You Can Go With This

by Cackling Moron

Chapter 1: Or You Can Go With That

Author's Notes:

Apparently some people expressed an interest in a sequel? And since I'm apparently in the grip of a fey mood I've somehow managed to turn this out.

Whether it's what anyone actually wanted is less clear, but this is what happened.

November encroaches now, so colourful magical ponies take a backseat to my own bullshit.

If she was being sensible, Twilight would have been in bed hours ago.

But she wasn’t paying attention. One strand of research had led to another, and then another, and then that last one had required another book which had - in turn - required a cross-reference first.

As it so often did one thing led to another and, far too late at night, Twilight did not notice that everything had gone dark and everyone else had gone to sleep. She only really did when she heard a noise she couldn’t immediately recognise, then all at once the darkness hit her, and she noticed that she’d done it again.

“Hello?” She tried, not really knowing what to expect.

No-one and nothing said anything. The candles she’d lit - without paying attention to why she’d been doing it - flickered and every shadow looked incredibly threatening. Swallowing, she tried again:

“Hello? Spike? Starlight?”

Again, nothing.

Further off in the castle came more noise. The very particular kind of noise of somepony - or something - trying not to make any noise. Creaking of floorboards. Muffled banging.

Twilight took a steadying breath. She was a princess. She was a big deal. This was her castle. It was probably just Spike getting a snack anyway, but even if it wasn’t it was going to be something she could handle. She had nothing to worry about.

She was still worried though, obviously. Anypony would have been worried going to see what The Noise was that late at night.

Shining a light from the tip of her horn Twilight investigated, getting closer and closer to the furtive source of the noise until she’d tracked it down to the only possible room it could be in. The dark weight of the overbearingly silent castle pressed in on her, and as much as Twilight would like to shrug the whole thing off as the effects of an overactive, tired imagination the unmistakable sound of furniture moving from the other side of the door made the decision for her.

She had to look.

“Hello?” She asked, keeping her voice as level as she could as she nudged the door open and peered inside.

Moonlight shafted in through the window, illuminating the large, round table that took up the bulk of the room and giving everything else in it a low-level of glow. She cut the light from the her horn and then spotted the source of the noise.

Sat at a table eating cereal from the box was Jack.

“I found this,” he said, shaking the box, seeing Twilight staring at him aghast. “But I couldn’t find milk. So here we are.”

Jack had supplemented his usual loincloth-and-nothing look with bits of wood strapped to his arms, shins and chest along with other, sharper bits jutting apparently at random from his hair. He did this a lot, ostensibly to look more intimidating. It worked, mostly because the wood was obviously from what had previously been Timberwolves.

He made sure to get the most recognisable bits. He knew what he was doing.

Recovering from the shock of seeing him just sitting there in her home Twilight - with the poise that came from being entirely done with his shenanigans - trotted over to the table and sat down herself, giving him a very level look. She’d picked the chair opposite.

Whatever fear she’d had before had vanished. In its absence she was now feeling a simmering, low-level of irritation cut through with mild concern. A potent cocktail when washed down with the pressing need to sleep.

“Why are you here, Jack? In fact, how did you get in here?”

Crunching through a mouthful of dry cereal he waved an arm to the side.

“Chlimbhed ihn!” he said, spitting crumbs. Twilight’s muzzle wrinkled.

Swallowing, Jack tried again.

“Climbed in. Wasn’t that hard. You should really start locking the windows.”

“The windows are locked.”

“Oh. Then you might need to replace a window. Sorry,” he said, grinning.

Twilight sagged over the table and rested her face in her hooves.

“Why are you here, Jack?” She asked again, slightly muffled this time.

Holding up a finger for patience he lent back on his chair - which creaked worryingly - and tipped the cereal box up, emptying the last of it down his throat. With that done he set the box on the table, patted the wooden plate strapped across his belly and then sat forward again.

“I wanted to know how Eggs was doing. If you knew. Been a couple of days I was - I was just wondering, is all,” he said. Playing it off as casual. Twilight squinted at him.

“Eggs?” She asked, but then she got it. “Oh, you mean that Changeling, don’t you?”

“That’s what I said. Changeting, Eggs. How’s she doing? If you know.”

“You do know that’s probably not her real name, right?”

Even though Jack knew the box of cereal was empty he picked it up again and peered inside. Just for something to do with his hands.

“Well it’s all I’ve got. So what do you know?”

“I don’t know anything, Jack. It’s only been a week, if that, and they’re not keeping me up to date anyway because it has nothing to do with me.”

This she all said in a breezy, bored, casual fashion looking more around the room then at him. Once she’d finished though her eyes met his and she lent over the table, hooves tapping together.

“Are you worried about her?” She asked, coyly. Jack wasn’t falling for that. He tossed the box over his shoulder, much to Twilight’s visible consternation and his invisible delight.

“Me? Worried? About anyone else? Pshaw, Twilight, you misjudge me. No, of course not. I’m just concerned about the, ah, value of my word. That’s all.”

“Really?” Twilight said in the tones of one who doesn’t believe a single word the other side of the conversation is saying.

Jack held up a scouts’-honour-esque hand, a gesture entirely lost on Twilight.

“Really! I told her that she’d be well looked after and everything would be fine and if she’s not, well, then I don’t look very honest, do I?”

“Whether ponies think you’re honest or not is the least of your problems, Jack.”

“Ah, so you do admit it’s a problem!”

Twilight buried her face in her hooves again.

With Jack, some days were worse than others, and even the other days weren’t that great. If she didn’t care about him it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the tiny glimmer of the nicer, friendlier Jack she sometimes saw peeking through whatever he had become just made her miserable. Mostly because of her continuing failure to bring the nicer bits back out again.

“I don’t know what they’re doing with Eggs in Canterlot. I just know that they’re doing something and that it’s being done with the best of intentions. Do you want me to try and find out for you? Do you want to go and try and find out yourself?” She said, hooves still on her face.

“Oh my no I’m not going back there, not again. Not a fan of that place at all. And like you said, Eggs probably isn’t even her name anyway, so what’d be the point in you asking after her? No, no point at all. I was just curious if you’d heard anything, that was all.”

Again, Twilight didn’t believe this. Or at least not most of it. She could certainly believe that Jack wouldn’t want to go to Canterlot again, looking the way he did, having done the things he’d done. The other parts though - those bits smacked of a man disappointed with the answers he’d got and playing it off like he’d never cared in the first place.

One hoof dropped and Twilight looked the human in the eye. He was smiling as he usually did, leaning back in a chair that was probably going to give way before too long.

“You’re allowed to care about ponies. Or Changelings. Or anything, Jack. You can just care, it’s alright. You are allowed.”

“Allowed’s got nothing to do with it! I’m a monster, remember? Can’t be caring,” he said, tapping a finger against his belly plate. Twilight let the other hoof fall away and looked him over. The beard, the hair, the bits of wood, the obviously-fresh cuts and bruises she could see even in the darkness of the room.

“You weren’t a monster when you arrived…” she said, her voice quiet and her eyes falling to the table. Jack was brought up short and could only gape for a moment or two before standing sharply, chair falling over with a clatter.

“Well haven’t you got the gift of the gab,” he said, darkly.

