Celestia Founding of Equestria

by Dan_s Comments

Chapter 1: 1) Monster

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by Dan's Comments

Celestia had no idea where she was, aside from a filthy, brown, concrete cell strewn with some very questionable straw as bedding and from the smell of it, presumably toilet. The dark gray, metal bars making up one wall of the cell, and the only opening in the unadorned expanse, were not what made this a prison. That the creatures who'd knocked her unconscious and brought her here had placed a silver band on her horn and clipped a few of her most important flight feathers made it a cage.

When she tried to summon her magic to use for anything, she was assaulted by stabbing pains until she relented, and no magic came. Touching the ring to anything, even the straw also invited the assault. The intentional damage to her wings made flight a near impossibility, especially without her magic.

She and Luna had been playing away from the other ponies. Chasing around, describing clouds, and trying to guess what cutie-marks they'd get. Both of them were 'late-bloomers' and hadn't gotten their marks, when everyone else got theirs much younger. It had been a major worry for both of them, now it seemed insignificant. Someone had captured and separated them.

She'd tried to reason with the creatures, plead with them, and beg for a clue to her sister's whereabouts, since Luna also had been taken. They had, presumably, laughed at her attempts. Either they assumed her noises were those of an unintelligent creature, or they understood her perfectly, and simply enjoyed her suffering and pleas.

She wasn't humiliated by the endless parade of gawkers who passed by her cage. Bipeds, quadrupeds, creatures with no legs, creatures that flew, all manner of colors, shapes and sizes from those who could have swallowed the largest building she'd ever seen and sent a single eye stalk to gape at her, to those almost too small for her to see.

The first gawkers had stared at her a good, long while before touching a board set up before her cage, but now she only saw resignation or shock in the creatures' reactions as they passed by, sparing her only a glance. She didn't mind being basically ignored. The creatures' wildly varying physical shapes, smells that ran the gambit from perfume to beyond foul, and sounds/speech that went from music to grating hadn't bothered her. Their universal indifference to her plight horrified her. To add further insult, she hadn't been curried, and her efforts to not touch the walls and dispose of her waste in one small corner of the cell had kept her clean enough, but a little, basic hygiene would have attracted more gawkers, and possibly ones who would sympathize.

She had endured several days of this, she guessed by the cycling of the shadows beyond the area she was kept, and was beginning to lose hope that she would ever get out. The walls and floor had resisted any effort of hoof or horn, the bars were beyond her strength to bend or shift, everything entered and was removed through those immovable bars, and there remained a trickle of people who would report her absence, or activities soon enough. She also had no idea where she would go once she had left her cage. Her cell was alone, and other than one distant patch of sunlit ground, she knew nothing of the area beyond.

I will not despair, she reminded herself, I don't know where Luna is, but if I can get out, I can find her. Her thought of her sister, and her predicament was the only source of strength Celestia had.

The feeling of wrongness preceded the creature. If it had been one of the eye-watering shapes, surrounded by a foul smell and even fouler sound, she would have felt more at ease. It was bipedal, pleasant in looks and sound, and smelled of honest sweat, oiled leather and oddly enough, jasmine. The tan duster, plaid shirt, and dark gray pants made the distortion around it more horrifying. Celestia backed away until she'd backed into the noisome walls, just to increase her meager distance to the creature. It removed the wide-brimmed, black hat to reveal a patch of disheveled, brown hair. What she had taken as very large, dark eyes were glasses fading from brown to clear, revealing its small, intense, blue eyes. Seeing not merely concern, but sympathy and even pleasure horrified her more and forced her to attempt to back away farther from this creature who elicited every terror she had ever known. This thing sat edgewise against everything her mind and soul told her was right and proper with the universe as it ran. The callousness, and even cruelty of her captors and gawkers could not compare with the denial of right and logic that this creature represented. She couldn't even explain what so horrified her about the creature, except every fiber of her being told her it was wrong. As if something so alien as to be beyond her comprehension had taken a pleasant form, learned to act and move as a rational being, but could not hide what it was from her most primitive instincts.

"No, please, go away! Leave me alone!" she shouted at it as she still tried to back away from it in the small cell.

It looked at her curiously, it's head leaning this way and that, as if trying to see more of her without getting closer, or moving to flank her. It raised its shoulders, shrugging to itself, an eerily familiar gesture. It then touched the board, and the lights in her cell block brightened. It stepped back, as if knowing its presence disturbed her, and waited. Celestia was nearly mewling with terror as the attendant rushed in. There was a brief flurry of conversation, the attendant looking very pleased, and the creature seemingly polite, respectful and masterful.

Masterful? the pieces all fell into place for Celestia, This is a slave market, not a zoo, and that . . . that thing just bought me. The attendant didn't need to sedate her, the horror made Celestia's eyes roll up in her head and she collapsed.

She felt warm, jasmine-scented softness surrounding her. She felt clean, as if she'd just bathed. She felt as if she were floating on a cloud driven by a gentle wind. And the faint itch that had awakened her was at the flight feathers, it felt as if they were growing.

Then she felt the wrongness right next to her, the sick sensation that it was touching her, fouling her entire being. But the feeling of the sword across her wing kept her from bolting and froze her in place. She opened an eye and without moving, she stared at the creature who had a hand on each wing root as if ready to rip them from her body if she moved.

She briefly considered and discarded kicking him, he'd see her move, hurling him away with her magic, she still felt the ring on her horn, and very briefly, pleading with him not to hurt her.

He removed his hands and sword, easing the sick, unclean feeling coursing through her, and her fear. He looked at her and smiled as he resheathed the sword on his back. What should have been a pleasant, even friendly smile was spoiled by everything her instincts screamed about this creature before her. "Your wings are back in working order, and that new ring will allow you full use of your magic." He raised a sardonic eyebrow. "But if you try to use it against me, or run away, it won't be pain that fills you, but existential dread, culminating in a full blown existential crisis at about a decikellikam. I suggest you try it, since you obviously don't believe me."

Celestia took that as permission and vaulted into the air, as fast as she could, her wings carried her into the less stifling air above the place, and she glimpsed how huge and sprawling it was. Low buildings in all directions arranged maze-like as far as the eye could see. If your eyes were better you could see to the edge, she thought, As if you deserve to escape. Even Luna would not be as fearful as you. She would have found a way to rescue you. The others wouldn't be luxuriating in the sun. They would be doing something important.

She clawed for more altitude, more distance, while a virtual arrow pointed back to the thing. She caught his amused expression. He knows you are too much of a child and coward to really run away. Just a willful child who knows nothing, running away, she thought and glanced back, No, you aren't valuable enough to chase. He's just waiting to see if anything will snatch you out of the air. You're like bread crumbs scattered to feed the birds. A morsel to bring a few moments of amusement. She was barely aware of making her descent.

