Disclaimer: I don't own The Dresden Files or My Little Pony, that is Jim Butcher and Hasbro, respectively. This is a fanfiction only. Comments are appreciated, trolling is not. This takes place before season two in MLP and between books five and six in the Dresden Files.
Iron Chef, head baker of Canterlot Castle, grumbled as he worked. Normally he loved baking cakes, pastries and pies of every shape and size for the Princesses and their guests. After all, who wouldn't be proud to have reached the pinnacle of their profession and serve Their Highnesses? Even if it had just been "Her Highness" until recently.
Iron Chef kneaded the dough a bit more roughly than was absolutely necessary. With Their Highnesses visiting Coltenhagen along with most of the court, he had been due for a few more days of glorious vacation. There had still been guards and servants to feed, of course, but the undercooks could handle that. Then, out of the blue, two Royal guards arrived at his house only an hour or so past the crack of dawn, demanding that he return with them to the palace immediately. All inquiries were met with frustrating silence.
No matter. Once in the kitchens, his word held more power than the order of any guard. The undercooks, scullery maids, and other kitchen staff told him everything they knew. He heard almost a dozen different versions, but at least there were a few facts that every one of them had in common.
Princess Celestia had suddenly appeared in the throne room a little past midnight, teleporting all the way from Coltenhagan. Her sudden return had frightened the guards, but not nearly as much as her worried expression had. She directed them to wake every member of the Royal Guard and surround the castle. No pony was to get in or out. Then she teleported to her study without further explanation. Whatever she found, or didn't find, according to one maid, upset her greatly. It was rare to see the elder Princess so stern, but she had immediately called for everypony present in the castle, and the displeasure in her voice was the subject of much speculation. She quickly interviewed them and found that nopony had noticed anything suspicious over the past few days. Frustrated, she left, leading a patrol of pegasus guards to Ponyville. For her student's protection, it was rumored.
Hours later, shortly before Iron Chef was summoned, she returned to the castle in secret. Nopony even knew she was back until she strode out of a guest room, surprising two maids in the middle of cleaning the hall. The Princess locked the door behind her and ordered her guards to watch it and ensure that nopony entered, or even peeked inside. She said that the room contained very important guests who were not be disturbed under any circumstances.
The Princess herself actually came down to the kitchen shortly after Iron Chief had finished pumping his staff for information. She apologized for her abrupt arrival and the unfortunate interruption to his time off. He was flattered that she'd thought of him and assured Her Highness that he was more than happy to return to work. He'd been less happy, though he tried not to show it, when she told him how much food he needed to make for her mysterious guests. Still, he set to it with determination.
The variety of the food she requested was just as surprising as the amount. The kitchen fairly buzzed with activity as everything from pasta to pastries, soups to soufflés, fruits to fried eggs were prepared. Several of the younger cooks gossiped and wondered about the strange events of that morning and the nature of the Princess's guests, but Iron Chef could care less.
All that mattered was that he had hungry ponies to feed.
I woke up to the sound of frenzied growling, and it took me a long moment to realize the noise was coming from the black hole where my stomach used to be. After telling it to sit down and shut up for a couple of futile minutes, I finally stirred from the ridiculously comfortable mattress I had sunk into.
Well, mattresses. I guess they were the pony version of a king-size (princess-size, maybe?), but that wasn't anywhere near long enough for me, so some thoughtful pony had pushed two beds together and I ended up sprawled across the heads of both.
The rest of the group had pretty much just collapsed into a disorganized pile on what space was left. Fluttershy was curled up peacefully in one corner with Pinkie using her as a pillow. Rarity and Applejack had managed to completely entangle themselves in their sleep and ended up in a pretty incriminating position. It was a shame I didn't have a camera, because that would have been some prime blackmail material. Rainbow, of course, was sprawled in the middle, all six limbs splayed out as if to claim as much territory as possible. Twilight had slept with her chin on my arm, so she woke as soon as I shifted. We groggily wondered where the faint smell of food was coming from, and the growls from our stomachs redoubled.
