A New Day
"What do you mean, two thousand years?"
Ash spun around to face Princess Celestia. Traces of his previous jubilee were quickly being replaced with looks of confusion.
Celestia sighed deeply. "It has been over two thousand years since your Essences, which we now call the Elements of Harmony--"
"I knew it! I knew it!" shouted a certain pink pony receiving several dark looks for interrupting the Princess.
"--first appeared before my sister and I," continued Celestia as if there hadn't been an interruption.
"Give or take a few years," Princess Luna added. An awkward, tiny smile crawled across the Princess' face in a attempt to lighten the situation. She was failing.
"Two thousand years," Ash mutter to himself. "Two thousand..."
"Amazing. Humans live for a long time, don't they?" Twilight said as she search for some room on her parchment to take a note.
"No, they don't." Ash folded his hands over his head. "This is impossible. I can't be over a thousand! I, I, this is insane!"
Ash ran a hand through his hair, pulling off a loose strand. The white piece hung between his fingers.
Wait, white hair...the beard!
His hand touched his shaven chin almost subconsciously. Can it be?
"Oh no, Ash, are you alright?"
Fluttershy's voice seemed so distant. The Human barely noticed her. The ponies before him seemed to disappear. The lush green park they sat in became a desert, a wasteland.
This wasteland had once been the home to many and Ash knew it had also once been his...
"It's too late. I-it's too late."
Ash fell to his knees, shaking. "I failed. I failed," he repeated to himself, gradually increasing in volume.
The skeletal heads seemed to chant, “Your fault, your fault."
"It's not my fault. It's not my fault. It's not my fault!"
"What's not your fault, dear?"
"Whoa, hold yourself together!"
"LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Ash pushed Rarity and Rainbow Dash away and leap to his feet. With a final agonized cry, the Human ran into the darkness.
"Hold it right there buster!"
With a mighty leap Rainbow Dash took flight to chase after the distressed Human only to be pulled back by her tail, golden light covering the multicolored hair.
"Let him go. He needs to be left alone for a while."
"No Twilight," the Princess of the Sun said firmly. "I know you're worried but it's already dark."
The ponies had finally noticed the shift in day. Celestia had already brought the sun down and the only light was provided by Luna's moon and the lesser stars.
"But what about Ash?" Twilight rarely spoke up against the Princess' wishes but now had been one such occasion. "He doesn't know Equestria's layout at all!"
"Oh no! What if he ends up in the Everfree Forest?" Fluttershy hovered nervously behind the purple Unicorn and looked as if she was about to take off just as Rainbow did after Ash.
"I can understand that you're all worried but you can't do anything in this light. Luna?" Princess Celestia turned around but her sister had already disappeared.
Ash ran. He ran and he ran. He ran into bushes, into branches. Cuts marked his face and all other exposed skin. Ash didn't notice. He ran.
Eyes in the darkness followed him but he didn't care. Nothing stopped him. No matter how fast Ash ran, no matter how far he went, the voices followed.
You killed us. You killed us all.
"It's not my fault! Leave me alone!"
What have done? You've doomed us all.
"I didn't do anything! Stop it! Stop it!"
Ash fell to the mossy forest floor, covering his ears.
"I'm innocent! Go away!"
Are you really? Are you really innocent?
Were the voices in his head? They seemed to real, so close...
Maybe that's your guilt speaking...
"We are your guilt. We are your conscious. We will not leave..."
As Ash tried to hide himself, specters from his past surrounded him, shouting accusations and insults. As they closed in the voices became clearer, louder, stronger.
"We are your guilt. We are your conscious. We will not leave."
"You have killed us all..."
"What in tarnation was that all about?" Applejack wondered out loud as she and the rest of the group followed Princess Celestia to the library.
"Yeah, what the hay was his problem?" Rainbow flapped her feathery wings in annoyance.
"Both of you are so insensitive," Rarity scolded. "Couldn't you tell Ash was in pain."
"Pain? Why would he be in pain? Do you think a party would help him get better?"
"I don't think a party would be much help." Twilight shook her head. "Rarity's right, though. Ash did seemed to be hurt in someway. I wish I could understand why."
"I don't think anypony can understand Ash's pain."
Princess Celestia shook her regal head sadly. "I can't even imagine how much Ash is suffering right now."
"Suffering?" Rainbow Dash asked. "Why would he be suffering?"
