I was so free back then, when my liberty was my own and captivity was spoken of in hushed voices, at least in front of the young ones. I remember how it felt to fly unburdened, on a whim; without reason. The joy of flying with those of my kin was, to an infinite degree, (naturally youth being wasted on the youthful and all that) beyond my appreciation at that fleeting moment in time. The Everfree forest housed many creatures, including a small family of phoenixes. All was well. Until they came...
The squawking of my distraught parents was my ultimate torment before the curtain of black defined my crude incarceration. My own calls failed to cease, until I couldn’t make any noise at all. The gait was sickening. I didn’t wake. I didn’t sleep.
After a passing of time: separated from them, the significance of which was an effective century, the shroud was removed. Exhausted and resigned to my fate, I mutely observed that this was a very, very strange place indeed. I'd heard of these so called ‘buildings’ that would remove one's view of the sky, although, the ceiling was far higher than I’d expect. Unfaltering swathes of light were spilling as perfect rectangles onto the pristine marble floor.
I began to noticed hoofsteps accompanied by an exaggerated shadow approaching from behind me. A soothing voice spoke ‘Oh? What have we here?’ while somepony who I presumed to be a guard on my distant right who explained ‘We found this one wounded, she likely wouldn't have survived without the given medical attention...’ My head dropped slightly in a sort of mild anger. I stoically waited for the impending, inevitably gullible response, whereas the silence expanded tremendously, crushing us, in its iron grip. The guard abruptly left the room by means of loud hoofsteps and of no vocality. Leaving me alone with an oddly large shadow of a pony... oh. She was an Alicorn. I realised it as she strode a few paces ahead of me and found myself rightfully embarrassed at my feeble powers of observation. She had an ever flowing chromatic mane: a coat akin to the hue of snow, wore regalia and carried the most gracious mien I'd ever had the fortune to come across. It was... regal, yet not imposing. Nor awing, for her stance was too low.
‘Does he lie?’
It came out sharply, as the recently appointed monarch grimaced, so that it was no question at all, while she simultaneously approached the cage. I, being somewhat impressed at her astuteness yet unsure of her intentions, cocked my head and looked up, into her queerly sorrowful gaze. So queer was it that I came somewhat close to skepticism; wondering if they were intended solely for myself. She suddenly stopped right before the cage; her eyes became misty. And, after long pause, her majesty whispered, ‘sorry.’ before solemnly opening the cage door, not with magic I noted. Instantaneously, my fellow immortal was gone, leaving a lonely teardrop behind.
The sun dwindled slightly, apparently reflecting my doubt, the shadows shifted with my temperament and the moon watched stoically on. One could certainly tell when somepony in particular felt guilty. Or, at least, I could. Whatever my decision, I was to be forever wrapped within her solar embrace just as there would be no cage, for either of us. I snatched the illusion of freedom and flew away, away from the paved roads, away from the bustling streets; away from change, as much as I thought I was able to.
I roamed aimlessly for seven dawns; grimly, I would not have found my family even if I had wanted to. I had been explicitly (fore)warned of the dangers of forming meaningful attachments with all creatures that did not live as long as oneself, let alone those with significant intelligence. My parents told me over and over ‘To become attached to another was natural. To leave bonds behind was unavoidable. But to witness those attached you: however irrational or slight in nature, wilt until their consciousness blips out of existence, is heartbreaking.’ My conclusion was that if I was even remotely involved in the life of royalty, I’d experience exactly that: heartbreak. Of course I didn’t want that. It would be infinitely worse than the simple numbness of my abduction. But was solitude to be any fairer? Was there a purpose if none were there to reassure as such? Even if there was, how could I expect to convince myself of it? Will I ever stop irritating myself with platitudes? Only yet another dawn later would I begrudgingly accept the inevitability of the inevitable. Time to get my heart, broken.
Returning to the palace, I was bemused to find, that the same pony who had given me choice, now chided me for making one, delusionally seeking a reason for my return. Bizarrely, still in this state, Celestia told her name, though she knew that I already knew it. Barring the natural elevation of royalty, the recently transpired banishment of her dear sister had been heard by all creatures of Equestria, not only the apparently egotistical creatures who had decided to name the land after themselves: for themselves. Yet my cage had remained stationary during my absence; I couldn’t see a princess’s use for a redundant memento like that...
My brightly feathered self finally realised the reason of the Celestia's capriciousness; I immediately backed off, out of mercy, if nothing else. The thought of even attempting to empathise with an inflicted damnation was terrifying. Presumably, the only reason I hadn’t noticed beforehand was my emotionally deprived state, or, perhaps my shock of her immediate discern of my abduction. As such, I could only reduce my presence to a tentative observation, vainly believing in a concealment against the omniscient. Indeed, my monarch (she’d prefer Diarch no doubt) made it quite clear that I was to be allowed no closer for a lengthy degree of time. Which was fair enough, I suppose. That didn’t mean that observing wasn’t fun in itself though, there was much to be learned of Ponykind, after all.
My journey across Equestria was intended to act as a time killer (or healer, hah!) for a mourning Celestial but it would be much more. Canterlot would be an obvious first stop. The city was ablaze to the senses compared to the serenity of the forest; or even the empty halls of the palace. With its narrow minded view of sophistication, but to an objective layman, was closer to a rampant elitism and, hats. Often silly; occasionally garish, hats. Indeed, an estranged feeling hung over ponies who lived in Canterlot as a whole, after the event, one would think the atmosphere would be somewhat sombre; but they were too giddy with ignorance to obtain humility. But I digress, for it is not as vulgar now. I decided that the best way to remain unseen and thus unmolested would be to glide from building to building by day, so as to minimise the contrast between my coat and the light. Plus, ponies never looked up. Fortunately, it ended up being worth the bother. Among the numerous grand structures there was relatively unkempt small building amongst the emporiums. I would not have taken any particular interest in it, if there wasn't an unspecified gleam of dreadful familiarity amongst the usual shapes one would expect to see inside. Before I’d even processed the detail of it, something was pulling me in...
Overcoming my procrastination, I reluctantly peered from on top of the opposite building. It was too murky inside to see much more than vague outlines, although, there appeared to be something with a dulled red colour in the far left corner. It was quickly smothered, not remarkable. But what had been a mild unnerving was rapidly becoming a torrent of overwhelming angst that bore no zenith, no longer drawing me in, but repelling me. I waited for a while longer but my tenacity had reached its limit: I needed to leave. Right now. If I hadn't lasted a second longer, perhaps I wouldn't have noticed the male pegasus exiting the place. On his back he carried a veiled cage. It was of the same kind: one never veils a cage in Equestria. If the circumstances were hypothetical, I’d have laughed at the irony.
Instead everything stopped as my seemingly unjustified, visceral fear became a highly directed wrath. The dull red had been a drugged kin; the building a warehouse. Apparently, elitism was not the only concept tolerated in this bloody place they called ‘Canterlot’. Fighting the constant urge to simply swoop down and claw out the bastard’s filthy eyes from their sockets: I tailed him.
Obviously, he didn't want to be followed, but I was not the only one following him. Maintaining a safe distance, she was a pretty, green unicorn who bore a quill as a cutie mark- not that identities mattered at a time like this. She faced the challenge of traversing the crowds, tis no easy task. Even so, she managed to keep up fairly well until the Pegasus took an abrupt left down a scarce alleyway, turned around, dropped the cage and stopped dead. Waiting. I flinched as my unknowing ally did not have the luxury of aerial view and in her haste of losing sight of him, stumbled into the trap. Upon sight, the Pegasus flew over her and immediately began advancing, backing her ever closer towards the impending wall. I wanted to move: I couldn’t. They began to converse. ‘I told you not to follow me...’ Emotionless. ‘And what the hell did you expect me to do after I found out your little secret?’ With spite; she sobbed. ‘So what now, you kill me and continue your little bird trafficking game?’ It was getting closer. ‘I expected you to follow me.’ Still heinously callous, he brandished a hideously adorned dagger that had been covertly sheathed under his wing. The sound between the echoes of the poor mare’s hoofsteps became brutally shriller as the wall approached, as death’s march. As she reached the end, the green mare calmly uttered ‘Enjoy the guilt Raymond.’ locking eyes with him. At last breaking my paralysis, I nose dived into the assailants rising wing and bit into it, ripping more than a few feathers off. Not for the mortal, but for the one that lay in the cage...right?
The scream of agony that followed was almost enough to make me release, until I was reminded of just cause by powerful a flash of magic that sent him (and me too!) flying, ironically leaving me no choice but to let go of him. I slammed into a surface, couldn’t tell which... OW. Amusingly enough, pain is just about the only thing I can clearly remember throughout these thousand years. Either way, somepony had obviously been a bit overzealous, ahah...
Miraculously, despite the fact that the world appeared to be continually spinning, nothing was broken. A few minutes later I could move, with a distinctive taste of blood in my mouth. There was certainly more than a gout of it, trailing on the floor, accompanied by a multitude of disjointed feathers, including some of my own, but Raymond, was nowhere to be seen. Or the dagger, oddly enough. So much for high society, eh? Magic was working, healing me, it was enough to make the dizziness go away; that’s all I needed right now. Hauling my bruised body off the floor, I ignored my healer and limped to the still veiled cage, desperate to save a comrade.