"Why did the Princess assign me here? I'm too good-looking to die young," said a voice on the other side of the room's door.
"Stop being such a coward. There's nothing dangerous in that room," a deeper one replied.
"Shows what you know. Cloudburst said that Grapevine told him Earl Gray heard that the Princess defeated a great and terrible beast last night, and she's keeping it locked in this very room. It's twenty feet long, shoots lasers from its eyes and has a mouth big enough to eat a pony in a single bite. What else could all that noise come from?"
"Pull the other one; it's got bells on it."
"It's true, I swear! Did you see how much food they put in the next room over?"
"You know what? You should−" Tragically, we never got to find out just what Private Skeptic thought Private Nancy should do, because at that moment Twilight's stomach let loose a snarl like an angry wolverine. All conversation in the hall stopped. It was a long moment before either of them said anything else.
"M-maybe we should report to the Princess." Private Skeptic choked out. Private Nancy just whimpered before trotting off. I whispered that we should rattle the doors just to freak him out a little more, but a glare from Twilight cut that plan short.
A minute later, I heard Private Skeptic snap to attention and two sets of hoofsteps stopped at the door. The new arrival spoke in the most gentle, melodious voice I've ever heard. "Thank you for informing me of the… situation. Canterlot is fortunate to be protected by such brave guardians." Her tone lacked any trace of sarcasm; I think she actually managed to say that with a straight face. "This, however, I will handle by myself. Please see that nopony enters this wing until further notice." There was a pause as the guards beat a hasty retreat, then the door opened to reveal the regal pony I'd seen during the Soulgaze with Twilight.
As nice as the portraits of her in the library had been, they did her about as much justice as a black-and-white photo of a sunset. Hell, her presence alone damn near put Arthurian myths of noble royalty to shame. She was tall, less than a foot shorter than me (not counting a horn that she could have used as a pool cue), and she moved with a grace that equaled any of the Fae. Her coat was pure white and immaculately groomed. Her mane and tail were ethereal rainbows, colored in soft pastels that flowed like a banner in the wind despite the still air. Her face was kind, strong and motherly, betraying little evidence of her supposed age. But more than anything else I was impressed by her power. Just from what I could feel she was at least equal to a Lady of the Fae Courts, and I wouldn't bet against anyone who told me she held as much power as Mab or Titania. I hadn't expected a lightweight to rule a magic kingdom for centuries, but damn. She was big league material, no question about that.
I dimly remembered her showing up after the dust had settled last night, and Twilight giving her the bare bones of our story. But everything after I fired the Orbital Friendship Cannon was more than a little hazy.
"Princess!" Twilight said happily, moving forward to greet her. She was interrupted by a sound halfway between a growl and a snarl from her midsection, and her face flushed in embarrassment. I laughed, earning an angry glare from Twilight and an enigmatic smile from the princess. Then my stomach made a noise even louder and more animalistic than hers. I glanced toward the rest of the group, but they snoozed on, unaware of my gastric demands.
"I believe," The princess said, her voice just as controlled and regal as the rest of her but laced with a hint of humor, "that some food is in order. I thought as much, given even the rough account of your troubles. The next room over has a variety of foods. We will speak after you've had had a chance to eat." She turned her attention fully to Twilight and smiled more warmly. "I look forward to a full recounting of your adventure, my faithful student."
Her student? No wonder Twilight was playing at my level. I was no stranger to having a powerful mentor – Ebenezer McCoy, the wizard who'd been charged with my training after the debacle with Justin, was one of the seven oldest and strongest wizards on the planet, and my faerie godmother was nothing to sneeze at either. (Yes, I have a faerie godmother, and no, that's not as good a deal as it sounds.) But neither of them were the matron goddess of an entire freaking country!
