The Conversion Bureau: Rise Again

by kildeez

First published

Humanity has fallen, and the ponies are left to mourn their loss. Fortunately, there's one thing they've all forgotten: you can't keep a good apex predator down.

The Barrier: a naturally-occurring wave of magic that formed soon after the portal to Equestria appeared somewhere in the South Pacific, enveloping Earth with an inevitable tide that has destroyed all life on the planet, all despite the best efforts of man and pony alike. Now, the ponies are left to pick up the pieces and try to preserve what's left, while averting the vacant gazes of the mindless Newfoals left from one of their failed attempts to save what they could.

But there's one thing that all seem to have forgotten, from the ponies of Equestria to the strange multitudes of species in the universe with their sights set on Earth: and it's that you can't keep a good apex predator down. You can only hold them up a little while...

Special thanks to The Footsoldier for the OC, Elisa!

Chapter I: The End

For the first time in months, Elisa Uschenko was content. A bottle of her father’s oldest vodka sat squeezed between her knees, and every couple minutes she poured herself some into the shot glass she held in one hand. Of course, she would have preferred the Lay-Z-Boy in the den back at her father’s place, not this folding chair in this abandoned warehouse south of the Bronx, but beggars could not be choosers. As the first effects of the vodka started slowing her thinking, it hit her that she probably should have been more upset about this, that she would be so close to a perfect night alone were it not for the fact that her chopper pilot had ditched her and left her with a pilotless helicopter on a landing pad just outside the city. It was probably just that serenity she’d read about people getting when they knew they were dead anyway. Yeah, that was probably it.

“Still, not bad for a last meal,” she said aloud, her voice sending a few rats scurrying in the flickering, yellow glow provided by the warehouse’s emergency lights. Chuckling at the scurrying, she poured herself another glass, her long, blonde hair falling about her shoulders as she bent over the blessed liquid.

The door opened, and then shut. Elisa grimaced. This was just what she needed, one of them coming to say how sorry they were, look up at her with that pitiful little look. She did not need this, not now, not in the last moments of her life. The sounds of hoofsteps on the concrete floor filled the air.

“If you’ve come to join the pity party, I’m afraid we’re all full up,” Elisa announced without turning in her seat, raising the bottle over her head. “I got all the company I need with ol’ Ivan here.”

The hoofsteps stopped. She heard the rustle of wings. “Surely, you can make room for royalty?” A calm and all-too-familiar voice asked.

Elisa nearly dropped the bottle in her rush to turn and salute. “Princess Celestia!” She gasped. “Corporal Elisa Uschenko, United States Army, fifth Battalion of United Nations Alliance…”

“That’s enough, that’s quite enough,” Celestia said, urging the human to sit with a wave of her hoof. “We have so little time left here; let’s not waste it on trivial formalities.”

“Oh,” Elisa said, flopping back down on her chair and propping her combat boots up on the card table set before her. “In that case, go ahead and take a seat, Sunbutt.”

Elisa heard a tiny giggle from the Princess, and smiled to herself. It was nice to learn that the real Princess Celestia did have a sense of humor. The American-born Russian patted the chair across from her, shaking off some of the dust mites, and the Princess nodded in gratitude before taking her seat, a tiny, half-hearted smile playing at her lips. “Sunbutt?” She asked.

“If the shoe fits,” Elisa replied with a shrug and another sip, this one straight from the bottle.

Celestia nodded sagely, motioning to the bottle. “May I?”

“Be my guest,” Elisa shrugged. “It’s a free country, for however long it’s gonna be around.”

The Princess nodded gratefully and grabbed the shot glass in her magic, allowing Elisa to pour a tiny amount from her bottle. “Don’t worry, this’ll be enough for you,” she said with a drunken smile.

Celestia arched an eyebrow and downed the tiny amount in a single sip. She grimaced, gave a tiny, petite cough, then returned her gaze to the human with a smile. Elisa’s eyebrows rose. “Not bad.”

“Thanks, I’ve found the consumption of alcohol really helps with reaching out to members of your race,” Celestia replied, tilting her glass for more.

“Go easy on that, Princess,” Elisa said. “That there’s the real stuff. None of that supermarket shit: actual, Russian vodka, straight from the Motherland and aged for decades.”

“I can taste it,” Celestia said, taking one more sip, grimacing, and setting the glass on the table.

Elisa nodded. “So what brings you here to my humble, little corner of the world? I figured you’d be having dinner with the President or something.”

Celestia’s smile faded, replaced with a sadness that was almost impossible for the young soldier to bear. Dammit, why do they all have to be so cute? She thought to herself.

The Princess grabbed her drink, downed the remainder in a single gulp, and met the soldier’s gaze. “You’re it.”

“Ah, good,” Elisa said, nodding. “I’m sorry, I’m what?”

“You’re it. The last human.”

Elisa sat upright in her seat, her boots dropping to the floor. A bit of her vodka sloshed out of the bottle. Her jaw dropped, her widening eyes locking with the Princess’s. “The president and his family were found dead in the Oval Office,” Celestia explained, only the tiniest bit of a quiver reaching her voice. She smiled, the corners of her mouth quaking, her eyes misting over. “They apparently decided that if America was going to die, they just didn’t belong anymore. Had no place. H-he-he was still holding hands with the first lady…and the children…”

Just all too damned cute, Elisa grumbled as she found herself wrapping her arms around the alicorn, stroking her mane. “It’s alright, you did all you could.” She whispered.

“Did we!?” Celestia shrieked, tears rolling down her face. “Did we really!? We tried to stop The Barrier, yet it still advances! We tried ponification, but all that did was delay the destruction of the mind!”

Elisa shivered as memories of those first awful days after the Barrier’s appearance came back to her. At first, the discovery of a land of magical talking ponies just on the other side of a rift in space-time over the Pacific Ocean had seemed like a miracle, something to make the Earth more colorful. Sure, there was the tiny unfortunate caveat that organic matter passing through the portal from the Earth side was destroyed by the ambient magic of Equestria, and so ponies could come and go on both worlds freely while humans were confined to their side, but that seemed like a tiny wrench in the works and little more. There were a few companies exploring suits and drugs to make humans immune to the effects, but for a while most were content with things as they were, with only a few rabble-rousers in between accusing the princess of purposefully creating The Barrier.

Then that ambient magic started leaking through. A few trickles at first, a couple instances of jets and speedboats disappearing in the area of the rift, but nothing that couldn’t be dismissed as a freak storm. Then all at once, the trickles became a downpour. The island of Peleliu was wiped clean of all terrestrial life in a single, sudden flash of light. The ponies could only watch in horror as a massive burst of magic flowed through the rift, steadily expanding outwards into what became the new Barrier.

Overnight, those few companies exploring suits and drugs went from recreational exploration to humanity’s only hope for survival. Relaxed laboratories became bustling centers of activity for human and pony scientists alike, searching desperately for something that would allow man to live within The Barrier, or perhaps stop it entirely. Celestia even sent her own protégé to study.

In the end, it was hopeless. The Barrier advanced relentlessly despite the best efforts of human and pony, and every suit and drug and half-assed, hillbilly-inspired diving bell still ended with any terrestrial organic matter disappearing in a flash, from anybody stupid or brave enough to test it to the fungus in their toenails. Then, a new hope emerged: Twilight Sparkle had the brilliant idea of ponification. If the human form couldn’t survive Equestrian magic, why not change that form into something which could? Sure, it meant sacrificing their human bodies, but that had to be better than total destruction! Just like that, there was hope. Corporations worldwide went into high production, creating products that would adapt people to their new bodies. Steering wheels that could be gripped by hooves, business suits for quadrupeds, remote controls meant to be used with subtle rocking of a hoof over a dial. For the first time in months, there was hope, and man and pony breathed a collective sigh of relief, a few of the early “Newfoals” even crossing the border to establish colonies in Equestria, proving the effectiveness of the transformation and becoming the first humans to see Equestria with their own eyes.

Then, contact had been lost with one of the colonies. An expedition by the Canterlot Guard showed that every one of the former humans was still there, just standing around, doing nothing and smiling cheerfully at passersby. It didn’t take long for intelligence tests to establish that the Newfoals had literally lost their minds, as well as all memories of their previous lives. Of course, any royal guard who saw them might have told you that. “Something in the eyes,” they would say, usually while suppressing a shiver. “You can just tell there’s nothing going on up there.”

Further tests with the other Newfoal colonies in Equestria came up with the same thing: the Newfoals were still losing their humanity, a bit at a time. Turns out, ponification didn’t save the human mind. Only delayed its inevitable destruction a little while. Panic was widespread. Cities burnt. Governments collapsed. Soldiers abandoned their posts. And still, The Barrier advanced, steadily devouring continents with an air of inevitability that bought back every bit of the old fear from before ponification had been discovered. The officials from ponydom and mankind made their speeches, urging for calm. Even Twilight Sparkle made appearances on TV, assuring everyone that they were doing everything they could to “work out all the kinks” in the serum. She kept smiling throughout those speeches, Elisa remembered, though her mane kept getting more and more unkempt. The soldier swallowed a lump as an image of Twilight’s last speech before the broadcast stations went down appeared in her mind. She didn’t smile throughout that one, reporting in a quivering voice the meager progress that had been made to the few UN delegates remaining in New York. About ten minutes in, she had collapsed on the floor, the podium hitting the ground next to her. She had hugged her wings to herself and screamed how sorry she was over and over again, tears streaming down her face for a full three minutes until the broadcasters went dark and never came back.

We know, Elisa thought, her eyes squeezed shut to force back the tears. We know you’re sorry. Don’t be. It’s not your fault.

“I-hih-hih-it’s not fair!” Celestia screeched. “This was supposed to be the greatest moment in our civilization’s time! Contact with another world! And instead, it…it…”

“Shhh,” Elisa whispered. “Princess, hush. Don’t make my last moments sad ones. It’s just how things have to be.”

“Th-there’s still time, you know,” Celestia said. “I know ponification doesn’t work for long, but you’ll still be you for a little while. It’s not much, but it’ll give you a few more weeks before…” she choked, unable to finish the sentence.

Elisa pulled away, shaking her head as tears rolled quietly out her eyes. “No, let the last human die as a human,” she whispered. “We should step into the dark with our heads held high, Princess. Let us face the end with dignity.”

Celestia choked out a sob, embracing the human once more. “Everypony will remember that,” she whispered. “They’ll remember your bravery, your courage, especially near the end.”

“You make sure of that, Sunbutt,” Elisa said, a tiny smile rising through her tears. “You do that, or I swear, I’ll personally come back and haunt your ass but good.”

Celestia chuckled. “Do you promise?”

“I’ll certainly try,” Elisa said, still returning the embrace. She noticed that the Princess wasn’t moving. Curious, she pulled away, having to wrench free of Celestia’s grip as the mare clung to her like a child with its favorite plushie. She finally took note of the deep glow radiating off the end of the Princess’s horn. “Ah, I thought it got a little easier to see in here.”

“Well, I thought it was a bit dreary, so…” Celestia replied with a little giggle that obviously wasn’t meant to sound so ragged and strained, even as cords popped out on her neck and sweat gathered on her forehead.

Elisa’s eyes widened in realization. “You’re holding it back. By yourself.”

Celestia gave an exasperated sigh. “I’m certainly trying.”


“It would have killed you by now,” Celestia said. “I-I just needed to say goodbye.”

“Alright,” Elisa said, reaching out a hand and resting it on the alicorn’s shoulder as her eyes slid shut. “Goodbye.”

Celestia said nothing, barely even acknowledging her.

“Um, Princess?” Elisa said. “Now’s the time.”

“Not…as long…as I say it isn’t…” Celestia gasped.

“Princess, no. You can’t keep it back forever.”

“I can certainly try,” she gasped her eyes gaining an eerie, white glow as the pressure on her magic grew. The upper corners of the warehouse started to shimmer as The Barrier pressed into the warehouse, the multi-hued haze of pure, natural magic growing around them.

