The sun woke up before she did that day. As a groan rolled from her throat, her sore, bloodshot eyes slowly squinted open to powder blue sheets. This wasn’t her bed. She blinked again, slowly, but the sheets did not change. This place was far from her palace bedchamber, but how far? Where was she?
As sleep lazily slid from her mind, a chill took her. Something wasn’t right. Her whole body felt different. Had she been shaved completely? Why was she wearing clothes? Instinctively, her hands gripped the blankets and she wrapped herself tighter in the fabric. Hands. Her eyes locked onto the claw like things holding her covers close. She had hands like a minotaur, only more delicate. The blanket was released as she lifted her right hand to her face. From her shallow palm branched five pale digits with the nails filed short. She felt her sharp breath flow over the bare skin.
The word confused her as soon as it entered her mind. Where had it even come from? She looked down at herself and saw her body was covered with a plain white shirt. She had some hair over her skin, but it was nothing like the silky alabaster coat that she was accustomed to.
Such a strange word. What does it mean? Just where had she heard it before? It was familiar. She knew that word, but how? How had it entered her mind? She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, feeling the bones of her arm press against her legs. The muscles and tendons of her back pulled as if they were tired or bruised.
Her hands touched her face. Her muzzle was gone. She only had a sloping nose above a small mouth with soft lips. She was human. Her hands explored her face. She could feel her cheekbones. Despite her best efforts, Celestia was panicking. How was she human all of a sudden? Her hands felt along the back of her neck and stopped at her hair.
Her hair was almost entirely gone. It was barely long enough to grip with her shaking fingers.
The nails on her hands were filed or cut short. Why were they so short? Why was she like this? Who was she?
“I’m Princess Celestia,” she said. Her voice was still there. At least that had not been changed. Everything else was changed. Where was she?
Her eyes turned to the ceiling: tiles. The ceiling was composed of gray tiles with a rectangle in the center made of some clear material. She could see white bars through the frosted cover. What was it? Her hands reached back and held the blanket closer to her chest. She heard a small crinkle and looked at the white knuckles of her hands. The covers were lifted slowly and Celestia noticed a small pocket in the front of her shirt. A piece of paper was folded up and tucked inside. Curious, she slipped it out and turned it over in her fingers.
The paper unfolded stiffly, and Celestia could see a short letter. She sat up in her bed and bent over the letter, examining the shaky, printed words.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Waiting for what your heart desires can be really hard. So, you may try to take a shortcut. But this dishonesty never works because you didn't earn what your heart desired. The only cure is being honest with yourself, and others. And that's something every heart desires.
She turned the letter over in her hands but found the only thing written on it was what she had just read. Apple Bloom. That was Applejack sister, wasn’t it? But where did this note come from? What was it doing here? This was definitely not a usual letter like the kind Twilight wrote.
Yet it was—or, at least it seemed it was—supposed to be a letter written to her like a friendship report.
What did it matter? Where was she and why was she here? Where was Twilight? Where was Luna? Was Luna playing with her dreams and giving her nightmares? She folded the paper again. Why this dream then?
“This isn’t funny, Luna,” she challenged the empty room. It echoed her voice back at her. She didn’t wake up. “I mean it! This isn’t funny!”
The silence deafened her ringing ears. A clang from the door shook her, and she hastily tried to shove the paper back in her pocket. The pristine steel door swung inward, and two humans quickly entered.
The first was a girl who didn’t look old enough to wear the scrubs she had on with any authority. Her wild, blonde hair was tied back into a messy bun, making her brown eyes stand out on her pale, impish face. Her fingers perched on the handle of the door as she took cautious, curious steps into the room. She looked like nopony Celestia knew.
Another human, a man, swept into the room like an advancing wind. Celestia glanced at his deep brown eyes momentarily before he held out his hand towards her.
“Now, you remember what we told you about the notes. Please give that to me,” he asked in a voice that was deep and resonant but seemed to have a familiar note of... mischief in it.
That voice was too familiar.
“Luna, I want to wake up now!” the woman on the bed called. The man looked pained and advanced towards her.
“Give me the note, please.”
Celestia seized the covers and held them over the pocket where the letter rested. Why was Luna not waking her up? She knew better than to keep her in dreams like this. Why would Luna keep her in a dream like this?
“Should I give her a sedative?” the girl asked, her hand fully wrapped around the handle of the door. Celestia’s eyes darted back to the man. This was either Luna’s idea of a joke or—
“No, That is not necessary. Besides, we don’t know how it will react with her treatment.”
Or this was not a dream. How this could possibly be real she did not know, but she knew that he was not getting this letter from her. It didn’t make sense, but somehow, she knew that she had to hold on to it. No, this has to be a dream.
His hand lay open towards her, waiting within arm’s reach for the letter. She shrunk away from him as her eyebrows drew together. He wasn’t going to get it.
“Honey, listen to me. Do not get nervous, that will only encourage her to act rashly," he cautioned the nurse. "But we must all be calm and reasonable—mustn’t we, Celeste?” He spoke without taking his eyes off of the trembling woman in front of him. He calmly kept his hand held out towards her.
“Do you really think I’m going to believe any of this, Discord?”
“Give me the note.”
“Answer my question!”
“Let me help you.”
She spat into his open hand. He didn’t even flinch. His steady gaze was beginning to make her shift. Why had she done that? She was never so disrespectful, not even to him.
“Please, may I have the paper?”
“What does it mean to you?”
“It means nothing to me. But to you, it furthers your delusions”
“Delusions?” she scoffed.
“You haven’t been well these past few years.”
“This is ridiculous!“
“Please, give me the paper.”
“Why don’t we talk then?” He turned from her and stepped towards a metal table with three chairs set around it. The chairs were bolted to the floor at a comfortable distance from the also-secured table.
The girl remained at the door with her hand wrapped around the handle and her eyes fixed on Celeste. Celeste didn’t move. She watched the man stand by the table patiently.
Something wasn’t right. He’s not gloating. Celestia looked at the girl who shifted nervously by the door. Who was she anyway? If this “doctor” was Discord, how did she know him? Why did she call him “daddy” when he could never have had a child? Did he adopt somepony?
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Well then, give me the note.”
“You have to give up one thing or the other.”
He shrugged and sat in one of the chairs.
“Then I’m just going to sit here.”
“Until I talk or give you the paper?”
“That’s the idea.”
“And if I talk to you, can I keep the note?”
She crossed her arms and settled into her bed. “Then I’ll do neither.”
“Celeste, you realize we can take the note from you at any moment. However, it’s better for you to give it to us.”
“Then you’re going to have to force me.”
His shoulders sagged with a heavy sigh. “I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.” He turned his attention towards the girl. “Sarah?” With a jump, she looked at him. “Please bring Nurse Alice. Tell her that Celeste isn’t cooperating.”
Sarah nodded her head and left, pulling the door shut behind her, leaving Celeste and the doctor in the concrete room. Celeste glanced towards the calm man, casually sitting at the table with his eyes fixed on her. She stretched against the tension in her neck. Meeting his gaze was uncomfortable; looking away from him brought the feeling of his eyes watching her.
Say something, she wished.
The room seemed buried in silence. Celeste heard the sound of the fabric as she shifted again. She could almost hear him breathe. She could certainly hear her own breath: rushed, deliberate, cautious. Her heartbeat started to throb in her ears. The rectangle of light from the window crawled towards the door. If only she could follow it and slip from the room as easily. But was Equestria just outside the window? She hugged her knees and rested her chin on them.
Nothing felt right here. The air in the room tasted stale, dusty. She was cold, but maybe the cold wasn’t just from her coat being gone. Would Twilight be outside if she could escape? Would Luna? Had they noticed she was gone yet?
She jerked her head up to look at the false doctor. Her face hardened. “My name is Princess Celestia.”
“May I call you Celeste?”
“No. My name is Princess Celestia.”
“Was there something you remember your friends calling you?”
“You’re not my friend,” she said after a long, emphatic stare.
“Well, I want to be.”
“You’re not yourself.” Why are you doing this?
How was she here? Not just in this room, but halfway over the table? Her knucklebones pushed against the sickly pale skin of her hands as she gripped Discord’s coat. She had grabbed him and was right in his face, challenging him. How could he make her lose herself so fast?
His brown eyes were terrifying. They were livid under his arched eyebrows. Celestia cowered back without realizing what she was doing. Her hands were a frozen lock on the collar of his coat. She could feel the cold paleness of her bloodless cheeks. His strong hands wrapped around her own, sliding between her fingers and palms, forcing her hands to release the crumpled white cloth. She looked away, sitting back down.
“That surprised you, didn’t it?” he asked.
She was too shocked to keep herself from nodding.
“You keep forgetting that you’ve been like this for a while. When we took you out of the catatonic state, this became your normal behaviour. That’s why we don’t want you writing notes to yourself.” He held out his hand but Celestia didn’t respond. “Celeste, look at the note.”
She gave him an unsure glance, but her hand slid into the pocket of her shirt, drawing the paper out between her middle and index fingers. As soon as she glanced at it, she felt like she wanted to hide it again.
This wasn’t a friendship report. As she unfolded the note, the smell of ash refused to rise from the paper. They always smelled like ash and smoke. She took a sniff from the folds but only smelled paper. The handwriting seemed to fit, though: rough, foal-like, and printed carefully.
But what had she just done? His eyes still burned her memory. She would never act like that before. Princesses remain calm under stress. What was wrong with her? What was wrong with him? He was definitely not the monster that had been resealed only a few months ago.
“Please...” he said. His hand stays extended towards the hesitant woman playing with the note in her claw like fingers.
“But... why should I even trust you?”
“Because if you don’t give me that note, I will have to stay here until you do, constantly trying to get you to talk. Do you want that?”
If they’ve reached her like this—no matter how odd this is—they can reach her again. One note could give her a couple hours of peace to sort her mind out.
His fingers met the skin of her hand briefly as she placed the letter in his palm. He trapped the note behind curled fingers once she withdrew her hand. She felt guilt sink into her chest as he gave her a comforting smile.
“Don’t worry. We’ll help you get through this,” he reassured her. He stood up and placed a strong hand on her shoulder. The gears of the door ground and the hinges squeaked as the girl pushed the thick door inward. Celestia kept her eyes fixed on the rounded edges of the table.
“I heard you needed my help?” a svelte female voice said.
“It’s unnecessary now; she’s agreed to cooperate,” he said, taking his hand from her shoulder and advancing towards the door.
“So, the drugs are beginning to work then?” the girl asked as she surrendered the door handle to Discord.
“Of course they are, Screwball,” the female voice said.
Celeste jumped as the door slammed shut.
Celestia woke up again. The first thing that reminded her she was not in Equestria was the fact that her room smelled like oatmeal. She opened her eyes to see a new woman sitting at the table, flipping through a book with her legs propped up next to a covered tray. She didn’t seem to fit the powder blue scrubs she was wearing. They covered her and weren’t too loose or tight, but they just didn’t seem to suit her. This woman’s full lips were locked in a scowl that shifted back and forth under a small nose and haunting green eyes.
Those eyes suddenly darted to Celestia.
“It’s about time you woke up.”
Celestia raised herself despite the heavy feeling in her head. Her eyes burned to be closed again. So Discord had two mares working with him. Or were they just two humans? What did they have against her? Were they perhaps... under his influence? Celestia’s eyes went back to the tray.
“Am I ever going to leave this room?”
“The bathroom’s through that door,” the woman said irritably. Her right hand gestured towards the doorway. Her eyes remained glued on the book she read.
“I’m aware of that... Is that the only other time I leave the room?”
“You have to be kidding me.”
“Nope,” she said with a pop of her lips.
“I can’t go outside?”
“Are you kidding me? You’d be dead in minutes.”
“We’re in the middle of the city! There’s not a nice ‘outside’ for you to walk around in.”
Celestia went to the window. Last night she had kept to her bed, hiding under the blankets like a filly. For the first time since she had woken up in this place she saw the metropolis that surrounded her. The world outside bustled and crashed without a pause. People walked around beneath her gaze with their coats pulled close. Any view of the distance was walled off by skyscrapers. Cars and truck swerved around each other haphazardly when not locked in a standstill. Through the thick glass Celestia could almost hear the horns and the shouts. So this is the world that Chaos would run. Her eyes rose and stared directly in the face of a ghost in the wire-infused windowpane.
The light illuminated her fingers in the glass as she touched her face slowly. She had felt her hair was cut short; she hadn’t realized just how short it was. The hairs were long only enough to show that she had strawberry blonde hair. Celestia couldn’t distinguish the color of her eyes. She turned around again to look at the woman.
“Can I leave my room?”
“You know better than that.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m just a nurse here,” she said, pulling her long ponytail tighter.
“What’s your name?”
“Alice. You might want to start eating. This has been sitting here for almost half an hour now.”
Celestia glanced at the covered tray with apprehension. Discord had talked with the woman and the girl about drugs. He said it was part of her "treatment".
“I’m not really hungry—“
“When does that make a difference? You still have to eat.”
Celestia’s throat tensed as she felt her hair bristle. “I don’t feel like it,” she said through a locked jaw.
“Either you are going to eat or I’m going to have to make you eat,” she snapped. Celestia strode to the table and looked at the woman until she responded with a scornful glare.
The tray clattered sharply on the floor, the covered bowl rolled around like a top as the containers of water and orange juice smashed, leaking their contents onto the concrete floor. Those green eyes didn’t scare Celestia. Even if she was going to remain kidnapped she was not going to be a victim. She kept her own eyes level with those of the woman.
“I said I don’t feel like eating,” she reminded her through an air of calm. She needed to take a step back. Something in her head hurt.
“Are you okay?” the nurse asked Celestia.
There was a scent behind Celestia’s eyes. She had smelled this once before. It was a scent that carried a warning. It was the scent of blood and something sweet, like vanilla sugar or honey. Every time she had smelled it before, the same thing happened. The black always came.
Two people knelt on either side of her. Something cold and wet pressed against her head while she felt fingers on her wrist. The floor pushed against her shoulder blades and hip bones as she lay there, dead relaxed.
“I think she’s coming out,” the girl’s voice said to Celestia’s right.
“She’s still feverish,” Discord said after Celestia felt a hand touch her face. She blinked her eyes open and saw the two human forms arching over her. She had fainted for no reason whatsoever.
“You said she just fainted?”
“Yeah, after knocking the tray over.” The voice came from her feet.
“Her pulse is fast,” the girl said and the finger around Celestia’s wrist released. She could feel that her feet were propped up on something.
“Open this. I’ll help her up.” Celestia heard something tear and felt a strong arm sneak under her shoulders. She blinked her eyes open to the ceiling as Discord raised her to sit. Her skin burned as she shivered from the sweat.
The girl held a plastic container of water in her right hand with the foil cover pulled back. She took Celestia's hand in her own and guided it to the container. She helped Celestia drink without spilling everything by her trembling. The water tasted like plastic but it was also cold and refreshing to her dry lips and throat. She finished the container in two gulps.
“Alice, could you please get us some more water?” Alice sat at Celestia’s feet, which she had propped up on her own legs. The book was still in her hand.
“Just a minute.”
“Now,” Discord said more firmly. The woman rolled her eyes and close the book after dog-earing the page. She didn’t open or close the door. Her footsteps just disappeared down a hallway. The door is open.
Play weak. Celestia thought. Make a run for it when they don’t think you’re strong enough.
“Can you stand?” Discord asked. Celestia silently shrugged. “All right, let me help you.”
As he helped her stand she kept her trembling at minimal and clung to him for support. Her feet slid a few shaky steps when prompted but her eyes glanced at the open door momentarily. She would try to outrun them. Once by herself she could figure out exactly what was going on and how far this illusion went.
How long did she have until the woman came back?
Celestia’s heart choked her as she lunged towards the door, shoving the girl towards the bed as she flew past. Her head began to pound after the first few strides. She kept her breath steady while her heart beat sharply in her chest. She didn’t dare look back. Which direction had the woman gone? Would she try to stop her?
Celestia turned left outside the door as Discord shouted after her. The tiles shined underneath her racing, bare feet. A set of doors stood in front and they became her goal as footstep advanced behind. Her footfalls echoed her heartbeat in the hall. With a few more leaping bound she pressed her hands against the gray bar in the middle of one of the doors.
The metal met her face with the full force that she had run at it. It was locked. Before she had a chance to orient herself, her arms were locked behind her back and she was on the ground again with her cheek smashed against the tile.
Celestia smelled blood and honey behind her eyes.
Celestia tried to hold on to her sleep. She didn’t need to open her eyes yet. Perhaps she could fall back into the dream. Maybe dreaming a little longer would allow her to see Luna. She had to be there, somewhere in the asylum in her nightmare she had to be there. Perhaps if Celestia had just screamed louder...
