PTFG

Reflection

Dec 30th, 2020
113
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  1. “Good morning.”
  2. >Your eyes opened slowly, almost all on their own.
  3. >And you were instantly blown away by what you saw.
  4. >Sunlight seemed to have become super condensed above you, shooting just below the high arching marble ceiling above in strange arcs and even tight twists and turns.
  5. >Everything was… blurry, it was strange.
  6. “Ah yes, try blinking.”
  7. >That voice again, it was coming from your right.
  8. >It was so very feminine, soft and soothing like a mother might be.
  9. >You blinked and noticed that shortly after opening your eyes again the blurriness was gone.
  10. >You smiled, seeing how beautiful everything above you really was.
  11. >The light was dancing between floating crystals that glowed every color of the visible spectrum, rebounding silently and constantly.
  12. >Golden orbs hovered up there too, sometimes passing through beams of sunlight and glowing even brighter.
  13. >You could see the bright blue sky outside through the tall, old English style latticed windows in the wall at the other end of the room.
  14. >Beds in lines were arrayed from one end of the room to the other.
  15. >As far as you could tell, you were alone in this vast chamber with whoever was speaking.
  16. >This was all very strange, but you couldn’t really complain and there didn’t seem to be any reason to panic or worry at all.
  17. >Sighing happily, you spoke up.
  18. >”Where am I?”
  19. “You’re in the medical ward at the Royal Palace in Canterlot, youngling.”
  20. >That voice again, you turned onto your side to face the speaker.
  21. >She was a horse.
  22. >You did a triple take, your surprise and confusion building.
  23. >Her mane was a flowing rainbow, all shimmery in the light from above, and her fur was pure white.
  24. >She even had a unicorn horn and wings, both as pristine as alabaster.
  25. >There was a tender, loving smile on her snout, and her eyes shamed amethysts with how deep and purple they were.
  26.  
  27. >Just looking into those eyes seemed to calm you down.
  28. >It would be fine, you were in some sort of hospital and this lady horse almost certainly wasn’t going to hurt you.
  29. >You instinctively pulled your covers over your body, heartbeat slowing.
  30. >But at the back of your mind you noticed there was something very different here.
  31. >More so than the talking horse or the strange lights above you.
  32. >Unless you were imagining things, your voice was at a much higher pitch than it should be.
  33. >And your skin felt different too, the way it rubbed against the covers was smoother and there was no static at all.
  34. >Above all, the way your weight was distributed was obviously different.
  35. >Your hips and chest were pushing into the mattress much more than they should be, and you felt a strange heaviness around your backside.
  36. >The horse set one of her fore hooves on the bed and gazed into your eyes.
  37. “I’m here to help you take all this in slowly. This land is called Equestria, and it is filled with magic.”
  38. >You laughed.
  39. >”This is definitely a dream. But what’s your name?”
  40. >The lady horse giggled, her mane bobbing a little.
  41. “I’m Princess Celestia. What makes you say this is a dream little one?”
  42. >”There’s no such thing as magic.”
  43. >Yeah that was much easier, this was all just a dream.
  44. >That’s why you felt all weird, you must be having some sort of lucid dream.
  45. “If the dream is lucid then you should be able to change it as you see fit, right?”
  46. >You blinked and focused on Princess Celestia again.
  47. >”Can you read my mind?”
  48. >She smiled wider.
  49. “Sorry, that was a little obtrusive of me. But your Stream speaks to me, it seems to speak to everyone in fact.”
  50. >Your brows furrowed as you mulled that over.
  51. >”So you’re saying everyone can read my- No. Stop. Dream, it’s just a dream. And you’re right, I can change this, I’ll change it right now.”
  52.  
  53. >Celestia pulled her hoof away and sat up straight in her chair.
  54. >She didn’t say a word while you focused hard on the dream, she just smiled.
  55. >You’d give yourself a mug full of hot chocolate and a fresh pair of pyjamas, it was impossible not to be comfortable with all that.
  56. >You closed your eyes, sat up in bed and thought hard.
  57. >Hot chocolate.
  58. >Pyjamas.
  59. >…
  60. >You opened your eyes and looked down at yourself.
  61. >Pearly white scales covered your entire body, and your fingers ended in claws.
  62. >Your features were slimmed down in the waist and more than just “noticeably” widened in the hips.
  63. >You gulped, like you were staring down a double barrel instead of a pair of breasts.
  64. >Which were attached to your chest.
  65. >Your breasts.
  66. >They were maybe uh…
  67. >You pushed the left one up a little, it was surprisingly heavy.
  68. >Yeah, you were a solid C cup, probably pushing up to D even.
  69. >”How…”
  70. “The latent magic in Equestria changed your form shortly after you arrived.”
  71. >You looked at Princess Celestia again.
  72. >She had a mug of what was unmistakeably hot chocolate hovering in front of her.
  73. >Floating, wrapped in a golden light.
  74. >”Magic. This is all real.”
  75. >Celestia sipped on her hot chocolate.
  76. “Yes.”
  77. >You felt your blood rush up to your cheeks and you knew you were blushing a deep red through your pale scales.
  78. >”Could I get a pair of pyjamas then?”
  79. >Giggling, Celestia popped a pair of pyjamas into existence for you.
  80. >The pyjamas appeared neat, clean and folded at the end of your bed.
  81. >You blushed harder, staring at them, holding your covers up to your chest.
  82. >You’d hoped she would just magically poof them onto you.
  83. >But instead, Celestia was staring at you expectantly, and still with that smile.
  84. >”Do you mind uhh, turning around?”
  85. >Princess Celestia blinked, looking bemused, but she nodded and hovered herself and her chair around anyway.
  86. >You quickly got up out of bed and grabbed the white satin blouse that was laid out for you.
  87. >Fumbling a little because of your claws, you did up the buttons.
  88. >It covered you comfortably, the implication of Celestia knowing all of your measurements was a little unnerving though.
  89. >You still grabbed the pants anyway, and tried to pull them up, but to no avail.
  90. >They just kept bumping against something.
  91. >You blushed and cursed softly, thinking about how you must look with your butt hanging half out in front of a princess.
  92. >Still cursing, you looked behind you, down at your posterior.
  93. >Ah, you had a tail.
  94. >It was quite thick at the base, thicker than both of your arms, but it tapered off before flaring out into a soft looking, feathery spade.
  95. >Your first thought was that there must be a some sort of-
  96. “Would you like some help?”
  97. >You spun right around to face Celestia, or at least, Celestia’s side.
  98. >She’d craned her long neck out and had obviously been staring at you this whole time.
  99. >There wasn’t any sort of perverse lust or stiffness in her expression at all though.
  100. >Princess Celestia just smiled, looking mildly confused.
  101. >You on the other hand, you blushed and pulled up desperately on your pants, practically wedgying yourself.
  102. “Also, is there a particular reason for me turning around? Is this a custom where you’re from?”
  103. >”I’m naked!”
  104. >You hollered.
  105.  
  106. >Princess Celestia tilted her head a few degrees, very, very confused now.
  107. “Yes?”
  108. >You groaned and ran your hand up your snout and over your face.
  109. >But then it hit you, horses.
  110. >They must all be horses, if Princess Celestia was a horse, then there must be a shitload of other horses.
  111. >Horses don’t wear clothes.
  112. >Hell, all Celestia had on was some fancy golden jewelry.
  113. >You needed to articulate a little.
  114. >”Where I’m from, being naked is embarrassing. We always wear clothes and avoid being in the nude in front of pretty much anyone except for family and lovers.”
  115. >Princess Celestia’s eyes widened noticeably and she immediately turned again to face completely away from you.
  116. >Her voice came out as calm as ever.
  117. “I’m quite sorry youngling. I did not know.”
  118. >You took the chance to redouble your efforts trying to get your pants on.
  119. >As it turned out, there was an extra bit of gold patterned satin attached to the seat of the pants, intended to wrap around your tail.
  120. >Once you got that buttoned up you were all set, and seriously comfortable.
  121. >The satin felt incredible sliding smoothly against your pearly scales.
  122. >You stared down at yourself a bit more properly, taking in your features clearly.
  123. >There was a lot of strength in your tail, from what you could tell, and immediately you found that you could move it with surprising precision.
  124. >You might even be able to pick things up with it, it was that dextrous.
  125. >Your legs were digitigrade now too, not too extreme where you had no thighs, but noticeable enough in your toes and where your ankles started.
  126. >And you were shorter, standing at about five and a half feet tall.
  127. >It was all very weird, but somehow it wasn’t quite so surreal as before.
  128. “Is it alright to look now?”
  129. >You gasped softly.
  130. >”Oh, sorry. I got distracted. It’s fine.”
  131.  
  132. >Princess Celestia turned herself around one last time as you got back into bed, sitting up.
  133. >She was still sipping on her hot chocolate, and had a second one ready for you.
  134. >You took it graciously, remembering that you were speaking to royalty here.
  135. >”Thank you.”
  136. “It’s my pleasure, I love drink and talk.”
  137. >You giggled and took a big sip out of your mug.
  138. >Hot but not burning, incredibly well balanced between both dark and sweet to hit the mark on perfect chocolate taste.
  139. >Immediately after swallowing, you pulled the mug away from yourself and stared at it, brows up in disbelief.
  140. >”That’s the best I’ve ever had.”
  141. >Celestia winked, smiling with something like pride.
  142. “The best I’ve ever made.”
  143. >The two of you were quiet for a bit after that, just sipping hot chocolate.
  144. >Eventually though, you had to ask at least one question.
  145. >”Dragons don’t wear clothes do they?”
  146. >Celestia mulled her answer over a little bit, absentmindedly stirring her hot chocolate with magic.
  147. >You swore the mug she was using must be enchanted, it looked to be completely full, even though you’d seen the Princess take loads of sips and even a big gulp or two.
  148. >Celestia definitely had a huge sweet tooth, despite how mature and perfectly refined she seemed.
  149. ”Yes, they do not wear clothing, at least not at all times. Remember though…”
  150. >Princess Celestia raised a hoof and set it gently into your open palm.
  151. >Her hoof was warm, and her fur felt even nicer than the satin on your scales.
  152. “You can wear clothes, if you want to. No one will think badly of you.”
  153. >Maybe you were being a little prudish, you thought.
  154. >It wasn’t like Celestia or anyone else could actually see you naked, your scales covered you completely.
  155. >And they didn’t see any sort of shame in nudity at all.
  156. >When in Rome…
  157. >You handed Princess Celestia her empty mug back, and she promptly poofed it away.
  158. >Blushing again, you undid your blouse, folded it up and set it aside.
  159. >Then you did the same with your pants.
  160.  
  161. >Celestia looked surprised, but also amused.
  162. “I see, you’re going to go without.”
  163. >Your pyjamas popped out of existence and already you felt a twinge of regret.
  164. >Princess Celestia was looking at you.
  165. >It wasn’t like she was staring straight at your knockers but damn if you didn’t feel exposed.
  166. “If you were brave enough to take your clothes off that quickly, then I imagine you’ll get used to it quite quickly youngling.”
  167. >You nodded, picking your courage back up.
  168. >You could do this.
  169. >Right now though, there were some things you needed to sort out.
  170. >Sighing, you laid back in your bed, letting your head sink into the pillows.
  171. >A long feathery plume fell into your eyes, all shimmery and white.
  172. >Must be your hair now.
  173. >You blew it out of the way, up over one of your long horns.
  174. >”How long was I out for?”
  175. >Princess Celestia poofed her hot chocolate away and pulled her chair up closer to talk.
  176. >The emptiness of the room seemed emphasised now, and the condensed sunlight above dimmed just a little.
  177. >You hadn’t noticed before, but a surprising amount of time had gone by, the clear blue sky outside was a stunning array of reds and oranges now as the sun set.
  178. “You were unconscious for three days and three nights. You’re quite lucky.”
  179. >You blinked, surprised but not exactly shocked.
  180. >”Lucky?”
  181. >Celestia smiled, you could see a curious twinkle in her eyes, like amusement.
  182. “Yes. Very lucky. Out of all the places you could have popped up in Equestria, you appeared two feet above my bed at seven in the morning and landed right on top of me.”
  183. >You groaned and ran your hand through your feathers.
  184. >”Of course I did.”
  185.  
  186. “What’s lucky however is that I am almost certainly the only one in Equestria who could have prevented you from dying that day.”
  187. >Now you were shocked, you sat back up in bed, paying rapt attention to Princess Celestia.
  188. >”I almost died?”
  189. >She nodded, smiling brightly.
  190. “Almost. The transformation started as soon as you appeared, but it wasn’t taking place fast enough to protect you from the magic in the air.”
  191. >”Protect me? Isn’t magic… well I dunno, magic doesn’t seem evil or bad.”
  192. >Celestia touched her chin with her fore hoof, pondering.
  193. >After a minute or two, she spoke again.
  194. “Magic is neither good, nor evil. It is simply a force. As best as I can tell, your body before the transformation could not handle magic, and weakened rapidly once exposed to it.”
  195. >A blackboard suddenly popped up next to Princess Celestia.
  196. >Immediately she drew a stunningly accurate depiction of you when you were still human, then she added arrows labeled “magic” pointing at you.
  197. “Pure magic has an effect very similar to fate on anything that arrives in Equestria. Even foals are susceptible to it. They’re imbued with their cutie mark, a representation of their talents that appears as they grow up, the second they are born.”
  198. >Celestia looked at you expectantly, and with some concern too.
  199. >You nodded to show that you understood.
  200. >Smiling again, Princess Celestia drew a new arrow, pointing from your human form to the right.
  201. >Where the arrow was pointing, she sketched you out now, as a dragon.
  202. “But, foals have some resistance to magic, which they get from their parents. You had no magical resistance at all. So the magic acted according to fate, pouring into your body and changing your form to give you a resistance.”
  203. >The Princess drew a sort of magic radiation around you, in squiggly lines.
  204. >”As I said, you weren’t changing fast enough. Luckily, I was able to stabilize you and slow down the flow of the magic so that you could take the change gradually over the period of three days.”
  205. “Are you a teacher by any chance?”
  206. >Celestia blinked.
  207. >”Yes?”
  208. >You smiled.
  209. >”You sound just like my Chemistry teacher in high school, it’s actually really uncanny. Makes me feel at home again.”
  210. >Princess Celestia blushed immediately, averting your gaze.
  211. >Your eyes widened in surprise, compliments seemed to be her soft point.
  212. >Tapping her chair with a hoof, Princess Celestia cleared her throat.
