Somepony New: Chapter 2

“The Equestrian Library Federation was founded in 973 with a simple motto: Everypony Needs To Know. In thirty years, the Federation has grown from half a dozen members to nearly four hundred, librarians, educators and writers from every part of Equestria, each dedicated to the idea that everypony can, and should, have access to the widest possible spectrum of information.”

The voice from the podium droned on and on, and Twilight Sparkle looked at the program for the seventh or eighth time. “You’re going to be very bored,” she said. “A bunch of eggheads yammering at one another for two days.”

“It won’t be so bad,” Desert Brush said. “Last egghead I met, I fell in love with.”

Twilight smiled. “Remind me not to introduce you to any more of them.”

“Far as I’m concerned, they don’t actually egg-zist.”

The smile disappeared. “Old-world humor, I guess. Although I can’t imagine that it was funny there, either.”

“It wasn’t,” Brush admitted. “But my resistance to bad puns has always been low.”

She planted a kiss on his ear. “Let’s test your resistance to boredom.” They took seats in the next-to-last row.

The program somehow proceeded on schedule, and the final item on the agenda that afternoon was a panel discussion on Library Outreach, led by Secret Finder of the Royal Canterlot Library. While library services were available in all but the smallest towns, she said, it’s difficult to get books to ponies in remote areas, and any suggestions would be appreciated.

A pony in the front row wearing a black hoodie and socks raised a hoof. “I have a question.”

“You have the floor,” declared Secret Finder.

“I’d like to know what efforts our libraries are making to reach the changeling community,” said the pony in a weirdly distorted voice.

“There is really no changeling organization of which I’m aware,” Secret Finder answered, “and to my knowledge no changeling has shown any interest in library services.”

“That’s funny, because there’s a changeling in this very room —” she spun and faced the back of the hall — “RIGHT NOW!

Twilight gasped. “P-Pinkie Pie?”

All eyes turned toward Twilight and Brush, and somepony yelled: “SEIZE THEM!”

“Hold on to me,” Twilight whispered. A brief flash, and they were gone.

*–*–*

“So … where are we?” Brush asked.

“I’m not sure,” Twilight admitted. “I just hope it’s outside the city limits. Still, they could call in anypony up to and including the Royal Guards, so it’s not like we have a safe place to hide.”

“Do we have to hide at all? I mean, everything’s in order, right?”

“It’s a mob,” Twilight said. “Mobs do things that nopony would dare do alone. And if we’re caught, you’ll be identified, and everypony will know that the humans exist, and …”

He nodded. “Understood. So what do we do now?”

She pulled his necklace away. “I’m going to try to retune this stone just long enough to contact Celestia and see if she can do something to restore order. Maybe they won’t challenge her.

Brush stared in disbelief. “I can’t imagine a whole town overrun by marauding librarians. That just doesn’t happen.”

“Forget everything you know about what does and doesn’t happen. This is Equestria. Things are different here.”

“I’ll say.”

Twilight’s horn flared for a second. “There. That may buy us some time. We can’t go back to the hotel, obviously, so we may have to stay out here all night and hope we’re not triggering Pinkie Sense.”

“How much range does she have?” Brush asked.

“I have no idea,” said Twilight. “I’m not sure Pinkie even knows.”

“Come to think of it,” asked Brush, “how did Pinkie get to the coast that fast in the first place? Can she outrun a train?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she could, but she probably didn’t have to. There’s a freight train every evening with one car for passengers on a space-available basis. She could have left a day behind us and still made it on time, if the schedules worked out.” Twilight frowned. “What I want to know is how she did that funny voice.”

“I’d say your guess is as good as mine, but I’m hoping it’s better. Because I’ve got nothing. Except, of course, that it’s just Pinkie being Pinkie.”

“Sometimes that’s all the explanation there is,” said Twilight.

“And now that I think about it,” Brush said, “this would be a great time to remember a good old-fashioned concealment spell, what with several hundred angry ponies after us and all.”

“I know one. Unfortunately, it’s limited to one body at a time. It won’t cover us both.”

“So use it,” Brush said. “You’re a whole lot more recognizable than I am. I am Generic Earth Pony.”

“You may be a pony now,” Twilight said sternly, “but you’re a sitting duck if that mob finds you.”

“Is that new-world humor?”

They walked on. The clearings in the forest seemed fewer and farther between. Desert Brush began to cough.

“Are you all right?” Twilight asked.

“Just a bit thirsty,” he said. “I’ll survive.”

Twilight focused for a moment. “I’m seeing what I think is a stream, about four or five minutes ahead. Can you last that long?”

He nodded, but didn’t speak. Occasionally she could hear him trying to suppress the cough reflex, with varying degrees of success. And about six minutes later, they came across a stream.

“Can you jump that?” asked Twilight.

“Think so. First, give me a chance to drain it.” He bent forward — and stopped.

“What’s wrong?”

“Maybe this is just one of those Only In Equestria things,” Brush began, “but … shouldn’t I have a reflection or something?”