"Think of it this way: how would you feel if you were asleep for a couple thousand years and all your friends were gone."
Rainbow Dash couldn't speak. She couldn't answer. To never see Pinkie Pie or Applejack or even Rarity ever again, the thought itself was painful, unbearable.
Celestia nodded; the Pegasus' silence said everything. "Luna suffered similarly after being gone for so long but at least she had me; Ash has no one and the one he trusted tried to kill him. Now imagine this: two thousand years pass and your entire world is gone."
"Gone?" Applejack scratched her head. "What do yah mean, gone?"
"Gone, conquered, destroyed. Imagine if you woke up and Discord had taken over Equestria. Ash is dealing with the same feelings."
The Princess sighed. "I'm afraid I must have given him false hope. When he figured out that the Elements of Harmony brought him here and we told him that we knew the location of the Elements, I believe Ash came to the conclusion that the Elements could bring him back home, just in time to save the day. But two thousand years have past..."Celestia closed her eyes in thought. "From what Ash said about Cefuli..."
"It's already too late for his world," finished her student.
"But that's horrible!" cried Fluttershy. "There must be something we can do to help."
"Like I said, Luna has some experience in dealing with this loss. She'll be able to find him with ease as well. I trust her."
Rarity tapped her chin. "There is something still bothering me. What did he mean, 'it's not my fault'?"
"Sure sounds like he was blamin' himself," Applejack noted. "Wonder why, though."
"I'm not sure," Princess Celestia said, "but I'm hoping Luna finds out soon, for his sake."
Faces of friends of old. People Ash knew for years and people he had just met on his journey. Humans, Dwarves, Elves, young and aged.
There was King Sethiop and his elder sons, Nilroy and Arthur. The young princeling, Jorge, only five years old. The royal twins, still being nursed. Queen Athena. The entire royal family except one...
There was the head cook, Sead, and his wife and assistant, Mari. Their daughter, Alice, stood between them, her face frozen in a pure hatred not fit for the cheerful nine year old.
There was the nice old guard, Yeaser, who miraculously became blind when Ramth escaped his studies to visit Ash or to admire a certain nun from afar. There was the mean old tutor who had eyes of a hawk and watched furiously over Ramth when he was younger,
There was Sister Madilene, his old guardian. There were the rest of the children left in the care of the Church. Reuben, Franklyn, Lynah...
There was Drew and Sader from the academy. His old rival Ronil was there too. So were his old teachers, scholars and experts in their own fields. History, chemistry, mathematics, literature. Magic.
There was the Archmage, his master. The stony old man glared down in disappointment. Beside him stood Ash's fellow apprentices, Sid and Geo.
There was the entire village, full of faces he only recognized by sight. There was Tiny Tim, who wished good luck for Ash, Ramth, and Matilda right before they left on their adventure.
There was the Dwarven ambassador, Dorian's father. There was the Elvish general wearing a silver crown. All the commanders who had bid the group a safe and successful journey.
There was the little girl they saved from the corrupted dragon. There was the woman who lost her husband to the undead. There was the youth who tried to prove his own strength only to be rescued by the group.
Every man, every woman, every child Ash had met stood over him, cursing him, accusing him.
"I didn't kill you! I didn't! I-I didn't!"
"You took away the Essences!"
"You stopped my son from sealing Cerfuli!"
"H-he would have used that power to conquer the land for himself!!"
"Would that be so terrible? We would at least live."
"I will never experience my life!"
"I shall never marry!"
"You killed us! You killed me! You killed my daughter!"
"N-no, I-I didn't!"
"Why did you even bother to save our village? You have doomed our entire world!"
"The forests burn because of your foolishness. The souls of a thousand elders demand justice!"
"We are disappointed."
"Stop, p-please stop."
"We should have left you to die!"
"Prince Ramth was thrice the man you could ever be!"
"You have robbed all these children of their futures!"
Ash collapsed on the forest floor sobbing, his head covered by his arms. The spirits of his past moved in, arms extended as if to choke the life out of the Mage.
"it's not my fault. It's not my fault. It's not my fault..."
"What's not your fault?"
Ash looked up. The hallucinations had vanished. In their place stood a dark blue Alicorn shining in the light of the moon.
"What's not your fault?" Luna repeated.
"I-it's nothing." Ash quickly wiped his face and tried to regain composure. "Nothing I can't handle on my own."