“Princess, please! I’ve made my peace!” Elisa begged.

“I HAVEN’T!” Celestia bellowed, standing, her neck trembling with effort. “I haven’t! Not yet!”

“It’s not your race that’s dying, you did…”

“How in the fuck am I supposed to live with that, huh!?” The mare screeched, her eyes now glowing pure white. Above them, the roof of the warehouse filled with that strange, mesmerizing glow. “How am I supposed to live with the fact that my failure led to the extinction of an entire species of thinking, loving creatures!? Tell me, please! Because I don’t know!”

At that, the mare broke down, sobs rising from her chest, tears of blazing, pure, white energy cascading onto the concrete. “I don’t know…” she whimpered miserably, like a filly being asked to explain what had possessed her to disobey her parents.


“Stop calling me that!” She begged. “Please! Not until…not until I’ve saved you! Just one, please…”

She bowed her head, the air humming with the incredible strain of magic on magic. “…Just let me save one…”

Elisa watched in growing dread, her eyes darting from the straining princess on the floor to the slowly advancing haze descending on them from the roof. She stepped in close to the princess and started stroking her mane, and then she noticed the stress fractures spreading throughout her horn, arcing all over its structure, adding weakness. She bit her lip. There was nothing for it now.

“Hey, Sunbutt?”

Celestia chuckled. “I-I think I’m starting to like that title more than ‘Princess’,” she said between panting, heaving breaths.

Elisa nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. But you gotta know: I think the stress is starting to go to your horn. I’m seeing cracks all over the place.” Celestia didn’t respond. “Sunbutt?”

“What is…one horn…compared…to an entire species?” She finally replied, her chest rising and falling with each pained breath.

Elisa nodded sagely. “I figured you’d say that,” she sighed. “You have a good one.”

Celestia smiled. “Where do you think you’re…” her eyes opened as the fingers left her mane. Celestia’s heart skipped a few beats as she whirled in place, still maintaining her magic, searching desperately for the human. She spied her just as the soldier approached the gray, metal doors leading outside, their surface shimmering with that damnable magic hue.

“E-Elisa!” She screamed, reaching out for the soldier. She threw herself at the human, trying to grab her physically, but the force of her magic dragged her right back into the center of the room. She arched her elongated neck and flicked it in Elisa’s direction, trying to throw her magical protection towards her, but the weight of the Barrier was far too much. It was like she was at the very bottom of the Marianas Trench, and her magic and her own body were the only support beams maintaining this tiny pocket of livable space. The pressure was too much for her to move, too much for her to expand or nudge the dome, too much for her to even reach out with her magic and try to pull the human back.

Elisa, for her part, paused just short of the doors, Celestia’s desperate cries still echoing in the far reaches of the warehouse. Tears covered her face, but she still smiled and raised her hand in salute. “See ya around, Sunbutt,” she said. Then she threw the doors open and stepped outside.

“NO!” Celestia shrieked as the ambient magic ripped the human apart, her body evaporating in bursts of multi-colored dust. “No, please!” She begged a god that either didn’t exist or didn’t care, pleading for anything, any change to this wretched existence. The human saluted her until the very end, until her arm vanished in her sleeve and her uniform collapsed to the concrete, poofs of dust rising from inside.

“PLEASE!” Celestia screamed, finally allowing her spell to fall. The ambient magic washed over her immediately, inundating the last pocket of non-magical space on both worlds. She rushed through it without a thought, clutching at the empty uniform, clawing at it desperately, as if Elisa was simply hiding somewhere in the folds.

After a few minutes, she stopped. She held the tattered remnants of the uniform in her trembling grip, shaking as tears pooled on the concrete beneath her. Then she nuzzled the fabric, holding it close to herself and sobbing for what was lost. The empty streets of New York did nothing but echo her cries back to her.


“Princess Twilight!”

The lavender Alicorn lifted her head off her desk, moaning tiredly. She ran a hoof over her face, felt the bags there, and wondered when the last time she’d had a decent night’s sleep had been. “Yes, Lieutenant Sentry?” She asked.

“We have a report from the team at the Library of Congress,” the guard said, a weak smile on his face as he laid a piece of paper in front of her tired eyes. “Looks like most of it’s intact, despite the fires! We’ve saved almost the entire collection!”

“Good, good,” she said, returning the weak little smile. “Between that, the British Library, and the National Diet, that’s a good many of their books we’ve saved.”

“Miss Rarity would also like to report she’s found at least half the Louvre intact,” Flash added helpfully. “And Miss Fluttershy and Miss Pinkie Pie have managed to salvage a few dozen more servers from Silicon Valley.”

Unfortunately, Twilight’s face just fell. Her wings quivered with the tears rising in her eyes. Flash knew what she would ask. “And…the other half of the Louvre?”

Flash took a deep breath. Best to get this over with quickly. Like ripping off a Band-Aid. “I’m sorry, Princess. It was that windstorm last week: all our ponies were occupied with keeping the Eiffel Tower standing until the unicorns could work their preservation magic. Maybe some water got in, shorted something in the wiring, but by the time somepony noticed the alarms…”

He trailed off. Twilight could fill in the blanks, she was a smart pony. She let out a shivering gasp, her head sinking into her hooves. A quick sob wracked her body, which she silenced by stuffing a hoof into her mouth. “I-I’m sorry Princess, we tried…” Flash said.

“No, it’s okay,” she said shakily, holding up a hoof for him to stop. “The Tower is important. The Louvre may have been the mind of the city, but the Tower was its heart. If anything, the heart is what we need to preserve. Let it keep beating, even if the mind is gone.”

Flash arched an eyebrow at her. “Poetic.”

“Sorry, consequence of reading so much,” she said, meeting his gaze with a cute, sheepish little smile. “It comes out when I’m upset enough. Just tell me one thing?”


“Tell me we saved the Lady,” Twilight said, her smile fading and utter desperation rising in her eyes. “Tell me the Mona Lisa’s alright. She was so important to them, and she was painted by one of their greatest, tell me we…”

The way Flash’s eyes fell; Twilight knew she had her answer. She gasped again, in absolute horror. “No…” she whispered.

“We do have ‘The Last Supper,’ though,” Flash offered. “It’s on its way to the Royal Archives for safekeeping now.”

Twilight either didn’t hear, or didn’t care. A hoof went to her head, her shoulders rising and falling as sobs took her body. “Her smile’s gone,” she whispered. “Gone forever…”

“Yeah, and good riddance,” somepony muttered. Twilight, in her distressed state, never heard it, but Flash’s ears perked immediately. He whirled in place, gazing around, but the only thing he picked up were Twilight’s quiet sobs and hoofsteps from the hallway outside. Darting out the ornate, crystalline doors, Flash’s head wheeled around until he spotted a patrol heading down the hallway. Two crystal ponies with spears in their hooves trotted away, laughing jovially about something. Flash barreled down at them like a twister just outside a trailer park. When he was close enough, he flapped his wings once, twice, and leapt into the air, shooting right over the ponies’ heads and landing in front of them.

“Which one of you little shits said that!?” He hissed, wings flared aggressively.

Both Crystal guardsponies paused, their eyes wide in surprise. Then they widened with horror when they realized they were speaking with the Flash Sentry, the guard who held Princess Twilight’s ear, and some said, her heart as well. He might have just been a lieutenant, but his star had been rising long before the Princess came along, and now, a single word from him could make life for anypony in any section of the Equestrian Guard very difficult. Plus, it didn’t help that these two were just privates, and completely outranked.

“H-He did, sir,” the mauve pony on the right said, giving up his partner instantly. The other guardstallion glared at his partner for giving him up so easily, then turned a wary glance back at Flash.

“Would you care to repeat what you just said, soldier?” Flash asked.

At first, the guardstallion on the left grimaced, his gaze drifting to the floor. Then, his resolve hardening, he glared right back at Flash. “In fact, I would love to tell you, sir!” He bellowed. “I was just thinking that mankind being destroyed was just karma settling accounts! After everything they did to their world and to each other, why are we trying to save what’s left when we should be letting everything they did rot!?”

The dark glare that entered Flash Sentry’s eye was more than enough to blast away the guardstallion’s meager bravado. He cringed, but managed to keep his hooves from carrying him away, stumbling like a frightened colt. Flash took a deep breath in through his mouth, then let it out slowly through his nose. He did this a few times, each time the glare dissipating until he reached a point where he looked somewhat sane again. When he spoke, his voice shook with barely-restrained rage as he addressed the private.

“While it is true that mankind has committed truly atrocious acts, it is also true that they have created fine works that would make your mind reel. You haven’t gazed up at the Empire State Building. You haven’t seen the Sistine Chapel. You haven’t looked out over the Great Wall and realized you were standing on thousands of years of history as tumultuous and complex as the greatest of our thinkers’ minds. Their art, their philosophy, their science, their cities of gleaming glass and towering stone, all of it accomplished with nothing but their wits, their tools, and their bare hands. Yes, they have committed horrors beyond any that a pony has even dreamt of, but can you honestly tell me we would have been much better if it wasn’t for the guidance of the royal sisters?

“But still, barring all that, you would still have the fact that during our time there, both Princess Twilight and I had the privilege…no, the honor…of getting to know some of them. And…and I’m ashamed to say that at first, I thought like you,” he paused here, swallowing once, shaking his head, and continuing, that glare still hard in his eyes. “I heard the horror stories, I read the articles, I saw what they had done and thought them to be nothing more than barbarians. But when I talked with some of their thinkers, when I listened to some of their singers, when I read the works of some of their writers, I realized there was more there than could ever be known. When a human feels, the emotion can burn continents. It can also create works of art unlike anything you could ever even dream. I regret every moment I spent living in the fear and prejudice you live in now, because the relationships I built with them will last me a lifetime, and I could have been building them sooner.

“That is what being a human is, private,” the stallion grumbled. “So if you want to keep disrespecting their memory like this, you better start counting your teeth. You’re gonna need to know how many to look for after I knock ‘em all out of your empty, little head.”

The guard, struck completely senseless, could only shake his head. Sentry snorted. “I didn’t think so,” he said. “Get back on patrol before my senses come back to me and I sentence you to lifetime latrine duty.”

Both guards nodded, saluting and muttering quick “Yes, Sir,” before scampering away like frightened colts. Flash kept the glare up after them for a while, then let it sink away, his ears folding against his head. Sighing, he trotted back to Twilight’s room, where the Princess was sitting up, her eyebrows raised.

“Wow, Flash,” she said. “That was…incredible…”

“I…yeah,” he said, rubbing a forehoof against his foreleg bashfully while his cheeks grew hot. “It was…actually a part of the speech I was gonna give in a few days. Some of the guards have been talking like that, so I figured I could set the record straight. Least I could do, you know?”

“Yes,” she said, sighing sadly. “I can understand that. There are so many ponies opposed to the preservation of Earth that I wonder if…I wonder…”

All at once she sniffled, quickly wiping at her face with the back of a hoof. “Oh Celestia…I’m sorry, here I am, all-knowing Princess of Friendship, weeping like a filly.”

“Hey, hey,” he said, rushing to her side between her wings. “It’s alright, we’ve all been through a lot these past few days.”

“D-did I tell you?” She whispered, barely keeping her voice from cracking. “Last week, Princess Celestia and I visited one of the refugee camps in Connecticut, before The Barrier could reach it. There were kids and women and men just working so hard and…and they were all so happy to see us…so brave…”

Flash Sentry had nothing to say to that, so he just continued stroking her back, running his hoof over the growing muscles between her wings. They were getting stronger, he could tell. All that flying she’d been doing back and forth between worlds, rushing in mad dashes to this panicked mob and that refugee camp. And he’d been there through it all. She was incredible, the most amazing mare he’d ever…

The doors slammed open, and the massive silhouette of Princess Celestia strode in, her head low, her eyes red.

