decided not to knock and made the door swing wide open with her magic.
  853. “Hey. Sorry about bolting off like that, but uhh...”
  854. He was lying on the bed, his hands under his head, glaring at Twilight.
  855. “Turns out that what's happening to you could be slightly harmful so we decided it's best if you return home as soon as possible. You know, just in case.”
  856. She hoped her grin hid the heat she felt rising onto her face as the alien swung his arms upwards and used the momentum to rise into a sitting position.
  857. “So you are letting me go back home, but only because you think I am in danger if I stay. I suppose I should be glad about this. Thank you?”
  858. “Yes, well...”
  859. Twilight decided to tell the truth. She closed her eyes, let out a deep sigh and let her ears droop down.
  860. “When you arrived, we had a bit of an argument about what to do. Luna wanted to let you go free and Celestia wanted to keep you here in case you were dangerous.”
  861. Looking back at Anonymous, she noticed an expression on his face she hadn't seen before. It made him seem uncomfortable.
  862. “I thought it'd be a good idea to keep you here for a while so I could find out what kind of a creature you were. So it's my fault that you were locked in here, and when Celestia decided that it would be too risky to let you home I didn't even try to stop her.”
  863. A sad smile crept onto Twilight's face as she trotted over to Anonymous' bed and sat down next to it.
  864. “I'm sorry I have been such a terrible friend for you. I hope you'll let me make up for it.”
  865. The alien cast her a weird look which she couldn't construe.
  866. “You consider yourself my friend?”
  867. His head jerked back slightly and he blinked rapidly a few times.
  868. “I had... not thought of it that way. I suppose we can be friends, then.”
  869. He extended a hand towards her with the hint of a smile on his face.
  870.  
  871. Twilight felt dumb as she led Anonymous out of the castle and to Canterlot. She'd tried so hard to make friends with him, and in the end all she needed to do was tell him she wanted to be friends. They'd talked for the better part of an hour, and he'd told her a lot about himself and his life. She now knew that he was quite passionate about some sport and played in an amateur league as a defensive midfielder, whatever that meant, and that he was unmarried but had two siblings. He'd gone quiet when she'd asked about what he did for a living, and she'd quickly changed subjects and told him about her friends and some of their adventures. Other than that, he hadn't hesitated answering any of her questions. She'd learned of his studies in engineering, told him of her studies in magic, listened to him explain how he liked to make some dishes, imparted how she'd ended up with Spike and so on.
  872.  
  873. A tiny bell rang above her as she pushed open the door and entered Rarity's boutique.
  874. “Hello, welcome to- Oh, hi Twilight. Rarity's in there.”
  875. Sassy Saddles waved at her casually, then pointed at the door to the back room. She said nothing when Anonymous followed, ducking to not hit his head on the top of the frame, but did end up staring at him.
  876. “Thanks Sassy.”
  877. Twilight waved back at her and then turned around to face Anonymous.
  878. “Hey, could you wait here for a moment? I'll have to explain a few things to Rarity.”
  879.  
  880. She opened the door just enough for her to slip through and then immediately shut it behind her.
  881. “Hi Rarity.”
  882. Her friend looked up from the sketch of a dress she was drawing and at her.
  883. “Twilight! Done being a princess for the day?”
  884. She was positively beaming as she made the board she'd been drawing on turn a little to give Twilight a better look at the sketch.
  885. “Look, isn't it absolutely marvelous? I decided to leave out the frills and go with just dark velvet and a tiara, simplicity is in this season and this should truly bring out the best in her.”
  886. Twilight looked at the sketch of a dress which – she had to admit – would look stunning on Princess Luna.
  887. “Uh, Rarity. Weren't you supposed to be making clothes for Anonymous? You know, the alien?”
  888. She received a flabbergasted look from her friend, who then turned around, opened a drawer and floated a stack of sketches out of it.
  889. “Of course I haven't forgotten about him. I was just meaning to ask your opinion on these. I mean, I could only tell so much based on the photograph I saw so I made a few options; which one do you think would suit him best?”
  890. The stack separated into single papers which then floated into neat rows in front of her.
  891. “About that...”
  892. Twilight quickly recounted the events that had led to her taking Anonymous with her and of their decision to let him return to his world.
  893. “...so why don't you just ask him directly? Or I guess it doesn't really matter because he'll be going back home in a day or two.”
  894. Rarity stared at her with her lips parted just enough for Twilight to see the tip of her tongue move.
  895. “But- But- But I went through all the trouble to make these and now I won't see even one of them get completed?”
  896. Twilight prepared herself for the inevitable as she watched her friend's lips quiver and droplets form in the corners of her eyes.
  897. “No matter. His safety is more important than any stupid clothes. Now, I believe you have some introductions to make.”
  898.  
  899. Twilight slowly pushed the door open to reveal Sassy and Anonymous standing next to one of the wooden mannequins, her explaining something about the dress to him.
  900. “Anonymous, there's someone I'd like you to meet.”
  901. She sidestepped out of the way as soon as the alien was looking at her.
  902. “It is an honor to finally meet you, Anonymous! I have been looking forward to this moment ever since Twilight told us of your arrival, she was so excited about you that I couldn't help but share her enthusiasm.”
  903. Rarity took a few bouncy strides into the room, her mane and tail bobbing up and down with each step.
  904. “Oh, but where are my manners. I am Rarity, truly pleased to meet you.”
  905. Her eyes met Anonymous', whose face betrayed no emotion while he followed her movement as she trotted towards him before letting a friendly smile onto his face.
  906. “Anonymous. Pleased to meet you too.”
  907. He extended an open hand towards Rarity as she got next to him. She offered him a hoof, which he grabbed and shook promptly. A nigh-invisible shiver passed through her and her pupils dilated ever so slightly as they touched each other.
  908. “You must be quite the artisan if you really made the dresses in here, even I can tell the quality is far better than anything I could have afforded back home.”
  909. As he let go of it, Rarity lifted the hoof to cover her muzzle and looked to the side in faked embarrassment.
  910. “But darling, those are mere eye candy to draw in new clientele. I wouldn't dare to sell something that isn't at least customized for the buyer, and the true works of art are of course custom made.”
  911. Twilight watched them in amazement for a moment, not having expected the alien to act like that. While he hadn't been impolite with her, he definitely hadn't gone out of his way to compliment her either. Then again, they hadn't understood each other when they first met so he couldn't have done that even if he'd wanted to. She cleared her throat to get their attention.
  912. “Rarity, you mentioned a restaurant, didn't you? We haven't eaten yet so I was kinda hoping we could fix that while getting to know each other.”
  913.  
  914. Princess Luna
  915.  
  916. “While your idea is most fascinating, it would be terribly uncouth of me to make the decision on this particular issue. As you well know, Cadence rules over the Crystal Empire and thus you must ask her for permission.”
  917. Luna was aware that her annoyance was seeping into her voice but felt no need to correct the issue. Spending hours on end in the throne room listening to various ponies request this and whine about that was supposed to be her dear sister's duty. Yet said sister had had “something extremely important” to do and had had the nerve to send her assistant to tell Luna she had to go in her stead.
