Saturday, October 28, 2017

A New Path Forward: Giving Gifts (Equestria Girls)

[It's recommended that you read the first chapter first.]
[As a general reminder, this is based off of Equestria Girls, which is part of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic multiverse.  In particular, both of the characters here, though they are in human form in the human world, are ponies by birth.]
[While this story is a sequel to another work, Anon-a-Miss by Dainn, it should stand on its own.]

Sunset was very much not sure how this would go. Part of her knew that there was no reason to be nervous. A big part. The largest part even. That didn't stop the small part with a dissenting opinion from making her uneasy.

She came bearing gifts at least. That might help. It hadn't actually been something she'd been planning on until Celestia and Luna surprised her with Christmas presents.

The phone had been expected, they'd said that they'd get her one, but Celestia got her a new jacket and Luna got her a couple of books. It had been entirely unnecessary and not in any way attributable any kind of obligation.

It had felt good.

So she'd decided to get Twilight a gift or two.

Really this should go great. And Twilight was the one who stuck by her regardless.

Still, every reason she had to think Twilight was her friend applied equally to the humans who most definitely were not her friends.

It was one thing to support her when the only source of news was Sunset's own account and the only problem was that Sunset was a victim. It was another thing to do it face to face when Sunset had asked Twilight to give evil people with designs of world domination their powers back.

Sunset tried to drive the thoughts from her head.

Twilight had been there for her.

It would have been easy for Twilight to cast Sunset aside. All she had was Sunset's word, and historically that had very little value. If anything Twilight had more reason to doubt than anyone else since she'd never had a chance to look Sunset in the eyes or see the effect the whole thing was having on her.

She'd stayed true. She agreed to make the amulets for the sirens in spite of her doubts. She was delivering them today, and once Sunset handed them off this whole mess would be over.

Everything would be fine.

Doubts rose up, and Sunset beat them back, twice more before Twilight burst through the portal.

This time Twilight had stayed standing after coming through the portal, even if the way she was standing didn't look altogether comfortable. Still, it was improvement. That reminded Sunset for Twilight's suggestion that they have more frequent in-person contact, which was definitely something to put in the “Don't Panic” column. That idea was probably because Sunset was low on friends at the moment, and it made the concept of acclimating to trips through the portal seem much less far fetched than it once had.

Twilight was wearing a backpack. Sunset was familiar with the portal interpreting saddlebags that way. It was good if you didn't know how far you'd travel, but it was annoying if you were planning to get things out of it. Sunset was wearing a messenger bag today, for ease of access.

“Good to see you,” Sunset said.

“You too,” Twilight said. “What's on your face?”

That . . . seemed like a profoundly stupid question.

“Sunglasses,” Sunset said. “I'm kind of sensitive to light right now.”

“I meant under the sunglasses.”

And that made no sense. Truly this conversation was off to a great start.

“Nothing,” Sunset said. There simply wasn't anything for Twilight to see, unless she was talking about–

“Sunset,” Twilight said, definitely suspicious, “take off the sunglasses.”

Sunset closed her eyes so that the light wouldn't hurt, and took off her sunglasses.

Cue freakout in three, two, one . . .

“You said you were just scratched up!”

“And I have concussion,” Sunset said. “Please try not to be loud.”

Sunset put the sunglasses back on and opened her eyes. Twilight sputtered:

“You– your face– Part of your face is green.”

Sunset sighed, said, “Apparently when blood isn't exposed to air it–” and then she decided not to bother. “Human biology is just weird, alright?”

“But you look–”

“They call bruises 'black and blues' but apparently they come in all colors in this world,” Sunset said. “Couple that with the fact that blood-flow to the head is powerful, really to the point of excess, and you get what you see.”

* * *

“You're sure you're alright?” Twilight asked for the eleventy-first time.

“I'm getting enough of this from Luna–” Twilight's 'Wait, what!?' look indicated that clarification was needed. “Human Luna. She's making me stay with her until I fully recover. Concussions take forever to recover from.”

“You could come to Equestria to be healed with magic,” Twilight said.

“Maybe,” Sunset said, “or maybe the same property of the portal that strips us of magic when we come here would convert the concussion to a magical ailment if I took it there.”