  213. “So. Humm… What do you call yourself youngling?”
  214. >”Well, my real name is Cole… But it doesn’t really suit me anymore.”
  215. >Celestia looked curious, her head was tilted again.
  216. “You want to change your name?”
  217. >You thought hard on it.
  218. >If anything, you wanted to turn back to normal, so changing your name was a bit against your interests.
  219. “Perhaps you could simply reword your name a little?”
  220. >You peered up in surprise at the Princess, you’d forgotten she could hear your thoughts.
  221. >…Which was probably why she got so flustered when you talked about your Chemistry teacher, she was the local hottie for five straight years.
  222. >”Reword it?”
  223. >Celestia nodded, her lips pursed at your lewdy thoughts.
  224. >She smiled again soon after though.
  225. “Yes, maybe something with similar lettering, from your heritage.”
  226. >Huh.
  227. >That was a pretty solid idea actually.
  228. >Heritage…
  229. >Had to be Irish then, you thought back to some old saint names.
  230. >Colm, Colum, Colman, Coilean…
  231. >”How about Columba?”
  232. >Princess Celestia beamed.
  233. “I see the meaning of it etched into your face Columba. You’re already a beautiful dove, I’m excited to watch you soar.”
  234. >You blushed and giggled, balling up your covers in your fists.
  235. >This wasn’t so bad.
  236. >This was really, really nice actually.
  237.  
  238. >Collecting yourself, you smiled brightly and nodded to Princess Celestia.
  239. >”Thank you. For everything, for saving my life and helping me out. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you.”
  240. >Celestia nodded back, her eyes locked onto yours.
  241. >You could see the honesty there, in her eyes.
  242. >She had a look that could scan through countless volumes in an instant, one that could read any sort of situation.
  243. >And you could see some lingering concern there in Celestia’s eyes.
  244. >Speaking softly, Princess Celestia set a hoof on your shoulder.
  245. “You’re welcome Columba. But I’m not quite done yet. It would be best if you stayed here another night to rest and recuperate.”
  246. >You yawned, feeling your lips curl back over your fangs.
  247. >You were feeling pretty tired actually, almost dying, changing species, sex, name and possibly dimension really took it out of you.
  248. >”I won’t argue with that, nurse.”
  249. >Giggling, Princess Celestia shifted her gaze to the window.
  250. >Your eyes followed hers.
  251. >Night had fallen completely upon Equestria, a close and full moon hung in the sky, accompanied by an uncountable myriad of stars.
  252. >It was the sort of sight you only saw in fine art, a picturesque world where there was no light pollution to block out the stars and where haze didn’t obstruct the soft rays of the Moon.
  253. >Your eyes widened to take it all in and your pupils dilated till your irises nearly vanished.
  254. >You heard Celestia giggle again, but you didn’t look away to check.
  255. “I see you have been captivated by Luna’s latest work.”
  256. >”Luna?”
  257. “My sister. As I control the Sun, she controls the Moon. Luna paints the sky every night, moving the constellations and the Moon across it in gorgeous patterns and sequences.”
  258. >You blinked and turned your head to stare at Princess Celestia.
  259. >”Wait, is that a figure of speech? Or do you actually control the Sun?”
  260.  
  261. >Celestia spoke matter of factly.
  262. “I raise it every morning, push it across the sky bit by bit in the day and set it at night.”
  263. >What?
  264. >”What?”
  265. >Celestia seemed almost as nonplussed as you.
  266. “Is this sort of thing not common in your home world?”
  267. >You shook your head vigorously, making your feathers practically alight from your head.
  268. >”Not at all, where I’m from, our planet orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits our planet. Gravity does all the work.”
  269. >Nodding as though she understood, Princess Celestia looked mildly impressed.
  270. >”This Gravity must be quite the powerful individual, to control the planet, the Moon and the Sun all in tandem.”
  271. >…You didn’t even want to correct her.
  272. >Celestia looked way too cheery at the thought that there was such a strong person moving astral bodies around like her.
  273. >Things grew quiet for a bit, you and Princess Celestia both stared out the window.
  274. >After tearing your eyes away from the sky, you looked downward, seeing something like a second set of stars.
  275. >Lamps, torches and braziers lit up a whimsical city below the Palace.
  276. >There were tons of towers and turrets, flags too, waving at the top of each one.
  277. >Even in the muted shades of the night, you could see all of the fantastical colors they were painted in, royal purple, goldenrod, sky blue, the list never ended.
  278. >”But conversations do end eventually, no matter how good. I think it’s time you got some more rest. Is there anything you wanted before morning?”
  279. >Celestia looked at you expectantly, smiling.
  280. >Rubbing your chin, you thought on it for a second.
  281. >”To be honest, I’ve got a boatload of questions.”
  282. “Yes, I can hear a few of them now, bouncing around your mind.”
  283. >Princess Celestia grew ponderous again, her gaze shifting downward as she thought.
  284. >You noticed that Celestia’s mane and tail always slowed their flowing when she thought like that.
  285. “I’ll answer two of your questions tonight. Is that acceptable?”
  286.  
  287. >You nodded.
  288. >”Yeah, that’s fair. I don’t want keep you up too.”
  289. >The first question was pretty obvious.
  290. >You gazed seriously into Princess Celestia’s eyes and she matched that look, prepared to answer to the best of her ability.
  291. >”Is there any way for you to turn me back to normal?”
  292. >Celestia blew out of her nose, her smile turned down into a neutral line.
  293. >The answer was looking tricky.
  294. “I can, but the latent magic in the air would simply change you back. This new form is your fate here in Equestria, it was decided as soon as you arrived.”
  295. >You bit your lower lip, fighting back despair.
  296. >It would be fine, you could get used to this.
  297. “But, I know an old friend who may be able to help.”
  298. >You sighed with relief, you still had a chance at least.
  299. >Alright, second question.
  300. >And the most important.
  301. >The key, really, to this whole thing.
  302. >Maybe even to your entire life…
  303. >You could see Princess Celestia getting more and more focused, reading all of this exposition in your mind.
  304. >You had to do this, and yet you almost dreaded the answer.
  305. >Everything hinged upon this, this was the pinnacle of all questions you would ask in your entire life, and the answer would likely change your world entirely.
  306. >Here goes.
  307. >”Could I get something to eat? Like a hunk of steak or something? I’m starving.”
  308. >Celestia fell out of her chair laughing.
  309. >You lost it too, just seeing her roll all over the floor like that, every formality melted away.
  310. >After a minute or two, Princess Celestia could finally stand again.
  311. >Ruffling her wings and wiping away tears of mirth, she nodded.
  312. “Of course, Columba. How would you like it?”
  313. >The answer sort of fell out of your mouth on its own.
  314. >”Bloody.”
  315.  
  316. >Immediately you realized that that was seriously untactful of you, Princess Celestia was a horse after all.
  317. >It was strange too, you’d wanted to say medium rare, but bloody came to your mind first.
  318. >You winced, expecting a withering frown from the Princess.
  319. >But none came, Celestia just smiled and nodded.
  320. “The palace chefs are equipped for any appetite.”
  321. >After a quick flash of magic, a silver platter loaded with raw beef appeared in your lap.
  322. >Your mouth watered at just the smell of it, your eyes were transfixed by the blood dripping and pooling at the bottom of the platter.
  323. >There were gems too, a whole ring of them lined around the edge of the platter.
  324. >Three sapphires, three rubies, three amethysts, seven flawless white pearls and no less than seven perfect diamonds in an alternating pattern.
  325. >You were now rich beyond even your wildest dreams, and all you’d asked for was some raw meat.
  326. >Was this like a royal bribe or something to keep you from talking about your experience?
  327. >You stared at Princess Celestia incredulously.
  328. >”Uhhh, thanks for the meal. And the boatload of money too.”
  329. >Celestia blinked a few times, confused.
  330. “Boatload of money?”
  331. >You spread your arms wide, staring right at the fortune of gems in front of you, then you stared at Celestia again.
  332. >”Gems. Money. A lot.”
  333. >You were still trying to figure out just how much they were worth, racking your brain for stock prices, especially on the diamonds.
  334. >Princesss Celestia meanwhile was relatively unimpressed as she craned her neck out and counted the gems with a hoof.
  335. >After counting, Celestia thought for moment.
  336. >Then she giggled, and gave you a pat on the shoulder with her wing.
  337. “Ah, Columba. I can hear in you that these gems are worth quite a bit in your world, but they are very common here in Equestria. Altogether, these gems are only worth about thirty bits. I suppose you could buy yourself a nice hat.”
  338. >What.
  339.  
  340. >With your lips pursed, you picked up a diamond and examined every perfect angle of it.
  341. >The diamond was so well polished and shaped, that it had a prism effect on all of the light that passed through it, shooting off rainbows in every direction.
  342. >”Thirty bits.”
  343. “Yes. Or you could eat them.”
  344. >You perked a brow at Celestia.
  345. >This was the first time you’d ever considered the possibility that Princess Celestia was fucking with you.
  346. >She just shrugged.
  347. “I’m quite serious. Dragons are well known for their voracious appetite for gems.”
  348. >Your eyes narrowed suspiciously, but you shrugged too, setting the diamond and all of the other gems aside on your bed.
  349. >”I’ll save them for later then.”
  350. “I’m sure you’ll love them, especially the fresh pearls. They were just fished out a few hours ago.”
  351. >You weren’t sure how a pearl could be fresh, but you were sure that any sort of meat shouldn’t be left lying around.
  352. >It belonged in somebody’s stomach.
  353. >With gusto, you dug into your meal, taking in big bloody chunks with every bite.
  354. >It was absolutely the best thing you’d ever tasted in your life, the perfect tenderness, the incredible cut that emphasized the marbling of the meat.
  355. >Succulent, bleeding and with just the faintest taste of salt to emphasize the best qualities of the beef.
  356. >Perfect.
  357. >Idly, you could hear Princess Celestia giggling again.
  358. “I’ll leave you to it then.”
  359. >She said, already making her way to the door.
  360. >You nodded your head rapidly and tossed her a double bloody thumbs up, still chewing on a mouthful of beef with blood practically pouring out of your mouth and down your chest.
  361. >She turned back and smiled once more before leaving.
  362.  
  363. “Pleasant dreams Columba.”
  364. >Quickly, you swallowed, just in time to say.
  365. >”Goodnight Princess Celestia.”
  366. >As soon as the door shut behind the Princess, the condensed sunlight and the crystals above dimmed almost completely, leaving the room to bathe in the moonlight.
  367. >You ate your beef happily, smiling around at nothing and everything.
  368. >Thoughts danced in your mind about what you would be doing tomorrow, there was a whole new world out there.
  369. >Your first priority was talking to Princess Celestia about that friend of hers though, you couldn’t forget that.
  370. >You gulped down the last morsel of beef on your platter ponderously.
  371. >There was going to be a whole lot of learning going on.
  372. >Licking your lips, you wiped off the blood around your mouth idly with your covers and licked your claws clean.
  373. >You licked up the last few drops of blood from the platter too, holding it sideways up to your face.
  374. >And just like that you saw your new face for the first time, reflected clearly in the silver.
  375. >You understood now why Celestia said you were already a beautiful dove.
  376. >Not to delve into narcissism or anything, but you were magnificent.
  377. >Your snout was small and delicate, shaped just right for your face.
  378. >Your eyes were a deep forest green, shining with curiosity and energy.
  379. >The horns on either side of your head were a shade darker white than your pearly white scales, hovering somewhere around ivory.
  380. >They were perfectly symmetrical as well, twisting completely on themselves before pointing out front.
  381. >Your feathery hair set nicely on your head, with two long plumes falling down on either side to the base of your neck.
  382. >Your eyes and the makeshift mirror wandered further, taking in -
  383. >…
  384. >Ah fuck.
  385. >Your covers were soaked in blood, and so were you.
  386. >You hopped out of bed before the blood could run off of you and onto the mattress.
  387. >There was blood all over your scales, running in rivulet over your breasts and down your stomach.
  388. >You whipped your head around, looking for something to clean yourself with.
  389. >And like magic, there was a table already set out for you, loaded with a couple towels and spare covers.
  390. >”She’s too good.”
  391. >Grinning and shaking your head in disbelief, you grabbed a towel and dried yourself off.
  392. >You set all of the bloody covers aside in a pile and replaced them, then you moved the table closer to your bed so you could set your gems and the silver platter on it.
  393. >Satisfied, you jumped back into bed, shut your eyes tight and thought of days to come till sleep took you.
  394.  
  395. --------------
  396.  
  397. Chapter 2: Separation.
  398.  
  399. --------------
  400.  
  401. >You awoke to song, a seeping tune of…
  402. >Sorrow?
  403. >”Melancholy.”
  404. >Yes, it was melancholic and nostalgic.
  405. >Which was strange, because you’d never heard any sort of melody like it before, and you didn’t understand a single word that was being sung.
  406. >But you could picture the owner of the voice just from her timbre, a dusky, hidden beauty.
  407. >Your eyes cracked open slowly and you stared around, searching for the singer.
  408. >The ward was as bright as yesterday morning, all but one corner.
  409. >To your left you could see a shadow cast by nothing, onto the silhouette of a slender mare.
  410. >The singing stopped.
  411. >It was jarring, the sudden silence combined with the unexplained darkness.
  412. >The mare was wrapped completely in the umbra of the shadow, you couldn’t make out if she was looking at you or not.
  413. >Your brow furrowed with concern, were you about to be attacked?
  414. >Was this some sort of siren come to steal you away?
  415. “Good morning Columba.”
  416. >You nearly jumped out of your scales, wrenching your head around to the right.
  417. >Celestia, it was Princess Celestia, smiling and radiant as ever.
  418. >Just as quick, you wrenched your head back to the left.
  419. >”Princess! There’s a-“
  420. >The shadow and the mare were both gone.
  421. >This was the first time you’d ever felt truly unnerved here in Equestria.
  422. >That shadow… It just didn’t match up, it was like a puzzle piece from the wrong set.
  423. “Is something the matter youngling?”
  424. >You slowed yourself down a little and took a few deep breaths.
  425. >It had been a long night, you’d been through a life or death experience.
  426. >Chances were that that had been a waking hallucination, maybe even a dream.
  427. >You smiled at Princess Celestia.
  428.  
  429. >”Nothing, just a dream.”
  430. >You swore you saw a glimmer of magic in Celestia’s eyes for a moment there, but it was gone before you could be sure.
  431. >Celestia nodded.
  432. “I see. And I see you’re more than ready to leave the ward.”