“I don’t even know what that means, Jack!”

“It’s a colloquialism! It means you’re good at talking! Means I went to all the effort of climbing in here and eating your cereal in an effort to rattle you and all you’ve done in return is flip the situation back and bring up…”

He plainly struggled with how he should end that sentence, and worked his mouth in silence for a moment or two before Twilight stepped in.

“Bring up what?”

“Bring up things I’d rather not be brought up! I’m a monster, damnit. Local monster. Monster of the week. Beast of the forest. Look at me! Am I not beastly?”

He spread his arms wide and turned in a thoroughly unnecessary circle. Twilight watched him do this. The scratches and bites were on his back, too, along with the faded marks of older ones.

“Am I not?” He asked again. She blinked at him.

“Why did you come here, Jack?”

Again, Jack was wrong-footed and left staring at her dumbly for a good five or ten seconds, mouth hanging open. He wagged a finger at Twilight, hoping that it might jog something in his head and get him rolling again, but it did not. He had to look away.

“It wasn’t to talk, that’s for sure! I don’t know! Whatever reason I had it was clearly a moment of madness! Waste of time. I’m leaving. Got monster things to do. People to frighten, things to break.”

He turned and was then heading towards another, as-yet unbroken, window.

Feeling she was being presented with a golden opportunity to both reach out to Jack and keep him from vandalising her home further, Twilight ported from her seat to in front of him, blocking his path with a snap and a flash.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you home, Jack,” she said, wings spread to further bar his way. Jack recoiled, feet slipping under him as he held his hands up as if to ward the little pony away. Legs tangled he tripped and very nearly fell over completely, only just managing to get his arms out and bounce back up in time, putting more distance between himself and her as he did so.

“No! It’s fine! You don’t have to apologise for anything! We’re past that! I’m past that! Reinvented myself, haven’t I? Found a place for myself, haven’t I? So it’s fine, it’s fine!”

Twilight moved with him, keeping the space between them the same.

“You can stay here if you want, for as long as you want. It’s okay, Jack. Your room is still-”

“No!” He yelped, backing into something with enough force to nearly topple it, forcing him to turn and have to wrestle it back against the wall to keep it from falling on top of him. “Shit, fuck, none of this is working out.”

Jack made a shocking hash of keeping the thing - some kind of cabinet, he didn’t know what - from falling and ended up just turning it on its side, breaking whatever was inside from the sound of things. He caught himself just in time to keep from apologising for that and then silently stalked to the door that Twilight had come through. Throwing it open, he found himself looking down at a very shocked, slightly bed-headed lilac unicorn.

“And now your bloody student has shown up!” Jack wailed, throwing his head back. Starlight, eyes wide, stumbled away from him in alarm. Her experience with Jack was strictly limited to being told stories about ‘the human’ and coming late to whatever damage he’d done. This was not by design, it was just coincidence, but it did make her finally meeting him something of a shock.

He was bigger than she’d been led to believe. And woodier.

“T-Twilight?” She called out, eyes glued to Jack as she backed up against the far wall. “Wha-what are we doing about this?”

“We’re not doing anything! Just relax, he won’t hurt you,” Twilight called back, leaning around Jack so she could see Starlight. Jack turned on Twilight with enough force and venom that she flinched.

“Won’t hurt her? Won’t hurt - ? I’m - I’m dangerous, remember? I’m scary! That’s what I’m supposed to be! How can she relax, faced with something as horrifying as me? I’m a big scary thing!”

“Do something scary then,” Twilight said through gritted teeth, taking a step forward.

Jack hadn’t been kidding when he’d said that none of this was working out. He had not seen things going this way. In his head it had all looked so much better. As he’d circled the castle looking for the best angle of approaching he’d been playing through his head the perfect sequence of events.

He would break in, causing enough damage to look good but nothing so horrible that Twilight couldn’t fix it fairly easily. Then he’d make himself at home - nothing as unsettling as finding a monster in your dining room, eating your stuff and getting comfortable on your furniture. Then he’d ask about Eggs - maybe find out how she was doing, maybe not, he obviously didn’t really care, obviously - make Twilight sweat and a bit and then go on his way.

It would be perfect.

But no. It hadn’t gone that way.

Getting in had gone about as well as he’d wanted, only he’d entirely forgotten the layout of the castle and promptly got lost, only finding the cereal by accident and then having to leap into the nearest room when he heard Twilight coming. From there, nothing had gone right. She hadn’t been rattled by his home invasion, she hadn’t known anything about Eggs (and Jack was not unhappy about that, he didn’t even care at all) and then she’d started being all friendly and probing.

This was one of the least satisfactory nights Jack had had in a while.

And now he was standing, looming over Twilight. A monster, that was him, with a tiny purple pony unicorn princess thing with wings glaring up at him, daring him to do something monstrous. And he couldn’t think of a damn thing to do.

“Well?” She prodded, wings still spread, head reaching up towards him but really not getting that much closer. He bent at the waist to bring them nose-to-nose.

“I’ll figure something out,” he hissed.

“But not now?” She asked with a smirk, not pulling away.

“Not now, no! Now, I’m going out this window and you’re watching me!”

And Jack did just that, lunging away from her the instant he’d finished speaking, tripping over, launching off from the floor and sailing through the glass with a deafening crash. This was followed by the light tinkling of glass on wood and then, some seconds later, with a louder thump of a human hitting the ground outside and rolling.

He had survived worse, Twilight knew.

“I’m stealing more of that cider, too! It’s pretty good! But the orange one should make it stronger!” She heard him yelling.

And then he was gone, and things got very quiet.

Starlight made her way into the room slowly and cautiously, peering around the corner and checking the angles just on the off-change any other large, hairy things were lurking in wait to leap out at her. None were, of course.

“...what was that?!” She asked, loudly.

“That,” Twilight sighed, starting to put her window back together again. “Was Jack.”

“I know that! I mean, what was that about? Why was he here? Why was he so...upset? How did he even get in here, this is a castle!”

“He got in through a window.”

“Left through one, too! Oh, maybe that’s why it was so draughty…” Starlight said, casting an eye back over her shoulder. Now that Jack wasn’t all up in her face it was a lot easier to be casual, and she actually did relax a little, though some of the shock of the experience still lingered.

The final shattered piece of glass floated up and clicked into place, the whole pane flashing once as all the cracks vanished. Twilight sighed again and stepped back. It was late, and the weight of the day was finally catching up with her. Bed seemed like a very, very good idea.

But there were still things to tidy, and Twilight had the feeling there was more talking in her immediate future.

“So…” Starlight said, all casual as Twilight righted the chair that Jack had tipped. The thing had bowed under his weight and despite her best efforts she couldn’t quite straighten it out right. The whole thing would probably need replacing. Magic - could fix ruined windows but not slightly-bent chairs. Seemed kind of arbitrary sometimes.

When Twilight looked up from the chair she found Starlight staring at her expectantly, head cocked.


“What’s the deal with him, anyway?” Starlight asked.

“He’s unhappy,” Twilight replied simply. She was now getting the cabinet upright again, wincing at the sound of things inside it rattling around. She wasn’t even going to bother going through it now, that was a tomorrow problem.

“No, I got that - I think everypony gets that, when they’re not running away. I meant, what’s the deal with him here? He had a room here?”

