The Sparkle Chronicles: Chapter 3

A much happier unicorn showed up at the door the next day. “I’m off the hook!”

“Were you on a hook?” I asked, wondering where she’d picked up that particular idiom.

“Not literally,” said Twilight. “But the whole Ambassador plan has been scrapped. I couldn’t be happier.”

“Well, yay, as Fluttershy might say. Only louder. What happened?”

“Celestia put her hoof down. She said, and I quote, ‘If we’re not going to recognize their existence yet, we’d look awfully foolish sending them an emissary, wouldn’t we?’ And we would!”

“Good call,” I said. “Did Luna take it well?”

“She complained, but not very much.” Twilight looked around — did she think she was being watched? — and continued: “To be honest, I think she was pushing for me to be the ambassador because I’m supposedly Celestia’s favorite and this would get me out of the way for several years.”

“What’s several years to an immortal?” I asked. “And besides, you technically are Celestia’s favorite, aren’t you?”

“I suppose so. But I’m just glad I don’t have to go. I was so scared…” Her voice trailed off into inaudibility.

“I don’t know about you, but I have faith in your abilities. Haven’t you saved Equestria’s bacon on a regular basis?”

I should have known this was coming. “Bacon? What’s that?”

“Let me try this again. The end of the reign of Night Mare Moon. The re-stone-ification, or whatever, of Discord. The thwarting of the changelings. As I recall, you had something to do with all these, correct?”

She seemed to bristle slightly. “Correct. But you’re overlooking something. In all of those … situations, I had my friends with me. I couldn’t have done anything without them. If I’m being shipped off to another world, I have to go alone. It’s completely different.”

“I see your point.”

“And really, I’ve never been much of anywhere except Canterlot and Ponyville. When I was a filly, my parents took my brother and me to some other places. I know we went to Manehattan for their tenth wedding anniversary, but I barely remember it.” Something like wistfulness was creeping into her voice. “There’s so much in Equestria I’ve never seen.”

“This must be very important to you,” replied Captain Obvious, whose presence was starting to embarrass me.

“Where you’re from is part of what you are,” Twilight said. “You can walk many miles, ride many trains, climb many mountains, but there’s always a place you think of as home. For me, that can never be any place but Equestria.”

“We are what we are,” I said. “You don’t owe me any explanations. I’m just happy that you came back to see me one more time.”

“Oh. About that,” she began.

Uh-oh.

“It seemed like the Retrieval Spell had been activating a little ahead of schedule, so I recreated it. And it didn’t help. It turned out that the spell was just fine. It’s the discontinuity I’m exploiting that’s acting funny.”

I took a couple of seconds to let this sink in. “Is there, um, any risk that you could be trapped here?”

“There is risk with any spell,” she said, sounding like she was teaching a class — which, I suppose, she was. “I think I’m all right. But the time intervals might be shaky.”

“I mean, could Celestia or somepony bring you back?”

“I’m sure they could trace me. Beyond that, I’m not sure.” She took a very deep breath. “In the meantime, I’d have to figure out some way to support myself. I can’t keep taking from you.”

“I don’t mind. Really.”

“I’m a very good librarian, I think, but what library here would want to take me on?”

“Discrimination on the basis of species. By now we probably have a law against that.”

She gave me a look I couldn’t even begin to read. “Not everypony is suitable for every job. Or non-ponies, either. You’ll never see a griffon as a Royal Guard.”

“Has a griffon ever asked to be a Royal Guard?”

“Not as far as I know.”

I could see I was getting nowhere with this line of thought, so I sent one out to left field. “Okay, how about Spike and Rarity?”

Twilight smiled. “Poor Spike. It’s a crush he’ll never get over.”

I know the feeling. “What do the laws say about that? If Rarity could somehow be persuaded to say Yes, could they get married?”

“Oh, Celestia, no. Not permitted at all.”

“Why not? Just because he’s a dragon?”

She stuck a hoof in my rib. “No, silly. He’s underage. Legally, he’s considered to be a colt. He’s not allowed anything stronger than cider, and he can’t even sign for a package delivery without my permission.” Twilight winked. “Although sometimes we’ve bent that a little.”

“Okay, jump ahead ten years. Assuming Rarity waits that long. Could they get married then?”

“It’s up to Celestia. There was a griffon-pony wedding in Fillydelphia a few years back. She’d approve it if she thought they were really in love.” She smiled. “And that’s the important thing, right?”

“Right,” I said.

– = * = –

Two days later, a question burst forth from the back of my mind, where it had apparently been lurking with intent to loom: “Do these trips of yours reduce your capacity for magic?”