Then the princess opened the door to an adjoining room, and I decided then and there I would love her forever. A huge table was literally piled with just about every type of food I could imagine − minus the meat dishes, of course. I may be proud of my carnivorous tastes, but if every vegetarian meal was like this, I'd seriously consider converting. The princess left, closing the door softly behind her, and I fell to with abandon.
Three platefuls later, I was still eating like a starved dog. No, scratch that. I'm pretty sure even a starved dog has better table manners than I do, I thought as I stuffed another pair of 'bite-sized' pastries into my mouth.
Twilight grimaced as she watched the gruesome spectacle, but it certainly didn't seem to upset her own appetite. She wasn't putting away food as quickly as me, but it wasn't for lack of trying. We'd both spent energy like it was going out of style last night.
An hour, and what felt like several pounds of food, later I was finally full. I'd tried just about everything on the table and gone back for seconds on a few of my favorites. Twilight and I hadn't spoken much, other than requests for the salt or suggestions on which dish to try next, but creeping guilt wouldn't let me avoid the issue any longer.
"Twilight?" I asked. She'd been staring into space, thinking about something, and I caught her unaware. "I'm sorry. I…"
I wasn't sure how to finish the sentence. How do you apologize for getting possessed and almost killing one of your friends? How do you ask for forgiveness after you betray not just them, but everything you ever fought against?
She responded almost instantly. "It's okay. I forgive you. Hey, could you pass me one of those crumpets? I probably shouldn't, but they're so tasty."
If I hadn't been seated already, I'd have been literally floored. "Wait, really? Just like that? After everything I did, you can really forgive me that easily?" My hand, tired of waiting for instructions from my brain, passed her one of the little cakes by itself.
Twilight laughed while I boggled. "For everything you did? Dresden, you comforted me when I found Spike missing, saved all of us from the manticores, kept us alive through Trixie's castle, saved Pinkie's life, helped to defeat Trixie and destroyed the Nightmare once and for all." She looked at me with the same gentle smile she'd worn after coming back from the brink of death. "You're a good person, Dresden, and no demon can change that. Yes, you made a mistake, but of course I'll forgive you. That's what friends do."
Everything she was saying made sense, but since when has guilt been rational? "But I laughed at you, threw away your help, used your Names against you, attacked you, and then, as the cherry on top of all my other bastardry, I almost freaking killed you."
Her smile vanished, replaced with a worried frown. "Dresden, you were possessed by the Nightmare. If you had wanted to, you could have killed us. You could have commanded us to hold still and just let you…" She shrugged and left the sentence hanging, neither of us wanted to imagine what could have been. With a slight shiver she recovered and continued. "But you didn't. Yes, you fought us, but even as angry and hurt as you felt, you held back. And when I was dying you saw through its lies, freed yourself from the Nightmare and saved me. Do you realize how much that means?"
I opened my mouth to respond, but a stentorian voice behind me interrupted, damn near giving me a heart attack. "Even if thy friend doth not understand, Twilight Sparkle, we do."
How the hell does everyone here sneak up on me like that? I thought, spinning around. The speaker was another royal pony, but a study of opposites to her older sister. She was shorter and smaller, though still bigger than most ponies. Her coat was a deep blue interrupted only by a crescent moon on a field of violet at her flank. If that wasn't enough of a clue she was the princess of night, the ethereal mane and tail colored to match the evening sky, complete with tiny glimmering stars, should help the slow learners. Where the elder sister seemed almost ageless, the younger had an almost teenaged bearing, not so different from Twilight and company. Despite that, she had power too, a presence as strong and subtle as an underwater current. I didn't think she was quite at Celestia's level, but she was far enough beyond me that it was difficult to gauge her with any kind of certainty.
I realized I was staring at about the same time she did. I coughed loudly trying to hide my embarrassment and discreetly wiped off some the crumbs from breakfast. I mean lunch, whatever. I cleared my throat and bowed my head slightly. "Princess Luna, I presume?"