Twilight’s ears twitched.

“Heard that part, huh?”

“I heard raised voices and came to investigate! What else was I meant to do?”

This was a fair point. It was pretty similar to what Twilight had done. Hear noise, investigate.

Not that this put her any more in the mood for answering questions.

“Look Starlight, I’m tired. It’s been a long day and an...interesting night and I just want to get to bed now so in the morning I can see what other things he broke. Like finding that other window so if you don’t mind…”

Twilight trailed off, because the look on Starlight’s face was one that made it obvious she was practically dying on the spot out of sheer, overwhelming curiosity. It was coming off of her in waves.

“When he first arrived he stayed here, that’s all. Then he took off and left and that’s when he started doing what he’s doing now. Alright?” Twilight said, glaringly leaving out the whole ‘why’ of Jack deciding to leave the castle and live in a cave he stole off a bear.

Fortunately for Twilight it was late enough and Starlight was still half-asleep enough to not really notice this. Instead she nodded, sidled a little closer and asked:

“Were you guys ever, you know, a thing?”

Twilight gave the unicorn an appalled look.

“No! Why does everypony always ask me that?”

Many had. Weirdly, most of them had only started asking it after Jack had left. Whether they’d just been thinking it before and had been too shy to ask or if his exit had started the ball rolling in their heads for them was unclear. But it hardly mattered. It something far too many ponies had thought they were the first to suspect.

It annoyed Twilight no end.

“Well he did live here…” Starlight mumbled, rolling her eyes at just how rich with insinuation what she’d just said was. Twilight looked even more appalled and pointed accusingly.

“You live here!”

“Yeah but that’s not the same…” Starlight said, shaking a hoof dismissively.

Twilight had had quite enough of this. Grunting in disgust she left the room, leaving Starlight behind her. It was far too late at night for this sort of nonsense. Starlight only belatedly realised she’d been left in the lurch, started, and then trotted after Twilight - not to follow her, but because they both just happened to be heading in the same direction. A coincidence. They happen.

Spike, yawning and rubbing his eyes, wandered blearily onto the scene just after the two ponies had left.

“What I miss?” He asked an empty room.

Then he blinked, squinting at a small, crumpled shape that had been left carelessly in the middle of the floor.

“Who ate my cereal?”

Meanwhile, outside and heading further away by the second, was Jack.

He had not stolen anymore cider. That would have required a detour and had decided not long after leaping out of the castle that he just wanted to go back to the cave. Some time alone in the quiet dark would be just what the doctor ordered. If he was really lucky some nasty would jump him in the forest on his way back and he could beat it to a pulp. That’d really take his mind off things.

What had he been thinking? Of course Twilight would start trying to bend his ear. Of course she’d try and make nice and be all sympathetic while also going straight for the uncomfortable, unfun things. It was what she did. How could he have forgotten that? She’d never been any fun.

Sticking the landing from an especially long bounding leap Jack swayed in place and then leant against a tree. The forest was dark, though it wasn’t quiet. The Everfree Forest was very rarely completely quiet. If it was, that was generally a bad sign. Assuming you weren’t a monster.

“Anything feel like attacking me?” Jack asked the darkness, into which he peered.

Of all his many and myriad abilities since arriving in Equestria, better night vision was not among them. He could heal the kind of wounds that would have killed him back home, leap tall buildings, shrug off weirdo magical blasts, eat highly questionable things without it coming back to bite him and, of course, the marvellous super-strength.

One time he’d punched a tree, just to see what would happen. The tree had mostly exploded. Jack had been ecstatic. And riddled with splinters. But mainly ecstatic.

But seeing in the dark was still beyond him, and so standing in the dark, in the woods, shouting at nothing he felt a bit silly.

“No?” He asked, rather more quietly.

Still the darkness was unhelpfully silent.

“Dull,” Jack said, only to then pause as the undergrowth rustled promisingly. Stepping away from the tree he lowered his stance a little and grinned. Who knew what delights the night might hold for him? Maybe some new beastie? Something he hadn’t punched in the face before. What a treat that’d be!

The undergrowth rustled even more and then parted as whatever it was that had homed in on the human emerged at speed.

A wolf, but a regular one. All on its own. It lunged from the undergrowth with a snarl and bit onto Jack’s arm, teeth sinking into flesh. Jack hissed and then raised the arm, standing up straight with a slump to his shoulders. The wolf dangled in a fashion quite undignified, determinedly holding on.

“I get the distinct impression back home a wolf wouldn’t try this,” Jack said. The wolf continued biting his arm, growling fiercely. It hurt, but not enough to be much of a concern. Given the other things that had bitten him during his time in the forest, it was almost refreshing. The wounds probably wouldn’t even get infected. None of them had, so far.

“Underwhelming. This place makes no fucking sense,” Jack then said as he peeled the wolf off and tossed it - yelping - back into the trees.

“Let’s just write this whole evening off, what a disaster…”

It really was. And now that Jack thought about it, given why he’d set out in the first place it could only ever have been a disaster. Couldn’t build any solid plan on rickety foundations after all, and Jack’s foundations had been rickety indeed. In hindsight it was plain as day.

Asking after Eggs indeed. Why? Why had that thought even crossed his mind?

It wasn’t like he was actually concerned about Eggs or how she was doing. He’d only known the girl, what? An hour? Two? And even then hardly in ideal circumstances. He was just concerned that she was being treated properly, in a general sense. Not because it was her specifically, but just because he was concerned about the treatment of all of the Changetings in general. She could have been anybody. She might as well not exist.

Yeah. Yeah that made sense to him. He could buy that.

Continuing onwards he blundered around uselessly in the forest for the better part of an hour before finding one of the markers he used to help guide his way. With that found, his blundering became slightly less uselessly and considerable less random and barely fifteen minutes later he was back in his cave curled up and angrily trying to get to sleep.

He got there eventually, but it was not easy, and he did not wake up feeling any better or even especially rested.

“Fuck,” he said when the sunlight hit his eyes, rolling over and trying to snooze. He failed but stayed lying underneath the stolen blankets doing his best to pretend it was still nighttime, that tomorrow hadn’t happened, that last night hadn’t happened and, indeed, that nothing existed not even himself.

This didn’t last for very long, because the birds in Equestria sing incredibly loudly and the noise soon forced him from the cave.

“Fuck,” he said again, unstrapping the bits of wood he’d slept in and wandering around his little clearing in the nude, searching for anything he might have left that was edible. The remains of the breakfast pile he’d gathered for Eggs was still there, though much diminished and now starting to turn.

He found an apple that was still more apple than mould and started eating that. The mould was not a concern. Very little here was, and he was robust enough not to have to worry about those other things.

Munching, he circled the clearing until he got to the large rock onto which he had painted his mural.

The mural had been put together from a job lot of paint that Jack had stolen, and so was therefore extremely colourful. It was also incredibly abstract, because Jack could not paint to save his life. A messy swirl, it could be anything he wanted it to be, because it looked like nothing.