  918. “But Princess Cadence surely won't appreciate the-”
  919. “Maybe so, but I still cannot make the decision for her. Now, was there something else?”
  920. The stallion, whose name Luna had already forgotten, mumbled something in response as she looked to her side and at Raven, Celestia's assistant.
  921. “No, that is everything for now. I will pass on your decisions and see that they're carried out, you needn't worry about anything else.”
  922. Luna let out a sigh of relief. All she had to do now was find her sister and have a few select words with her. She spread her wings and leaped off the raised platform the throne was on and landed at the doors at the other end of the room with just a few wing beats. The only good thing about being Celestia's sister was that she could fly recklessly while indoors and nobody would scold her for it.
  923.  
  924. “You.”
  925. Both of the guards at the door snapped to attention, the one she was facing trying his best to only look ahead and not at her.
  926. “Tell me where my sister is.”
  927. “Princess Celestia was in the royal library last I heard.”
  928. The stallion was sweating bullets, his face had turned deep red and he seemed to have trouble staying still. Luna knew the signs: a fresh recruit.
  929. “Why, thank you.”
  930. She leaned in closer, so close she could feel the heat radiating off him, and lowered her voice to a whisper.
  931. “Tell me, was she the only reason you joined the guard?”
  932. Without waiting for an answer, she planted a chaste peck of a kiss on his cheek and pulled away to see the train wreck of an expression on his face. He was trying to keep serious but hadn't been able to stop a wide smile from taking over. His eyes were asking if she was being serious and his lips were parted to answer the question he wasn't sure he was allowed to answer. Luna let out a short, quiet giggle at the sight.
  933. “Don't get your hopes up, she's even worse than I am.”
  934. The other good thing about being who she was was that she could tease the guards as much as she liked.
  935.  
  936. The corridor between the bookshelves was so narrow that if she had spread her wings she would've knocked several books off the shelves. She saw Celestia ahead of her, sitting on the floor with a pile of books next to her, and whispered a spell to silence her hoofsteps. Creeping closer in the enchanted silence, she read the titles of the books on the floor. Diary of Mirehoof the Mysterious, part 1. Diary of Mirehoof the Mysterious, part 2. Celestia had the complete set, all 7 books, with the last one open in front of her. The odd choice in literature piqued her curiosity, but she nevertheless lifted a hoof off the floor in preparation as she stood right behind her.
  937. “So this is important enough for you to shirk your duties, dear sister?”
  938. Her sister jerked in a very satisfying way when Luna suddenly placed the hoof on her withers. The frown on her face was priceless as she slowly shuffled around and Luna considered them even when she saw it.
  939. “You didn't have to sneak up on me like that! I could've accidentally blasted you!”
  940. “Oh?”
  941. She swung her head a bit and made her horn glow.
  942. “You think I am something you can blast away?”
  943. Celestia narrowed her eyes and turned her head so she looked at Luna down her snout. An ethereal breeze blew along the corridor they were in, making the sisters' manes and tails sway with it as raw magical energy concentrated in the area.
  944. “I didn't know you were a fan of historical diaries; why the sudden interest?”
  945. Luna relaxed her horn and let the magic fade away. The breeze stopped. Her sister stared at her like she'd seen a ghost, with her eyes frozen wide and lips parted like she had meant to say something.
  946. “...what?”
  947. Celestia slowly closed her eyes and rubbed them with a fetlock before looking at her again.
  948. “For a moment I thought... Never mind. It was Twilight who first thought of Mirehoof, and I thought I remembered something and had to come and check.”
  949.  
  950. Celestia told Luna of Mirehoof's life, how he had been an extremely talented unicorn who had graduated from her School for Gifted Unicorns with top grades before moving out to a small village where he'd spent the rest of his life working on theoretical magic. His earlier life, culminating in his famous theorems, was well-documented but he'd had even greater ambitions – proving that parallel worlds exist. He had disappeared before he'd finished his work and hadn't kept notes, only a very generic diary which mostly dealt with his day-to-day life – worthless for replicating his work but of some historical value thanks to its age and the amount of detail.
  951. “...see what he's written here as one of his last entries: 'Unexpected outcome, lost the object.' Doesn't that sound like he was successful? And then there's the second last entry: 'I woke up to a realization. I've been on the wrong track the whole time. I'll try it tomorrow.'”
  952. Luna followed her sister's hoof as it traced the words on the page.
  953. “His last entry is just about what he'd eaten that day, but he vanished without a trace soon after writing it.”
  954. She and her sister gazed at each other in silence for a while.
  955. “He succeeded and crossed into another world, didn't he? Is that what you're thinking?”
  956. “Yes.”
  957. Celestia slammed shut the diary and stood up.
  958. “But there's no way to be sure. And even if he did succeed, he never returned so we can't know if the same thing that's happening to Anonymous happened to him.”
  959. The books on the floor were engulfed in a golden glow and slowly rose upwards before arranging themselves neatly into an empty spot on the shelf next to them.
  960. “Now, what would you like for dinner?”
  961. Celestia's pink eyes fixed themselves on Luna as she looked back with a soft smile.
  962.  
  963. Luna had to magically drag her sister from the dinner table to stop her from gobbling all of the cake.
  964. “I keep wondering how you can stomach all that sugar and you keep amazing me by acting like a filly every time you see some.”
  965. Her sister's pout and miserable slouch while being dragged away from the desserts may have melted the hearts of lesser ponies, but it did not work on her.
  966. “I just wanted one more bite...”
  967. She pulled her sister through a door and out of the dining hall before slamming shut the door behind them and releasing her magic grasp.
  968. “I thought you'd know how to share and not hog the whole thing for yourself.”
  969. Celestia made a 'hmph' sound, squeezed her eyes shut and looked off to the side.
  970. “Says miss 'I've flirted with half of the guards.'”
  971. “Hey!”
  972. She snapped her head towards her sister and pointed a hoof at her.
  973. “Don't act like you're innocent, I've heard the rumors. 'She'll be in the secluded courtyard every Friday afternoon, make sure you're alone and slip her a sweet treat.'”
  974. Mockingly imitating the voice of the sergeant she'd heard it from, Luna watched a hint of crimson rise onto her sister's face. Then, with a sudden crack, Celestia vanished.
  975. “Oh.”
  976. She must've accidentally hit a sore spot, she'd only meant to jest a little. She had a feeling that she wouldn't be seeing her sister that day, and that they'd both apologize to each other on the morrow.
  977.  
  978. The sound of hoofsteps echoed in the marble-walled corridor and let her know somepony was coming long before the guardspony in question turned a corner to the corridor she was in.
  979. “Princess Luna?”
  980. Luna let the bushel she was holding fall onto a respectable above and looked down the corridor, lined with fresh lavender, at the other end of it where the guard was standing.
  981. “Yes?”
  982. She knew what it was about, recognizing the stallion as the same on she'd instructed to find her when Twilight returned, but waited patiently as he saluted before speaking.
  983. “Princess Twilight and the alien have returned. They went to the alien's room.”
  984. “Thank you.”
  985. Luna left her trolley behind and headed to the tower Anonymous' room was in.
  986.  
  987. She heard Twilight's excited voice onto the landing, muffled just enough so she could not make out the words. She waited for a short while until it was silent, then knocked and pushed the door open.