"If you crush me, I can never take it off," the startled voice told her as he scratched her behind the ears.

Suddenly aware of returning to the ground, who, and what she was hugging, luxuriating in the feeling of, Celestia nearly jumped back. Staring in utter horror at the creature.

"And returning to close proximity alleviates the effect," he told her, and dropped his outstretched hand when she shied away.

He can't have enjoyed comforting me? Could he? she wanted to ask, but kept remembering just what he was.

"Don't run away too often, the psychological conditioning of fear/comfort may lap over to other things. If I tell you to keep your distance, keep the order firmly in mind, and while you'll have doubts, you'll be able to function."

"That seems inordinately cruel," she said, lacing her voice with as much disapproval as she could.

He cocked his head, as if curious. "Okay, you can talk, just not in anything understandable. I'll have to work on the spell for that. Weird, I thought the translator would work on nearly anything."

Celestia sighed. "So I'm a dumb animal," she thought aloud, and shook off the last vestiges of the horrible feelings the ring had instilled in her. She hadn't even tried her magic and part of her dreaded what would happen when she did.

"You can ride the bedding or walk," he told her.

Celestia frowned, but nudged towards him the blankets and other bedding still hanging in the air like a floating nest. He smiled, shrugged and gestured. The bedding shook itself out, and rolled up. She could feel no magic used to accomplish this, from either the bedding, or the man-thing. His expressive feature should make reading him easy,she thought, But why would I? I need to escape. No, I need to find Luna first, then we need to escape. She glanced at the man-thing, hating that the discomfort of being near him had nearly driven the thought of her sister's plight from her mind.

They walked for a bit, the packed earth giving no dust, due to the myriad fluids that poured there by all the creatures around them. One good thing about the creature's aura was that while everyone else was jostled, he seemed to develop a slight bubble around him as people of all descriptions subtly avoiding him. If she stayed uncomfortably close, she too was avoided.

Even all these aliens don't want to get too close to him, she thought as he stepped off the beaten path to extract a large crystal of what appeared to be smokey quartz and a battered and dog-eared note book with a cover of brown leather. In the notebook was a crudely drawn map, and he made several directional lines as he peered through the crystal. Its pale glow was almost invisible in the light, then it was gone and he replaced it in his pocket.

"Almost," he murmured as he closed the notebook with a snap, then smiled at Celestia's start at the noise.

She frowned and pinned her ears back in disgust at him and all he embodied. Then they started walking. Celestia felt the doubts creeping into her mind and she unwillingly closed the distance again.

She could smell the nervous animals of the stockyard before she could see them, and while others hurried away, the man-creature headed straight in, seemingly immune to the growing stench of urine, dung, rotting food, and the plague of flies that descended on everyone and everything else. Celestia smirked when he finally had to begin waving them away. Her mane and tail made short work of plague of the creatures around her.

They arrived at a corral that seemed empty save a knot of wranglers at the moment, but gates along the side of the corral obviously allowed people and animals egress and ingress. "Stay here, I have some business to attend to. Hold onto that I ordered you to stay behind, it'll make the dread less," he told her as he checked out his clothes and almost as if he'd shape-shifted, there stood a vaguely goofy man-creature. The grating sense of wrongness was gone, and a weight was lifted from Celestia's heart and soul. Unfortunately, it let her see her surroundings. The leaden skies, the trampled earth of the corral, the apparent disinterest of the workers to the man vaulting the fence to approach them. Celestia shivered. While she had been alternating between the hideous presence of her 'owner', and the dread which physical distance created, she had not felt the ground-in misery of this place. That nothing seemed to grow on its own. Everywhere else she had been, weeds popped up through cracks in concrete slabs of in the crevices of rocks. Clouds of white, or darker shades drifted through the air. The sounds of small animals going about their furtive business could be heard. Even insects could be seen. Here, the skies were nearly uniform, lacking even smoke from industry or cooking. The flies were quiet, and no plants grew anywhere.

This place really is dead, she thought as she caught the laughter of the corral workers. She hadn't heard what the man-creature said, but the corral workers had and continued to think it was funny. The man-creature hitched up his pants and marched loose-limbed towards one of the gates. Whatever was within, battered at the gate. Celestia stared, but she couldn't get a good look.

I should move down farther, she managed to get that thought out before her dread and certainty of her unimportance in the grand scheme of things descended on her with daemoniacal fury. He told me to stay and I'm staying, he told me to stay and I'm staying! she thought ferociously, the only solid ground in a sea of uncertainty and even growing terror. It worked, and the effect subsided. She focused on the man-creature and tried to determine what was beyond the gate he was looking over, and why such a hellion would hold his interest.

He flipped the latch on the gate, and it exploded open as the monster within charged. Celestia screamed a warning. She didn't like him, but decency demanded at least that much. The blue bolt of fury that charged him did demand a cry. The workers raced for the walls and vaulted over or under them.

"Luna!" Celestia shouted, and watched her sister charge the man, horn lowered. Celestia wanted her freedom, but not if it made Luna a murderer. "Luna stop!" Celestia shouted, and considered leaping into the arena, but the moment the thought occurred, so did the feelings of helplessness and uselessness from the damned horn ring. She clamped down on them and braced herself to charge across the open space.

Then the man-creature caught Luna's neck, and swung himself onto her back. Her sister let loose with a string of profanity that in other circumstances would have had Celestia dragging her outside to wash her mouth out with soap. Luna reared up to kick furiously with her back legs, then went rampant to kick with her forelegs, then the spun around in circles. All trying and utterly failing to dislodge the creature astride her with his arms around her neck.

Wait a second! Celestia realized, Her wings are clamped on his legs. He couldn't fall off with her holding him that way. she glanced around at the various alien corral workers. They had generally realized that Luna wasn't going after them, and were beginning to realize that even as she spun, bucked, slapped him with her tail, and even twisted her head to try and bite him, Luna wasn't dislodging the man-creature on her back.

"That galoot fooled us!" one worker threw down his broad-brimmed hat and stomped on it.

"Yeah, well that thing flattened eight of us, are you gonna argue with him about it?" another called.

They all watched the drama, for a bit, but Luna slowed, her bucks became less energetic, and she quit trying to bite him altogether.

What have they done to you?! Celestia wanted to scream as Luna seemed to stagger, her head bowed, her chest heaving and her tongue hanging out of her mouth, That you'd be exhausted so quickly?

Luna trudged towards where the workers were slowly climbing back over the fence into the corral.

"Quite a spirited one," the man-creature said as he leaned over, but didn't dismount. "I'll take her, let's just apply the amount you owe to the purchase price. Say eight-hundred thousand?"