As Celestia shifted in her semi-consciousness, something resisted conforming to the bend of the fabric in the front of her shirt. Her eye that was not covered by her pillow opened. She lifted her blanket to look down and reached into the pocket. Within a minute a new letter was unfolded in her hands:
Dear Princess Celestia,
The delegates of Germane would like to have a word with you. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding concerning their lodgings while over here. I’ve penned them in to your free hour during 1 o’clock. The Saddle Arabian Ambassador reported you did not show up for your scheduled meeting. I will pencil him in for your free hour tomorrow.
P.S. I could not find you this morning when you were needed to raise the sun. Luna had to perform the task.
Did nopony noticed that she had disappeared? Celestia ripped up the note from her secretary. How had Luna not tried to contact her? She leaned forward over the table and massaged her forehead. Her pocket crinkled.
Celestia sat up and looked back to the bed. Hadn’t she just been there? The fragments of note littered her sheets. But, she was sitting at the table. While she took the note out she puzzled over how she was transported across the tiny room in less than a second. Perhaps Discord was playing with her even more. She should not be surprised. Her eyes glanced at the signature.
She fervently read the whole note:
My dear sister,
Where have you gone? As soon as I had a few moments I penned this. Please, tell me you are safe. Twilight doesn’t know yet but, as you have requested in the past for emergencies such as these, she will be the first called if you don’t reply or return soon. Please let me know if I’m being hasty or not.
She barely had any time to smile with relief before the door opened. She shoved the letter into the waist of her pants, hoping they wouldn’t notice.
The girl peeked in with a tray.
“Hello. How are you feeling?”
“Um... fine.” Celestia reached for the tray. Sarah reluctantly moved it out of her grasp.
“I’m sorry. I can’t let you handle it yourself after the incident yesterday,” she said, stepping around Celestia apologetically and placing the tray on the table. “However, I thought you might like some company.” She took the cover of the tray off to reveal enough food for two.
As Celestia sat down, Sarah handed her a wrapped set of plastic eating utensils with a napkin, salt, and pepper shoved in. Celestia took it and glanced at the covered plate warily as Sarah opened hers. The meal was spaghetti with a sauce that just didn’t look quite right. The way the pasta twirled around her fork suggested that it hadn’t been given enough time to lose all of its starch. After twirling a forkful, Celestia glanced at Sarah. She was so different from the other woman... Alice wasn’t it? How can two people under the influence of Discord have such dissonance in their personalities? was there any chance Sarah knew that she was being influenced?
“So, do you remember how long you’ve been here?” Celestia asked.
“Since January. I’m here for my residency.”
“For medical school. I want to work full-time in this hospital or one like it.”
“I see. What was your life like before you came here?”
“I don’t talk about that, actually.”
“Why not?” Celestia frowned, giving her spaghetti a sniff before reluctantly shoving it into her mouth. She was too hungry to care anymore.
“It’s still... personal.” she said, giving Celestia a long look.
“How did you meet...” What did this girl call Discord?
“He’s my dad.” Celestia adjusted her facial expression to remain casual despite her deep desire to cry. There was no way this girl was Discord’s daughter. Whatever he was doing to her was cruel. There was no reason for him to “adopt” someone, even temporarily. This girl would probably go crazy as soon as she was allowed to go back home and had her memories returned. If she was allowed to go home. Celestia couldn’t help but glance into the curious ice blue eyes watching her. They sat there, for a full minute, staring directly at each other.
“What is it?” Sarah asked.
“Nothing,” said Celestia, taking another bite of spaghetti. She wanted to get as much of this consumed as possible while the hunger still made it delicious. Her stomach began to protest.
“Can you tell me about Equestria?”
Celestia finished her mouthful staring at Sarah, confused.
“Why would you want me to talk about it? Isn’t... he trying to make me forget it?” she stabbed her spaghetti at the word forget. The fork bent and she got sauce on her hand. Sarah handed her a napkin before taking a bite of her own meal.
“He wants you to get better. He does care about you.” Celestia scoffed. "And, I'm curious. I would like to hear you tell me about it."
“You’ll just laugh,” she said, pulling back the foil lid on her apple juice. She blinked her cloudy eyes and looked towards the window.
“No, I won’t. I promise,” she said with earnest enthusiasm. She doesn’t know the illusion that holds her.
Did she perhaps come from Equestria too?
Celestia looked back to her and allowed a half smile to push into one of her cheeks. She blinked again as she took a sip of pathetic apple juice.
“Well, to wax poetical, Equestria is like a delicate glass sphere. When you’re not scared of it breaking at each casual breath, it can leave you enthralled with it's beauty as the light plays with it. There is so much magic hiding in everything there. Each flower holds a drop of magic all its own. They’re alive. They grow, they climb, they achieve and you almost wonder if they feel all that. Then they die and come back again. But there are so many wild patterns and colors. The scents are amazing. Of course you have flowers here, right?”
“Yep. I love Stargazer lilies.”
“You have those here? Good. I love them, even when their pollen gets everywhere and refuses to make your coat stop smelling.” Celestia closed her eyes for a while as the drop in her eyes crawled onto her eyelashes. She took another gulp of apple juice.
“Are you ok? You don’t have to tell me.”
“I just... I miss it.” She subtly licked the sweetness from her lips. “I just miss it. It’s my home. I don’t care what form I am in or where I am. Equestria is my home...”
Celestia closed her eyes and looked away again, calming the tears back inside. She felt warm fingers wrap around her own and slide underneath her hand to press her palm in a comforting squeeze.
“It will be ok.”
Celestia hesitated, letting her hand sit limply.
“My sister used to wake me up,” Celestia said.
“You remember your sister?”
“Wait. I have a sister here too?”
Sarah’s eyes refused to meet Celestia’s.
“Tell me more about your sister from Equestria. What was she like?”
Shoving the unease in her chest aside, Celestia continued, “Luna and I...”
Sarah watched her as for almost a full minute Celestia couldn’t speak.
“Go on. You can tell me.”
“Years ago, she and I ruled together. She controlled the moon and the night. I controlled the day and the sun. For a while we got along...” Celestia gave a bitter laugh. “At least I assumed we got along just fine. What I didn’t realize is that Luna had become overwhelmingly jealous. She was tired of seeing ponies ignore her night and her moonrise to sleep. I kept assuring her it was nothing important.”
Celestia closed her eyes for a moment to let her last words echo in her mind. Nothing important. She had told her sister that it wasn’t important that ponies see her nighttime sky. How could she have said it like that?
“What happened?” Sarah asked.
“She... turned... She turned into a monster. She tried to kill me. I could not recognize her. She was so different. I had to banish her. For 1,000 years I sent her to the moon and refused to see her. I was so angry. I hated her.” Celestia wasn’t even talking to Sarah anymore. The words just came out. “So many times I wanted to blast the moon out of the sky. I wanted to destroy her completely. So many times I began the spell that would kill her and destroy the moon she loved.”
“What stopped you?” Celestia sighed, locking her tears into her eyes.
“I don’t know.”
“What happened to your sister?”
And that is when it seemed silly all of a sudden. Celestia was a human, sitting in a mental hospital, telling a nurse about how she was a pony who banished her sister to the moon. How could it seem silly? It was real. She had done all those things. She was there. But now, she was here. She was a woman sitting in a metal chair bolted to the floor. She couldn’t be trusted to leave her room or ever handle a tray. Which was more ridiculous? Her being an alicorn princess... or her being crazy?
Sarah waited for the answer.
“She came back, banished me to the moon and the Elements of Harmony had to save me.”
There was enough silence for Sarah to look confused before Celestia burst into laughter.
“I’m sorry it...” Celestia tried to compose herself and laughed as tears sneaked out of her eyes. “It just never seemed silly before. I don’t know why it is. It hurt. It hurt like crazy. It nearly killed me. The guilt nearly killed me. I wanted to kill her and take away the guilt but I couldn’t because it was my fault in the first place! I turned her into Nightmare Moon! It was my fault!”
Each sob was a burst of hysterical laughter cut short.
That was the worst guilt of all: her sister’s transformation. Celestia had been the one to turn Luna into Nightmare Moon. Celestia hadn't cast the spell herself, she had just allowed somepony else to. Her advisors had told her to create an enemy to fight against; to reinforce her rule.
“I wanted to be the Queen of Equestria! That is what I wanted!” Her hand pulled the letter from her waistband crushing and crumpling it in her shaking fist. How could Luna have forgiven her? How could Luna still love her after knowing what she had done?
A strong arm reached around from behind and a hand grasped the corner of the letter. Discord had entered without her noticing. She pulled on the letter but his grip was firm.
“Give it to me.” She still resisted. “Don’t keep doing this to yourself. Just let it go.” She pulled it even closer to her and he pulled it back towards him. “You can’t hold on like this; it won’t help you get better.”
“It’s my letter.”
“Let go of it. Stop torturing yourself.” He placed his open hand on Celestia’s shoulder and she shrugged it off. Sarah watched Celestia with eyes brimming in pity.
“I promised her I would never do it again. I promised her we would stay together.”
“Let it go, Celeste. Let me have the letter.”
“It’s mine.” She pulled harder and began to twist the paper.
“You wrote it to yourself. Give it to me.”
“Let go of it!” She pulled.
The letter ripped in half. Celestia stared at the half clutched in her hand, horrified. What had she just done? She grabbed for the other half but couldn’t reach and fell out of her chair, landing on all fours. Her right hand knuckles smashed against the floor and she felt her nerves scream. She sat back on her heels, holding her injured hand, with the letter, over her heart to shield it from Discord.
“Sarah, get Alice. I think Miss Marlowe needs some persuasion.”
“Don’t you dare touch me!” Celestia snarled, “Give the rest of my letter back!”
His arms were around her, grasping her wrists and forcing her arms to strech out before her.
“Sarah, grab the letter!”
The girl knelt in front of them. Celestia looked her in the eye.
“Please, let me keep it,” she begged.
With strength that surprised Celestia, Sarah’s thin fingers twisted in between Celestia's and forced her hand open. The letter dropped to the floor where Sarah retrieved it. Discord did not release her until the door closed behind them.
“I’m sorry I had to do that,” he said, rising while Celestia curled up on herself. “You need to learn to trust us. Writing letters to yourself will not help you get better. I know you must be terrified but I want to help you.” He rested his hand on her shoulder again.
Her shoulders hardened, repulsed by his touch. She could feel her face twisting with revulsion. She turned her stiff neck and felt the muscles strain from the tension. Every muscle in her back pulled as she sat up and glanced towards Discord out of the corner of her eye.
“You want to help me?” she said in a low, seething voice.
Celestia heard his neck crack as she whipped the back of her hand across his face. He barely hesitated before his elbow pushed into her shoulder as he tackled her to the floor. Celestia coughed in the dust and from the pressure he put on her. Her eyes glared towards the figure above her.
“Do I need to put you in the bad room again? You don’t like it in there, do you?”
“I’ll do worse than turn you into stone aga—“ her own gasp cut her off as he twisted his elbow into the muscles of her back. Her eyes watered and she felt the floor press against her neck and windpipe.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Celestia sobbed.
“You attacked me. I’m merely subduing you. I will only let you go when I’m convinced you’ve calmed down.” Celestia let out a pathetic, choking gasp. “You know that tears don’t work here. Now calm down or I’ll call for Alice to help me put you in the quiet place. Do you understand?”
Celestia’s jaw trembled. She nodded as much as she could with her face shoved into the floor.
“I’m going to let you sit up again. If you try to attack me I will have to subdue you a second time. Do you understand?”
The pressure in her shoulder eased as she sensed him rising. She continued to lie on the ground, feeling crushed like an insect. His footstep advanced towards the door.
“I’ve beaten you before, Discord.” His footsteps paused. “Once I’m free, I’ll make sure this can never happen again.”
The door clanged shut.
Celestia refused to do anything that they willed for her over the next few days. Notes appeared and she barely had a chance to read them before either Discord or his woman accomplice would come and take them from her. Sarah never took them from her after that one incident. Twilight wrote. She wrote almost every day with terrified words, wishing to recall her teacher. How could she bring her back? Could Celestia even get back?
What was hard was when there was nothing outside of silence. The more she heard it, the more she fought against it: that pounding deafening ringing silence that throbbed in her eardrums and deafened her.
But, she would not scream. She would not talk to herself. Instead she would walk. In a few weeks, she supposed, the floor would have a dull ring where her feet made their paces on an invisible track. Each touch of her bare feet to the cold concrete soothed the constant raging in her mind. If she couldn’t find something to enjoy this would be a prison. Yes, it was a prison but it did not have to be. Only if they stole her mind would it become a prison.
But then, how would she know she was still in prison?
Celestia squeezed her eyes shut and continued the trek around the room again. She imagined her feet walking over the floors of Canterlot Castle. She could leave at any moment. She could turn aside to look at stained glass windows. The Equestrian air would waft around her, sparkling with magic.
Different colors lit her eyelids. Indigos and pinks flowed with blues and greens. She breathed and tasted the stargazers blooming beyond the open corridor doors somewhere. Her feet touched warm carpet. Celestia opened her eyes.
Immediately her gaze traveled upward towards the distant vaulted ceiling. Prisms cascaded down the marble walls in patient crawls. Her heart squeezed in her chest and she gasped in a sob. How could she be here? How long could she stay? This was real, wasn’t it?
“Good afternoon, Celeste.”
As soon as she turned her head sharply towards Discord, the room swept away like the stroke of a grey brush covering a sunset. She had imagined it. Or had she brought herself back for a moment? Discord entered, followed by the bored woman.
“What is it?” she snapped more loudly than she intended.
“It’s time for your treatment.”
Though the results wouldn’t change, Celestia still fought. But, she could not hold off two people and soon she found the floor pressing against her back as a needle slid into her arm, injecting a tingling chemical into her blood. Soon, she couldn’t push against the woman anymore and her limbs relaxed against her will. Her captors then proceeded to inject two more shots into her arms.
“If you agreed to take medication we would not need to subdue you in order to administer them. You realize that, of course?” Discord said.
Celestia’s eyes burned at him as they slid closed. She heard the sound of the door and then the ringing silence returned.
Celestia forced her eyes open. The ear ached in protest to being pressed against the metal table under the weight of her head. Why was she almost always waking up at the table when she fell asleep in her bed?
When she looked straight ahead the sound was gone and she stared at a baseball placed in front of her eyes. What was that doing here? Why was she given a baseball? Her head spun as she lifted her tingling arm to take it. Her hand went limp and slid off, rolling the ball towards the floor.
THUMP! Thump! Thump-thump-thump-thump...
So a baseball was making the noise. Would they take it away from her? Or had they given it to her to keep? The tingling in her hands immobilized her with pain as millions or needles burned in her skin. She moved her limbs and the tingling surged. Finally, her shoulders were free to move again and she could feel her legs. After agonizing moments of her body reawakening, she was finally capable of standing.
The baseball felt soft, as if it had been used. Was this making the noise? She turned towards her bed but hesitated. They probably wanted her to go to sleep. This baseball was probably a reminder from Discord that he held her prisoner.
She hurled the baseball at the window.
She caught it in her hand. The window remained unbroken but they might take the baseball away if she kept throwing it at the window. She took a sidestep to her left and threw the baseball at the wall.
It hit the wall
It hit the floor and bounced
The ball smacked into the palm of her hand without hurting. She threw it again and the ball made the same rhythm. Had she gotten a letter? A quick check of her pocket told her no. She tossed the ball at the wall again and it bounced back, but not high enough to reach her fingers. She seated herself and threw the ball a fourth time. After about ten throws, Celestia decided this was better than sitting with nothing to do, and the sound didn’t seem so striking once it got into a regular beat.
Celestia’s eyes flew open as a hand gently shook her by the shoulder. The ball was in her hand and she had fallen asleep while leaning against the wall. She looked up at Discord blearily.
“I think you passed out. It’s time for you to eat again. Please, close the door, Sarah.”
Celestia heard the door click shut and slowly climbed to her feet using the wall. How was she so exhausted? All she had done was throw a baseball for... how long? The sun came in her window at an angle that left a rectangle of orange light on the ceiling. The electric lights above her were warming up from blue to white. She tossed the baseball onto the bed weakly and looked at the tray, feeling her stomach growl. Rubbing her eyes cleared a lot of gunk away that had accumulated.
That meal was the first uneventful one Celestia could remember having at the hospital. Except for a few questions concerning how she was feeling, not much else happened. A fog seemed to float around Celestia’s mind, keeping her passive and sleepy. All she cared about was eating as much of her food as possible. She had never realized before how hungry she was. Maybe forcing herself to throw up her meals was starting to catch up to her. She was worried about drugs in her food. But, maybe just for tonight she could skip it.
“Now, isn’t this a little more pleasant than constantly fighting?” Discord asked her.