“I hadn't thought of that,” Twilight admitted.

“It probably wouldn't happen,” Sunset said, “but I really don't want to risk making it worse than it already is. Even if the risk is minimal.”

Sunset decided that she really should invite Twilight to a game of poker once her brain stopped hating her. The girl was so very easy to read. Sunset watched as it took Twilight a moment to realize the 'Sunset's injuries' part of the conversation was over and a moment longer to find remember what she'd been planning on doing before she got the idea to pester Sunset about those the injuries.

“Right,” Twilight said. She took off her backpack, rifled through it a bit, and finally produced three crystal amulets. They were shaped like the sirens' original ones, but the fact they were clear instead of red left them looking very different.

Sunset took the amulets and stowed them in her own bag. She'd ask about the color later, if it even proved necessary –Twilight would doubtless tell her whether she was asked or not– because at the moment she was more interested in a question she'd been holding off on asking ever since Twilight had announced she'd make the amulets.

Before she got to that, she needed to say:

“Thank you for making them.”

“I didn't do it for you,” Twilight said, setting down the backpack. “I didn't even do it for them; not really.”

That gave Sunset the perfect opportunity to ask the question she was actually interested in. “So what finally convinced you to make them?”

Sunset had wanted to ask since Twilight announced that she'd make them. Well, more since she laid in bed trying, and failing, to sleep the night after. The problem was that she had been worried that Twilight might change her mind if given reason to think the matter through again. Only now, with the amulets in Sunset's possession, was it definitely safe to ask.

“You were right and I was wrong,” Twilight said.

Maybe it was because of the concussion, maybe it wasn't, but regardless of the ultimate reason, those words stopped Sunset's brain.

When she managed to reboot, the best she could manage was, “Come again?”

“You wrote that I gave you a chance you didn't deserve,” Twilight said. “I thought about what things would be like if people only got what they deserved.

“It's not how we operate. My friends in Equestria and I give out second chances all the time. Sometimes third, fourth, and fifth chances. We do it with no evidence it will work out in the end. But what if we did have some sort of complex algorithms to run that would truly determine if someone were worthy of another chance before offering it?”

Sunset's brain was back at its current normal –which was hazy, weary, and pained– and that was enough for her to be processing Twilight again.

Right now what she was getting was that Twilight was on a roll and and she'd have to wait for the opportune moment if she wanted stop the ramble rather than cause it to explode into a flurry of tangents that would grow to consume all of the remaining daylight hours.

“I started to imagine an Equestria where ponies, and others, only ever got what they deserved,” Twilight continued. “I started thinking about all the ways the world would be different, my life would be different, and I would be different.

“I never deserved my friends,” she said, “I spent my life ignoring and avoiding other ponies and when I met my Ponyville friends I was a jerk to every one of them. I thought they were aggravating distractions. I also thought they were all crazy. If I got what I deserved I'd still be alone except for Spike, maybe worse than that since Spike, at least, deserved better than me.

“Princess Luna, if someone had somehow managed to defeat her in a world where my friends and I didn't unlock the Elements of Harmony, probably would have been banished back to the moon if she'd gotten what she deserved. You'd be a pariah or in jail. Discord would be stone. Even–”

“Ok, I get it,” Sunset said, hoping she hadn't missed her window. “All of history and civilization as we know it rests upon giving individuals chances without deservingness being a necessary prerequisite.”

Twilight nodded.

“In the end I was forced to conclude that deservingness had nothing to do anything,” Twilight said in a more sedate pace, “because if everyone only gets what they deserve, the world would be a dark and dreary place where ponies like you and me would never find happiness

“I think it's more about the kind of ponies we want to be,” she said, “and the kind of world we want to live in. I don't want to be the pony who dooms people to death by starvation simply because I don't like them, I don't want to live in a world where you were left crying in that crater instead of given an opportunity for redemption.

“That's a wonderful speech about universal moral truths, Twilight,” Sunset said. “But you don't live in this world anyway.”

Twilight gave a joyful smile, then said, “So you really are feeling better.”

“Truly all psychological assessments should be based on how one responds to friendship speeches.”