The workers looked at each other. Their chagrin at getting taken was obvious, but a few were seeing a 'cheap' way out of dealing with Luna. The foreman nodded and headed to a bench where dozens of clipboards were stacked. The man 'rode' Luna towards where Celestia stood. She could feel her heart beating out of her chest as her sister approached. Luna growled and snapped at Celestia who reeled back in horror.

"None of that," the man said as he dismounted, "You two are going to get along or you'll be punished."

From his tone, Celestia knew he meant it. Luna glared at the man, and growled, he growled back, and Luna shied away from him. Then he gestured, and magically lifted Luna to place her beside Celestia outside the corral.

He gestured again, and announced, "Behave." Celestia felt the magic touching her, but it made no purchase on her. She glanced at Luna, who looked at her and made a little growl. Celestia growled back and bared her teeth. Luna responded in kind.

The man completed whatever paperwork and exchange of '800,000' for ownership, then headed back as the workers looked on with relief. "Let's get a ways away from here," the man whispered so low Celestia barely heard, but both she and Luna followed as he walked away from the corral. Both alicorns had to quicken their stride a bit as the man surreptitiously lengthened his to move away more quickly. All the while, Celestia was bursting with questions, admonishments, and a desire to hug her beloved sister until the world ended.

Perhaps a mile away, the man halted and the two sisters fell into each other's embrace. Words tumbled over each other as Celestia embraced and nuzzled her sister. She caught a glimpse of the man standing and watching, a fist against his lips trying to hide his grin. Celestia ignored it and continued her reunion with her sister. The joy faded as Celestia reminded Luna, "He owns us now, until we escape."

"If you haven't noticed, almost everyone doing any work has those collars or rings like we have on our horns," Luna countered, "I think we need to go along with whatever he has in mind, for the moment."

"I don't like it," Celestia admitted, "But you're right, we need a place to run to if we're going to escape."

The pair turned to him. "Thank you," Luna said and nodded, he nodded back.

"Okay, I came here to get somebody who's also in your condition, and you two are going to help," he told them.

Celestia frowned at being ordered, but she couldn't really do anything about it, yet.

He looked at Celestia. "You've been reacting to me. My target will react even more strongly. That's where you two come in. She may also have trouble walking, so she's going to ride."

Celestia felt her ears splay as her anger rose. "I am not a saddle horse to be ridden," she growled.

"Whatever you said, I wasn't asking permission, I was forewarning you." He gestured at the rings on Celestia's and Luna's horns. "Those are currently on the lower settings. On the uppermost settings, you'll be so crippled with doubt, you won't be able to pee without a direct order. My mission is more important than your comfort or dignity. The good news is, that once my target is back with her people, you're both free to go, no strings attached and you can keep the equipment we're going to get for you next. So, swallowing your pride for a couple of days at most means you're that much closer to freedom. Do you understand?" He glanced between them until Luna nodded. Celestia stared at him, her hatred for him, his attitude and his whole being etched on her face. He placidly stared back until she relented and nodded. "Good. You'll need armor, both to protect yourself from the target, and to reduce the looks you're getting. Unadorned you are obviously beasts of burden, without any burden. That leaves a possibility that redounds negatively on us both. In full armor you're warriors. Come on." He turned and marched the hard-packed, earthen street. Luna frowned at Celestia, then cantered after him. Celestia reluctantly trotted after, her glare trying to burn a whole in the back of his head. To her amazement and irritation, Luna had closed up with the man-creature. When he stopped, he pulled the notebook and a crystal from his pockets, the smokey quartz and brown, leather covered ones he had consulted earlier. He held the crystal up, let it glow briefly and consulted the map in the note book, this time he made no notations and started to replace them in his pockets, when he discovered Luna had her head under his arm. Then she started nuzzling him.

Celestia was nauseated by the scene, not from Luna being sickeningly cute, that was her way, but by getting so close to the creature who disgusted Celestia so much. I can't imagine touching him, and nuzzling him would have sent me fleeing to the hills in disgust, she thought as bile rose burning in her throat and Luna persisted.

Then the truly horrible occurred, it laughed, sounding pitch-perfect pony. Celestia's flesh crawled at the seemingly normal and familiar sound coming from this abomination in pleasant form.

"Okay, okay, you're welcome," it told her, and scratched her behind the ears. To Celestia's utter revulsion, Luna not only stood still for this, but seemed to show every sign of enjoying it. Only her own unease at approaching the creature kept her from seizing Luna's tail and dragging her away from the thing.

Mercifully, the creature itself pushed Luna away. "I could stay here all day." He glanced at the leaden sky above them. "But the sun's going down, and I want a roof and a stout door between us and the things that roam at night," he told them.

Celestia looked at the clouds over them, and could find no trace of a sun of any kind, only the vaguely glowing sky which may have been uniform cloud cover. Maybe the sun is behind those clouds, she thought, but that this creature could perceive a sun, where none that she could feel existed, just added to her gnawing horror about the creature.

When they began walking again, Luna rested her chin on the creature's shoulder. That elicited an exasperated snort from the creature, but nothing else. For Celestia, it was the last straw and enabled her to act. She tugged Luna's tail, and when that failed to dislodge her, she ordered, "Luna, with me, now."

"What?" Luna asked as she dropped back to walk beside her sister.

"What's gotten into you?" Celestia asked, "Can't you feel what that thing is?"

Luna frowned at her. "Very well," Luna said, "But have you so lost yourself that kindness is lost on you. If I fell to darkness, would you walk off and leave me? Perhaps he is as rough as he is because no one will see past what they feel, and actually look."

Celestia held her tongue as Luna returned to her place and walked with her head on the creature's shoulder. She closed in and subtle nudges proved incapable of dislodging her sister.

The smell of the place slowly changed from animals and their wastes, to metal-working and their outputs. The sound of hammers almost drowned out the sounds of haggling. Armored and beweaponed figures were everywhere. Unsurprisingly, there was very little of the jostling that dominated the rest of the area that Celestia had seen. Way was given by all, no matter they being a hulking brute to a pipsqueak. The Entente Cordial was in full force here, was likely to remain, and breakers of it were likely to find a swift end as everyone tested their new wares on them. And everyone seemed to know it.

The tents and stands were bypassed, and the store they entered actually seemed upscale. There were weapons in racks behind glass. Figures of various body styles in full armor. Rack of completely alien devices in glass-sided cabinets. The surrounding furnishings were subtly whorled stone, like fancy marble. The man-creature approached what looked like an upturned, kaleidoscopically-colored wastebasket surmounted by a trio of gray eye-stalks. The man-creature knelt, so he was eye-to-eye with the wastebasket, and let out a series of scratchy tinklings. The eye-stalks waved to and fro as the wastebasket answered, its coloring shimmering through a series of sedate, even soothing pastels. The man-creature pulled a wallet from an inside pocket, and showed the wastebasket something. The wastebasket's eye-stalks bored in, and the creature became a uniform, metallic gray. Now it spoke almost reverentially to the man-creature.