Twilight walked up to the edge of the stream, looked downward, and saw nothing but moonlight dancing on the water.

“Very curious,” she said.

“Indeed. Is it still safe to drink?”

“It should be. I mean, it doesn’t look like it’s enchanted or anything.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear,” said Brush.

*–*–*

“Thou art up late,” said Princess Luna.

Celestia yawned. “It’s not all that late. And I have … premonitions for some reason.”

“Has this to do with the changeling incident in Vanhoover, by chance?”

“The what?” Celestia sputtered. “Changelings again? How so?”

“Should you step to the balcony,” said Luna, “you will find that the castle is surrounded by reporters.”

“Oh, great. Can you at least tell me what is going on, before I go out to meet the press?”

Luna produced a scroll. “This was received just after sunset. It was addressed to you, but for some reason it was delivered to me.”

Celestia read. “This is not good. They’re in unfamiliar territory.”

“They need not fear,” answered Luna. “The night shall be their ally. I have so arranged.”

*–*–*

“Freeze,” said Twilight.

Brush froze.

“Off to the right. Search party. Don’t move.”

Two ponies in uniform, one a pegasus, the other a unicorn wielding a portable torch. Had they seen anything? They continued to approach. The torch passed over a tree, several shrubs, and Brush’s and Twilight’s hooves.

And then another tree. The police ponies remained on their course, and continued on their way.

The longest two minutes of the year crawled by, and finally Twilight said, “It has to be.”

“Has to be what?”

“They didn’t see us, even with the light. We couldn’t see ourselves in the water. This has to be some kind of concealment spell.”

“Huh. I always wanted to be invisible when I was little. Never figured it might actually happen.”

“This must be Luna. But it isn’t like Luna. She’s been known to turn off the moonlight in certain special cases, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of her using a traveling concealment spell.”

“If I didn’t know better,” said Brush, “I’d think the Princess was trying to make it up to us for calling your coltfriend insane.”

“It’s not about you,” Twilight snorted. “It’s about the preservation of order. And that comes first in situations like this.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Brush said meekly.

*–*–*

From the balcony, Celestia surveyed the scene. Maybe ten actual reporters, about a dozen photographers, and scores of those characters who have no idea what is going on but want to be part of it just the same.

“This is,” said the Princess, “the only statement I will make on the, uh, situation in Vanhoover. An earth pony named Desert Brush, present at the Equestrian Library Federation convention in Vanhoover, was misidentified — loudly — as a changeling, which resulted in a temporary panic.

“Since the Royal Wedding last year, many ponies have been understandably worried about changelings. Let me assure you that changelings present no meaningful threat to you or to Equestria: they keep their distance, and our defenses have been improved. A single changeling last summer requested asylum in Equestria. She was willing to sacrifice her shape-shifting ability to become a normal pony, and after she met with us, we granted her request.

“Desert Brush is not a changeling. He has never had any shape-shifting ability. His point of origin is far beyond Equestria’s borders, beyond the borders of this continent; my faithful student Twilight Sparkle encountered him while conducting an unusual scientific experiment. After long discussions, we offered to meet with him; he expressed the desire to stay, to become a normal pony, and we granted his request. His conduct as an Equestrian citizen has been exemplary, and his knowledge of technologies beyond our own may serve us well in the future.

“We will not seek to punish the rioters for what was, ultimately, only a minor breach of Harmony. But we ask that they spend some time in reflection over what happened, and whether it is wise to jump to conclusions, to automatically think the worst of somepony new.”

The Princess stepped back, and the balcony was closed forthwith.

*–*–*

“I know I’m going to regret asking this,” Brush began, “but how long can we reasonably expect to be under the protection of Princess Luna?”

“Until sunrise, as a rule,” Twilight answered.

“Well, I hope there’s time to grab a nap between now and then.” Brush sighed. “Finally, something else I miss about what used to be home: wristwatches.”

Twilight looked at him blankly.

“It’s a bracelet containing a mechanism to keep track of time.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose you might need something like that if you don’t know the stars very well.”

Brush sat on the grass. “I don’t really have a problem with living in your shadow, you know. But you don’t have to remind me how dark it is over here.”

“I’m sorry,” said Twilight. “This hasn’t been a good day for either of us, I suppose.”

“When you get to be my age,” Brush said, “any day you can still wake up is a good day.”

“That sounds … morbid.”

“In my younger days, I’d see old couples walking through the park, and I’d think, Wouldn’t that be great, to be together all those years? And then I’d go home and hide in my room because I knew it was never going to happen for me.”

“It still could,” Twilight said softly. “But we have to live through this first.”

“That is how it works: one day at a time.”

“And please don’t say that you’re living in my shadow. That’s not the way things are supposed to work. I don’t need somepony to follow me around. I need somepony to be part of me.”

“For an egghead,” said Brush, “you’re quite the romantic.”

“For a romantic,” said Twilight, “you’re quite the egghead.”

“I guess it all balances out in the end. Let’s get some sleep. From what I remember about sunrise, it always comes too early.”

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