"Yea, verily," She replied as though I was across the room, not four feet from her. Somebody needed to teach her the meaning of the phrase 'inside voice'. But before I could cause an inter-dimensional incident, she spoke again. "It is a pleasure to meet thee, Wizard Dresden. We have had a brief account of what transpired, but we find ourselves wishing to learn more." She stopped suddenly, acting nervous and unsure. However she'd psyched herself up this, it wasn't enough. She'd lost her momentum and couldn't decide how to move forward. I should have been more empathetic; I mean, from what Twilight had said she'd been possessed by the Nightmare as well. But mostly I was occupied by two other things. One, the way she was fumbling for the right words was adorable. And two, concern for my eardrums, which felt like they might be bleeding.
Twilight came both our rescues. "I need to give Princess Celestia a more comprehensive account of our adventure, so I'll excuse myself." Her eyes narrowed as she rose to go. "Be nice, Dresden." I rolled my eyes at her, making the princess chuckle. Twilight had almost left when she stopped and ducked her head back into the room. "Oh, um, your Highness? If this is private, you might want to drop your amplification spell..."
The midnight blue pony next to me mulled that over for a second. "We… ahem, we perceive thy point." She still sounded like she was trying to talk over a rowdy house party, but at least it didn't feel like I was right next to an amp at a metal concert anymore. I mouthed a silent but emphatic 'thank you' to Twilight, making the unicorn laugh before she disappeared again.
But then I was left alone with immortal moon goddess who wasn't sure what she wanted to say. That left it on my shoulders to continue conversation. I probably should have given some careful consideration to what I said, but instead I kinda blurted out, "So you control the moon. How's that working out for you?"
Luna blinked, surprised at my question, and I mentally face-palmed. After a moment, though, she replied. "It has been most difficult. Much of our power was lost to the depredations of the Nightmare," she shivered slightly at the mention of it, "and so we have spent the past year regaining that which was ours. Though that happens to strike near to the heart of what we wished to speak to thee about, Wizard."
She hesitated again, but this time she managed to steel herself to it. "Did our sister speak truly when she told us thou wert not only possessed by the Nightmare, but in fact overcame and destroyed it?" She peered at me, worry underlining her expression however she tried to hide it.
For a moment her question puzzled me. She could have asked Twilight and gotten the same answer. And for that matter, why was that such a difficult question to ask? But then I put two and two together and got it.
The Nightmare had possessed her, and while I don't know what she had done under its influence, I doubted it had been pleasant. The Elements of Harmony had freed her, but she had never beaten the Nightmare herself. Then here comes some mortal who sees through its lies and destroys it. How would it feel to think if he could, then why couldn't I? Without ever meaning to, I had probably ripped open old wounds, filling her with guilt and doubt. I'd lived with that same feeling for years after I thought I'd killed Elaine. Spending long, painful nights wondering if there was something, anything I could have done differently, wishing I could go back.
We stood at a crossroads. The wrong word from me could crush her under the weight of her own guilt. I had to be careful. So I took a moment to think about my answer before I gave it to her. I know, that surprised me too.
"Yes," I said. She slumped, starting to turn from me, but I wasn't finished. "But I never would have without my new friends." She stopped, her ears perking up. "I was going to kill Trixie, and they stopped me. We fought, and I hurt them, but even then they didn't give up on me. Then Twilight took an attack I'd meant for Trixie." I slowed now, my voice growing softer. "She was dying, and it was my fault. Then the Nightmare tried to 'comfort' me. That's how I saw through it, only because it was dumb enough to underestimate our friendship."
Her voice was just as subdued as mine. "And how didst thou destroy the Nightmare?" I glanced up; she was watching me, her expression sympathetic now.