The man-creature gestured at Celestia, and the wastebasket stared at her intently, then bustled out of sight. Luna approached him and nuzzled him again.

She's just doing it to get under my skin, Celestia thought as Luna brushed her cheek against the creature's and giggled, But she'd better be careful, or he'll assume more than she means. Then it struck her. He might take it the completely wrong way! she thought and trotted over to break up what she prayed was not a budding romance, when the wastebasket and four identical creatures returned. They led Celestia away. For a moment, she considered the debilitating effect of the horn ring, but no such effect came as she was taken to a dressing room, measured and fitted with a rather bizarre garment. It was soft as silk, yet slightly stretchy so she could pull it on easily with her hooves and teeth, yet it clung like a second skin. It covered her legs, throat, her back and barrel, but ended at her croup and felt her tail free. She couldn't figure out what this slightly-off-white garment was for.

It's as smooth a hairless skin and . . . she thought and the possibility of what it was for suddenly descended on her, Those stories about aliens and tentacles, they were just to scare us, weren't they? A creature that different wouldn't be interested in doing that with a pony, would they? She felt dread as she returned to 'model' the garment, and Luna was still nuzzling him playfully. When it was clear he approved of the garment, the wastebasket-like creatures led her back to the changing room to remove it and finish it. Then they let Celestia return. Luna wasn't with the man-creature when she returned. His look of expectation worried her.

"You obviously don't approve of her carrying on with me," he said softly as he approached.

She wanted to shy away, or strike him as he approached. The feeling of him being crosswise with everything rational and decent nearly made her squirm or scream with disgust.

"The answer is surprisingly simple. There's something only you can do to alleviate the problem," he said.

Celestia was so stunned by the suggestion, she actually let him touch her. That sent a jolt through her that made her step away. Her reaction didn't seem to irritate him, in fact, he smiled more.

"Just think about it," he told her, and stepped away as Luna returned with an off-white garment similar to the one she'd been fitted with, and it left exposed the same parts.

It's to smooth out our fur, to make it seem that we have smooth skin, she thought as Luna proudly paraded around. After a few moments, he sent her back to change out of the costume and return to them. By that time, Celestia's had been finished, and packaged. The man-creature paid for both items, while Celestia thought of the devil's bargain she'd been offered.

I submit myself to him, she thought morosely, And he won't do - things - to Luna. Oh, he offers it like a suggestion, but with the rings on our horns, he can force us to comply whenever he wants. He just wants me to act as if I had free will, was enjoying my part, rather than forcing compliance. She looked at Luna who was back to practically cuddling the creature, and made up her mind. If it spares Luna, of course I'll do it, she thought as Luna's costume arrived and the trio left the store.

The sky was darker, Celestia noted, and they hurried out of the manufacturing area and towards a section filled with place that smelled of food.

The inn he selected wasn't much to look at, but it smelled clean, and although the sign was gibberish to her, the man-creature seemed well able to decipher it, and he approved of what he saw. The interior would have been garish if it had been brighter colors. The muted blues and browns of the striped wallpaper and the green of the carpet made the entire thing seem somewhat homey. The brass lighting fixtures had a patina of use, but the glass, or whatever the clear material was, remained crystal clear and clean. The man-creature was welcomed by several things that looked like toadstools, it one was taller than the man-creature, and was colored like the wallpaper.

The largest toadstool accepted a card about the size of a playing card, and led them to a large doorway. The door opened into a room barely large enough for the four of them to stand, let alone three of them to lie down. Luna giggled, and Celestia gasped as the entire room seemed to lurch into motion. Neither the man-creature nor the toadstool took any notice of it, so Celestia relaxed. The room stopped, and the doors opened into another corridor, this one of white walls with brown rugs, and light that seemed almost natural sunlight emanating from the ceiling. The corridor kinked left and right and what she saw was filled with doors on both sides, she could only see clearly a short distance. The toadstool led them to a room, and opened the door. The door of the room looked like it could hold off a battering ram.

Is that to keep things in, or keep them out? Celestia wondered and apprehensively thought of the deal she'd made, In.

Once inside, and the door closed, the man-creature collapsed in a chair. The bed was immense, much to Celestia's chagrin. There was a table, small desk, and several devices Celestia had no idea about the purpose or function of. Luna removed their new garments and hung them in the closet. It took Celestia a moment to notice that Luna's horn was glowing.

"How did you do that? When I try I get a headache," she said.

"I promised I wouldn't use my powers to hurt him or run away," Luna said, "So he reduced the settings."

Celestia was flabbergasted, then horrified. After the deal he made with me, what deal did he make with Luna? Celestia dreaded to ask.

The chime interrupted Celestia's attempt to ask the question. The man-creature opened the door and escorted two of the toadstools in, and to the table. The scent of the food made Celestia's mouth water. Oatcakes, noodle soup, and cupcakes all tickled her nose. The large, flat disk smelled of strong herbs and meat, but that wasn't enough to disturb Celestia.

Soon the two toadstools were gone, and the door resealed. "Go ahead, dig in, but the pizza is mine," the man-creature said and segregated the meat-covered disk, "I'm going to get a shower before I eat. That'll leave the bathroom open for you two to get cleaned up."

Celestia watched him remove his clothes and disappear through another door she'd taken for a closet. She turned to the feast that had been laid before them.

"Let's eat, I don't know what they fed you, but I'm starving," Luna said and selected one of the large oatcakes, "Ooo, still warm." She began tearing off bits and chewing them. Celestia nibbled a cupcake which was all right, then tried to work out how to get a bowl of soup, that smelled heavenly, with no utensils. Luna came to the rescue, lifting the container and pouring a bowlful for Celestia. The scent and taste went beyond merely delicious, and for a moment she lost herself in the incredible taste of the food.

The scent of jasmine, roses, and mint camouflaged the man-creature's approach, as well as the aura of wrongness that had so permeated the air around him was damped down so far it was effectively missing. He wore a set of clothes not too unlike what he'd commissioned for Luna and Celestia, except they were looser and covered him completely from wrists, to neck to ankles.

"I filled the tub, and there's the usual complimentary shampoos and the like, so you two go get cleaned up," he said, his brusque tone underscored how tired he looked. No longer the hard-bitten adventurer, just a tired person. Then he face-palmed, a disturbingly normal gesture. "Come on, I just assumed you'll be familiar with the controls."

