What is it truly?
Is it just the linear progression of events?
Is it, as one popular television character put it, a ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff?
Is it just the perception of creatures that need to organize what they experience, into some kind of mental file?
I thought I had these questions answered to some extent...
Turns out, I haven't even started asking them until now...
Luna sat at a short tea table; wondering briefly, how she would have never thought to design something like this before that day. She floated over to the patio in her pavilion, looking somewhat wistfully into the skies; a motion she repeated innumerable times over the last few centuries previous. Her current body was some strange mix of solid and ethereal, as were most of the spirits stuck in what Inter-Dimensional Spirit Bureaucracy delightfully termed Purgatory.
Typically, all beings that could be killed somehow entered the cycle of rebirth. Which basically meant that if you were good enough, you got bumped up a plane of existence when you were reincarnated. If you were evil enough: you were busted down to a lower plane or sent to a special Punishment Realm (most humans called it Hell or Hades for some reason). If you weren't filled with enough virtue or vice, well one of two things happened. One, you were just reincarnated into a mostly equivalent world with a mostly erased memory and you started over. Two, you were housed in a Rehabilitation Realm, where you learned whatever it is you were supposed to learn before you died, and then was allowed to reincarnate in the same tier of worlds normally. There existed a fourth and special category though: one that Princess Luna, the Six Bearers of Harmony, and every other living thing in Equestria from that day found themselves.
"Four hundred, ninety-nine years, eleven months, and three-hundred and sixty days ago. Funny how I'd still be using our regular calendar system after all this time," Luna started as she sat her current book down while looking over her pavilion. She decided to make do with the time as best she could, reading the various works of sapient species copied and collected over the eons, she much enjoyed the Yarinal playwrights form Dimension 4005/World 299348. She also found it strange how she could remember things with such precision, chalking it up to the nature of being a soul without a physical brain at this point.
"It's been nearly ten years since we were all together in my pavilion," she said out loud, beating her ethereal wings in the non-existent air. "The bureaucrats were nice enough to give us soul-bodies that were pretty much the same as our original bodies... but nothing can be the same. Even if this Purgatory were an exact copy of Equestria before that day, nothing could ever truly be the same. I guess everyone is finding that out in their own way."
Luna stared up at the false sky, knowing the infinitely upward stretch wasn't real. Then again, it probably was real, but it was hard to tell what actually counted for real anymore. "I wish I could have warned them all, in a better fashion, about how difficult it is to stare down eternity; though, even I have trouble truly reconciling it."
Luna kept looking out into the infinite horizon, she wondered just how long they would have to wait before anything could change. Before anything could be fixed. Short of that, before they could start to rebuild.
"Damn metaphysical bureaucracies..." she muttered, as she 'walked' back into her pavilion to continue reading.
Twilight Sparkle was thankful to the bureaucrats for allowing her access to the Inter-Dimensional Library. She really needed ANYTHING in any universe that could take her mind off the incalculable number of years in front of her.
A forever expanding library of books, materials, videos, experiments... everything... everything I could have always wanted...
She walked around, most of the regulars of the Library now used to the sight of the little more than 3' tall purple equine.
All the knowledge ever assembled by mortal mind, and a good chunk of the knowledge of the immortal mind...
She had gone through book after book, never needing to sleep, only really eating when it struck her fancy. She had entered a state that, while living, she would have thought to have been pure Nirvana.
There has to be a way... a way to fix what happened... a way to set what had gone wrong right...
She talked with all manners of patrons, the people who were in zen states fumbling around trying to find something. The eternal spirits, which she was now, who just wanted to accumulate as much as they could before their time for reincarnation came up. She was the envy of some of those spirits, who knew they would return to a world with extremely limited access to this place; possibly even being forced to relinquish the knowledge they had gathered to that point.
Where were the signs... where was the trouble... of course there would be resistance... but anything on that scale... it was unimaginable...
Twilight didn't feel herself lucky though. She was one of many millions, possibly billions, marked by the Bureaucracy to not be called for reincarnation until the Central Committee sorted out what the hell to do with them. It turns out that when Equestria was burnt to a cinder that day, the means by which the humans did it was not covered under a normal reincarnation policy. In fact, the Committee actually applauded the original designers of the weapon that managed to end an entire planet in a flash, using the Power of an Immortal no less, before promptly throwing their souls into a metaphysical black hole. It was a stunningly simple act for their punishment; but she'd have to suffer the repercussions of their act for the rest of eternity it seemed like.
At least the perps got the solace of oblivion, or whatever. Oh what am I saying... I'm still alive... I think? That has to count for something... right?
She wondered how long she'd stay this time. She was two years into this current session, reading whatever she could about the soul and how to contact and interact with the still living without breaking protocol. But even then, there was tons of bureaucratic red tape.