I gave her a thin-lipped smile. "You know the power of Harmony?" She arched a picture-perfect Spock eyebrow, though she was apparently too refined to roll her eyes. "Well, the girls let me borrow a little of their power, and I channeled it into the closest thing I've ever seen to holy fire." I winced. "Though, I might have gone a bit far, given that it bored a gaping hole through three feet of solid stone."
There was a startled beat, then she started laughing. I smiled at her and joined in with a chuckle or two of my own. Her laughter slowed, and she wiped away a tear. "Thou meanest to tell us that thou didst wield the sacred power of Harmony as a weapon?" She chuckled again. "Our elder sister will be fit to be tied when she discovers that news. Oh, would that we could see her when Twilight relates that."
"And you're not mad about it?" Captain Obvious here, but I had to ask.
She shook her head smiling a little. "It is a bit disquieting, but we are more … practical than Celestia. Besides which, thou hast a virtuous heart. It is hard to go far wrong with one such as thine." She paused a moment, and her face darkened. "If only we had possessed such strength."
Without even thinking about it, I reached out to put a hand on her long neck. She stiffened in surprise and turned to face me. It's difficult to look someone in the face without meeting their eyes, but most wizards learn to do it eventually. "A good person isn't someone who's never stumbled before. A good person is someone who gets back up no matter how many times they fall. Somebody who never stops trying to do what's right." For a second I locked eyes with her. "Don't ever stop trying, Princess. I know you can do it."
There was a moment's silence before she turned away from me. After another long minute she spoke. "I thank thee, Mister Dresden. Thou art most kind." She turned back a soft smile on her face. "'Tis no surprise thou and Twilight are friends. You are both very caring."
I was about to respond with more than a touch of sarcasm (I've got to prove I'm hardboiled somehow), but I was interrupted by a voice several rooms away, audible only because of its volume.
"HE DID WHAT?"
Luna and I looked at each other and began to laugh. I don't know why that finally woke the rest of the ponies after they managed to sleep through Luna's amp spell (and believe me, I've heard jackhammers quieter than that), but in short order I was surrounded.
I didn't hold their attention very long, though, with the rest of that delicious spread still waiting. I settled in and had another bite or two just to keep them company. Luna excused herself shortly afterward, promising to return soon. Rainbow and Applejack got into an eating competition that made Rarity move to the other end of the table, shooting an occasional glare whenever they got especially loud or messy. Pinkie was talking a mile a minute, trying to tell me her recipes for every item on the table between bites. Fluttershy just ate quietly, listening to Pinkie's barrage of words and periodically nodding. Twilight returned with the news about the time everyone was done eating.
Trixie was to be held under observation for the next week. The heavy duty sleep spell on Spike had been lifted, though they needed to let him wake up naturally to complete the cure. "Which is unfortunate for him. He'll miss seeing you altogether, Dresden." I'd been listening with only half an ear, but that caught my attention.
"What, really? You've found me a way home already?"
Twilight shook her head. "I didn't have anything to do with it. Apparently both Princesses have visited Earth before. Princess Celestia said Luna could take you wherever you need to go. And... she said I could see the Nevernever as part of my studies, but I'm afraid you need to say goodbye to everypony else."
"What?" Rainbow exclaimed, rising to hover several feet off the floor. "Why can't we go with? I'm not afraid of the Never-Ever!"
"Nevernever," Twilight corrected. "But I think the Princess is more worried that a large group of ponies would draw the attention of the inhabitants. From what little she'll say, they aren't pleasant. Letting them discover Equestria would be bad."
"Oh c'mon." Rainbow retorted. "How bad could they be?"
I cleared my throat. Rainbow was tough, but I had to agree with Twilight on this one. "You remember how bad Trixie was in her nightmare form?" The blue pegasus nodded hesitantly, and a couple of the ponies at the table shivered. "She doesn't even make my top ten list of villains. And there's stuff in the Nevernever that makes my enemies look like schoolyard bullies. Remember, I only got here because I was running for my life from something." Several dozen somethings, actually, but there was no need to go into that. Rainbow just stared at me.