Celestia reluctantly left the marvelous soup behind and followed the man-creature into the bathroom. The fixtures were all brass or bronze, and the basins all white porcelain. The tub that was central to the room would have been large enough for all three of them.

For all three of us to frolic in, she thought worriedly.

"This is the shower, where you wash yourselves," he said and gestured at a shower-head on a hose, then at a colorful knob mounted below it, "Green means hot, yellow means cool, up and down regulate the flow rate. The tub is for soaking in after you're clean, and it's a bit hotter than I like, but I didn't know your preferences." He held up a collection of bottles in a wire carrier. "Shampoo, conditioner, body shampoo, bubble bath for the tub, be careful of using it the jets built into the tub will generate a lot of suds. Mane and tail shampoo, toothpaste and ear cleaner. They scanned our bio types, so nothing by itself should cause a reaction, but don't drink any of it, and be a little careful mixing it." He gave a bow and headed towards the door. "I'll leave you two be." He closed the door behind him.

Luna immediately began hosing herself off, and instantly discovered that the shower-head had multiple settings. And they could be turned in any direction. "You look too dry!" Luna shouted.

One rather epic water fight later, Celestia and Luna were lounging in the tub full of suds. The jets of water that swirled and tickled them had indeed beaten the water into a warm, pink froth. "I was wondering when I'd finally be clean," Luna said and she pirouetted through the suds. "Quick question," she added, "Why didn't you use you magic to pour yourself some soup, or during the fight?"

Celestia stared at her, then glanced at the bottle of bubble bath and it lifted into the air. "I got such horrible headaches from even trying, I guess I was afraid," Celestia admitted.

Luna snorted her disgust. "Well, I'm going to sleep good tonight," she said, "A bit of happy snuggling will be nice."

"I don't trust him," Celestia said.

"I noticed," Luna told her and frowned, before submerging herself completely. When she surfaced, she continued, "What do you have against him?"

Celestia sighed at Luna's naivete. "Despite what we've all been told, some creatures are lost to darkness. Nothing can save them."

"He isn't one of them," Luna replied, "He might just need friends, someone he can rely on."

"You're going to latch on and drag him out of the darkness?" Celestia mocked.

Luna considered, "I'd never thought of that. Am I pretty enough to seduce him and make that work?"

"That is DISGUSTING!" Celestia shouted.

"It was your idea," Luna said and pouted.

"That isn't what I meant and you know it!" Celestia insisted. Luna's raised eyebrow showed what her sister thought of the situation. Celestia vainly searched for a way to gentle sequeway, and couldn't find one. "Luna, you don't have to."

"Don't 'have to' what?" Luna asked.

"Give yourself to him," Celestia said, and watched Luna's sudden realization.

"And you do?" Luna nearly screamed in outrage, "You scold me for even joking about it, and yet you're so eager to throw yourself to him, what, because you're lonely, no to save me? I don't need saving, you hypocrite!"

"What do you think he was doing with all that ear scratching and you pawing him?" Celestia shouted back and stormed across the tile to the door, she flung it open and marched out admit a trail of bubbles.

The man-creature looked up from the pizza he was devouring at Celestia as she flung open the closet and took out the garments.

"What do you think these are?" Celestia asked Luna who was marching towards her, "Why are they open at the back."

"They're also open at the front, so you can stick your head up your butt without getting undressed!" Luna shouted back.

"What the heck are you two arguing about?" the man-creature asked.

Celestia tried to explain, but just waved the clothes at him.

"The arming doublets?" he asked, "You want to wear your armor so it'll chafe your skin and fur? If I had know you felt that way I never would have bought them." He plucked at his own clothes. "Me, I like a layer to wick away the sweat and keep the armor from rubbing me raw, but have it your way." He stared at the utterly stunned Celestia. "What did you think that was? Lingerie?"

Celestia gobbled incomprehensibly and pointed at her mouth then at him. Then she pointed at Luna.

"I told you, what did I say exactly? 'There is something only you can do to alleviate the problem,'" he said then stared at Celestia in horror, "I mean have a conversation with her!"

Celestia stared at him in horror.

"What did you . . . You thought I was going to . . . ?!" he shouted. The calm that came over him was more frightening than anything Celestia had encountered. "You thought I'd rape you, or your counterpart if you didn't give in, that's just marvelous," he said coldly, "I have done a lot of things in my life, but I have never had to stoop to that. I have always found someone attracted, curious, or mercenary enough to share my bed of their own free will. I also recognized that your young counterpart's play was just that, play. I wouldn't take advantage of her that way." He cocked his head as he stared at her. "Did it ever occur to you I could just run up the settings on your horn ring until you'd do anything I asked, you'd beg me to do it? No. Then let me set you straight. The only way out of here is with either a ton of paperwork, preapproved, or with a leash around your neck. The reason I left the horn rings on is so no one thinks you've escaped and decides to 'recollect' you."

Celestia back up from the intensity of his cold anger.

"You want out that bad, that's fine. The moment I've got the one I'm trying to rescue, you and your counterpart are free to go. Or you can wait until we're outside, where if I set you loose, you'll stay free. Your choice." He marched over to the food on the table, and began putting it away. "Get rinsed off and get to bed. That is an order."

"I . . . " she tried to explain, then turned to Luna, "I didn't know."

"How much of what I told you when we reunited did you bother listening to?" Luna asked angrily, "Like the part where I told you that your rescue wasn't an accident? That he saw me, and I sent him after you?" She snorted angrily. "Imagine, a creepy alien, and just poor little me asking for his help, and he does it. Do you really think I'm that poor a judge of character? He had no reason to help me, he just did, and now he needs us to play along while he rescues who he started off after. I think that's a fair deal. But I'm not as smart as you are, obviously." Luna marched into the bathroom to rinse the last of the soap off her.

Celestia trudged after her. As they returned, they saw the man-creature lying stretched out on one of the couches. Luna knickered softly and gestured towards the bed.

"No," the man-creature said sharply, "I don't know what else she's got running through her head, but with that pointy bit, I'm going to stay out of reach."

Luna turned down one side of the bed for Celestia, then pulled a blanket around herself like a cocoon and slept atop the cover on her side.

The morning came. The man-creature clearly wanted to get moving early, so breakfast was eaten in silence, and the morning ablutions were done quickly. Celestia felt Luna's and the man-creature's lingering anger. Although she was shocked when he turned the ring down to it lowest setting on both Luna's and her horn. They collected and presumably paid the bill on their way out, and stepped out into the lingering twilight.