Why is that Earth even a protected zone to begin with?
She had thought to contact anyone willing on Earth, but there was a major snag. The Earth Equestria had contacted was under what the Bureaucrats called a 'non-interference order'. Short of some metaphysically shattering or planet-destroying event, it would take millennia to clear the paperwork to even start contacting Earth in an official channel.
I'll go completely insane by that time, probably multiple times knowing myself.
Not only that, but Twilight's own vanity was starting to bleed through everything. There was so much she wanted to do, so much she had to fix, so much knowledge she had accumulated in the last five centuries. Well, four hundred years because she lost the first almost a hundred as a writhing emotional and spiritual wreck after that day, like a lot of the victims.
All the knowledge in the known universes at my hoof-tips, and I can't do a damn thing with it... I know they said that none of us were going to be punished for what went on leading up to that day... but this feels like cold-blooded torture to me...
"I always wondered what it would be like to be a muse... I wish I had someone to call upon me though..." Rarity said out loud, by this point she really didn't care if anypony or anything heard her.
Given the infinite nature of the Purgatory they were in, every Pony pretty much had built up, by this time, a fairly sizable estate. Rarity was no different, building up a simply gargantuan replica of the Carousel Boutique. By this time Sweetie Belle had moved on to her little corner of Nowhere, writing songs that only other spirits would hear. Rarity was also faced with a similar situation.
"I want my art to be enjoyed and truly appreciated. But when you're an immortal spirit that'd seen everything, how could you ever appreciate it."
Rarity really didn't know how Luna or Twilight could stand reading book after book after book after book after book, figuring they'd want to create something of their own before long. She also didn't know if it was really impossible for immortal to appreciate created works.
"Living beings, and even spirits always have to be creating something new, don't they? Knowledge and Creativity doesn't cease when the heart stops beating, does it? I guess I'm just afraid; this is like my debut in Canterlot to the nth degree. How could I create something good enough for a creature that might have seen everything before, literally?"
Rarity threw herself on her bed, momentarily appreciating the feedback her soul-body gave her. It was a tiny bit of welcome respite from her situation, an immortal soul that felt endlessly creative, yet seemed to have no outlet for it at all.
"I wonder how many miles I'll fly this time? Maybe 100,000, maybe 250,000, who knows, this place is... infinite. Infinitely high, Infinitely long, Infinitely deep, and Infinitely BORING!" Rainbow Dash thought, as she streaked through the sky at a leisurely 90 MPH.
"Going faster than light was fun the first couple of hundred years, but now... ugh now..." the cyan spirit-mare thought, flapping her mostly redundant wings; just wanting to hear the sound as much as she could.
"I'm still conscious, I can still feel. But I'm not truly alive. I just don't feel that spark anymore. I wish I could just beat the hell out whoever made that bomb or whatever it was. I might have turned their soul into nothing myself," Rainbow Dash thought to herself, the anger welling up in her. Her tone turned dejected as she slowed down. "Maybe it would have made me feel better for awhile."
Rainbow Dash came to stop on a exquisitely large tree, just lounging in the branches. "I dunno why I flew away that day. I mean, we were all glad Pinkie had recovered, even though she took the longest. And that year-long party was pretty fun. But... I just took off, and from what I hear about Luna, it takes forever to get everyone back just to visit for a few months. Has to have been like, ten years since we're all at her Pavilion."
She wondered what she was going to do with herself for the rest of eternity. Even if she wasn't stuck in Purgatory forever, she still could never think of enough things to do to fill her mind from now until then.
"I guess I could join the Inter-Dimensional Arena. Beat up a few monsters or whatever. I dunno..."
Rainbow Dash set to the skies again, 'drifting' aimlessly as she had the last couple of centuries, not sure where the afterlife was going to take her.
Fluttershy walked around the Inter-Dimensional Zoo, looking at the innumerable examples of species from an incalculable number of worlds.
Did you suffer... was it swift... was it painful...
She knew none of the animals were real per say, but the ability of the Bureaucracy to copy living beings and make spirit duplicates was as close to perfect as one could think, so Fluttershy in the end didn't mind that much.
I wonder how many times you've lived and died since then...
Fluttershy had briefly wondered as a filly what it'd be like being immortal, when she learned of the nature of Princess Celestia in school. She wondered what'd it'd be like knowing you'd live long beyond everyone you'd meet, more times than not. It made her sad, but nothing like now.
I still miss you Angel... I miss you so much...
The yellow-furred and pink-maned Pegasus began crying right there, some of the passers-by stopping to console her as best they could. She appreciated their kindness, despite some, if they had met in different circumstance, that would have throw her into their maws without a second thought.