"Kinda puts things in perspective doesn't it?" Pinkie piped in. Rainbow flushed and glared, but the pink pony just giggled.
"That's also why the Princess asked us to keep quiet about Dresden and the Nevernever. If ponies knew about either, they might try going there or accidently let something else in."
Rarity sniffed. "Must we? I mean, how likely is it that somepony would be so careless?"
Twilight cocked an eyebrow. "Remember when Snips and Snails heard about the Ursa Major? From what the Princess says, opening a way isn't difficult, but it is dangerous. Secrecy keeps everypony safe."
"Well, I won't lie to nopony, but I can keep my mouth shut. I can promise ya that." Applejack offered.
The rest of the ponies gave their assent in one form or another. Pinkie even gave a short musical number about 'everypony doing their part'.
Twilight nodded, smiling at her success. Then she turned her attention to me. "We need to leave soon, Dresden. Princess Luna wants to discuss where exactly we're going."
"So this is good-bye?" Pinkie asked, her lower lip trembling. "But I never got to throw a party for you. Or take you Sugarcube Corner. Or bake a cake for you. Or –"
"I think he understands, darling." Rarity interrupted. She turned towards me. "It is sad to see you go, but I understand. I wouldn't want to leave Ponyville for long either. You have been a gentlecolt of the highest order, and I look forward to your return." How she curtsied with four legs and no dress I'll never understand, but she pulled it off with grace. I bowed in return.
Applejack was more direct. She offered me her hoof, and did her damnedest to shake my hand off. "It's a right shame to see you gone, Dresden. I'll admit I was wrong about you. You really came through for us every time it counted. You'll always be welcome at the farm far as I'm concerned."
Rainbow zoomed over and punched me in the shoulder, hiding a sniff behind a frown. "You'd better come back. I never got to show you any of my coolest tricks, and I'll prove that the Sonic Rainboom isn't impossible."
I chuckled and gave her a light punch in return. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Pinkie started bouncing in place, chirping excitedly. "Oh oh oh! And we you come back I can throw you a party! You can bring all your friends and I'll bring mine and you can introduce all of them to us then we'll all be friends and we'll play games together and eat all kinds of yummy goodies and dance to all my best jams and−"
Applejack reached over and shoved a turnover into Pinkie's mouth, cutting off the torrent of words suddenly. Pinkie frowned at Applejack at first, but once she started chewing her mood brightened. She swallowed the whole thing with an audible gulp and licked her lips. "Mmmmm, apple cinnamon."
I laughed, but a gentle nudge at my side turned my attention from the pink party pony. Fluttershy was standing next to me, trying to hide behind her bangs again. "Um … do you promise you'll come back?" She blushed. "I mean, I know we just met yesterday, but you really helped out with the chores at my cottage, not that I only like you because of that, but I really liked our talks and you're very nice and …um … well…" She trailed off blushing even harder.
My brain, an amazing data processing machine perfected over millions of years of natural selection and honed to razor sharpness by years of mental discipline, had apparently turned to mush, because the only thought I was registering was D'awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.
Fluttershy gave a startled squeak as I scooped her into a big hug. "Of course I'll be back." I told her. "You all couldn't get rid of me if you tried."
"Awww, group hug!" Pinkie yelled and I was quickly surrounded by ponies all embracing me and giving their last goodbyes. I disentangled myself with a little difficulty. Luna was already waiting for us across the room. I threw my coat back on and checked the pockets. Everything seemed to be there. I gathered my staff and blasting rod, waving one last goodbye to the five ponies I was leaving behind. Luna looked at both Twilight and I then, with a stomach wrenching twist, she teleported us elsewhere.
We arrived in an observatory of some kind. A few telescopes clustered around the far window, and the walls and cabinets were almost overflowing with star charts and astronomical equations. The main desk was an island of organization in the sea of clutter. It held only some stationary, a few quills, an inkwell and an old, slightly battered abacus.