“I’m not fighting because I’m tired. Just wait until I get some sleep.” He laughed in response.
“I look forward to it. But, perhaps, consider giving us a chance at peace?”
Whatever had created the fog in Celestia’s mind had no effect on the level glare she gave him right then.
“You know peace is impossible, Discord.”
He looked away, obviously irritated.
“My name is Dr. Cruebel. You will address me as Dr. Cruebel and you will stop calling me Discord.”
“Quite simple.” He stood and picked the baseball off the bed.
“Now, Miss Celeste Marlowe, what is my name?”
The silence stood firm between them as Celeste kept her eyes fixed on the baseball. Sarah shifted in the corner of her stare. Time had passed so easily with the baseball there. Celestia had been stuck in boredom for almost a week.
Would Luna understand? Would Twilight?
Celestia studied the stitches of the ball, visible between the fingers of his hand as he held it towards her. It was obvious that he would take it away if she called him Discord again. Would it really be such a bad thing to call him Dr. Cruebel if she didn’t mean it?
Was this giving up?
“Do you have an answer?” he asked. She looked up towards his face. “What is my name?”
“Discord,” Celestia said, weakly.
His whole expression dropped the hope it had as he dropped the baseball into the pocket of his lab coat.
“Get some sleep, Celeste. Tomorrow is the day we talk.”
Sarah packed up the tray and utensils with rapt attention towards her task. Celestia watched her move, dazed. Sarah lifted the tray and followed Discord through the door before it shut in its normal, intimidating manner.
There was only silence to keep her company after the echo died.
“Miss Marlowe?” Dr. John Cruebel, as he called himself, asked Celestia, drawing her attention back to him and away from her nails, which she had been ceaselessly picking since that morning.
“I’m sorry, what?” the woman asked, feeling like she couldn’t focus on one thing at a time.
“I asked you to tell me about your sister Luna.”
Retorts whizzed around her mind too fast to catch them. Something seemed odd about his calm inquiry but she couldn’t decide what answer was most likely.
“I thought you didn’t believe me.”
“After some discussion with Sarah I’ve decided to change your treatment a little—”
“What do you keep drugging me with?” she asked before chomping down on one of her nails.
“Well... we started out by giving you what was originally intended to bring you out calmly. After a while we saw those drugs weren’t working so we had to try to shock you back into reality with... much stronger medication. I’m...” he watched her as she scratched at her hair furiously, “I’m afraid we might have made you a little... 'used' to the drugs we gave you. Now that we switched your medication again—”
“Is... is that why I’ve been having trouble...” she became intent on biting a hangnail on her left hand.
“Miss Marlowe, please stop that. I know it’s hard to concentrate. Part of that is my fault. But, as I was about to tell you before: I think you might have memories from your real life twisted up in this other life you’ve been imagining... What’s that face for?”
Celestia just looked down at her torn nails. It was growing harder each day to believe she was once the ruler of a magical land called Equestria. There was just one problem: Luna.
Luna needed her back. Celestia was no longer embarrassed to admit she needed her sister back too. She watched for the moon to pass in the night sky from her window. But this moon was strange. Instead of Luna or Nightmare Moon’s profile there was the face of a man. Never her sister. She had promise her to never again force them apart where they could not ever see each other. Was Luna wondering if she had broken that promise and simply run away? Were Luna’s letters of confidence in her sister’s character not so much to assure Celestia, but herself?
“I’m sorry. I was... thinking.” she realized that her eyes were clouded up and sniffed. Dr. Cruebel tapped the box of tissues in front of her and she took one, covering up the tear that dribbled out of her tired eyes.
“Anything specific?” he asked. Celestia shrugged as she crossed her arms. He looked at his hands resting together on the table. His lips tightened and Celestia saw him swallow as he addressed the empty chair in front of him while speaking to her. “I understand I’ve been a little rough with you since you’ve woken up here. I had hoped that your progress would be farther along and I got upset with you. Not only was it unprofessional, it did nothing to encourage you to trust me. I’m sorry.”
Celestia looked away. He may sound genuine but words didn’t heal the bruising on her back. He could speak all he wanted but he wasn’t going to change. He had hurt Twilight and the other elements of Harmony. Now he was not only hurting her but he was also hurting Luna. He would say anything just to get Celestia to trust him. She turned her face back towards the table when she heard something being set down. It was the baseball. Celestia looked at him with genuine confusion.
“I won’t use it as a bargaining chip. You’re not allowed to see other patients so you need some sort of occupation. I’m sorry I took it from you.” When Celestia didn’t move to take it he picked it up and held it out to her. She cowered back reflexively. But her muscles slowly released their tension. She withdrew her hand and cautiously reached out to take the baseball from his fingers. He released it, willingly, into her grasp.
“Thanks.” She mumbled, her cheeks blushing red.
“You’re welcome. Now, I would like to ask you some things. If you’d rather not talk, let me know. I will advise against ending the session, but I understand you might want to spend more time seeing if you can trust me or not. Does that sound alright?”
Celestia turned the heavy ball over in her hands. She nodded, half heartedly. Perhaps she could figure out what really had brought this change in him.
“Starting out: I couldn’t help but notice you have another note in your pocket. Have you read it?”
Celestia looked down at a small note tucked into her shirt pocket like the others. She took it out and Dr. Cruebel waved for her to place it in his palm.
She just stared him.
“Why should I?”
“I want to try something. I have a theory and if it’s true, you will know what this,” he pointed to the note, “says before you read it.”
“I haven’t been writing those notes.”
“Celeste, I am not angry or upset with you. I trust you when you say you haven’t written these notes... knowingly.”
“So when am I supposed to be writing these?”
“Perhaps in your sleep ...do you ever have periods of time here that you cannot recall?”
“It’s the drugs.”
“No, I can assure you that none of the side effects of the drugs cause memory loss. Please, Miss...”
“Call me Celestia, or Celeste or something else. Being called Miss Marlowe just makes me... I just just don’t like it...” she mumbled before biting her thumbnail and ripping the tip of it off, leaving her thumb a little sore as it started to bleed from where the nail had been.
“All right then. Celeste, I want you to tell me what you think this letter may say.”
“How could I know what is says?”
“Just... give a guess. Take a breath, close your eyes if that helps, relax... and take a guess.”
The woman stared at the box of tissues in front of her. She was so tired. She felt a dull headache above her eyes. Why was she even trying? She sighed and spoke half-heartedly.
“Dear Princess Celestia. We’ve been trying to find you for days. Luna has temporarily taken your position. I’ve been using my best spells to try to break through. I’ll be bringing someone with me but not Spike because I don't know how the spell to get him over here would affect him. I know what world you are being held in. We’ll find you. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.” she looked up at the doctor who sighed as he nodded at the paper before him. He looked up at her and handed the note back.
Dear Princess Celestia,
We’ve been trying to find you for days. Luna has temporarily taken your position. I’ve been...
She didn’t even finish. She couldn’t. Her head shook. She couldn’t keep reading.
“You did something!” she accused him.
He was silent.
“You read it over and over again to me when I was sleeping so I memorized it.”
He did not reply.
“You, you’re watching me and I read it but I forgot about it.”
“It’s your handwriting.”
“That’s a lie! I don’t even know how they get here! I don’t know where they come from!” The baseball thudded as it fell to the floor when Celestia stood. She strove to the window. “It a lie,” she whispered to herself repeatedly.
Her reflection watched her. This wasn’t a face of a Princess. This wasn’t the face of an alicorn. But this wasn’t her face! Her stomach muscled heaved. She squatted just as her stomach tried to expel what it didn’t hold. He throat burned and she spat the taste from her lips. The blood burned her face while her whole body trembled. A princess would never be seen like this. If Twilight saw her now...
Another wave from her stomach smashed her body into submission. Her eyes blurred everything. The smell sickened her even more. Her mouth and nose were aflame.
A hand, heavy with strength, rested over her shoulder as someone knelt next to her. A tissue was gently wiped across her face. The hand left when she shifted to sit with her back against the wall under the window. The note was still in her fist.
How could she have known?
“Did that help at all?” he asked. She closed her eyes as a new wave of tears began. A few tissues were pressed into her free hand. He could just take the letter now. He could just take it from her. He was Discord. He had done something. He must have. There was no other explanation.
Of course there was.
How did she know she was a Princess? Her memories. She had her memories. Where had they come from, if not from Equestria itself? Where else could she have come up with all that stuff?
But the letter... how could she have known what it said?
She looked at him again. What if? What if it was real? Not Equestria, but here? What if she was an ordinary human? What if by accepting that, she could find another life?
What about Luna? Twilight?
But, were they real? Could she have conceivably made them up based on something from her life... something she didn’t want to face?
What would she lose if she believed that this world was her real home? She could lose Equestria unless Twilight or Luna came to save her. What would she lose if she believed that Equestria was real? She could lose anything she might have here.
“You might need to take a nap now,” he suggested and helped her stand to shuffle towards her bed. The springs sank and squeaked as she sat down, with him standing before her. She turned the letter over in her hands and her bare ankles touched the baseball that had rolled under her bed.
She had no magic. She wasn’t an alicorn. She wasn’t a princess. She was human. What could she do about it? Keep fighting against what she was right now? Impossible. She had no power here. Here she was just... a sick woman.
“Would you like me to get you anything? A little something to put into your stomach? Could I being Sarah, perhaps? To keep you company?”
She shook her head.
“I’ll send Sarah back in an hour or so to check on you—“ he looked down at her upturned face. His deep brown eyes were under a quizzical brow as he glanced back towards her hand.
She was holding the note out for him to take.
“Thank you,” he slid the note from her finger and surge of panic ran through her. She had just given Luna's note away! What was she thinking?
“I’m sorry,” he said, pocketing the note. “This is for your own good. Do you understand?”
“Of course I don’t.” she mumbled to her feet.
“Get some rest. It will help,” he said, advancing towards the door. The metal rattled as he closed and locked it from the outside. Celeste brooded on the edge of her bed, letting tears fall onto her bare feet. With a sore back and exhausted limbs, she bent down and retrieved the baseball, rolling it from one hand to the other, pensively.
Nurse Alice breezed by after a few minutes to clean up her mess. She was background noise to the woman on the bed. After the sun crawled closer to the metal table, she left the patient behind.
The weight of the baseball tumbled from one hand to the other, slowly, rhythmically. She kept her mind blank but tears still brimmed and flowed over onto her cheeks.
Get some rest. It will help.
“Shut up...” she groaned. The blanket caressed her face while she crawled into bed and pulled the covered up around her. The pillow cushioned her head. She fell asleep after dampening it with confused tears.
I’ve had this dream before. She thought to herself. Screams raced in the shadows of the woods outside of her orange beam of light. She was running after something, something she had lost. It needed to be found before it was too late. Where was it? Her voice screamed a name she could not hear. Something called to her. Someone touched her. She turned around, protesting.
The room was hazy grey. Exhaustion closed her eyes again and she took a long, deep breath to calm her racing heart. She had dreamed that nightmare before. But when? In the dream, she was human. She had no dreams of being human when she was in Equestria. What time was it? Was it the same day?
She clumsily untangled herself from the covers and rose to walk to the window. A cloud was crossing in front of the sun and the city was still awake. Either she had not slept that long or had slept too long. Going back to her bed, she felt the pillow, still damp with tears.
Someone knocked on her door and Sarah entered after half a pause.
“Hello, how are you feeling?” she asked, holding her arms out to give Celestia a hug.
“Fine.” Celestia said, making no movement except to give Sarah a confused stare. Sarah lowered her arms, blushing slightly.
“Sorry it’s taken me awhile. I hope you weren’t bored.”
“No, I just woke up,” she said as her shadow suddenly traced her elongated outline on the floor in front of her feet. Soon another cloud would block the sunlight again and the shadow would fade into the floor. She crossed her arms in front of herself and felt something in her pocket. She had written another note? But why hadn’t she woken up at the desk?
“Do you need anything? I heard you got sick.” Sarah took a step towards Celestia and she resisted stepping back. Doing so would warn Sarah that she was hiding something.
“I’m still a little tired honestly,” she said, faking a casual laugh.
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t give you coffee or tea with your medication.”
“Try to stay awake though.” Oh good, she was leaving.
“I will.” Celestia’s voice was beginning to strain.
“Good.” Sarah began to make the bed.
“You don’t have to do that. It’s fine.”
“No, it’s fine. Oh, good! You got your baseball.” Celestia stepped back when Sarah tossed it to her. She probably should have tried to catch it.
“Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”Sarah asked, glancing at Celestia’s crossed arms.
“I am a little tired. I guess I’m somewhat grumpy too,” Celestia tried to hint subtly.
“Well, that takes care of it,” Sarah said, giving one last tuck to the immaculate bed. Anyone related to Discord would never make something so tidy from what was a complete mess.
“And you’re sure you don’t need anything?”
“I’m sure. Thanks.”
Sarah hesitated, something seemed to itch inside of her. She wanted something but was scared to ask for it. Her hands played with each other as she took a step backwards.
A thud sounded from farther within the hospital. Had something fallen? The outside hallway doors made no noise in her room. The second thud came even louder, closer.
“What’s going on?” Celestia asked Sarah, whose face had turned back to watch the door.
“It sounds like a patient. Hide in the bathroom. I need to see if they need help.”
Celestia obeyed the strange order. She squatted behind the counter where the mirrorless sink sat. The wall of the shower had her back while she peeked over the white countertop as Sarah opened the door. A shard of ice plunged through Celestia’s core. Did Sarah not feel it? Couldn’t she feel something wasn’t right? The muffled silence pressed on Celestia’s ears.
Sarah stepped out. The door closed, but the silence stayed there with the coldness. Something had been let into her room. She ducked behind the counter completely, hugging herself tightly, hoping to melt the ice taking over her chest. It was approaching, swishing, crawling towards her. Normally she would stand and charge whatever it was when it seemed best. But, now she was human.
The sterile walls greyed around her. It knew she was here. It was coming for her. It wanted her. It wanted to kill. Fear. Celestia was afraid. It was coming for her. Her body shivered with cold sweat. Her breath sounded loud. Her heart sounded loud. The beating of it closed her throat and deafened her to the approach of this thing coming for her.
“I know where you are,” a dark voice laughed. If Celestia was an alicorn she could face him. But, not now. He knew that full well. “Stand up. I want to see you now.”
Her body was locked. She closed her eyes and forced her sobs to hide themselves.
“I said stand up!”
He would hurt her. He wanted so badly to kill her. She could feel it. Was he truly as powerful as before?
The room darkened as something blocked the doorway. Celestia took a determined breath and cautiously peeked around the corner of the counter. A black cloud had sealed off the doorway. Smoke tendrils slithered onto the smooth tiles and slowly looked around for the prey they sought.
Yes, he was still as powerful as before. How had he found her? How had he come here?
Celestia rose to her feet and stared directly into the cloud.
“How did you get here?”
“I was brought here. As you were.”
“What do you know?”
“I know your darkest fears.” A tan hand curled around the doorframe, soon followed by another. “I know who you are. I know what drives you and what stops you. I know your deepest secret.” A bare foot stepped into the small bathroom. Celestia backed up against the shower as much as she could. Above her eye level, a tan face appeared from the smoke.
“Don’t do this.”
“Oh, you’re begging me now? That is wise—”
“I’m not begging you!” The smoke disappeared, revealing the full figure of Sombra, dressed as a patient. His grin twisted up his cheek. He had been clean-shaven and his hair cut short.
“Oh, but you are. You’re scared without your power.”
“I’m still Princess.”
“You can be more.” He held out his hand, riddled with bruises and scars, towards her.
“Where did those come from?”
“The scars are from you. You know that.”
“I meant the bruises.” She couldn’t help but gawk at the purple to yellow discolorations patching his skin on his arms and hands.
“They’re my own affair. They do not hurt at all. My power keeps the pain away.”
“Why are you still here then, if you’re so powerful?”
“I stayed for you,” he cooed, the same sinister smile on his face. Celestia gagged.
“Don’t even try to pretend—“
“You don’t have to stay here. I can get you out.”
“You can’t even get yourself out.”
“But we can get each other out.” Celestia looked at the hand he offered to her. “You know what to do. I offer you everything you ever wanted.”
“Yes... good. Let it control you.”
Celestia had clenched her hands tightly, wanting to charge him. Hatred. Fear. Her hands released. Control. She needed to control herself. Sombra’s grin was less certain. He still held his hand out towards her.
“Do you understand what I can give you?”
“I know what you can take away.”
“I told you, I wasn’t going to use the ball as a bargaining chip,” said another voice behind Sombra.
“What’s Sombra doing here?” she demanded of Discord.
“What?” Discord asked. He entered the bathroom and Sombra disappeared in wisps of smoke. He was genuinely confused. Celestia took a calming breath.