  433. >Your smile turned up into a grin, sharp canines jutting.
  434. >”I can’t wait.”
  435. “Let us walk, we can get breakfast on the way up to my quarters.”
  436. >You jumped out of bed, your claws clicking against the wood floor.
  437. >With a big yawn, you stretched your arms out and up as high as you could reach, feeling your muscles stretch and warm up.
  438. >Then you knelt down into a squat, tensing and testing your thighs.
  439. >Celestia looked pretty surprised, seeing your little routine, happy, but surprised.
  440. “You’re astoundingly diligent, Columba. And your resilience shows as well, I don’t know any ponies, dragons, griffins or even minotaurs who could jump out of bed with such energy after being so severely poisoned by magic.”
  441. >You shrugged and stood up slowly, still grinning.
  442. >”I had a good doctor.”
  443. >Princess Celestia giggled, holding her fore hoof up to her mouth.
  444. “Oh come on then, I’ll move your gems ahead for you.”
  445. >With a quick flash of magic, the gems you’d left on the table were gone, presumably moved up to Princess Celestia’s room.
  446. >You walked after Celestia at a brisk pace, right out the door alongside her.
  447. >The hallway was exactly what you expected, bright and luxurious.
  448. >Marble floors stretched on further than your eyes could see, every inch of them was polished to a mirror finish.
  449. >The entire right side of the hall was lined with stained glass windows, depicting what looked like scenes from myth.
  450. >Brass studded double doors were interspersed along the left side, opening every now and then for a pony to trot through.
  451. >This was nice and all, but you didn’t really have too much time to bask in the sights.
  452. >Your entire face blushed a deep crimson.
  453.  
  454. >You were naked, and painfully aware of it.
  455. >There were at least thirty ponies milling around you, staring at you, waving at you, saying hello.
  456. >Not to mention the two armored guards by the door that were probably staring at your ass right now.
  457. >You’d been expecting this sort of thing, but it was still so strange, seeing loads of little ponies just walking and talking like it was nothing.
  458. >You even saw plenty of other creatures too, there was a clutch of griffins sitting in a corner pouring over some scroll, a donkey was staring at you almost defiantly to your left and a red, quadrupedal dragon about three times your size walked right past you and up the hall.
  459. >…Naked. You were naked, and you hadn’t even taken one step yet.
  460. >Your hands itched to cover yourself, but you held them to your sides.
  461. >Your tail twitched back and forth, almost slapping one of the guards behind you.
  462. >Relax, you needed to relax a little.
  463. >At least enough to keep moving.
  464. >You sucked down air, and forcefully breathed out through your snout in a puff of fog.
  465. >Princess Celestia hadn’t stopped, and was trotting away from you to the left.
  466. >Blushing even harder, you chased after her with your head down, claws scraping on the marble.
  467. >You could feel eyes on you like little probing fingers, taking in your nakedness.
  468. >You swore every little conversation fragment you caught was about you.
  469. ”…walking around like that…”
  470. “Embarrassing, she really just had to go ahead and…”
  471. “…and then you get dragons like that one, who…”
  472. >The palace halls seemed to go on forever, but it had really only been five minutes, two left turns, a set of stairs and one right turn before you and Princess Celestia reached the cafeteria.
  473. >Five minutes straight of trying to walk without bouncing your boobs around.
  474. >You shuddered, following Celestia through an especially large red pair of doors, expecting another huge crowd.
  475. >”Ahhhh…”
  476. >The room inside was big and blessedly empty.
  477. >Rough-hewn wooden tables and benches were pushed up against the walls, leaving a clear path to the kitchen entrance at the other end of the cafeteria.
  478. >Your blush faded and your arms went limp, you were finally able to relax again.
  479. >Celestia turned around to look you in the eyes, smiling playfully.
  480. >Your eyes narrowed suspiciously.
  481. >If she was relishing in leading you around the castle naked like this…
  482. >Princess Celestia rolled her eyes.
  483. “We took the most direct route possible, I promise. Now, what would you like to eat?”
  484. >You tucked your suspicions away for now, putting your mind where it really mattered.
  485. >Food.
  486. >Simple, staple breakfast foods came to mind at first.
  487. >But then you remembered you were dining in a palace, and you threw all of that nonsense out instantly with a big grin.
  488. >”I’ll get a raw Arctic Char, a solid 8 pounder, no head, with one fresh pearl and a tall glass of Sunny- Sorry. Orange juice.”
  489. >Celestia nodded, and trotted off to the kitchen with your order.
  490.  
  491. >Yawning, you pulled up a bench.
  492. >But before you could sit down, Princess Celestia was already back.
  493. >”That was fast.”
  494. >She didn’t have a plate or anything with her though.
  495. >You blinked, confused.
  496. >”Where’s the food?”
  497. “I’ve teleported it into my chambers.”
  498. >…
  499. >”Couldn’t you have done that from the ward?”
  500. >Princess Celestia smiled and nodded.
  501. “Of course!”
  502. >Your brows furrowed deeper as you thought on it.
  503. >”As a matter of fact… couldn’t you have just teleported us and the food up to your room?”
  504. “With ease.”
  505. >You groaned and sat down hard on the bench.
  506. >Your mind’s eye filled with staring crowds of ponies, and you frowned.
  507. >”So that was all just to mess with me.”
  508. >Princess Celestia smile turned down into a concerned stare.
  509. >Quietly, she sat beside you and gently wrapped one of her wings around your back, pulling you closer to her.
  510. “Of course not Columba. I was trying to help you get accustomed to being naked in public. You wanted this, yesterday you abandoned your clothing.”
  511. >You raised your voice, your anger was sparked.
  512. >”They were all staring at me, talking behind my back.”
  513. >Celestia nodded.
  514. “Yes. They were.”
  515. >You looked into her eyes in complete disbelief and shock.
  516. >That was all she had to say to you?
  517.  
  518. “You’ve been holed up in the ward for three days with no visitors except for me. Rumors have been running up through the palace like wildfire ever since you arrived. And I don’t know what you heard but-“
  519. >”So what!? I’m a showpiece now? You just brought me out for everyone to finally get their peek at me?”
  520. >The room felt stiflingly quiet after you hollered.
  521. >It was like a weight over your chest, you breathed raggedly, in and out with no rhythm.
  522. >You tried to ignore it, but the pressure was immense.
  523. >You gasped and stood up, away from the Princess.
  524. >Princess Celestia just frowned, sitting demurely on the bench.
  525. “No. You are how you carry yourself Columba. Out there, you were cloistered and shy, putting the weight of all that perceived shame onto your shoulders. That has caused you to panic and it is stopping you from thinking clearly. You need to calm down. And, if you would be so kind, listen to what I have to say.”
  526. >Three words came to mind.
  527. >Fuck, you and cunt.
  528. >You pointed a claw accusingly at the Princess and opened your mouth, ready to abuse.
  529. >But the words never left your mouth.
  530. >You stood there for too long, staring Princess Celestia straight in the eyes.
  531. >The look she was giving you wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either, it felt analytical.
  532. >Like she was sizing you up.
  533. >You cursed softly, lowering your claw.
  534. >”Fuck.”
  535. >With a sigh you plopped your butt down on the marble floor and pulled your legs in up to your chest.
  536. >Wordlessly, you motioned for Celestia to continue.
  537. “Some lessons are ruder than others. But, Columba. Those ponies out there, they weren’t just staring at you because you’re new or because they’re curious. They were staring at you because you’re beautiful. I heard no cruel words at all, quite the opposite.”
  538. >You could feel your cheeks burning, you pulled your knees up to cover your face.
  539.  
  540. “There is no shame in that. In fact, you should be proud! Your first time in public wasn’t perfect, of course, and you felt a great deal of embarrassment. But you’re only embarrassed for yourself Columba, none of the ponies, griffins or minotaurs in the hall thought any less of you at all.”
  541. >You stopped acting, and started thinking.
  542. >There was no sense of shame in being naked at all for them.
  543. >You nodded, finally understanding what had been in front of you from the beginning.
  544. >Slowly, you stood up, meeting Celestia’s eyes again.
  545. >”They don’t care, so why should I?”
  546. “If that is how you think of it, then yes, Columba. Walk proudly knowing that.”
  547. >Your frown pulled up into a smile.
  548. >You could feel the serenity building inside you, and you carried that feeling with you, striding confidently to the door.
  549. >Worries fell from you like dead leaves from a tree.
  550. >Without hesitation, you pushed the double doors open and walked out into the hallway.
  551. >Again, many eyes were on you and the chatter started up.
  552. >But you ignored it and walked on.
  553. >You still felt strange, but it was like wearing a new pair of clothes.
  554. >Not quite right, but not uncomfortable either.
  555. >It was a good start.
  556.  
  557. >Now you felt like you could actually focus on the things at hand, instead of getting sidetracked by your nudity.
  558. >In your head, you compiled potential questions you would need to bring up with Princess Celestia.
  559. >Mainly, whether or not there was some way to return you to your own world.
  560. >You’d danced away from it last night, with that whole steak gag, but really you’d done it because you were a little scared to hear the answer.
  561. >Being kept away forever from your friends and family on Earth was not a scenario that hope lent itself to.
  562. >More practically, you’d need to discuss payment.
  563. >You glanced sideways at Celestia, remembering that she could read your mind.
  564. >The Princess didn’t seem to be focused on you however, she kept her eyes trained on guards mostly.
  565. >It seemed like she was shaping them up, because every single one she passed straightened up.
  566. >You had a bit of time to think then.
  567. >You looked ahead, ponderous.
  568. >It was almost certain that Princess Celestia would refuse any sort of payment, but that just didn’t jibe with you.
  569. >You’d work if that’s what it took, maybe sign on as a maid or something.
  570. >Images of you in a maid uniform surged through your mind, and instantly you felt embarrassed all over again.
  571. “PHAcahGhh.”
  572. >…Princess Celestia tried to hide it, but that cough of hers was obviously a boisterous laugh.
  573. >You blushed and looked down at the claws on your scaly feet, trying to clear your head of all those lewd thoughts.
  574. >It took a few floors to walk off that one.
  575. >As you ascended, you noticed that the corridors were slowly becoming more and more devoid of maids, guests and foreign dignitaries.
  576. >Soon, it was almost a grand occasion anytime you saw a resident of the castle, because they were always well groomed nobles trotting with prestigious pomp.
  577. >The guards were only growing in presence, and experience, judging from their well burnished uniforms.
  578. >One in particular caught your attention.
  579. >Princess Celestia stopped just to exchange a few words with him.
  580. >You didn’t catch much, except that his name was Gleaming Star.
  581.  
  582. >Just a glance at Gleaming Star told the whole story though.
  583. >He was obviously some sort of top guard, Gleaming Star’s armor was nearly as bright as Celestia was, and his white fur was spotless.
  584. >The look in his eyes was calculating and professional, it put you in a cold sweat being subjected to it.
  585. >Princess Celestia could read your mind, but it was like this horse was the lovechild of Robocop and Superman.
  586. >You could practically hear him mentally compiling all of your traits and memorizing how you moved.
  587. >…You gulped.
  588. >But, slowly, you nodded at him.
  589. >And Gleaming Star nodded back, smiling faintly.
  590. >Princess Celestia had no shortage of protection.
  591. >Gleaming Star trailed behind you and Princess Celestia from there on out, up and up the tower.
  592. >His presence definitely made everything feel overwhelmingly secure, in addition to Celestia’s almost visible aura of calming warmth.
  593. >And yet suddenly, four floors just before the top, you could have sworn that you were half a second away from being assaulted.
  594. >It was unnerving to the extreme.
  595. >You could hear nothing but the sound of your claws scraping softly and Princess Celestia’s hooves quietly clopping.
  596. >You could see nothing but the lit hallway ahead, and although it was bright and decorated, it felt impossibly barren, as though every glance at it sapped away at your senses.
  597. >Even the guards looked nervous, they kept shifting their hooves and adjusting their grip on their spears.
  598. >You tapped Princess Celestia on the shoulder, brows furrowed and with your eyes darting around to make sure you weren’t being snuck up on.
  599. >”Is this normal?”
  600. >Princess Celestia glanced about, confused.
  601. >Then suddenly, her face lit up and she nodded quickly, smiling.
  602. “Ah yes, that must be one of my students’ work. She’s been practicing her Tension Spells…”
  603. >Celestia paused and lit her horn.
  604. >All around the hallway you could see a faint sort of mirage becoming more and more visible.
  605.  
  606. >Each speck of dust caught in the air suddenly began to glow a bright gold and flocked around individuals up and down the corridor like sparks around fires.
  607. >Instantly you felt relieved, all the tension was gone.
  608. “There. Now, I will be just a moment.”
  609. >You blinked and Celestia was gone.
  610. >”What. Where-“
  611. >A voice like grit spoke up behind you.
  612. ”Teleported.”
  613. >You turned around and came face to face with a griffin.
  614. >It was hard not to flinch when you saw him.
  615. >His left eye and his beak were made of metal
  616. >The steel had a dull shine to it, and you could see more than two or three nicks in both of his prosthetics.
  617. >He’d almost certainly been using that same eye and beak for years now.
  618. >You turned your gaze away from them.
  619. “Ya hear me? Little lady?”
  620. >Your eyes fell on his black feathers and grey coat, both dulled and criss-crossed with scars of cruel shapes and sizes.
  621. “Hey. Ya dolt, listen up.”
  622. >You snorted harshly, locking your eyes with the old griffin’s mismatched ones.
  623. >”I’m no dolt you old feather duster.”
  624. “Pfheh, so ya do have ears. Like I said, teleported, the Princess teleported away.”
  625. >You nodded, but held the old griffin’s gaze sternly.
  626. >You weren’t really sure why it was happening, but fog was blowing out of your nostrils in great billowing clouds.
  627. >The fog helped get your point across, so you weren’t complaining.
  628. >The old griffin stared back at you, with a mean set to his already grizzled and broken face.
  629. >You could see a smile cracking through his mug though, and eventually you smiled too.
  630. >This old bird reminded you of a certain friend of your Dad’s, well, one of his only friends.
  631. >Tough, rough, and with a good sense of humor.
  632.  
  633. >The griffin stuck out his talons.
  634. ”Trench Watcher.”
  635. >Applying a firm and even grip, you shook hands with him.
  636. >”Columba.”
  637. “Ya got a good clawshake Columba, ‘specially fer a little dragon lady. I’ll remember ya.”
  638. >You smiled and nodded.