“Princess!” Twilight gasped, leaping up and vaulting the desk to land at Celestia’s hooves. “How are…you…”

She trailed off. The Princess didn’t need to speak to let everypony know she wasn’t doing so well. The bags under her eyes, the tears still soaking her facial fur, her hunched-over shoulders, the frizz in her mane, all spoke volumes for her. “Princess?” Flash asked carefully.

Celestia’s tear-streaked face rose at his voice, and all of a sudden he could see the thousands of years this mare had lived, all present in that one look. “The last human is gone,” she said simply.

Neither Flash nor Twilight moved. They still didn’t move as Celestia turned and trotted out the hallway, her head lowered. They didn’t move as her hoofsteps faded away into nothingness. Then, Twilight just fell over, as if every muscle in her body had gone slack at the same time. She wailed then, wailed for what was lost, wailed for what had been, wailed for all the pain, all the suffering.

Flash could do nothing but pull her in close, hold her, and comfort her. After all, it’s not like he knew why an entire race of sapient creatures had to die. And, judging by the silence that fell in between each of Twilight’s cries, nobody she was calling to did either.

Author's Notes:

This one's gonna be much shorter than some of my other stories, guys. Not quite a one-shot, but not quite a longer tale either.

Either way, I know, I know, "Ugh, Flash Sentry! He's so bland and undeveloped! He has no character! Kildeez, why would you make him a hero in your story?" To answer that, let me say you're absolutely right. Flash is bland and undeveloped. Which means he can be anyone we want him to be! He could become whatever we care to make of him! Hell, Twilight had to fall for him for some reason, right? I just don't accept that she would just go all gaga over some dumbass jock! He could be what we want him to be, so why is everyone determined to turn him into yet another unlikable asshole in the MLP universe?

Chapter II: Todd

As far as he was concerned, Todd the Newfoal lived a good life. Of course, he could have been lying in a drainage ditch miles away from civilization, and he would have been living a good life as far as he knew. Just being alive was more than enough for Todd, what else could he need? Sure, every now and again the growly feeling would grow in his stomach, but the nice ponies that found him always made sure to remind him to eat, and gave him plenty to eat to make the growly feeling go away. They also made sure he drank the clear water when his throat felt all dry and cracked, and not the yellow water that came out of him every now and again. This had confused him at first, but apparently, if it came out of him it wasn’t supposed to go back in. It took a week, but eventually, Todd had mastered this concept. He had felt so proud then! Too bad the other nice ponies hadn’t shared his pride. They’d just sort of looked at him with those bags under their eyes and cracked smiles that he somehow knew weren’t really smiles. He didn’t know how he knew they weren’t smiles, he just did.

“Todd!” Ohh! Somepony was calling for him! It sounded like Redheart! Redheart was one of the nice ponies who came to the village after everypony else…did something. He couldn’t remember what. In fact, his head just hurt really hard whenever he tried to remember what it was like before the something. He had decided to stop trying to remember. After all, why do something if it hurt? But Redheart was a very nice pony; she was the one who discovered them all in the first place!

She had shown up on Todd’s doorstep with a lot of things in suitcases, asking why everypony was just standing around, and Todd had said he didn’t know. Then she started asking questions that made Todd’s head hurt, like if he remembered the time on the pier when his “hahnd” had closed over her hoof, or that one time they’d danced on the shores of Lake Mishy-gan with the music from that rave playing down the beach, and then she’d gotten really, really sad and pulled out a ring and screamed at him to remember what it meant. Todd had gotten sad too, because Redheart was a very pretty pony and she had bought a lot of nice things and now she was sad, but in the end he had to tell her he didn’t know.

Redheart had sent a message to the nearest town asking all the other nice ponies to come, and then she spent that night on Todd’s couch, making weird noises, and Todd had come downstairs to see why she was making the noises. She had screamed again, thrown a pillow at his face and told him to get out, that he wasn’t her husband, couldn’t be her husband. Todd thought that was a strange thing to just scream in the middle of the night. Todd didn’t know what to do, so he just did what she told him and trotted outside. Of course, she hadn’t told him where to go, so he’d just sat on the front porch until the sun rose. Jerry had been at his window across the street. Todd liked Jerry, Todd liked everypony. Todd had waved at Jerry. Jerry had just stood there, swaying back and forth, and clear water had dribbled out his mouth (though not the kind of clear water he was supposed to drink, Todd had discovered, and this concept still confused him).

When Todd trotted back to the house, he found Redheart talking to a pony that looked a lot like her. The other pony that looked like Redheart but wasn’t took one look at Todd and grimaced. Todd waved. She didn’t wave back. Redheart kept her hoof to her face, her cheeks were wet. Todd wondered if she had just been walking in the rain, but no, wait, it hadn’t been raining…

“He’s gone, Red,” Todd heard the other pony say when he was still a good distance away. “You’ve gotta accept that.”

“No! He’s still in there!” Redheart half-whispered, half-gasped, and then she started talking really fast. “He calls me pretty and I sometimes catch him looking at me the way he used to and he likes his coffee black! Who likes their coffee black but him!?”

“Flickers!” The other pony insisted. “Just little flickers of that empty little brain trying to remember what it was! Come on, Red! Mom’s worried; it’s not healthy to live with that thing…”

“That thing is my husband!” Redheart wasn’t whispering any more. She was crying out at the top of her lungs.

Was your husband!” The other pony said, returning the cry.

Todd frowned. He felt something towards this pony, but not the usual instant, puppy-dog love he usually felt. Whenever she talked, something welled up inside him, made him feel all burny inside. He couldn’t quite put his hoof on it…but then something went all hummy and the burny feeling was gone and he just smiled at the ponies again. “Hi,” he said.

“Look, can we talk about this when he’s not standing right there!? At least out of respect for what he was,” Redheart hissed at the other pony.

The other pony sighed, but nodded. “Fine, have it your way. Kids!”

Immediately, a couple of little ponies came running out of the living room, heading towards the door. Todd smiled. He liked little ponies almost as much as he liked Redheart. They didn’t ask questions that made his head hurt, like some of the other ponies that had come to the village. They usually just wanted to play! Of course, sometimes they got hurt and made loud crying noises and got all sad, like one pony he’d been playing with, and Todd didn’t know what to do so he just cried with her until one of the nice ponies showed up to kiss it and make it all better. Todd had seen less little ponies around the town since then.

“They can play together while we talk,” Redheart whispered, which sounded great to Todd! So why did she look so sad saying it?

“So long as he doesn’t piss himself and teach them to do it too,” the other pony whispered. There was that burny feeling again! Todd decided he did not like this pony as much as the other ponies. In fact, as far as Todd was concerned, this pony was somewhere on the same level as the prickly plant he’d tried to lick the second day after Redheart arrived. That had not been a fun day at all.

The little ponies, one colt, one filly, ran around Todd, and he smiled at them as they cheered. “OUTSIDE!” The little filly said. “Mr. Todd! Let’s go play!”

“Okay!” Todd said cheerily, taking off alongside them.

“Stay in the town! Don’t go near the Everfree!” Redheart called after the group as they galloped away. Todd looked over his shoulder and grinned at her. She just gave him one of those not-smiles and trotted inside with the other pony. Todd decided that other pony wasn’t really nice at all.

“Mr. Todd, c’mon!” The colt called after him. “Let’s play tag!”

Todd grinned cheekily and raced to catch up with the pair, the trio bounding through the center of town where more ponies like him were being led around on their walks by some of the nice other ponies. All the others had the same, tired looks on their faces, and Todd wondered why they were all so tired. Maybe they just needed to sleep more, yeah!

“Mr. Todd! You’re it, Mr. Todd!” The little filly shouted.

Todd smiled and picked up the pace, ignoring his racing heart and the dry feeling at the back of his throat, focusing on the filly. He didn’t even notice as she led them through the town, right past the town’s border and past the sign that read “Welcome to Colony XYJ, ‘New Chicago,’ population 517 OUT OF THEIR BUCKING MINDS” as he and the pair of little ponies giggled their way along. Soon, flat grass and rolling pavement gave way to crunching foliage, and finally, his heart pounding and his muscles aching, Todd seized the filly’s tail in his teeth.

“EEK!” She laughed. “Okay, you got me!”

Todd grinned in victory and looked around for the little boy pony. Finally, he got a good look around. The big, safe buildings were all gone, replaced with crooked trees and dangling moss. Todd whimpered, his ears folding back. When had things gotten all scary around him?

“Mr. Todd?” He looked down, remembering the little filly at his hooves as she hugged one of his legs. “Wh-where’s my brother?”

“HEELLLPP!” A high-pitched voice cried, and Todd’s ears perked up. That hadn’t been a grown-up pony, he knew that much. Grown-up ponies didn’t make sounds that high-pitched when they screamed. Except for Mr. Orkland when he bumped his groin on the fence post outside his house.

“That’s him! Mr. Todd, c’mon!” The filly gasped, taking off into the woods and vanishing into the underbrush. Todd stood there and whimpered. He didn’t want to go into the scary woods. He wanted to go back to the village and have Redheart tell him things were going to be alright and maybe have her make him some hot chocolate. Except…if he didn’t come back with the little ponies, Redheart might get sad. Todd really didn’t want to make Redheart sad.

Shivering and whimpering pathetically, he slunk into the brush, his ears drooping and his head bowed low as he noisily crunched through the leaves and debris. The forest here was dark, darker even than Todd’s room before Redheart had installed that night light. The leaves off the towering, crooked trees around him only let in a few patches of sunlight, which teased him with their warmth and gentleness on their coat for the brief period of time they slid over his body. Somewhere far off, a branch snapped and slammed into the ground. Todd screeched and turned away from the sound, whimpering, tears in his eyes. He should turn back now. Redheart and the other nice ponies could look for the little ponies, they were smarter than him, they could figure out some…

“HELP!” Todd’s ears perked. That was two little ponies’ voices that time, not one. They were both in trouble.

A whine building in the back of his throat, Todd bounded after the source of the noise, instantly coming across a meadow filled with daisies. He thought they looked pretty. He thought he might pick some for Redheart, since she was pretty and he figured she might like pretty things. Then he noticed the shifting pile of wood on the other side of the meadow, and the two little ponies clambering to branches in a tree just over it. Todd squinted and stepped into the clearing, and suddenly the shifting pile of wood stopped. A pair of little red dots appeared in the middle of the pile, then another pair, and another. It took Todd a while to notice the wooden fangs dripping with sap beneath every pair of eyes.

“Run, Mr. Todd! Timberwolves!” The little girl pony screeched.

Todd wanted to run, wanted it more than he’d ever wanted anything in his short memory, but his hooves were frozen in place. He whimpered, barely able to move as a few chunks of the wood pile broke off and slunk across the meadow, slowing as they approached him, teeth bared, wooden snouts crinkled up in a snarl. Todd let out a soft sob, but only managed a single step back as the creatures advanced, their jaws opening for what appeared to them like an easy meal.



Todd looked up at the sound. The girl pony’s grip was failing her, and the boy pony was trying to pull her back up into the branches, but his small arms could barely grip her shoulders, much less pull her back to safety. The creatures were snapping at the bottom of her hooves, their jaws closing just short of clamping into the bone. Todd stopped. He stood up. He looked over the wolves, his eyes wide and blank. He locked eyes with one of the creatures. It returned the gaze, and then hesitated, whined, and took a step back.

“Get away from them,” Todd mumbled.


“FEATHERS!” Spark gasped, clambering for his sister’s wing. “HANG ON!”

“I’m trying!” She screamed, trying to brace a hoof against the branch to get a better grip. “I’m falling!”

“Just hold on!” Spark wrenched at her wings, trying to gain some leverage, but she was slipping.

“Spark! Help me!” His sister screamed.

“I…can’t!” He grimaced, tears falling from his eyes. She looked up at him desperately, begging him to save her from the whirling pile of claws and teeth beneath her. But he couldn’t. He was just too weak. “I’m sorry, sis, I’m so sorry…” he whimpered.