“Sombra was here a moment ago. You just walked right through him.” He turned to look behind at nothing, then back to Celestia with confusion and concern.
“Som-brah. He was there a second ago.”
“Celeste, there is nothing there.”
“I saw him. I felt him here. He wanted to control me.”
“What did he say?”
Silence stood between them.
“If he really wasn’t there, why would it matter what he said to me?”
“I was asking out of curiosity.”
“Well, out of curiousity, what was that noise in the hallway?”
“A while ago? Another patient attacked Nurse Alice. I had to intervene.”
“What are you doing here?”
“ Sarah told me you seemed distracted. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine! Why do you keep insisting that I’m not?”
He gazed at her reproachfully. She looked away. Of course. She was supposed to be crazy. He wasn’t going to let her know otherwise.
“I think your medication might be causing this. I’ll see about readjusting it,” he said before turning from the bathroom to leave. The door slammed behind him. Celestia rubbed her pounding forehead and remembered the note in her pocket:
I only hope this note will get to you. I have a feeling someone is intercepting your mail but perhaps I just want to believe that. I love you and I wish I could go with Twilight to find you but I trust she will bring you back to your crown. If Discord gets back alive, I promise you I will do all I can to prevent him from ever doing his tricks again.
Celestia’s eyes closed as she folded the note again. If only Luna knew what she was dealing with... She slid the note in her pillowcase and flopped down onto the bed; taking up the ball and rolling it from one hand to the other.
Sombra was here. Celestia could understand if Discord had brought him as another helper, but not another patient. He was really here, right?
The ball stopped. Could she have been afraid just because she thought he might be coming? The rolling resumed. No. He had definitely been there. Was he perhaps separate from Discord’s plan? Or was Discord trying to confuse her even more by convincing her that Sombra wasn’t involved? Of course, it wasn’t like Discord to team up.
The ball slipped out of the palm of her hand and tumbled to the floor. The creak of the mattress barely concealed a small clattering under her bed. Celestia tried to peek through the crack between her bed and the wall but couldn’t see anything. Leaving her bed entirely, she crouched on her hands and knees to retrieve the ball and peek under the metal frame.
It rolled from her hand as she peeked into the shadows under her bed. The space underneath was large enough for a filly to duck under. Celestia wriggled herself into the dusty space and her fingers wrapped around the object that had clattered. Crawling back out she coughed into her elbow and stared at what she held. The light from outside illuminated the dull blue plastic pen in her hand. She scribbled on her other hand, covering her palm in dark blue streaks. All of her letters were in blue ink. Was the handwriting the same?
Celestia took Luna’s note out and unfolded it before her. On her arm she wrote out “I am Princess Celestia” and compared the identical scripts. No. It was impossible. She had no paper to write on.
Why had Sarah insisted on making her bed?
Celestia looked where the mattress rested on a metal sheet with bars under it. She placed her hands on the edge of the mattress and pushed it up from the metal. It was all here. A pile of blank paper, like the kind used for drawing. How she had gotten it here made no sense.
No, she could not have been the one to put it here. Discord put it here to convince her that she was writing these notes herself. She angrily pulled all the paper from its hiding place, scattering the sheets like feathers as she flung them behind her. As soon as the bed was clear, she picked up the blank sheets and ripped a handful of them in half. She was not the one writing these notes to herself! This was a trick!
The door opened unexpectedly as Nurse Alice entered.
“I’ve had a long day so can we please just get this...” She gaped at the torn paper, taking her eyes from the case that held her evening dose of medicine.
“I didn’t do it,” Celestia hastily said.
“D...Uh...Hey!” Within a blur of minutes, Discord was standing in the room, staring at the mess.
“I didn’t do it.” Celestia repeated. He knelt in front of her, gently taking her left hand in his and turning her arm so he could read the words written there. Each stroke of ink burned under his dark brown study. He kept his lips a firm straight line.
The writing of the notes was exact to the writing on her arm. Discord didn’t leave the papers there. She had the chance to write these letters. She had the pen. She had every reason in the world to... write to herself.
The notes weren’t real.
She looked into his face as tears moistened her eyelashes. Dr. Cruebel. His name was Dr. Cruebel. His concerned eyes turned up from her arm to look at her. Dr. John Cruebel. If she thought his name enough times when looking at him it began to fit his face.
“I didn’t know I was writing them.” He nodded, waiting. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was... I’m so sorry.”
His lips pressed together as he swallowed. His eyes fixed on her hopefully.
“What is your name?” he asked.
She didn’t want to answer.
Envious, dark clouds had separated the sky from those who lived beneath it for at least another two weeks, darkening her room when the lights were off during the day. The city outside her window still continued. She tossed her head to get a strand of ever-lengthening hair out of her eye. It had grown at least three inches since she had been here. Perhaps four. Of course, she still had no clue what color her eyes were.
The lights of the bathroom reflected from the enamel faucet handles to sparkle in her eyes. Each hand rubbed the other furiously, sliding the soap off before she continued her task.
Half of the letter on her shower wall was gone by now. She had written it in liquid soap for some reason. She still didn’t remember doing it, but the message was still there. If they found out, her soap would have to be controlled again. They had finally trusted her enough to give it back in small rations and here she was using it to write notes to herself!
“Good morning...” Dr. Cruebel said cheerfully before his voice trailed off. “Celeste, why are you crying?”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry...” she whimpered as he stepped into the bathroom.
“Dear Princess Celestia... Oh no...” he groaned. She looked up at the letter, supposedly from Twilight. It was shorter this time.
“Dr. Cruebel, I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t even remember—“
“Of course, you didn’t. This was just a relapse. How did you sleep last night?”
“Every night I go to sleep it’s a nightmare,” she said with a sniff, wiping her eye with the unsoapy back of her hand.
“Would you rather we go back to the sleep medication we gave you earlier this week?”
“No. I don’t like being drugged just so I can sleep.”
“I understand.” He withdrew a piece of cloth from his lab coat and wet it under the faucet after the woman moved her hands out of the way. “Who was this note supposed to be from?”
“Twilight. The student.”
“I see,” he said, wiping the cloth across Dear Princess Celestia to remove it, “and this was all she wrote?”
“Yes,” she said, glancing at the words as he paused to shake his head at them.
“I’ll be there soon. Sounds almost like a threat to me.” He turned his face back towards her and she looked towards her bare feet. “Celeste, don’t let this scare you. This will stop eventually,” he assured her. Her feet traced the tiles as she chewed her lip. “Something else is bothering you? You said something about nightmares?”
“They’re different categories. Sometimes I run through the woods, trying to find someone before it’s too late. Other times, it’s an attack on Equestria. I had a dream where I watched you morph into Discord while we were talking...”
“I have a feeling there is something else?” he asked, gently after she paused for a long time. He stood next to her and she could feel his kind eyes looking to meet hers.
“Sometimes. I fall asleep and all I see is black. It’s cold. There’s a screaming wind and I feel a shard going through my chest. A shard of ice and crystal. It’s part... thought from Equestria. Memory, maybe.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the tiles beneath her.
“I think it will help you this time.”
“It’s... it’s from King Sombra. The day Luna and I overthrew him. He struck me and I felt it go through me without physically penetrating me. Every time I feel him close it flares up again...” His eyes felt like a small push on her, gently prodding the story from her grasp. “This nightmare though... when he came close it didn’t hurt as much. I wanted him close to me.”
“Did he touch you?”
“We almost did. I almost took his hand when he offered it to me. He promised to make the lies go away. He promised to take me to Equestria. He told me he would never fight me again if I helped free him from Discord. I could feel the warmth of his hand. That was how close I was to taking it.”
“What stopped you?”
“He called me his Queen.”
“Why did that stop you?”
“To be a queen I’d have to lose...” She rubbed her scrunched forehead, keeping her eyes closed tightly. “Why are you making me tell you this?”
“I’m sorry. I was just concerned about what was making you so upset.” He ran the water in the sink. “Here,” he said, handing the woman the piece of cloth. “Why don’t you wipe off the rest of the message. Imagine yourself wiping away the nightmares while you do it.”
She wrapped her thin fingers around the wet cloth and pulled it from his hand. Her eyes scanned the message one last time as she wiped it off in one clean swipe. It felt like an accomplishment of sorts. She ran the cloth under the water and used it to help her wipe the soap from her hands. The faucet choked closed as the handle turned the water off and she began to squeeze the water from the cloth onto the enamel sink.
Dr. Cruebel caught her before her legs gave out completely in her daze. She saw in her mind dark hair; beautiful dark hair clinging to a pale set of lips under an open pair of blue eyes. Water dripped onto a tile floor.
The patient’s hands gripped her shoulders almost painfully as she curled up into herself, shaken from some memory. Dr. Cruebel knelt with her. Her mind kept on that face. She had to hold onto that dead face. It was important somehow. She knew the face she saw wasn’t always dead.
“I knew her. ”
“You remember something?” he asked, letting her back rest against the counter. Her mind remained on the memory. The more she tried to hold it, the easier it slipped from her.
“I almost did.” He felt her forehead when she shivered.
“You’re feverish. Can you stand?”
“Can you try to stand up?” She shook her head. His arms cradled her as she was lifted up and carried to her bed. He deposited her there and wrapped the blanket around her shaking shoulders.
“I think a memory came back. Your brain is trying to reconcile the memory and it’s confused. Just hold that blanket over yourself. I’ll get you some Tylenol.” He flew from the room or perhaps it just seemed that way. Almost as soon as he left, a darkness bent over her.
“You didn’t answer me.” His voice was distant despite being whispered close to her ear. She closed her eyes tightly and shrugged his face away.
“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”
“Ha! Sick? You’re only sick because you want to be. Look at me, Celestia. It’s his fault you’re suffering here and it’s his fault that you’re lying to yourself.”
“Just leave me alone.”
“What about my offer?”
“Shut up! I’m trying to remember something!”
“I could help you.” His fingers almost graced her cheek. She quickly smacked his hand away.
“I’ll get out of here myself. Patient or princess, I don’t know yet. Either way, I don’t—“
“You need my help more than you realize!” he hissed close to her face. She shivered again. “Or do you want everything under your control—”
“Even if you were able to, I doubt you would be so generous as to help me.”
A strike of lightning cut him off. She could feel his body tense as he raised himself off of her. She opened her eyes to see him look towards the window. Thunder shook her moments after the lightning.
That’s a fast storm she mused, raising herself up. Sombra was gone and she was no longer chilled from his presence. Had he run away? Or never been there?
She felt inside her pillowcase for the baseball and rolled it from hand to hand as her feet touched the floor. She kept the steady motion up while advancing towards the window, her eyes fixed on the swirling clouds. Her door opened.
“Celeste, there is going to be a tornado. Come with me.”
“Isn’t this safety glass?” she asked, pointing at the window.
“Just a precaution. All the patients along the outside walls are moved to inward rooms. You’ll be back once this blows over. It should only be a few minutes.”
Noise filled the hall behind him as he held out his hand towards her. A blur of white ran across the door. Other patients...
She held the ball tightly and took his hand. He turned right outside of the room, closing and locking the door before leading her swiftly down the corridor in the line of rushing patients and staff. After the door, the group snaked left along the wall into another corridor, almost identical to the previous one.
Patients were filed neatly into their new rooms, few protesting and some unaware of their surroundings. Some gave her looks that left her feeling disgusted before Dr. Cruebel opened a door and led her inside. Her temporary room was half the size of the other one. There was only enough room to stand in between the head of her bed and the wall. The bed was the only thing within. An open door led to a bathroom. She was glad she had her baseball.
“I’ll see you in a moment,” he said casually, closing the door behind him in his exit.
“I almost wonder if you believe him...”
“Shut up,” she groaned, “Just get out of my mind...”
“I’m always here, Celestia. You wouldn’t send me away now would you?” Sombra asked, reclining on her bed as she turned and leaned against the wall.
“You’re only here because my mind is playing games with me right now.”
“Really? What’s your name then? Celeste Marlowe?” he laughed to himself, his face pointed towards the ceiling. “Of all the names he could have given you, he had to call you something so silly—”
“Will you stop it?”
“Well if you bothered to answer my question—“
“I’ve answered it multiple times already. The answer is no. I’m not going to trust you and help you get out. I honestly don’t even believe you’re here.”
His laugh darkened the room.
“Come here, Celestia.”
“You don’t like my company anymore?”
“I can’t. He’s locked me in here.”
“Except you’re not real.”
“And you can’t get rid of me?”
She hurled the baseball at his face and it hit him straight on the nose. He wisped away again. A frustrated sigh hissed from her lips.
She couldn’t react before he grabbed her arms from behind.
“That almost hit my face!”
“You’re ugly enough, a broken nose wouldn’t have done much to change your—AH!“ she cried out as he twisted her right shoulder forward while holding her left arm still. A sharp stab entered behind her right shoulder blade and stayed there as he held her.
“Oh dear, did I hurt you?” His tone fell into a sharp hiss. “Or did you forget that I’m not some prince, but a king?”
“Whatever you call yourself, you’re not a leader!” She gasped sharply as he pushed her left shoulder forward and pulled her right one back. She had felt this pain once when Nightmare Moon had tried to rip her wings off. A blast of magic had shot her off. She had no magic now and everything told her that Sombra should not be able to do this to her. Yet the pain was real.
“And what make you the authority on leadership?”
But when he did, it wasn’t voluntarily. Both of them were shaken off-balance and fell against the concrete floor. Something had hit the hospital. The light in the ceiling went out. In the dark a slap resounded as Sombra “accidentally” put his hand on the woman’s arm. Some scuffling preceded a growling cry of pain as the woman’s hand found a spherical object to bring down on the figure she sensed close to her. It hit somewhere that gave like a mattress.
“Stop hitting me! I’m moving.”
“Good. Now stay over there.” Silence made her somewhat uneasy. “And keep talking or making noise!”
“I could sing.”
“No, you can’t, Sombra. I’ve heard you.”
“Your sister liked my singing.”
“Leave Luna out of this! She wasn’t entirely herself when she knew you...”
“Ah, yes. Your little plan worked surprisingly well.”
“You enjoyed it, didn’t you? Your 1,000 years as Queen?”
“Of course I didn’t.”
“You could have stopped it at any time.”
“You know I couldn’t have.”
“Were your advisors really so powerful?”
“I thought you liked to hear me talk.”
“Well, forget what I said. I’d rather not have to listen to you.”
His laugh tightened her grip on the ball.
“Oh, and I suppose you’ll say next how all the damage done to her is my fault?”
Rising on her knees, she heaved the ball in his direction. Her cheeks burned as the ball bounced off the wall.
“Shut up! Shut up! You did more damage to her than I could ever do!” Her hands gripped the knees of her pants and she shook. “Say something,” she begged him, knowing he was gone. She was screaming at empty corners again. When the lights flickered on again she didn’t need to look up to see that Sombra wasn’t there.
He had hurt Luna. He was the start of jealousy; the first mistake that Celestia built on. Luna’s first rejection. Neither knew then what he would be. Even if Celestia had known, danger was exciting back then. She didn’t realize betrayal was eternal.
The foreign noble he had been: mysterious, daring, thrilling. As a noble he was eligible for a contract in the form of marriage. Why had he not chosen Luna? The one who enjoyed his company? The one who took him through moonlight and showed him the stars? Why not her?
Power. That was all. It wasn’t because he couldn’t stand the night, as he had claimed. He wanted the sun to do his bidding.
“I hate you.” She spoke alone in the echoing room. She had given him exactly what he wanted. In exchange, he took everything. It was her fault. She wanted to be a good Queen, right? She thought he would make her just that: a good queen.
“Is little Celestia crying?” Sombra taunted in her ear.
“Leave me alone, Sombra. I don’t want to be Queen.”
“It is easier than you think. Just help me and I’ll—“
“Shut your twisted mouth, Sombra!”
The struggle was pathetic. In this world, brute strength overcame elegance at a moment’s notice. He pinned her in his arms against his chest, no amount of struggling freed her. She squirmed completely and kicked with her legs while her arms remained locked under his.
“Get off!” she screamed as the door flew open. She looked up at Dr. Cruebel, her arms behind her back, held by no one. He looked at her, pityingly.
“Celeste. When you’re bored play with your baseball. Don’t imagine yourself fighting someone. I’m afraid you’ll hurt yourself one of these days.”
She hugged herself, looking at the floor in shame. He retrieved the baseball then held it out to her. She took the worn plaything from him and gripped it tightly in her hand as she followed him back to her room.
“So, you’re going to ignore me?”
“I should have known. Ignore the problem—”
“That’s how you handle everything else.”
“What’s next after throwing the ball against the wall again?”
“Oh, I see, throw it again because you have nothing better to do.”
“Forget your home, you have fun to attend to.”
“Oh but, of course, you’re not a Princess anyway.”