At last it was within reach, grasping it with my beak; enduring a twinging neck, pulling the dastardly cloth off. But it was already on the floor. She’d removed it. The cage was empty. Though the malicious creed it embodied, remained. I collapsed in disbelief, willing the swathe of consciousness to release me, but my body would not be so kind. And though spoken out of kindness, so very cruel, were the words that came from her: ‘ I... knew him. I suppose he was a dud. Likely designed with specifically getting rid of me in mind.’ Or maybe she was just a sadist.
Formidably dooming thoughts crossed my mind as to my poor peer's fate now, that which was surely infinitely darker than my own, even had I not been freed once more. I’d failed my duty. Exchanged a neigh on worthless pony's life for what could have been a companion’s. How pathetic. What’s an eternal life worth if spent enslaved, not to a god (not that one would be able to do anything about it in that case), not to an equal; instead to some vastly inferior, asinine mortals, who’d treat you as they would: like nothing else.
Oh yeah. I’m still in that damnable alley aren't I? Great way to ruin the mood, that. ‘Suppose I’ll get going, thanks for the help.’ she said, almost nonchalantly, then proceeding to leave me rather devastated. You just go... and don’t apologise! Let your gratitude spill out onto the streets, leave me here and don’t give me a chance to show you my own, by giving you a feather for your honorable intentions! You do that! I hope you’re happier for it! Strange creatures, the lot of them: so sassy. I figured It’d be quite the scene if I was to be found here, so I left, albeit painfully. Just about made it outside of the city before I was forced to take respite.
Next I'd go to Ponyville. But it didn’t exist yet. Say ‘Hi!’ to the gryphons, maybe. Return to Everfree forest, even. No doubt be they’d be wondering of my fate. Guess I could have just stuck with civilisation: Manehattan, Fillydelphia, Trottingham... Would be interesting to see what the Canterlot scoff was about. If it was about anything. It probably wasn’t.
In the end, I got fed up with the antics of the pointless flirting with the “intelligent” mortality, enough ponies for me. In saying, it would go like ‘nothing like the company of oneself’ would certainly be better than ‘out of the fire, into the frying pan.’ We had no choice but to be solitary by nature, else all of us would be as mad as Luna! I jest, but you take my point I’m sure. I decided to head east south east to the foliage close to city of Baltimare.
Though our kind is rare, we manage to find each other by periodically leaving feathers behind in the trees. Different types of feather being used to indicate a more precise whereabouts, or lack thereof: tail for no longer here, or, leaving, (generally speaking, a forest), a wing feather for ‘just passing through’ meaning departure within the approximate week and a plume feather, for a semi-permanent settler nearby. Phoenix's who’d lived there for many years abandoned no feathers and would be quite offended by the thought of it while within “their” own territory. However, over time (as with everything, only at alternative rates) the abandoned feathers' meaning had loosened, now, it could mean anything. The time frame to a stranger, an intimate message to a mate; a desire or, possessing the intention of ending one’s life, achievable solely through suicide. This was done by ensuring that (or having someone else ensure) one’s ashes to fall into the ocean upon rejuvenation. Or, boldly convincing the sisters to carry the deed out themselves. Only once, had the latter succeeded in the persuasion. This desire was typically displayed by a singular of each, the plume, wing and tail, commonly linked to (as a secondary meaning) ‘Don’t follow me.’ As for the less romantic, ‘Stay the hell out of my way’. Anyhow, the signal related here, is how the original wings feather meaning could also replace the original plume’s meaning. Plucking a plume feather off oneself is an extreme feat, not worth attempting, no matter how long one plans to stay in one place. Our ancestors must have had either unbreakable necks or more mate’s to count on. It was the former, obviously.
Upon arrival on Baltimare’s forest, I was to be greeted by an unusually shrewd wind as though my friends anguished cries were carried. Allowing myself to briefly enter the realm of superstition, I cursed once more at my failure to protect the unknowing from the unknown, as those who are knowing should do, relatively speaking. And well, it was a forest. The trees rustled like any other, emanating a subliminal solidarity. If they could speak, I doubt they’d say anything anyway. The wildlife was largely uncaring of my presence, although I had to turn away many amusing questions of ‘did you see where the rabbit went?’ from the fox and hungry looks from the manticores. We do try to remain impartial, save for each other, else we’d be altering, well, everything. Lore showed us the traps mythical birds had fallen into when interfering, destroying what was never meant to be destroyed; creating cultures that were to not be created. So much so, we’ve played a part in any Equestria’s history you’ve ever heard of.
Theoretically, Celestia runs directly against our morality, by upkeeping a repeating cycle until unforeseeable circumstances forced her otherwise. Once, we’d been convinced of our merit--and attempted to be those circumstances ourselves. Gods should never conflict. But they are the only ones whose conflicts are of any importance, else no tales to sing of. Phoenix's are just colourless pieces that wish to hold no influence, but contradict their beliefs with their very existence, for our manipulation is inevitable; humility’s great. As I said, this is all, theoretically, speaking.
I left a wing feather beside a spindly birch tree and settled on a grand oak nearby, silently complementing its age. Tree’s are just about the kindest organics around. They’d never start any wars. I held no high hopes for like company but, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, it came. What you didn’t guess, is how it came: as my mother. Now, you see, we didn’t exactly have a platonic relationship after all this time. It was a meager number of years after my birth that my will was entirely my own. My family treated each other fairly similarly to how one would treat strangers. But not to say loneliness is any better, quite the opposite; immortality is never a stranger amongst itself. We’re all bearers of the same pain, (mostly). Mystifyingly, the exchange was a bit cold. She was pleased to see I was alright, and wished me well. No asking as to what happened. No affirmation of the injustice. No playing of the heartstrings. It brought me close enough to be bitterly pondering whether if everybody else really was the same, lifespan irrelevant. As a result of me being utterly flabbergasted at the lack of questions, I let her leave before she’d arrived. Amazing.
She didn’t even tell me where father was. Not that he’d care where I was. I don’t think anyone cared where I was. Had they ever? Did the Equines care when they “claimed” the land by erecting their colorful banners? Two in the earth, one with a slightly higher proportion of crystals below it; one in the clouds. A large group of us were watching, bemused at how anypony could “claim” the land. Undeniably, we are all claimed by the land as long as we reside on it. That was how it was, what all philosophy was founded on. Now, they were doing something so silly; incredible enough to defy the most primal of rules. With their ridiculous ideals, they brought the staggering cold. Windigos are remnants of Discord’s rein. A cruel joke that he didn’t think would have any effect prior to his return. Let alone to have them spread their ice across continents with a constant source to feed on! We were forced to abandon our home for the pastel coloured four legged creatures who’d “claimed’ the land whose fertility they’d decimated themselves. Supposedly pacted under three banners stemming from physical differences, until we found out they’d decided to ‘make up’. How lovely. No Phoenix dared return for many years, if not for the plagued land, then for the insufferable, surely hypocritical, ponies, if they were there at all. Our sudden poof into existence was ironically seen as blessing from the heavenly sisters. And, as it unsurprisingly turned out, the Alicorns were too pompous to deny it. Oh, if they only knew! 'Twas painful to watch the last of them who had retained an inkling of the goings on of their history noisily gurgle out their knowledge before plainly dying. Incoherent enough to be hardly understandable to a degree of accurate interpretation by listeners of the naked ear: but they wore earmuffs anyway. It’s the sole fashion trend that never dies. Similar amongst us but to a lesser extent, or... Ha-ha, perhaps not! Perhaps none. As for the few whose conviction was absolute, their destiny was to unfortunately contract terminal diseases beyond all odds of their otherwise healthy states; their written epiphanies to be hastily burned. Magic is the perfect propaganda.
Recall like that brings tears to my eyes, so for my sake, i'll stop going far back again. Too much suffering to be found there. Yet, it’s too distant to laugh at, now that I’ve seen the consequent echoes.
After my mother left me, no events of significance happened for quite some time. I was busy contemplating why she did so in the manner she did, assuming there was a reason. Any reason. I should mention that phoenix's are notorious for going through numerous existential crises throughout our self determined length of consciousness. I am no exception. We are eternally scraping against an invisible wall to find meaning at our attempt at an impartial existence. Once again, darkly, this is only satisfiable by death. I don’t doubt ponies go through them too, but its easier for them. They're forced to live in the present because they live their lives under death’s shadow. A sense we all secretly lust after. But as I mentioned, to move onto the interesting stuff, we’re going to have go forward a bit. As in, a couple hundred years. I hadn't been to any more cities during this time, most likely due to my disgust at Canterlot. Sure, I’d flown around a bit, but only now had I the courage to give ponies a second chance. It was fortunate then, that a honorable Stallion came by me at the right time.
It was a gorgeous autumn, beside an old fort falling into disrepair within the Everfree forest. Fallen leaves were scattered about the earth; their stoic mothers-fathers stood above looking down with pride upon their handsome handiwork. A distant crunch of hooves could be heard, warping the masterfully artistic pieces of gold in their wake. And I, was perched, gazing at the edifice, letting my sentimentality batter me once more. That stronghold was very good at bringing them back. Seldom does a pony wander far into the uncharted, too scared of creatures that mean no harm. On a whim, I broke my trance and casually looked down, expecting to see a squirrel or something ordinary. Instead, I found two disproportionally large blue eyes staring back at me, so startled was I, that my fall to the ground afterwards was entirely unintentional hence, making a rather loud thud. How annoying was it to be again, under a hoof. But, my curiosity was piqued; there would be no turning back. He simply said ‘hey.’ Apparently unflustered by my clumsiness, though judging by the friendly grin on his face, still amused. The Equine retained fairly luxuriant brown coat, which was surprising, considering he was in the middle of nowhere.