"Please pardon our untidiness," Luna said, digging through one of the smaller cabinets. "We have been absorbed in our most recent work, and the servants are forbidden from cleaning here lest they find something they ought not. Now, where lay the map I seek?"
"Your work?" I asked curiously.
"Oh yes," she said her voice echoing from within the surprisingly deep piece of furniture. "We have been most busy repairing and renewing the wards of aversion and other spells of shrouding."
Twilight frowned curiously. "What do the spells shroud?"
Luna leaned forward, and as odd as it sounds, I was almost afraid she'd fall into the cabinet. "Why, this realm, of course. Surely thou thinkest not that it is mere chance that Mister Dresden is the first visitor we've had in centuries. Celestia possesses greater power, but the more subtle magics have ever been our own, and it is vital that any spells placed in the Outer Realm be of the utmost discretion. Our magic has fared poorly in our absence, but it shall swiftly be restored. We are fortunate that Mister Dresden was the only being to find us. Ah, here it is." She drew out a large, creased and extremely old piece of parchment. Her horn glowed brighter as she smoothed it out and set paperweights at each of the four corners.
It was a map of Earth. A crude and simplified one, maybe, but it seemed accurate enough. There were two or three dozen small circles scattered across it, each with a small amount of text next to it. There was a circle just to the southwest of Lake Superior. It had to be at least a few hundred miles from Chicago, but that wasn't too bad overall. Not when you consider the choices I might have had.
"There," I said stabbing a finger at the lone circle.
"Truly?" Luna asked her brow furrowing. "Thou dost not resemble any of the tribes local to the inland seas."
"My world has gone through a lot of changes in the past two hundred years. When was the last time you visited?" Twilight was studying the map with evident curiosity, poring over the notes in the legend. I'd asked the question more out of idle conversation than any real interest.
Luna thought for a moment. "About eighteen centuries."
Stars and stones! I hadn't been expecting a recent date, but now I was just happy the continents were in the right places! It's one thing to know the being sitting opposite you is immortal, despite all appearances to the contrary, but it's something else to have that fact demonstrated so forcefully. The way she said 'eighteen centuries' like someone else might say 'a few years ago' was fairly humbling. The surprise stripped my mind of anything useful to say, so I just went with the first thing that popped into my head. "Wow, that long huh?"
She nodded. "Yes, we seldom visit it. Not only are such trips dangerous, but we find the inhabitants of thy world a bit…" She hesitated, her eyes cutting toward me from the map.
"Brutal?" I suggested.
"Violent," she agreed. "Though they have good reason, given the world with which they are faced." She paused to think for a moment. "There was one group, however, that we rather liked. It was a small religion professing near-Equestrian ideals of love and forgiveness even in the face of persecution. We believe they were called Christians. Dost thou happen to know how they fared?"
Twilight seemed to materialize by my side at the prospect of a whole new history to learn.
"That's a bit of a long story." I managed. Both their faces fell, and I felt like an ass. "But I guess I could tell it on the way."
Their faces brightened and I relaxed, then I nearly lost my lunch as we teleported again.
We'd been walking for more than an hour, and I was barely past the twelfth century. I wasn't a history buff by any stretch, but I knew more than your average Joe. In the supernatural world, feuds between races can last for millennia. Not knowing the past means you could have a whole bushel of enemies you never know about until it's too late.
I stared into the distance, trying to spot the cave Luna said held the end of the Way. We'd entered the Nevernever beside a waterfall outside another set of ruins in the same forest where Trixie had set up camp. The gate had led us here.
I've never been to the American southwest, but this place looked pretty similar to the westerns I'd seen as a kid… or maybe a Roadrunner cartoon. Barren dirt and stones for miles, interrupted only occasionally by tall spires or flat slabs of rock. There one important distinction, though. While the desert seemed empty, this patch of the Nevernever was downright desolate. There were no plants, no animals, and no clouds in the sky. There weren't even any bones or tumbleweeds to indicate that something had been here at some point. Luna, Twilight and I were the only moving things for miles.