“You’re some crazy human who doesn’t know who she is.”
“No retort, Celestia? Or should I say, Celeste?” He spat out the last word.
“You almost want to be Celeste, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
He took her thin face in his hand, forcing her to look at him. She stared back, dully.
“You weren’t always this weak. How could you really be Celestia, if you can’t even fight for your own name?”
The scent of his charcoal breath disappeared with him. The patient in her room dropped the ball and hugged her knees as the door unlocked and admitted the black-haired nurse with medication. The patient held out her arm obediently.
“You’re almost completely off this...” the nurse muttered, injecting about one measurement of fluid into her arm. That might have been the closest thing to kind that the nurse had said to her since she woke up in this room.
Today she was going to find out. Finally, after weeks of her hair inching towards her shoulders and Sombra's growing presence in her mind, she was going to hear the full story. She had figured some of out it herself. How, she did not know. She still felt like the name Celestia belong to her... but it grew more foreign each day. After today she would have to decide. She would either continue believing in her name, or she’d take her new one.
Her arm could barely lift the baseball to throw it again. She wrapped her arms around her legs, hiding her face in her knees. She didn’t want to give up. What if she had to? What if...?
She didn’t want to ask herself these questions. So many other questions needed to be answered. Then again, one question changed them all: Who am I? She had been asked that so many times already. The answer was always granted to be Princess Celestia.
“And still you won’t listen to me?” Sombra scoffed, his voice directly next to her right side.
“I have to figure this out,” she said, sitting back.
“And there’s something to figure out?”
“Of course there is.”
“All you need to figure out is whether you’re going to help me or not and I won’t accept no—”
She turned her reproachful face toward him. If he ever gave a genuine reaction it was then. As he looked her in the face his drawn brow lifted and his eyes opened from their malevolent glare into concern. His lips softened into a straight line.
“I don’t know who I want to be. I don’t know if I want you to be real or if I want Dr. Cruebel to... not be Discord. I love everypony in Equestria but am I still the leader I once was?”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“I don’t know. If Equestria isn’t even real then it doesn’t matter.”
“And if Equestria is real?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s the best you can offer? What is wrong with you?”
“This!” she shouted, holding her left arm out properly so he could see. The nurse had injected her left arm with only a glance at who she injected so she hadn't seen it. Of course the patient must have imagined that he wouldn’t know. Conversations are more interesting that way. His black eyes ran over her skin and his mouth opened slightly in surprise.
“How did that happen?”
“I don’t know. I woke up in the middle of the night with my arm burning. I saw ‘Dear Princess Celestia, look outside...’ before the letters cooled and my arm paid the damage for it.” She ran her fingers over the blistering flesh. “ I just want it to go away. I keep trying to think of other ways I could have burned it. It was worse only moments ago. I dont't know how it's healing like this. I would be scared to show Dr. Cruebel except I hope he can explain what’s happening.”
“And if he can’t?”
She shrugged helplessly. Within a breath, Sombra grabbed her by the shoulders and stared forcefully into her face. After an eternity of uncomfortable scrutiny, he let go of her in disgust and rose, walking towards the window.
She had acted irrationally many times in her life. Now was another embarrassing example. Almost as soon as he stopped in front of the window she rushed to him and clasped her arms around his waist from behind, holding him tightly against her. She wanted to know if he was real. He felt real but as real as everything here felt. Her arm had been burned but was there any other explanation? Who was this Celeste Marlowe she was supposed to be? What if she had to be her instead of Celestia? What if she had to give everything she loved up?
Sombra turned in her hug and folded her in his arms. His warmth was so real. His scent was so pungent that it was almost overwhelming. She heard his heartbeat against her ear as she closed the tears up inside her eyes. The fabric of his shirt pressed against her face as he breathed in and out.
Hold me tighter. I’m scared. She begged mentally. His embrace grew more fervent. His arm crossed her back as his hand dwarfed her shoulder. His right hand pushed her head under his chin. She could feel the pressure on her skull. Her heart tried to dig itself out of the game of conflicting of emotions playing inside. He was dangerous and forbidden, exciting and horrifying, awe-inspiring and monstrous. But, was he real? Was he really here, holding her, enfolding her against him?
His lips pressed down on top of her head.
“Be my Queen. Come with me and we’ll rule Equestria together.”
No. I can’t.
The door opened and the woman found herself holding and being held by nothing. Her hands gripped her arms as she turned around to look at Dr. Cruebel and Sarah. Both of them smiled pleasantly at her but she could see they knew something was amiss. Sarah placed a substantial box of tissues on the table while the woman’s feet advanced slowly to sit with them.
“You’re nervous,” Dr. Cruebel noted, sitting down after Sarah and his patient.
“That is perfectly normal. But, if you want us to stop at any moment; if it becomes too much for you, let us know.“
She nodded. Sarah smiled at her comfortingly from across the table.
“Well, let’s start off then.” Dr. Cruebel opened a folder enough to pull out a typed sheet. Sarah took out a pad of paper and poised her pen over the surface, ready to write.
“Excuse me. I just need to get something,” the woman excused herself and retrieved the baseball. She blushed as she returned to her seat. It was silly, but she felt like the baseball helped her feel less exposed.
“Of course. First of all, Celeste, could you tell us what you do remember. You’ve told us about a face and... what else is there?”
“You did mention once that you had a nightmare—”
“I’ve had nothing but nightmares here.”
“I know. But, I remember one you said you were searching for something by flashlight?”
“In the woods, you said?”
“I don’t remember exactly what I said.” She rolled the baseball from one hand to the other and felt her heartbeat recede from her throat.
“Yes, I believe you said in the dark but you also said you sensed some trees around you. Did you have any other nightmares that didn’t seem to fit your... Equestrian reality?”
“No, ever since I saw Sombra that one day he’s been the only thing I dream about.”
Dr. Cruebel cleared his throat abruptly.
“And before then?”
“It would just be parts of my life from here.”
“Alright then. Do you remember, somewhere in those dreams, a middle-aged man who wore glasses?”
“No, you never wore glasses in my dream.”
Sarah stifled a snort as the woman realized her mistake and looked at Dr. Cruebel, who seemed to be fighting every centimeter of his blushing face for composure.
“You kinda walked into that one, Dad.”
“I’m actually not middle-aged... I just started graying prematurely,” he explained, loosening his tie slightly. Sarah stared at the ceiling until the laughter subdued itself.
“Sorry. I... I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s fine. I was more asking if you saw a clean-shaven man who could have been your father.”
“Not that I remember.”
“Well, perhaps we should go to a more familiar face: the face you had a vision of. Can you recall the face now?”
“Yes,” she muttered to the baseball in her hands as she resumed rolling it back and forth over her fingers.
“Good. Now, I have a few picture here of faces matching your description and I want you to pick out the face you recognize as being hers.” He reached into the folder again and pulled out a Ziploc bag of portraits. They skittered over the tabletop as he dumped them out. The woman reached forward and brushed through the picture, trying to see them all. Something about a school photograph of a dark haired girl wearing a ponytail and a crooked smile seemed familiar. She pressed her fingers to the photograph and pushed it towards Dr. Cruebel.
“She was like this... except older.”
He sighed as he picked the photograph up. The name “Selene M.” was scribbled on the back of the photograph in loopy cursive pencil. He pulled another picture from the file and handed it to her along with the picture she had just given to him.
The schoolgirl had grown up. This girl was the face she had seen. In the second photograph another woman stood with the first; a woman who was still new to adulthood. It was the patient looking at the photograph now. She must look different but the face was almost exact. The hair was longer and had gentle, gradual waves to it. A crooked smile matched the younger woman’s as they hugged each other next to a Christmas tree.
Christmas tree. That wasn’t something she knew about. Yet... it still was in her mind. It was like when she knew she was human. She just knew.
“Her name was Selene,” he said. The woman looked at the back of the photograph even though she had seen the name already.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” the woman asked.
“Yes. She is. She died a few months before... before you came here. I think her death was the first thing that led to the final build-up of you... coming here.”
“What about my parents?”
He handed her another photograph: a couple fitting the description of the man he described with a woman who resembled the girls in the other photographs. The man’s hair was only beginning to grey. He wasn’t quite middle-aged yet. They sat in two adjacent chairs, looking at each other happily while holding hands.
“Your mother passed away a few months after that photograph was taken. No one in your family realized she had stomach cancer until it was stage four. At that point your family had already lost your brother.”
“Yes, the nightmare where you are looking for something? I think you’re remembering the night you all lost him. He wandered away during a family reunion and got lost in the woods. Unfortunately, nobody ever found him. There is a casket with his clothes buried next to your mother.”
“How old was he?”
“Three. I think you were about thirteen when this happened and Selene was about eleven. Aiden was a bit of a surprise child.”
Aiden. That must be the name she kept shouting in her dreams but couldn’t quite hear.
“Unfortunately he’s gone now too. That’s when you shut yourself off completely. He passed away about a year ago. Like your mother, he had cancer. Only, with him, it was pancreatic. There usually isn’t much hope once that is discovered.”
The woman’s eyes looked over the three photographs. She could so easily push them aside and call this an elaborate hoax. But, the face of her sister had been there, in her mind, before.
“How did Selene die?”
“Drowning. One winter afternoon she went for a walk and disappeared. Later, she was found frozen in a stream not far from your house.”
That was why water had flowed from her mouth and splashed onto the tile floor. She was thawing out. The patient dropped the ball and rubbed her forehead with her right hand.
“I’m alone then.”
“You’re never alone. You still have family that would love to take care of you. It was your paternal aunt who committed you here.”
“They’re all dead.”
“You have lost more than anyone ever should have. But, by locking yourself inside this Celestia, you have lost everything.”
“But what if just the opposite is true? What if I lose everything by becoming Celeste Marlowe?”
“You are Celeste Marlowe. Returning to Celestia will not change what happened and it won’t change who you are.”
“And just why would I want to be Celestia?” she snapped. Dr. Cruebel leaned back, giving Sarah a confused glance.
“Why wouldn’t you want to be? What does Celestia offer for you that your real life cannot offer?”
“All right. For one moment...” He perched his right hand on the table. “Let’s say that this world is not real.” He mimicked his right hand with his left. “And let’s say Equestria is also not real and you had to choose between Celeste and Celestia.” He held both of his upturned hands, palms open, towards her as if he was offering the two choices. “Which one would you choose?”
She closed her eyes to help her think. Was Sombra watching? Was he perhaps behind all this? Maybe he did this to try to find out... Had he suspected? Or was this man really Discord? She had only spent a few days believing he was Dr. Cruebel but even so, calling him Discord in her mind no longer fit.
Was Sombra watching, invisible to everyone? Did he want to know the truth? What would Sarah think? She was such a sweet girl and so much like a child in her gentleness. Would she be disgusted? She needed to tell them. She was the only one who knew outside of a room of ponies who were now dead. She had to say it.
“Celeste. I would choose Celeste.”
“Why?” he asked, as she knew he would.
Her lips trembled and she pressed them together to stop the shaking.
“Celeste?” he asked, gently.
She was incredulous at what was about to come out of her mouth. Her mind moved outside of her body as if watching her actions from behind her eyes. she picked up the baseball and her thumb scratched the leather, building up residue under her nails.
“As Celestia,“ her voice said, “I’ve made some choices that bring so much guilt to me that... sometimes I can’t sleep at night.
“As Celestia, I controlled the sun. My sister, Luna, controlled the moon and the stars. We lived in peace... as the legend goes.” Her bitter laugh broke in for a moment and she calmed herself before continuing, “Legend gets so much wrong. Legend says that she was envious only because ponies ignored her night and went outside during the day. That wasn’t even half of it.”
Each word had to push itself out of her lips now. She shivered and struggled against keeping it back. It was building up inside of her and she had to release it before it choked her.
“She was jealous in so many ways. But, the worst way was because of a neighboring king called Sombra. When I first met him he was only a foreign noble. He later took over the Crystal Empire and offered his allegiance with us. That was when Luna fell in love with him. I remember my mane was pink back then. I used to be so proud of it. I used to think I was so beautiful. That’s part of the reason I told myself that I was pleased when Sombra rejected her and pursued me instead.”
“I see. But, it wouldn’t have been your fault or hers if he chose you over her.”
“Dr. Cruebel you are surprisingly perfect in your questions.” She laughed again. She was almost certain Sombra was listening. She could almost taste the scent of charcoal as the feeling of eyes whispered down her spine.
“I don’t understand,” he said as the woman shifted without finding any new comfort.
“Luna didn’t fall in love with Sombra. Sombra didn’t fall in love with me. I don’t work with dark magic. Back then it was just too difficult. I had to work with positive magic... and I twisted it. Reforming spells to force a pony to change against his or her will, happiness spells to simply get rid of depression... spells that had good intentions... but spells that could be misused all too easily. One spell I played with was a love spell.”
A sharp breath pushed the hairs on the back of her neck.
“I cast a spell on Luna so that she would fall in love with Sombra. Then, to make her jealous, I cast a spell to make him fall in love with me. It wasn’t true love, just petty infatuation. But, it worked. Her jealousy grew to the point I wanted it to. It consumed her. When I hoped to merely dispatch him she instead banished the Crystal Kingdom forever. Then, she came for me.”
She looked up at Dr. Cruebel again. The maelstrom of his emotions was impenetrable. Was he angry? Disgusted? Pitying? She couldn’t tell. He kept his mouth fixed and his burning eyes focused on her.
“Dr. Cruebel. I banished my own sister to the moon for one thousand years to suffer alone in jealousy, hurt, and maybe confusion. She wasn’t herself. I did all that because I wanted to be Queen. The night I banished her was the night my mane changed to be four colors instead of one. It changed because in that moment I knew that everything I fought and cheated for wasn’t worth the cost. I lost the Crystal Empire, I lost my sister, and that night I dismissed the board of advisors. I barely kept Equestria together after I almost tore it in half. So, if I could choose, I would much rather be Celeste than Celestia because at least Celeste Marlowe did nothing to destroy what she should have loved!”
The baseball fell to the floor as she wrapped her arms around her waist, constricting her diaphragm. She jerked with suppressed outbursts. A huge weight was gone from her but talking about what she did couldn’t change anything. She kept her eyes turned towards her crossed arms and bare feet poking from the cuffs of her pajamas. She choked on each sob as her face twisted, trying to let her cry. A deep, shaking sigh came from Dr. Cruebel. She saw white move in the corner of her eye. He cleared his throat and she looked up enough to see him hold the baseball out to her.
“You are Celeste Marlowe.” Her eyes turned to his. There was a hint of red in them but they were determined. His voice softened to almost a whisper as he emphasized each word. “You. Are. Celeste. Marlowe.”
You are Celeste Marlowe.
Eternity stretched out between them. He had every right to look at her with revulsion, but he didn’t. He didn’t hate her. He wasn’t disgusted. He was... giving her a way out. He wanted her to no longer be in pain. This wasn’t real to him. But, could it be true? Could she really be Celeste Marlowe? Could she even make that choice to just be Celeste and not Princess Celestia?
“Sarah,” she asked. Sarah looked up from a full page of notes, “May I please borrow your pen for a moment?”
“Go ahead.” Dr. Cruebel said to her when she hesitated, looking between the two of them, uncertainly. She handed the pen to the woman who pushed back her left sleeve, the burn no more than a light pink sunburn now. Ignoring the pain, she took the pen and wrote on her arm. She had done this before to see if the pen in her room was the one writing letters to her. She spelled out almost exactly what she had written on her arm that day, but this time the words read differently
I am Celeste Marlowe
The “e” crawled onto her wrist from lack of space. It was all there. Her signature. Her choice. She placed the pen onto the table and stared at her arm. Her eyes closed. Celeste’s eyes closed. She was Celeste Marlowe. She didn’t need to feel guilty anymore. She could make this choice and everything would have never happened.
She breathed deeply and a small chuckle sprung from her lips. She smiled and laughed again, feeling her lungs breathe eagerly, hungrily. She could breathe. The guilt was gone and she could breathe. She was just Celeste Marlowe. Her laughter grew slowly in small burst.
She folded her hands over her mouth as she looked at Dr. Cruebel. He looked at her cautiously but she saw a shimmer of hope glistening in his eyes.
The corners of her mouth pressed into her cheeks as she nodded.
Her celebration ended too soon. Behind Dr. Cruebel stood a familiar sight: Sombra, his face a representation of pure rage, glowered at Celeste. Violet smoke began to creep from the corners of his eyes.
This isn’t over. His lips said without any sound. Celeste almost looked away but then his face turned suddenly and his lips curled as his eyes gazed towards Sarah.
One startled blink and he disappeared again.
Celeste writhed, curling up on herself as her skin burned. She could smell the heat singeing her clothes. Her eyes glanced down to her leg and read the words illuminated there through a watery film:
Look out your window.