  988. “Princess Luna? Good thing you're here, I was about to come see you but then Anonymous said he'd start fixing his transporter device and I just had to stay and watch.”
  989. Twilight was standing in the middle of the room, her head turned towards Luna and the door with her body facing the desk Anonymous was sitting at. The alien had the strange device of his, a paper bag and a soldering iron on the table in front of him. He glanced at Luna. There was a very focused look on his face, and he turned back towards the device without saying or doing anything to recognize her presence.
  990. “I see you've got the parts he needed, but I am curious about how the rest of your evening went.”
  991. Luna walked into the room from the landing, the sound of her hooves joined by the giddy clip-clop of Twilight's prancing as she turned around to face Luna, unable to completely contain her excitement.
  992. “Oh, I've learned so much about him! Did you know it's possible to use wires to transmit light? Because I didn't!”
  993. She trotted in place, her hooves turning into a blur and filling the room with noise.
  994. “That is interesting, yes. But how did you get along with Rarity, Anonymous?”
  995. Twilight froze in place, two hooves in the air and her mouth hanging open, but recovered just as the alien set down the part he'd been inspecting and turned around on his seat.
  996. “I found her very interesting. She was pleasant to be around even if I did not quite understand everything she said. It is a shame I can not get to know her better.”
  997. He made a circular motion with one hand as he spoke. Luna wasn't sure what, if anything, that meant.
  998. “You could choose to stay for a bit longer if you so wish, we would be honored to learn more about you and your kind. I feel like there is a lot we could teach to each other.”
  999. Anonymous stared at her in silence for a while. His brows furrowed as he covered his lips with his forefinger, then momentarily shut his eyes and shook his head.
  1000. “No. I appreciate your offer, but there is something I must do and it can not wait.”
  1001. The determination in his voice told her that he wouldn't change his mind. Luna drew breath and held it for a second before deciding she wanted to know.
  1002. “And what is this 'something' that has had you think of nearly nothing but returning for the last few days?”
  1003. The silence that followed felt like it could be carved with a knife. Twilight lifted a hoof onto her chest and let her ears press flat on her skull whereas the alien stared at Luna with a not-so-friendly expression on his face while thumbing the stubble on his chin.
  1004. “I had a bit of a fight with someone and we never made up for it.”
  1005. His posture slumped as he breathed out loudly. He said something in his native language and cast his face downwards.
  1006. “And now I need to apologize... And hope she has had time to understand.”
  1007. The last part came out slowly and quietly, like it was something he may not have wanted others to hear.
  1008.  
  1009. Luna closed the door of Twilight's room, letting the sound it made die down before taking her hoof off the solid wood it was made of. She wished to help the alien, she really did, but what could she do? Force him to stay? Try to make him talk about something he didn't want to? Her hoofsteps echoed in the deserted corridors as she headed to nowhere in particular. According to Twilight, he'd spoken of “football” very passionately, like someone who truly enjoyed it. She'd got the impression that his team was far more than just a sports team, like a circle of friends with a common interest. Yet his dreams were troubled. Full of him being downtrodden by those who did not understand. Or those who did, but didn't care. Luna took a right and found herself on a balcony, looking up at the moon she'd raised hours ago and the stars surrounding it. Had coming to Equestria helped him realize how important those who cared were? Or had he misinterpreted their words of kindness as a meaningless political theater? She let out a sigh and spread her wings, launching herself up high into the cloudless sky.
  1010.  
  1011. The dreamscape was troubled that night. She found Twilight sobbing in the ruins of the Golden Oak library and watched Rainbow Dash get caught by a shadow that made the feathers on her wings fall off. Pinkie Pie's dream made even her feel disgusted: the chipper mare had been trapped inside a mirror and was forced to watch her image live in her stead. Luna consoled the sad, helped the weak shatter the bonds of their mind and broke the broken out of their nightmares.
  1012.  
  1013. She felt the difference the moment she slipped into the dream. Anonymous was on some kind of an outdoors sports arena with about twenty others of his kind. He glanced down at his feet, at the white quarter circle drawn on the grass and the ball on the line, then at the people waiting for it ahead of him in front of the goal. He took a few steps backwards, closed his eyes for one breath and let go. The ball flew in a beautiful curving arc, falling between the goal and the players. One of those with yellow shirts, his teammates, jumped higher than any others.
  1014.  
  1015. A cheer filled the pub as a dozen pints clanged into each other, some of the amber brew inside spilling from the impact. Anonymous felt multiple hands pat his back as he brought down his mug and drank deeply of it, savoring the bitterness. His teammates broke down into a few groups, separating into different tables. He went with three others, chatting about the game and their individual efforts. Each of the three complimented his corner kick despite his attempts to play it down.
  1016.  
  1017. The talk eventually moved away from the game but remained cheery and the chatter was often speckled with laughter. They drank, they spoke, they laughed, they played darts and went for another pint. It lasted for a good while, but Anonymous apologized and said he had to leave after the second beer had been drunk.
  1018.  
  1019. The streets of the city night were filled with people, coming and going to and from the malls, pubs and clubs he passed by. He stopped at a bus stop. A few minutes passed as he watched the bustle around him, then he got on the vehicle that stopped in front of him.
  1020.  
  1021. The ringing of the doorbell faded and was replaced by hurried steps from inside. Anonymous put a smile on his face as he heard the lock turn and the door creaked open. It revealed a female of his kind, and he greeted her as their eyes met. The woman responded similarly and stepped out of the way to let him in. He remained still for a moment, looking at the mess of hair on her head and the shirt that was speckled with dried remains of some liquids, but went in anyways. As he passed by, he got a whiff of the reek of alcohol coming from her.
  1022.  
  1023. It started when she asked him to get her a drink. He went to the kitchen, looked at the plethora of bottles in there, and filled a glass with water. She thanked him when he handed her the glass, took a sip and started yelling about how he always tried to trick her and how she hated it. He raised his voice and told her how she was always drunk off her ass by the time he could get there and he was only trying to help. But she wouldn't listen, only going on about how she hated his holier-than-thou attitude and that she didn't need help, just a bit of a drink to unwind after a day's work.
  1024.  
  1025. He left the apartment a few minutes later, holding a tissue to his mouth so the bleeding lip wouldn't mess his clothes. He hadn't thought she'd hit him. But she had. And then she'd started crying when he'd grabbed her by the wrist and she couldn't make him let go. Knowing that she'd be easier to deal with when sober, he decided to head home and put on the finishing touches on the electronics project he'd worked on. It always seemed to go better when slightly tipsy. He could even stop by the pub for another one on his way.
  1026.  
  1027. Luna's night was restless. She woke up several times, and her dreams were a patchwork of nightmares. At first she'd went to a market and had arrived to a deserted plaza. Then she'd galloped down a street to the train station only to find the station devoid of both trains and ponies. In the third dream she sat on the throne, waiting for someone who never came and when she went out to find out why, the castle had been deserted. After the fourth dream, one about her preparing for the Gala and going to the event only to see nopony, she gave up and dragged herself out of bed.
  1028.  