I distractedly played the name around in my head for a bit, ‘Charrrrlieeeeeee, charLIIee CHARliiee....’ He was fairly slender for an Earth pony. I made no movement, unsure if he’d retain belief in my understanding if I did. Though, his moderately sombre tone was well worth noting.
‘You have a name right?’ He asked, raising an eyebrow.
Of course I had a name. I had many. Changed in vain efforts to forget. No harm in being granted one more meaningful than the last. I tried shuffling to his right, in hopes I might eye his cutie mark, but he shifted his own mass in sync, rather deliberately, I might add.
‘Well, whatever your name is, would you care to join me? I’ll tell you my tale along the way if you want.’
His congenial grin beamed even wider, apparently ecstatic at the chance of companionship, even if it was to be shared with a boring bird like me. In response, I gave a bellowing, primeval squawk, making him jump in quite an endearing way; his pupils inflating to about twice their normal size. At last I caught sight of his cutie mark: it was a magnifying glass. I considered him a relative equal now; I hope he saw it that way too. On his tangent, he failed to notice the obtrusive ruins a few wing lengths away, not that I minded, just, noticed.
When his frame ceased to shake with loveable mirth, I was invited onto his back, so long as I didn’t rip his hide to shreds. I hesitantly agreed. We gaily trotted on for what remained of the day without speech: rare to find anypony who is content with silence. The sole barring being a cheeky, playful nibble on his ear every so often. That was harshly reprimanded by him with a large amount of volume: ‘Oi!’ So much so, it successfully scared off all the other forest's inhabitants, within a substantial radius.
Celestia raised an unusually starless night that night. Just as my dear four-legged friend wisely decided to set up camp, taking comfort in his charitable guardian angel. He knew she would protect him, if need be. The fire kindled, I was told a bit about him. Even though he no longer bothered to crane so as to visually observe my reactions. Maybe the minute tightening and waning of the tender grip of talons were communicative enough for his purposes.
Sighing, as bright flames flickered off his visage and, those eyes. ‘I’ll start off with why I’m here, if you're so inclined.’ My gentle shimmying up his spine told him I was so inclined. ‘I got, uh, well...’ I'd guess, the concept of speaking to someone who could understand but did not speak back was unnatural to him: someone who had no desire of revealing his truths to others. Someone who just wanted to listen.
‘I worked, as a private detective up in Yanhoover,’ (Yanhoover was a long, long, way away, up in the north) ’which was fine, when I wasn’t starved of customers. But, I always was starved for bits, bits, bits... Difficult for a simple earth pony like me to find an intellectual’s job, but I did, so, that was great.’
Roaming the wilds was really intellectual.
‘Basically, I got chewed out by debt sharks.’ He choked a little. Whether an effort to keep tears down, or an act of defiance, I know not. ‘And, as you can see, I fled to the only place outside of their stranglehold. And, er, that’s about it... I met you as well, I guess.’ He still held many a tale he wasn’t prepared to tell, yet. But I could spare a couple of years off an eternity, for somepony as fascinating as he. Better than entrapping oneself in a spiral of memories I’d think. Clearly,there was more to it, much more. But that’s all I was going to get for now. Sleep descended.
With somewhat of an early start, we headed out to, somewhere. He’d convinced himself I was guiding, somehow leading him on a journey of enlightenment. But the only guidance I provided was ensuring he didn't get “gobbled up” by a random dragon. Maybe, I did direct him, just a little. Coincidentally, we stumbled onto those ruins, the ones he failed to notice in spectacular fashion the first time, I mean. It was largely intact compared to the state it’s in now, so he got a fairly extensive tour of the place. Including passing by five empty pedestals. I was unable to communicate the majority of the fortress' extensive history, although the speculative inferences he made were remarkably close to the truth. Maybe it’s a trait of detectives or something. But at best, I knew he’d die knowing a tiny bit more than the ponies around him; I was the only one who’d ever know, tragically. That’s pretty bitter, actually.
Many days trekking later, we reached Dodge city. Receiving a mass of confused looks from the locals. I don’t think they understood the concept of a phoenix willingly accompanying a pony. After all, the relationship between our species remained tenuous. Celestia had appeared to finally come out of her tantrum, as food and water were reasonably stocked. Existence of plans to build a railway line were also in place, connecting Dodge to the capital. My attitude towards the princess was far harsher now. I became disgusted by my own respect for her when this all started. She was most definitely going to get a piece of my mind.
However, I’d choose Dodge over Canterlot any day, monarch aside. Most ponies only knew of the “events” only through aging tomes, for word of mouth was no longer a viable medium to sustain the complexities of the fable. The vast majority of which were written or strictly censored by you know who.
Charlie was able to handle himself well for having not talked to anypony for so long. Though he offered to buy me a dinky little bird-house with the few bits that he had, the silly thing. After he’d organised basic accommodation for us, we headed on over to a cronky old bar, coming with dodgy hinges and all. To my dismay, my partner hastily lushed up, before I could convince him of his equivocal behavior. He’d have probably initiated some dreadful bar-fight, if I didn’t constantly scratch at his hide, reminding his inhibitions to stay awake. In his intoxication, Charlie proceeded to inform all the disinterested drinkers within earshot on some dramatic case he’d once reviewed, despite its closure. Supposedly concerning an attempted murder of an innocent mare named Jennifer; for various slurred reasons, the assailant was never found. More Inexplicable, was the presence of a large number of the assailant’s wings as well as, smaller, crimson wings that could not belong to a pony, scattered indiscriminately over the entire scene. Rumour had it, that the assailant had been involved in some kind of highly organised crime syndicate, but details beyond that were shady. He explained he looked at it merely out of curiosity, as there was no hope of solving the crime committed over a hundred years ago. Notoriously known as the ‘Canterlot Killing’ (paradoxical, in view of the lack of killing) within all of law enforcement. Such dramatisation! And, upon that particular pause in the narrative, we were promptly removed from the premises. We’d lasted awhile, at least, but Charlie wasn’t too happy about it.
I forcefully steered the drunkard back to the hotel he’d booked a room in a few hours ago, it was lucky that he didn’t need support, else I’d have to bother attracting the attention of an innocent bystander. Poor bystander. Once we got there, the next challenge would be to get his room key (he hadn't picked it up yet) from the dangerously pretty female, grey coated unicorned receptionist, as well as ideally, avoiding the necessity of calling security. The exchange went something along the lines of:
‘Hello Mr Charlie, how can-’
‘I needshh... my, room, keyshhhes!’
The receptionist scowled, realising the source of the sudden, repugnant smell of alcohol, before opening a book. Wisely not bothering to ask him what room he’d booked.
‘Heysh,’ he hiccuped, losing his balance; slamming the entirety of his weight on the desk that stood between them. ‘
You free tonightshh?’
She uttered a flat ‘No,’ without looking up, continuing to scan the registries for the room number. I was enjoying the novelty of the social exchanges, even if it was a little embarrassing, as of then. ‘Yeshh you are!’ My hopelessly pained intimate yelled, unable to relinquish the newly acquired marefriend. He began to stagger around the front desk, trying to figure out how he could surmount the obstacle, the mighty “desk”. I tried to rein him back, worried this would turn into more than a bit of denouncable tomfoolery. Unbeknown to me, it already had. The few other ponies that were in the small lobby with us deviated from their idle positions, taking more than a little notice his disorderly conduct and the phoenix restraining him. Quite the sight. I frustratedly questioned why the unicorn was taking so long to look up a simple one night booking, holding on. I couldn’t afford to let go, less his chances of getting arrested would be more than thrice fold what they were already. As the intoxicated pony came closer to the conclusion of simply climbing over the desk, I stepped things up a notch. A notch too far. I glanced down to check he was alright. He wasn’t; no wonder he was thrashing about so much. My grip released instantaneously. By my ashes, what I saw....
I stared upon multiple, dark, streaks running down him, disturbingly akin to the colour of these two wings. They zealously trickled out of several deep gashes I’d inflicted on both sides of his torso, pooling into a unified, gory puddle. As the wooden floor became stained with the colour of my comrades insides, I could only look on, aghast at what I'd done. It seeped in, between the small crevices on the ground, marking a river of blood for all to witness. The cacophony of his screams amounted to an absolutely just animosity, toward, me. His coat turned red. They turned red. Everything turned red. Only those two, big, bright blue circles, whose glance I caught moments before closing, retained their own colour, that colour, I loved so much. Those eyes granted me a hint of recognition within the storm of pain, asking, ‘Why?’
Oh Charlie, I’m so sorry...
Watching, from a rooftop, the blaring ambulance took him away, but my guilt did not go with it. How pathetic of me. The one promise he asked me to keep, I could not. He’d sure of my understanding now, wouldn't he; I was his bane! He, possessing qualities I so admired, betrayed by his silent vigil, in the most brutal of fashions. He, who was convinced the path he took was overseen, despite the overseer's denial, was right. He, prepared to accept the phoenix as a lifelong buddy; was likely to have been abruptly ended by the very same one. Amongst the haze, I hardly noticed, he was just another pony. I was the one passionately warping the heartstrings now, however much I vilified the way it played. My relentless brooding would have left like chips on the roof, if I couldn’t feel the presence of a creeping, hallucinogenic warmth, dripping off the tips, of talons, still. I can feel it now, with unpleasant effort.