She flew from her bed and entered the dark bathroom, the fire in her skin lighting the way. After applying cold water she could feel blisters rising under the declaration still written on her left leg. She would never be able to sleep like this. Even if this was another hallucination, the feeling was real enough.
Her eyes avoided the window as she lay back down, wrapping her leg in the top sheet. She felt her skin burst in some places but at least the sheet should keep it from aggravating. Her head sunk into the pillow and she closed her eyes against the concrete darkness.
Ever since earlier that day, something terrified her every thought. Sombra was going after Sarah now instead of her. But how could she even see if that was true? Sombra was only a hallucination. Wasn’t he? Why had he not seen her since then? Where was he? The thought of him around her, treating her like he had treated Celeste...
He’s not real. There is no reason to be scared. You are Celeste Marlowe. None of what you’ve imagined is real. Everyone will be safe tomorrow. You’ll see.
Her thoughts continued walking along the twisted roads of her mind until sleep took its place.
Celeste opened her eyes to see the black-haired nurse at the table, hunched over a book. The patient shifted cautiously. The burns on her leg seemed to hurt no more than a sunburn as she untangled herself from her bedcovers. On the chair opposite the nurse the breakfast tray sat. The nurse ignored Celeste’s stretching and approach to the table.
“Where’s Sarah? You haven’t brought breakfast since the first time I was here.”
“Is Sarah ok?”
She turned the page of her book, giving a half-hearted shrug.
“What? No sarcastic retort?”
“I’m not in the mood. My diet got reduced and nobody can explain why.”
“Diet? What do you need a diet for?”
“Shut up and eat,” she said before breathing in sharply and holding her growling stomach. Hunger actually pained her. When had she eaten last time?
Celeste stopped speculating and sat down to eat her breakfast. Halfway through her oatmeal the nurse winced again.
“Do you want any of this?”
“No, I’m on a restricted diet.”
“There are very few things that don’t make me sick—ugh...” She blanched. “This book isn’t one of them...” she said, closing it. Celeste could not see the title so she continued her meal. The nurse stood up and looked out the window, probably for distraction.
“I’m glad it’s finally cleared up,” said Celeste before emptying the cup of water completely. She hated drinking out of plastic containers but hopefully it wouldn’t be much longer until she could enjoy a more civilized meal. Then again, she had no way of knowing how long it could take for her to get out.
The nurse just continued to stare out the window. Celeste finished her meal while taking sidelong glances at her.
“Are you done yet?” she asked after an invasive silence.
“Just my orange.”
“I’ll take the tray then.” She said, turning back around. The light cut into the hollow of her cheek. She definitely looked hungry.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Celeste couldn’t help but ask, examining the dark circles under the nurse’s eyes.
“I’ve had no chance to sleep these past few days,” she sighed. She lifted the loaded tray with trembling hands as her red eyelids moistened. She whisked herself away, stifling a yawn with the arm not holding the tray and book. So she was alone again.
Her shirt shushed against the wall as she slid down to sit, the baseball in her hand. Quickly checking her leg, she could see the burn was gone already. Only one more thing to do.
Celeste sat with the baseball ready to throw in her hand. The small sound was from her window. Either a bird had flown into it or something small had hit the glass.
Celeste glared at the window. All the messages that had burned themselves into her wanted her to look out the window. What was supposed to be out there? Luna? Twilight? The armies of Equestria? She had to stop imagining.
After the third toss her cheeks began to cool.
No, she was not going to look out the window.
Perhaps if she focused on the task at hoof—hand! Perhaps if she focused on the task at hand she could stop these hallucinations. She was guilty of nothing and magic was not real. She had just imagined getting burned.
The feel of the leather covering gave a small comfort to her. The consistent “THUMP-thump Th-thump” was a calming rhythm to pace her breathing by. When she got out of here she would find a nice town far away from the city and enjoy each day to herself.
Breathe in and out. Focus each breath but don’t force it. She closed her eyes as the constant intake of oxygen rushed to her head. The headache would help.
Involuntarily she slung the ball at the window. It bounced off and rolled to the door leading towards the hallway.
“SHUT UP!” The echo of her outburst rebuked her. She just told a rock to shut up. Instinctively, she waited for Sombra to appear next to her with a sarcastic remark. She was still alone in the room. Did Dr. Cruebel still consider it too dangerous for her to meet other patients?
Celeste sighed and retrieved the baseball, ignoring the next clink against her window. It would stop sooner or later. It might just be someone playing a prank. Any moment now the stones would stop.
Celeste listened for what felt like forever for the next stone. Finally, it was over.
Before the ball reached her fingers she fell over in a fetal position, screaming before she could register the pain that provoked her reaction. Burning. Burning across her stomach. Something seared her flesh like a knife, bringing a pungent stench to her nostrils. The wound was being cauterized as it was being made. Memories she would rather not have came back: the battlefield after the banishment. They had to stop the bleeding. Her mane was no longer pink. Her sister was gone. She had lost the Crystal Empire.
“Where does it hurt?” Dr. Cruebel asked, trying to keep his calm. Celeste hadn’t noticed him enter. How did he appear so quickly? The nurse knelt in front of Celeste, seemingly mesmerized.
“My stomach! It’s burning!”
“Muscle pain?” he asked, confused.
The nurse’s eyes opened wide and her hand shot out to lift Celeste’s shirt enough to see the burning across her abdomen.
“It’s literally burning. It says ‘Help me!’ I... don’t understand.”
“I don’t either. Grab some ice. Quick!”
She made no delay to obey his rushed command. Celeste curled up on herself, shaking as tears helplessly trickled from her eyes. He rubbed her back with his hand, trying to offer some comfort, perhaps.
“It’s not burned this badly before.”
“This happened on my arm and leg too. Somehow within an hour or so it would be healed. I wasn’t sure how to tell you.”
“How does it feel now?”
“It’s lessening. It hurts so much...” She sobbed. The back of his hand pressed against her forehead then withdrew as if stung.
“You’re burning up.”
Celeste couldn’t hear him clearly. Her eyes spun and wanted to close. She was cold. Her skin soaked her clothes with sweat. The floor felt so cool against her face. She involuntarily shuddered as something harshly frigid pressed against the back of her neck temporarily. Within moments her head seemed to clear as she realized the pain was lessening. After she blinked a few times the ice was removed and placed on her stomach. The relief hurt at first but soon she felt her body cool from its instant fever.
“Careful...” Dr. Cruebel cautioned, putting his arm behind her back as she tried to sit up. He helped her lean against the concrete wall behind her. The sweat in her clothes chilled her back as the cold from the wall transferred. Her stomach was sore but the pain was considerably less now.
“Why does it keep happening?” A quick laugh drifted across her mind. “Did you hear that?” she gasped.
“Easy, now. I’m going to get a thermometer. I think you’re running a fever but I need to see how high it is.”
“Did you hear it?” she asked again.
His dark brown eyes showed anxious concern.
“I’ll bring a thermometer. Please watch her.” He said, directing the last part at the other nurse who was visibly better than she was an hour or so ago. The nurse gave Dr. Cruebel a curt nod then sat down next to Celeste, her eyes fixed on the ice bag. Within moments Dr. Cruebel was back.
“Open your mouth,” he commanded. He then stuck a plastic and metal stick under her tongue. After a few seconds it beeped and he took it out to check, taking a plastic sleeve off the instrument.
“Definitely a fever.”
“I’ve never gotten a fever from this before.“
“You should have told us sooner that you weren’t feeling well.”
“I was fine until a few moments ago.” She felt a hand cover her forehead, turning her face to look up at Dr. Cruebel.
“Her eyes are glazed.”
“Dr. Cruebel, what’s happening to me?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine but it will take a while.”
“Why am I so sick all of a sudden?”
Instead of answering he picked her up like a child and carried her over to sit on her bed. Sleep clung to Celeste and she fell onto her pillow as someone moved her legs onto the bed and someone else covered her with her blankets. She pulled them tight, shivering. She barely felt the hand rest its palm against her temple before falling asleep.
How long had she been asleep already?
Hushed noises conversed but she was too tired to listen. The words weren’t distinguishable anyway as far as what the conversation was about.
“But, how did he do it?”
Who was talking anyway? A man? He sounded furious. The noise conversed beneath hearing for a while longer.
“She looked fine!”
“It got in somehow!”
“Have you been—“
“You’re kidding me? Of course not!”
Celeste groaned. Their talking was waking her up and she still felt so tired... Her door banged shut and darkness cradled her in sleep. She recalled a time where she imagined herself sleeping in the clouds as a pony. The sensation was exact to what she felt now. A firm center supported her while wisps of black enfolded her. Clouds were white but perhaps a dream cloud was different.
It was rude of Dr. Cruebel and Nurse Alice to talk right next to her. She was sleeping. She just needed to be left alone. Every muscle in her body ached, even when she didn’t move. Her clothes were already damp from sweat. Slowly the darkness of her dream eased everything away. She rolled over and her hair fell in loose, gentle curls across her cheek. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since her hair was curled like this.
She pushed herself off the cloud and looked around. To her right a door of light opened and she stood up, advancing towards it after crawling off her cloud onto a cool surface. After she passed through the empty doorway, another one opened, and another, leading her out of the cloud of darkness. Silence stretched endlessly around her except when she passed through another door frame. But with each doorframe she passed through, the silence grew closer and closer, encroaching on her like she was entering smaller and smaller rooms.
The desk appeared as soon as she walked into the corner of it. It was a solid hardwood desk with intricate carvings of mountains and fields on the front panels. What was a desk doing here? Objects appeared on the surface of the desk as her hand fumbled across it. Most of it was the letters they had taken from her, even the torn one. Her fingers strayed on the crumpled sheets. What had caused her to write them in the first place? She felt around the slowly filling desk surface and her finger’s touch revealed a set of keys hidden under a sheet of paper.
It was kind of exciting for her to live in a dream where she didn’t know what would happen next. Normally she could control every aspect of her dreams. Rarely was she able to “discover” what dreams held. Her fingers opened the cover and a crooked smile sneaked into her face.
It was pictures. Her parents held her, as a baby. Her mom looked so tired... but so young. Almost every possible baby picture they could have taken of her covered the next few pages. Here was her entire life, documented in pictures. After the first year gaps appeared between holidays and birthdays until Selene’s birth. She never looked happy in the pictures of both of them. Perhaps Celeste was the jealous sister. Even when Selene stood next to her, a silly, broad grin on her face, Celeste always looked like she’d much rather be somewhere else.
The office she sat in lit up suddenly. Celeste looked around, blinking at the light.
“What are you doing?” Dr. Cruebel demanded.
“I...I”m sorry, Dr Cruebel I just came here. I don’t know how.” Something told Celeste she was not dreaming. But how was this possible in the real world? How could she have left her room and ended up here?
“Put the album down. You’re not ready to look through that yet.”
She lowered the album to the desk surface and removed her hands from it. Why was his voice so intense? What was he scared of? Wouldn’t it help her to see pictures of her family?
“Very good, Celeste. Please follow me now.”
“Why can’t I look at the album? Is there something you haven’t told me?”
“Please, you’re not well. I don’t know how you got here but you need to come with me.”
“Can I have more pictures?”
“Not yet. You’re not ready.”
She gave the photo album a reluctant glance and rose to follow Dr. Cruebel.
She called out for her brother, running through the woods while the cacophony of voices continued to echo her cry under the new moon. The flashlight shook in her hand as scratches accumulated on her leather boots. She didn’t care. She had to find him. It was getting cold and he shouldn’t be out in the woods at night. She screamed for him again and pulled her sweater closer with her free hand before pushing a low-hanging branch out of the way. It cracked in her ear as the chorus of voices continued their dissonance.
She began to run. She had to find him. He could move quickly on his little legs. Why had he worn dark brown that day? Even his red hair wouldn’t show up against the fallen leaves. The beam of her flashlight fell on a white coat, stopping her. She raised the light to see a green clip-on tie leading up to the goatee on the thin face of Dr. Cruebel. His dark brown eyes almost faded into the night as he looked directly at her, as if waiting. What was he doing here?
“Dr. Cruebel?” She lowered the flashlight but kept the orange beam on his face. The chorus of voices blended into a shushing wind. His lips curled in a mocking sneer.
“Trust me,” he hissed before his hands shot out to cover her eyes. She reached up to pull his hand off but he was too strong. The flashlight made a dull thunk as it dropped into the leaf-strewn floor of the woods. She tried to claw at his hand but it stayed there. She couldn't move. Something held her stationary.
Isn’t it odd? She thought to herself, waking up with sweat-soaked covers wrapped tightly around her fever-sore body. Isn’t it odd that he would say I’m not ready to see pictures of myself? What danger could come from that?
Struggling against the covers, the baseball fell to the floor and she almost followed after it when her balance eluded her momentarily. However, she regained that balance in time. At least now her arms were free, though her legs were joined together and the sheet still hugged her waist a little too tightly.
Why did he look so scared at the desk? I know my past now so finding out wouldn’t bother me.
Is there something he hasn’t told me?
She pulled and twisted against the sheets, but nothing changed until she rolled a little to the side. Soon the rest of her was untangled. Her body ached but her mind was too alert to keep sleeping. She groaned, closing her eyes and arching her back as she stretched her arms out and behind her. After she was done she retrieved the baseball and moved to her usual spot on the floor.
What could he be hiding? There was no reason for him to be so abrupt.
Her eyes glanced into the bathroom and she stopped herself from continuing the throwing cycle. What was a mirror doing there? She had never had a mirror before.
Her fingers stayed locked around the baseball as she rose and approached the bathroom. She flipped the light switch and cautiously approached. Perhaps he trusted her enough to see herself? Celeste shrank back.
See myself? How different am I from what I saw in those pictures? Am I still pretty?
She ran her fingers through her hair and stepped in view of herself.
Wild brown eyes stared at her, opened fully under orange-red eyebrows. She balked as her eyes met their reflections in the mirror. Her skin looked as if a white wax had been painted over it in a thin layer. Her copper and garnet hair lay almost flat against her skull with a few stray waves creating dissonance in the pattern of how her hair acted. Her spiderlike fingers traced the hollows of her cheeks as her thin, pale lips trembled. She was hideous. This wasn’t her and it couldn’t be her! Something had done this. Something was eating away at her, making her this ugly.
Why was the mirror here? Can’t I get rid of it somehow?
The baseball bounced off the silver surface as she struck it. Plastic. She couldn’t just break it. Her fingers clawed at the edges, trying to pry it off the wall. How long had it been here? How long had she been asleep? She hit the mirror again with her closed fist and gasped in pain.
Was this her room? Everything looked exactly the same within. She rushed from the bathroom to her window and looked outside. The view looked the same but might they just have moved her one room over in any direction? Why had they moved her? Was she still dangerous? Why was Sarah not allowed to see her? What was that “Tornado warning” really about?
“I’m perfectly sane, you know!” she shouted at the door.
Is my family really dead?
The thought chilled her. What if he had made that up? What if some of her family was still alive? They wanted to get her out but the doctors wouldn’t let them?
What if the doctors had made her crazy?
“Let me out of here!” she screeched to the ceiling. “I know what you’re doing! I am sane! You tricked me! You made me believe in Equestria... Let me out of here!”
No response. She just needed to make more noise.
She gripped the rails of her headboard and capsized the bed. No response. But they must have heard it. She grabbed the rails again and slammed the frame into the floor against the cold concrete. The frame left a grey smear and a small crack. She slammed it into the floor again, the ringing echoing in her arms.
The door finally flew open and Dr. Cruebel charged inside with Nurse Alice. The nurse stared at the bed while Dr. Cruebel merely glanced at it before looking at Celeste. He was visibly terrified.
“How... are you feeling, Celeste?” he stammered.
“What am I really doing here, Dr. Cruebel?”
“I don’t understand your question,” he lied.
“Is my family really dead? Or are you just keeping me here for another reason?”
“Celeste, you’re not thinking clearly. You’ve been ill for a few days now—”
“Answer my question!” she shrieked. Nurse Alice jumped.
“You were in a comatose state—“
“Why was I moved?”
“This isn’t the room I was in yesterday. You moved me and I want to know why.”
“You... broke out of your old room. I don’t know how you did it, but we had to fix the lock—“
“I don’t believe you!”
“Celeste! Has something happened? Did you see something?”
“What is a mirror doing here?”
“Some rooms have mirrors. I thought you would be able to handle seeing yourself.”
“I’m not crazy!” Dr. Cruebel crossed over to her, cautiously.
“Celeste, I want you to take a deep breath—“
“Why am I like this?”
“You don’t normally look like this, not even here. You got sick from something a few days ago—”
As soon as he was in striking distance, her hand shot out and clawed his cheek, leaving three bleeding stripes there. After he gave a moment’s hesitation, Celeste found herself pinned to the floor. His one hand pressed against the space between her shoulder blades while his other hand bent her right arm up behind her back. She assailed their ears with her screaming.