Luna was not convinced but she chose not to press. /At least, not yet./
"I need time alone."
The Human got up and turned away. Luna followed.
"Leave me alone."
"It is not safe to be so deep in the Everfree Forest so late."
"I want to be left alone."
"We should return to Ponyville."
"No, I can't. I need to be with myself."
"Nonsense. No good will come from isolation. Only those of the present can help one control the ghosts of the past..."
Ash ran past the lunar princess, ignoring her cries. She can't understand. I need to be alone. I...am alone
You are alone.
The force of Luna's voice sent the Human flying into a tree. Ash groaned as he rubbed the back of his head. Another bump began to grow.
"Oh no, not again."
Ash slowly opened his eyes. Luna stood over him with a look of concern. A sizable dent was left in the tree's thick trunk. The Human's skull was apparently thicker.
"Are you alright? I'm so sorry. I sometimes forget to control the Royal Canterlot Voice, especially when I'm excited."
"Urgh, at least you dropped the royal 'we'."
"I have? I have! Oh, what joyful progress!"
Princess Luna's celebration was cut short by Ash's annoyed look.
"Ur, We, that is I, believe we, that is us, should return. These parts are not as friendly as the rest of Equestria normally is."
Ash shook his head and started to walk in the opposite direction, only to find himself lifted high above the ground by a dark blue aura. With his arms flailing, Ash was dragged toward the Princess.
"Perhaps I should stop speaking in the form of a request and more as a command. What do you think, young Human?"
For about a half hour Ash dangled in front of Princess Luna by her magic like a naughty Unicorn colt. Silence stood like a wall between the two, punctured only by the sounds of nocturnal creatures.
Luna found the silence mind-numbingly frustrating. At last, she choose to break it:
"Do you have a place to stay?"
Nothing in response.
"How are you enjoying our country?"
"Want to hear a joke?"
Luna sighed. Let's try this differently.
"What's not you fault?"
"None of your concern."
At last, a response! "As princess of this land, everything that goes around here technically is my concern. Obviously there is something bothering you and it is my royal duty to help my subjects."
"I'm not your subject," Ash argued sullenly.
"As long as you remain within Equestria's borders, you are a subject of I and my sister." Luna returned almost cheerfully.
A small groan escaped the floating Human followed by a short sigh.
"What's not your fault?" the Princess of the Moon asked again. "You cannot keep this locked down inside; it will destroy you from within."
With difficulty, Ash twisted himself to face the Princess. Her concern and sympathy was evident.
"Perhaps." Princess Luna sighed. "Perhaps if I had spoken with my sister about how I felt I would not have been consumed by my jealousy and would not have tried to bring an eternal night. Please, let me try to help. Tell me what is bothering you."
Ash looked away.
"I said guilt. Guilt is what's killing me right now." Ash's voice dripped with pure bitterness. "I can deny it all I want but I can't escape the truth. I'm the one who destroyed my world, I let my world die. I let everyone die."
"I don't understand. What do you mean?"
"The Essences." Ash was becoming impatient. "I brought the Essences here with me. I took away my home's only hope, the only thing that could have stopped the Dark One. Without the Essences, nothing will keep Cefuli from destroying everything. Nothing."
"That was an accident. Unintentional, was it not?"
"Maybe. I might not have been trying to get to a different world but I did try to take them away from Ramth."
"So? From what you have told us, it sounded like this Human had plan to use the Essences for his own ill purposes."
Ash sighed and twisted over again to face the Princess. "I don't know. I feel as if I made the wrong decision."
"What?" Luna exclaimed in disbelief. "You regret trying to stop this Human from using the sacred power to take control of your world? Why?"
"Ramth might have become a tyrant and ruled with cruelty but at least he's Human, with Human desires. He might even have been a good king. Cefuli, on the other hand, is a Demon who would have stopped at nothing to wipe the world clean of life. Maybe, maybe I should have let Ramth win. At least the Dark One would be resealed. At least everyone would have lived."
The Princess of the Moon appeared lost in thought. The blue aura surrounding Ash vanished and the Human fell unceremoniously on his rear.
"You are a fool."
"Excuse me?" Ash dusted himself off and glared at the Princess with a mixture of annoyance, anger, and defensiveness.