The sky remained the same leaden gray, and the furtive sound of fairly large creatures could be heard in the distance. None would get near him, Celestia thought as the man-creature's aura had returned full force, Does he have conscious control over it? That raises the question is he so good he can control it even in his sleep, or is it an affectation he put on? She wished she had the excuse of the horn ring's power to explain her ill-ease with what she had assumed and her actions based on those assumptions.

Luna was walking beside the man-creature, neither were chatting, although Luna gave him an occasional nuzzle, trying gently to lift his spirits. As she would do for you, Celestia thought, If you hadn't insulted both of them last night.

The upscale store was still there, and was open at this early hour. They were greeted by the same wastebasket or one so similar Celestia couldn't detect a difference by sight, sound or smell. The man-creature collected a brace of throwing knives in a leather bandoleer, and led the alicorns back to the fitting rooms.

Luna put on her arming doublet and grinned seductively at the man-creature, wiggled her hips and swished her tail.

The man-creature finally laughed. A lone chuckle, but for Luna that was enough. "Yes, you're adorable, but I still prefer females more my shape for things along that line."

Luna pouted adorably at him. Celestia briefly considered commenting, then simply got into her arming doublet. The wastebaskets brought out two carts piled high with armor. One set was larger and gold, the other smaller and a gray-purple that was almost silver.

He picked an item off the 'gold' cart and approached Celestia. "These are hoof covers," he said of the flat round dish with the fleur-de-lis at the front, "They cover the entire foot, unlike horseshoes, so you can't take a spike through the center of the foot." He set the four, gold hoof covers down near Celestia's feet. "When worn they also extend a defense shield up the leg to the shoulder, so even when you aren't wearing your full armor, you're still protected."

Celestia noted that Luna had eagerly put her's on, so Celestia reluctantly did likewise.

He pulled out what looked like a thick necklace. "This is a peytral, it covers the chest, the gem set in the center isn't just for looks, it is the focus of the defense screen, again, not as solid as the complete armor, but with the padding on the back, it's comfortable enough to wear all the time. He handed the peytral to Celestia, who reluctantly put hers on. Luna wore her's and eagerly awaited the next part.

"These aren't crowns, they had to be this way to contain the gem that protects the head, face and neck," he said as he led up the circlet. "It's also large enough to hide your ears behind so someone can't 'read' you so easily."

Celestia glanced at her head and 'manually' adjusted her ears so she didn't look so obviously miserable.

"The armor is of moderate weight, so it isn't for everyday use, but it'll stand off most attacks, unless you're fighting a battleship," he told them, and let the wastebaskets approach and carefully fit the armor over the two alicorns. The full armor was claustrophobic, but Celestia steeled herself and once 'accomplished' she walked around easily. The heavy pieces didn't feel as heavy as they had been when they were going on one at a time. A tribute to the armorers' expertise, she thought and nodded to them.

Luna went from a foreleg-hoofstand into a somersault, showing that the armor didn't reduce their agility that much either. Luna hugged the man-creature, and Celestia bit her tongue. She'd been mentally adding up the price of purchasing them, the hotel, this armor, and was realizing he was spending a good deal of money for 'temporary employees.' This is a lot more important to him than he's letting on, she realized and vowed, I have to watch him more closely. This has to be part of a wider action. Unless the reward he's going to get for the rescue is immense. But if that's the case, why not send someone to buy the victim? She set the thought aside and she tested the flexibility and coverage of the armor, and how it affected her flight.

Not at all, she thought, I've heard of magic items, but this armor takes the cake.

They walked back onto the street and Celestia had to admit, they looked more like bodyguards then 'beasts of burden'. Or sex slaves, she thought and shuddered. Despite his denunciation, she doubted it would be difficult to find someone willing, if you dangled escape over their heads.

The area they entered started drab, and began dropping to seedy. The sounds of furtive creatures moving here and there in the shadowy back alleys, the narrowing of roads so the sky was a thin strip above, and the smell of rot, feces, urine everywhere made Celestia and Luna close in with the man. When they transitioned fully into seedy, the furtive creatures could be better seen, despite the dimming light. Celestia wasn't sure of the truly alien creatures, but the creatures with forms she could recognize were listless, as if ill, and the clothing was worse than the man-creature's travel worn gear.

Most disturbing were the looks. Celestia and Luna were an island of color and shine in the dull surroundings. Most looked at them with vague hope and wonder, then looked away in shame and scuttled away. Celestia paused as several emaciated children ran off at the sight of her and her sister. She knew better than to pursue them down the rat's maze of alleys, but she wanted to know what was happening. No one had ever been afraid of her before. As the man's aura faded, she could feel the miasma of hopelessness, and beneath that, brooding evil that seemed as ground into the place as the filth that surrounded them. She trotted to catch up with Luna and the man-creature, his gut twisting aura reassuring in this place. As wrong as he felt, there was hope of escape and there wasn't the impression of monstrous evil within him.

He was careful at drawing the crystal he'd consulted before. The pale glow that had been hard to see elsewhere was almost painfully bright here. Determined, he continued. "They know we're here," he said, and marched on a bit more quickly. He loosen the sword in it sheathe and checked on the throwing knives. Celestia checked that her hoof covers were firmly in place, as did Luna. Neither lit their horn to test their magic.

The building was the same drab, foul-smelling, trash-strewn place mirrored by all the others around it, but the man-creature led then in. The doorway was almost too narrow for them, and it would make a rapid escape problematic.

It's designed that way, Celestia thought as she followed him into the darkness. There were lighting fixtures every dozen paces, but all were broken. There were oil lamps rigged every few broken lights, but they smelled cold, not even the smell of rancid oil.

The center of he building had been hollowed out, literally. Walls and floors torn out to create a large expanse, the broken masonry and twisted metal still evident in the walls. Like a corpse the scavengers have been ripping pieces out of, Celestia thought. The scent of rot was much less here, but the shadows moved more actively, The rest is their feeding ground, this is their warren.

"Plavolaken, I've come to trade," the man creature called, that there were no echos in this large, stone-walled expanse suggested they were only not alone, but very much surrounded in every dimension.

"What could such as I have that would interest you, my brave bravo?" came a tinny voice from the gloom. The man-creature headed for it, and susurrations from the walls put Celestia and Luna on high-alert.

"The Bright One," the man-creature said, "Rumor has it, she's for sale. If you have her, money I have for you."

"Not those two canned lovelies?" the voice said, and the susurrations became like laughter.

"Money, with it you can buy what you wish to feed on," the man-creature said. He hadn't glanced around, but he was more tense, as if he too knew where the others in the room were, and he was ready to fight or flee.

Celestia glanced at Luna who'd turned slightly to cover a flank better. Celestia took on a similar flanking position and touched her tail to Luna's, so they would know where the other was, but the man-creature could run between them unhindered.