Nurse Alice ran from the room. Celeste had to escape quickly. She might be able to throw him off but every movement brought more pain to her arm. She screamed again, her throat tearing from the sound.
“I want my family!”
“Celeste, listen to me!”
“I’m not crazy!”
“This isn’t going to help you.”
Nurse Alice entered again, carrying some white shirt-like thing with trailing leather straps. The nurse disappeared from view and something covered Celeste’s right hand while grabbed her wrist, forcing her to wear a sort of sleeve. She tried to push her hands out but the sleeves were sewn shut. The nurse collapsed to her knees next to Celeste’s head. Celeste pulled against Dr. Cruebel’s grip, snarling in her effort. The nurse knelt on her unheld arm and pulled her shoulder back, quickly wrestling the jacket across Celeste’s thin body. Dr. Cruebel grabbed the sleeve and pulled, bending the arm in his control to enter it against the owner’s will. Despite her twisting, the sound of a zipper passed up her back.
“Grab her arm, like I told you,” Dr. Cruebel said with a grunt. The nurse grabbed her left wrist and twisted it to a more comfortable position of reach out instead of behind, except that it was moved without Celeste’s consent.
“Get off me!” she wailed.
Celeste was forced to sit up, with Dr. Cruebel’s arms locked around her shoulders. The nurse crossed Celeste’s left arm across her body and over her right. Dr. Cruebel’s hands pushed down Celeste’s arms, forcing her right arm to cross even farther under the left so she hugged herself. The metal buckle of the straightjacket clattered and rang against the floor. Dr. Cruebel constrained her against him with his right arm as his left arm grabbed for the buckle, pulling her arm as far as it could physically go.
“Reach in and buckle it. I can’t hold her like this for long.”
“You’re hurting me!”
“Trust me. This is—”
Her piercing scream cut him off but he held firm. The nurse fumbled behind Celeste and fastened the buckle. A lock clicked. Celeste arched her back and screamed her throat raw. Dr. Cruebel finally let go of her, his clip on tie falling to the floor. In an instant she tasted silk and choked. He used his own tie to gag her.
“Get a sedative,” he commanded and Nurse Alice disappeared again.
“Get off me!” she shouted as much as she could through the gag.
“This is for your own good.”
“I want my photo album!”
“Think about what you’re doing...”
“I’m not crazy!”
Nurse Alice entered and Celeste kicked as much as possible. She could barely move under the weight of Dr. Cruebel pinning her against his chest again. A hand grabbed her ankle, holding it still. A needle slid into her skin and tingling moved from the point of entry until it dissolved into her bloodstream. Her body went limp before her mind. She felt Dr. Cruebel roll her over onto her back. What was he doing?
Perhaps he is going to kill me.
His arms wrapped around her shoulders and under her useless legs. She felt herself being lifted before the black fog rolled farther into her mind. Where was he taking her? She heard his rushed footsteps as he stepped through a doorway. She could feel it pass over them. As soon as he turned right the darkness overtook her mind, locking her consciousness in black.
She was still hugging herself. Everything she touched was soft. She blinked her sore eyes opened. She groaned and stretched her neck, feeling the sweat of her fever dampen her clothes. Movement brought her head to look towards a closing door.
“Hey!” she called as it latched shut. She looked around frantically at the bare walls and floor. They had put her into a padded room. Her eyes darted frantically, looking for an escape that wasn’t there. Her heart beat in her ears. She tried to stand but only stumbled on legs that were still numb. She looked up at the ceiling as she lay on her side. With some wiggling and grunting, she was seated again, looking at the room for anything that could help her.
“Hello!” she called, knowing her call was useless.
“Hello again...” Sombra’s voice slithered up her spine. With trepidation, she turned her eyes to look into his black ones.
Her lips tried to respond, but no sound came.
“I never imagined it would work like this...” Sombra said with amazement in his voice. Celeste collapsed onto her side; a whimper lurking behind her lips. Her cheek pressed into the cushioning beneath her face as she closed her eyes to the intrusive light of the room.
“Terrifying... isn’t it?” he spat. Celeste kept her eyes tightly shut. “Do you have any idea what it would be like to live in your world? A world where you planned everything? How does it feel to be ruled by someone else’s plan, Celestia?”
Her eyes opened and revolved to look up at him as he squatted next to her. He was almost spitting in her face with each word.
“It’s not fun is it?”
“Please, let me go.”
“Oh, I have no control over whether or not you’re locked up here. That’s their decision.”
“Please, I don’t even—“
“Of course you don’t know what’s going on, you ridiculous excuse for a princess! I must say, I had no idea what this would bring out in you...”
Celeste fervently pulled at the sleeves restricting her movements; her eyes damped the fabric of her cell floor underneath her cheek.
“What about the album?”
“Stop! You know what I mean! You’re in my mind and you know exactly what I mean! You’re just—“
His laugh cut her off.
“Dear Princess Celestia. You really want to be human don’t you?”
“Stop calling me Celestia.”
“Oh, I’ll never do that. But I will stop calling you a princess.”
“My name is Celeste—“
“I wonder how many times you have to repeat that to yourself to continue believing it.”
“Just leave me alone! You’re nothing more than a hallucination!”
“Celeste?” came a muffled voice from the door. “Celeste, what’s going on in there?”
Sombra watched, almost gleefully, as Celeste pushed herself against the wall and away from Dr. Cruebel’s voice. He stood and followed her casually.
“Dr. Cruebel, let me out of here!”
“I had no idea it would do this to you.” Sombra voice was soft, dangerous. “I had no idea they’d put you here. I’m just glad they gave me a chance to express my true feelings for you...”
His foot swung at Celeste’s abdomen and she cried out, feeling the kick in her empty stomach.
“Still believe I’m a hallucination?” he almost laughed before kicking her again, just where her arms didn’t cover. Tears obscured her vision as she felt herself about to vomit.
The door opened and Dr. Cruebel entered.
Sombra backed away.
“What’s going on?” Celeste choked as soon as she could breathe. The edges of her vision were black and white static.
“I heard you talking,” Dr. Cruebel explained.
“You might as well tell her, Dr. Cruebel.”
“Please tell me you hear him,” she begged.
Dr. Cruebel’s jaw clenched. He slipped his hand into his pocket.
“Do you think you can handle being out of your jacket now?”
“Wasn’t I just put in here?” she asked.
“You were brought here yesterday. The sedative wore off awhile ago. I guess you just needed sleep. How are you feeling?”
“She’s a nightmare,” Sombra interjected. “Though she doesn’t look half bad for a lunatic.”
Celeste had never noticed just how skinny Dr. Cruebel was. He was definitely more muscular than her, but compared to Sombra there was no question of who outweighed the other in brute strength. She thought of that while Sombra stood next to Dr. Cruebel as if daring him to acknowledge his presence.
“Please tell me you see him.”
“See who, Celeste?” He advanced towards her, taking the keys for the straightjacket lock out of his coat pocket.
“Sombra. He’s right here. I keep seeing him. How can you not hear him?”
“Oh, how romantic, a damsel in distress.” Sombra laughed.
“I’m going to let you out of the straightjacket. I’ll bring you back to your room and we can talk about your little outburst from before.”
“Dr. Cruebel, listen to me!”
“I am listening to you. Trust me, getting you out of this straightjacket will help.”
“I won’t let Sombra hurt you when I’m here.”
Celeste stared at him, speechless. Sombra scoffed as Dr. Cruebel unbuckled Celeste’s arms and unzipped the back of the jacket to let her stretch.
“You couldn’t protect your own daughter. What makes you think you could...” His voice trailed off. Celeste looked up from Dr. Cruebel’s averted gaze to Sombra. He was giving her the oddest look. His eyes were fixed on her face as if he had just realized something. Something stopped him.
“Come on,” Dr. Cruebel quipped, taking a hold of Celeste’s elbow and helping her stand.
“Sombra?” Celeste asked.
“There is no one here. Let’s go.”
“How is that even possible?” Sombra said more to himself, following them.
“Alice!” Dr. Cruebel called. Her head poked inside the room.
“Please take Celeste back to her room. I need to grab the jacket. I’ll see her in a little while. Try to keep her calm.”
“Discord! I’m talking to you! How is that even possible?” Sombra shouted.
“He noticed something about my face...” Celeste whispered as Nurse Alice began to pull her away. The door to the padded room slammed shut. Celeste tried to pull away but she was soon back in her original room. The view from the window was exactly the same.
“I have to take care of something,” Nurse Alice mumbled quickly and rushed before Celeste’s cries of ‘Wait!’ could be acknowledged.
Celeste sat on her bed, shaking. What she would give for a mirror right now. Just a mirror to try and see what it was Sombra saw in her face. Perhaps even the window could show it. She crossed to it and looked hard at what she could see of herself. She saw the most basic reflection but no matter how much she searched she couldn’t see what had surprised him.
He had called Dr. Cruebel Discord. So had she when she first woke up here. But, he was Dr. Cruebel. But Sombra had to be real. Her stomach still groaned at the thought of his kick. This would normally be the time he would show up and provide the other half of her thought process.
She moved to her bed and sat down. Pulling the blankets around her shoulders. She wasn’t cold but the blankets still helped her to think. It calmed her. Perhaps it would be nice to not have Sombra interrupting every thought in her head.
Her family was dead. She should know that. How could she have thought they were alive? She rubbed her eyes, trying to scratch the drug film over them that tired tears weren’t washing away. A she sat she recalled, with acute embarrassment, how she attacked Dr. Cruebel.
Why wasn’t Sombra talking in her ear now? Where was his boasting in her mind? He was a figment of her imagination. Dr. Cruebel never saw him.
Why did Dr. Cruebel stay in the room? Why close the door just to get a straightjacket?
“Celeste?” She looked up at Dr. Cruebel. He had entered while her mind was locked inside itself.
“Are you feeling alright?”
She shifted, the warmth of the blanket seeping into her shoulders. Should she just lie and say she was alright? Or was there really nothing to worry about? The mattress sunk next to her under the weight of Dr. Cruebel as he sat down.
“Are you cold?” he asked, rubbing her back gently.
“I don’t know.”
“You were talking to Sombra again.”
“Do you find it hard to control him?” When she hesitated he leaned a little towards her. “It’s ok if you do.”
“I do. It’s like he used to just argue my thoughts back to me. This time he was actually there.”
“Celeste, your mind is not stable right now—“
“Why can I feel him? Can my mind tell me I’m holding him and that he’s holding me?” Her eyes were almost accusing him.
“Holding?” he asked, taking his hand from her back.
“Once,” she said as she turned her face away, “I was really frustrated and... I held him and ask him to hold me back... I was just scared about something. It was stupid.”
When she turned back to Dr. Cruebel, his eyes were set on the floor.
“Have you kissed him too?”
“Has he tried to kiss you?”
“No. Dr. Cruebel, what is going on? One moment you sound like I’m making Sombra up and the next you’re almost...”
“I just... I don’t want you to run away with your hallucinations.”
“Dr. Cruebel. Look me in the face and tell me that Sombra isn’t real.”
His face turned towards hers. His expression was so guarded she couldn’t read it. Once again his hand lifted to rub her back, pausing as he locked his eyes with hers.
“Sombra isn’t real. You don’t need to be scared of him. I won’t let him hurt you. You don’t need to look to him to feel safe. Do you understand?”
Celeste nodded. It felt easier to believe when he said it like that. He continued to gently rub her back across the shoulder blades.
“May I look through the album a little more?”
“I’ll take some pages out to show you next time. It’s an album with all of my patients’ photographs that their families give me. Although I must say, your aunt probably filled up at least half of it with you.” He laughed and Celeste smiled crookedly.
“When do you think I can see it?”
“Soon. Tomorrow maybe. It’s almost time for dinner actually. You’ve been sleeping for awhile,” he said, rising after giving her a soft pat on the back.
“Is Sarah coming?”
Dr. Cruebel crossed to the door, not looking back.
“Sarah’s not well right now. I don’t want her getting you sick too...”
The door’s slam reverberated throughout the room. Celeste hugged her knees, feeling the rumble in her stomach. Her head still felt stuffed and heavy. She was going to trust Dr. Cruebel again. She had a choice and Dr. Cruebel had promised to protect her. He cared about her. What had Sombra offered? A kingdom? His kingdom. He would never keep her as a queen even if he were successful.
Why was she thinking this? Shouldn’t her choice depend on what was true? What she knew the facts to be? She drew her feet up to rest on the ledge of mattress in front of her. After all this time she still didn’t want to say what was true and what wasn’t? Could it be her choice? What if she could control that much of her destiny?
The door opened and she instinctively rose, pushing her blanket off, and crossed towards the table. It would be Nurse Alice as always. Nurse Alice and her usual snide expression.
Her feet stopped. Her breath caught. She slowly turned her head towards the door. A girl about Sarah’s age peeked in at her, wearing hospital clothes similar to her own. The girl’s straight bangs were a valance above her wide eyes as she stepped into the room, her hand trailing on the doorknob.
Celeste was going to trust Dr. Cruebel.
“I got out. I knew you had to be close by. I felt it!” the girl excitedly stammered.
She had to trust Dr. Cruebel. She was Celeste Marlowe.
“Princess Celestia? It’s me!” The girl’s eyes pleaded through tears. “It’s me. Luna sent me. I got through. Princess Celestia, I’m here to take you home!”
She had to trust Dr. Cruebel. She was Celeste Marlowe.
“Princess Celestia? Why... Why are you looking at me like that? I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner...” she apologized, placing her hands on Celeste’s crossed arms
She had to trust.
She had to trust...
Her arms slipped out of Twilight’s grasp as she crumpled to the stone cold floor. Darkness rolled over her mind like the rumble of thunder.
She heard Sombra's laughter inside her head.
Fingers combed through her hair, leaving her scalp tingling. A pillow supported her neck and head. Hands softly tugged as they plaited her hair loosely then eased the strands apart, letting her hair cascade. She hadn’t realized just how much it had grown. Fingers poked into her hair and massaged her head, relaxing her.
“Come in,” came his voice from above Celeste’s forehead. Her door clanged and swung on grumbling hinges. ”I had asked you not to disturb me, Alice.”
“She’s demanding to see you.”
“She’ll see me later—“
“She’s also demanding to see her,” she said before a slight pause. “She looks terrible.”
“I blame Sombra for that,” Dr. Cruebel said, gathering her hair and running his fingers through it.
“What are you doing?”
“I discovered a while ago that this calms her down. I have no idea what her mind is doing at this moment. Whatever it’s doing or figuring out needs to be done with as little tension as possible.”
“Can she hear us?”
“I have no way of knowing.” He lifted a strand of her hair and she felt it slide from his fingers. He was right. The tingling sensation caused by him playing with her hair was almost as effective as an anesthetic. If her eyes were open she could easily close them and fall asleep right now.
“She said she’s terrified, thinking about her.”
A sigh caressed her forehead.
“Fine. You may bring her in. Just be sure to warn her.”
His fingers burrowed into her hair and rubbed her scalp in small circular motions with the tips of his fingers. The door opened again.
“What are you doing to her?” Twilight demanded, horrified.
“I’m just helping her.” The fingers moved from her scalp, braiding her hair loosely and letting it drop again. Footsteps hurried to Celeste’s side.
“Why is she...”
“I think you might have been a bit of a shock to her. We weren’t hiding her from you, we were protecting her,” he growled. A warm hand slid into hers and Twilight gasped.
“She’s so cold.”
“Thank you for stating the obvious, Twilight Sparkle. I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your marvelous powers of observation among those books of yours.” Despite the agitation in his voice, his movements through her hair never changed their pace.
“Is she going to get better?”
“How should I know?”
“Doesn’t this even bother you?”
He stopped playing with her hair.
“Don’t lecture me.”
“She needs to be home.”
“That all depends on who ‘she’ even is.” The tingling in her scalp resumed as he once again ran his hands through her wavy locks.
“She’s Princess Celestia—“
“That’s the simple answer.”
“It’s the right answer—”
“You’re trying to confuse me!”
“Don’t shout. You might wake her up. Speak softly around her. To say she is confused would be a gross understatement.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“From what I can guess her mind retreated in on itself when she saw you. She was fully prepared to push towards her new life when you came in and tried to rescue her. Of course it’s not all your fault but still you certainly didn’t help.”
“You’re the one who made her crazy!” Her voice dropped. “She didn’t even recognize me...”
“I’m not the one to blame for that.”
“Then who is?”
“That is a path you shouldn’t even attempt to trot down. There is a lot you don’t know about your precious Princess Celestia.”
“I still trust her, if that’s what you’re trying to do.”