Apparently they were naive enough so as to be clueless to the reason for the gashes. It would take quite the morbid contraption to have it be self-harm, the kind that is not found in modern Equestria. Newspapers were dominated by the story easily enough; I hypothesised Celestia had somehow been keeping track of me, all this time. She’d be hugely shocked when she connected the dots. I don’t know why I thought this important.
Nopony noticed the phoenix, perched on top of Dodge’s new hospital, very much out of place in the otherwise adventurous town. It lacked trees too; I missed them. The days were long and lonely, most half expected to see a body bag, appropriately labelled to exit. No animals to give a passing greeting to, for the most ponies would give cold, humourless stares if I tried. Not least a full month later, was Charlie reluctantly discharged under dubious circumstances, gashes now replaced with white, permanent, prominent, scars bored into his brown sides, while the magnifying glass on his rump remained unblemished. When he did exit, the sunlight had him quickly avert his gaze to the ground, away from me.
A filly happened to be bouncing along, before she saw him right after he’d come out. When she did, she let out barely suppressed gasp and ran as fast as her little legs would carry her. It all happened before Charlie even had the chance to call after her. It took few moments later for the ex detective to deduce why she ran, as those eyes were still not fully adjusted to the brightness. And then, he rippled his torso muscles, distorting the marks, pretending he’d be able to shake them off. I couldn’t help but flinch at that. Blood, dripping, again. It was causing a fair amount of discomfort. ‘But not as much as he was in; not as much as I’d given him.’ I told myself, over, and over. In my long life I’d been through worse, thought guilt was apt in murder. I’d seen its exploits many times. But I wouldn’t allow myself to fall as its prey, I needed to do things, first. Remembering: it got more detrimental every time, only with this accursed mind. Tough times; they always were.
Snapping myself out of the daymare, I found that he was walking in the direction of a general store, to pick up some much needed supplies before heading back into the wilderness, including a curious blue knapsack. After he’d stocked up, he left the store and began to walk out of town, passing many a curious eye on his way, though none daring to offer any sort of aid to the now unwillingly famous pony. It seemed Dodge wasn’t the kind of town to ask questions: not a bad thing.
In the short journey between the town’s carfax and the nearest forest, he kept his head on full swivel, just as an antelope lifts its ears in search of predators. There did not appear to be any dubious characters, but I don’t doubt the sharks could smell the blood; it’d be easy for one to don a suit. I feared I’d bring them with me, as irrational as it was. Like they could peer into my imagination. They didn’t present any danger to me, only to Charlie, and I’d already proven myself to be a danger to him. I took no comfort in that fact, as I shouldn’t have.To my (and his) relief, he got out of the town without futher incident.
A considerable way into the forest, he suddenly stopped and yelled ‘I hope you're still with me!’ It wasn’t directed at anypony in particular. Then I realised I wasn’t a pony. Had the fool forgiven me? So I flew onto a branch in front of him, as opposed to just skirting the canopy above him.
‘There you are, been awhile hasn’t it? It’s good to be sober, and even better to see you again.’
He chuckled a bit, as though his time had been otherwise well spent and voluntarily so. Yeah, he’d forgiven me.
‘You been doing alright?’
Fine, just, fine. As real as the blood you remind me of is, you can’t see it. I wonder what you’d do if you could...
‘Do you remember the blood?’
I outstretched my left wing and started to nibble it to indicate my distress, designed to dissuade Charlie from talking any further on the topic. Instead, he made a distinctive quizzical expression, sensing he’d hit a nerve, though, not fully understanding the depth of guilt.
‘You must have seen me scare that filly away...’
His head drooped, now that he'd witnessed the ripples of the drunk night in relative hindsight---courtesy of yours truly.
‘May I have a feather?’
That, was a very odd request. Phoenix's were supposed to be too regal, too bound to their honour to be asked for, anything. Fairly close to offhandedly requesting to be recruited into Celestia’s royal guard I’d think. As far as I knew, they were perceived as legendary objects, a gift from bird to pony, certainly not demanded. And nopony would have any use for one, it was just a pretty red thing, ultimately. I suppose if somepony was interested enough as a scientist (there were none that were so yet, evidently) they might ask for one, but this? Charlie glared determinedly on, waiting for his wish to be granted.
Still deliberating, I began feeling out the nub of my still outstretched left wing, looking for a suitably minor feather. I kept an eye on Charlie the whole time: he was unblinking. I found one, but still feigned searching, hoping there’d be a lapse in the brown Equines resolve, but there was none.
‘Give, me, a feather.’
His request now a heavily emphasised demand, his look became fairly disturbing. What was determination: transformed into killing intent; the usually wholesome wind, hollowed, driving one to relentless compliance. I shivered, swearing he was able to see the feather-coloured liquid with me, the one I’d meticulously spilt from its innocent container. Oh, by Luna, he could! For he was gawping at it now, watching it fall as droplets onto lush ground. And for an instant, I saw his pained eyes again, but, no. They were cold, unwavering, housing unstoppable resolve, nor pain anymore. His senses were not my own, they could not see what I saw, because, it wasn’t there. It wasn’t there. Just, here. He wanted a feather --- right. I could do that. I don’t know why he did, but reason was abandoning me too.
Acting on mechanical instructions alone, I picked off a feather I’d located long ago at the base of my tiring wing, (it had been outstretched for quite some time). The cogs of my brain evidently whirring, so as to cope with the, (allegedly) nonexistent blood. As such, I only release my beak’s grip where I perched, letting the feather float to the ground. Well, I assumed it floated down, I daren’t not tilt any unnecessary senses within the range of illusionary, lest it become more than illusionary. I desperately sought any sound from Charlie, he’d give justification, my effective saviour, from this self-constructed torture machine of mine.
Peculiarly, he remained silent for a lengthy amount of time, even though I sensed he was below me; it wasn’t not like Charlie to do so. I was utterly bamboozled by the whole situation; left wondering what in all Equestria was going on.
‘I’ve seen one of these before.’
With that, my head could snap down to see him, no longer holding the fear of what only existed in one pair of eyes, because, by focusing on somepony as lovely as he, all else was belittled. It drew a line between what was and what wasn’t. He appeared to be eyeing me again, fortunately the terrifying intentions were gone and I finally allowed my wing to go limp. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet, (I have to point out the irony here) my emotions were very much subject to vast fluctuations. In fact, they tended to carry more influence upon me when I was around Charlie in general. Like he-- I'm not sure how to phrase this... It were as if, he stole, my rationality from me, altogether. But the statement itself hit like a really big, brick, whatever it meaning was to be.
‘Those feathers, they were a phoenix's, weren’t they?’
What feathers? What gain was there to be stating what was clearly mine, as mine? Unless... Oh wow. Incredible if he was referring to, those feathers -- how unbelievably sharp of him.
Seeing my gradual realisation, he said ‘Yeah, those are the ones I mean, alright. I didn’t know what to make of my kind of recognition of them, from ever since I first saw you. To think, they were from those dusty old records of unsolved cases... amazing. What a bizarre case that must have been! Important enough for such a majestic creature like you to get involved, but not important enough to have an explanation found.’
Muttering to himself, Charlie briefly glanced at the fluffy object in his hoof once more, not entirely succeeding in the foundation of belief in the truly remarkable coincidence.
‘Maybe, they were yours!’ He made a loud snort, which quickly turned into another eruption of full blown laughter. Unfortunately, I could only awkwardly chuckle at his paranoidly accurate statement, yet, he didn’t notice my absolute perturbedness. I thought for a moment if I’d get the chance to learn the name of the enigmatic mare I’d saved, but cast the hope aside quickly. Still, my view of Charlie swelled ever more, so much so, it verged on pure admiration. More than I’d ever given any member of my species. More than any I’d given to any other species. More than, ever? An inexorably naive thought crossed through me. Ah, who the hell was I kidding -- idiot. Like all those other ridiculous things, I put it at the back of my mind, somehow finding space in the crowded place.
I only acknowledged, that he wore no earmuffs, likely having refused their comfort many times to have gotten so far. He was smarter than anypony I’d ever met, heralded empathy in the highest of regards and was gleefully communicative with an ageless bird, who didn’t talk back. Forgiving the one who nearly killed him in an instant; instinctively. On the run from the sharks whose ocean was civilisation; acting like he was free. The source of my guilt, but also the remover of it, forcing some of my haunting memories into temporary lapse, as well. Charlie was an alcoholic, brown and possessed wisdom beyond his years, beyond any mortal’s years, in truth.
When he’d silenced his sweet laughter; his ruffled mane stopped bouncing, he took it upon himself to thank me for the feather, before stowing it in that plain rucksack he’d purchased at Dodge. It looked pretty good on his back, the cerulean blue complemented his brown coat and like-hued mane handsomely.