“You heard me! GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM THEM!” A familiar voice boomed across the field, echoing off into the distance with its power.

Spark looked up in surprise, still somehow maintaining his grip on his sister. “T-Todd?” He whispered.

The Newfoal stalked across the field, head lowered, but not in fear. His teeth were bared, a growl emanating from his throat. Behind him, one of the wolves that had been stalking him lay as a pile of scorched twigs, the one that had been standing next to him dancing away, yipping fearfully, fire crackling over half its body. The third was currently crawling away on its forelegs, its hind legs having been torn off at the knee and lodged firmly up its rectum.

Spark’s jaw hit his chest. “Todd!?”

“Motherfuckers, you no hear the words comin’ outta my mouf?” Todd screamed, his voice adopting a strange accent. Suddenly, it lowered a few octaves and his eye twitched. “I said GET BACK, GET BACK, DON’T KNOW ME LIKE THAT!” The remaining wolves all turned on him, forgetting the fillies and advancing on the Newfoal. A queer smile crossed his face while his eye twitched again, and Todd stood up on his hind legs, levelling a hoof on one of the advancing pack.

“Tonight…you.” He whispered hoarsely. The wolves all looked at each other queerly, and then one of them just shrugged and leapt at him. The funny little smile never left Todd’s face, even as a bolt of lightning arced out of the clear, blue skies above and struck the wolf right in the middle of its body, blasting it out of the air mid-leap. The wolf fell; nothing but a dead pile of twigs before it even hit the ground.

The next attack was a little smarter, approaching from Todd’s sides. His eye twitched again and turned ice-cold as his jaw clenched. “Go ahead, punk, make my day,” he growled.

The wolves leapt at the same time, but the queer little smile didn’t even flicker. Instead, the blades of grass beneath the wolf to his left shot out of the ground, growing a few yards in a blink of an eye and wrapping around the wooden body, dragging it down and squeezing it until something went snap, the remainder of the twigs being absorbed into the dirt. The other wolf met a right hook to the mouth that sent a piece of wood flying. It took Spark a few minutes to realize the piece of wood was its lower jaw. Todd seized the dazed wolf in his hooves, and then looked at it strangely. His eye twitched.

“Quick question: if a vacuum cleaner really sucks, is that a good thing?” He asked. A split second later, the air around his hooves spun up into a powerful tornado, ripping the wolf apart and sending its pieces flying.

The last wolf remaining looked at the Newfoal. Todd suddenly turned on it, a big, warm smile on his face. A bit of sap dribbled down one of the wolf’s hind legs, but still it leapt, slashing futilely with its claws. Todd stomped a hoof, and suddenly the wolf stopped, hovering in mid-air, whining and whimpering. “Some niggas gotta learn da hard way,” Todd grumbled, a small flame flickering at the tip of his hoof.

The wolf’s howls of agony soon filled the forest.


Redheart looked out over her porch as the sun set behind the trees, shadows extending all throughout the village. This was her favorite time of day. Like this, with the village basking in an orange glow and all the Newfoals being herded inside by their caretakers, she could pretend she was in a normal little village. That she had a normal job at the local clinic, that she had arrived that day not too long ago to be welcomed at the door by the former human she had fallen in love with, and that she had spent the rest of the day being escorted around town with that wonderful, loving stallion “showing off his super-hot wife.” She never learned what that meant: Todd had been ponified shortly after they’d gotten married, and had gone ahead of her to the little colony just a week later. “I’ll tell ya when you get there, babe,” he’d said with the confident little smile that, somehow, hadn’t changed when he’d become a pony. Then he’d kissed her with that burning passion she’d fallen in love with and hitched himself to a cart, taking off for the village.

“Red,” her sister said, trotting up alongside the nurse (or former nurse, now. She had meant to get a job at the local clinic, but that plan had fallen through once they’d discovered the doctor in his office, eating cotton swabs as if they were candy).

“Blue,” Redheart nodded, acknowledging her sister.

Blueheart smiled and put her hooves up on the oaken railing, styled after the little New England farmhouse Todd had always promised her they’d move into once he had the money. “It gets so quiet around here at night. Real peaceful,” Blueheart said wistfully.

“That’s kinda what happens when everypony just heads inside at night,” Redheart said dryly. “Not much chance for a night life when your town’s populace isn’t even potty-trained.”

Blueheart nodded, sighing tiredly. “Look, Red…”

“I know how you feel about him,” Redheart said, interrupting her sister. “I’ve always known, from the moment you learned he was a human.”

Blueheart looked at her sister; saw the bags under the other pony’s eyes, the way her usually neat, little bun had a few split ends and a couple strands coming loose. “Red…”

“I thought you’d get over it, get to see what I saw,” Redheart said, and finally, the tears she’d been holding back all day started flowing in earnest. “Get to see that man and…and see how he felt about me. What he could make me feel.”

Blueheart looked at her hooves, at the setting sun, anywhere but the broken pony before her. “I wanted to, Red, that’s why I came to the wedding. I can’t say I supported you two then, but I could tell you were happy.”

“I was…” the tears were flowing off her cheeks now. “I was so, so happy…”

“Things have changed, Red: this isn’t just about him being a Newfoal and you being a natural-born. Not anymore,” Blueheart still couldn’t meet her sister’s eyes. “Red, I attended that wedding even though he was a human because I knew he could do two things: make you happy, and provide for you.”

Redheart’s only reply was a few, quivering sobs.

Blueheart closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, then placed a hoof on her sister’s shoulder and looked in her eyes. Redheart tried to look away, tried to shift her gaze to the side, but a gentle hoof on her chin prevented her from even this. “Red, look at me, please.”

Redheart obeyed, still sniffling.

“Can you honestly say he can be there for you now? Do you really believe he can hold you at nights and comfort the stress away? Hold down a steady-paying job?” She took a deep breath, bracing herself for twisting the final dagger in her sister’s heart. I’m so sorry, Red… “Do you even feel happy when you see him anymore?”

A refreshed barrage of sobs wracked Redheart’s body. “I…” she gasped. “I…”

A loud crash sounded, followed by a deep rumble. Both ponies’ ears perked up with the sound. “Lightning?” Redheart mused.

Blueheart looked at the sky. “Not a cloud in the sky. Besides, all the pegasus teams I talked to said they didn’t have any storms planned for another month.”

“Must’ve been a rock slide or something,” Redheart added, still talking absently, as if in a daze.

Shaking her head, Blueheart turned her attention back on her sister. “Red, I still think…”


The mares looked up, their heads swiveling around. “Was that…” Blueheart started before a massive, supersonic boom echoed through the streets. Todd slammed into the ground, his hooves kicking up dirt as he shot by, bracing himself as dirt went flying up in a wide arch behind him. The pair on the porch watched, awestruck, and for a second as he shot past, Redheart could swear she saw the stallion look right at her and wink. A blush rose to her cheeks. The stallion came screeching to a halt in the middle of the street, allowing the foals perched on his back to hop off and run to their mother.

“Kids!” Blueheart screamed, vaulting the bannister and racing to the little foals.

“Mommy!” Both tiny ponies sobbed as the mare embraced them, showering them with kisses.

“Kids…dear sweet Celestia, what happened!?” Blueheart gasped.

Both foals started talking at once, Blueheart not even caring, barely even listening, hardly able to believe they were still intact after the incredible display. She picked up a few odd words here and there, such as “magic,” “superpowers,” and “timberwolves,” although her ears did perk up at that.

“Wait, wait,” she held up her hooves, setting both children down and glaring at them. “What’s this about timberwolves? I thought I told you both to stay in the village!”

By now, a sizable crowd had gathered, mostly natural ponies wondering about the new drainage ditch that had just appeared in the middle of town, though some of their Newfoal charges followed them, looking at the ditch with big, wide, blank expressions. The foals both gained a sudden interest in the ground, both looking away bashfully to avoid their mother’s gaze and the eyes of the audience gathering around them.

“Well?” Blueheart demanded.

“W-we’re sorry, mama,” Feathers whimpered. “We got a little overexcited, and kinda let Mr. Todd chase us around, and we didn’t even realize what was happening until the timberwolves…”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Redheart said, holding her hoof up to stop the filly. “Timberwolves?”

Spark nodded enthusiastically his eyes finally lifting off the ground. “A whole pack of ‘em! Five…no…ten at least!” He threw his little hooves out dramatically, eyes wide. “They chased us up a tree, and they were growlin’ and snappin’ like RAGH!”

He punctuated himself by gnashing his teeth, making growling noises from the back of his throat. Blueheart sighed and nudged the colt, startling him out of his fit. One of her eyebrows arched disapprovingly. “Snappy, you know I would be angrier with you if you lied about what really happened, correct?”

The colt looked up at her, his eyes wide and confused. “What do you mean, mama?”

“Son, whatever happened in there, I’m sure it’s a bit more plausible than you and your sister fighting off a pack of ravenous timberwolves,” the mare replied, still glaring down at the little colt.

“But mmoooom! We didn’t fight the wolves!” Feather whined.

“Oh? Then what happened to them?”

Both foals stared wide-eyed up at her. Then, the colt pointed over to the cloud of dust Todd had disappeared into. “The human did,” both said.

The mares, along with the rest of the crowd, tilted their heads towards the rising pile of dust. After a few moments, the sound of hooves on hard-packed dirt clopped in everypony’s ears, the silhouette of a lone stallion slowly appearing from the rising dust. A familiar snout emerged, followed by a pair of eyes that gleamed with passion.

“T-Todd?” Redheart asked.

All at once, his eyes emptied, and he smiled that big, idiotic smile so many of the ponies had grown used to during the past weeks. “Hullo, Miss Redheart,” he said, sitting his plot down in the dirt as disappointment rose on her features, her hopes crashing back to the ground.

Nopony spoke for a second, then Blueheart stepped forward. “Todd,” she said carefully, as if speaking to a child holding a loaded AK-47. “What happened back in that field?”

The Newfoal paused, his brow furrowing with thought. He screwed up his eyes, tapped his chin for a few minutes, then smiled that empty little smile again, nodding approvingly, as if something inside him had reached some consensus.

“Big bad wolf went boom,” he replied, a wide grin spreading across his face. The Newfoals in the crowd all snickered and giggled with him.

Chapter III: An Old Enemy

“The replanting of the Amazon basin is proceeding as planned,” Blueblood droned, tapping a hoof right in the center of the map of South America. “Like in many of the forested areas, soil erosion had filled in most of the valley due to mass dissipation of local flora. Unfortunately, it looks like the river itself won’t be clear for years.”

“Uh huh,” Luna yawned.

“On the plus side, I got a report from the team in…uh…’Mishy-gan’?”

“That’s ‘Michigan’,” Luna corrected, twirling a balled up wad of paper around her hoof in her magic.

“Right, our team in Michigan says the effort to preserve human technology is progressing fairly well: many of the Ford plants are still in good condition. I guess it does help that nopony…I’m sorry, nobody…has been running them for a while. Plus, the lack of local fauna certainly helps.”

“Fascinating,” Luna intoned. “Is that all?”

“There…er…was one thing in the report,” the prince replied, scratching at his mane. “There was an incident at one of the plants. It appears as though there was a chemical explosion.”

Luna’s eyebrows arched. “Was…anyone hurt?” She asked, sitting up, already dreading the answer.

Blueblood shook his head. “Not a soul, Princess, not a single pony. According to witnesses, the vehicles inside suddenly tore off the assembly line and formed a protective barrier around the ponies, shielding them from the worst of it. Sprinkler systems and some of the mounted robots evidently doused the flames.”

Luna stared at Blueblood. Blueblood blinked. Luna took a breath, considered, and let it out again, then apparently reconsidered and took another breath. “I’m sorry, dearest nephew, but I thought you just told me the cars protected the ponies.”