  639. >”You too. We’ll have to share a drink or twenty.”
  640. >You saw a bright glimmer in Trench Watcher’s one good eye, and an eagerness for camaraderie.
  641. >The change in him was almost immediate, like all the years melted away so you could see Trench Walker in his prime.
  642. >It wasn’t a change in body, or even look.
  643. >It was in the way he smiled, the way he laughed and how his eyes held a friend’s eyes.
  644. >Even his cold, sharp metal beak looked jolly, the way it rattled and clanged when he laughed.
  645. >Trench Watcher patted you on the back and limped off down the hall.
  646. “We’ll have plenty a time later on.”
  647. >You smiled and waved at his back.
  648. >”How do you know?”
  649. >Trench Walker stopped, right before the corner.
  650. “We’re both takin’ the back road, little dove.”
  651. >And like that he was gone.
  652. “A good friend to make, Trench Watcher is one of the most loyal griffins I’ve ever met.”
  653. >You one eightied and nearly sweeped Princess Celestia off of her hooves with your tail.
  654.  
  655. >Princess Celestia had returned, looking amused as she hopped with the utmost grace over your swiping tail.
  656. >She was already speaking before she landed.
  657. >As though that HADN’T just happened.
  658. “My chambers are just up these steps Columba, over here.”
  659. >Your heart was beating a million times a minute as you jumped back.
  660. >You could hear your tail slap the marble floor two or three times, and then came four loud crunching sounds
  661. >It was one thing for pyjamas, hot chocolate and food to instantly appear and disappear.
  662. >But this threw you off completely, it was such sudden thing, to see someone vanish.
  663. “Ummm, Columba?”
  664. >You blinked, Princess Celestia was looking up at…
  665. >Looking up at you.
  666. >You looked forward, at the corner between the wall and the ceiling that you were clinging to with all of your claws embedded in the stone.
  667. >You’d leaped from the ground to here without letting Celestia out of your sight.
  668. >Immediately you dropped down from the wall and apologized, your head hung low and your face completely flushed.
  669. >”I am so so sorry.”
  670. “Sorry?”
  671. >You looked up, and saw Princess Celestia was smiling broadly across from you.
  672. “This is quite the occasion Columba, I’ve seen a dragon get her wings.”
  673. >Grumbling and rolling your eyes, you reached over your shoulder and touched your scaly back.
  674. >It was flat of course, and Princess Celestia was giggling.
  675. ”It is alright Columba, I should not have appeared so close to you.”
  676. >Celestia waited patiently while you stretched a little.
  677. >You squatted and checked your legs to make sure you didn’t pull a muscle doing that ridiculous jump.
  678. >Your eyes wandered between your legs… and when you saw the dust and the chunks of stone littering the floor behind you, you blushed intensely.
  679. >Checking to see that Princess Celestia wasn’t looking at you, you swept it aside as best as you could.
  680.  
  681. “I’ll have a maid come clean that later, ma’am.”
  682. >You turned your head towards who had spoken.
  683. >It was Gleaming Star.
  684. >…You’d completely forgotten about him.
  685. >But you nodded, already too excited to get jumpy again.
  686. >The more you thought about it, the wider your grin got.
  687. >You just jumped over twice your height.
  688. “Eight and a half feet.”
  689. >Gleaming Star was staring up at the four gouges you’d left in stone.
  690. >Then he turned his gaze to you.
  691. >It was even more piercing than before, and you could tell his eyes were wandering on your legs.
  692. >You stood up and knocked the dust off of your thighs.
  693. “You’ve done those sorts of things before, haven’t you? But that jump there is the greatest you’ve ever managed.”
  694. >”Ummm.”
  695. >For a second, you’d been worried, but Gleaming Star wasn’t looking at you like he was going to lock you up or anything.
  696. >It was just curiosity.
  697. >”Well, yeah. I did a lot of track and field.”
  698. >Gleaming Star nodded.
  699. “I see. Your technique is superb, even as a quadruped, I can see the benefit you get from the way you distribute your weight and the pushing force in your feet.”
  700. >Your mouth gaped slightly for a second, before you recovered from your surprise.
  701. >”T-thanks.”
  702. >You were withholding some of the truth, but it was true that you’d done a lot of track and field.
  703. >Most of your-
  704. >Princess Celestia had her eyes on you again, and immediately you thought about how delicious that meal up in her quarters was going to be and nothing else.
  705. >You breathed a sigh of relief only when she smiled and looked away again, speaking kindly.
  706. “Are you ready to go again Columba?”
  707.  
  708. >”Yeah.”
  709. >The rest of the truth could wait, and having Celestia find out by reading your mind wasn’t any good.
  710. >You wanted it to be given out in an open discussion.
  711. >That could only help you, moving forward.
  712. >You fell in between Princess Celestia and Gleaming Star, then all three of you walked up the final set of steps at the end of the hallway.
  713. >At last you’d reached the Princess Celestia’s floor, the hallways here had nearly ceiling to floor windows along their outside facing walls, letting in the vivid sunlight.
  714. >The final step up was like rolling an elephant off of your shoulders, the atmosphere up here was so calm.
  715. >Maybe it was the view.
  716. >From here you could see for miles.
  717. >On and on past great plains, crisscrossed with rivers and giving way eventually to deep forests.
  718. >The forests passed into plains again, and plains into deserts, till all you could see beyond were the shadows lain across the distant crimson mountains.
  719. >Ignoring even the view, there was a permanent air show taking place.
  720. >Pegasi of all different colors, some fancifully dressed and others plain, soared above Canterlot like countless songbirds.
  721. >You could see griffins in the crowd too, flying harder, with steeper pitches in amongst the gradual swooping motions of the ponies.
  722. >After a minute or two, you tore your eyes away from the sight and looked ahead at what you assumed were the double doors to Princess Celestia’s chambers.
  723. >Gleaming Star stood silent by the door while Celestia led you inside.
  724.  
  725. >Your first glance of Princess Celestia’s bedchambers made you realize, and quite instantly that:
  726. >This was an entirely different world.
  727. >There may be superficial similarities, but this was definitely not Earth.
  728. >The sun simply should not have been able to shine like it was Princess Celestia’s apartments.
  729. >Like soft spotlights, patches of wondrous and radiant sunlight shone upon key parts of the chamber.
  730. >The shadows beyond the light were sudden and impenetrable, leaving portions of the room completely unlit.
  731. >What was going on here?
  732. >With inhuman grace, Princess Celestia walked straight across the room to lay on her divan by the empty hearth.
  733. >She answered your unuttered question serenely.
  734. ”The brighter a light shines, the longer and darker the shadows it casts. Light or darkness, they both create disparity.”
  735. >You approached slowly, taking in more of the room.
  736. >”So this is all sunlight?”
  737. >Princess Celestia nodded as you took a seat on the floor before her, where your platter of Artic Char was waiting
  738. >You crossed your legs and got comfortable.
  739. >The royal purple carpet was plush and warm, as clean as a fresh rain.
  740. “Now then…”
  741. >You looked at Princess Celestia, paying rapt attention as you ate your fish.
  742. “You have your questions, and I have my own. I hope you’ll allow me to indulge mine a little first?”
  743. >Princess Celestia continued as soon as you nodded your approval.
  744. “Excellent. To begin, I have with me the things that you brought from earth. I’m curious about a few objects in particular.”
  745. >Your stomach sank a little.
  746. >Looks like this conversation was going to dive right where you wanted it to go the least.
  747. >Princess Celestia’s horn lit up, and from a far flung corner of the room, a worn and beaten black backpack hovered out.
  748. >It was definitely yours.
  749. >Memories came unbidden to your mind, of what you’d been doing before you got here.
  750.  
  751. >You could practically hear the distant police sirens again, the carpet was almost like concrete.
  752. >It was strange to see something so familiar in such an unfamiliar place.
  753. >Princess Celestia unzipped the bag with her magic and turned it over.
  754. >Thirty or so cans of spray paint tumbled out.
  755. >Celestia smiled at them curiously, poking a few with her hoof to send them rattling and rolling around the floor.
  756. “I’ve never seen these before, what are they?”
  757. >You swallowed the bit of fish you were chewing on and picked up a can of green paint.
  758. >”They’re cans of spray paint.”
  759. “Spray paint?”
  760. >You nodded.
  761. >”Yeah, do you have a canvas or something? Something you don’t mind getting paint all over?”
  762. >Princess Celestia blinked.
  763. “You can use the carpet if you like, it can’t stain.”
  764. >Your eyes wandered to the pristine purple carpet, then back to Celestia.
  765. >”Are you… Sure?”
  766. “Of course.”
  767. >You sprayed a bright green circle onto Princess Celestia’s carpet, right in front of you.
  768. “Ooohh…”
  769. >Princess Celestia craned her neck out and stared intently at the green paint.
  770. >A blush came unbidden to your cheeks.
  771. >Celestia’s head was practically in your lap and she didn’t even seem to care.
  772. “I see, it’s paint, but you can spray it onto surfaces instead of using a brush.”
  773. >After a few seconds, the paint vanished and Princess Celestia pulled her head back to mark a few notes on a blackboard she poofed into existence behind her.
  774. >Huh.
  775. >Celestia did say the carpet couldn’t stain.
  776. >You scratched the back of your head, staring, a little humbled, at your can of spray paint.
  777. >”And this is the expensive stuff too…”
  778.  
  779. “Expensive?”
  780. >”Yeah, it’s supposed to be as hard as possible to remove, weather resistant and everything.”
  781. >You could see a million more questions forming in Princess Celestia’s eyes.
  782. >But she just settled on one.
  783. “What were you using it for?”
  784. >You gulped and choked down the last of your Arctic Char for courage.
  785. >”…Spraying graffiti…”
  786. >Princess Celestia blinked and her ears twitched.
  787. “What was that? You’re speaking very quietly Columba.”
  788. >You cleared your throat.
  789. >With your gaze set firmly on your interlocked, clawed toes, you spoke up a little.
  790. >”I used all this stuff to spray graffiti around the city, back on Earth.”
  791. “Really? I’m quite surprised, Columba. Can you tell me a bit about your experience right before you appeared in Equestria?”
  792. >You sighed, leaning back.
  793. >Princess Celestia was fair at least, seems she was going to at least listen to your story before punishing you for your crimes.
  794. >You met Celestia’s gaze, fully prepared for a stern stare.
  795. >But she was simply smiling.
  796. >It threw you off a little.
  797. >“Are you mad?”
  798. ”About what?”
  799. >”The graffiti, it’s against the law after all.”
  800. >Princess Celestia shrugged.
  801. “I’ve yet to see you do it here in Equestria, and it’s not really a crime that’s worth pursuing the culprit across dimensions for.”
  802. >You huffed.
  803. >”I vandalized loads of people’s private property, along with government buildings.”
  804. >Giggling, Celestia gave you a little tap on the shoulder with her wing.
  805. “I’ve never seen someone so keen on receiving punishment.”
  806.  
  807. >A sigh escaped you, but you still smiled.
  808. >It felt good to have that weight off of your chest.
  809. >Your boobs were heavy enough, after all.
  810. >You straightened up your posture and nodded to Princess Celestia.
  811. >”So, my experience before arriving, right?”
  812. >She nodded back.
  813. “Yes, take as much time as you need.”
  814. >”Well, it was-“
  815.  
  816. >You are Princess Celestia, but in this moment, you truly are Columba on that fateful night she appeared here in Equestria.
  817. >As Columba speaks, your mind is painted with the images and sensations she experienced then.
  818. >You’re sitting on a stone slab, on the roof of an apartment building, looking out at the city before you.
  819. >Lights were everywhere, bright streetlamps, towering and lit skyscrapers, huge billboards advertising the newest anti-aging cream or the oldest and most established brand of alcohol.
  820. >Your eyes weren’t for the city and its lights however.
  821. >They were trained on the walls, on the broken windows, on the ghost cars waiting in parking lots for people with guts to try their luck.
  822. >It was a quiet night, all of the sounds around you were muted by the softly falling snow.
  823. >Every now and then you could hear a police siren screaming in the distance.
  824. >You’d long gotten used to sirens, they hardly counted as noise anymore.
  825. >You pulled on your gasmask, adjusting the straps to make sure it fit tight to your face.
  826. >Then you put your hood on and slung your backpack over your shoulder.
  827. >It was time to get to business.
  828. >You hopped from your perch, and dashed as soon as your feet touched down.
  829. >You felt instantly exhilarated, like a knife across the knuckles, a kegger in a second, a fag down to ashes before you could blink.
  830. "Ah.”
  831. >You are Princess Celestia again, and you couldn’t help but gape a teensy bit in surprise.
  832.  
  833. >You had let that vulgar and hot blooded streak you felt in Columba’s Stream creep too deeply into your own.
  834. >Your gaze flicked forward, towards your guest.
  835. >Columba was still telling her story, and thankfully she seemed too focused on the enchanted gyroscope hovering and spinning above the hearth to notice your slip.
  836. >”-it was about a four hundred meter dash from there, mixed with a few vertical climbs. Once I’d gotten to the spot I-
  837. >You could still see that passionate fire in Columba’s eyes, it had done nothing but grow since she woke up and stretched this morning.
  838. >Suddenly, you realized you were about to miss some important details in her story.
  839. >With some care, you started to tune back in to Columba’s stream.
  840. >It had grown impossible to listen to Columba’s Stream casually now that it had reigned itself in, but it was not so well developed that it could resist your probing.
  841. >What a stark contrast to other dragons you’d met, Anonymous the Morning Star was the first to mind.
  842. >His mind and Stream both had developed labyrinthine defenses just days after you first saw him.
  843. >Combined with his impossible power of will and the scrupulous and supremely cynical mind of a strategist, the Morning Star was a force to be reckoned with, rivalling even the most ancient trio of dragons.
  844. >…It made you wonder if you should really send Columba his way.
  845. >She was too naïve, too accepting.
  846. >But now Columba’s thoughts were your own, and you delved into her again.
  847. >You’d been scouting out this spot for weeks now, an old abandoned law firm.
  848. >It was right in front of the police station, with a nice clean wall on the roof to spray on.
  849. >Risky, high visibility.
  850. >The perfect spot, heaven.
  851. >You grinned and pulled yourself up from the ledge, finally on top of the building.
  852. >It had taken you a few days to figure out how to climb this damn thing, all the fire escape ladders had rusted to bits.
  853. >You were here at last.
  854.  
  855. >Laughter came unbidden to you when you thought of all those police officers looking out of their windows and seeing your mark first thing in the morning.