  1029. Princess Luna's hoofsteps were dampened into dull thuds by a plush red carpet. Her eyes wandered around the deserted throne room, from the floral-patterned pillars to the blue and yellow stained glass windows to her right, as she trotted towards the gilded seat. The lingering remnants of sleep still addled her mind, but not so much she couldn't think of her sister. Perhaps she had left a note on the throne, like she sometimes did when she was busy.
  1030.  
  1031. She looked upon the noteless throne when she heard the rapid clop of hooves from the corridor behind her.
  1032. “Princess Luna, you've got to come quick! Something's happened to Princess Celestia!”
  1033. She turned around to see a gray unicorn in gilded armor galloping towards her.
  1034. “What is it?”
  1035. The unicorn, whom she now recognized as Silver Spear, slid to a halt in front of her.
  1036. ”I don't know, Princess Luna, it was over in an instant.”
  1037. “What happened to my sister?”
  1038. Luna narrowed her eyes and leaned in.
  1039. “I- I really don't know, she was there and then he did something and then I don't know!”
  1040. The guardspony shied away from her, looking away and leaning backwards as much as he could without moving his hooves. She lifted a hoof off the floor, put it on his chin and forced him to look at her.
  1041. “Where is she. Tell. Me.”
  1042. His lips quivered as Luna felt him feebly fight her hoof and try to look away, but she held firm.
  1043. “I... I don't... She's in his room, with the alien, she's... I don't know!”
  1044. He squeezed his eyes shut, and Luna felt him shake. She let go of him and spread her wings with a loud fwam.
  1045.  
  1046. The castle's hallways were a blur as she sped through them, her speed second only to the very best of the Wonderbolts. Furniture and ponies alike were caught in the maelstroms she left behind, but those were both equally unimportant to her. There was only one thing on her mind as she flew up the stairs and came to a sudden stop on the landing at the top.
  1047.  
  1048. The solid stone of the floor between the bed and the desk had been bent and stretched into a shape of an upside-down funnel, ending in a sharp point at about Luna's chest level. It looked like the very reality itself had been drawn towards the point, like everything had become liquid and there had been something sucking that liquid towards itself at that spot. The sheets on the bed had ripples on top of them, as did the wood of the bed itself, and the floor and the windows and-
  1049.  
  1050. Celestia was lying on the floor close to the door. She was on her side, all four hooves sprawled out on the stone tiling, and her eyes were closed.
  1051. “Sister!”
  1052. Luna rushed over to her. She swiped the mane off her face and pressed an ear on her chest. Ta-thum. Ta-thum. Ta-thum. Hearing the heartbeat sent a tiny bit of a relief through her.
  1053. “Celestia?”
  1054. She called again as she gently shook her sister, but did not get even a twitch out of her. Then she noticed Celestia's limbs slowly move and nearly cried out in joy, but the smile died on her face as they limply returned to the positions they'd been before, pulled down by gravity.
  1055. “Wake up, sister.”
  1056. She nuzzled her sister's soft cheek, then put her cheek next to her muzzle and felt the slightest of air currents tickle her fur. She took a step back, and watched. Celestia lay there, the barely visible movement of her chest being the only sign of life. Her mane and coat were as pristine as ever, giving no hint of what had happened to her. There was no trace of the alien or his device, even the paper bag of spare parts was no longer on the desk she'd seen it on, nor was the soldering iron Twilight had lent him.
  1057.  
  1058. Luna wasn't sure if she should bolt down the stairs and call for help or stay for a while and try to figure out what had happened. It was possible that her sister was in the need of medical aid, but she had a feeling the doctors of Canterlot General couldn't help her – something about the disturbed floor formation and the ripples in solid wood, glass and stone told her that. Silver Spear could have had something more to tell, but he probably wasn't in the best state of mind for more questioning.
  1059.  
  1060. She decided to investigate for a while, and trotted to the upside-down funnel made of floor tiling. It was perfectly symmetrical no matter which direction she looked from, and reminded her of some mathematical shape she couldn't remember the name of. She tapped it lightly with a hoof, and confirmed it was solid with a swift kick. It was like she kicked solid bedrock, it neither yielded nor budged. A moment later she left the curiosity alone as it held no immediate answers and turned to look at the glass of the window. It looked like a pond after a sudden gust had created ripples on the surface. She slid a hoof on the pane, feeling each bump of a wave. What could've caused such things? The alien and his device sprung to her mind, but neither was present – unlike her sister. She'd let Twilight take a look at the room later, maybe she could figure out something, but Luna had more urgent matters on her hooves.
  1061.  
  1062. Twilight Sparkle
  1063.  
  1064. Twilight was in her room, reading about refraction from one book while levitating another, a more general one about physics. She was greatly annoyed when rapid knocking from her door interrupted her train of thought.
  1065. “Yes, yes, come in.”
  1066. She kept looking at the book, trying to remember where she'd been, and only cast a sideways glance at the guardspony who'd come into her room.
  1067. “Princess Twilight? I bring a message from Princess Luna: 'Code Nova'”
  1068. The book made a loud thump as it fell to the floor. Twilight stared straight ahead without seeing anything, completely frozen in place. It took a full second for her to remember to breathe, and another before she slowly turned to look at the guard with wide eyes.
  1069. “Did you just... Did you say 'Code Nova?'”
  1070. Code Nova. It meant something had happened to Princess Celestia and she was unable to fulfill her duties.
  1071. “Uh... Y-yes? Yes, that's what Princess Luna told me to tell you.”
  1072. But what could it be? Should she call her friends? Had Chrysalis returned or had there been some other kind of a disaster? But Luna had sent the guard, and he didn't look distressed, so had it been something that only affected Celestia? She realized she'd left her mouth hanging open while staring at the guard, and quickly took a more regal stance.
  1073. “Thank you.”
  1074. She closed her eyes to help focus her mind for a spell, then felt a little stupid and opened them again.
  1075. “Where was she when she gave you the order?”
  1076.  
  1077. Her magic crackled in the air as it punched a hole through space and transported her into the throne room. Luna was there, standing between two pillars near one of the stained glass windows. The captain of the guard was with her, holding his helmet to his chest with one hoof.
  1078. “Twilight, good that you're here.”
  1079. Luna was unfazed by her sudden appearance. Both her and the captain looked at Twilight with serious expressions on their faces.
  1080. “Princess Luna! What's going on? What's happened to Celestia? Is she going to be okay? Why did you-”
  1081. “Twilight.”
  1082. Her voice was deep and assertive.
  1083. “My sister is not currently in danger, and I am doing my best to find out what happened. I was hoping you could help me; can I trust you with a task or are you too distressed to be of any help?”
  1084. Twilight looked at her own hooves and the polished floor beneath them for a bit, then back at her.
  1085. “I'm sorry. I'll help you any way I can, I promise.”
  1086. “Good.”
  1087. Luna flashed a smile at her, but did not manage to hide the concern in her eyes.
  1088. “Could you go talk to Silver Spear, he was with my sister when it happened and was the one to inform me of it. He should have had time to calm down by now.”
  1089. She turned her head towards the stallion next to her.
  1090. “Captain, I trust you can show Twilight where to find him. You will find me in her room with the doctors if something comes up.”
  1091.  