“Y-yes, Princess.”

Luna blinked again. “Nephew, we are not going to pretend to possess even a fundamental understanding of human technology, but we are quite certain they had yet to discover artificial intelligence, and we are even more certain that they wouldn’t have implemented such technology in their vehicles, nor that said intelligence would have possessed the altruistic characteristics required to place itself in danger for the sake of others.”

“Yes Princess, we actually expected some disbelief on your part,” Blueblood said, then he stomped his hoof a few times. A pair of guardstallions wheeled a large, black box with a glass screen into the room, the screen supported on a wheeled cart and seated atop another black box, both labelled “Sony.”

“We have here security footage from the plant parking lot,” Blueblood said, fiddling with a few buttons on the glass box’s front. He held one end of the plug leading into it up to his horn, a few sparks jumping from him into the wires. A few seconds later, the large box hummed to life, white snow fizzling on the glass while a flashing “12:00” appeared on the smaller box. “Hold on,” Blueblood grunted, biting the inside of his cheek as he fiddled with the buttons on the front, his teeth biting harder and harder until finally, he just gave it a good whack against the side with his hoof.

The white snow flickered, and finally disappeared, revealing a massive parking lot with a time code in the corner, all in grainy black-and-white. The lot dominated a full half of the screen, dozens of cars parked door-to-door, waiting for owners that would never come. Ye gods, ‘tis almost like seeing a basket of abandoned puppies, she mused. While the assorted pickups, sedans, and convertibles (the latter mostly in executive spaces) might not have possessed the same inherent adorableness as a basket of puppies, it didn’t make the image of those metal hulks rusting away while waiting for their masters any less depressing.

On the other half of the screen was a covered walkway leading to a set of glass doors, a trio of ponies trotting along and conversing as they approached. To Luna, it appeared as banal a scene as could be possible, the construction ponies chatting amicably as they walked, toolboxes and lunch pails balanced on their backs. She cocked an eyebrow at her nephew as she watched, noted his struggles with keeping the device powered, and promptly sent a little help his way, taking over the power output with ease, even copying the young prince’s magical power signatures to avoid overloading the device.

Blueblood, for his part, looked up in confusion at the stress suddenly lifting off his magic, then noticed the glow on his aunt’s horn. She smiled at him, obviously completely unfazed from the effort to keep the device powered. “We take it we should be seeing something shortly?” Luna asked with a kind, little smile.

“Y-yes,” Blueblood replied, stunned with the ease his aunt had adapted to producing power for the “Sony”. “Just keep watching, it’s around the 8:35 mark.”

Luna nodded, her brow furrowing as she focused on the screen. True to Blueblood’s word, a few seconds after the numbers in the corner flickered to 8:35, some of the cars’ headlights started flashing. Intrigued now, Luna leaned forward in her seat, her hooves settling on the table’s edge. The construction ponies on the pathway had all stopped, turning curiously at the phantom headlights. One of them, however, just shrugged his shoulders and continued walking. Luna could see him mouthing “I’ll catcha inside” to the ponies behind him as he walked away.

Suddenly, she saw steam rise from the front tires of one of the vehicles: a massive, gray thing with rust along its rear wheel well and an extended engine block that gave it a surprisingly pony-like snout. Over the course of a few frames, it bounced over the concrete barrier at the head of its parking space, bounded over the grass bordering the walkway, and slammed into the glass doors just ten feet in front of the lead pony, wrecking itself against the door frame. The wreck completely blocked the doors, forming a barrier of twisted metal and shattered glass. The lead pony fell onto his rump, scooching away in fear, his friends just staring, jaws agape. A split-second later, the screen flickered and a massive fireball reared up out of another wing of the factory, the ponies’ eyes all darting between the ruined front door and the tongues of flame ripping up into the sky, as if they couldn’t figure out which to focus on. Luna watched the flames as the cars all rocked on their suspensions from the force of the blast, then her eyes also drifted to the wrecked car. She paused, then with a quick exertion of magic, rewound the footage, keeping her eyes on the machine from the tape’s beginning right up until it suddenly roared to life and slammed itself into the doorway.

“Auntie?” Blueblood asked, trying not to sound too awestruck by the way Luna had taken all of five minutes to master the human machine (which was nothing, since in another twenty minutes she would master that most forbidden of skills and figure out how to get the flashing “12:00” to go away).

“It’s…impossible…” she whispered, but there it was. The driver’s seat of the large, gray car was completely empty. She could just see the edge of the polyester seat over the lip of the driver’s side door. Absolutely empty.

Except…hold on…what was that flicker she saw? Distortion on the tape?

She rewound again, going through the footage frame-by-frame. It didn’t take her long to find what she was looking for. For just a moment, no more than two frames, she could make out something in the window, something that might be a trick of the light off the window, or…

“Is…” Blueblood blinked, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head before glaring at the screen. “Is that a…human?”

There was no mistaking it. Now that Luna could see it, she could tell there definitely was a human sitting in the driver’s seat, safety glasses wrapped around his head, a long, white beard on his face, and a yellow safety vest wrapped around his body, just like the ones the ponies working in the plants were made to wear, just like the humans working on the line had worn.

Luna pointed at the screen. “Get me employee records; find me pictures of everyone working at that plant before it shut down.” Fast-forwarding again, she paused the camera at a point right when the vehicle slammed into the walkway, when its back had reared up off its wheels and exposed its license plate to the camera. “Start with the human that owned this car, use DMV records, find me a picture of whoever drove it, ASAP!”

“Y-yes princess,” Blueblood said, hurriedly gathering his things. He took off out the door at a dead gallop, trailing papers behind him before it slammed shut. Luna sighed and sank into her seat, massaging her temples as her mind trailed over the events of the last few weeks. To think, she had thought things would be boring with the loss of humanity. Nothing to do but go through the empty remnants of their cities, preserving what they could and hunting down any treasures that would keep their memory alive for as long as possible. But now there were these apparently possessed machines in Michigan, which could be added to the Newfoal pegasi that had fought off an entire pack of manticores outside Manehattan while singing “Highway to the Danger Zone” at the top of their lungs, and the muggers her guard had discovered one night with their tails pinned to a concrete wall, their manes turned white, and screaming about the Newfoal that “wouldn’t stop giggling…” over and over again.

She pulled her face out of her hooves. If only her sister would come out of her room, she couldn’t handle this madness 24/7! “Can this get any weirder?” She mused, then quickly rammed a hoof in her mouth when she realized what she’d said. She usually wasn’t a superstitious pony, and never believed in tempting fate actually causing something to happen, but recent events had rekindled that ancient spark within her.

Her breath caught in her throat as the door creaked open. Oh dearest Faust above, what would walk through? A newly-sapient hydra asking to be made a citizen? A Newfoal with an encyclopedic knowledge of every plant in the kingdom? Or perhaps…

No, it was just one of her sister’s guards. She sighed in relief as the stallion clomped in, his armor clanking noisily, a spear hitting the ground with every step, like a walking stick. She watched him as he approached the table, her relief slowly giving way to wariness. She backed away from the table, her wings quivering in anticipation of some attack. “Yes, guard?” She asked.

The guard stood at the other side of the table, his helmet pulled low over his eyes. After a few minutes of deep silence, his voice came in a dry rasp: “Okay, you win, just please stop it.”

Luna arched an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”

The guard lifted his chin, and Luna’s eyes widened at the flicker of green that passed through the shadow under his helmet. Before she could react, he disappeared in a flash of green flames, and in his place stood a creature Luna had only heard about, and had dreaded meeting.

“Chrysalis!” Luna reared up, her wings flaring out as her hooves slammed onto the table. “Thou art a fool for appearing before us! Thy…”

Without another word, the changeling queen reached up with a black, hole-filled hoof, plucked the crown out of her tangled, aquamarine mane, and tossed it onto the table. It landed on its side, rolled for a while, bumped off Luna’s hoof, and settled. The princess stared at it in shock, and then her eyes lifted to the changeling. She finally noticed the deep bags under the queen’s eyes, the haggard way her chest rose and fell with each breath, the exhausted but determined look in her face.

“You. Win.” Chrysalis said. “Okay, you win! I give up! Just make it stop, please!”

“I…don’t…” Luna started to say, her mind reeling. She had expected the first time she met Chrysalis face-to-face to result in an instant battle, but this…what was this, even!?

“Don’t play coy! I don’t know how you ponies managed to gain total control of nature, but that’s the only way to explain it! My changelings can’t even set hoof outside the hive without being struck by lightning, or buried in a landslide, or hit by a falling tree! I don’t know how, but you’ve done it! You’ve isolated us!” She fell to her haunches, tears welling in her eyes. “But that wasn’t enough for you, was it!?”

“I…what?” Luna finally managed.

Chrysalis just continued, as if she hadn’t heard. “No, you had to send them too,” a shiver raced up her back, as if the mere thought of them was enough to send her into a panic, to make her want to flare out her wings and just fly away.

Luna paused, then eased back, circling the table and approaching Chrysalis as one would approach a scared rabbit. “I’m sorry, who are ‘they,’ Chrysalis? What has happened to you?”

As if to answer her question, a high-pitched, funny little voice called from the hallway: “Oh, Chrysiiieeeee!

Chrysalis shot to her hooves, her eyes darting wildly to the door. “Oh God, it found me!” She cried.

Luna leapt between the changeling and the door, her protective instincts kicking in before she even knew what she was doing. Her wings flared out like a shield, and she lowered her head, her horn glowing with power, ready to do battle with anything, even Tirek and Sombra teaming up.

Anything, that was, but a Newfoal with light brown hair, a cutie-mark of a musical note, and one of those big, empty grins on his face. Luna watched, her horn doused and her eyebrows hunching, as the Newfoal looked around, his grin widening even further when he spotted Chrysalis through the gaps in Luna’s feathers. “There you are!” He said cheerfully.

“No…no…” Chrysalis gasped, a series of gasping, choked-off sobs wracking her form.

“I almost lost you that time, but don’t worry,” the Newfoal said, his smile somehow growing even wider, almost to a point where Luna swore it could only be sheer malice still fuelling it. “The voices told me where you are. The voices always tell me where you are. I’ll never lose you. Never. Because that’s who we are.

At that, Chrysalis darted around Luna’s body, her horn crackling with power as green lightning shot right at the Newfoal. For a moment, he vanished behind a puff of smoke and a thunderous crack of pure power, Chrysalis keeping her green, cat-like eyes locked on the puff. Luna reared on her. “Chrysalis! Thou hast just assaulted one of our own…”

“Oh, that was mean,” the Newfoal’s voice returned. Luna’s jaw dropped as he emerged from the smoke, completely unscathed by an attack that should have ended his life.

Chrysalis stepped back, her jaw working up and down in horror. “No,” she murmured. “No…”

“I mean, is that the way you treat your friends, Chryssie?” He asked, his lower lip quivering as his eyes widened to puppy-size. “Oh, hold on, I know what’ll cheer you up! Your favorite lullaby!”

Chrysalis’s eyes widened in horror. “No,” she gasped. “No, not that, anything but that…please!”

Ignoring her, the Newfoal took a deep breath, and belted out in as loud and off-key a manner as he could: “This is the song that never eennnndddsss! Yes, it goes on and on, my frieeennnndd!

Chrysalis screeched, her fangs exposed, her hooves clamping over her ears as she slammed her head repeatedly against the table, as if hearing the song and processing its words were the worst pain imaginable. “Two weeks…” she gasped, her abdomen bucking in the air as if she were being shocked. “Two weeks, every night, no sleep! Two weeks…”

Some people…starrrted singing it not knowing what it was! And they’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that never eennnndddsss…

“My kingdom!” Chrysalis screamed, throwing herself at Luna’s hooves. “My crown! Every single one of my subjects as your slaves! Anything you want, princess! Just please, make it stop, make it stop, please…”

Chrysalis descended into a babbling, blubbering mess, sobbing as the Princess embraced her, her cries still not drowning out the voice of the Newfoal as it continued: “Yes it goes on and on, my frieeeeeennndds! Some people, started singing it not knowing what it was…

Chapter IV: Rediscovery

The royal bedchambers had seen better days. Of course, they had seen worse days. A couple weeks before, for example, when Celestia had stormed in blazing hot enough to ignite the curtains with her sheer fury. After blackening every piece of fabric, she had spent the rest of the day methodically tearing apart every royal crest she could lay her eyes on, moving on to ripping apart the bedspread with her teeth before sinking to the ground, crying into a pillow cradled in her hooves. That had been the first day of her isolation inside the room.