  856. >You crouched down, slid your hand into a crack in the roof and pulled out the paint roller and the can of white paint you’d left up here.
  857. >Brimming with excitement, you set yourself up by the wall, with your spray cans out and ready.
  858. >First was the canvas, you painted a solid, white, sixteen by nine rectangle, and then you used black to spray on the edges of a banner.
  859. >Columba’s mind simply skipped over the parts where she had waited for the paint to dry.
  860. >She was too excited to bother with the more tedious details.
  861. >You sprayed your lettering on the banner you’d made, wildstyle, with lots of curves and overlaps.
  862. >Your hand moved smoothly in swoops and lines, index finger pressed on the can.
  863. >It spelled out B E N Z O in stark black and rich gold.
  864. >You started detailing the letters next, making them really pop off of the wall with a 3D perspective.
  865. >The finishing touches were doves, five of them hovering around and staring at the banner, two of them holding it up with their beaks.
  866. >You must have sat and admired your work for nearly an hour, just sitting up on the roof sipping an energy drink while the city grew louder and louder
  867. >It was probably the best you’d ever done, it had taken so long that the sun was starting to rise.
  868. >But that just made it look better, your piece looked heavenly in the golden light of the sun.
  869.  
  870. >Faintly, you heard gravel stirring behind you.
  871. “You’re pretty good.”
  872. >You turned right around, panic setting in.
  873. >A police officer was standing there, completely calm and professional, like he’d been there watching you this whole time.
  874. >You dropped your energy drink and it gurgled, spilling its contents over the gravel.
  875. >”How’d you get up here?”
  876. >You asked, your voice muffled by your gas mask.
  877. >The cop stuck his thumbs into his belt loops and stepped closer to you.
  878. “Just asked for the key and walked up the stairs.”
  879. >You saw it now, there was a rope ladder over the ledge behind him.
  880. >He must have climbed out of a window below, since the staircase to the roof was blocked.
  881. >But that didn’t matter.
  882. >First, you would be complacent.
  883. >You tried to relax, breathing as normally as you could through your mask.
  884. >It was difficult, the cop had a certain look to him that didn’t bode well for you, with smart blue eyes and a well pressed uniform.
  885. “Why don’t you take off the mask? I’d like to have a chat with you.”
  886. >Your eyes narrowed, if the cop noticed, he didn’t show any sign of it.
  887. >As collected as ever, the officer moved to the left of you and took a seat on a rusty barrel.
  888. “Touchy about it eh? Your choice of wall isn’t what I’d expect from someone this shy.”
  889. >Oh good he was a “Better the neighbourhood” kind of guy.
  890. >This wouldn’t be straightforward, but at least you didn’t have to worry about getting your ass beat if you failed an escape attempt.
  891. >You focused on your surroundings instead of the police officer, weighing paths of escape against each other.
  892. >Finally, your eyes fell on the rope ladder the cop had brought.
  893. >But only for a moment, you looked away from the ladder as soon as possible.
  894. >Thankfully, he was far too distracted with his preachy little speech about where you should put your art to catch on.
  895.  
  896. >You started to smile.
  897. “-lost count of how many times we’ve tried to catch you now. It’s getting old. We’ll supply cans of paint for you, and you can put up a new piece above the station on a canvas whenever you get in the mood.”
  898. >Rolling your eyes, you dashed to the rope ladder, being sure to flip off the pig before jumping from the building.
  899. >The cop hollered, seeing you hurtling over the side, but you grabbed hold of the rope ladder in front of you immediately.
  900. >With a quick jerk, you hauled the rest of the ladder out from the window.
  901. >Using your hoodie sleeves to protect your hands from the rope burn, you slid down the whole length of the ladder, about three floors below.
  902. >You maintained your speed and put it into swinging from the ladder, straight through the second floor window.
  903. >Your shoulder banged against the window frame a touch, but you were otherwise unscathed, crouching in the dusty and abandoned office.
  904. >You could hear the cop upstairs speaking at a frenetic pace into his talkie, calling for no less than three other officers to assist him.
  905. >The smile that had been growing on your face formed into a toothy grin.
  906. >Surging with adrenaline, you sprinted across the empty office and practically threw yourself down the stairs, taking each flight in a single bound.
  907. >You were approaching the entry hall when you heard voices.
  908. “Over here, he has to come out through here if he’s taking the stairs.”
  909. >Your movements changed immediately.
  910. >Silence was king,
  911. >You walked upon the balls of your feet, rather than upon your entire foot at once.
  912. >With a low stance, you continued into the entry hall, eyes peeled for police.
  913. >Backup had arrived, but it was only one extra officer.
  914. >Too bad, four at once would’ve been more interesting.
  915. >They were covering against your escape pretty well though.
  916. >The new one was watching the emergency exit while Mister Rodgers from the roof stood by the main entrance.
  917.  
  918. >You watched both of them from behind the reception desk, keeping track of who was looking where, and when.
  919. >Eventually you saw a chance arise.
  920. >Just as soon as they were both looking in the same direction, and away from you, you sprinted.
  921. >Each footfall was like feathers landing on a carpet and you held your backpack tight to yourself so that your cans didn’t rattle.
  922. >But, all eyes were still on you as soon as you pushed open the double doors to get outside.
  923. >You dodged around the neighbourly policeman when he dived for your legs and kept on running.
  924. >The sun was shining on your back, lighting the clear path to the dark sprawling alleys of the city ahead, where you could disappear.
  925. >Freedom was in hand.
  926. >Your strides were long and swift, every movement was in perfect sync, more akin to a wild animal than a person.
  927. >You exploded with laughter and peered over your shoulder at the cops chasing you.
  928. >Their pace was practically glacial in comparison to yours and it just made you laugh even harder.
  929. >You crossed the road and entered the city proper while the cops lagged in the parking lot, feeling sheltered in the shadows of the glass and stone high-rises all around you.
  930. >Moving fluidly, you made your way through the bustling mob of the morning commute, casually stowing away your gas mask while you were at it.
  931. >You grabbed a scarf from your hoodie pocket and covered your face with it.
  932. >A quick check behind you revealed the two officers had already lost you in the crowd.
  933. >They were both doubled over, panting on the sidewalk and looking around in vain.
  934. >You smirked and slowed your pace.
  935. >Jogging now, you took a left down one of your more familiar alley-
  936. >Suddenly, you were staring up at the sky with an awful ringing in your ears and a dreadful pain building in your fore head.
  937. >You just realized you’d been punched in the face.
  938. >A burly, mustachioed police officer towered over you, with another officer standing beside him.
  939. >”Oh.”
  940.  
  941. >You tried to laugh, but you wound up settling for a pained grunt before lying flat on your back.
  942. >You could feel blood running from your nose, your breaths were pained.
  943. >Your vision dimmed, and was extinguished.
  944. >”There really were three other cops…”
  945. “And then I woke up in the hospital ward.”
  946. >You blinked a few times, pushing back against the draw of Columba’s memories.
  947. >She was watching you closely, judging your reaction to her story.
  948. >A soft smile appeared on your face, and you spoke.
  949.  
  950. “You have a bright passion for this art of yours Columba. Although it is a crime, you know.”
  951. >You are Columba, and Princess Celestia winked at you when she said that.
  952. >You sincerely hoped that wink was a subtle way of saying “haha you are a prolific criminal from another planet but I’m not actually going to send you to the dungeon or anything like chill out bro”.
  953. >Celestia giggled.
  954. “Quite accurate my dear dove. With a little vocabulary change perhaps.”
  955. >The blush had already creeped up your cheeks when you turned your head away from the Princess.
  956. >Right, you’d forgotten about the mind reading…
  957. >Out of nerves, you pushed your fingers into the carpet rhythmically, from index to pinkie and back.
  958. >A just audible ripping sound could be heard and instantly you jerked your hand off of the carpet like it was on fire.
  959. >”Oh shit!”
  960. >Princess Celestia’s right eyebrow jutted up so high it disappeared into her hair.
  961. >Her voice had that clippy tone a mom would get when you found a most creative way to irk her.
  962. “Please do not curse so loudly in my chambers, Columba.”
  963. >”R-right sorry about that, got a little excited. And… sorry, I ripped your carpet.
  964. >Celestia nodded, then smiled at you again.
  965. “I accept your apology Columba. As for the damage…”
  966. >Craning her neck towards you, Celestia peered down at the four holes you’d punched through her luscious purple carpet.
  967. >Her horn glowed, and right before your eyes you watched the carpet stitch itself back together.
  968. >You shook your head in disbelief, you’d probably never get used to magic.
  969. “Easily repaired. In fact, I should be apologizing. My intrusions into your mind are obviously making you nervous, so I assure you that I won’t be doing it ever again.”
  970.  
  971. >You blinked a couple of times, staring at Princess Celestia.
  972. >She looked genuinely apologetic, with her head bowed and her ears drooping slightly.
  973. >It was such a strange situation that you were baffled, completely.
  974. >In all your life you never imagined you’d be sitting in a castle one day, receiving an apology from a princess.
  975. >You cleared your throat and replied.
  976. >”Apology accepted. If there’s anybody I’d trust to read my mind though, it’d probably be you, Princess Celestia.”
  977. >You weren’t even lying when you said that, and you were extremely possessive of your own thoughts.
  978. >She just… it was so obvious that Celestia didn’t mean any sort of harm.
  979. >To suspect her of foul intentions was like suspecting your mother of putting poison in her homemade cookies.
  980. >And the smile you got back made up for it, if the apology didn’t.
  981. >You didn’t think it was possible, but Princess Celestia looked even more radiant and majestic with that wholesome smile on her face.
  982. >Laughing joyfully, Celestia suddenly extended her wings and pulled you closer with them so she could hug you with her fore legs.
  983. >Full on hug, like, her chest was pressed right up against yours.
  984. >Alright, it definitely was NOT your imagination.
  985. >These ponies liked to get really, really close to each other.
  986. >Celestia whispered into your ear.
  987. “Oh thank you Columba. I was worried you’d resent me.”
  988. >Had your scales always been red?
  989. >Ah, no, that was a full body blush.
  990. >Your brain melted a little, and you stuttered while hugging her back, weakly.
  991. >It felt like three years, but you’d actually only hugged Princess Celestia for about… 20 seconds.
  992. >Celestia’s warm fur just felt so nice that you couldn’t pull away, and the feeling of her heartbeat was strong and soothing.
  993. >Eventually though, the hug did end, and Princess Celestia sat up straight again.
  994. >She blew a stray bit of her mane out her eyes, looking around idly at the room.
  995. >When Celestia’s eyes fell on you again, she giggled, and you couldn’t blame her.
  996.  
  997. >You were sitting stock still, blushing all over with fog pouring from your mouth like a geyser.
  998. >Gently, Princess Celestia used her hoof to push your jaw back up.
  999. ”You’re freezing yourself, dear dove.”
  1000. >Celestia’s voice snapped you out of your stupor, and you peered down at your chest.
  1001. >There was a chunk of ice stuck to your scales just below the nape of your neck.
  1002. >A constant stream of fog was coming off of it, rolling down your torso to pool in the space between your crossed legs.
  1003. >You gripped the hunk of ice, eyes wide and curious, before cracking it off of your scales.
  1004. >It was all very bizarre, you could feel the cold radiating in your hand, on your chest, your stomach and against your thighs.
  1005. >But, for some reason the frost had no sting to it at all.
  1006. >You took a big bite from your chunk of ice, crunching it up easily with your snapping jaws and sharp teeth.
  1007. >No brain freeze…
  1008. >Of course.
  1009. >”Ah, ok, I’m an ice dragon.”
  1010. >It was pretty obvious now that you thought about it.
  1011. “Yes, your Stream is in touch with winter and the North, it reminds me of my sister, just a little.
  1012. >There was that word again, Stream.
  1013. >You hocked down the last piece of ice in your hand before asking Princess Celestia about it.
  1014. >”What is a Stream? You mentioned mine when I first woke up, I think you said it speaks to everyone?”
  1015. >Princess Celestia shifted her position, lounging a little more.
  1016. >The lights dimmed a little, and the air felt closer.
  1017. >Celestia answered softly, like she was reading a poem.
  1018.  
  1019. “A Stream is a tributary, an offshoot from the true Source of Magic. All living beings in Equestria possess one to match them in nature and character.”
  1020. >With delicate movements, Princess Celestia lowered her head and touched her horn to your chest.
  1021. >You resisted the urge to pull back and watched, cautious, but curious.
  1022. >Light suddenly erupted from where Celestia’s horn met your scales, dazzling and stunning you before dimming again.
  1023. >The light hovered on the air like dust caught in a sunbeam, it was cold just to look at, a foggy haze of icy blues and whites.
  1024. >Here and there, gleaming threads like silver twine twirled their way around in the light as though it was water.
  1025. >And caught in between those silvery strands were… memories, sort of.
  1026. >They were little snippets of thoughts.
  1027. >Your thoughts, you realized with a start.
  1028. >You could even see a snippet of this exact moment, like a snapshot of your mind, it had every last detail, from the wonder you felt watching this light show right now down to the burning desire to run that had been scratching at the back of your head since you woke up this morning.
  1029. “This is your Stream, Columba. It’s what I’ve been reading, all those times I peered into your mind.”
  1030. >You nodded your head, still entranced by it.
  1031. >So this was… you.
  1032. >The light receded and failed as soon as you tried to touch it with your claws.
  1033. >”So everyone could see that? My Stream spoke to everyone on my way up here?”
  1034. >Oh god you’d shoved your spirit lightshow into everyone’s heads.
  1035. >You started to blush again, there had been loads of ponies around when you’d thought about wearing a damned maid uniform.
  1036. >Celestia rubbed her chin with her wingtips and pondered on your question before speaking.
  1037. “I think it is more accurate to say that anyone who wanted to hear your Stream heard it on your climb up here. Your thoughts weren’t projected to others, but were instead available to be read. Now your Stream is closed off into a more manageable state, no one should be able to see into it without force.”
  1038. >You breathed a sigh of relief.
  1039. >Sure, a couple ponies probably witnessed every painful detail of you imagining yourself wearing a maid uniform.
  1040. >But at least your head wasn’t an open book anymore.
  1041. >”Why was my Stream like that anyway?”
  1042.  
  1043. “It was a side effect of your transformation, because you had no Stream before you arrived, it took time for it to shape itself.”
  1044. >Celestia answered, bright and focused.
  1045. >She was in “teacher mode” again, sweet.