Twilight stared at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that, well, you have to maintain a spell just to make sure you can get home, and I have no idea where the nearest ley line is, so I was wondering if you were suffering — what’s the word?”

“Mana?” she guessed.

“Exactly. Mana depletion. Is this a problem for you?”

“Uh, what brought this up?”

“Remember the other day when we drove out in the country, and we had to hurry back or miss the Retrieval Spell? Could you maybe have teleported back, or would that have been too much of a power drain?”

“I don’t get it,” she said. “Are you expecting an Ursa to show up or something?”

“Never mind,” I said. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”

Oh, great, now she looks hurt. Smooth move there.

“Let me try this again. I’m trying to understand some things which may be beyond my comprehension. Here you are, possessor of planet-class magic, and it’s never occurred to you to do a single silly parlor trick to make the goofy human’s eyes bug out. Which, by the way, they would. I am concluding, therefore, that you’re not a showoff by nature.”

“Well, no, not really. But you didn’t ask, either.”

“I never know what to say to you,” I said.

“If I levitate a frying pan over your head, you may assume that you’re doing it wrong.” Her stern facial expression began to waver just a bit, then a bit more. And then she broke out in a case of the giggles. “You’re so silly sometimes.”

“Call it lack of experience. I’ve never met any unicorns before, and there’s nothing on the subject in the Complete Compendium of Human Etiquette, volumes 1 through 6 inclusive.”

She pondered for a moment, and then came up with this: “Okay, thought experiment. Suppose you’d been probing a discontinuity in the fabric of space/time, and you wound up on the edge of the Everfree Forest. What’s the first thing you do?”

“Seriously? I yell for help, then I feel stupid because I have no idea if anyone speaks the same language, and then I probably get eaten by something.”

“I have faith in your abilities,” said Twilight, and we both burst out laughing.

“And speaking of language,” I asked, “how is it that we understand each other at all? I mean, this particular language is what we call English over here. The Royal Canterlot Voice sounds to me like Elizabethan English, which goes back four hundred years or so.”

“It evolved,” Twilight explained, “from the Ancient tongue. Languages have always changed over time. I haven’t done any research on this, though.”

“Could there have been social interactions between humans and ponies long before?”

She shook her head. “No records of this sort exist. I think the most likely explanation is that there was a third species which had connections with both humans and ponies, and both borrowed from their language.”

“Griffons, maybe? According to legend, we’ve had a lot of griffons.”

“I honestly don’t know. I’ll put this down for a future research project.” And out came the quill and the pad; she scribbled something that to me didn’t look close to readable.

“It’s better than my alternate explanation, anyway.”

“And what is that?”

“It’s a function of magic. You’re a unicorn, and you will benefit in a strange land by being understood, so there’s a temporary aura about you which performs some form of translation for us barbarians who don’t speak Equestrian.”

“Should I send an earth pony next time?” she teased. “You could try talking to Pinkie.”

I chuckled. “Well, if nothing else, Pinkie could give you first-hoof information on every one of the half a million humans in this town, because she’d throw a party for each and every one of them.”

“That she would,” said Twilight. “That she would.”

– = * = –

“Lou Gehrig,” a comedian once joked, “actually died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now what are the chances of that?”

I suppose you had to be there. But it occurred to me the next morning, while I was thinking up excuses not to get out of bed, that some fairly unlikely things had been happening to me of late, things I wouldn’t have dared to predict a couple of months ago. That space/time discontinuity, or whatever it was, could have opened up a path to just about any place in the universe. Or it may have been there all along, waiting for someone — make that somepony — to pass through. I’d never have known. It never would have occurred to me that the fabled land of Equestria was something more than just a clever idea by some talented people, a premise on which stories could be based, a pretext to sell toys to youngsters — and, yes, I admit it, occasionally to me. And the idea that Twilight Sparkle, of all ponies, should find that portal, step through it, and find me at the other end? What are the chances of that? With apologies to the late Mr. Gehrig, I consider myself the second-luckiest man on the face of the earth.

And then I realized that by not getting out of bed and running the errands early, I had sentenced myself to an afternoon in the blistering summer heat. Okay, third-luckiest.

– = * = –

“Does it seem to you,” I asked Twilight the next day, “that we seem to talk a lot?”

“What do you mean? Do you not want to talk?”

“No, no, not that,” I said as hurriedly as I could. “It’s just that, well, it’s still something of a shock to me that of all the portals in all the universe, you end up walking through one that ends in front of my house.”

“It had to end somewhere,” she said. “As far as the universe is concerned, one place is as good as another.”

“Yeah, but what are the chances of that?” Now I know what kind of pony I’d be: “one-trick.”