"You are a fool. This Human was willing to sacrifice his own friends, friends he has known for ages, who fought beside him, who would have place their lives on the line for him, just to gain power. No one, pony or Human or any other race mortal or otherwise, is fit to rule with that attitude, with those kinds of actions."
The Princess looked up to the moon, which seemed to dim as Luna fought with her own emotions. A dark shadow seemed to cover her face but it faded before Ash could make note of it.
"Death would be preferred over being ruled by such a personality. I know that I would rather die fighting for my freedom than to be under the control of one who misuses the trust of his friends and takes the magic of friendship for granted. And I am sure I speak for all of Equestria. What about you, Ash the Human? Which do you prefer?
"You are the voice of your world; how you answer shall be a reflection of your world."
Ash the Human hesitated yet he knew his own answer. But could he speak for the rest of his world, of every one of the Humans, the Dwarves, the Elves?
Ash thought of Dorian, his brother by oath, though they were not of the same race. He thought of the Dwarf's stubbornness, his unrelenting drive for justice, for what was right.
Ash thought of Arlrand, the distant huntress who eventually opened up to the other races. He thought of the Elf's defensive nature, her willingness to protect what was hers, from her warrior pride to her home to her friends.
Ash thought of Darlene, the wise priestess and the first princess he met that wasn't a total snob. He thought of the Elf's love for her people, for the forests and the animals, for the land. For life in general and its freedom.
Ash thought of Matilda, dear sweet Matilda. He thought of her kindness, her willingness to compromise and to analyze all sides. What he loved most was however her hatred toward evil and her love for friendship and how no one could touch those subjects without being subject to white flames.
Ash thought of Ramth, before his betrayal. He thought of his friend's apparent loyalty, how everything came second to his friends. How he made his own decisions and stuck to them no matter what happened...
Freedom to choose, to make decisions. To fight. To live. To have friends...
"We would rather die than to be ruled by a tyrant."
Luna smiled. The moon was most definitely shining brighter.
Ash felt a small smile crawl over his face. The guilt was still there but much quieter.
"I believe you've done more than you could possibly imagine."
"Yes." Luna helped Ash up. "You took a part of the Demon's blade with you, correct?"
"Y-yeah. Um, is that going to be a problem?"
Princess Luna chuckled. "No. If there was a problem my sister and I would have already dealt with it. My point is that without his blade, the Dark One can no longer defeat your allies with sheer hopelessness. Ash, you have given your people hope."
Ash simply stared at the dark blue Alicorn princess, his mouth agape. I...did I... The dark conscious screamed against the Princess's words in vain; Ash's guilt began to shrink.
"There is more: your Essences have become our Elements. They have saved our world multiple times. You have given Equestria hope as well.
"Ash, none of this was your fault. Do not blame yourself for the prince's betrayal and do not hate yourself for your defiance. Both worlds owe you a great deal. It's time to release your unnecessary guilt."
At the Princess's words, Ash felt a large weight fall from him and experienced a lightness, a freedom he had not felt in a long time.
Ash glanced up. The sky could be so beautiful at night. This world could be so beautiful.
"This world is now your world, Ash. You do not need to be alone anymore."
"I think I'd make a pretty funny looking Equestrian," Ash said with a laugh that was shared by Princess Luna.
"Perhaps. But remember: you are welcomed here, no matter your past, no matter whether you are a pony or not."
"Ponies." Ash continued to stare at the moon, deep in thought. "Can I...be one of them? Can I be...part of this world?" he said softly.
"If you are worried about appearances I am sure Twilight Sparkle can help you with that. Regardless of how you look, however, Equestria can be your home if you allow it."
Princess Luna took a step forward, toward the exit of the forest. She turned around and stuck out a hoof.
Ash stepped forward and took it.
"But I'm not tired," Spike tried to say through his yawn. "I want to stay up with you guys."
"Sorry Spike," Twilight said as she tucked the baby dragon in. "You need your sleep."
Spike opened his mouth to protest but all that came out was a giant yawn.
"See? Time for bed." Twilight closed the door softly behind her. With a sigh, the Unicorn turned to her friends sitting in a circle in the library center.
"Poor Spikey-Wikey. It's been a long day for him."
"It's been a long day for all of us." Twilight covered her mouth as she yawned. "Shouldn't you be at home, Rarity? Don't you have work in the morning?"
"Well yes, but I'm more than just a little bit worried for our new guest."
