For the longest time I believed that being able to perceive and understand the soul of a creature meant knowing that creature in its entirety. After all, the soul is shaped by the nature and actions of that which it inhabits, be they immortal dragons or mortal ponies.
Perhaps if I had spent more time during my Ascended life travelling the planes, meeting other beings and interacting with the new lives I had so dutifully nurtured; I would have come to realise that a creature is defined by much more than its soul.
- Lysander, 3 B.NMM.
So very very cold.
Why was I freezing like this? The last time I awoke somewhere unfamiliar my body was burning and pounding, this time it was frigid and numb. It felt like I had just gone from one very unpleasant Hell to another, and there were quite a number of unpleasant Hells to choose from after all.
‘Maybe I’m finally dying. I wouldn’t really be surprised, what with the earlier state of my soul taken into consideration and everything that happened since then.’
After a while of going through memories I finally remembered exactly what had happened, how I’d woken up in another world, found the angry mob of pony creatures, how they had been threatening a young unicorn with pitchforks and torches, and how I had somehow managed to intercept the bolt from a crossbow before it could end the life of the small creature. The moment came rushing back to me, the entire scene playing in my mind over and over again until I finally came up with a single question.
I knew my body rather well; I knew my own strength and speed in their entirety. I also knew that I had never reacted, or even moved, that fast in my entire Ascended life. It was almost like a force had filled me, numbing the pain in my body and slowing time to a crawl, granting me physical power not unlike that of powerful Miracles. I recalled that it had felt great somehow, but more than anything it had just felt plain odd.
Pushing the useless thoughts from my mind I finally noticed a part of my body not entirely freezing, I could feel something small and warm in-between my left arm and side, something breathing with a steady pulse, spreading comforting warmth to at least a part of my body.
As I opened my eyes the first thing I noticed was that I was inside of a cave, most likely the same cave I had so gracefully landed in earlier that night. Grey rocks and brown dirt all around, the light from an early day sun bringing illumination to my resting place.
With a rather uncomfortable twist of my head I shifted my gaze to the white and pink creature cuddled against my side. It was the same unicorn child… or would that be a foal? The same pony I had spirited away from danger, and which was now comfortably sleeping without a care in the world. I’m not too proud to admit that I did feel a surge of emotion at the sight, and a small smile came unbidden to my lips.
At that moment I felt a slight cold tingle run down my spine, and the unicorn opened its big azure eyes, looking up at my smiling face with very obvious nervosity. For a second it looked like it was going to stay put, but before I was able to react it had already jumped out of its sleeping spot, its dirty body shivering at the sudden change in temperature while still keeping its eyes locked firmly onto mine. It wasn’t exactly fear as far as I could tell, just a very large uncertainty regarding the entire situation.
After another moment I decided to speak up, the first thing I noticed was that my voice was very raspy for some reason, and I felt a profound dryness in my throat.
“Please don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you.” I tried my best to project as calming an aura as possible, I’m not sure if it had any real effect but the unicorn visibly calmed down regardless. “Are you feeling alright, are you hurt anywhere?”
The same cold tingle ran down my spine, and the unicorn’s demeanour changed instantly from nervous to surprised, as if I had just asked the most idiotic question possible. With disbelief in its blue eyes the little creature took a step closer to me, it spoke in an obviously feminine voice.
“I’m fine, thank you. But shouldn’t you be more worried about yourself?” She, or at least I figured that she was female based on the voice, ran her gaze up and down my prone form, promptly causing me to become very aware of my own situation.
As I have already mentioned, an Ascended’s body is capable of recovering from even the worst wounds in a very short span of time, even broken bones would have healed after a night’s rest. Imagine my surprise then, when instead of merrily lifting my right arm and getting to my feet, I instead found that it was still very much broken, and still very painful trying to move. With a wince of pain I laid back down on the cave floor, suddenly noticing a number of things I hadn’t before. First of all the pain was still there, despite all of my reasoning telling me that it should have long passed, my body in its entirety felt uncomfortable and heavy, and I still felt the pain caused by the wound in my leg.
‘This shouldn’t be happening, a wound like that should’ve been gone in a matter of hours!’
Bracing myself with my left arm I managed to sit up straight, instantly turning my attention to my left leg, or rather, the shin. Instead of a healed limb I found the bolt removed, and the leg wrapped in a bandage made from a piece of my pants, dried red blood staining the cloth.
Dried. Red. Blood.
I could feel my heart, my very mortal heart I now realised, pounding in my chest as realisation hit me. The strangeness of my body, how it felt so heavy, how it felt pain much more pronounced than it should have, and how it was unable to quickly recover from minor wounds.
My body was flesh and blood, mortal! I could feel the blood in my veins run even colder than how my body was already feeling, all of my pain became instantly worse as I suddenly became acutely aware of exactly how frail I was.
I don’t know for how long I sat there, thoughts of fear and disbelief running through my mind, trying to make sense of how this had happened, why this had happened. I could only think of one thing, the Flame of Life had been my source of sustenance, and with it gone I was no longer whole, I was damaged, broken...
“Are you alright, mister?”
The unicorn filly’s voice brought me back to reality; she had apparently been watching me through my entire revelation, the uncertainty from earlier returned to her eyes in full force. It was heartbreaking to say the least. Conjuring the best smile I could muster I returned my attention to her, all thoughts of my sudden loss of immortality dismissed to a very deep part of my mind.