Twilight sighed. “Once it happens, the probability goes up to 100 percent.”

“I know that. Intellectually, I know that. Yet it still messes with my head.”

“Look at it from my point of view,” she said. “The first sentient being I encounter knows who I am and where I’m from. What are the chances of that? I could just as easily have landed in front of a hungry carnivore.”

I remembered that it had been a long time since I’d had a proper hamburger, but this clearly was not the time to bring that up. “There are days when I question my sentience,” I said.

“Don’t feel bad. There are days when I think I’m the most pitiful pony in town.”

“The curse of intelligence?”

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t call it a curse. But being the resident egghead” — again with the air quotes — “means I don’t always get to talk things out with somepony. I can always write to the Princess, and she’ll listen, but I’m embarrassed by some of the things I’ve dropped in her lap. I wouldn’t even dictate them to Spike.”

“This is what friends are for, isn’t it?” I retorted.

“When they can understand you. Sometimes I don’t even understand me. They’ll always try to help, but it doesn’t always work.”

“Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on,” I said. “Or other body part as appropriate.”

Twilight looked at me sideways. “Excuse me?”

“It occurred to me in mid-sentence that a pony shoulder, if it’s functionally equivalent to a human shoulder, would be located in a less-than-ideal place for crying on.”

“Oh.” The smile returned to her face. “Can I cry on your shoulder?”

“Any time you want,” I said.

“That’s what friends are for, isn’t it?”

I grinned. “We do have ourselves some amazing conversations, don’t we? I bet the Princess starts tearing her mane out every time she reads a transcript.”

“Oh, I don’t tell her everything.

“Is that so? What exactly do you leave out?”

“The last couple of minutes, for sure. And the next few.”

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be apprehensive or not. “What’s going to happen in the next few minutes?”

She stood up. “For you, my bookish friend, I am going to perform a silly parlor trick. You have somewhere around a thousand books. Pick a title, and it will come flying out of the shelf and into your grasp.”

I named a very thick novel with a very short title, and in a second or two, it was delivered from two rooms away. “Bravo,” I said. “Right up there with the Great and Powerful Trixie.”

Twilight snickered. “Oh, yes, Trixie. She’s really very good at these things, but no one ever notices.”

“Too much shtick?”

She blanked on the unfamiliar word.

“Shtick. The trappings of the act are more important than the act itself.”

“I should take home one of your dictionaries for the library.”

“Well, I’m not giving up my trusty Webster’s, but I’ll buy one for you. Or you could just ask Sweetie Belle.”

Another blank. “I don’t get it.”

Uh-oh. Can of worms opening in 3… 2… 1…

“There was this one scene in the television show, which we now know is at least somewhat accurate on details, in which Sweetie Belle complained that something or other was not really a word, and Scootaloo snapped back at her, ‘What are you, a dictionary?’ This line has been showing up as fanfic shtick for many months now.”

“Okay, I think I understand ‘shtick.’ Now what’s ‘fanfic’?”

Even larger can of worms. “Oh, Celestia, what have I gotten myself into?”

“We have time,” said Twilight, rearranging herself on the sofa. Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to get out of this.

“The full term,” I began, “is ‘fanfiction.’ You remember the Hasbro stories?”

“Some of them,” she said. “I haven’t seen them all yet.”

“Those are not fanfiction. They’re considered official. A fanfic is created by someone not connected with the official production team, using the same characters and locations and themes, or sometimes integrating them with some other stories. Our pony fans think they don’t get enough official pony stories, so they write their own.” I took a deep breath and pressed ahead. “By now there must be thirty or forty thousand unofficial stories.”

“About what?”

“About you. And your friends. And anypony in Equestria, it seems. Some of them are funny, some of them are sad; some of them are quite good, and some of them are fairly awful.”

“What happens in these stories?”

“Oh, you name it. Ponies with incurable diseases; ponies in love, which may or may not work out; ponies who meet up with scary characters from other universes. And because humans think themselves the center of this universe, there are a lot of humans in fanfic.”

The doorbell rang. “Give me a title to look up.”

Without thinking, I said, “Try My Little Dashie.

“I will,” said Twilight, and vanished.

– = * = –

The next night, it was a very worried Twilight Sparkle who showed up on my stoop. “So it was my fault?”

“Um, what was your fault?”

“On your recommendation, I read My Little Dashie. Apparently none of that would have happened if I hadn’t tried to dispel that storm.”

“None of that did happen, Twi. That’s why they call it fanfiction. It’s just like novels in Equestria. For all we know, the real Daring Do is ninety years old and gets around in a walker.”

“But it seemed so real. And it hurt so much to see his face when we had to take Dash back home. He really loved her.”