He’d done it because he had been bored at the time, but since then it had - strangely - served very well as a point of focus for him whenever he needed to think out loud. Or rant. Or list of ideas for screenplays. Or anything, really. For whatever reason just talking to himself had started to make Jack feel self-conscious, but talking at the mural seemed just fine. The same with trees, too. And a few other things. He sometimes wondered about that. He’d even asked the mural itself if it was a normal thing, for all the good it could do.

One time he had tried to picture it as someone from back home. Not his brightest moment. He didn’t even like to think about who he’d picked. It hadn’t made him happy then, and it wouldn’t make him happy at any point in the future, either.

Today he was content with visualising it as a generic entity he could shout at.

“It’s not my fault!” He said with a voice that made several nearby birds flap away in fright.

He then thought about this, having not actually thought at all before speaking. Taking another bite from the apple he tossed the remains of it over his shoulder.

“What I mean is, it’s not my fault that last night didn’t go to plan. It’s Twilight’s fault!”

A finger was wagged at the mural. The mural was silent, much as the dark forest had been, much as all the inanimate objects Jack spoke to these days were.

Jack paced.

“Why can she never just be scared of me? All the others are. They run away, it’s brilliant. Even those super-duper friends of hers are at least uncomfortable whenever I show up. Except the yellow one, she’s just scared. But then she’s scared of everything so that hardly counts. But Twilight’s never bloody scared. She’s just - well - she’s just…”

The word Jack was avoiding here was ‘disappointed’. But he did not want to say it, so he didn’t, and the sentence just sort of twisted away.

He cleared his throat.

“Eggs was scared of me. At first. She did sort of warm to me a little towards the end. Or was I imagining that?”

Thinking back, he couldn’t really be sure. Jack shrugged.

“Not that it matters. Not that I care! It’s just a thing. Just one of those things. Life is just a series of things. And look at me! Here I am! Living it! Look at this world I’m in, look at me in it. Marvellous, amazing. A wolf bit me, did you know that? Right here?”

Holding up the arm the wolf had bitten he pointed to it for the benefit for the mural. The bitemarks hadn’t been especially deep anyway and had barely broken the skin and were now already fading. Barely worth pointing out at all.

“Where is Canterlot, anyway?” He muttered. He had been there before, but he hadn’t really been paying attention to the geography at the time. Hadn’t been paying attention to much of anything, given his state at the time. It had been a touch overwhelming. His memory of the place was of somewhere majestic, soaring, physics-defying and generally daunting.

He then noticed he’d said that last bit out loud. An odd thing to feel sheepish about given he was already talking to himself, but he felt sheepish anyway. He even went a tiny bit pink.

“Not that I care. We’ve established that. I don’t. I’m just concerned about the situation, is all. To me - a monster, a human monster, an alien and a foreigner - it seems really sketchy. This would be the bit in the film where what’s obviously a sinister setup is revealed, right? Oh look, the benevolent billionaire or whatever dictator is offering free shit or amnesty or whatever - whatever could go wrong? And then it turns out it’s an evil scheme. That bit. You know that bit?”

The mural did not know that bit, because it was paint on a rock. Jack assumed it knew what he was talking about and paced more feverishly.

“I mean know they’re all nice here. Way too nice. But maybe there’s still some nasty stuff going around? Everyone’s got it, right? What kind of society can be this happy clappy? Has to be a dark secret, right? I mean, they’re ruled by a god, uh, ruler. That’s just not right!”

An idea was forming in Jack’s head. A very bad one, and because it was very bad it was all the more appealing.

“It’ll probably turn out to be nothing. Everything’ll probably turn out to be fine. And that’s a good thing! Fine is good. If everything’s fine I can just keep on doing what I’m doing, and that’s good. But I have to find out, right? Just so I know. I’m burning up with curiosity here!”

Another accusing finger was wagged at the mural.

“That’s all this is! A fact-finding mission! I am going to be finding out facts and then coming right back! Right fucking back!”

A thought occurred.

“Unless it turns out something sketchy is happening. Then what do I do? Shit.”

This possibility had only just occurred to him. Jack tapped his chin.

“First things first. I have to get there. But that’s easy. They got a fucking train that goes there, I just hitch a ride, no-one’ll even notice I’ll be so fucking sneaky. Just sneak on as it’s moving, pick a nice spot to hide, bip-bap-bam. Easy. But yeah, what if something bad is happening, what the hell do I do then?”

Jack mulled. He stooped and picked up a stone, tossed it up a few times in his hand and then whipped it out through the trunk of a tree with a gunshot-loud crack.

“That never gets old. Uh, shit. Okay fine - if this is all some evil plan and I find out then I’ll just bust it open. I can do that. I’m good at busting shit. And think! That’ll make the god-empress mad, right? Surely! And Twilight! Twilight’ll, uh, be mad at me, too…”

Jack stared at the ground.

“And that’s good! I want that. They should all be mad. And annoyed. And scared! Because that’s what I’m here to do! Ah, yes! This is good. This is a good plan. I am down for this. Totally. Completely.”

He was still staring at the ground.

“What else do I have to do? I don’t have anything to lose. This is all I have.”

He looked up.

“Might as well make life interesting for them, right?”

The mural’s continued silence was all the answer Jack needed.

“Thanks mural. You’re always there for me.”

Back in Ponyville, Twilight had also had a bad night.

She’d got to bed late enough for the sun to rise not long after she’d turned in, and on top of which her head had been very busy. Most talks with Jack did that, and this one had been more draining than any other she could remember. At least for a long while.

Coffee helped, as coffee often did, though it didn’t make her feel much better about what had happened.

Spike was unhappy about the consumption of his cereal. Doubly so as so-far nopony had taken the time to explain who or why it had happened, so he spent most of breakfast casting suspicious glances around the table, which were ignored. Starlight seemed to have brushed the whole of what had happened under the carpet, as it were, and didn’t even mention it.

Still Twilight simmered, mulling, deliberating. Going over every word that had been said, only seeing now the ones that should have been said instead. The ones that would somehow have made everything work out alright, obviously.

She needed a walk. Clear her head.

Leaving Starlight with the task of finding and fixing the other window that Jack had broken - alongside some character-building book reorganisation - and promising Spike that she’d replace his cereal, Twilight left the castle and started wandering.

It didn’t help much. Other than saying good morning to somepony here or there, walking around presented few distractions and her mind continued to bubble and swirl, dredging up things she’d not remembered in months and offering still-more far-too-late suggestions for what she could have said to Jack instead of what she had.

So lost in these unhelpful thoughts was Twilight that she walked smack-bang into Rarity, falling flat on her arse and shaking her head.

“Twilight! Completely my fault! Are you alright?” Rarity asked, bending down.

“No, that was on me. Sorry Rarity, I was distracted.”

“You did rather look it, darling. You didn’t even hear me say good morning! Or, uh, warn you to maybe stop walking.”

Twilight grimaced. Not one of her finer moments.

Then, still sitting on her rump, she noticed the profusion of wheeled cases that Rarity had been drawing along behind her. Not travelling sort of luggage, more robust than that. She cocked her head.

“Uh, Rarity - what are those?” She asked, pointing. Rarity looked back over her shoulder, as though anything else might have been behind her.

“New cases! Very businesslike, aren’t they? Going to Canterlot, you see? Orders to deliver, ponies to talk to, networks to strengthen. You know how it is,” Rarity said, breezily. Twilight did not, but nodded as though she did.