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you,” I could hear the quivering in my own voice, and I tried my best to gather my composure. “Sorry, I just realised something very unsettling, but it’s nothing you should worry yourself about.”
This time I gave her a sincere smile and she obviously relaxed, moving a bit closer to get a better look at me, her gaze taking in my full form again, and for the first time she looked like she was pondering something.
“What are you?” her question was rather abrupt and seemed to take herself by surprise as well, as she suddenly looked down, kicking the dirt with her small hoofs, in what I guessed to be a bashful gesture. “If you don’t mind me asking. I can tell you’re not a pony at least.”
I slowly and gently placed my hand on her head, petting her lightly. For a second she froze and looked like she was about to bolt, but after a moment she pushed her head into my hand in recognition of my gesture before looking back up at me.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind. I suppose that means that there aren’t anyone else like me in this world.” For some reason the idea didn’t surprise me as much as I thought it would, I’d never travelled much to other worlds, but I had been told that sentient creatures could be very diverse. “I am one of the Ascended, as for what my species is, I believe it is something called a human, though I remember very little about my people.”
From the look on her face my answer didn’t explain much to her, in fact she looked at me even more puzzled than before.
“So are you Ascended or human? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of either though, you look a lot more like a shaved diamond dog than anything else I can think of.”
Diamond dog? A very fancy name for a species of what I could only imagine as some sort of bipedal canine, I wasn’t entirely sure if I should be insulted about being called a dog or not. Leave it to the innocent mind of a child to come up with something like that. I decided to find out more about diamond dogs later, instead chuckling lightly at her comment.
“Tell you what, how about you call me Lysander instead? That’s my name after all.” I gave her a wink with my, I’m guessing, still golden amber eyes, earning myself a smile in return. “How about you little one, do you have a name?”
For a moment her smile disappeared, possibly unsure if she should divulge her name or not, finally she looked back at me with determination, stating her name, age and race with pride in her voice. “My name’s Crystal Heart, I’m ten years old and a unicorn.”
“It’s very nice to meet you Crystal Heart; I take it you’re the one I have to thank for taking care of my leg?” I said, pointing at the cloth bandage wrapped around my shin. At this she looked away bashfully again, clearly unaccustomed to getting praised.
“Uh huh, you did protect me from those ponies, so I tried my best so you could get better.”
At this I gently petted her mane again in thanks; she giggled a little as she pushed her head against my hand again. Once more I felt the cold tingle in my spine, and was reminded about another thing. I moved my hand to beneath her jaw and lightly turned her head to face me again, I looked at her with a gentle yet serious look.
“Crystal, I’m sorry but I need to know, why were those other ponies trying to hurt you?”
The unicorn filly instantly lost the joy on her face; instead her eyes were getting cloudy at the memory, sadness showing clearly. I hated having to ask her about it, but I had to know if I wanted to protect her from a similar situation.
“I…I don’t know, I never did anything wrong, I was just doing what mother told me.” At this point tears had welled up in her eyes, and I could feel my heart break at the sight. No creature should have to suffer like that at the hands, or rather hooves, of their own kind. “I just wanted to be their friend... but they got angry at me and chased me out of the village.”
At this point her speech had become somewhat slurred as tears started falling from her eyes, she sobbed silently in her sadness and I scooped her up with my one arm, hugging her tightly to my chest, letting her cry while trying to comfort her the best I could.
“Don’t worry Crystal, you won’t have to go back there, I promise.” She looked up at me from my arm with foggy eyes, a happy smile adorned her face nonetheless. Once more I felt the peculiar shiver. “Now, can you tell me where your mother is? She’s probably worried that you’ve gone missing like this.”
She looked at me oddly for a moment, as if I had asked a rather strange question, a second later she seemed to have realised something as her mouth formed an ‘o’ in understanding.
“Oooh, right. Well, my mother lives really far up north, she’s the one who sent me out here to make friends, she told me it was really important and that I shouldn’t come back until I did.” She gave me a toothy grin at the explanation, obviously finding great joy in the ‘assignment’ her mother had given her.
I for one found it somewhat perplexing, I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind what her mother had told her to do, but I shrugged the thought away, figuring that it was a cultural thing among ponies. I still wasn’t sure why those village ponies had acted so violently if she just wanted to be their friend though. I also wasn’t sure if I wanted her to attempt the same thing again, and after a while of pondering the issue I came up with an idea.
“Alright, I suppose you’ll need to head back home then.”
Once more her face was adorned with that puzzled look, looking at me quizzically, tilting her head to the side and silently prompting me to explain.
“Your mom told you to come back once you’ve found a friend right?” She nodded in reply, and I continued with a smile. “Well, I’ll be your friend, how about that?”
The biggest smile I had ever seen appeared on the filly’s face. “Will you? Will you really!?” She was ecstatic, and I replied with a nod and smile of my own. “Yay! I’ve made a friend, thank you thank thank you!” The little filly hugged me in her happiness, surprisingly strong hoofs practically squeezed the air out of my lungs, my aching body responding with pain due to the treatment. I felt another cold prickle run down my spine, this time stronger than before, but I didn’t pay it much mind as my new friend hugged me tightly, and I hugged her back in turn.