“For all intents and purposes, she was his daughter. That’s what fathers do. I’ve been there.”

Twilight’s expression was utterly unreadable. “You have a daughter?”

“And a son. They’re raising families of their own now, a long way away.”

“So you’re married?”

“I was. It didn’t last.”

“What happened?”

“Long story,” I said. “Basic problem: two youngsters, old enough to have been out on their own for a while, but not really knowing what they were in for. It was a mismatch from the start, but we thought we could make a go of it. Turned out that we couldn’t.” I swallowed, and for some reason it hurt.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said. “Does this sort of thing happen often?”

“More than you might think. She’s on her third husband now. He seems to be the keeper.”

“What happened to the second?”

“He was a mess. Much better looking than I ever was, and he had the charm I never did have. But he was incredibly self-destructive, and unfortunately, he wanted to share it.”

“I know a stallion or two like that,” said Twilight.

“Do yourself a favor. Don’t marry him.”

She laughed. “I won’t.” And then she suddenly turned serious again: “At least, I think I won’t.”

“Love, or something that looks like it, will make you do all kinds of crazy things.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said. “I’m still learning how to make friends. Finding a very special somepony must be harder. I’ve read books about it, and none of them seem to make any sense.”

“It’s the same way with us. Something happens and we’re head over heels, and we never find out until we’re in too deep.”

Twilight looked at me sideways again. “Aren’t you always head over heels? Unless you’re standing on your head, I suppose.”

I nodded. “It’s a silly figure of speech. Like putting your best hoof forward. Which one’s supposed to be the best?”

“I never thought of that,” she said. “I guess it would have to be a front hoof, though, or you’d fall down.”

“I’m clumsy enough on two legs. I honestly don’t know how you manage to keep four of them in order. It’s just something you have to learn, I suppose.”

“We have something to learn every day,” said Twilight. “The day we stop learning is the day we start dying.”

Which of course is true.

– = * = –

Sunday morning, early. And by “early,” I mean “no way I am out of bed at this hour.” Sleepily, I threw on a bathrobe and staggered to the door, ready to read the Riot Act to the cruel and/or thoughtless interloper who rang my doorbell at six-thirty.

Wait a minute. Rang my doorbell?

“Good morning,” said Twilight, looking irritatingly impeccable for this time of the morning. “Did I interrupt something?”

Where’s Instant Replay when you need it? Evidently I’d interpreted the first ring as the last element in whatever dream I was having and had already forgotten, woke up on the second, and didn’t — oh, never mind. “Well, this is a surprise.”

“I can try to go home if this is a bad time for you,” she said.

“Not a bad time. I’m just not entirely sure I’m awake just yet.”

“I’ve had dreams like that. Sometimes I can’t tell when they’re over.” She pointed a hoof toward the robe. “What is this you’re wearing?”

“Technically, this is a bathrobe. Although I wasn’t taking a bath.”

“I can’t imagine anyone wearing that to bed. It must be very uncomfortable.”

I saw where this was going, and I didn’t want to go there, but obviously she did, so: “I didn’t wear this to bed. I put it on to answer the door.”

Would she drop this line of questioning? Are you kidding me? This is Twilight Sparkle we’re talking about. “So what did you wear to bed?”

I came up with an exaggerated sigh. “The same thing I’ve worn to bed for the last forty years, which is, um, nothing.”

“Really?” she said. “If there’s anything I’ve learned in studying your Net, it’s that humans are always dressed.”

I chuckled. “You might consider asking the Princess to turn off the filters.”

“The what?”

“Just kidding. But actually, our laws frown on humans wandering about in nothing at all. Another area in which ponies are farther advanced than we are, if you ask me.”

“Well, ponies do have coats. And we do get dressed up for special occasions.” She gave me that sideways look again. “There must be some reason why you’re always wearing clothes.”

“There’s a religious angle,” I said, “but really, I think it just comes with being a biped. Whatever naughty bits a pony may have, you’ve got to be underneath to see. With us, they’re right there in your face. Literally, given your height.”

“Naughty bits?” She laughed. “Never heard them called that before.”

“And you shouldn’t. There’s nothing on me you can’t see every day on a stallion. With minor variations in size, of course.” I can’t believe I said that.

She reached up with one hoof and pulled the belt in exactly the right place, with the result you’d expect from pulling the belt in exactly the right place, and grinned.

“Actually,” she said, “I never see any stallions.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I replied, rearranging my robe.

“Well, not at this angle, anyway.”

That couldn’t have been a lecherous grin, could it? No. Not possible. “Come on out back,” I said. “It’s still early and it’s not hot yet, and we can talk about the Sun. Or something.”

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