  1092. Twilight banged her hoof on the door the captain of the guard told her about. It led to one of the break rooms for the castle's staff. It and the corridor it was in were only remarkable in how they lacked posh finishing touches like gilded doorknobs most of the castle had. She soon heard sounds of somepony moving from within, and the door was opened by a wide-eyed gray unicorn who had his ears put back.
  1093. “Hi! Princess Luna sent me to check on you, are you doing okay?”
  1094. Silver Spear didn't quite meet her eyes, opting to look at the base of her horn instead.
  1095. “Yeah, I guess, I mean, no, but... You want to know what happened, don't you?”
  1096. Had her overly wide grin of a smile really been that bad?
  1097. “Uh. Yeah.”
  1098. The unicorn opened the door wider and stepped out of the way, finally looking her in the eyes as she passed by.
  1099.  
  1100. The only thing keeping silence from taking over were the high-pitched dings as Twilight stirred the tea in her cup.
  1101. “I thought it was a little weird, but she told me to follow her up to the tower and then had me stand guard at the door to make sure nopony would go in.”
  1102. Silver took a sip from his cup and gently placed his cup back on the table between them, barely making a sound.
  1103. “Of course, I did as she told me to. They talked for good a while, maybe half an hour or a bit more – I'm not sure about what, I couldn't make out what they were saying.”
  1104. His eyes followed Twilight's spoon as she lifted it out of the cup.
  1105. “I stopped paying attention to them at some point, so I'm not really sure what happened from then on before the alien suddenly yelled 'No, I can't- Get away!'”
  1106. He put his elbows on the table and held his head between his forehooves.
  1107. “He sounded terrified and panicky, so I slammed open the door and...”
  1108. His eyes glazed over as he fell silent. Twilight waited patiently, blowing at her tea to cool it down before taking a sip.
  1109. “I saw it. There was a tiny pinprick of utter darkness in the middle of the room, and it was drawing everything towards it. I saw, I saw a strand of gold, like a thread, flow from Princess Celestia's horn into the... the thing and then there was a bright flash that blinded me.”
  1110. Twilight nodded at him as he looked at her, hoping he'd continue despite how his voice wavered.
  1111. “When I could see again, she was lying on the floor. I tried to wake her up, but I couldn't, so I ran to get Princess Luna.”
  1112.  
  1113. A somber-looking Luna sat next to Celestia's bed, her head bowed so her horn was nearly level with the floor. She did not turn to look at Twilight as she walked in, only swiveling an ear towards her.
  1114. “What did he say?”
  1115. Her voice was quiet and tone low, like she was dead tired.
  1116. “Not that much.”
  1117. Twilight recounted what she'd heard. The tip of Luna's horn gradually rose as she listened until it was pointing almost straight up.
  1118. “I see.” Her voice had regained a bit of its color. “I was told there was nothing wrong with her, as far as the doctor could tell. She's just... not here.”
  1119. She finally craned her neck and looked at Twilight. There were dark shadow beneath her eyes but her expression was otherwise neutral.
  1120. “So... what should we do now? If she or some part of her is in the alien's world, what can we do bring her back? I mean, he tried to explain how his device worked but I have no idea how to replicate any of that – or if it is even possible.”
  1121. Luna closed her eyes and let out a sigh.
  1122. “I don't know, Twilight. I don't know.”
  1123.  
  1124. The guard at the base of the tower where Anonymous' room was clipped a forehoof to the rim of his helmet and stepped to the side as Twilight approached him. She was nearly certain she wouldn't find out anything important up there as she laid a hoof on the first of many steps, but Luna had asked that she'd go take a look. She hadn't dared to turn her down, not when she was so stricken by what had happened to Celestia. It wasn't all that apparent, but Luna hid her emotions in much the same way as her sister did, and Twilight had learned to glimpse past the facade. She was afraid. Confused, and afraid. Afraid of being alone again. Afraid that the rift between worlds had closed forever, trapping her sibling on the other side.
  1125.  
  1126. Twilight knew what it was immediately. The surface of revolution of 1/x. Mathematically perfect no matter which direction she looked from. She slid a hoof on the surface of the anomaly, feeling its unreal smoothness. Even the seams between the floor tiles it was made of were completely leveled out. She took a step back and closed her eyes, feeling the swirl of magic in the room before trying to force it into order. Her eyes moved behind closed eyelids as she recalled the makings of a spell and willed it into existence. The swirl turned into a raging maelstrom, strong enough to cause the air in the room to move with it and turn into a deafening gale. She felt her mane whipping the back of her neck as she spread her hooves a bit wider. Leaning into the wind to stay upright, she reached out with three feelers that sprouted from her horn, each made of pure magic. Anomalous. Disrupted. Twisted. Torn. Bent and broken. She touched upon the very fabric of reality, and found it damaged. In the very middle of the room, right above the revolution surface, one of her feelers found a tiny pinprick of a hole.
  1127.  
  1128. A greenish light shone through closed curtains, leaving the room too dark to see color or make out the writing on the backs of the books in the bookshelf. A mess of thin cables crisscrossed on the floor, all leading to or from an empty spot in the middle of the room. The bed in the corner of the room was unmade and there was a small pile of papers on top of it. There were even more papers on the desk, along with a single screen and a keyboard. The chair-
  1129.  
  1130. Her forehooves gave out and she collapsed onto the floor. A dull thumping pain filled her head, and she felt her stomach contract. She barely managed to hold on to her dinner, lying on the cool stone of the floor while gasping for air with her eyes shut. Shakily pushing herself off the floor, she cracked open her eyes to look at the destruction her spell had caused – only to see that the room was precisely as it had been. The curtains were still drawn, the covers of the bed were just as she remembered them and the inexplicably perfect shape was still in the middle of the room. Had she imagined it? The storm her magic had created? She cast another, simpler spell and reached out with a magical feeler again, but found nothing.
  1131.  
  1132. “...but when I tried again I couldn't find anything. I'm not even sure if I only imagined it all and there was never anything to be found.”
  1133. Princess Luna nodded in acknowledgment and set a hoof on the throne's hoofrest.
  1134. “It is not like you to doubt your magic, Twilight. Is there some reason why it couldn't have happened?”
  1135. “Well, it's...” Twilight thought of the unruffled sheets and curtains, having to admit that they weren't solid evidence. “...it's just the feeling I got. But you're right, it's better to assume it did happen.”
  1136. The corners of Luna's mouth curled upwards as a smile took over her face.
  1137. “Then that gives us something to work with. I believe sister's school would be a good place to start asking about similar phenomena, they should at least be able to tell which books you should study.”
  1138.  
  1139. The night shift had taken over and the moon was high in the star-speckled sky when Twilight returned to the castle. Tiredness pressed on her mind like a heavy blanket as she wandered through the quiet corridors. She knocked twice on the door to Celestia's room before pushing it open and going in. Luna was sitting beside her sister, holding her hoof, and was looking at Twilight when she opened the door. There was sadness in her eyes but the corners of her mouth were upturned. Twilight cast her gaze down at her own hooves in answer to the unasked question.
  1140. “They suggested a few books for me to read.” Her voice was hoarse and her words slurred. “I'll take a look at them the first thing tomorrow. I'm afraid I'd fall asleep if I did it now.”