Abruptly sitting on his rump, he told me, ‘I don’t think I can walk another step, long day getting out of the town, and all.’ He paused, turning his head to remove his rucksack ‘It should be easy to set up camp though,’ Charlie laid the handy pack on the ground, which landed with an alarmingly loud thud, considering it wasn’t on hard ground. ‘Managed to get my hooves on some fancy stuff’ That grin returned for a bit, as he revealed the rucksacks contents. Out of it came: a tinderbox, a rugged hatchet, a large blue water bottle (filled) and a few carrots. I flew down, just for the sake of having the new experience of nudging a carrot with my beak, watching its uneven roll along the ground. So, he looked at me, and said rather defensively, ‘What? I like carrots!’
And so we wandered on, never looking back. That’s not to say, others didn’t look back. We received a similar reaction from every town we stopped in, ‘How did you get those scars?’ He did not tell the secret. Occasionally, they were mistaken for natural markings; were complemented for their beauty, it’s rare to see scar tissue -- some didn’t recognise it. Often, not remarked upon at all, but the microgestures of discomfort that I’d gotten to know so well, surfaced every time... Never, did I perch on his back, without material between flesh and claw again, but, crucially, the frequency of the hallucinations dwindled; its effect remained as potent. We traversed all the way back to Whitetail woods; from there turning north, heading yonder, towards Yanhoover. I was surprised not to encounter any phoenixs during this time, as Charlie’s speed was far slower than I’d normally travel and we were covering a fairly wide area. Especially my father, he favoured Whitetail; it’d be the first place I’d expect him to go after I was taken. None of his feathers were there, which was more than a bit odd. But I was sure he was fine. Even Charlie gathered the impression of the lacking birds. I morbidly thought, maybe we were being culled by Celestia herself, as some kind of sick preparation for Nightmare’s relatively distant return. It was not beyond her. I left several feathers behind of my own, just to reassure myself, I was no survivor. The slow journey did eventually end up at Yanhoover, slow as in, ten years of general exploration. We kept up a fairly regular routine, spying a Manticore every now and then. At least they had some intelligence, enough for me to convince them Charlie wasn’t food. One would hope those stupid sharks had given up by now, for a siege could only last so long.
In that time, Charlie grew old. And a beard. Hatchets aren’t very effective at shaving, you see. Quite an amusing and seldom seen image, a pony with facial hair. Already in his late twenties when I met him, and the average life expectancy for ponies back then was only around forty years or so. Plus, living in the wild, undoubtedly aged him faster than it would have. Mind you, it did make him the part of the worn traveler. In wisdom, he had yet to cease being amazing. Nor had he given me a name, beyond terms of endearment, for that matter. If I was lucky, I’d learn a smidgen more about him and his upbringing, before, he too, faded into memory. The rucksack did last the whole time though; it became creased with the imprint of my claws, which he liked, eccentrically enough. Somewhere along the line, he mentioned his family name was Westbrook.
I’d not been to Yanhoover since its founding, so it was a novelty to visit, alongside the bonus of my companion’s familiarity with it. The place was remote before, and still was, remaining relatively unaffected by Celestia's tantrum some three-hundred years ago. It had developed a culture of its own, so I was overjoyed, when I found it was a pleasant one. The buildings were of dark blues and dull greens, that were a little particular, for that age. As was to be expected, so far from the capital. The psychedelic pinks and yellows that infected the entirety of Equestria didn’t come until later, fortunately. A sheet of light mist covered Yanhoover; it were as cold a town I’d ever been to, primarily, because it was so far north. Though it was also in the midst of winter: Hearth’s Warming Eve was approaching.
Upon our arrival, we planned to do what we did every time we stopped off at a town. Locate accommodation (one of his friend’s or otherwise), go to a bar, he’d drink moderately, most of the time, take a miniature tour of the place, eat; crash. But, this time, Charlie was enveloped in heavy nostalgia, but, not in the usual sense. The joy that would normally come was somewhat ambiguous. When we first saw its outline he, quite literally, shook in his hooves; when we first stepped on its streets, he cried -- not happily. I knew him well enough, to be able to easily read his ambivalence. Something like, despite his admiration of the place, he knew something dreadful awaited him there. A past gone by, in the least pleasant of ways. Tears rolled down his face, I tried to comfort him while resting on his back. I tried by gently nuzzling him, running my beak through his mane. But the shaking went on, not, out of mirth. Never, in our ten years together had I see him in such a state of distress, poor guy. I went so far as to wrap my wings about him, inadvertently concealing the scars, though more importantly, giving him some warmth in this, cold, cold world he’d stepped into. I hope it did, anyway. When I did, I could feel his heartbeat, thumping strongly in his chest; next to my head. As well the gradual contraction; relaxing of his abdominals with his breathing: it came out in gouts of beautiful semi-frozen water vapour. I thought on how glorious it was, to be alive.
He stopped after to trotting to who-knows where in Yanhoover, I wasn’t able to tell, for my eyes were buried deep, in his coat. The straightening in his neck told me to look up, told me see what he saw. Three tombstones:
Here lies Allan Westbrook.
Here lies Susana Westbrook.
Here lies Kyra Westbrook.
His voice was breaking as he said:
‘That was them - th--at was bloody them!’
More sobs; the shaking became increasingly violent.
‘M-y parents may--be b--ut-- Kyra’
It began to snow, the vibrations of sorrow compounded with a very real need to keep warm. His tears were liberally scattered over the graves, but were quickly being rendered invisible amongst the snow-fall. Luckily, as long as it remained fully outstretched, as it was, my wingspan protected the majority of his mass from the distraction, allowing him but a bit more time to grieve. I continued to snuggle against him, urging the superfluidity of speech. Some ponies might have walked on by, but neither of us would have noticed.
We stood there, for a long time. My naturally sanguine wings became speckled by spots of white; my body grew numb with cold. Charlie cried, and cried and cried; I cried with him. Not for hundreds of years had I seen a tear of sadness leave these eyes of mine. Hardened by war, wearied by cruelty, desensitised from violence. Yet I mourned, over a tiny ripple, within the ocean of ages. In hindsight, I saw that I couldn’t have been mourning for my own lake, but for his pond. The same stone -- a bolder in his, a pebble in mine. He’d lost all his family in a moment and I... nothing? Perhaps, the pain in my heart was begotten from empathy and empathy alone. Really, this was, nothing. Everything, was nothing, in the context to how long I’d lived. The “present,” a meaningless term, whose vitality was lost, long ago. Would there be a gravestone for me, when I had the courage to do what needed to be done? Why, did one care what happened to themselves, after their end? Coinensess surviving in the minds of others, our goals and ambitions to be forever forgotten, evaporated into naught in the weaves of times’ minds. Like that mare in Canterlot; like Luna. Like, me.
I awoke, to the unfamiliar warmth of an interior. Charlie lay on the bed, groaning in his slumber and many empty bottles of whisky were strewn about the floor. My mind was a jumble, trying to figure what had happened. It seemed, I was flat on my back on a desk beside him. I suppose, I’d simply passed out from the cold. Well, if that was so, better me, than Charlie. Snow continued to fall outside, but, then again, it had only been a few hours. I watched the sky, mesmerised by the tranquil tinkling of the stars. They always did, though compared to Luna’s, these were dull and shallow. I stood myself up, averting my attention to Charlie’s breathing for a moment, before exiting via the window. And I found I was to be greeted by a siseable lump of snow, falling onto my back. What was I, a snow magnet or something? Chortling, I vimly hurled myself off the ledge, into space. Flight is, so sweet. The rest of the night was spent aimlessly gliding over the town: quite picturesque, I’d think. Reminded me of the old days.
I returned in the afternoon, expecting Charlie to still be wrestling a hangover, tapping on the window as I usually did. But, there was no answer. Eventually, I let myself in, only to find the same room, lacking the figure on the bed. Maybe he’d gone for a walk... There was a note attached to the door. Uneasy now, I flew closer to read it. ‘Meet me in the woods.’
So I did. I could only assume he was near its borders, not lost in the midst of trees. He was. I found that he’d dropped the rucksack down next to a yew tree that only grew this far north. There was also a rather out of place, wooden chair next to him, which he was trying to stand on to use climb onto it. But didn’t look like he was having much success in his task. He quickly turned around, and gave a relieved sigh when he saw it was only his faithful (albeit misguided) friend. Charlie had a length of rope in his mouth. Bemused, I asked what the heck he was doing,through the raising of the right wing and leaning forward (we’d developed some personal, if only basic means of communication over the years, though by then he could read my mind in effect, for the most part). Rather suddenly, he turned away from me again and asked me to tie the rope on the branch he was trying to reach, apparently. Still unsatisfied I dumbly refused, awaiting answers. He remained faced away from me and instead of giving me an explanation, dropped the rope and asked me, with unexpected bitterness: ‘What do you think I’m doing?’.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t innocent enough to be unsuspecting of the truth; he’d just confirmed it: my worst fears.
‘Now tie it.’
‘Would explaining myself be any better? You know I’ll find another way if you don’t help me here.’
And I wouldn’t be able to stop you if you did. A bit of snow fell right on his nose; I squawked a little in superficial amusement, trying to revive the smallest degree of joy in his heart, but he just shook it off, utterly unamused. Lost his humor too, eh? An ill omen indeed.
‘ Then I might as well explain it all, believe me, I didn’t want to drag into my pain, you don’t deserve that. I’m sure you’ve had enough, already.’
