Disclaimer: Contains spoilers up to book 15 in the Dresden Files.
"That is the last time I listen when you talk about a 'shortcut', Dresden," Murphy groused as we struggled our way through the forest underbrush.
"Hey, what was the other option? We were already late for the movie and previews last ten minutes at best," I replied. It's possible that trying to find a way to the theater through the Nevernever hadn't been my brightest idea, but some risks have to be taken for the premiere of a new Star Wars movie.
Even if those risks turned out to be a massive troop of man-eating monkeys. I probably could have taken them, especially with Murphy, Butters, a half-pack Werewolves, and Mouse as back-up. But Maggie was there too, and it would only take one of those little bastards to hurt her. I thought that being the Winter freaking Knight would've earned me a little respect in the realm of the Fae, but the Vearens were either too dumb to know about Court loyalties or too vicious to care. So I tore open a portal back to Earth.
Butters shrugged. "I dunno. If what I'm hearing online about the movie is true, it might be just as well that we missed it." Beside him, Wolf-Andi nodded.
"Bite your tongue," I scolded him.
"That would explain why Georgia volunteered to stay home with the baby," Will said, scratching his chin.
"I liked Force Awakens," Maggie said. That's my girl. Sure, the story was mostly a rehash of a New Hope and it had plotholes that didn't mesh with the Original Trilogy, but dangit, Star Wars was back and it couldn't be worse than the prequels.
Marcy came through the woods ahead of us, done with her scouting, and jerked her head forward and right.
I couldn't help myself. "What is it, girl? Timmy's trapped in the old well again?" I got treated to a lupine eye-roll and she jerked her head once more before turning around and walking that way. "I think she wants us to follow her!"
"You are such an ass, Dresden," Murphy said, shoving past me to follow Marcy's lead.
The rest of the group had similar reactions, but Maggie just looked confused. The poor girl probably didn't know who Lassie was. Ah, my darling daughter, you still have so much to learn in the ways of the Snark.
We quickly discovered that Marcy was leading us to a well-used trail covered in hoofprints. We'd come out onto some kind of horse-riding trail in a national forest or park. That bolstered my spirits; wherever we were, it wasn't lost in untouched forest hundreds of miles from civilization.
Another twenty minutes of walking and we exited next to an apple orchard. I looked for a sign to identify the trailhead while Marcy and Andi transformed in the privacy of the trees, but there weren't any signs to be found.
My first worry was that we were on private land or maybe in another country entirely. That worry was completely erased when I saw an orange horse come around one of the apple trees.
A melon-headed, big-eyed, three-foot-tall horse.
Wearing a cowboy hat.
So we clearly weren't on Earth, but I still wasn't expecting the pseudo-horse to grin and say in perfectly fluent English, "Howdy, y'all! Boy, ain't you some funny-lookin' critters?"
"Did that horse just say hello?" Butters asked.
"In English?" Andi added.
"With a Southern drawl?" Marcy finished.
I felt everyone's attention turn to me. That's problem with acting like you know everything. Every once in a while they expect you to back it up. I cleared my throat and stepped forward. "Hello, my name is Dresden and we're lost. Is there a wizard or something that we can talk to?"
The pseudo-horse frowned and scratched her head. "I don't know about a wizard, but Twilight knows more about magic than just about anypony I can think of. If that's the kinda pony you're looking for I can introduce you right quick." She seemed to realize something and gave me a sheepish grin. "But I'm forgettin' my manners. My name is Applejack, and it's a pleasure to meetcha, Prince Dresden." Then she doffed her hat in a bow or curtsy or something. Before I could react she popped back out of it and gestured for us to follow her as she began to trot away.
"Prince Dresden?" I asked incredulously, but Applejack didn't seem to have heard as she kept trotting, and I had to start walking to keep up. I glanced back at my friends. "What just happened?"
"We've made first contact with an alien species of intelligent horses-" Butters started.
"Ponies," Maggie interrupted with a huge smile.
"Okay, 'ponies' – and the farmer pony just assumed you're the prince of all humans, and she's apparently good friends with the local witch."
"Are we just skipping over the fact that she speaks English with a Southern drawl?" Marcy asked.
"Yes," Will stated. "Also, she might not think Harry is the prince of all humans. 'Prince' might just be the title for leaders here. There was a sci-fi series that did that if I remember right."
"I loved those books!" Andi said, then her expression soured. "Too bad the ending was awful."
"Can we focus?" I asked, hurrying to keep up with the pseudo-horse. Then I noticed Maggie wasn't at my side. She had run to catch up with Applejack.
"I really like your mane. Can I-", she stopped and shrunk back in on herself. But then she squared her jaw and kept speaking. "Can I touch it?"
"Aw shucks, it ain't much, 'specially compared to a pony like Rarity. But you wanna, then then go ahead." A look of absolute delight spilled across my daughter's face and she reached out – gingerly at first – to touch Applejack's mane.