  1141. Luna said nothing. She let go of her sister's hoof, stood up, and walked past Twilight and out of the room, her face downcast the entire way.
  1142.  
  1143. Twilight groaned as she woke up and slowly peeled her cheek off the page it had got glued on. She rubbed her eyes with a hoof and looked upwards to see sunlight streaming in through the windows near the ceiling, illuminating the upper parts of the bookshelves around her. Her stomach grumbled and reminded her that she hadn't eaten since last evening. She shook the worst of the sleepiness out of her head and took a few shaky steps towards the dining room.
  1144.  
  1145. The food-laden tray did not last long under Twilight's ravenous assault. The bustle of the lunchtime dining room felt weird after a full day in the quiet of the library, but she did not let it distract her from stuffing herself with food.
  1146.  
  1147. She stopped herself just short of touching the door when she heard Luna's voice.
  1148. “I asked them to arrange the decorations just the way you like them. You know, with yellow roses and red tulips.”
  1149. Should she come back later to give her the lack of news?
  1150. “Or do you think I should have gone with what I'd like? I think I'd like heather... Or bluebells. Maybe both.”
  1151. Twilight pushed away the sentimentality that had crept into her and tapped three heavy knocks on the door.
  1152. “Come in.”
  1153. She edged into the room after opening the door just enough for her to fit through. Her wings brushed against both the door and the frame. Luna was once again sitting beside her sister's bed while holding one of the white hooves between her dark blue ones. The shadows beneath her eyes had grown long and dark and the mascara she wore had become smudged near the corners of her eyes.
  1154. “Hi Princess Luna. How are you doing?”
  1155. Twilight tried a friendly smile as Luna's gaze fell to the floor between them.
  1156. “I am fine, Twilight. As fine as I can be while trying to keep Equestria running without neglecting my own duties.” She fell silent for a second and looked back up at Twilight. “Did you find out anything?”
  1157. “Well...” She rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “There's still a few books I haven't checked.”
  1158. Luna let her head fall onto the bed and let out a long, drawn-out sigh.
  1159.  
  1160. Twilight returned to Canterlot two days later. She'd stopped by Ponyville to make sure Spike was fine and she and Starlight had then gone to see Sunburst to ask if he had any ideas. He did, but none of them worked. The only good news she brought with her as she stepped off the evening train in Canterlot Station was that Shining Armor had promised to come and help them. He'd said he'd take the first morning train. She trotted through the main doors and onto the busy street, then glanced upwards. The moon hung alone in the sky, just like it had last night, a solitary light in the starless void.
  1161.  
  1162. “So, how did it go?”
  1163. There was a glimmer of hope in Luna's voice and the smile on her face seemed genuine. The thought of answering wrenched Twilight's heart and she couldn't meet her eyes, choosing to look at one of the throne room's pillars instead.
  1164. “Well, he said he has a few ideas he could still try once he's had time to look up a few things...”
  1165. She heard Luna's hooves tread on the floor and saw her turn around with her head hanging low. Her lower lip was trembling and there were spots of dampness forming in the corners of her eyes.
  1166. “I see.”
  1167. The tone of her voice was low and monotone and lacked any signs of hopefulness.
  1168. “But my brother said he'd come help us tomorrow morning!”
  1169. Twilight tried to keep her voice full of cheer, but seeing Luna like that made it difficult.
  1170. “Thank you, Twilight. I'm sure he'll be able to help us.”
  1171. She could only listen to the slow clops of shod hooves as Luna headed out of the room. She wished to help, or at least console, but didn't know how.
  1172.  
  1173. The pancakes had been her idea.
  1174. “Look sister, isn't it glorious?”
  1175. She watched as Luna floated one of them, decorated with fruit, berries and whipped cream in the shape of a smiley face, in front of Celestia's unknowing face.
  1176. “They're so delicious, I made them with Twilight and we even added that little extra bit of sugar you always want in them.”
  1177. The overtly cheery tone of her voice made it even worse. Twilight had to squeeze shut her eyes as she heard the clinking of the knife on the platter as Luna cut a piece off the stack.
  1178. “Mmh, so good.”
  1179. Her voice was muffled by the bit of pancake in her mouth. Twilight dared herself to look again. She'd set the plate on her sister's nightstand and was chewing on one of the pieces she'd cut off, with the fork floating next to her horn.
  1180. “Are you sure you don't want any?”
  1181. The platter rose off the stand and floated over Celestia's body. Luna had a wide smile on her face but there was a lot off about it. Her eyes were watery, her teeth peeked from between her lips and she had a twitch in one eye.
  1182. “Here, let me help you with it...”
  1183. Clink, clank. The knife cut through the pile again and the fork skewered one of the pieces.
  1184. “Open wide!”
  1185. Celestia did not move in the slightest.
  1186. “N-no? Well, how about we make another one of those smiley faces? That's your favorite part, isn't it?”
  1187. Twilight drew breath, meaning to tell her to stop, but no words came to her. She couldn't think of anything to say, and only watched as Luna scooped off the topmost of the pancakes and floated over the bowl of whipped cream.
  1188.  
  1189. Luna let go of her sister's limp hoof, which she had used to press blueberries into the whipped cream, as the plates and bowls and cutlery crashed, clinked and shattered onto the floor around her. Her head fell onto the sheets, burying her face in the soft fabric. A sob shook her body. Twilight saw damp spots form around her eyes.
  1190. “She's... She's not coming back, is she?”
  1191.  
  1192. ???
  1193.  
  1194. Lavender.
  1195. The scent of lavender.
  1196. There was something inexplicably familiar about the scent of the soap he'd washed his hands with. He lifted his hand to his face and smelled his forefinger. It was mixed with the smell of the soap itself, but it was there. He racked his brain to try and remember what lavender reminded him of, turning his hands around in front of the mirror while looking at his palms and fingers. Their reflection looked weird, like-
  1197.  
  1198. Pure white, with gold shoes.
  1199.  
  1200. -something had happened to them, but he could not remember. Had he cut his finger? Burned one? But he could see no scars, no burns, nothing but the intricate pattern of his fingerprints. He looked at the mirror and at the backs of his hands. Nothing there, either, though his nails had got a bit long. His eyes wandered upwards until they met their own reflection, which looked-
  1201.  
  1202. Pink, oh so pink, and large.
  1203.  
  1204. -the same they always had. The irises were just as he remembered them, with their darker and lighter spots. The only thing out of the ordinary was the slight reddish tint of the white of his eyes. But he had woken up not long ago and was still tired, like he had not slept enough. He really should go back to bed for another hour or two. Sighing, he ran his hand through his hair-
  1205.  
  1206. Which had all the colors of the rainbow in it and flowed in an ethereal breeze.
  1207.  
  1208. -and was suddenly attacked by extreme dizziness. He staggered backwards, and then lost his balance and fell... And fell... And fell...
  1209.  