“Playful sarcasm suits you,” Twilight said, “but that wasn't a friendship speech. Giving someone a second chance doesn't automatically mean becoming friends with them.”

“Believe me,” Sunset said, “I know.” She was actually worried about what would happen with her former friends. She wasn't going to let some grudge rule her life from now on, she was probably going to forgive them given sufficient time. But would they think that meant she wanted to be friends with them again?

That would be Hell.

She expended way too much energy imagining a thousand different scenarios, none of them good.

When Sunset realized she'd retreated into her own thoughts leaving Twilight in silence, she thought she'd need to apologize, but instead Twilight didn't even seem to have noticed. Instead Twilight looked to be busy with thoughts of her own.

A few moments later, Twilight looked away and spoke:

“Also, the reason I didn't want to help the Sirens was petty to begin with. They hurt me, so I didn't want to help them.”

Twilight had said it like she was confessing to some heinous crime instead of acknowledging that her initial reaction to an unexpected situation was less than perfect.

“Twilight,” Sunset said, doing her best to be encouraging, “around here they call that being human. Adapt for species as necessary, but the core idea remains solid.

“You had a bad thought. It doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make you a bad pony. Celestia does it too, you know.”


“Really,” Sunset said. “What matters is that you recognized your mistake and fixed it.”

For a while things were quiet. Less awkward than the last silence.

“Ok, so,” Twilight said, her energy and speed increasing with each new word, “I didn't make the amulets for you, but there are things that I did get for you, I know it's a little late for Hearth Warming and all but I was busy working on the amulets and–”

Sunset was afraid that if she didn't make Twilight stop, the girl might explode.

“I got you gifts too,” she said.

That successfully stopped Twilight mid-run-on.

“First we have this,” Sunset said, handing Twilight a book from her bag.

Twilight accepted it and flipped through it. It was an illustrated guide to the human body. Nothing terribly in depth, but a huge amount of information as far as laypeople went.

“I thought you might be interested in learning more about a sapient species entirely alien to Equestria. The fact that you have friends equipped with such bodies is just a bonus,” Sunset said. “After you've digested that, you'll probably know more about human biology than I've learned in years of living here.”

“This looks really interesting,” Twilight said. “Not something I would have expected.”

“I got the idea after Luna thought it would be hilarious to give me a book on horse biology,” Sunset said. Luna's other book, which was full of amazing photographs of astronomical objects, was much more thoughtful.

Twilight had looked up from the book and asked, “Horse?” in mild surprise.

Sunset pointed to the statue behind Twilight.

“They really do look like that,” she said as Twilight turned to look.

“You're kidding.”

“Nope. They look more or less like that and they're huge,” Sunset said. “I met one and it was this tall,” Sunset held her hand five feet off the ground, “at the withers.”

“At the withers?” Twilight repeated in what might be shock. Sunset nodded, Twilight continued: “That's unbe– wait, you met one‽”

“They're just animals,” Sunset said, “and animals in this world aren't nearly as smart as the ones in Equestria, but it doesn't make it any less incredible to meet them.

“Humans keep them for their power and speed. They can be used to pull things, as pack animals, and as personal transportation. The one I met was for the last. Riding horses like that one are sort of a medium size, the largest horse was a draft horse that was more than seven feet tall at the withers.”

“You're sure that was at the withers and not, say, the forehead?”

“This world is populated with giants, Twilight.”

“Given your enthusiasm,” Twilight said, “I think Luna picked the right book for you.”

“If you say so,” Sunset said. It wasn't wrong, but given that it was given as a joke, Sunset didn't really want to admit that the horse book was actually pretty interesting. Still, it suggested more directions for conversation.

“Horses make things confusing,” she said, “especially since horses below a certain height are known as 'ponies'. I tell someone I was a pony in Equestria and there's all of this baggage that's assumed to apply to me unless I'm specifically able to predict the person will think it and head it off.”

“I can see how that would be frustrating.”

“And saying unicorn just confuses things further.”

“Why?” Twilight asked.

“I don't think this world ever had unicorns, but it does have stories of them,” Sunset said, “and the stories are clear about several things. For example: they've got cloven hooves.”