In pain? Dear Charlie, I shan’t ever have enough pain, I’ll only ever be overwrought by boredom and guilt for you. That, is not the ‘pain’ you speak of.
‘There was another grave, that you did not see; can’t of seen. It was-- It was, Jacob’s grave, my son’s- grave... Do you know, why, I bothered to visit those towns, long before our supplies were low? Do you know, why, I ran in the first place? Do you know, why I got myself so appallingly drunk against my better judgement, back in Dodge City -- no, it wasn’t because of my drink problem, I knew better. Of course you don’t, I’ve never even given you a name, fool. My marefriend, Kyra was pregnant with our son, our beautiful son, Jacob. She worked as a florist, in Yanhoover, no less. We used to be fine, our income was enough to keep both of us afloat. But not, a newborn foal, as realised, all too quickly. So we agreed that we’d borrow, in my name, as much money as we could, before I would inevitably leave. Leaving the funds behind, for Jacob and her, to last as long as they needed. That was me getting “chewed out by debt sharks” for you. Their rates were reasonable; the amount they were willing to loan off, was not. I promised I’d return when I could, as soon as I was able to. So, after pushing my credit to its absolute max, I left. I made sure she’d be more or less untraceable; we weren't married, nor were we officially registered as living in the same house.
'I met you, a year after, as I happened to be walking through Everfree, as you know. A creature of seemingly infinite wisdom, gave their weighty interest to just another, dull, earth pony. You were nice enough, I mean, the company was always helpful. I thought of an idea, to tell Kyra, I was alive, waiting for the chance to return to her, to feel the comfort of her and Jacob’s embrace. Any place would have worked, really, but Dodge was the nearest, so I headed there, as you know I proceeded to get myself, very drunk. Certainly wasn’t difficult, I’d had a drinking problem for years, but this was a deliberate relapse. If, I could hit the headlines, Kyra would know where I was, and the fact that, I’d still managed to evade capture from my pursuers, who I saw everywhere I went. As it turned out, it was made all the better with your intervention, not a drunk pony anymore, but one with unrecogniseable wounds on his side! Sure, it might get her a little worried, but I didn’t die; wasn’t going to die, anytime soon. Ideally, I’d have looked for something similar from her, from Jacob, even. Nothing came. It was why, I was constantly visiting a town, or city, wherever it was to be found. On the off-chance that either of them were there, in the flesh, or the more likely story in the news paper. I got chased, for far longer than I expected, persistent buggers. Through it all, in the end, I got, here: Yanhoover. What was the centre of all my hopes and aspirations, laid there. I never got to see my son’s face; out of the womb -- but as a dead tombstone, instead. My grand return, to be greeted by a buried lover and son. I don’t know how he died. I don’t know why Kyra died. All I know is that, I... want to join them.’
I bowed my head in resignation. Charlie turned round, to face me once more and started to walk towards me. I kept my eyes firmly locked on the ground, it was not my place anymore, to do anything else -- if it were ever. Tenderly, he instructed me:
He invited me onto his back, now with nothing between claws and flesh again, for one last time. No blood appeared, anymore. I obliged, trying; failing to keep impassive. Sensing my distress, he asked me:
‘Wouldn’t you want to join them too?’
Before, I’d never had the desire, to be with someone like that. Before I’d met you, Charlie.
The form underneath me, turned and started walk toward the looming chair. His hooves made the soft crunching sound of snow underhoof now, not those crisp autumn leaves, all those years ago, still reminiscent of them, though.
‘It’s okay, it'll be okay...’
Charlie stepped on the chair, and whispered:
‘You know what to do.’
I, slowly, willed myself to do as he asked, grabbing the rope in my beak. Flying, up, to the branch, was not so sweet, this time. Let go of it, tied it as best as I could manage with these talons and beak. I flew back down, onto his back again and merely gazed on, as he prepared the noose.
‘Well, this is it. You’ll be free, to do whatever you clever Phoenixs do, now.’
He said, as he placed the noose around his neck and tightened.
‘You should really let go.’
I did, hopping off him, onto the soft ground.
‘I still haven’t given you a name. I should really, now that you know me, for who I am. I didn’t think it was important, but I do owe you at least that.’
Charlie looked towards the snow-filled sky, breathing heavily, deep in his final thoughts.
The chair fell.
The yew creaked, reeling to the new found dead-weight that hung from it; I still couldn’t bear to look up, beyond the fallen chair in front of me. Even though, I knew, the form above me thought, no more, breathed, no more, smiled, no more. His writhing had finally ceased. Sometime, I managed to compose myself enough to turn away, I went to the cemetery again, trying to twist myself into some kind of acceptance of his death, as I should have been, quite easily able to do. But this time, I couldn’t. It was a long flight, for such a short distance. The graves were still there, naturally, though I found myself somehow surprised by them, naively expecting them to disappear now that Charlie was, gone. I flew over the entire thing to find the son’s stone, I did. It was as far as it could possibly be from his mother’s -- within the same grounds.
Here lies Jacob Westbrook.
I stood before it for a while, looking upon the tragedy of mortals, though eventually, I slumped myself against its cold touch. Or, perhaps, more accurately, the tragedy of immortality, bearing witness to it all. Charlie wasn’t going to receive any acknowledgement of his death, barring some unpaid debts. Like so many others, he’d deserved to make a mark on this wicked place, it would be a better Equestria if he had. But, of course, he hadn’t, his chance to be denied under insurmountable circumstances -- as if I should have ever thought he had a chance! He, was just one, among so, so, many others. Yet this, was the only death that hurt so much, burning with a melancholy beyond an imagination’s scope. The heartstrings’s mercurial melody was dead, a single strand, broken and the musician found herself to be devoid of all inspiration. Once more, looking over that precipice, that holy, peaceful, precipice. Was your death really so simple, Charlie? Why wonder -- it would make no difference. At best, I’ll die with your memory in me, none will know of my, no -- our suffering. Conflict stirred, the inevitability of my eventual suicide leaned over me, fighting against some powerful, irrational will to live on. Strong enough to implore an endurance of this cruel torture. Even a goldfish would wonder why it bothered to live in such petty existence if it could. I thought I’d be just like him, none would know I’d ever existed, just as a shadow lurks in the dark. No cremation, no burial and the remains of us not to be discovered for hundreds of years. The scars, would be gone then. As much as it hurt, I moved on quickly. I had to, else I lose all hope there was to be had. I did, later, as it turned out. Such is the inevitable end, for we, ageless, beings.
Interrupting my brood, some irritant in the form of an old grey unicorn with glasses came along.
‘Are you alright my dear chap?’
Well, isn’t that nice of you, complimenting my sex like that, I'm utterly flattered, seriously. Cheers, mate. He raised a hoof to lower his glasses; his eyes flicked to the inscription behind me. After a moment, the nameless one decided on ...something.
He walked off. I’m glad he saw whatever he saw, weirdo. Every now and then, my thoughts pass through Charlie’s domain, crushing me as they did so.
The cold of winter drove me to move, I did, so back into the woods I went. Flying down south, again, to Whitetail woods, I wanted to talk to Father. Though any pheonix would have done, really. Someone I could share my pain with, without killing them. All I found were empty nests and hibernating bears. Where were they: surely we weren’t so sparse? Not since the great war! My usual contacts were fast asleep in the winter, so I tried some local otters instead. They could more or less understand me but were pretty chilled about the whole thing, to start with, at least
‘Naw, we haven’t seen any of you round here for a bit. You guys doing alright?’
I told them why I was asking them in the first place:
‘I don’t know, you tell me.’
They appeared to be rather stunned at that, so much so, they felt it necessary to huddle together; whispering to each other, before confronting me. After they’d finished their “discussion” they all blankly stared at me. Quite unnerving, having a myriad of pitch black eyes peering at you like that.
‘We don’t know, but one of you left some feathers behind’
All of them silently pointed to a tree behind me. Somewhat confused by their sudden unity, I flew up to the greenery they’d directed me to and looked for the distinctive bright red streaks. I did find, though they were unusually high for a place to sleep or the like (traditionally). There were three: one plume, one wing, one tail. By the sisters, I hadn’t expected that. Resisting against breaking down right there and then, I checked back behind me, only to see the black orbs staring back at me, still. They didn’t know what this meant; I wasn’t about to tell them, those undeserving idiots. Temporarily putting my bitterness aside; without looking back anymore, I picked up all three feathers in my beak, taking flight as swiftly as I was able, leaving the befuddled otters behind.
When I was sufficiently out of sight, I had the impression, that I was trying to cry, but there were no tears left to spare and my heart already hollowed. As I continually wrestled with a hollowing of all emotions, I searched my distant memory for who was the owner of the once proud appendages. Not my parents, certainly, I would have recognised them instantly. The desire to end me pervaded every single attempt I made at recall, but I was on the cusp of remembering it. Then it was slipping, slipping, away...
I stupidly thwacked my head against a tree in frustration; drawing blood as I did so. It didn’t complain, because it was a tree. Who are you? You leave me, choosing to let yourself drown in the ocean, committing the ultimate act cowardice for one of us, who burn on, for each other, but for you, no more! Immediately, I cringed at the hypocrisy, or was it the taste of my own blood? I couldn’t tell. Some of it dripped off my beak, splattering itself onto the three feathers, diversifying the hues of red. And then, I remembered.