Twilight was having an idea slowly form in her head, too.

Going to Canterlot wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? She could speak with Celestia face-to-face. It had been a while, after all. And if she just so happened to maybe find out a few more things about what was happening with the Changelings then, well, what was wrong with that?

It wasn’t as though that as her whole reason for going. Not as though her finding out would then give her a perfect excuse to go and find Jack and also the equally perfect ice-breaker to open a fresh conversation with. And if that conversation then gave her a chance to use all of those super-good new things she’d thought up to say, was that her fault? That would just be a coincidence.

This had nothing to do with any of that. She just needed to get out of Ponyville for a spell, that was all.

And what a fantastic opportunity this was for just that.

Twilight smiled.

“Taking the train?” She asked. Rarity nodded, humming happily.

“Mind some company?”

And of course, while all that was happening, Canterlot wasn’t entirely devoid of life, either.

Indeed, it was a smidgen bigger than it had been until lately, too.

A floating island had been procured - Celestia knew how to source these sort of things, and often on alarmingly short notice - and tethered a distance from the main city. Far enough for the still-cautious residents to feel safe, not so far that those on the island itself might feel overly isolated.

On this island were Changelings.

It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best that could be done. For now.

The island itself was comfortable enough, with housing for far more than currently lived there and amenities and very nice views, unsurprisingly. That there were also walls, one way in or out, guards and a mesh roof stretched over the top to prevent aerial entry was just by-the-by.

“It is uncomfortably like a prison, you know,” Luna said, squinting out at the island through a palace window.

“Uncomfortably so, yes,” Celestia replied, not looking up from the scroll she was reading. She’d spent enough time staring out of the exact same window to know precisely what her sister was talking about.

Luna turned and trotted back.

“Why the mesh?” She asked.

“To stop anypony flying in. Or our guests flying out. As much for their benefit as anypony else’s.”

“I see.”

The world was full of short, two-word sentences that say one thing but can often mean another. This was one of them, and Celestia looked up.

“This is not an ideal situation,” she said, scroll rolling back and then floating away to join the other on the intimidatingly large pile nearby.

“No, no, I appreciate that. I think you are doing the best you can under the circumstances.”

Celestia eyed her sister closely.


Luna held a hoof to her chest, head tilted up, muzzle in the air.

“I would not say so were it otherwise!”

As much as her sister was hamming it up, she was sincere, and Celestia relaxed.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling, sunlight coming in through the window getting just that little bit brighter.

“Think nothing of it. How goes it, anyway? This project?”

“It’s something more than a ‘project’, sister.”

“True, true. How goes it, then? This - shall we say - endeavour?”

“Endeavour has more of a regal ring to it, wouldn’t you say? ‘Undertaking’ would also have worked.”

Luna stuck her tongue out, and Celestia continued:

“It goes well enough. Slowly, but surely. Much of what we knew about Changelings had been forgotten, so we are relearning as we go along, though already I have several able ponies who are exercising a fine level of control and understanding.”

“How are they getting fed? Are they getting fed?”

This sort of needling Celestia did not deem fit to rise to. Knowing that this would only serve to leave Luna unsatisfied just made her even more determined to maintain her poise, though not grinning was difficult.

“They are sustained, I’m told. By those experts we have on hoof right now that I already mentioned. Or at least there has been no sign of any of them starving. Whatever residual energy they are able to absorb from the proximity of Canterlot appears to be enough.”

“Well, that’s something.”

“Quite. And beyond that, they seem to be doing well, whatever feelings they might have about their confinement aside. That they can even have feelings about their confinement is something. Without the influence of their Queen they are slowly becoming more independent, more themselves, though whether they have noticed this yet is less clear. It is a promising sign, I think.”

“I would agree. So what do you think is going to be the next step? I assume the plan wasn’t to keep them under lock and key forever.”

“Of course not, how barbaric. We are - myself and those learned in such things - are considering several options. Research is undergoing to try and locate whatever ancestral lands Changelings might once have inhabited, with a view to aiding their return their. There are also several places being scouted where they might be allowed to live in peace and on their own. Then there is the possibility of naturalisation.”

That caught Luna’s ear.

“Naturalisation? You mean for them to be citizens?”

Celestia shrugged.

“Why not? They are as much residents of this world as anyone else. If they should so choose, why should they be denied? I am not saying it will be easy, I am simply saying that if any among them chose to become citizens it would be wrong to refuse them. That is why it is an option.”

“I can’t imagine everypony would be as open to idea as you are,” Luna said.

“Lucky we’re the ones in charge then, isn’t it? And not them?” Celestia asked, in a tone of voice that suggested this wasn’t a question anyone should ever even consider answering.

Not long after this, day court kicked off. Luna retired, the hall filled with guards and royal officials, Celestia put on her most radiant, benevolent-ruler smile and the first of the petitioners started to file in.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened. The usual list of minor grievances, request that were politely declined and so on and so forth - the meat and potatoes of queenly duties. Celestia bore it with the kind of patience you could only get from hundreds of hundreds of years of practise.

About mid-morning a fleeting dash of purple caught Celestia’s eye and she looked up, her face splitting into an actual and honest smile.


Heads turned. Queueing up with all the rest was Twilight, now shifting very uncomfortably as attention turned her way, crowds parted and some ponies even bowed.

Rumbled, Twilight had very little choice but to move up to the foot of the stairs leading to the throne. It felt bad cutting to the front, but nopony seemed to mind overmuch. If anything, they seemed delighted to be in the presence of two whole princesses at once. They probably needed to get out more, but whatever floated their boats.

“Twilight! How unexpected! What brings you here?” Celestia asked once Twilight had trotted up beside her.

“Oh you know, just thought it had been too long since we’d spoken,” Twilight said, not making eye-contact and very nearly bowing before remembering that, as a princess herself, she didn’t really need to do that anymore.

“You could have written,” Celestia pointed out.

“Well, yes, but this is better, don’t you think? And a train ride isn’t the worst thing to have happened to me.”

“You came by train?”

“Yes, with Rarity. She was coming anyway and I thought it would be nice to keep her company.”

“That is nice, yes. Pleasant journey?”

“It was okay. Train was a bit strange at first, but the rest was okay.”


“Yeah, it had this sort of big judder not too long after leaving Ponyville but apparently it was just one of those things. We got here alright.”

Trains were not that interesting for Twilight, and as long as they didn’t explode before they arrived she considered them to be in working condition. Celestia hadn’t ridden a train in decades, but could remember the experience well enough to know this seemed odd.

“Hmm, that is unusual…”

This small talk was getting neither of them anywhere, and neither of them was really enjoying it either. That they were being watched while doing it just made it all that more uncomfortable.

“Forgive me, but I have the sneaking suspicion that a friendly chat was not your sole motivation for this visit,” Celestia said.

Twilight tapped her hooves together.

“Well, maybe…” she said, flop-sweating. “There might have been just something I wanted to ask you about. Just a little thing. Just a little tiny something. Just a-”

“Twilight, please, you can ask me anything you want and - what’s that?”

Celestia’s smiling response to Twilight’s minor nervous breakdown was interrupted by something further away from the hall.