  1210. Three heavy knocks rang out on his door. He lifted his chin off his palm and set the glass and the amber-colored whiskey he had been swirling in it down on the table his elbow was resting on. His footsteps were shaky and he nearly lost his balance on his way, but he did make it to the door and put his hand on the handle before looking behind himself. There was a white unicorn, with wings on her back and with a rainbow-colored mane, looking at him with wide eyes. He let out a sigh, did his best to ignore it and pushed down the handle.
  1211.  
  1212. “Hi. I... hadn't heard from you for a while so I came to see you.”
  1213. A woman, only a little shorter than him and with a shy smile on her face, greeted him.
  1214. “Oh, great.”
  1215. He rolled his eyes but stepped out of the way and gestured her to come in.
  1216. “You don't sound too happy.”
  1217. She marched into the kitchen and sat down, casting a disapproving glance at the whiskey on the table.
  1218. “I could tell you but you wouldn't believe me.”
  1219. The chair scraped the floor as he pulled it back and sat. She cast him another one of her disapproving glances as he grabbed the glass and downed the whiskey in it in one go.
  1220. “Try me.”
  1221.  
  1222. “...and now I keep seeing and hearing a talking unicorn with wings on her back and a crown on her head.”
  1223. He ran his finger along the rim of his glass, and the sound it made was the only one in the room for a good while.
  1224. “You're high, aren't you?”
  1225. His finger stopped and he looked up at her.
  1226. “Am I? Because I wish I was.”
  1227. “But...”
  1228. She stared at him, her eyes wide and mouth left hanging open. An amused smile crept onto his face as he watched her.
  1229. “...but that's... Incredible. You, you have made first contact! Just bring one of those 'ponies' here and you'll be famous beyond belief!”
  1230. Her voice grew in volume and her tone became increasingly excited as she went on, her face lighting up to match it.
  1231. “I can't. Before I came back, I swore to not risk their world. I'm afraid of what would happen if I ever publish my findings.”
  1232. The fire in her eyes did not dim despite his tone being dead serious.
  1233. “But you have to! You can't pass this up, it's too important! I mean, think of all the history books you'll be in and all the money you could get by licensing your machine!”
  1234. He knew he had lost hope of convincing her.
  1235.  
  1236. Princess Celestia
  1237.  
  1238. Princess Celestia knew Anonymous had woken up when she saw the ceiling above his bed turn from an undefined white blur to a far more detailed representation of the paint and the bumps it had in it. He groaned and rubbed his forehead before propping himself into a sitting position with his hands. As he looked down, the ceiling became a blur again but she could see the pictures of ships his covers had on them. The little bit of faint, greenish light from the nearby streetlight that made it through the closed curtains wasn't nearly enough to see color, but Celestia still saw the blue of the waves and the yellow and red of the ships.
  1239.  
  1240. “Every morning I wake up, and hope the first thing I see will not be you. But every time I wake up, you are sitting right there just to remind me of my mistake.”
  1241. Anonymous let out a groan and ran his fingers through his hair while muttering something she didn't understand.
  1242. “And I keep telling you to stop blaming yourself of it. All you wanted to do was return home; I cannot blame you for it.”
  1243. He blew some air out of his nose in a way that resembled a chuckle as a twisted smile took over his face.
  1244. “And which one of us has driven himself halfway insane by spending several days poring over the data generated by two inter-dimensional jumps and comparing it to his calculations, only to find out he made a mistake in assuming the machine would not find a nigh-infinite supply of power to kick itself into a positive feedback loop? I ignored the first rule of amplifiers and built one with poles in the right half of the complex pane and assumed a limited power supply would limit its output.”
  1245. Celestia couldn't quite meet his eyes as he looked at her, for she didn't even understand what he just said. Her heart wanted to talk him into forgiving himself, but he sounded like he really had broken some base rule that should never be broken.
  1246. “But you're right about one thing: I did not mean to do any of it. That does not change the fact that it happened and that I am responsible for it, or the fact that my so-called friend has decided to spread the story as far and wide as she can despite the fact that nobody believes her?”
  1247.  
  1248. It happened several days ago. She'd got sucked into his world and had woken up to find out she was only a part of his mind and only saw what he saw, or remembered if it wasn't in his line of sight. None of the other humans had reacted to her speech or gestures even when she'd waved a hoof right in front of their faces when he had gone to meet them. She'd trotted right through them when she'd tried to ram into them to get them to quit fooling around.
  1249.  
  1250. “Say, I have been thinking about this.”
  1251. Anonymous put his spoon back into the cereal bowl.
  1252. “Why was I drawn into your world? Was it the only one? Pure blind luck?”
  1253. His brow furrowed as his eyes bored into Celestia.
  1254. “It's because of the horn piece. It acted as an anchor and drew you to Equestria.”
  1255. “Hm.”
  1256. He thumbed his clean-shaven chin.
  1257. “So after I got there, my energy level or something started draining and you thought it could be dangerous.”
  1258. She nodded at him, raising a brow at him after she'd done so.
  1259. “If my energy level started draining after I came to your world, what has happened to your energy level now that you're in my world?”
  1260. “I...”
  1261. Celestia felt her eyes lost focus as she recalled the conversation she'd had with Twilight. She didn't feel anything weird, but then again she didn't have a body either. Or rather, she did but it was not in this world. Was it enough that her body was in Equestria where it could replenish its supply of magic?
  1262. “...I'm not certain.”
  1263. She swallowed quite loudly.
  1264.  
  1265. “I never told you why I had to return, did I?”
  1266. The hinges of the closet creaked quietly as Anonymous pulled it open and reached downwards to get his shoes out.
  1267. “No. I always thought it was something personal, like a mare and foals.”
  1268. His fingers stopped their dance with the shoelaces as looked up and at her with a raised brow.
  1269. “I do not have a wife or kids. The girl I am seeing is... well, I have known her for many years but both of us have had others. Maybe we will end up together one day. But she is not why. Remember when I told you of the horn shard?”
  1270. “You said it was sold as an occult item and was for black magic?”
  1271. He stood up and reached into the closet again, this time taking out his jacket.
  1272. “Well, yes. But it is only a small piece of the whole thing. I left the larger part behind and now I am afraid the people I worked with will figure out what I did with it and replicate my results.”
  1273. Celestia felt her ears perk up. Was he really so worried about what his people would do?
  1274. “Why keep that a secret? I would have done everything I can to aid you.”
  1275. He pulled a beanie over his head and placed a gloved hand on the door handle before pausing to look back at her.
  1276. “If you want to help me now, you could go to sleep. It should be about the time for that. I really do not need any distractions.”
  1277.  
  1278. Celestia caught herself nodding off soon after they got on a bus. She hadn't had nearly any control over when she slept for the last few days, and had been awake for the whole night when Anonymous slept, so it did not come as a surprise to her.
  1279. “I'm going to sleep now.”
  1280. Either Anonymous did not hear her or then he did but didn't want to look odd talking to nothing, but he didn't react in any way to her words. She laid down on the aisle, put her forehooves under her chin and gave in to the waves of drowsiness.
  1281.  
  1282. She dreamed of lying in bed, like she had every time ever since it happened. She couldn't see anything. Her eyes were closed and she couldn't open them, not matter how hard she tried. Sometimes, if she tried really hard, she could make her right ear twitch slightly, but otherwise she could not move. It was like she had been cast in concrete.
  1283.  