"Except we know you," came a rough voice from Celestia's front. The glow of dozens of red-eyes made her realize that the room was larger than she'd suspected, and there were more people in it. If 'person' can be used to describe the thing approaching, she thought.

What approached was vaguely like the man-creature, if you crossed him with a rabid ferret, and let him starve for a few weeks. The sunken eyes, exaggerated teeth and furtive movements back and forth, side to side, highlighted the feeling that this was starving vermin, not a serious threat, but the dozens behind him made the threat far more serious.

"You walk in the dark, but you're not part of the dark," the ferretous thing said.

A more stirring accolade I haven't heard, Celestia thought, These things hate him.

"Prove you're one of us, spill these pretties' blood and let us feast on them," the ferret suggested and drew close, then fled at Celestia's growl and stomp.

"Who was talking to you?" the man-creature asked, "Or is this suddenly a democracy, Plavolaken?"

"He voices the questions all of us want answered, you're a Bright One messenger boy, the price was demanded, is death and carnage."

Oh no, Celestia thought.

"That would be the proof required to begin to deal with you," the tinny voice suggested.

"It does accelerate my plans quite a bit, but Darwin's law, survival of the most adaptable," the man-creature said and drew his sword.

Celestia gasped, but felt Luna holding her position. Celestia forced herself to trust her sister's judgment.

The words that came nearly sent Celestia scrambling in terror as they seemed to twist the warp and woof of space itself. The things around her fell back scrabbling at each other to be the farthest away from the man-creature. The tinny voice was cackling with glee.

Then it was over. Celestia shook herself and looked into the gloom. The susurration had begun, angry now, at having been frightened needlessly. Celestia suspected that they should have continued their headlong flight.

"Stay close, and look straight at it when it looks at you," the man-creature said softly to the alicorns, "Don't strike, it won't do any good."

"That's it?" the tinny voice asked.

There wasn't even time for screams. The susurrations began vanishing, as if they were on phonographs that had been unplugged in large numbers. Whole sections fell silent, and the remains fell in torrents to the floor. The man-creature looked about, and smiled like a proud father.

He's enjoying this, Celestia thought to her horror, then the horror compounded and a bright flash of light, nearly sunlight, coursed through the place, clearly showing the depth of the carnage, and the careless treatment of the building. Then the 'corpses' began dissolving to ash. She backed against Luna as she too watched in horror as simple sunlight dissolved these creatures to dust. Celestia glanced at the man-creature and saw him basking in the light from the glowing sphere while it lasted, as if he too gloried in the sun as much as these creatures had held it anathema. For good reason, Celestia thought, and reached out to hold the ball of light that felt like the sunlight she was used to. The sudden tingle on her flank told her she had finally earned her cutie-mark. I would be have to be wearing armor at such a time, she thought, then the distraction of earning her destiny fell away as she looked at the source of all the destruction of their opponents.

It looked like a hole, it looked like a pile of writhing worms, and it looked like the most ear wrenching almost colors that the mind could perceive, all at the same time. Those aren't worms, Celestia realized, Those are like the convention currents you see on opening a hot shed and letting the hotter air out. Those are the 'convection currents' from where ever that is, to where we are!

Then she saw the eyes, hundreds of them, orbiting around the object. Different sizes, different colors, different shaped irises as if someone had collected them randomly. As the bulk of the eyes raced towards her, Celestia prepared to run.

"Freeze!" the man-creature hissed.

The eyes stopped, and the hole made a noise that didn't sound pleased. Celestia stood with Luna, behind the man-creature.

"Not you, sir," the man-creature said, "But gently, gently."

The noise this time was far less displeased. A few of the eyes resumed their approach. Celestia and Luna let them orbit wildly around them, but a few stared at their faces. Celestia remembered to 'look straight at it', and she didn't quite glare, but gave a steady gaze. Luna was doing the same. After a moment the first wave withdrew, and a second, then a third wave came in. Celestia gave each a steady gaze.

When the third wave withdrew, the pile began making odd, almost-speech-like noises, until it actually did begin speaking. "They are wonderful, marvelous, so grivwalt and . . . " Then it sounded disappointed, as a bad actor would try to sound disappointed, "Their eyes don't grow back, do they."

Celestia's heart was in her throat. She heard Luna's gasp. My eyes! Luna's eyes! He promised we'd escape, but not that we'd escape whole! she thought, But we don't have a chance against such a creature.

"No," the man creature said.

The creature was instantly beside the man-creature. It's gestures and tone bespoke a towering rage. "Why do you do this to me?" it thundered.

Celestia nearly peed herself, and wondered if the man-creature had to be insane to stand there unflinching. The 'worm-field' made Celestia look away to prevent vertigo, and motion-sickness as she felt herself falling in multiple directions, while her hooves told her she wasn't moving.

"Look straight at it," Luna whispered, "It's not so bad." Celestia did, and found it did help.

"Because a friend's job is to make sure the tomorrow you is better than the yesterday you. Without challenges, how would you grow?" the man-creature said.

The eminently sensible advice among this insanity disturbed Celestia almost as much as the thing's presence.

"This friendship business seems hardly worth the trouble," the creature said to the man-creature.

Then the man-creature dropped another bombshell. "But they aren't why I started all this," he said calmly.

Even the thing sounded incredulous, "They aren't?"

"They aren't," the man-creature said, "If you can give me a moment, I can show you." For the first time, the man-creature looked away. Several eyes raced a head to stare at him from the front. He looked at Celestia and Luna. "Now is how you earn your pay. Also, he's going to offer replacement, get the best deal you can, but say 'yes'. Understood?"

Celestia wanted to denounce the idea, but the man-creature's plea reached her. The 'offer' won't be an offer, she thought, Just recompense.

The man-creature drew the smoky-quartz crystal. "This will lead you to her. She'll be terrified, but she'll be safe with us." His gesture incorporated all four of them. Luna took the crystal while Celestia guided the ball of sunlight ahead of them.

Once they were headed down a corridor that remained, Luna spoke up, "So you've got a new toy."

"Despite who made it, it just feels right," Celestia admitted, "But, replace our eyes. I'm not sure about that. Replace them with what?"

"That may be why you're so disturbed by him," Luna said, "He obviously had the work done, and is satisfied with it."

Celestia nodded and noted the many disturbing things she'd initially taken as weeds were writhing and burning away to smoke as the sunlight hit them. Some of the shadows disappeared, not as shadows would from sunlight, but burned away as paper would from a fire. The smell of ancient death was stronger. The blank corridor gave way to a corridor full of doors, all heavily bolted to prevent what was inside from getting out. The smell of death was stronger.

"I think this was their larder," Celestia said, "Where they kept those unfortunates they fed on."