What had been background noise was rapidly becoming foreground noise. Some manner of commotion was going on outside. Ponies yelling. Some ponies screaming, running. Guards rushing about. And another noise. Another voice, actually. Louder, deeper. Then the sound of something breaking.

Jack hove into view, waggling a guard off of his leg and wandering into the hall like it wasn’t even that big of a deal.

“Hi! I had a question! I was wondering-”

Whatever Jack had been wondering remained a mystery, as he stopped talking when the nascent effects of Celestia’s presence finally washed through whatever resistance he had and hit him. Given this had happened before, it wasn’t as much of a surprise as it might have been.

To Jack, it felt as though he had stepped out of the shade and into the sun. Worries melted. Concerns seemed lesser. Fears dwindled and up from somewhere deep inside him warmth bubbled, filling him. For a moment he even considered smiling genuinely.

There was the strongest, tugging desire to just have a sit down and a cup of tea and a pleasant, friendly conversation where differences could be amicably resolved.

He was not a fan. Should have remembered about that whole thing from last time.

“Oh I don’t like that, that’s not right,” he said, striding forward, frowning, gritting his teeth against the warmth and doing his best to keep in the monster frame of mind.

Guards were on him in moments. The unicorns achieved little, their magic fizzling out on contact and the pegasi that flew in mostly bounced off, at first. When they realised this they tried something new, and just mobbed him.

Struggling against a heaving, cursing mass of colourful ponies Jack pressed on, feet digging into the carpet, hooves wrapping around his arms and legs. They slowed him down - through their sheer bulk and mass more than anything else - but they did not stop him, and step-by-step he closed distance on the throne.

Celestia watched all of this is flat disbelief.

“Must...at least...slap...god...empress…” Jack grunted, straining, lifting one leg then the other, stumbling, swaying and then surging forward. Inch by inch, little by little.

More guards arrived and joined, trying to pull him backwards and for one moment he actually stopped, all present holding their breath as he swayed.

But then he lowered and shifted his weight and a handful of guards whose grip hadn’t been that strong slipped free, and Jack was off again.

“I’m coming...it’s coming up…” he panted, foot hitting the first step at the base of the throne. And then the next, every movement an effort. Even a monster can get tired, and even the massively strong find it a little difficult to haul around dozens of armour-wearing guards.

But Jack was managing it, and despite the efforts of the guards and the yelling of all others in the hall he got to within arms-reach of the throne and the dumbfounded deity sitting on it,.

An arm extended, a finger uncurled and, as if in slow motion, Jack tapped Celestia on the tip of her nose.

“...boop,” he said before finally allowing the press of bodies to haul him backwards. Collapsing onto them to he laughed through his exhaustion as he was carried back out of the hall at speed on a carpet of armoured ponies.

“Crowd surfing…” he mumbled, giggling, head flopping back.

Celestia through all of this had not moved a muscle and continued remaining stock-still even after the doors to the hall had been shut in the wake of Jack’s removal and the hubbub had died back down again.

Slowly, very slowly, she turned to Twilight.

“Was that Jack?” She asked.

The purple alicon was too flabbergasted to do anything other than splutter wordlessly for a few seconds. And even when that passed, she wasn’t a whole lot more coherent.

“I don’t - he just - he couldn’t - why - ?”

Celestia shook her head sadly.

“He was such a sweet boy that time I met him. What happened?”

“I don’t - I don’t - “ Twilight took a breath and closed her eyes. “I don’t know where to start.”

“Try the beginning, and go as slowly as you like,” Celestia said gently, enfolding Twilight in a wing as - with a glance - she got the remaining guard presence in the hall to start politely ushering everypony else out, offering kind words and support to any who had found the whole episode simply too much. Which was more than a few.

It just wasn’t the sort of thing they could have reasonably expected to happen.

As for Jack, they put him in a dungeon and did their best to ensure he stayed there.

Their best clearly wasn’t good enough, but Jack didn’t have the heart to demonstrate this quite yet. Besides, he was far too happy having learnt that there was a dungeon at all. He hadn’t thought the ponies would have it in them.

Though, the hunk of bread they did eventually toss in to him wasn’t even stale, so clearly they had some way to go. He gnawed on this and drank the water, content to sit in silence and look menacing in the rear of the cell. As menacing as it was possible to look while stark-bollock naked, at least.

He had forgotten to put any clothes on before leaving Ponyville.

What felt like a considerable time later - though, to be fair, ten minutes will feel a long time if you’re sat on a stone floor in the nude - the doors rattled and opened and Jack was filled with an immense and immensely pleasing sense of nostalgia as Twilight was shown in by guards, her face thunderous. Jack beamed.

“I must say, Twilight, this dungeon is fantastic. It’s dank, it’s dark and it’s gloomy. And those bars look real thick!” He said, nodding to the front of the cell and the hefty bars separating them. A damn sight more impressive than the ones back in Ponyville.

He then lifted up an arm around which had been locked a chain and a heavy manacle. The chain rattled.

“This seems a bit much though,” he said. Then he wound it around his arm until it went taut. “Although the ‘wrapped in loose chains’ look is pretty good if you’re into that sort of thing. That, and I can do this.”

He gave a tug and the chain snapped from its mooring at the wall. Twilight flinched but did not move back. This was just theatrics, and to be honest she hadn’t expected the chains to be up to much anyway. At least not for that. Mostly though she was just too busy glaring at him.

This Jack noticed.

“You seem upset,” he said.

“This is the worst thing you’ve done! Period!”


“Yes! Really! Why are you even here?!”

“I’m on a fact-finding mission!” He declared proudly, holding up a finger. Then he looked less proud and let his arm flop down by his side again. “I didn’t find any, though. Wasn’t sure where I was even meant to look. So I figured I’d come here and ask.”

“You figured you’d come here and ask?” She repeated in abject disbelief. Jack shrugged.

“It’s the biggest building. Had to be important, right?”

“How did nopony notice you stomping around?”

There had been scattered reports of something, but nothing enough to get a clear picture of what, and by then it had been too late anyway. This was still impressively covert by Jack’s standards.

“Because I wasn’t stomping! I was sneaking. I can be very stealthy when I want to be,” he said, huffing.

“That’s actually scary.”

“It is?” He asked, perking up.

“Not as much as you’d like it to be.”

He perked right back down again.

“Bugger. You’re no fun.”

The pair settled into a distinctly uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable enough for Jack to actually start to get an inkling that Twilight really was actually upset this time. But he didn’t let that get to him and rammed the thought aside.

“So what’s happening to me anyway? Now that I am a guest at her majesty’s pleasure,” he asked.

“You’re going to be held until Celestia can work out something to do with you. As ‘sneaky’ as you were you did leave a trail of property damage all through Canterlot, on top of basically invading the castle. She did talk to me about it first, though, to see what I thought about it. So there is another option available right now.”

Jack’s method of sneaking had involved a lot of rooftops, and he had learnt that rooftops in Equestria were apparently not designed with bearing someone of his weight in mind. This was a failure on the designers part, he felt, and not his. He also felt that ‘invading’ was a very strong word for what he’d done, but decided to let it slide and focus on the important thing: the other option.


“She’s willing to release you and let you come back to Ponyville, if you agree to move back in the castle with me.”

“So I can be reformed?” He asked. She winced.