  1046. >You sat up straight and met Princess Celestia’s eyes directly, encouraged by her focus.
  1047. >That answer had satisfied you, so you posed a new question.
  1048. >”Who was that friend you mentioned last night? The one who could maybe help me?”
  1049. >There was no change in Princess Celestia’s expression, but her tail flicked.
  1050. >You weren’t really sure what that meant in horses though, tension maybe?
  1051. >Idly, you flicked your tail too.
  1052. “He is The Morning Star, Anonymous.”
  1053. >The air grew heavier at the utterance of Anonymous’ name.
  1054. >”Anonymous…”
  1055. >You stared at the carpet and thought a little.
  1056. >It was a weird name with a fancy title attached to it, so he was probably someone who was important, rich, and hopefully not an asshole.
  1057. >You pressed on, there were still other questions you wanted, no, needed to ask.
  1058. >”So is he like an interdimensional mystic voodoo shaman specialist or whatever? When can I see him?”
  1059. >Celestia blinked, her eyes wide and staring at you in surprise before she burst into a little giggle fit.
  1060. >Bemused, you watched her with one brow raised.
  1061. >”What?”
  1062. >Suddenly apologetic now, Princess Celestia waggled a fore hoof at you.
  1063. “Sorry, sorry. Interdimensional mystic voodoo shaman specialist… I can only imagine…”
  1064. >Celestia had one last titter before she poofed a glass of water into her magical grasp and took a sip.
  1065. >You blushed and lowered your head.
  1066. >”W-was it really that ridiculous?”
  1067. “Eager and earnest dear. Anonymous is an ancient dragon in body, but his spirit comes from your world. Like you, he was human before he came here.”
  1068.  
  1069. >Princess Celestia gave you a moment to drink that all in.
  1070. >And you took every last second of it.
  1071. >Another human… From Earth.
  1072. >Your heart soared and you grinned.
  1073. >For once in your life, you were glad you weren’t the first to arrive someplace.
  1074. ”As for meeting with Anonymous, I can assure you that I’ve already taken most of the steps necessary to get you on his trail, but it will be a few weeks before you’ll be able to depart.”
  1075. >Wait wait wait.
  1076. >”Depart? Get me on his trail?”
  1077. >This sounded like…
  1078. >You toned your grin down a few notches and snorted out a little puff of fog.
  1079. >”You don’t know where Anonymous is, so I’ve got to find him.”
  1080. >Princess Celestia nodded, and even she sighed in frustration.
  1081. “Yes, but not on your own. I’ve hired an old acquaintance of the Morning Star to help, his name is Char and he’s a well-travelled griffin. I trust him nearly as much as I would trust Gleaming Star to complete such a task.”
  1082. >You nodded.
  1083. >This new information had you somber but also oddly excited.
  1084. >An actual adventure, through a magical land with a griffin companion, as a dragon.
  1085. >This really was a universe away from the couch surfing you did to get by back on Earth.
  1086. >It made you want to get up and go right away.
  1087. >You’d have to settle for exploring this new city first though.
  1088. >”Ha, settle...”
  1089. >You whispered to yourself.
  1090. >The prospect only further inflamed your passion.
  1091. >Princess Celestia smiled brightly at you, like she knew what you were thinking.
  1092. >Maybe she did.
  1093. >You grinned.
  1094. >Let her know, it’s not like that’d slow you down any.
  1095. >Your eyes wandered to Princess Celestia’s window.
  1096.  
  1097. >Judging from what you’d seen of the chambers on your way up, there should be at least one balcony somewhere below that window.
  1098. >Just one floor down, if not then two floors.
  1099. “I’ve already set aside a room for you in my tower dear, just three floors below mine, 7th door down. Feel free to ask any of my staff for whatever you might need.”
  1100. >You nodded back at the princess and gathered your things up in your backpack, hurriedly.
  1101. >Princess Celestia didn’t even look surprised, seeing you hustle like that.
  1102. >She spoke up a little sternly, just as you tucked in the last of your paint cans.
  1103. “I would ask you not to spray your graffiti while you’re here in Canterlot…”
  1104. >Your heart sunk a little, but you faced Princess Celestia all the same.
  1105. >Celestia eyed you up and down for a few seconds, pondering her next words.
  1106. >Suddenly she sighed and shook her head, before smiling with a resigned look on her face.
  1107. “But I doubt that you’d be able to hold such a promise. I’ll keep Gleaming Star from pursuing you on that matter, but at the very least, please try not to do anything too risky.”
  1108. >You stared back in awed silence for a second, then you laughed heartily before bounding over to the window you’d chosen.
  1109. >In one smooth motion, you flung open the window and hopped up onto the sill.
  1110. >With fire in your eyes and a fang filled smiled on your face, you answered Celestia.
  1111. >”I’m sorry, but I can’t keep that promise either”
  1112. >Just as Princess Celestia cried out, you flung yourself from the window, spinning and twirling in the open air.
  1113. >You only had a second to take it in, but the view outside was incredible.
  1114. >The sun was high in the air, the sky was clear and Canterlot was shining like a vein of precious gemstone on the side of the mountain.
  1115. >You stared down, and down, and down.
  1116. >The dizzying height slugged you in the chest with a quick shot of adrenaline, and you acted immediately, poising yourself upside down for your landing.
  1117.  
  1118. >The next balcony was three floors down, and solid ground looked to be about seventy floors down.
  1119. >No pressure or anything.
  1120. >Despite your unease, you stretched your arms out at the last possible moment, facing outwards from the tower.
  1121. >With tremendous force of will, you grabbed onto the railing with both hands.
  1122. >Your claws scratched and scrabbled on the steel, but you still held firm.
  1123. >You bent your arms at the elbows and brought your knees up to your chest, balling up to take the force of the landing.
  1124. >You used the weight of your tail to keep from swinging down and off of your perch, achieving perfect balance in less than a second.
  1125. >Deep breaths, they were rough to take with the railing pressed right against your chest.
  1126. >”Hahhhhhhh…”
  1127. >You exhaled and extended your arms again, posing in a handstand.
  1128. >Heights had never been an issue with you, but you’d be lying if you said that the sheer drop you were looking at wasn’t rattling you a little.
  1129. >It would take maybe two more jumps to get used to it, you thought.
  1130. >…Doing the next one feet first would be a good idea too.
  1131. >After another deep breath, you tilted yourself over backwards, setting both feet down onto the balcony.
  1132. >Your tail followed through, shifting over your weight so you could stand straight.
  1133. >Now that you were on firm ground, you looked up.
  1134. >Princess Celestia looked positively terrified, absolutely relieved and just a little angry, all at the same time.
  1135. >You grinned and waved up at her, then just turned around and barged into the chambers adjoining the balcony like you owned the place.
  1136.  
  1137. >It was real fancy in here, same as everywhere else in the castle.
  1138. >There was a four poster bed, a very spindly glass table and some equally spindly glass chairs set out around it.
  1139. >Up above, a crystal chandelier was hung.
  1140. >It was particular, more like a crystalline cage, and inside there was-
  1141. “A star?”
  1142. >You whispered in awe.
  1143. >Fascinated, you walked right up under the chandelier to get a closer look.
  1144. >The star was a pure white, with arcing ivory prominences and silvery coronal loops.
  1145. >It bathed the whole room in its light and in its warmth, you could feel it on your scales.
  1146. >The warm sensation was pleasant, but it seemed to fill you with a strange kind unease if you stood too close.
  1147. >You sighed.
  1148. “Right, ice. I’m an ice dragon.”
  1149. >It sounded so video gamey when you said it like that.
  1150. >Either way, you tore your eyes from the chandelier and turned your eyes to the front door.
  1151. >The door was mahogany, inlaid with a silver moon, a golden sun and bronze stars.
  1152. >…Was this somebody’s penthouse or what?
  1153. >You crossed the room on the flawless white marble floor, being much more careful about scraping your claws, and you swung open the door, then you glanced up the hall.
  1154. >The stairs were there, seven doors up.
  1155. “Ah, okay.”
  1156. >So this was actually YOUR penthouse.
  1157. >You sighed with the sort of relaxation you hadn’t felt in years and shut the door.
  1158. >There was a huge smile spreading across your face.
  1159. >This, this was definitely an upgrade.
  1160. >From hardwood to marble and from couches to, well…
  1161.  
  1162. >Your new four poster bed.
  1163. >The bed looked like a damn wedding cake, with all white coverings, wispy curtains and huge white cotton pillows stuffed full.
  1164. >All that feathery lushness lured you over the way an angler would tease a fish out of a pool.
  1165. >And you bit down whole heartedly, “stumbling” across the marble floor to fall in among the comforters.
  1166. >Practically purring, you rubbed your face in the bedding before shoving your snout into the fluffiest pillow you could reach.
  1167. “Mmmmmmm… like a shower in the morning.”
  1168. >You mumbled into the cloud- ah, pillow, and for a few minutes, you lay right there, not moving a single muscle.
  1169. >The whole world made hardly a peep, and you shut your eyes.
  1170. >It felt so nice to be on your own and away from your responsibilities for a bit.
  1171. >You liked Princess Celestia and all, but today had been more of an interrogation than an introduction to Equestria.
  1172. >What did she say yesterday?..
  1173. >You grinned and sat up in bed, your eyes were wide open again.
  1174. “I remember.”
  1175. >What came after was your best shot at a Celestia impression, all airy fairy like:
  1176. “I’m here to help you take all this in slowly. This land is called Equestria, and it is filled with mag- Oh Jesus, pfftahhaaahahaaaaa…”
  1177. >Your laughter put itself out eventually.
  1178. >Silence was your company.
  1179. >Sighing a bit less contentedly now, you shrugged off your bag and flopped onto your back.
  1180. >Booooored. You were bored all of a sudden.
  1181. “I’m supposed to be running right now anyway.”
  1182. >You muttered before jumping out of bed.
  1183. >First came your stretches, most of which you had ripped straight from that one yoga session your aunt dragged you into once.
  1184. >…You blushed at just the thought of slim yoga pants.
  1185. >But then you shook it off, smacking your gums like you had a bad taste stuck in your maw.
  1186. “Bleh.”
  1187. >You lied down and got into a prone cobra position to start, stomach flat on the marble with your legs, chest and arms above the ground.
  1188.  
  1189. >You squeezed your glutes and held your tail up in an arc as well, far enough over your back to tickle your ear with the feathery spade on the end.
  1190. >For thirty seconds you tickled away with your tail, holding the pose, feeling all the muscles in action stretch taut, from your thighs, up along your tail, across your chest and at the top of your back.
  1191. >Then, giggling, you lowered yourself and let your tail go limp.
  1192. >Next came the child’s pose.
  1193. “Hup…”
  1194. >You laid your torso out as low and straight as you could between your thighs in a sort of kneeling position.
  1195. >But you held your arms out flat against the marble floor as far out in front of you as you could reach and with your legs slightly splayed.
  1196. >The muscles all along your chest and arms were put into it, each sinew was pulled just right.
  1197. >Then it was on to downward dog.
  1198. >You planted both palms and pushed yourself up on your arms, just as you lifted your buttocks high.
  1199. >Standing as flat on your toes as you could, keeping in mind you were digitigrade, you splayed your legs shoulder width apart and put your head between your arms.
  1200. >Like this, of course, you could see behind you.
  1201. >Right away your alarm bells went off.
  1202. >There was an ash colored stallion wearing a set of shady armor standing in the doorway, and he was clearly staring above your eyes.
  1203. >A hiss escaped your mouth, through gritted fangs.
  1204. >In a flash, you jumped back up onto both of your feet, blushing so hard and so hot that you swore you saw steam billowing from your cheeks.
  1205. >The stallion watched you with a slight sort of surprise, more nonchalant than anything.
  1206. >Like, his eyebrows maybe rose up about 4 millimeters and his batwings…
  1207. “Batwings?”
  1208. >You wanted to slap yourself for saying that out loud.
  1209. >But still, the stallion answered you, with a curt bow.
  1210. >”I’m afraid not. My name is Restless Slumber, Madam Columba, from the eleventh batpony division of the Lunar Guard. Batwings is in the twentieth division, unicorns.”
  1211.  
  1212. >You took a step back, still a little flustered, and fuming slightly at the fact that Batwings was a real name some parent gave their kid… or was it foal?
  1213. “Ah, well…”
  1214. >Your blush dimmed, and you stood up properly to have a look at Restless.
  1215. >Restless Slumber’s expression was slack, his amber eyes, lidded.
  1216. >Looking closer, Restless was hardly held together, his wing membranes were scarred and worn like old sails at the edges, the cat’s eye gem on the front of his armor was cracked, white and opaque.
  1217. >Restless’ mane lay limp, black and greasy down over the right side of his head and neck.
  1218. >And his tail was in a similar state.
  1219. >You blinked and lifted your gaze back up to Restless Slumbers’ face.
  1220. >He was such a sudden contrast to the prim and downright shining Royal Guard.
  1221. >Like a disinterested summer jobber working the cash at a gas station.
  1222. >Your blush had receded, and you felt much calmer now thinking about Earth.
  1223. >After taking a deep breath, you waved and greeted the Lunar Guard.
  1224. “Hello, Restless Slumber! It’s nice to meet you, but…”
  1225. >You hesitated, not sure how to word it without sounding rude.
  1226. “What, uhhh, what can I help you with?”
  1227. >You topped that off with a grin to try and make things less awkward.
  1228. >It must have worked, because Restless Slumber smiled back and you got a feeling of genuine, tangible relief.
  1229. >”I am here at your assistance Madam. Princess Luna has assigned me to be your personal bodyguard during your stay at the castle.”
  1230. >You blinked, momentarily surprised.
  1231. >But then you shifted right into a smug smile.
  1232. “So you’ll be following me around Canterlot?”
  1233. >Restless Slumber blinked, nonchalant.
  1234. >Your mind was pretty much solely on the run ahead, but your heartbeat wasn’t so furious that you didn’t hear Restless answer.
  1235. >”Yes Madam, I shall accompany you at all times to ensure your safety.”
  1236. >You laughed and dashed over to the balcony.
  1237. >With one careful leap, you perched yourself on the railing and pivoted around to face Restless Slumber again.
  1238.  
  1239. >”Madam. Please step down from there, I implore you.”
  1240. >Restless made his way over to you leisurely, ‘imploring’ in that exhausted monotone of his.
  1241. >You laughed and snorted and giggled.
  1242. >For Princess Luna’s sake, you hoped this wasn’t her best.
  1243. >There was enough time to yawn and lie flat on the railing for a catnap before Restless Slumber reached you….