I guess this is what it's like... does it ever stop hurting?
Applejack overlooked the mother of all orchards. Every type of fruit producing plants the many Earths and Equestria ever produced, and several other plant-like lifeforms from other planets.
A darn shame... An orchard bigger than the Everfree maybe... and really nothing Ah can do with it...
Applejack strolled through the orchard, wondering if the scene would really smell like it did now if she were back on Sweet Apple Acres in Equestria.
Ah miss mah home so much... Ah miss everyone else so much... Funny how we could all be 'here', and yet not all be 'here'...
Applejack was just like any other Pony, struggling to come to terms with her new existence. She wondered if she really needed the orchard, if she shouldn't just stay with Luna a few decades to truly grasp what it meant to be immortal. She then figured that not even Luna could be prepared for something like this. The loss of your homeland and your physical body, and to be so unceremoniously stripped of your birthright. It was hard for Applejack - and everyone else - to accept.
Ah wish Ah could gut-kick all of them... each and every last one of 'em until they felt what we felt. Everything burned to the ground. All of us stuck in this... somewhere... for who knows how long. But what would that get me? Nothin'... just more hate... more anger.
She looked up at the endless sky of what she prayed was a temporary home, just letting herself be taken away by its expanse. She continued thinking in a clearing on a hill, one of her many 'thinking spots' in the expansive orchard she called home, for now anyway.
Ah wonder what they're all doin' now. Granny Smith, Big Mac, Apple Bloom, Pinkie, Twi', Rarity, Dash, 'Shy, Princess Luna... and whatever happened to Princess Celestia? Even the Burea'crats can't seem to figure out exactly what happened to her. Even if she somehow ceased existing, they could’ve recorded it... But nothin’... must be driving Luna nuts.
*tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock*
Pinkie Pie, mane somewhat wavy, not really poofy but not really straight either, just sat in a bed, looking out at the little 'village' that popped up near Luna's Pavilion. The clock in her room was one of a few adornments, along with a television that could pull up any video she wanted. She wondered what everyone else was thinking as she just looked out from her bed.
I guess this is the only way I can feel normal anymore. Even though I don't have to sleep like this, or at all really, this is the only way I can feel like the world is anything close to normal.
Pinkie Pie was always known as totally abnormal: somepony whose personality, knowledge, and abilities just seemed to defy everything that was expected of a Pony. Yet, the day before Armageddon, she was rendered entirely catatonic by her Pinkie Sense, her clairvoyant senses finally getting the better of her and leaving her entirely unable to act, or even comprehend what was coming. By the time she was able to recognize herself after dying and finding her and everypony else's soul in their little corner of the afterlife... she mostly went catatonic again, losing everything that made her 'her'. While most of the non-Draconic beings took anywhere between 80 and 100 years to finally re-assume a 'normal' frame of mind, it took Pinkie nearly 150 years before she could put together coherent sentences.
I guess everyone wants to make things feel as normal as they could be... even though nothing would ever really be normal again...
Another twenty years after that, she threw her first party since her death. It ended up being one of the most surreal and sublime experiences anything in that corner of the afterlife had ever experienced. Even some of the non-native goers, who just wanted to see why people liked going to that mare's parties, had to admit that the party was enjoyable, even if completely offbeat and just plain weird at times.
I wonder if I could ever get my mane normal again... maybe I just have to put up with this wavy style another century... definitely don't want to go back to straight...
Luna sat in her pavilion, still reading her play, wondering if it were her turn to try her hoof at the pen in this dimension. She constantly thought of her long lost sister, and why not even the Bureaucracy could contact her after all these years.
Where are the current Humans holding Celestia, to where even they cannot perceive. Nothing can move forward without you, 'Tia; but I don't know if you can even recognize that, as it is.
On Earth, deep underground, underneath layers upon layers of labs and security, sat a chamber. It was a plainly adorned cavern, filled with sinks for thaumatic radiation to be tossed back into the burnt out husk of Equestria when overused. There was a shimmering pool of a strange colored fluid. The blood of a goddess. It was said that to enter that chamber, one could hear a wailing, almost like a banshee.
These days though, it was quiet more or less. There it was, once proud and regal matriarch, the Avatar of the Sun of her world: Princess Celestia, or at least what was left of her. Her head and neck now rested in a coffin made out of D-Material, the powdered form of the petrified Draconequs Discord, the Incarnate Spirit of Disharmony and Chaos. Despite this, Celestia was not dead, although many a time she wished she could die and be spared the interminable suffering. Instead, she merely whimpered, like a mother who watched her children die before her eyes; and had long ago gone insane with grief, a broken shell of a proud mare.
Where have you gone?