“I never said I wasn’t trying to break your trust in her. All I ask is that you don’t try to get involved.”
“I am not giving up on Princess Celestia, Discord.”
Celeste felt Dr. Cruebel’s sigh brush her forehead.
“You just don’t understand, do you?”
“Understand that you’ve put some spell on her to make her believe—“
“What’s happened to her isn’t magic. Magic can be undone too easily.”
“But... what’s happened to her?”
“Right now there is no concept of ‘her’. She’s here but there is no answer to the question of who she really is.”
“But she’s Celestia...”
“I don’t think she is anymore.”
“That’s impossible. She can’t change who she is.”
“Except she can, all too easily.”
“But... then who is she?”
“Haven’t you been listening?” he growled suddenly. His hands let her hair drop. “She isn’t either thing right now. She is simultaneously Princess Celestia and Celeste Marlowe. If she chooses to be Celestia, her human side will constantly battle to change that. If she chooses to be human, her alicorn self will always struggle against that. No matter how many times she ‘decides’ who she is, she will never truly know again. Do you understand, Twilight Sparkle?”
The silence rang. Twilight’s hand was limp in Celeste’s. Dr. Cruebel tried to resume playing with her hair but his hands kept dropping. The door to her room opened.
“Is she done?”
No one said anything. Twilight’s hand withdrew and her footsteps retreated. For a while silence continued as he continued to massage her head. It was easier just to sleep here, not think of anything; say that Twilight was just a dream.
Could she change her destiny? Could she have a brand new life as a human with no repercussions? But, could she really say no to Canterlot? To Equestria? Then again, could choosing to be Celeste Marlowe destroy— What if she really had dreamed it? What if Equestria wasn’t real?
Dr. Cruebel stopped massaging the area behind her ears. His right hand shifted and his thumb traced a teary path slowly advancing down her temple.
Coming out of darkness, Celeste opened her eyes to see Sombra standing over her, a smug half-grin under his wide eyes.
“So who are you now?”
She sat up, groaning from soreness that had set in overnight.
“Just leave me alone.”
“Come on Celestia.”
“I said leave me alone.”
“I’ll get you home.”
“Just go away!” He stepped back, stunned. “You! This is all your fault! Don’t you understand? I’m not going with you. I’m staying here.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be my queen?” She pushed him away. “Didn’t you curse me for that very reason? You wanted to be—“
“I’m not Princess Celestia!”
“You really are insane...”
“I won’t listen to you!”
“Are you going to throw a temper tantrum?”
“No, temper tantrums are your thing, Sombra.”
Celeste caught herself against the floor then raised her hand to press on her cheek. Sombra had struck her with the back of his hand. Her ears rang.
“You’re coming with me,” he growled.
“No.” The breath was driven from her by his vehement kick to her ribs.
“You forget that even if we were in Equestria, a king would outrank a princess.”
“I’m not going back without a fight...”
His laugh hurt her ears as it barked wildly.
“A fight? You know of fighting only as shooting magic at an opponent, as casting spells. You’re not a fighter. I however am fit and ready to use not just magic but force to return you and I back to Equestria. When I’m asking you to come back with me... I’m being polite.”
Celeste pushed herself off the cold floor. Her abdomen stung where his foot made contact. How could someone not wearing shoes kick so hard? A smell sprang up behind her eyes as his next kick struck her head. She needed to lie down and close her eyes.
“One last chance... are you going to agree to come with me or do I need to force you? This is no way to begin your monarchy by my side...”
“I can’t...” she tried to say. Her mind heaved. In panic, her lips screamed for Dr. Cruebel. He would kick her again. He might even kill her. Did he even need her alive to return to Equestria? Did she need to be conscious?
She was lifted up by her shirt, forced to look into terrible eyes glowing green with tendrils of black and purple snaking out to mingle with his wavy hair.
“Wrong answer, Princess Celestia,” he cooed. She waited for him to strike, smelling iron as her nose bled.
The door to Celeste’s room flew into the opposite wall, covering the window as it became embedded in the brick. Thin, clawlike hands pulled her back as Dr. Cruebel flew at Sombra. His hands landed on Sombra’s shoulders, pushing him back as he fell on top of him.
“Where is Screwball?”
“Oh, now you—“ Dr. Cruebel’s fist cut him off.
“I’m going to ask you again: where is my daughter?” He was almost screaming. His hair stood on end. Nurse Alice pulled on Celeste to take her from the room but she was dead weight. She barely had enough consciousness to keep her eyes open without throwing up.
“She’s somewhere safe.”
“She chose to come with me.”
“I asked you where!” he hollered in his face. Sombra laughed heartily. Dr. Cruebel sat back to lift Sombra’s upper body off the floor before slamming him back into the concrete.
“Perhaps if you had paid attention to her—”
“Tell me where she is! If you’ve touched her I swear—”
Sombra, perhaps a little disoriented, snapped his fingers and smoke trailed from underneath him to slowly form the figure of a girl. Sarah solidified, looking at her father and Sombra in horror.
“What are you doing?” she shouted at her father.
“Sarah... what is this?”
“Get off of him!” She shoved her father. He fell back, stunned as Sarah helped Sombra stand.
“What is this?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Sombra snapped, putting his arm around the girl who stared at the floor.
“No... Sarah, we talked about this.”
“You talked about it...” Sarah mumbled, her face turned toward Sombra’s chest.
“Screwball... why are you doing this?”
Sarah grabbed Sombra’s hand and pulled his arm closer around her.
“Chrysalis! What have you done?” Dr. Cruebel demanded, turning to glare at Nurse Alice. Celeste fell to the floor.
“So it’s my fault?”
“I should have known this would happen.”
“I was starving! I thought she had plenty to spare—“
“I told you she was off-limits...”
Celeste pushed herself from the floor. She was still nauseated, but not to the point of collapse. Dr. Cruebel rose, crossing to Sarah. Celeste knelt shakily then looked behind her to see Nurse Alice was gone.
“I’m not your child...”
“You’re fifteen years old, Screwball! Besides that you are my daughter and you are under my authority and we already talked about this.”
Sombra’s open hand thudded against Dr. Cruebel’s chest as he pushed him back slightly.
“She’s a woman who can make her own choices—“
Dr. Cruebel shoved his daughter out of Sombra’s grasp, lifted him up by the collar of his patient’s clothes, and slammed him into the concrete wall. A growl rose in his throat.
“You stay away from my daughter. She’s not yours.” Sombra’s laugh stopped when his head slammed into the wall again. “Do I make myself clear?”
“I’m not a child!” Sarah shouted. A faint, green light glowed from her eyes.
Celeste’s arms collapsed beneath her. Her head hurt. What was going on? When was she going to wake up?
“It’s either Sarah or Celestia, take your pick—“
Dr. Cruebel’s hands went around his throat.
“Stop it...” Celeste whimpered. “Dr. Cruebel, stop it!”
Sarah rushed to Celeste’s bed and searched through the sheets until she grasped the baseball in her hand. Celeste pushed herself up again and lunged at Sarah, grabbing her legs and pulling her to the ground before she could hurt her father. Something was terrifying about her eyes. The green glow dissipated as she looked at Celeste but she still kicked her hand off, bruising Celeste’s fingers.
The room went dark. Dr. Cruebel gasped in pain.
“Dad?” Sarah called, unsure, somewhere to Celeste’s right. Moments later she called for Sombra as well but from a completely different part of the room. Sombra stepped out of the dark in front of Celeste and she swung at him. He knocked her arm away dismissively and the ball fell into dark smoke. His eyes weren’t focusing. He looked genuinely confused; perhaps stunned.
“Princess Celestia!” Twilight screamed.
This will all be a bad dream. Tomorrow I’ll wake up in my bed and on the way to recovering.
He staggered towards her, his face still returning to its normal color.
“Dr. Cruebel!” Celeste cried.
He’ll save me. I have to trust Dr. Cruebel. He’ll come and wake me up.
“Princess Celestia!” called Twilight from the opposite side of the room that she had called from before. Celeste kept her eyes on him, stepping backwards and falling onto her bed.
A white sleeve wrapped around his neck from behind, pulling him back into the dark fog. Something stumbled into Celeste’s bed and Twilight fell onto her lap. After two blinks Twilight threw her arms around Celeste’s waist.
Celeste felt something pop in her mind and her eyes only saw white.
Silken cloth rubbed against her cheek as Celeste turned in bed. Her mattress at the hospital had never been this comfortable. The duvet enveloped her like a gentle, warm embrace. She ran her fingers over the soft sheets and pulled her blankets closer, a smile creeping into her face. Even if this was a dream, it was incredibly pleasant. The smooth duvet cover traced across her lips as she snuggled further down into the downy warmth.
Was she home?
Her left arm reached out and felt among the covers. This was a large bed, not the single one she had been kept in and the mental hospital. Could the hospital just be a memory? Maybe even a terrible, vivid nightmare? Perhaps now she was awake? Perhaps now she was home? She gave a contented sigh and pulled her arm back to wrap around the pillow supporting her head delicately.
Of course she was awake. Shadows didn’t act like that. There was no such thing as magic.
A breeze wafted into the room and breathed coolly on her cheek, evoking another contented sigh. Her whole body was sore. Perhaps she had tossed a lot in the night or she had overexerted herself the day before. She rolled her head, letting her other cheek sink into the pillow as she hugged it closer. Perhaps she could just stay here for a while, enjoying the warm comforts of her bed. Did she have anything to do today?
With a panic, she realized that she couldn’t remember anything from yesterday. Had she gone shopping? Had she cleaned the house? Did her aunt call yet again?
She opened her eyes and panic truly set in. This wasn’t her room. First of all, the color scheme was hideous. Pink purple and yellow? What was she? Five years old? She sat up and looked down at her clothes. Yes, they were normal pajamas but she had no knowledge of ever seeing them before. They weren’t even like the scrubs she had dreamed about. The breeze had come from a tall window made of a solid immobile pane of glass that opened at the top. There was no way she could fit through that hole.
The door to the room opened slowly. She leapt to her feet.
“Good morning...” the man with longish brown hair and glasses looked up at her as he entered, followed soon by a woman wearing a dark blue sweater and long skirt. The woman’s eyes watched Celeste closely, as if she was trying to penetrate her with an unspoken question.
The strange man gave the woman in her nightclothes a confused look. Celeste was standing on her bed, almost like she was ready to pounce.
“Who are you?” Celeste demanded.
“I’m Dr. Stable. How—“
“Where am I?”
“You’re... in a...”
Celeste’s core turned cold. “You’ve kidnapped me,” she accused. The woman looked devastated and took a few steps towards her. She was definitely younger than Celeste, though she couldn’t tell how much. That stare unnerved her. The other woman opened her mouth to speak but the doctor spoke first.
“No, actually. Well... you were kidnapped. We’ve brought you back and now we’re just monitoring your mental health—“
“So I can leave?”
The silent woman sighed, turning to look out the window.
“Uh...we haven’t finished examining you yet.”
“Can I go outside?”
“Oh, yes. You have a scheduled time to go outside.”
“Where am I?”
“I told you—“
“I mean, what city? How did I get here?”
“Your...” He exchanged a look with the woman in blue. “Family brought you here. They were concerned.”
“Where is my husband?”
“Your...what?” he asked.
“My husband. You said my family put me here. He is my family so I assume you needed his permission to do this.”
“Uh...” He shot a confused look at the woman by the window. She didn’t respond but her hand gripped the window frame so hard that he nails bit into the wood. “He wasn’t available.”
“You have no right to hold me prisoner here.”
“Technically we’re not holding you prisoner.”
“When can I leave, then?”
“You have to be examined first.” He took a steps towards her.
“You’re not going anywhere near me.”
The woman turned around, giving Celeste a pleading look. Why didn’t she just talk to her?
The man held up his hands defensively. “I won’t invade your personal space. Why don’t we talk?”
“The sooner we talk the sooner your examination will be over.”
“And then I can go?”
He exchanged another look with the woman. “If we decide that you are mentally stable...”
“What is this?” Celeste suddenly fumed. “Last night I went to bed somewhere else and now I wake up here.”
“I can explain. A lot of your memory has been tampered with—”
“What am I really doing here? Are you messing with me too? Are you drugging me? Trying to tell me I imagined my whole life?”
The woman looked like she was about to speak but the so called doctor stopped her by holding up his hand. “We haven’t said that. You’ve just been through a traumatic time—”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” The woman drew closer to Celeste. Celeste’s bed was against the back wall so she had nowhere to go as she approached the foot of the bed.
“In that case, your lunch will be here in an hour. Let us know if you need anything,” he said as he walked towards the woman. Was she also imprisoned here? The man reached for her elbow but she held up her hand without taking her eyes off of Celeste. He stopped, reluctantly.
“You really don’t know who I am?” she finally spoke, looking up at Celeste. “You can’t even guess who I might be?”
The doctor pulled on her. “I told you, she doesn’t—”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life.” The woman’s head dropped and the man grabbed her arm.
“Remember my conditions,” he said firmly. The woman ripped her arm from his grasp and turned, rushing from the room. The doctor gave Celeste a polite bow and then turned to follow.
Celeste slowly got down from her bed and stepped onto the carpeted floor. It was obvious to her that there was something sinister behind all this. Who was that woman and why should Celeste know her? A large window stood in the wall to her left, open to a beautiful countryside. The colors hurt her eyes. She squinted her eyes against the brightness and traced the panes with her fingers. The ground couldn’t be too far of a drop. Would they start chasing her when she ran? How many were in on this?
She crossed to a wooden chair sitting next to a round wooden table and picked it up. She turned and crossed the room, swinging the chair at the glass. It bounced off, breaking a leg of the chair. The glass was unhurt.
Now where was she? What was she doing here? Last night she had been sleeping. She had a nightmare but that wasn’t something traumatic enough to be sent to the mental hospital. No matter how nice this place might be there was something deeply wrong about it. She crawled back into her bed and hugged a pillow against her body.
Her husband wouldn’t put her here without making sure she knew why, right? Yesterday she had fallen asleep with him next to her. Where was he?
She hugged the pillow tighter as her eyes started to tear up. She had just had a bad dream. Maybe she was still having one? Perhaps this was a prank? It was definitely a mean one but then again he sometimes took pranks a little too far. She rested her cheek on the pillow wishing he was besides her. She wanted to hear his voice, sense his heartbeat, and feel his breathing. She wanted her husband. She wanted to feel safe.
Something else was wrong. Something was missing. Something she should have with her. Her mind went through her house looking at any insignificant detail. Her heart ached not just for her husband but some something she couldn’t grasp. She couldn’t hold—she couldn’t find it hiding in her mind. She shifted and her foot touched something.
With her left hand she lifted the covers up enough to see where her feet were. Her body curled, holding onto the pillow still as she reached and took the object. The baseball. The baseball she had dreamed about. Except it was here. It was right here. Now it was covered in scribbles. Her husband’s handwriting. The scribblings were short phrases; I love you, I’m coming back, Be strong, Please, remember me. Nothing told her why she was here. Why was this happening to her?
She turned the baseball over and a chill shot through her.
You were not dreaming. I’ll explain everything.
She tossed the baseball away. How could he have known about her dream? Had she told him the nightmare and just forgotten?
Her hands shook, she buried herself under the covers as she heard the ball roll to a stop.
Please, remember me.
“Please, be here,” she whimpered, pressing her face into the pillow. “Please come back, I love you.”
I’m coming back.
“Please, please just come back now. Come back.”
I love you.
She let a whimper break through her lips.
He would understand. He would understand if he saw her here, crying.
You were not dreaming.
But, she had to be dreaming. Sombra wasn’t real, she had never thought she was a pony.
I’ll explain everything.
Had her husband gotten into trouble? Was she being held captive until they could get something from him? What did they want here?
She cried for a while, wanting to sleep or wake up. She recalled what it was like to feel him there. She could also feel his hug again if she thought hard enough. What were they going to do to her? Was she about to lose her family all over again?
She still had his writing; his note to her.
She crawled over to the side of her bed where the baseball sat. It felt heavy as she picked it up and curled next to the pillow again. No matter what, at least she knew he was real. He was in her real life. He was in her nightmare. A part of him was here. He would find her. He would save her. She could trust him. She would trust him. Her body trembled. She would trust him. He was coming back for her. He would explain everything. She had to be strong. She had to be strong...
She forced her trembling down inside her until she smothered it. In the nightmare one thing had relaxed her that she could do right now. She forced her arms to push herself from the warm pillow and she turned to crawl from the bed. Even if this didn’t help it would be something familiar. She sat down on the left side of her bed and looked at the yellow wall in front of her.
Waiting for what your heart desires can be really hard.
So, you may try to take a shortcut. But this dishonesty never works...
Because you didn't earn what your heart desired.
The only cure is being honest with yourself, and others.
And that's something every heart desires.