  1244. >You sighed, listening to Restless’ plodding hooves.
  1245. >And so there was enough time to check out the view from here too, the city sprawled below and the grassland stretching beyond, bordered by mountains.
  1246. >The Sun, you saw, had already descended from its highest point, halfway to the horizon.
  1247. >Which made it about five o’clock if you were guesstimating right.
  1248. >…And now Restless Slumber, you saw, had finally reached you.
  1249. >Restless Slumber stood at attention, speaking slowly, but clearly.
  1250. >”I understand you are eager to depart, Madam Columba… I shall call up a carriage immediately. But, please lie down here on the balcony where it is safe…”
  1251. >You sat up and smiled almost apologetically at the tired old guard.
  1252. >This really wasn’t going to be a race at all, what a shame.
  1253. >You nodded to Restless and hopped up on your feet, feeling not an ounce of fear even though you were just a slip away from a ten story drop.
  1254. “Oh take your time, I’ll be on my way down ahead of you, alright?”
  1255. >With a parting glance at Restless Slumber’s slightly consternated expression, you swung down on the railing.
  1256. >You hung there, checking below to be sure there was actually some sort of support holding up your balcony.
  1257. >Sure enough, there was a support of gilded steel, the very tip was jutting out below you and a little to your left.
  1258. >You swung side to side once to get the momentum to jump over.
  1259. >With an echoing clang, you landed.
  1260. >”Madam! Madam Columba!”
  1261. >It honestly surprised you to hear Restless Slumber hollering, but all you had to was look up and see that it was him.
  1262.  
  1263. >Restless had his head stuck out over the railing, and you could spot his furrowed brow from here.
  1264. >That gave you some pause.
  1265. >It was kind of rude to cause trouble like this you knew, especially for someone who just wanted to keep an eye out for your wellbeing.
  1266. >But, well…
  1267. >You had to run.
  1268. >So you smiled and waved.
  1269. >Then right away you hopped straight down from your momentary perch.
  1270. >With all four appendages, you grasped the steel support.
  1271. >Your claws scrabbled on the metal, making you slide a few meters before you got a real grip.
  1272. >As for what was up ahead…
  1273. >Around and lower on the tower, you could see tall window panes slicing straight down its’ stark white face.
  1274. >Below that, there was another balcony.
  1275. >Hand over hand, claws over claws, you swiftly descended along the support, making your way to the tall paned windows.
  1276. >Wingbeats above told you that Restless Slumber had gotten his lazy ass off the ground.
  1277. >You laughed and slid the last few meters down the support before jumping over to the window.
  1278. >It took three whole seconds of airtime before you reached the giant window frame.
  1279. >With as much force as you could exert, you slammed your hands and feet into the sides of the frame.
  1280. >Your claws gripped much better here, seeing as they could simply dig into the stone to make your own grips.
  1281. >Suddenly, feeling watched, you turned your attention to the window.
  1282. >A stunned unicorn in a lab coat stared back at you through the glass.
  1283. >In your minds’ eye you could see how… boldly your goods were on display right now for this stallion, with your legs and arms spread wide away from them.
  1284. >But you had more pressing concerns, horses didn’t even care about nakedness anyway you remembered.
  1285. >Totally a non-thing.
  1286. >So, you stuck your tongue out and giggled, getting what looked like a very nervous laugh back.
  1287. >Then you started to climb down, reining in the threat of a giggle fit as you watched the unicorns big bright eyes follow you out of sight.
  1288.  
  1289. >”M…d…m!”
  1290. >Restless’ voice echoed against the castle, but was mostly lost in the wind.
  1291. >He was flying nearer, swooping towards you.
  1292. >You started sliding quickly down the window frame, eager to really turn this into a chase.
  1293. >Your scales and claws were great for this, you hardly felt a thing scraping them all the way down.
  1294. >A few meters above the platform, you pushed off of the window pane with both feet and leaped.
  1295. >One, two backflips, before landing in a roll.
  1296. >You turned that roll into a sprint just as soon as you could, across the balcony and in the general direction of the city.
  1297. >Looking up, you could see that Restless Slumber was finally moving at your pace.
  1298. >The batpony soared just a few meters above your head, thirty meters from the end of your tail.
  1299. >Restless Slumbers’ eyes weren’t lidded anymore, his tattered wings looked more like a premonition than a joke.
  1300. >His gaze was frankly, piercing.
  1301. >So… You breathed deep and took a long, deliberate stride.
  1302. >Your intial step was really just an all-out kick, executed with so much force your claws cut into the marble.
  1303. >With the stupendous amount of added force, your speed climbed beyond anything you’d ever thought you would be capable of.
  1304. >You bounded across the whole balcony, all 100 meters of it in eight seconds, at the most.
  1305. >There was no time to waste thinking about how ridiculous that was.
  1306. >Moving at that speed, you hardly got a chance to see what was ahead after all.
  1307. >The gilded support to this balcony swept out over the side and sloped downwards, before straightening out into a steep drop.
  1308. >Your heart raced as you leaped over the railing to land on the support.
  1309. >You didn’t even let the slope carry you, you simply dashed on.
  1310. >Then, with another powerful pounce, you launched yourself over the drop.
  1311. >There were five heart blasting moments of hang time before you gripped the steel.
  1312. >You laughed gleefully, sliding all the way down to the last marble outcropping below.
  1313. >Restless Slumber was still diving down at you, not near level.
  1314. >That was a little worrisome, you hoped he would give you a run for your money again once this race got more horizontal.
  1315.  
  1316. >Your grin widened as you touched down.
  1317. >However much you hoped for a good competition though, there was no way you were going to slow down for Restless.
  1318. >This wasn’t just a race, it was a pursuit
  1319. >Restless Slumber was trying to catch up to you.
  1320. >But you were catching up to your dreams.
  1321. >You licked your lips, there was no one in front of you, but you could feel the claws on the end of your toes, tearing into the heels of the runner ahead.
  1322. >You sucked down air and stepped back to plant your left foot against the tower behind you.
  1323. >Your heart rushed and a flurry of beats like gongs hammered in your ears.
  1324. >With utmost deftness, you planted your right foot ahead and under your right shoulder.
  1325. >As far as you were concerned, your ATP reserves were infinite.
  1326. >You could do anything, your new stamina allowed you every possibility you could think of.
  1327. >It was like pulling pages from a book.
  1328. >A book that you’d been writing in your head since your first memory.
  1329. >More like an encyclopedia, titled:
  1330. >“How to Escape.”
  1331. >You looked up.
  1332. >Restless just passed the halfway point of the drop, leaving you a four second lead.
  1333. >Ahead you saw an impossibly long and slender bridge vaulting from this balcony to a neighbouring tower.
  1334. >”Mad-“
  1335. >A resounding crash broke the air and drowned out Restless completely.
  1336. >You had pushed off of the tower and the balcony, using every ounce of your strength to drive your legs.
  1337. >It was good, the ungodly noise you’d made busting the marble slabs muted even the whistling wind in your ears, if only for a moment.
  1338. >The starting distance you flew was…
  1339.  
  1340. >Well it almost felt like you were cheating, especially with your tail there for balance.
  1341. >Ten, no, fifteen meters crossed in a split second.
  1342. >It was absurd, like a dream.
  1343. >At this speed, there was no time to look anywhere but straight ahead anymore.
  1344. >There was another tower with a slanted roof that stood below the sky bridge.
  1345. >You recognized the windows immediately, it was the medical ward.
  1346. >Just then, you touched down and started your sprint on that first step.
  1347. >Your legs pumped perfectly, there was no fatigue to plague your technique, after all.
  1348. >You made proper use of your digitigrade feet now, always pushing with the toes, then kicking to profit from that impact.
  1349. >The balcony seemed to vanish instantly, in seconds you were a quarter of the way across the bridge.
  1350. >A quick check, not even a second, behind you revealed that Restless Slumber had over a hundred meters to make up.
  1351. >You laughed and started counting
  1352. >One, two, three strides and you leaped off of the bridge.
  1353. >There was a hurricane raging in your ears, but inside you were as still as stone.
  1354. >Far, far below you, yawning from the abyss, you could see a steaming lake at the foot of the mountain.
  1355. >But then it was replaced by wood shingles.
  1356. >And your mind began to race again.
  1357. >You sprinted up the roof with raw abandon, cutting chunks out of the shingles with every step.
  1358. >Up and over the apex, you finally saw the goal line.
  1359. >The inner city of Canterlot.
  1360. >It lay nestled below, before the palace wall, wrapping around so that it’s back lay against the mountain.
  1361. >Apartment complexes, markets and shops, banks and courthouses.
  1362. >Roofs to run across, dingy alleyways to cut through, crowded streets to camouflage yourself into.
  1363. >But, before that, you had another bridge to jump to.
  1364. >It stood on four pristine white pillars just below the end of the medical ward’s roof.
  1365. >An easy drop down, and you took it mid stride so you could start sprinting again right away.
  1366.  
  1367. >But suddenly you heard a boom sound out, followed swiftly by-
  1368. >”Madam Columba!”
  1369. >You whipped your head around behind…
  1370. >No.
  1371. >Restless Slumber was beside you.
  1372. >He had caught up, but how?
  1373. >You blinked, but you never stopped running across the bridge.
  1374. >Your bodyguard stared at you, eye to eye, every flap of his wings was like a thunderclap.
  1375. >”Please allow me to at least fly alongside you, Madam.”
  1376. >You laughed and hollered over all the noise.
  1377. “You’re way too nice to me you know?! Giving me a chance to warm up before you get serious like that!”
  1378. >There was no change in Restless Slumber’s expression, but you knew from just the look in his eyes that you were right.
  1379. >So, you asked.
  1380. “You just broke the sound barrier right?!”
  1381. >Restless nodded.
  1382. >And again you laughed, even harder.
  1383. >This place was insane, Equestria was absolutely balls to the wall.
  1384. >It was what you always wanted.
  1385. >You smirked and reached out to bop Restless on the nose.
  1386. “You don’t have to ask to be alongside me if you can move faster than me, dummy. Just keep up.”
  1387. >Restless Slumber, for the first time, looked completely nonplussed.
  1388. >But then he smiled.
  1389. >It wasn’t a big one by any means.
  1390. >…It was probably the smallest you’d ever seen, but it was there.
  1391. >”Understood.”
  1392. >You rolled your eyes in mock derision, but the effect was probably dulled quite a bit by the big grin on your face.
  1393. >It was a humbling, but welcome change to meet someone who was faster than you.
  1394. >The race was over.
  1395. >You lost.
  1396.  
  1397. >That was two losses in a row, counting the police chase before you got here.
  1398. >It would be embarrassing, if anyone else was keeping track.
  1399. >But what was really picking at your pride was how narrow your thinking had been from the start.
  1400. >Still human, you had still been thinking within the bounds of humanity and physics.
  1401. >You were a dragon now, and apparently the laws of physics were very pliable here.
  1402. “If a little horse with batwings can go supersonic…”
  1403. >…Then so can you, with some practice.
  1404. >For now though, you looked ahead to plot your route.
  1405. >Below the bridge, standing before and up over the palace wall, an immense tree spread its limbs high and outward.
  1406. >You zeroed in on a particular branch, one that looked big enough to take your weight, but also limber enough to bend with the force of you grabbing hold.
  1407. >And from there it was sprinting, with Restless Slumber slicing through the air at your side.
  1408. >He kept up with your relentless pace wonderfully.
  1409. >So of course, you had to test it.
  1410. >You pounced onto the guardrail on your left and then you leapt to Restless and planted your hand on his back.
  1411. >With the momentum of your leap and by pushing off of Restless, you cartwheeled over him.
  1412. >But Restless never faltered, he just watched you with an understated amusement.
  1413. >So you stuck your tongue out in return and kept on sprinting.
  1414. >The fiery streak of passion you’d been riding on all the way from Celestia’s Chambers had finally begun to wane.
  1415. >However, your speed only increased.
  1416. >Your mindset was better, one hundred meters in eight seconds didn’t seem so ridiculous at all.
  1417. >Four seconds.
  1418. >That was the new time you counted as soon as your foot hit the one hundred meter mark.
  1419. >Your instincts were catching up as well, you registered every step, every movement before your eyes, and every obstacle before your feet in less than instants.
  1420.  
  1421. >With all that added speed, you leapt high in the air off the side of the bridge.
  1422. >In your first second of airtime, moving upward, you pulled your limbs in closer to your body, then, as you arced downward and began to plummet towards the tree below, you extended your tail out from beneath you.
  1423. >The branch seemed to come to you, instead of the other way around.
  1424. >Once, twice, thrice, you wrapped your tail around the bark.
  1425. >You held fast and used up the leftover momentum by swinging in circles around the limb.
  1426. >Finally you came to a stop, upside down.
  1427. >There was no holding back the grin on your face as you stared up at Restless on his approach.
  1428. >Restless Slumber slowed his roll and glided the rest of the way before hovering in front of you.
  1429. >His flipped expression was… Puzzled?
  1430. >You could hardly tell sometimes.
  1431. >Before you could speak to him though, Restless Slumber flew a full circle around you and intoned.
  1432. >”Just checking for any bruises or cuts madam. I can have a doctor here in minutes.”
  1433. “I’m fine thank you.”
  1434. >You answered,
  1435. >With a yawn, you uncoiled your tail and fell.
  1436. >Three seconds of airtime, and in three seconds, you flipped yourself over.
  1437. >Your claws embedded into the branch below on contact, so you could stand straight and tall.
  1438. >Restless had already followed after you in a downward barrel roll.
  1439. >But you spared no more time, you dropped down to another branch before finally reaching solid ground.
  1440. >Your claws hit dirt and your eyes were struck with the sight of a bustling marketplace.
  1441. >Ponies of all class and age and race trotted about on the cobblestone from stall to stall, buying, selling, bartering, scamming, and cheating and…
  1442. >Pickpocketing? Maybe you were just jumping to conclusions, but the black dragon standing by the cherry stall seemed to have that look about him, his motions were big and led the eye around.
  1443.  
  1444. >You crouched behind a nearby bush and kept your eyes locked on the dragon you’d spotted, it wasn’t too difficult with the red cloak he was wearing.
  1445. >He was shaped kind of how you were, bipedal, although he had black scales with a black frill from the top of his head down to the base of his neck.
  1446. >Before your eyes, and the eyes of the particularly well-groomed stallion he was entertaining, the dragon began to perform a magic trick.