“As near as I can tell they're supposed to be more closely related to deer than ponies, deer as tall as horses no less.”

“But . . .”

“Also, the correct plural of 'Pegasus' is 'Pegasuses',”

“That's absurd.”

“It's a function of the history of the word in this world," Sunset said. "It's originally a proper name, and there was only one of him, so it didn't have a plural. It came to describe all winged horses by synecdoche, at which point it was given a plural, but by that time it had hopped languages twice.”

“You're making that up.”

“Now I know what to get you for next Hearth Warming,” Sunset said: “a dictionary.”

“Hey!” Twilight said. About two seconds later she said, “Actually, that sounds fascinating.”

Sunset gave a smile and said, “For now I have something completely different to occupy your mind.” She pulled the second gift from her bag. She was told that a human of a given age would recognize it as a 'Game Boy', though it wasn't actually one. “This might fizzle when you take it to Equestria, but even if it does I expect you to have months of fun reverse engineering it.”

Twilight accepted the gift and asked, “What is it?”

“The exterior is from a hand held computer gaming system that's about eighteen years old, but it's been gutted and replaced with more modern technology. Celestia commissioned one as a Christmas – Christmas is basically Hearth Warming with a different mythology. Anyway, Celestia commissioned one as a Christmas gift for Luna. Something about nostalgia without the algia.

“The moment I saw it I knew that, regardless of whether the actual games interested you, you'd love the challenge of figuring out how it worked and seeing if you could reproduce the technology in Equestria. Maybe even discover a way to make the technology work in tandem with magic.

“So I paid for the construction of a second one.”

Twilight looked over it eagerly for moment and then asked, “How do I turn it on?” somewhat sheepishly.

Sunset found the right button a few moments later.

Twilight punched various buttons for a while before turning the machine off and rummaging through her bag for her gifts.

“So, after you told me about your difficulties with ancient Equestrian history,” Twilight said, “I had a general idea of what I wanted to get you.”

Sunset had explained the story of Hearth Warming to Celestia and Luna, but not before going off on a lengthy tangent of how much she didn't know. Were the Sirens before or after the Windigos? When exactly had Celestia and Luna taken control of the Sun and Moon, how did the timing of Sombra relate to Luna's conversion to Nightmare Moon? Where did the apprenticeship of Clover the Clever fit into the storied career of Starswirl the Bearded? When was Tirek?

How many intervals of 'a thousand years' were literal as compared to shorthand for 'a really, really, really long time'?

Why did it seem that ponies learned history only by having ancient evils pop up and try to take over?

So, naturally, she'd written to Twilight about it afterward.

She'd even commented that it was odd that Equestria's history was so poorly understood given that the nation had been run by an immortal who was there at the time and could easily be asked, and now was run by two of them.

Sunset also noted that she'd never cared to asked herself, but that didn't make it seem any less odd that no onehad ever done so.

Twilight's gift was a book, presumably a history book. Sunset took and read the title aloud:

“The Pony's History of Equestria,” was to be be expected, but for “New Revised Edition” she added special emphasis.

“After the most recent ancient threat that everyone had conveniently forgotten about in spite of it being critically important to understanding the early years of Equestria,” Twilight said, “the original Revised Edition was made obsolete. By this time next year they'll doubtless need to make a New New Revised Edition.”

“Probably,” Sunset said.

“I ended up getting you this more or less by accident,” Twilight said while she handed over a flimsy box and a small beat up book. “Definitely read the book first.”

Sunset put the history book in her bag and looked at the smaller beat up book Twilight was now offering her. It took about a second and a half to realize something:

“This written in the zebra script.”

“Yes it is,” Twilight said. “I was telling a friend of mine about how I was thinking of getting you something to get you up to date on the recently remembered long forgotten history of Equestria, I think I mentioned Sombra and the Tree of Harmony, and she insisted that what I needed to give you was this deck of divination cards.

“One of your friends is a zebra?”

“Her name is Zecora.”

“Ponyville isn't exactly known as an international port–”

“Of course not; it's landlocked.”

“–and it doesn't sit on any major trade routes I know of,” Sunset said. “So . . . shaman?”