Now, two weeks after that day, her room had earned a reprieve. Celestia sat up on the bed, stacks of papers spread out before her. Some devoted to eyewitness accounts of strange goings-on related to Earth and the Newfoals, others to selections from different human cultures with a strong focus on reincarnation and the afterlife. Still more were nothing but DMV records of random people from the Detroit area.

It was a mugshot from this last pile that Celestia held in front of her muzzle. A picture of a man with a slowly-forming beer gut partially hidden by a raggedy, white beard, a beer clenched in one hand and a barbecue fork in the other. Her eye traced over every wrinkle in the man’s face, every blemish, every crease and fold in his skin. The records at her hooves identified him as absolutely no one in particular. A construction contractor working on a new overhead conveyor in the plant during the last days before human society collapsed entirely. He died alongside his wife on the patio of their house on the outskirts of Detroit, both wearing their Sunday best, both holding hands, if the way the sleeves were found close to one another when they were discovered was any…

She paused and stamped a hoof into the blankets, her eyes clenched against tears. She wasn’t going to do this. She couldn’t continue functioning if she was going to take every story personally. There were over seven billion humans on Earth when their planet was swallowed by the gods-damned Barrier, if she was to cry over every one of their losses, she would likely never stop, just continuously cry until she forgot what it meant to smile.

She finally sank back in the bed, massaging her temples to fend off the impending headache a little while longer. This was getting ridiculous, a solid week of studying with barely time spared to use the bathroom, sleep, and pick at the platters the servants left outside her door, and what did she have to show for it? A hoofful of Newfoals suddenly activating God-mode to rescue ponies in danger, some possessed machinery, and a ton of enemies suddenly turning friendly at the behest of unknown forces. In other words, no more than what anypony else researching these occurrences had.

Letting her breath out in a long, frustrated sigh, she murmured: “You have ten seconds to leave this room before I turn you and whoever put you up to this into a couple of scorch marks on the floor.”

A few seconds later, one of the few intact lampshades in the room sprouted a pair of translucent wings, which buzzed as the changeling they were attached to quickly lifted away from his hiding spot and landed on the floor with a bow. “Sorry,” he (or she, Celestia still had trouble telling) said, bowing repeatedly as they backed out the door, held open by the pair of her personal guardstallions on the other side.

Again, Celestia sighed. Though it was wonderful that the changelings were integrating so well (Luna had even mentioned a changeling stallion getting comfortable with the Element of Honesty herself, ironically enough), she wished her sister would stop attempting to send them into her room. Celestia had spent enough time in here, she knew its ins and outs. She could tell if a lampshade wasn’t where she left it, or hear the raggedy, mouse-like whispers of breath from someling hiding where they really didn’t want to be.

Or perhaps she was looking at it all wrong. Perhaps she had shut herself in here for so long that her sister now felt obligated to spy on her, just to make sure she hadn’t done something stupid. Celestia scoffed at that idea; depressed as she might have been, she was a long way from suicide. However, were her actions really that concerning? Was she still carrying herself with the pride and tradition of her title? Perhaps not. Perhaps it was time to end this silly quest and just head outside, into her sun.

That’s exactly what she would have done, were it not for a sudden epiphany, one of those out-of-nowhere moments. It struck her as she pulled herself off her bed, settled on all fours amidst a pile of dirty plates and empty bonbon wrappers, and trotted towards the door. As she reached for the knob, an odd memory of her sister struck her, this one of a time when they had just been a pair of fillies, training to become the leaders all ponykind would need them to be. She could remember the day so clearly it was as if she were there all over again, feeling the grit from the solid-oak wooden desks they had needed to sit at, her nose tickling with the constant touch of chalk dust, the slight scratching as the piece of chalk in Starswirl’s grip made its way across the board.

He was talking about something…something important…of course, being a filly, Celestia was having difficulty remaining focused when the only window beckoned with promises of games to play and places to explore and picnics and tea parties to have under a clear, blue sky. Dear Maker above, this had been so very long ago, before even the rise of Discord and Equestria’s founding! And Starswirl had been droning on, and on…about…about…

“About the plane of magic…about the frequencies that existed behind all things…” her eyes widened. Dear Maker above, she really HAD been looking at this all wrong. She had been so focused on the humans, never even thinking about the one thing all ponies took for granted, and that had snatched humanity away in the first place.

Starswirl had droned for hours about magical theory, the actual underpinnings that defined it and the way it pervaded all things in Equestria and now Earth as well. Of course, Celestia had never been interested in the structure of it, just how to use it, like most ponies. Starswirl, however, had been an expert on what magic really was, how it harmonized like human radio frequencies in the air. How different spells had different frequencies, even basic telepathy, and how theoretically, these frequencies could be used to carry anything. A letter in a dragon’s breath, for example, or even…

…even a mind! Oh, she was a fool, focusing on the humans for so long when it was magic that had taken them! Yes, the ambient magic within Equestria had stripped them of their physical bodies, but what about the rest? Their minds, their emotions, their very souls? What if that had all been whisked away onto some magical wavelength? What had that Newfoal said to her sister…”that’s who we are? Could he have been referring to his fellow humans in some form of magical hivemind? Could it be that simple?

Or maybe this was all just wishful thinking. Maybe this was just that last smidgeon of hope lurking in her thoughts, and maybe she should just go with her original instinct and walk out this door. Starswirl himself said that nopony could possibly link themselves with the magical wavelengths, much less become one with them. The magical harmonies would rip anypony’s mind apart.

Then again, that was anypony, what about an apex predator? What about…

Her mind swirling with indecision, Celestia just closed her eyes and whispered one of the sagest pieces of advice she had received from the humans: “Fuck it, let’s just give it a shot and see what happens.”

Without another thought, she sank to her haunches and closed her eyes. She breathed in and out, using the meditative techniques Starswirl had taught her so long ago that Equestria had not yet become reality. After a long, drawn-out wait, she felt something. Something that twitched in that infinite darkness, something amongst the waves of undulating, untamed magic…

She frowned, focusing. Even with her incredible strength, it was nearly impossible, like attempting to snatch a tuna out of a stream with chopsticks. Oh, but it was there. Like a hand reaching out of the waves somewhere on the horizon, constantly bobbing out of sight and disappearing and reappearing somewhere else, but there.

Another boost of focus, and she reached, treading out into that deep, undulating sea, trying not to be swept away by the currents. The average pony would have been torn apart by now, their minds dragged away and cast out in a million directions, leaving behind a brain-dead husk. However, a Princess of her caliber had no trouble navigating the treacherous currents, until…

There…over there!

A single dead spot in the ocean. It appeared to defy all natural laws: by any rights, it should have been torn apart as easily as any pony would have. But here it was, like that one spot in the wave pool that was calm for a few seconds longer than the water around it, except this one remained.

Sighing, Celestia tucked her hooves under her chin and dove headfirst into the spot, and immediately she fell. She plummeted into some dark abyss without light, without emotion, with nothing but voices. Thousands of them. Millions. All crying for help…

She fell, and was swept up by the voices, drowning in them, completely drowned out. It was like exploring some dark part of a lake by your house and suddenly finding yourself at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. The sheer depth was beyond overwhelming, it was crushing. She was a fool for coming here, and now, she was doomed to remain here until the sheer cacophony of cries around her simply split her skull open…

Except fuck that shit. She was a princess, and she was not going to allow this to happen! Too much was riding on this succeeding, not just for her ponies, but possibly for the humans as well! Finally, Celestia did something she had once done on the floor of the United Nations in New York, something done for a little bit of peace and quiet amidst the chaos of a regular meeting: she whipped out the ol’ Royal Canterlot Voice.

“Would you all stop screaming like children and act like the adults you’re supposed to be!?

To her surprise, it worked. The voices hushed up immediately, allowing for a positively deafening silence to follow in their wake. She sat there, completely at a loss, completely forgetting what she had come to do. It took a few minutes of that horrible stillness, but eventually it returned to her. Oh, but how should she start? Fortunately, the answer to that question came to her much more quickly, in the form of a memory of a confident, young blonde in an American soldier’s uniform, flashing a thumbs up before stepping into what was thought to be her certain death. “Elisa?” She called into that spinning, endless void, her voice reverberating uselessly amidst the emptiness. “Elisa Uschenko, are you in here?”

A few more moments of heart-pounding, desperate silence, and then:

Hey there, Sunbutt. Didn’t I tell ya I’d see you around?

Back in the real world, tears of the purest joy started rolling down Celestia’s cheeks.

Chapter V: Todd Reborn

It had been two weeks since Todd’s eyes had suddenly locked on Redheart’s and he’d asked, right in the middle of a spoon feeding, what it was that had his super-hot wife’s bun all frizzled. The pair had made passionate love every night since then, starting right after Todd had taken a few showers to clean off the stench of old urine and rotting food. The last of these showers had been interrupted by its own love-making, a session so intense and so hard that it would cause the couple to develop a shared fetish for shower sex that would stay with them for the rest of their days. Now, Todd sat at the kitchen table, pretending to scan the morning newspaper and occasionally sipping at a plain, black coffee resting by his hooves.

Really, the paper was just for looks so he could sit across from the stained, food-encrusted high chair he had spent a few weeks eating meals in. Currently, he was stuck debating between rinsing it down and saving it in the attic to offload on the next poor sap who had a kid, or just attacking it with a sledgehammer, dousing it with lighter fluid, and burying the remains in the backyard. To him, the chair represented a time when he was something else, something that couldn’t provide for the mare he loved, or make her smile at a whim, or really do much of anything useful besides entertain foals. The mere thought made his teeth clench in a decidedly un-pony way.

Of course, he couldn’t know it then, but the product of one of those love-making sessions growing in his wife’s belly would end this debate far sooner than he would have suspected, and in a little under a year, the chair would find use once more after being modified to support an infant rather than a full-grown stallion. Right now, however, his mind was only on the chair, and how best to make sure it was out of sight and out of mind.

Todd took another sip of his coffee and grimaced at the bitterness, though he welcomed it. Bitterness was good. Bitterness was something Todd the Human could appreciate, and so it could bury Todd the Pony even further into his memories. Todd the Pony was nothing. Todd the Pony was a child. Todd the Pony had nearly cost him everything he held dear…

“Honey?” Redheart’s voice drifted from the kitchen door. “What’s wrong?”

He turned and offered her that same, incredible smile he would use to woo her every day for the rest of their lives. “Nothing, babe.”

“You sure? You look like you’re trying to murder your old chair with your eyes.”

That self-assured smile disappeared into a dark scowl. “Yes. My chair,” Todd sighed, turning back in his seat.

“Oh honey,” and before Todd could even react, her ivory forelegs were draped around his shoulders. “I didn’t mean to open up old wounds…”

“Is it even possible for you to go an entire day without making a medical pun?” He asked, smiling good-naturedly.

“Force of habit,” she snorted, then kissed the side of his neck. “Besides, you love it.”

“I do,” he whispered, grinning as he returned the kiss, then pulled her muzzle towards his. “That I…”

All of a sudden, the sound of stampeding hooves on the wooden staircase ended their moment. Two foals raced in, their little hooves working tirelessly to keep them moving as their giggles and taunts chased them around the table, Todd grabbing his coffee before it could wind up all over the floor.