“That’s really not the right word. You’re not a bad pony, er, person. Human. You’re not bad, Jack. You’ve just done some things you shouldn’t, but they’re not as awful as you think they are. Not at all. I think it’d be good for you to come back with me. It’d be good for you to not be on your own anymore.”

“That so?”

“I think so.”

“Can just go back to how nice things were at the start or something like that?”

“If you want. Or something like it.”

Jack stared at his lap, idly winding the other chains around his arm before pulling that free of the wall as well.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about that. And that’s not just me fucking with you, I have thought about it,” he said before looking up, his smile lopsided. “Or I could just, you know, escape.”

“Not while I’m here, Jack,” Twilight said, firmly.

Though, the instant the words had left her mouth she knew she could - should - have picked better ones. The way his face lit up told her that much.

“That so?” He said again.

“Jack, no-”

But far too late. Teeth bared Jack lunged, flopping forward onto his front and launching himself at the bars. Twilight reacted immediately, horn glowing as she went for the chains still around his arms.

Twilight, bright spark that she was, made sure to grab the chains at the very ends, as far from Jack as possible. Out of range of whatever bizzare magic-destabilising influence he carried with him the magic held firm and the chains were immediately pulled, yanking him backwards and off balance.

He looked honestly surprised.

“Wha- oh, that’s actually pretty clever!” He said, beaming once he saw what Twilight had done. Then he kept pulling, bracing against the wall. Twilight skidded perhaps an inch forward.

“Guards!” She shouted and in rushed a good half-dozen unicorns.

“Hold where I’m holding!”

They did as they were told and put their backs into it, too, or at least their horns.

Physically, a pony wasn’t a match for Jack. Hell, physically speaking a good dozen or more had barely slowed him down when he hadn’t really been trying. And those had been full-grown guards!

Magically though, that was something else.

“Whoa,” Jack said as he tipped backwards, again surprised.

Then he rose and - tilting like a man walking into a gale - started pulling again.

Even with the guards helping it was obvious that Twilight was the one doing most of the heavy lifting, as it were, and while Jack was making minute amounts of progress it was nothing to feel especially proud about. That, and none of the ponies looked set to give up.

That, and the look on Twilight’s face was morphing into one that Jack did not particularly enjoy seeing. Did not make him happy at all. So Jack decided - his choice, no-one else’s - to give up first, giving up on resisting and letting himself be yanked backwards into the wall with a smack, sitting down and letting the chains go slack.

“Fine, whatever,” he groused, letting his legs splay out in front of him. Twilight and the guards panted, keeping wary eyes on the human but Jack continued sitting placidly as anything. Slowly, they relaxed.

“Are we going to talk now? Like adults?” Twilight asked, getting her breath back. Jack made a great show of sulking. He even folded his arms and huffed. All for show. Well, mostly for show.

“Yes we can talk like adults,” he said, then looking up through his nightmare tangle of hair at the guards. “Though, if we are can you send them out? I won’t try anything again, I promise. Honest.”

All the guards looked highly skeptical about his but Twilight was convinced enough to usher them out and have them close the door behind them as they went. Once that was done and it was just the two of them again she moved right up beside the bars and plonked herself down. Jack hadn’t moved.

All the really, really good ideas for what to say that had been bouncing around inside Twilight’s head had apparently bounced right out while her attention had been elsewhere, leaving her with nothing. She glanced up to Jack hoping that maybe he would get the ball rolling, but he looked to be just as cocooned in his own thoughts as she was.

Twilight cracked first.

“I meant what I said the other night,” she said, getting Jack to raise his head again. “About being sorry. About not being able to get you back.”

“It’s fine,” he said flatly, trying to smile and managing half a one.

“No, it’s not. I promised you. I said I would do it and I couldn’t. I let you down.”

She was doing her best to keep her voice steady. This was something that weighed on her mind a lot, especially during the quieter times, especially after an exhausting conversation with Jack. She had promised, she had. But it hadn’t been enough.

With a grunt Jack lay flat on the stones and stared at the ceiling, hands on his belly.

“You didn’t let me down. I’m not disappointed in you or anything like that, Twilight. I know you did the best you could and I am genuinely thankful for that. Whether you believe me when I say that or not is up to you, but I am. I’m just - ah - unhappy with the situation. Or I was. I like to think I’ve settled on something now that helps keep me ticking over.”


“Really. I know this is dumb, what I do. But it’s something, isn’t it? And it’s pretty fun. Better, though, having to run through the trees, punch wildlife, steal food, steal what you ponies for some reason insist on calling ‘hard’ cider when it’s just bloody cider - all of that doesn’t give me a lot of time to dwell. I liked being in the castle with you, it was nice. We had some fun times. But it gave me way too much time to dwell. Felt like my brain was trying to eat its way through my skull. Not a lot of fun. So now this happened, and my head is...quieter.”

“You could talk to me about it. Or anyone. Talk to Spike. It could help.”

That got a chuckle from Jack, though he knew she was at least being semi-serious.

“I should. I know I should. But I won’t. I think you know I won’t, too.”

“Had to try though, didn’t I?” She asked, smiling weakly, drawing circles on the stone with her hoof.

He thought about this.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, you did.”

The pair of them had not felt so miserable and so awkward for quite some time, and both wallowed in the feeling for nearly a whole minute of horrifying silence. Only the dungeon drip punctuated it.

Eventually though Jack spoke up again:

“Hey Twilight, can I ask you something?”


“Once you told me that dragons lived somewhere. Somewhere far off? Where was that again?”

“The Dragon Lands? Why?” She asked, suspicion bubbling up.

“Oh. No reason. Not planning on breaking out and going there to punch dragons and get in sick dragon fights. Just curious. Just want to get a lay of the land.”

“Jack. Don’t. Please don’t do that.”

“Do what? I said I wasn’t planning on doing anything like that.”

She would have pressed the issue but by now knew in her bones there really wasn’t any point. So instead she went with something else:

“That reminds me. Before I forget, can I ask you something?”


“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a hydra we had to help Fluttershy unknot from around a tree, would you?”

Jack stared into space for a second or two, his face an impassive mask that twitched only just a little bit at the edges.

“...I don’t even know what a hydra is,” he said.

Before she could call him out on this a noise from outside caught her attention and her ears twitched.

“You do have another visitor,” she said.

Jack - whose hearing was not quite as good - looked up at her.

“...why didn’t you lead with that?”

“She wasn’t here when I came in, and I wasn’t sure she’d be coming at all. But I can hear her outside now.”

“Oh, right. Wait, her? Who’s her?”

Then his brain caught up and fed him the obvious answer. He sat abruptly, hugging his knees and swivelling in place.

“Eggs? Eggs is here?”

His eagerness got a proper smile from Twilight despite herself and she nodded, trotting back to the door she opened it up and, sure enough, accompanied by yet another guard (Canterlot was infested with the things) was Eggs, looking incredibly nervous.

She was not disguised anymore. The Changelings now resident on the island - which was assiduously not referred to as a camp, if it could be helped - were gently encouraged to look as they naturally did, both to lower suspicion among the other locals and also to help them become more comfortable with the idea of being themselves around others. It was slow work, but seemed to be moving along.