"Okay, maybe the questions can wait for just a minute."
It turned out that the pseudo-horses also came in pegasus and unicorn varieties, because things weren't weird enough already. We attracted a crowd as we followed Applejack through the streets of their bizarrely modern and medieval village. Oh, and Applejack's friend Twilight was apparently much more important than 'local witch'.
"Am I crazy, or is that a castle made out of crystal?" Marcy asked.
"Yes to both," Will replied, then he shuddered. "I can't be the only one getting 'She-Ra' vibes from all this."
"I dunno whatcha mean by that, but I s'pose it is a bit of a shock the first time you see it. Grown from the power of the Tree of Harmony after we put a whuppin' on Tirek," Applejack said.
"I'm getting flashbacks to Rainbow Brite," Andi said. Most of the group gave her a side-long glance. "Don't judge me!"
"Then strap yourselves in for the Crystal Palace playset, because we're going in," I said.
"Nah, this is the Crystal Castle, or Castle of Friendship, technically. The Crystal Palace is way up north," Applejack unhelpfully explained. Either way, she gave a quick knock on the door, then strode in without waiting for an answer.
The group hesitated. "Do we just walk in?" Marcy asked
"Why not? I'm a prince, apparently," I said and followed my words with action.
Maggie hurried to keep up with me, Mouse chuffing happily at her side. "So, if you're a Prince, does that make me a Princess?" Maggie was normally such a quiet child, but she'd been all smiles since we'd met Applejack.
I leaned over and ruffled her hair. "Of course. You'll always be my Princess." Say what you want about dad lines being corny, but the absolute joy in her expression made any amount of corniness worth it.
"Hey Twilight!" Applejack yelled as we entered a library or study or something. "I found these fellers coming out of the Everfree, and they said they're lost. One of them's a Prince or something and I figured entertainin' foreign dignitaries were part of your Princessin' duties so I brought'em along."
Twilight, who was apparently a Princess, was a combination pegasus and unicorn (pegacorn?) a little bit taller than Applejack. She stopped levitating a quill and turned to greet us.
"Thank you, Applejack," she said her voice bright and energetic. "I'll do my best to help."
Applejack chuckled. "About what I thought. Y'all? This is Princess Twilight. Twilight, this is Prince Dresden and his friends."
I waved. "We'd be grateful for any help, but to be honest with both of you, I'm not a prince. Just a wizard who got his friends lost."
There was an uncomfortable moment were both ponies just stared at me.
"Are you sure?" Twilight asked.
I blinked. "What?"
"Are you sure you're not a Prince? No unexplained parentage or family secrets?"
I shook my head. "No."
"No magical accidents or sudden transformations that you couldn't explain?"
I scowled. "Not unless you count puberty."
Both ponies continued to stare at me.
"Then how come you're so tall?" Applejack asked in an almost accusatory tone.
Of all the questions I could've been asked that was not the one I expected. "I what? I mean humans are just naturally tall. All of friends, even my daughter is taller than the two of you."
"Not compared to us," Twilight explained. "In comparison to other humans." She gestured to my friends.
I still didn't understand. I was the tallest person there by at least a foot, but I no idea what that had to do with anything. "I just am. Why would being tallest make me a Prince?"
With a flash of purple light a series of pictures that looked strangely similar to flashcards appeared in front of me. In the first, a huge white pegacorn stood surrounded by shorter guards and supplicants. "Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria."
The next was a sinister-looking black bug-horse surrounded by shorter bug-horses, "Queen Chrysalis of the changelings," the picture flipped to a pastel bug-horse surrounded by more pastel bug-horses, "and Thorax, her successor."
Then a dragon literally the size of a small mountain. "Dragon Lord Torch"
A hippocampus surrounded by slightly smaller guards. "Queen Novo"
A dragon-horse or something surrounded by shorter dragon-horses "and Rain Shine, leader of the Kirin."
There was more silence until Murphy finally broke it by asking, "Are you serious? Size is the only thing you require to be a ruler?"
Applejack shook her head. "Don't be silly. Size comes with leadership, not the other way 'round. Twilight used to be my height, but ever since she became a Princess she's been growin' like a weed."
I felt a throbbing headache start to form just behind my eyes. "This has got to be one of most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Murph, back me up here."
Instead, she focused on Applejack. "So what exactly would I have to do to become a Princess here?"
Author's Note: I can't be the only person who's thought about how amusing it is for the insanely tall Harry Dresden to be surrounded by all these shorter friends, but I might be the first to have it be a point of contention in a first contact situation with ponies.
Just a reminder of everyone's height (including metric for you non-imperialists)
Dresden – 6'9 (206 cm)
Will – 5'6 (168 cm)
Andi – 5'4 (163 cm)
Butters – 5'3 (160 cm)
Marcy – 5'1 (155 cm)
Murphy – 5'0 (152 cm)