  1284. The sound of hoofsteps came from somewhere. She had completely lost track of time due to her sensory deprivation and thought it was just her brain making up something to fill the void, but the sound persisted and became louder. It was coming closer, and soon she heard the click and a creak of a door opening.
  1285. “Luna, are you sure this is a good idea?”
  1286. Twilight's voice. Her right ear twitched. She tried to open her eyes, move her head, lift the covers off herself, anything. But she couldn't.
  1287. “Of course. Why would it not be?”
  1288. Luna. She was close. The scent of fresh pancakes reached her nostrils.
  1289. “It's just... Never mind.”
  1290. If only she could move, tell them she was there, they could help. The sound of cutlery hitting dishware filled her ears, and she could smell the sweetness of whipped cream mixed with pineapple and blueberry.
  1291. “Look sister, isn't it glorious?”
  1292.  
  1293. Somepony touched her. Grabbed her hoof.
  1294. “I-it's fine, let me help.”
  1295. Luna's voice trembled and Celestia could feel the shakiness of the hoof that had grabbed hers.
  1296. “Here, y-you like strawberries, right?”
  1297. A berry was placed in her hoof before the hoof was pressed into something damp and foamy.
  1298. “There.”
  1299. Please, she pleaded to whatever force holding her there, let me move. Just a bit. A hoof, my lips, anything. But her hopes were in vain. The only thing that made her move was Luna as she put another berry into the hoof she was holding and pressed it into the foamy substance again.
  1300. “That wasn't so hard, was it?”
  1301. Celestia heard a sniffle and felt a droplet fall on her covers.
  1302. “This-”
  1303. Luna's voice broke. She sniffled again, and then Celestia heard a multitude of crashes, clinks and smashes from around herself. Something heavy, warm and soft fell on her. She felt her cover get damp near it.
  1304. “She's not coming back, is she?”
  1305.  
  1306. Celestia woke up to find herself in Anonymous' room. The bookshelf and the books in it were illuminated by the lamp hanging from the ceiling, but the words on their backs meant nothing to her. A mess of thin cables crisscrossed on the floor, all leading to or from the device of his that was in the middle of the room. He was sitting on the chair made of old, heavily worn wood, intensely studying the screen of his computer.
  1307. “How long did I sleep?”
  1308. She rose onto her hooves and stretched a rear hoof as far back as she could, letting out a satisfied groan, then repeated the procedure with the other hoof.
  1309. “About seven hours. Long enough for me to do almost everything I had to.”
  1310. He spun himself around on the chair, hanging an arm over the backrest.
  1311. “Oh. And what was it you had to do?”
  1312. Her mind was still muddled by her sleep and she couldn't think as clearly as she would've liked.
  1313. “Here, take a look...”
  1314. He stuck a hand in his pocket and dug out a bundle of fabric, then pulled one corner until something conical rolled onto his hand. Celestia's eyes went wide as she recognized the grooved object.
  1315. “All I had to do was tell them I had forgotten something in the laboratory when I was fired.”
  1316. She stared wordlessly at the horn in his hand. Only a tiny piece near the point was missing.
  1317. “There is a handful of adjustments I still have to do and then I will gather all my plans and sketches. Then I will send them, and us, back to your world.”
  1318.  
  1319. “Are you ready?”
  1320. He was squatting beside the pile of paper. The machine on top of it made clicking noises as he pressed some of the buttons on it.
  1321. “I suppose I am.”
  1322. Celestia sat down next to the pile, her heart pounding in anticipation. Anonymous kept clicking the buttons without pause.
  1323. “There we go, now I only have to-”
  1324. Bang. There was a sudden flash of light inside the machine accompanied by a loud noise. Anonymous flinched away from it and shook his hand like he was trying to cool it down while muttering something she couldn't understand.
  1325. “What happened? Are you okay?”
  1326. She stood up and trotted closer to see that one of his fingertips was blackened. A thin stream of blood was oozing form under the fingernail.
  1327. “Stings like a...”
  1328. He said something she couldn't understand again. Then everything stopped. For a moment, the entire world stood still. A tiny pinprick of darkness appeared in the machine. The whole room stretched infinitely towards it, never quite reaching it. There was a sudden flash.
  1329.  
  1330. Princess Luna
  1331.  
  1332. Princess Luna could not sleep. She tossed and turned in bed for what seemed like an eternity before finally giving up. She slipped on her shoes and left her room. The corridors of the castle were unusually quiet that morning as she wandered towards her sister's room. For some weird reason she felt like she had to go see her.
  1333.  
  1334. “Hi. I'm back since I couldn't sleep. Weird, isn't it? Me not being able to sleep.”
  1335. She babbled in front of Celestia's unconscious body, no longer even hoping she would respond. It just felt like the right thing to do.
  1336. “Twilight was-”
  1337. Something was off. The air in the room started moving and she felt something stir the magic. She rose onto her hooves and took a step back when a sphere of pure blackness appeared in the air in the middle of the room. It made a loud bang and a bright flash, which deafened and blinded her momentarily.
  1338.  
  1339. She smelled acrid smoke, like from a chemical fire. As her vision slowly returned, she saw a pile of papers on the floor in front of her, along with the alien's device. What was it doing here? And-
  1340. There was someone's horn on top of it. A complete horn, only with a tiny piece missing near the tip. She trotted closer. It was old, very old, clearly off someone long dead. Beneath the horn was a note in poor handwriting, hastily written. She was about to move the horn and read the note when she heard Celestia gasp for air behind her.
  1341.  
  1342. “Sister!”
  1343. She turned around and looked into Celestia's large, pink eyes. A wave of emotion welled inside her and she felt tears rising into her eyes.
  1344. “Hi.”
  1345. Her sister's voice was weak and silent, but it was there. Luna trotted closer and wrapped her hooves around her.
  1346. “What happened?”
  1347. She released her embrace and pulled back. Celestia craned her neck to look around like she was searching for something.
  1348. “Anonymous? Where is he?”
  1349. Luna took a step back in confusion. She looked back at the pile of paper and machine.
  1350. “The only thing that appeared is that. I have not seen him.”
  1351. She pointed at the pile with a hoof, and remembered about the note she'd seen. Her horn lit up with magic and the piece of paper floated over to her. She turned it around so it was the right way up, only to realize she couldn't understand a single word on it.
  1352.  
  1353. Despite their best efforts, no trace of Anonymous was found. Twilight, Starlight and Sunburst managed to translate the note he had written, along with the plans and blueprints of his device. The former was sent to Princess Celestia and the latter were incinerated along with the machine itself.
  1354.  
  1355. 'Celestia,
  1356. I hope you will never have to read this, but I found a very worrying fact while going over the data I gathered. The EM field readings were different on both crossings and if the two data points form a trend, then the third crossing will fail and send me... somewhere. There is another thing I did not tell you about. I received a phone call on my way back home today. It was my former boss. He was looking at the security camera footage of me stealing back the horn. He offered me a choice: I could either tell him why I stole it, or he would make sure I end up in jail. I chose option three and trust myself to the hands of whatever chaotic formula governs inter-dimensional crossings.'
  1357. The letter was signed by someone none of them had heard of before.
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