I’d fought alongside him, back in the day, when we fought a war we didn’t want to fight. That’s where I first met him, both of us were bloodied and wracked under a god’s magic, a god known today, as Dischord. Likely, the reason it was so hard to remember him from then, not that I wanted to remember then, not that any living mortal did remember, then. All of us, were infused with an artificial bloodlust; the event; the core of all our legends. Most pony legends too, at that. Normally considered the separation between the heritage and modern, for we who had lived through it all. What was his name? He’d told me later than our first meeting, it was...
By a tyrannical Celestia, AGAIN, I was to be interrupted. This time, by a Manticore that had decided it would be funny to roar at the king of the jungle. Being torn out of a trance-like recollection, was similar to being plunged into deathly cold water and then held down in it for a few minutes. Apparently, the Manticore had found its satisfaction, chortling as I tried to recover from the dramatic change of temperature.
‘Go away, or eat me.’
I said in monotone, trying to drive him away as quickly as possible, I didn’t feel like moving till the imprints of the stars had disappeared completely. But he continued to roll on the ground, apparently, finding infinite amusement at my shock. So trying a tact, I muttered:
‘Preferably the latter.’
That got his attention. Good. Though I honestly wouldn’t mind if he did, I held no hope for such a thing. It wouldn’t kill me, he’d vomit me as soon as I turned into ashes, but the rejuvenation would have helped clear my head. Annoyingly enough, these creatures, though typically stupid, were too kind to eat one of us. I decided to call him ‘Mr Manticore’, for lack of a better name that implied his terrible sense of humour. But I had to keep it to myself, else he’d probably laugh at that too, even worse, tell me his real name. Mr Manticore noticed the blood on the tree, the blood on my head, the blood on the ground and the bloodied feathers. Though not profusely anymore, I was still bleeding.
‘No bloody kidding.’
The inadvertent pun triggered more nonsensical laughter. Oh dear.
He frowned at that, as someone with typically bad humour would do: unable to laugh at themselves. Not to say that it was necessarily his fault, he had a small brain, after all.
‘You want me to eat you?’
‘Do you taste good?’
I leaned forward, offering the blood on my head.
Apprehensively, Mr Manticore moved his head close enough until I could feel gusts of warmed air against the wound. Without warning, I was slapped by a big, fat, moist, tongue, that only caught but a gout of the blood it was supposed to be aiming for. ‘Twas forceful enough to knock me flat: I was not amused. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the effort would not be worth the reward, that I should just fly away, defeated by the hero known as Mr Manticore. How disheartening.
‘Now eat me.’
‘You no taste good.’
Thank you Mr Manticore, I learnt something new today! Perhaps, in the future, our blood, with the right ingredients, will be concocted into a deadly poison. Death by bad taste.
‘Then go away.’
He looked up and put a paw to his chin, as if he were considering, some, deep philosophical question.
My god. I prepared to leave.
‘May I ask, why, you wanted me to eat you?’
Wow, alright, where did the sudden eloquence come from? Not only that, but Mr Manticore's voice had, changed, to a tone that suggest much more intelligence than a pea-brain should have.
‘Because I’m bored.’
That should be simplistic enough for him. I unfurled my wings, to leave him and the ground behind. I was just about to, before my lower half was immobilized between two large paws.
‘Can’t one ever find a sophisticated discussion these days?’
‘You're one to talk! Now let me go!’
‘If you won’t leave I will.’
He was mocking me now. This was proving to be impressively bothersome. I was curious, no doubt, but my dead comrades identity was worth tenfold then spending time with some, persistent manticore, even if it were ever so slightly smarter than its brethren.
Mr Manticore made a goofy grin before letting me go; I lowered myself back down to the ground, fed up.
‘I’ve heard my back is a comfortable place, you know?’
‘I bet the ground is more comfortable.’
There was a brief silence, as the tension flowed out of the atmosphere. We both sat down, I, against the same tree, he, opposite me. His long scorpion tail trailed behind him, curling around his left side.
‘No, you're Mr Manticore, thats your name, Manticore.’
He accepted he was to be forever flummoxed on the matter.
‘Sorry about before, sometimes it takes me some time to snap out of the “dumb beast” act. They tease me, if I don’t do it when they're around.’
He yawned, exposing massive canines half the size of me.
‘Do they now?’
‘Yeah. But, you won't, will you?’
I snorted in amusement at the idea.
‘No, I won't.’
Mr Manticore sighed in relief, at that.
‘You, er, hit yourself on that tree behind ya?’
I nodded slowly.
‘Sorry ‘bout that.’
‘It was deliberate.’
Unbelieving, he stuck a claw where the impact had been, overshadowing me, who was beneath it.
‘I was trying to remember something.’
Mr Manticore removed his claw, leaving behind a hole in the bark.
‘You shouldn’t have done that to the tree.’
He didn’t seem to realise what I was referring to. I looked up, to show him what he’d done. He came, he injured, he apologised. By giving it a great, big, hug. His momentum was enough to shake several leaves off. The cream-coloured fur on his underbelly hung above as he embraced.
Good intentions would get some of us, somewhere, but not in the world of Manticores, I suspected.
‘You scared me back then. I don’t appreciate it, I was deep in thought’
‘Thought about what?’
‘A dead Phoenix.’
‘Distant one, yes. I had nearly remembered exactly who, before you disturbed me. ’
The pause that followed helped convey my suffering.
‘You can go now, I wouldn’t have come, if I knew.’
‘I’m sure you wouldn’t have. But I don’t want to move, I didn’t ever, want to move.’
‘In that case-’
He stood up to his four paws, looking into the distance.
‘Would you care to give me your name, a name, before I go? I hear your kind make it a habit to go by many.’
I idly searched through the archive of the all the titles I could remember I’d been given. Even though, I knew, which one I’d give him.
‘Philomena it is then!’ He boomed.
Even when spoken excitedly, it sounded harmonic, that name.
‘Goodbye, Mr Manticore.’
At last, I was alone again. Free to think. Free to remember. Free to mourn.
Mourn, I did. Believe me, even if I make relatively little mention of it now, it hurt. It really, really hurt. I’d loved a pony I shouldn’t have and suffered for it. My parents were right, ‘To witness those attached you: however irrational or slight in nature, wilt until their consciousness blips out of existence, is heartbreaking’ and will forever be so. What does a broken heart do when it is faced with something that would normally break it again? It lowers its threshold for hope and happiness dramatically. For fear that It will come across the same situation as a fallible damage-control mechanism trying to preserve the sanity at the centre of it all. The sanity that kept the strands of emotion in a kind of organized chaos. If that were to be broken all else would fail, so it'll kill all the joy to be found in the world if it means preserving it. The first time the threshold lowers, it’s comprehensible. An event that many ponies experience themselves, I’m sure. The second sends an Equine, into a spiral of depression either leaving them in a mental institute or privately hailed as a hero for an amazing recovery. The third would trigger suicide or more commonly, dealing in hard drugs and bearing the hated title of being one of many society's unjustly dammed. As an eternal thing I’d braced against many more, but of course, I can’t remember them as they felt then. A subconscious would change it to something a little less pleasant, as yet another coping mechanism. Scars upon scars upon scars. But these two were so little space apart. I'd experienced both in crystal-clarity. Though I say I was free to mourn alone, I was also free to take a full burden. It’s why loneliness is dreaded, even amongst the less social of creatures like us the burden is so much heavier when carried alone.
Some time later I did remember what his name was for what it was worth. He’d said it was ‘Ezekiel.’ The last time I’d seen him was about a hundred years prior to the banishing. I think the term of address I’d asked him to give me was ‘Electra’ A sweet-sounding name by all means; it rolled on the tongue well but like most others, was ashamedly given to self, by self. And carried little weight as a result. We talked of growing tensions and eldritch omens; they were right on the mark as it turned out and the banishment’s ripples still live today.
To try to prolong my decaying faith in a reason to live I once more, secluded myself to the trees for a while. As you know by now it wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. But one cannot find meaning it all by oneself all can be done is brace for more and more. More questions, multiplying doubts and an increasing number of reasons to die. It would another hundred more years before I’d have the courage to see another fade again. Not that I had to for a while longer mind you.
This was when the Sun Goddess implemented the famous Annual ‘Summer Sun Celebration’ To me, it seemed arrogant to hold such an event without a lunar equivalent. The closest being ‘Nightmare Night’ which had started less than a century after the banishment. That only reduced a horrific tragedy into a trivial degeneration of Luna, who, surely, did not deserve such a thing. In fact from here; now, I can say in the absolute: she did not deserve it. I wanted to know certain nagging things, so preparations were made to face Celestia. I think, it was just because I felt like talking; I needed some novelty in my world of stark colours.
Typically, the first instance of the event was to be held at Canterlot, some “random” that was. I forced myself to return to that dreadful city and wondered if Charlie had ever been there: I hope not. Anyhow, I waited in the rafters, observing her do what she did every day, only, this time in public, which (apparently) made it special. Once the silly trumpets had finally quieted down after she’d raised the sun again I, as discreetly as I could, followed her backstage. This time she noticed my presence very quickly and deliberately took the time to seclude herself in some particular room in the palace dismissing her guards as she went. It was... the same place. The light was different this time, as it was early morning whereas it had been mid-morning then. Not to say that it hadn’t changed, it certainly had, but by all means still recognisable. The curtains were no more, nothing but plain glass panes were there now. There wasn’t a cage to be found but peculiarly enough a perch, of perfect size for a Phoenix to land on in the centre of the chamber. I glanced in its direction; to my surprise Celestia spoke:
‘Feel free to use the perch, I’m told it’s quite comfortable,’ while pointing white hoof at it.