“Feathers! Spark!” Their mother thundered from the second floor. “What have I told you about running inside!?”

Both foals paused where they stood, freezing instantly. Todd’s eyebrows rose as Blueheart thundered into the kitchen, the stallion watching her grab the little ponies’ attention like a stroke of lightning out of a clear blue sky. Children - at least, the human children he knew - were about as easy to command as a pack of feral rabbits. Either foals were just that easy to control, or Blueheart had just inspired that much fear in her offspring. In light of the way Blueheart’s voice could reach the roar of a Boeing 747 during takeoff when she was truly angry (a talent she’d demonstrated to Todd on more than one occasion), he was leaning in favor of the former.

Both foals seated themselves on the kitchen floor, heads bowed as Blueheart strode in. Her piercing gaze shifted from them to her sister and brother-in-law at the table and back again. “What do we say?” She demanded.

The children didn’t even hesitate: “We’re sorry, Auntie Redheart, Uncle Todd,” they intoned.

“For?” She asked, hooves crossed, eyebrow raised expectedly.

“For…nearly wrecking their house with our hyperactive antics?” Spark offered. Todd hid his smile behind his newspaper. Spark always had been the smarter of the two. He figured he would be getting along just fine with his nephew and niece.

At any rate, the answer satisfied Blueheart and she nodded. “Very good. Now, go gather your things, and if I hear so much as one more peep out of you before our taxi arrives, you’ll be barred from trick-or-treating this Nightmare Night!”

Both foals grew very pale, nodded, and scurried back up the stairs. Bluff or not, their mother had certainly put the fear of (Celestia) GOD in them. At the very least, it had earned the house some peace and quiet.

Blueheart sighed as she turned to the other adults in the house. “I’m sorry about that. Don’t worry, we’ll be out of your manes soon.”

But not soon enough, Todd wanted to joke, though a quick glare from Redheart silenced him before the wisecrack could even make it past his lips. “It’s no trouble, really,” he heard himself say instead. “We know how foals can be.”

“Heheh, yeah…” Blueheart chuckled awkwardly, rubbing one of her forehooves along her leg in a way that her sister knew only too well. It meant she had something to say, but didn’t want all present in the room to hear it. Fortunately, Redheart could be very quick on the uptake.

“I’ll head upstairs and watch them,” she said, trotting out the door. “Celestia knows if they don’t have somepony watching them all the time, they’ll try and pack my boudoir with them!” She followed up with a nonchalant What are ya gonna do? smile and a shrug that was a little too enthusiastic to be convincing before heading upstairs.

Blueheart sighed. “I love her, you know,” she said, still staring out the door. “She’s my sister. I’d do anything to make sure she was safe.”

Todd nodded. “I would say the same.”

“It’s good you said that,” she turned to him, her expression flat and utterly neutral. “I wanted you to know I’m grateful to you for saving my children. I’ll never forget that, and if there’s any way I can pay you back, you just need to name it.”

“Thank you.”

“That being said, don’t think the road ahead will be easy. Even with your abilities and attunement to pure magic, you’re still a Newfoal in a pony’s world, and I still don’t know if that can actually work.”

Todd had a few doubts of his own, but probably not nearly as many as his new sister-in-law. Still, he just nodded his understanding, keeping his face and expression as featureless as possible.

“Not only that, but I want you to know that I’ve heard stories of what some human husbands have done to their wives,” that neutral expression suddenly gained a layer of ice so thick Todd couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows at it again. “I don’t believe you’re like those stallions, and I’m more than willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but if you ever lay a hoof on her…”

She drew close to him, so that their muzzles were nearly touching, as she completed the threat: “…I’ll tear off your penis and hang it off the tip of your horn, so every time you look at her, you’ll have a set of balls swinging in your face instead.”

The fact that a pony had the nerve to threaten a being who very well could qualify as a demigod surprised Todd, the sheer brutality of the threat nearly knocking him out of his chair. Fortunately, he was able to remain upright and meet the other pony’s gaze as he nodded. “If I ever do that, I’ll save you the time and slice ‘em off myself.”

“Good,” she said with an approving nod, just as her sister arrived carrying several large pieces of luggage in her magic.

“Oh, here…” Todd said quickly, setting his coffee down and leaping to his hooves, where he promptly scooped up the luggage in a single hoof. The foals watched in wide-eyed wonder as he effortlessly navigated the front hallway, enough suitcases to burden a large taxi squeezed beneath one foreleg.

Redheart and Blueheart watched from the kitchen, snickering to each other. “Should we tell them?” Blueheart asked.

“Naahhh, they don’t need to know he’s just borrowing the strength of a dozen of his human buddies in their hivemind just yet,” Redheart replied. “Let them think their Uncle Todd is a superpony for a little while longer.”

“Heh…superpony…” Blueheart snickered. “A Newfoal superpony. Who knew?”

“Yeah,” Redheart sighed, her smile morphing into a cute little frown. “Say, Blueheart, can I ask you something?”


“I’ve just been thinking,” Redheart said, tilting her head in Todd’s direction. “What do you suppose the point of it all was? All the loss and heartbreak, only for it to be reversed right away…why? What would the point be? Why do you suppose any of it happened?”

Blueheart opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, “You know what? Why don’t we ask a human?”

Redheart smiled and nodded. “That might be best, yes…Todd?” She called out the front door. She had been lost so deeply in her thoughts that it only now occurred to her she hadn’t heard anything from the front in a while. In fact, now that she and Blue weren’t talking, it was actually pretty creepy. “Todd!?”

“Mama!” Feathers gasped as she burst into the kitchen, her hooves waving frantically. “Mr. Todd stopped moving!”

“What!?” Blueheart gasped. “He fainted!?”

“No, he just stopped moving! He set us both down, and now he’s just standing there!” Feathers gasped.

At that, Redheart’s namesake skipped a beat. “No…” she gasped, her head shaking even as she rushed out the door. “No, not again, please not again…”

Chapter VI: We Are




Admiral Azrael with the Teilaxieu Navy had struggled long for his position. Going from a mere cadet born to a moderately-successful family on Turg-IV to Admiral in a mere forty years had been no small feat. In his decades of service to the crown, he had seen more combat than twelve regular conscripts put together (possibly because the average life expectancy of a conscript on the front lines was a little over five hours, but that was beside the point).

He had climbed through the ranks, performing admirably at every step of the way. It was he who finally broke the siege of Stolag-XIV, he who annihilated the Praxian fleet before they even had a chance to get off the ground, he who had seen every battle that, in just the last few decades, had taken the Teilaxieu from a simple kingdom barely holding onto one solar system to a galaxy-wide empire, holding a respected seat in the high galactic council over the normal council members. And now, he was to add another conquest to his already-impressive list: Earth.

It seemed almost foolish that the Teilaxieu government would send a being of his prestige to personally oversee what was obviously a basic cleanup operation. The Empire had been studying the native population for years now, and it was obvious they barely had the technology to enter deep space, much less offer up any sort of resistance to a Teilaxieu Stormcrusher-class Dreadnought. A few weeks of pounding from a couple Dreadnoughts’ worth of six-parsec cannons, and any hope of resistance from these “humans” would almost certainly be a memory. There would be stragglers, of course, fools who believed they could still somehow retain some amount of their “freedom” simply through insurrection, but that was where the ground troops would come in handy. All six-million of them.

“Sir?” His first mate, a fellow Teilaxieu by the name of Roswix, rose from his seat and saluted, one clawed hand rising to his brow, just above one of his seven compound eyes. “We’re inside their moon’s orbit now.”

“Ah, good,” he nodded. “Now, any signs of activity? Anything from their space and news agencies?”

“Er…no, sir,” the other creature shrugged, one talon-covered foot circling the other in the Teilaxieu’s universal sign of confusion. “There’s…nothing.”

“Really?” Azrael blinked a few times. He had heard that Earth’s space-observation abilities were rather far along. They most certainly should have been noticed by now. “Well, perhaps we overestimated their technological aptitude.”

“No sir, you don’t understand,” Roswix continued, taking a seat in his cubicle again. “When I say nothing, I mean there’s nothing. No electronic transmissions on the entire planet at all!”

“What!?” Now, that was damn near impossible. Last he heard, these stupid monkeys were flooding the airwaves with as many pictures of small, fuzzy things as they were physically capable. No species discovered electromagnetic transmission and then just stopped, it simply didn’t happen. Until that species discovered neurophasonic transmissions, of course.

“This is impossible…” Azrael whispered. “Can somelieu get me a ground-level picture of one of the cities?”

“Right here,” Roswix slid a talon over the screen on the cubicle’s south wall, bringing the view to life. “This is live footage from one of the human cities, they call it ‘Tokyo’.”

Azrael was treated to the sight of gleaming towers of steel and glass, their so-called “skyscrapers.” An entire city of stone and steel. For a moment, he had to admire it. Surely, this was a species destined for greatness, and for a moment, he felt a pang of conscience at being the one who would steal that destiny away to turn the planet into another mining world. Just a moment though. Then, years of obedient duty to his superiors kicked in and he shrugged the guilt off, only to have it replaced with utter confusion. A shiver raced up the back of his carapace. His compound eyes blinked a few times. The city was empty. Here was a place obviously built to accommodate thousands, if not millions, of working, living, sapient beings, and it was empty. He got that feeling a human would recognize as what one felt when walking through an empty stadium or theatre long after closing time and heard someone behind them. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

“Is there anyone left?” He asked quietly. Not that he mourned mankind’s passing, of course, but still to think he bought an entire Teilaxieu battlegroup to occupy an abandoned planet…he just didn’t like to waste resources in such a way, yes, that was it.

“Er…not what we were expecting, sir,” Roswix suddenly looked like his mother had just caught him with a talon in the grubmeal jar. “The entire planet seems to be inhabited by small, sapient, quadrupedal equines of various hues, and based on some periphery scans, they possess level-33 reality distortional powers and intelligence at least on par with man’s.”

Admiral Azrael, being more versed in human slang than his counterpart, blinked once, his mandibles clicking together. Then, taking a long, even breath, he said: “Magical, colorful, talking ponies?”

Roswix blinked once in return. “Yes, sir.”

Azrael blinked both his compound and his normal eyes one at a time, a process that took several minutes. It was a while before he spoke again. “Did they all discover a land of magical, talking ponies?”

Colorful, magic talking ponies; and it would appear so, sir.”

Welp, leave it to the species behind lolcatz to punch a hole in the universe and make their cutesy memes a reality. “We better get down there and see how much damage those maniacs have caused to the laws of physics,” Azrael grumbled.

“Yes, sir,” Roswix sighed, relieved to have something to take his mind off the land of magical, colorful, talking ponies beneath him.

“We also better fill out a threat-assessment form for these equines,” Azrael said. “Until then, what’s your opinion on them? Hostile? A possible threat?”

“They appear docile to me, sir,” Roswix replied simply. “Whatever is allowing them to bend reality the way they are does appear quite powerful, but it’s nothing a couple hits from the 99 hi-vel cannons can’t fix. Though there is something rather curious…”

“Curious about a group of magical, talking ponies that have taken the place of superintelligent walking monkeys?”

“Er…yes sir…” Roswix stifled a guffaw, keeping his attention on the screen. He switched the view to a small farmhouse on the outskirts of another human city, one called “Cheyenne.” A large, gray-colored pony stood ramrod-straight beside a fencepost, a dripping paintbrush in his teeth. After a few uncomfortable moments, the pony’s jaw went slack, and the paintbrush gave a wet smack against the dirt road.

“What the…”

“It’s what I was telling you about, sir, it’s like this all over the planet,” Roswix switched the view a few more times, showing still shots from all around the world. A pony family gathered at a dinner table, all around a mare currently slumped over where she sat. A pony couple standing at the seashore, gazing off into the sunset, at least until a gull landed on the mare’s head and she toppled over like a statue, her legs going limp as the sand under her head became wet with drool.