"Oh, I hope Princess Luna finds Ash soon." Fluttershy looked out the library window. "I'm so so worried."
"I know what you mean. I'm so worried I can't even sleep."
Rainbow Dash opened an eye. "Uh, Pinkie Pie, are you sure it's not because of all the cupcakes you ate?"
"Nuh uh. I only had six. I sure hope Ash is okay. Its been forever since we had a 'Welcome to Ponyville' party and I never held one for a Human."
Twilight turned to Applejack. The orange farm pony had been reading a book on agriculture. "What about you, Applejack? Don't you normally get up around sun rise to do chores?"
"Well, yeah, but..." Applejack rubbed the back of her head, shifting her hat to a side. "After hearin' Ash's tale Ah can't help but feel awful for treatin' him like Ah did. The poor fella lost so much. Ah think Ah need tah apologize." Applejack flipped a few pages without even looking at them.
"Do you think we can help?"
"My my, Rainbow Dash, you sound worried too."
"Yeah, yeah. Surprise surprise. I guess I'm a little worried." Rainbow crossed her front legs in annoyance. "It's just...that story...I hated that ending. How could anypony do that to a friend? I really wish we could do something for him."
"That..." Rarity paused for a moment. "...was actually quite sensitive. I'm genuinely impressed."
"Heh, just don't spread that around. I've got an image to maintain."
"Rainbow Dash is right though," Twilight said. "For once," she quickly added with a smile. "There must be something we can--"
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Princess Celestria stood at the doorway with a tired smile. "Good news: Luna found the Human and they're both headed back here."
"Are they alright? Oh, I hope they're alright."
Celestria chuckled softly. "No reason to fret, Fluttershy. They're fine."
The Princess of the Sun yawned. "Excuse me. It's been a long day, for all of us. I believe we should all go to bed. Don't worry; Luna has it taken care of."
"Didja figure out what Ash was talking about. You know, what did he mean about it not being his fault?"
"So much for sensitivity. I don't think we should pry."
"Hey, don't say you guys aren't curious."
"Twilight is right." Princess Celestria stared out the window into the night. "It's none of our business, really. But I think you might be able to help."
"What do you mean?" asked Twilight.
"You see, Ash has already suffered quite a bit. You all heard his story and the aftermath. In addition to all that, Ash felt responsible for what happened to his world. He came here with a heart filled with betrayal, guilt, and loneliness. I'm sure his ability to trust others has also been hurt. But I am positive you six can change that.
"With all due respect, Princess, I am not sure how we can help."
"Rarity, all of you are perhaps the best ponies to help Ash."
"What do you mean? I thought we all agreed a party probably wouldn't help."
"Pinkie Pie, you hold the Element of Laughter. If there is anypony that can cheer Ash up, it's you.
"Rarity, as welder of the Element of Generosity, you are the best pony to teach him how to give, how to open up to others.
"Fluttershy, Element of Kindness, your nature will heal the wounds he was suffered, especially the damage done by his emotions. Kindness is the greatest healer, not time.
"Applejack, Element of Honest, I believe you can help Ash learn to trust again. Your honesty will prevail over Ramth's betrayal.
"Rainbow Dash, as the holder of the Element of Loyalty, I believe you have the toughest job. I can tell that the story's ending shook you the most but the loyalty you show to your friends is what will help Ash leave that memory behind. His story will not end with the betrayal.
"Lastly, Twilight Spark, my pupil. You have been studying the subject of friendship for some time and have experienced its magic. Magic is what makes it all complete and to complete Ash's revival, you must teach him the magic of friendship.
"The Elements of Harmony gave Equestria hope and now they will give Ash hope. Fix his broken heart."
"We are here."
Ash looked in the direction Princess Luna pointed. He could finally see the exit of the forest.
Night was almost over. Ash could see the sun peaking from behind the horizon. The sky was turning faintly orange and pink.
"We've been out all night, it appears." Luna stretched her wings and yawned. "Excuse me but We have had a long day. And a long night. We trust you can find your way into town on your own?"
"Yeah," Ash responded absentminded. The sunrise was going to be beautiful.
Slowly Ash walked. Equestria is a beautiful place he thought. He took a deep breath. It felt good, relaxing.
Ash sat down in the grass and watched the horizon. The sun was beginning to rise. It was a new day.
My world's gone. I'm not sure I should be here but I am. This is my new home. A new home...
It was a new day.