  1447. >He started by flourishing his cloak with his right hand and then-
  1448. >You would have missed it if you blinked, but from behind the dragon like you were, you could see him swiftly pass the wand he now held aloft in his left hand, from his right one.
  1449. >The rich stallion gaped a moment and excitedly bellowed a,
  1450. “Great Scott!’’
  1451. >That you heard him at all was a testament to the pony’s volume.
  1452. >The black dragon just nodded and smiled devilishly.
  1453. >You grinned and sat down, intent on watching for now.
  1454. >Restless Slumber followed your cue, and vanished in amongst the shadowy branches above.
  1455.  
  1456. >The magic trick progressed.
  1457. >The dragon began by allowing the stallion to have a closer look at the wand for himself.
  1458. >By now a gaggle of twenty fillies with saddlebags had shown up as well, all unicorns. Schoolgirls, maybe?
  1459. >Anyway, they started passing the wand around for everyone to have a thorough looking at.
  1460. >This… would take a while, you could see the dragon magician was already tapping his foot.
  1461. >You sighed and shifted around to sit on your knees, and Restless Slumber must have felt some sort of tension break.
  1462. >He dove out of the trees, or so you heard, from the faint rustling of leaves.
  1463. >Restless’ landing was hardly perceptible, it actually scared you a little, when you realized a second too late that he was standing behind you.
  1464. >You twisted your head around to have a look, and saw that Restless’ eyes were looking everywhere but at you.
  1465. >He WAS your bodyguard after all.
  1466. >But, you were getting distracted.
  1467. >You turned your gaze on the magician once more.
  1468. >He had green eyes you noticed, kind of like yours.
  1469. >And he had horns, like a ram’s, winding back around his ears.
  1470. >You blinked and tilted your head.
  1471. >You’d just realized something a little obvious.
  1472. >There wasn’t any reason at all for you to hide like this, you were stalking the magician when you could be spectating him.
  1473. >Besides that…
  1474. >You slowly turned your head to the right.
  1475. >There was an enormous man with a bull’s head standing at his stall barely two meters away.
  1476. >The minotaur had his muscly arms crossed and his intense gaze was trained solely on you.
  1477. >Now that you actually looked around, there were also several bemused ponies looking your way.
  1478. >You sucked down a lungful of air, puffed your cheeks up and stared straight down at the ground.
  1479. >Then you stood up, stepped around the bush you’d been hiding behind and hopped down onto the cobbl-
  1480.  
  1481. >Suddenly, before your feet could make contact, you were grabbed around your midriff by an immense pair of hands!
  1482. >It was the minotaur, and the grin on his face wouldn’t look out of place in a line-up of serial fucking rapists.
  1483. >You flailed all of your limbs and whipped your tail around like you were on fire, but none of it got you anywhere.
  1484. >Your pleading came without prior thought, it just sort of rose out of your mouth on its own.
  1485. “P-please, let me go!”
  1486. >The minotaur laughed and adjusted his grip, transferring you from both hands to just his right fist.
  1487. >His voice boomed like a drum.
  1488. “C’mere girlie, let IRON WILL have a good look at you.”
  1489. >For just that moment, for a single second from hand to hand, this IRON WILL guy was wide open.
  1490. >You weren’t the type to just let seconds like that pass by.
  1491. >You slung your tail with as much force as you could muster, right between Iron Will’s bullhorns.
  1492. >THWACK!
  1493. >Your tail struck true, and stung like a f-f-f-
  1494. “FUCK! OW!”
  1495. >You ripped your tail away from Iron Will’s head with your own two hands, holding it close to see the damage.
  1496. >A few scales looked bruised, dyed a light red, and the end of your tail was already starting to go numb from all the pain.
  1497. >Iron Will, for his part, just nodded and hollered.
  1498. >“GOOD. When they get grabby, you get SMASHY!”
  1499. >You slumped over in Iron Will’s grasp and shook your head in disbelief.
  1500. “What are you even talking about?! I’ve never met you in my life!”
  1501. >But that didn’t faze the minotaur one bit, in fact, you were almost certain that Iron Will didn’t even acknowledge the fact that you’d spoken.
  1502. >Where… Where was your bodyguard?
  1503. >You peered over Iron Will’s shoulder.
  1504. >Restless Slumber was STILL standing under the tree, watching the situation unfold.
  1505. >Just fucking watching.
  1506.  
  1507. “What are you doing!”
  1508. >You screamed at him.
  1509. “I’m getting kidnapped here!”
  1510. >You huffed and puffed, if Restless Slumber didn’t get off his ass, you couldn’t see all of the ponies in this marketplace ignoring a scream for help.
  1511. >…
  1512. >But obviously you needed to get your eyes checked, because nobody even batted an eye.
  1513. >One mare actually looked at you, laughed, and kept on trotting.
  1514. >Before you could scream for help again, Iron Will barrelled on into whatever passed as “conversation” with him.
  1515. >”I’ve seen where your heart lies, now let IRON WILL initiate: ROMANCE.”
  1516. >You blinked as you slowly came to understand what this was all about.
  1517. >Did he actually think you were stalking that bla-
  1518. >Iron Will hurled you bodily at the magician and his crowd, and it seemed all the world that you’d left your thoughts behind in his bulging arms.
  1519. >You had to admit that Iron Will’s technique was superb.
  1520. >You spun around on yourself more times than you could count, like a big scaly football.
  1521. >But you also couldn’t help but scream, and it came out embarrassingly high pitched.
  1522. >Despite that, you stuck the landing perfectly, twisting about so the back of your deltoid hit the ground first.
  1523. >From there you rolled, twice, before coming to a standing stop right beside the magician you’d had your eyes on.
  1524. >His green eyes had equal parts concern and confusion about them, as they bored into yours.
  1525. >”Are you... Alright?”
  1526. >You weren’t really sure if he was talking mentally or physically, either way you were battered.
  1527. >A deep red blush rushed to your cheeks.
  1528. >But you managed to cough up a couple chuckles despite that, and you stepped around so you were facing the dragon with the rest of the spectators… who had all their eyes on you.
  1529. “Haha sorry... I was watching from over there and…”
  1530. >You trailed off, but the black dragon picked right up on you.
  1531. >”Iron Will, yeah, he can get really physical. But he’s harmless.”
  1532.  
  1533. “Oh.”
  1534. >That explained… Well it explained the general populace ignoring your plight at least.
  1535. >But, you had a glare reserved for Restless, which you delivered right away.
  1536. >Somehow he spotted it too, even from the tree, and acknowledged it with a funny little bow.
  1537. >What sort of bodyguard lets his charge get flung across a market square?
  1538. >…Then again, YOU were the one who made a habit of flinging yourself off of buildings, maybe y-
  1539. >”Well then madam, my name is Jazz. A beau like you must have a gorgeous name to match, eh?”
  1540. >You blinked a couple times, taken aback by the compliment Jazz deftly paid you.
  1541. >Then you answered.
  1542. “Columba, I’m Columba.”
  1543. >Jazz inhaled, deep, deep and deeper again, through his nostrils, like he was taking in the very scent of your name.
  1544. >”Yes, yes! Madame Columba, it is a pleasure to entertain someone so serene, and might I say… Lithe?”
  1545. >Right then Jazz reached out and actually grabbed your tail by its end.
  1546. >His fingers danced and slid over your scales, but it seemed like he was really feeling out the muscles that lay coiled beneath.
  1547. >Of course, you had half a mind to whip Jazz in the face, but the look he was giving you told you this really was just a moment between the entertainer and entertained.
  1548. >And that moment passed, though the stallion who was watching chuckled choicely when Jazz let your tail slip from his fingers.
  1549. “I implore you, have a look at my wand for yourself with those brilliant eyes of yours, do you see anything suspicious?”
  1550. >All of these compliments were hell on your nerves, but you’d finally stopped blushing.
  1551. >One of the fillies in the crowd handed you Jazz’s wand, and all thirty of them giggled when you took it.
  1552. >Once the wand was in your hands however, you couldn’t care less.
  1553. >This Jazz guy… Well, you’d seen him using sleight of hand earlier, there must be a trick to this as well.
  1554. >So you gave the wand a thrice over, once for anything on the surface like secret compartment doors.
  1555.  
  1556. >Then you tapped the tip of the wand against one of your horns and listened close for any rattling or hollow noises.
  1557. >And finally, you twirled the wand, seeing if the weight was distributed unevenly at all, which would suggest an object stored inside.
  1558. >Jazz was watching you closely the whole time.
  1559. >But, as far as you could tell, there was nothing suspicious about this wand.
  1560. >There weren’t any unusual marks on it, it wasn’t hollow, there wasn’t anything stuffed inside.
  1561. >Hmmm…
  1562. >You gave the wand a sniff too, just for the sake of checking.
  1563. >There was no particular odor that you could perceive, but your eyes flicked to Jazz.
  1564. >He’d moved his hands up to his stomach when you sniffed the wand, like a nervous tick.
  1565. >It was hardly the sort of thing you’d get suspicious over.
  1566. >But, this was supposed to be a trick after all.
  1567. >So you sniffed the wand again to set Jazz on edge a little, before handing it off.
  1568. >Jazz laughed as he received his wand.
  1569. >”Oh ho ho, and what a discerning young lady. You don’t trust me one bit, do you?”
  1570. >The look on his face was playful, with a conniving little grin and one perked eyebrow.
  1571. >You smiled and stuck your tongue out before responding.
  1572. “Nope.”
  1573. >Jazz, for his part, winked back at you before jumping into the spectacle again.
  1574. >”Excellent, most excellent! So we’ve all had a look at this wand, and there’s nothing tricky about it, correct? Just a “plain” old wand, if you could call a magical tool “plain”.
  1575. >Jazz held the wand aloft here and you and all the other spectators nodded.
  1576. >Now Jazz grinned, and gripped his wand with both hands.
  1577. >”Observe then, and be amazed.”
  1578. >With a look of utmost concentration, the magician slowly applied force, bending both ends of the wand toward each other.
  1579. >You watched, at first confused, but then shocked.
  1580. >The wand bent in on itself without snapping or cracking, a quarter of the way, a third, halfway and then three quarters.
  1581. >Finally, just as both ends met, the wand burst into brilliant green flame.
  1582.  
  1583. >Then Jazz opened his hands once again.
  1584. >The purple flame burned cheerily in his left hand.
  1585. >You gasped along with the crowd.
  1586. >But Jazz wasn’t even finished.
  1587. >As though beckoning, he waggled the fingers on his left hand in a wave.
  1588. >At first, nothing seemed to be happening.
  1589. >But that was before you realized the flames were shifting.
  1590. >Bit by bit, as though aided by Jazz’s motions, the fire coalesced and rose.
  1591. >The fire’s new form revealed itself centimeter by centimeter, forming a long, thin, stick.
  1592. >Then, finally, the top of the stick bloomed with fiery petals.
  1593. >One, by one, the petals spun on and around each other, hugging tight to shape a rose.
  1594. >Jazz flourished his fiery construction and presented it to you, with his cape flapping at his side.
  1595. “H-hey now… Thanks but I… Well…”
  1596. >You couldn’t stop blushing, and you looked down, away from Jazz.
  1597. >That damned stallion was chuckling again, as he puffed on his cigarette.
  1598. >Jazz took it all in stride though, and his grin didn’t flag one bit.
  1599. >”Oh? Is it because it’s purple? Here, here…”
  1600. >Before you could answer “No. It’s because you’re hitting on me and I used to be a dude,” Jazz brought the rose up in front of his mouth and blew on it.
  1601. >The rose blew up, the purple flames it was made of roared and billowed.
  1602. >And as the flames died down, so did the purple.
  1603. >It gave way to a soft pink tone that matched the pink accents on your body far too well for it to be just a coincidence.
  1604. >The fillies all “ooh’d” and “ahh’d”, enchanted.
  1605. >Once more, Jazz presented the flaming rose to you.
  1606. >He was even on his knees this time, with the ends of his cape lying idle at his sides.
  1607. “Madame.”
  1608. >Jazz uttered.
  1609. >…Just bite the fucking bullet, you thought.
  1610.  
  1611. >You reached out and tried to grab the rose, but you pulled away before you actually touched it.
  1612. >The flames were… Wait they were real?
  1613. >You reached out again, brow furrowed.
  1614. >The heat was very real, you’d definitely burn your fingers trying to grasp the flames/
  1615. >Jazz laughed.
  1616. “Ah ah ah, how foolish of me. Purple? Pink? It doesn’t matter if it’s too hot to hold. Does it?”
  1617. >You realized a second later that Jazz was prompting you to answer.
  1618. “Oh, yeah, I can’t actually take it.”
  1619. >As though flaming roses were a common issue, the kind you would call a toll free hotline for, Jazz stood up and stared intently at the rose.
  1620. >Then Jazz waved his left arm in a semi-circle around his side, to bring his open palm to a dramatic stop right before the head of the rose.
  1621. >You watched closely, along with all of the fillies and the gentlecolt.
  1622. >What could Jazz possib-
  1623. >The rose’s flames swirled away from the body of the rose itself, passing around and down its length in a wondrous spiral.
  1624. >There was no obvious swap, Jazz never even moved his hands at all as the process continued.
  1625. >The rose became real, all on its own, petal by petal.
  1626. >Once the flames had utterly disappeared, Jazz flourished the completed rose at you.
  1627. >His vivacity was contagious, the crowd all cheered, and ponies that you hadn’t even noticed were watching, whistled and called out.
  1628. >You took the rose now, without any hesitation.
  1629. >It was the least you could do to play along with such a wonderful spectacle.
  1630. >You smiled and bowed your head in acknowledgement to Jazz.
  1631. “Thank you.”
  1632. >Jazz winked back and bowed majestically in return.
  1633. >”But of course.”
  1634. >Your grin ratcheted up all on its own.
  1635. >Something sparked at the back of your mind, like you were about to start running again.
  1636. >It was extraordinary, you’d never seen magic tricks that were so… Opaque?
  1637.  
  1638. >Usually you could at least get an IDEA as to how it was all done.
  1639. >But Jazz was inscrutable, sleight of hand could only explain maybe a quarter of what he’d demonstrated.
  1640. >You almost didn’t want to figure out how Jazz had done it at all, although you doubted your admiration for the trickery would be any less than the amazement the trick had inspired in you in the first place.
  1641. >But you pulled yourself back to the present, the crowd was pressing in to pay Jazz his due, so you stepped out of the way.
  1642. >You watched, and waited your turn to speak to the magician, with the rose still clutched in your hand.
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