Twilight nodded, “She lives in the Everfree Forest.”

Sunset digested that a moment and then acknowledged it by saying: “That kind of magic is worth going a long way from home to research.”

Sunset looked back to the book and skimmed for a bit. The tree of harmony was there, a lot about three pony tribes just before they united, King Sombra . . . it made sense why someone would recommend this as a way to learn history. The descriptions were short, just giving context for the pictures on the cards and the meanings of those cards, but there was definitely history preserved here that hadn't shown up in any of the books Princess Celestia had forced her to read.

“This looks interesting,” Sunset said. “Thank you, Twilight. And thank your friend for me.”

“I'll pass that along,” Twilight said, “Though I do recommend taking it with a grain of salt. Some of the information defies belief and even Zecora has no idea where the cards or the guide originated.”

“It's not a zebra thing?”

“Obviously this version was made by one or more zebras, the writing in the guide and on the cards is as close to proof of that as we're likely to come, but I don't think the deck originated with zebras. There's all of one zebra in the deck, and the description of that card reads to me like it was written by an outsider. I think at some point a zebra adopted the cards and the stories from an outside source and then wrote their own guide in their own script,” Twilight said. “In other news, I'm out of gifts.”

Sunset nodded. Then she said:

“So, about the amulets . . .”

* *
* * *
* *

So, notes:

This was way harder than it had any right to be.  In part because my original plan was to start with the chapter after this one, in part because when I actually thought about what was going on I got it into my head that I had to show Sunset's Christmas with Celestia and Luna and it just wasn't working.  In part because . . . everything.

Then this and the next chapter were going to be crammed together into one chapter.

Then there's the fact that the only plot relevant thing in this chapter is the amulets and I worry that the gifts will be assumed to be part of Chekhov's armory when, in this story, Chekhov hasn't even been given a water balloon.

~ ~ ~

As indicated, Friendship is Magic is horrible with "Ancient evil everyone forgot about until we decided to use it in this episode.  I'm not entirely sure what they have against brand new evils, but even their most recent major attempt at that devolved into ancient evil when the new evil changed the past allowing for several of the previous ancient evils to take over the present in turn.

It's also less than good with regards to time.  Sometimes a thousand years means exactly a thousand years, sometimes it cannot possibly mean that in spite of the strong indication that it's supposed to.

In some ways the series can be seen as learning history by having history repeatedly try to take over forcing the cast to learn things everyone else forgot about.

As the entire series takes place after Sunset Shimmer left Equestria, her knowledge of her homeworld's history is pretty much dependent upon her pen=pal relationship with Twilight.

~ ~ ~

The cards are the Everfree Tarot.  The unique thing about the project is that it's an attempt at an in-universe tarot.  As far as I know, every other attempt to make an MLP themed tarot deck has done it by grabbing characters and situations from the show which obviously wouldn't be included in any deck the characters had access to.

All of the cards can be found at the creator's DeviantArt , unfortunately most of the descriptions are in Korean and those that are not appear to have been translated badly.  Also, for some reason the author gave boobs to certain creatures that . . . wtf?  Most of the things represented don't have this problem, thankfully, but still . . . WTF?

~ ~ ~

The modified Game Boy is a Game Boy Zero (a Game Boy case gutted and used to hold a Raspberry Pi zero set up to emulate old game systems.)

The size of the ponies in MLP is surprisingly consistent regardless of what metric you use to determine it (as compared to the length of a "moon" which is irresolvably inconsistent.) The average adult pony (not an alicorn) is a bit smaller than a Saint Bernard in terms of body.  Do not, however, forget about the relative hugeness of their heads when compared to the rest of their bodies.

~ ~ ~

The etymology of "Pegasus" is ultimately unknown.  There are theories ranging from "pre-Greek language we don't know" to "It's totally this root over here; why can't everyone else see how obvious this is?"

The plural is easier and Sunset has the pedantic details right.  Starts in Greek, moves to Latin, moves to English, is given an English plural when the meaning changes to something that allows a plural.

What it leaves out is that at some point people realized that second declension masculine Latin nouns have a standard plural form, which gives us "pegasi", though pedants and spell checkers will tell us that's wrong.

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