“Hello, uh, Eggs,” Twilight said, not entirely sure this was the right name to use. Eggs didn’t seem to mind and drew no comment to it, instead shifting her blank, shiny eyes from peering at the guards to peering at Twilight.

“Is he really in there?” Eggs asked.

“He is, and I think he’s quite excited to see you,” Twilight said. She’d put on her best friendly face, though it didn’t seem to improve the Changeling’s mood much.

“Don’t know why…” Eggs mumbled.

“Well, I think he’s fond of you,” Twilight said.

Eggs said nothing to this, but allowed herself to be guided into the room. Twilight held back by the doors mainly to keep an eye on things as Eggs shuffled over to the bars, looking up and widening her eyes when she saw the state that Jack was in. It wasn’t much worse than how she’d seen him last, but worse enough to catch her unawares.

“Eggs! Fancy seeing you here!” He said, delighted, moving up to the bars. This just caused more things for Eggs’ to widen at, given his present state of undress, and even Twilight was left blushing. Jack didn’t notice.

“H-hi Jack,” Eggs said, averting her eyes. Again, Jack failed to notice this.

“So it wasn’t some evil plan! You good? What they doing with you?”

“Lots. We got a place to stay and they’re teaching us about, uh, pony manners and customs. And some life skills. And they say they might find us somewhere to live on our own soon and help set us up with that. Or we could be citizens.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t had any idea what to expect but this was more comprehensive sounding than anything he might have guessed. Not for the first time in his life he was glad he wasn’t the one in charge of running a country.

“Wow. Holy shit, Eggs, that all sounds really, well, cool and, uh, grown up.”

And it was then that Jack understood that he and Eggs had nothing in common beyond one single shared experience, and likely were just not the sort of people who would likely become friends anyway. Acquaintances at best. Not his fault, not her fault, just one of those things. Ships in the night and all that.

Probably for the best,.

He hid his devastation well.

“Good, good,” he said, his body feeling far heavier all of a sudden. “Well I’m glad they’re treating you well. Making friends?”

“Oh, yeah! There’s more coming in every day!” She said brightly, clearly just trying to spare his feelings.

Sweet, kind Eggs. Good of you to pretend for my sake, Jack thought, but not necessary. I’m a big boy, he thought. I can look after myself. You probably don’t even like me anyway, he thought.

“Good, good. I’m glad. That’s good. Friends is good. Which are you going to go with?” He asked.


“Citizen or going off?”

“Oh, right. I - I don’t know yet,” she said, pawing at the floor.

Jack could not think of anything else to ask her.

“A-are you okay?” He heard her ask, as though from a distance.

“Hmm? Me? Oh, I’m fine.”

“You’re locked up again.”

“You know me,” he said, though he did not elaborate. She didn’t, really, but she knew enough for him not to have to elaborate. Looking back at Twilight she leaned in and hissed:

“Are you going to break out again?”

That at least got a tiny smile from Jack. A glimmer of sunshine across the mire, if you like.

“You know me,” he repeated. “But you don’t have to be here for it this time. I’m sure there are things you could be doing. Thanks for visiting, though. I hope everything works out.”

Eggs smiled. This looked very odd, because her face was odd. But it was nice all the same, and very nice of her to put the effort in. Giving him a wave she trotted back out again. Jack caught a flash of her being escorted off before the door was pulled to.

He slumped onto his rear again, arms resting on his knees.

“I don’t think she likes me,” he said. Twilight groaned.

“I think you’re just miserable and thinking the worst of things. Eggs likes you just fine, Jack, otherwise why would she have come here in the first place? She’s just got a lot going on right now. Maybe once things are more settled - and you have some clothes on, just a suggestion - you could try again? I’m sure it’d go much better.”

Jack, in a mire of despair that had appeared basically out of nowhere, considered this. He nodded.

“You’re probably right.”

“Are you going to follow my suggestion?”

The mire sucked him deeper. He was aware that this was happening, but could do little to fight off the chill that soaked up through his legs, his belly and then seized his heart. This happened from time to time. It would pass, and he would be right as rain once more.

“Probably not.”

She groaned again, louder, rubbing her face with her hooves. This was more like the sort of interactions she was used to. With great effort she rose above it, settling back down onto all fours and folding her wings back more comfortably.

“My offer is still open, Jack. I can stay here another day or two if you want time to make up your mind. I do really think it’d be good for you.”

“No, no don’t worry Twilight. You can go home. I’ll take things from here. I’ll be fine.”

“Please, Jack, please at least think about it.”

“I have. A lot. Before you even asked, in fact. And I am not going to do the sensible thing, and that’s on me. So don’t worry about it. You did your best. You always have. Unfortunately I was involved, so it was a doomed endeavour from the start. I’ll keep myself busy, have no fear of that. I’ll be fine.”

Twilight stared at him. A hard stare. The kind that seemed as though with just a little more effort it could flay him on the spot to get at the layers beneath. She was appraising him, thinking, trying to work out if there was anything in his words that he wanted to say but hadn’t out loud.

This was useless. She’d done it before and it had never worked then. It didn’t work now, either, and so she gave up. Head hanging, she sighed.

“If you say so,” she said.

“I do,” he said, nodding. She nodded too, though she hadn’t seen him do it.

Then she straightened up again, putting some princessly steel into her spine.

“My offer remains open for as long as it needs to be. Anytime you want to come back you can. But please don’t break anymore windows.”

“Noted. I’ll do my best.”

And with that all that could be said had been said. Jack grinned, the mire receding, and Twilight gave a wan smile before turning and making her exit.

With one last look over her shoulder at him she left, the door closed for a final time and Jack was alone. Again.

He looked down at himself. A naked man sitting in chains in a cell. There was a distinct lack of dignity, but by now he was used to that. He sighed.

“Well, that wasn’t the smartest thing you could have done, was it?” He asked himself. As was usual, he had no good answers. He had bad answers, of course. Ones he didn’t want to hear. But those were no use to him now.

Grunting, he rubbed his face, chain links tinkling quietly against one another.

There was another drip, somewhere. The ambience really was impeccable.

“Whelp,” Jack said, rising to his feet. “I’ve made my bed. Time to lie in it.”

Turning, he marched over to the bars set in the wall, the ones that overlooked the view of the sheer cliff the dungeon was apparently set against. Linking the chains through and around the bars and giving them an experimental tug he set his feet against he wall, leaned back, and started pulling.

At first, nothing, but then little by little the bars started creaking. Then protesting. Then bending. Then the stones started giving way. Jack grinned. He couldn’t believe this was actually working, but at the same time he could. Everything here seemed to run on this same kind of easy logic. Things just worked.

And so it was that in an embarrassingly short time he’d ripped the bars free, dislodged the stones and then managed to tear a whacking great hole in the wall with nothing but his bare hands. He’d felt incredibly manly doing all of this, and had only lost one fingernail in the process.

Executing a heavily flawed dive into the raging river below Jack swam to the other side, shambled up onto the opposite bank, shook himself off like a dog and then looked around. He had no idea where he was in relation to anything, he had no provisions. He wasn’t even sure what time it was.

Clapping his hands together he rubbed them briskly and then set off at a full sprint.

How hard could a whole land of dragons be to find, anyway?

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