“What in the name of the Emperor…” Azrael began. “What is this, a virus?”

“Nothing that’s showing up on our scans, sir. If it is a microorganism of any kind, it’s nothing like anything that’s been recorded in this sector…or any other sector…before.”

“Then what is this!?” Azrael moaned. “Where did these ponies come from!? Why are only some of them affected by whatever this thing is!? Why is the reality-distortion around this entire planet suddenly so high!? And where in the name of all that is good and holistically-approved by the Teilaxieu central authority are the humans!?”

In answer to his question, every speaker and listening piece on the bridge squealed loudly, right past the threshold of pain. The Teilaxieu commanders all fell to the deck, clutching their hearing proboscises in pain. The screeching continued, eventually coalescing into an obviously masculine voice: “Hello!? Hello! Oh, hi, sorry…hang on…”

A bit more screeching, and finally the pain stopped. “There, okay, is that better?” A now feminine voice continued sheepishly. “Yeah, sorry, still getting the hang of this.”

“So…wow…alien dudes…” the voice said, continuing in the tone of a college burnout. “Like…take us to your leader and stuff.”

Gathering his marbles, Azrael grabbed the nearest speaker piece and pounded a claw against the input button. “Who is this!?” He demanded. “How did you hack these frequencies!?”

Of course, the bigger question was how they were speaking Teilaxieu at all, but ever the military man, Azrael had certain things to focus on first. This time, what sounded like a young boy with a heavily-Chinese accent responded. “Oh, hi mister! It’s not that hard! Just have to think on the same wavelength!”

Azrael once again blinked his eyes, one at a time. This time, he whipped through the entire process in the space of ten seconds before pressing the microphone to his mouth and stating a single phrase that, in the coming days, would be repeated all throughout the galaxy by the inhabitants of both the Teilaxieu Empire and the Galactic Council: “What?”

“Oh yah, this whole magic thing is really the bees knees here, dontcha know!” Now he was talking to a Wisconsin mom, apparently. “You just gotta think hard enough and poof, you’re light! Or poof! You’re a wind current! We’re anything here now, isn’t that somethin’?”

“Hold on,” Azrael’s growing confusion finally led him somewhere. “Are you the humans?”

“Give the man a bloody cigar!” An English-accented voice announced.

“Then…where are you!?”

“Oh, that’d take a reeaaallly long time to explain,” now a young boy with a heavy Brazilian accent. “Like, so long! It’s so weird! And ‘sides, it’s not important.”

“It’s not!?”

“No, what’s important is you,” a Nigerian man said, and his voice oozed venom. “You have come to our world to enslave us, have you not?”

Ah, here was something the Admiral could understand. Negotiations. He nodded and took a breath. At last, something familiar he could hold to. Taking a few extra moments, the Admiral leaned back into the microphone. “Enslavement is such a broad term,” he replied. “And really, think of all the benefits that come with joining the Teilaxieu…”

“Frankly son, y’all might as well quitcher jawin’,” a new voice with a southern accent said. “Nobody here’s gonna listen to any a’ the shit you’re spewin’ outcher pie hole, so you might as well shut it.”

Azrael scowled, a corner of his humongous, fang-filled mouth turning down and quivering with distaste. He was used to negotiations with military organizations, those at least could be counted on going well! What was he doing wasting all this time with these nobodies, this menagerie of utter nothingness from the common dredges of the planet below? “Who are you to speak to me in this way!?” He bellowed into the speaker piece. “I am Azrael, destroyer of the Praxians, reaper of a dozen worlds! Who are you to even dare stand against me!?”

An eerie silence befell the bridge. Utter and complete nothingness. For a second, Azrael thought he could hear the solar winds rumbling off the ship’s hull. Then, the voices returned. Thousands of them, millions. Their response was short, simple, and only too telling: “We are.”

Azrael waited a few extra minutes, and when nothing else was forthcoming, he sighed and pressed the speaker to his lips. “You are what?”

“We are,” came the same, cacophonous reply.

“You are what!?” He demanded, his patience already worn thin.

“We are.”

You are what, damn you!?

“Uh…sir?” Roswix said, taking the same tone of voice someone would take when they looked up and saw a full-strength enemy battalion descending upon their trench. Azrael looked up, following the other Tielaxieu’s pointing finger to the viewing screen. The radio dropped from his claw.

The clouds were moving, and far more quickly than they were supposed to. The clouds of Earth all over the entire continent of Asia were readjusting themselves, repositioning for one message to relay to the stars, until in cursive, in plain English, they read:

We are

“We are,” the mob repeated in the radio.

“Sir, the planet is yelling at us,” Roswix whimpered.

Azrael’s jaw worked up and down, his mind still adjusting to the fact that he was being told off by a planet.

“Sir, the planet is yelling at us,” Roswix said, a little bit louder now.

Azrael finally found the words to sum up his thoughts. “No. Fucking. Way.”

“Sir, the goddamned fucking planet is yelling at us! What do we do!?” Roswix was screaming now, his voice just one amidst the din rising in the control room. All around him, Azrael’s veteran, highly-trained army disintegrated into a panicking horde, only held in their seats by the knowledge that they could just run as far as the tail of the ship.

“E-evasive maneuvers!” Azrael gasped, sounding more like a recruit during his first moments of battle than like the Destroyer of the Praxians. “Send a message to home! Get us out of here!”

Even as he spoke, he noticed the clouds moving again, this time forming the shape of a hand, forming a circle with its thumb and middle finger. His eyes widened.

“Sir?” Roswix gasped. “I have the bridges of the ships behind us on the horn. They’re asking why we’re calling for a general retreat! What do I tell them!?”

The hand in the clouds reared back, as if directing itself right at him personally. Azrael swallowed and shivered like a child. “Tell them, there’s something down there,” he said. “It cannot be overcome, cannot be tamed, cannot be destroyed. It can be fought and twisted, but never broken.”

“Sir?” Roswix asked again. “Sir, what is that?”

Azrael’s eyestalk opened and focused just as the massive middle finger popped up in a sudden flick.

“Will,” he whispered.

The force that hit his ship was unlike any weapon ever encountered by the Teilaxieu armed forces. A massive force, like a hand the size of Mars, smashed into the hull and sent the ship flying back, spiraling end over end. The screams of the crew filled Azrael’s hearing proboscises, replacing all other sounds. The bridge twisted wildly around him, the entire gargantuan dreadnought sent spiraling out of control. Console pieces, sheets of nano-surface, and his fellow Tleilaxieu all bounced helplessly around, screaming the entire way, an entire battle-hardened machine of war transformed into a panicked and blind animal in an insane tumble.

“All from a flick of the fingers,” he mumbled, gazing out into the void he’d been sent spinning into, hardly able to believe his own words. “All of this…from a flick of the fingers.”

For the first time since basic training, Admiral Azrael allowed himself to experience terror.


Blueheart attacked the grease stain with the sort of ferocity usually reserved for people embroiled in the most brutal of combat during the final push for victory. Her sponge flanked along the pan to strike from a new angle, earning a few extra millimeters of cleanliness before encountering the stiff resistance that had first stopped her. Sighing, she added a few more squirts of soap in the pan and left it to soak. The sinister agents of grease and dirt might have won this battle, but they had far from won the war.

Realizing there was no use in putting it off any longer, Blueheart yanked off the rubber dish gloves and wandered over to the living room. There, Todd and Red sat on the couch, Todd with eyes like glass, Redheart with tear-filled, exhausted eyes that watched the television screen without really seeing it, her head resting in his lap.

Blueheart let out another sigh that went completely unnoticed before she trotted in, resting a hoof on her sister’s shoulder. Redheart bolted up, realizing there was another pony in the room for the first time, then immediately settled back into Todd’s lap, the bags under her eyes seemingly growing deeper.

“I can’t do it again, Blue,” she whispered, a shivering gasp shaking her frame. “I just can’t.”

“I know,” Blueheart whispered. “Come with me. The village will take care of him.”

Redheart gasped, curling up into a little ball while Blueheart stroked her back. “Just one more night,” she whispered. “Let me spend one more night with him, and I swear, we’ll leave tomorrow.”

Blueheart’s hoof retreated. “Okay,” she said, falling back to the kitchen to take up her battle with that night’s dinner once more. Her sister needed time, she knew. Celestia only knew even she was having difficulty wrapping her head around the fact that this nightmare was starting up all over again. As she left, she spared one look over her shoulder at the heavy-breathing, glass-eyed cretin on the couch with her sister. His gaze remained fixed straight ahead, a line of spittle dribbling from his mouth. She shivered as she returned to the kitchen.

Redheart’s attention turned back to the TV, her breathing levelling out to a slow pace. Once again, she allowed herself to fall into the world of Rory and Lorelei Gilmore, taking solace that the damned Barrier which took everything else from her at least left some shadow of what once was. She didn’t even notice the hoof stroking her mane, massaging her back right between the shoulder blades. And then, a muzzle leaned down close to her ear and whispered, “So, what’s got my super-hot wife in a tizzy now?”

She bolted upright, threw herself atop him, and kissed him passionately. For a second when she pulled back, her stomach leapt at the idea that she had merely imagined the voice and that she had just kissed the drooling idiot that had taken her husband’s place. These fears were dashed, however, as that confident old smile she’d fallen in love with curled across his lips.

“Hey,” he said. Then she hit him, a good hoof-punch across the jaw. “Ow, what!?”

“Again!” She gasped, keeping her voice just above a whisper to avoid alerting her sister. “How could you do that to me again!? Do you know how scared I was!? Do you have any idea!?”

“Sweetheart, sweets! I get it, okay!?” He pulled back, looking up into her eyes with his head bowed, his ears folded back. “I’m sorry. I got pulled away for something really important, and got caught up before I could say goodbye, alright?”

She placed her forehooves on her hips and glared. “You better be. And I hope you realize this means you’re on dish duty for the next two weeks, buster!”

“Two weeks!? Aww, c’mon, how is that fair!?”

“And you better perform damn good tomorrow, too,” she said, her glare still hardened on his eyes, though a hoof reached around to give his right flank a squeeze. “I’m sending Blue and the kids home, so I want to squeeze as much loving in before you get called off again.”

The stallion shivered beneath her. “Duly noted.”

“Good,” she said, pressing her muzzle to his again before curling up against him, a contented smile on her face. Todd also settled down, preparing for a nice night with some mindless television and the love of his life.

“By the way,” she said, still stroking his barrel. “What was so important that you had to just get yanked away like that, anyhow?”

“Oh,” he replied, his eyes shimmering in the late-day sun. “Just saying goodbye to some new friends.”

Chapter VII: The Final Message

This is a message to the sapient creatures of the universe, from Earth. As you may be aware, our world has recently undergone some drastic changes, both in how our laws of physics function, and in our companions here. As you also may have heard, we recently drove off an entire armada sent here with the sole purpose of enslaving all who lived here. While we are rather upset that our first contact with a truly alien species would be so negative, we are willing to overlook this small fluke in what we hope is a long, prosperous, and mutually beneficial relationship between our kind and the various children of all stars. All we ask in return for this incredible act of mercy and goodwill is that you remember one thing:

Earth, and every single one of its inhabitants, is under our protection. Both the ponies of Equestria and any wildlife they bring with them are now our charges, and we will do whatever it takes to defend them. If any of you wishes to question how far we are willing to go to uphold that last statement, we are transmitting with this message an abridged history of our species, and the knowledge that we have discovered certain frequencies in the magical harmonies we are attuned to that would resonate with the very same processes maintaining your conscious beings, your “souls,” if you will. Do not tempt us.

If a single hair on the head of one of the creatures in our charge is harmed, we will know.

We are now one with powers beyond understanding.

We are no longer creatures of flesh and blood, but are capable of so much more.

We are a force, granted powers to do as we please.

We are determination and strength.

We are will.

We are love.

We are pain.

We are hope.

We are sorrow.

We are joy.

We. Are.

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