"That door up a head," Luna said and marked the door-jam with a faint, silvery glow, "I've been trying to balance that. These things were the essence of evil, should I be disturbed that they were mercilessly slaughtered?"

"Yes," Celestia said, "But, even if I could have reacted, possibly stopped it, I think I would have contented myself with a word of protest, and a demand for explanation afterwards." She touched the bar locking the door, and reeled back with a shriek. Pain, horror, and the sheer joy of causing pain to others was wrapped around and through the metal of the bar. It had stunned her at the intensity, the absolute exhilaration at sadism that the bar seemed almost to be made of. Luna had gathered her up against her and stared at her with such concern. Celestia nuzzled her and climbed back on her hooves. "I think I changed my mind. I would have supported what happened. Such evil, like pulling the wings off flies magnified a thousand-fold. Petty. Banal."

She shook herself and glanced at Luna.

"Turn around, and do this the old-fashioned way," Luna said and lifted a hoof covered hoof, then shouted through the door, "Get against the side walls, we're going to kick in the door."

They faced away and kicked as one. The door shattered and the bar fell to the ground. Celestia let 'her sun' lead the way. The girl in the room was beautiful. Disheveled, terrified, but beautiful.

"You've come to rescue me," she said, and smiled at both Luna and Celestia. A smile that filled both alicorns with joy and pride of their accomplishment. Celestia found herself staring, wishing she could stay in that state of grace forever.

"Yes," Celestia managed, "But there are a few trials left to face. One, quite a disturbing one I'm afraid. Stay with us and you'll be safe."

Celestia had completely missed the collar around the girl's neck and the chain that had her fastened to the wall. Fortunately, Luna hadn't 'fallen into the girl's eyes', as Celestia had. She snapped the eye-bolt holding the chain, and handed the girl the length.

"Our friend can get you out of there once we get you out of here," Luna said and stepped out of the cell, the girl followed.

Once she was out of sight, Celestia finally saw the cell for what it was, rather than the vaguely pleasant place it had been with the girl in it. Long destroyed furniture, blood-splattered walls, floor and ceiling, more collars waiting for victims and trash shoved into the corners. She caught sight of a few gnawed bones among the trash. She cantered after Luna and the girl. Bright One indeed, she thought.

She nearly ran into Luna, the girl astride her and both staring in horror at the two figures in the large open room. The creature was no longer a pile-shaped hole, but a vaguely humanoid shape, like a gray, clay model made by a child. The man-creature was still there and seemed pleased by the scene.

The moment she stepped around Luna, the clay-figure approached, along with a corona of eyes. It stopped short and stared. The clay-figure waved off the man-creature's throat-clearing/warning. It acknowledged, but didn't care. The girl held tight to Luna, and despite her fear, listened to Luna's advice of 'Stay close, and look straight at it when it looks at you'. Luna trembled as she also suffered the close, focused and terrifying interest of so many eyes.

Then the clay-figure concentrated all that attention on the man-creature. He wasn't surrounded by a cloud of eyes, but Celestia could feel the focus aimed at the man-creature.

He's got more aplomb than I have, Celestia thought as she trotted over to soothe the youngsters, Is he tougher, a better actor, or plain stupid? She nuzzled Luna and stroked the girl with her wings. The fury of the clay-figure froze all three of them.

"This is not a subject to joke about," the clay-figure's near monotone carried a mixture of fear, frustration and incipient violence better than an army with their banners streaming.

The man-creature withstood it, and answered gentle. "But there they are, and remarkably grivwalt."

The creature was back, and it stormed over to the man-creature, the cloud of eyes following. The eyes surrounded the man-creature and the creature thundered, "It is impossible for such grivwalt eyes to exist, someone must have made them! Who, trickster, gadfly?! Who?! No 'lessons', no tricks, none of the cleverness that is otherwise useful!"

Celestia found she had sympathy for this horrible alien. She felt its passion for the subject. That the pinnacle of its life's work, and here it is, Celestia thought. She looked at the girl, and at Luna, and tried to discern what this 'grivwalt' was that the girl's eyes so outshone Luna's.

"The lessons were for this moment," the man-creature replied, as gentle as a loving parent, but just as strong, "She has them, because she makes them. Not 'made', 'makes'."

"Father!" the girl shouted angrily, seemingly out of embarrassment. Celestia and Luna were thunderstruck.

"Father?" Luna asked.

"It's complicated," the girl said as she glanced around nervously.

"That must be your family's motto," Celestia said.

The creature had resumed its appearance as the clay-figure. "Why?" it asked, plaintively.

"Because neither of you were ready to meet the other, until now," the man-creature said, and looked like he was considering giving the clay-figure a hug.

"I can do better," the clay-model said, in a almost normal voice.

"You can, but is it better, or worse," the man-creature said, he looked at Celestia, "Could you help us with a little experiment?"

Why is he asking, when he can still order? she wondered as she approached. The creature paced behind the man-creature. Luna and the girl stood transfixed where they were.

"Your best, please?" the man-creature said.

The clay figure became a male alicorn. The most heart-wrenchingly, loin-achingly beautiful alicorn who would ever exist. Celestia felt herself stepping forward, and heard Luna trotting towards him.

Then he moved, just turning his head to look from Celestia to Luna. Celestia's ears flattened back as she shied at his gaze. Luna was backpedaling almost as fast as she approached. Terror as the wrongness, the alienness of this horrid thing wearing an alicorn's form made Celestia nauseated.

It became the clay-figure again, and the horror vanished.

"This makes no sense," the clay-figure said.

"iT'S CaLlED ThE uNCaNnY vAlLeY," the man creature said and had Celestia's fur and mane standing on end as she shied back. "Where something is almost perfect, but enough little clues that it is wrong sets off the instincts that it is 'wrong'."

"So this, is better than perfection?" the clay-figure said.

"It's better than near-perfection," Celestia said.

The clay-figure stared at the man-creature, as if it were summoning some inner resolve. They stood there, while the eyes flitted here and there almost without purpose. Finally the creature shuddered and turned to face her. "Celestia, I request your assistance with Beatrice. I suspect negotiations will be difficult, without assistance."

It sounds, almost contrite, Celestia thought. She nodded. Wait a moment, how did it know my name?

"Yes, I will help you," she said, "I suspect that it will be very helpful for both of you." She glanced over and the man-creature was grinning, Celestia stifled the urge to stick out her tongue at him. "I do think that we should leave here, and go somewhere more pleasant and conducive to conversation."

"WAIT!" the man-creature shouted, but it was too late, they were elsewhere.

Celestia looked around the very empty space around her, apparently empty of even the others. "This is more out of the way than I had in mind."

Next Chapter: 2) Man-Creature Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 23 Minutes
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