As creepy as the place may sound, I loved it. This was quite possibly the nicest piece of the Nevernever I had ever seen. Sure, it redefined the word 'barren', but at least nothing was trying to kill and/or eat us as we traveled. I had the feeling this area was far removed from the lands of the Fae, the only part of the Nevernever I was familiar with.
We wandered aimlessly across the landscape – at least, it seemed aimless until I noticed the subtle pattern in the seemly random stones Luna paid close attention to.
"So what's the deal with the stones?" I asked during a lull, pointing towards the latest pile of rocks she'd examined.
"I thought we were talking about the Magna Carta and its effect on the future political structure of England," Twilight complained.
"Oh, come on, Twilight!" I said. "Give a guy a break, would you?"
"As you wish." Luna conceded. "We must be able to travel the path between the gates, but any obvious trail could mean discovery. Thus the stones are arranged such that they seem natural to the untrained eye, but in fact detail a safe path." I nodded, eager to know more.
Luna sighed theatrically. "And we suppose we must teach thou the secret of reading them before we are to hear any more of the rise of the British aristocracy."
I rubbed my throat. "Well, I could use a break from talking," I hinted with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. We spent the next ten minutes learning how the stones' placement guided the path. It wasn't a difficult system once you knew what to look for, and soon Twilight and I were guiding the group almost as well as Luna had.
After that I went back to explaining more history, only to be interrupted every minute or so by one pony or the other with questions. That was how we'd strayed from the Catholic Church to the Magna Carta in the first place, after all. I made it all the way to the Revolutionary War before we reached the end of the Way. It was a small cave at the base of large mesa, and the way Luna stopped told me we'd reached our destination.
I turned to face my traveling companions. Luna laid a hoof on my arm and smiled warmly. "Know this, Wizard Dresden. Thou shalt be welcome always in Equestria. And," her smile grew slightly sad, "we will try to live up to the advice thou gave us. We pray that thou enjoyest peace and a long life."
I smiled widely and lifted my right hand, spreading the fingers into a V. "Live long and prosper, Princess Luna." I bowed to her, and she lowered her head in return. Then she moved aside, leaving me to face Twilight.
The little purple unicorn was grinning softly, studying me. I couldn't help but be reminded of our first meeting, but this time I didn't resist the urge to hug her. She hugged me back and laid her head softly on my shoulder. It's funny, you know? I'd known her for less than two days, and she was already more near and dear to my heart than ninety-nine percent of the people I know. There was a brief temptation to go back with her. To spend the rest of my days in a world that kind and innocent. But I knew I couldn't. My friends and my city needed me. That didn't mean I'd never return, though.
We broke apart, but I didn't rise just yet. "When you've had enough time to forget how annoying I can be and want me back, send me a message."
Twilight laughed. "And how am I supposed to find you?"
I sucked in a quick breath and took the plunge. "My name," I enunciated carefully, "is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden." She stared at me in shock, and I grinned. "I'm in the phone book under 'Wizards'."
Then I walked through the gate and back into my own world.
Dear Princess Celestia,
I learned that you can become friends with almost anypony. You may think that you're both too different from each other to ever be friends, but sometimes, if you get to know them, you'll find that the two of you have more in common than you'd ever believe. It takes all kinds to make a world, and there's nothing wrong with being different, even if it means the two of you make for very strange friends.
Your Faithful Student,
Author's Note: Whew, that was a wild ride. Crazy to think something I spent the last five months is finally done. Not that I'm going to get a break; I've already got more story ideas than I know what to do with. Among them, I've been thinking about a sequel to this story, (working title, Dresden Fillies: Fragile Harmony). Anypony interested in seeing that?