Superficially, she looked largely the same though there were signs that the grief for her sister was not as active as it once had been. Eye-bags not as noticeable fur more kempt since then. Maybe I was deluding myself, but the glimmer in her deep, purple eyes was just a bit brighter, indicative of somepony who’d recovered from darker times and was now appreciative for the present. For us, who had to live such lives, all had had a gillimer in one’s eyes, else one had none at all. I took her up on the offer and placed myself on the platform. Celestia’s horn glowed.
‘I'll be able to understand you now.’
‘That’s a pleasant surprise! Why didn’t you perform the spell when we were here before?’
‘I was too wracked by my actions to dare to perform any sort of magic. Likewise, was why the moon remained up so long after she...’ Celestia struggled to churn the name out. ‘After she-’
It was heartening to see that, for all her attempts she’d made, none had succeeded in fully burying the pain it seemed. Never, should such great suffering be buried and not damning it, on a personal level at least, as she had appeared to do so, was suggestive of an emotional awareness, that somehow, not all of us possessed, even after all these forsaken years. In terms of dialogue, a break for a topic change was appropriate.
‘How have you been?’
So meaningless, that was!
‘Why, haven’t you seen me in the papers?’
‘Do you speak of a hundred years ago; about a pony with scars, In Dodge?’ She asked, incredulous.
Chuckling, I replied, ‘Yes amongst other things.’
Celestia laughed with me, ‘Of “other things” there is no doubt! I thought those marking’s were a of a Phoenix, but, I did not think that they might be of your doing.’
She made the correct presumption that the scars were not deliberate.
‘Was he a nice stallion then?’
‘Charlie, was better than that. Though dead now, of course.’
‘They are ever the majority.’
She looked out a window, so that her flowing mane sparkled in the sunlight, before we started our little dance.
‘In mortality, all of life is a wager. Most who are blessed with it are able to find new possibilities in everything they do. Whenever they want to, they can draw from the well of knowledge accrued and constructed by the generations previous. Some, call it a tower, but I would think that the construction is too interconnected to be capable of rising up into the heavens. They harbor a natural kinship for one another, sharing in time finite and the grays that come with it; we aren’t the only ones who suffer, as strong as the illusion may seem. It’s impossible for their actions to mean anything more than another contribution to the well.’
I chipped in. ‘Yet we build or shatter kingdoms for every generation. Watch them live, watch them die and smile at their naivety. See knowledged relearned that had was already learned; forget the secrets we told them. We cannot wager in the stakes we’d play, chips too few, and living.’
‘If we were to self-serve, we’d be the loneliest creatures in the land. So we have no choice but to serve those but none but themselves. In return, we get their gratification, thanks and for me, love and affection.’
‘We, who, with all due respect, have lived far longer than you, had our land swiped away by these very ponies. We do not require the praise of mortals to find meaning, as curious as their stories can be.’
‘But as a ruler, their stories are my stories. I am but a servant to their wishes-’
‘If that were so you’d be far more wicked.’
‘Was Charlie so wicked?’
I retorted, stressing the ‘s’ and ‘x’ sounds than I normally would, with a clenched beak. ‘There is a difference, between a majority, and an exception, Celestia.’
‘Why by name? You know how meaningless they are.’
‘...Only of a personal value.’
‘Yet yours none.’
‘Mine none to me.’
‘But harmony incarnate, to those on streets below.’
‘I only rule where I need to my dear Phoenix. If they see me as more than I am it is no fault of myself. One does not hope to deter blind delusion.'
‘And will the view of the masses ever change if their Princess does not “hope” to deter them in their blind following?’
‘Then, it becomes but another test to see who is worthy.’
‘Worthy of what?’
‘Oh, plenty of things. A school for some more of the elder, gifted unicorn or the Wonderbolts. Generally speaking, positions regarded highly in this society. I have ensured, that none of them would be prepared to die for me. Most important of all, the future bearers of the elements of harmony.’
‘Before Luna returns, I will have given them to ponies’ whose lines appear worthy, they’ll do much better than what I did, I’m sure.’
I pushed towards a more definitive reason.
‘And a step closer to a transfer of power, for when you get fed up of it all?’
‘I would not put it in such crude terms, but you are correct I’m afraid. Whenever the time comes. It does for all of us, I think, even me. Even showered with all this love and affection daily, from an entire peoples, find the thought to be lingering in an uncomfortably visible corner. Do you, get that too?’
‘I do. To say the least.’
‘Not that one in my position would ever reveal it to those that prevent it. I’d break the nation if I did that. Keeping it unfractured is the role of the matriarch, managing the welfare, the Monarch’s. I am both for now.
My perched swayed and creaked a little: it wasn’t enough to disturb our little talks.
‘And this “selective ruling” of yours, was the Phoenix's coming to Equestria a part of it too? How you allowed us to be seen as your blessing as obviously we were not. Simply visiting our land once lost; now changed forever more?’
She tore her eyes away from the window as she took her golden shoes off neatly placing them to her left, between me and the herself.
‘No. It wasn’t. We didn’t endorse it by any mean, but you received some benefits for being interpreted as such, no?’
‘Back then, I don’t think anyone of us cared.’
‘Fairly sensible. You sound, as if, you were not glad for the change, I thought it would have been for the better in the end, for you.’
‘One does try her best to withhold judgement, even when it is forced upon her. If I was to judge, as you encourage me to do so, I’d be wicked and bitter. The invaders planting their concrete over the grass effectively decimating the inhabitants; then “claiming” this beautiful land to be theirs. Yet they; you, are no better than those before, who needed no such control.’
‘They are indeed, very hungry for control. An effect derived from the illusion of mortality’s ego, from my observations of my fickle ponies. I’m not certain my little ponies wouldn’t have gotten themselves killed by the griffon's claw if I weren’t here to satiate it. To blame any creature for anything, is only damning ourselves to a spiteful, narrow, existence. For all the terrible things we have trusted upon us have us strive to make it so never, does such thing occur to others or to ourselves again. As you well know, Discord has certainly played a fair part in our grief, but we are who we are. He has his own part to play in the loom of fate far grander than mine or yours. There cannot be good without evil, just as there cannot be harmony without chaos, they are one and the same. They define each other. I, only by the most remarkable of coincidences happen to strive for one, they-’
She gently tapped her left hoof against the window.
‘follow, whoever happens to be the current trend as it were. Suffering, anarchy, pain, chaos or joy, creativity and harmony are only relevant side-effects if one wishes to be as emotionless as possible about this world we live in. They both function, they both rule; they both have all others follow their ways. We seem coexist though we fight till the end of days unless, against the wishes of us both, a way is found to have two Simons. I confide in you that, often, through all his tomfoolery, I think he isn’t trying at all. As if, all he wants is to have a bit of fun, before he finds himself encased in stone for another while more.Though I try to avoid with flattering myself with such conspicuous conspiracies for the majority.’
‘It may seem all well and good, but if you be they and they be you, as your desires be identical, should you not impose yourself with their limitations and most likely lead them to an inevitable doom? If qualities are merely side-effects, why do you care? I find myself to be inherently benevolent even if, recently, a little masochistic, watching minds, great minds and their great stories fade to the very end. To only be a sycophant is worse than being innocent, as they seemingly are. Why do we not writhe in despair if we restrict ourselves to observers beloved or not, seeing them kill each other as they do?’
Her head suddenly snapped round. She looked me right in the eye; I found myself to be mesmerised in her deep, conflictingly wise and naive, violet eyes of hers. No longer, did she have a dreamy look, staring out the window.
‘You ask good questions friend.’
‘Friend? We are merely lost souls seeking like company.’
A bit archly now, she went on. ‘This lost soul is lonely enough to call the other lost soul it's gratefully happened upon, its friend. Is the other lost soul not lonely enough, to do the same?’
‘I suppose it is...’
The white alicorn walked gracefully in my direction, head high and an air about her that was as bedazzaling as it was before. Even more so, in fact, now that I looked upon her with free eyes.
‘Perch on me. I don’t want to forget you,’
Celestia said as she stilled below my perch, gesturing me to her back.
‘Neither do I... I’d be impressed if I could.’
We snickered for a moment before I did land on her back, surprised to find the mass of sheer muscle I mounted on. Far more than any Earth ponies; she could have thrown me off any time she’d liked to. There was a fascinating hint of danger to it, even though I knew it was illusionary. Rekindling an evolutionary instinct that I’d lost long ago.
‘Is there anything else you wish to talk about?’ She asked me,
‘Plenty...Too much, even.’
‘I doubt there is such a thing, for like company.’
‘It's a bit irrelevant, but who were those guards of yours, who kidnapped me?’
‘Oh, just some fools who thought they’d impress me by saving you. Obviously the legitimacy of your kind requiring any kind of medical help, was foolish enough. You’d just regenerate, if it was at all serious. Not to imply that it wasn’t hurtful, because it was.’
‘Was my capturing a harborer of bad memories?’
‘Yes. Especially, so soon...’
‘Were they prepared to die for you too?’
To my surprise, it came out with a some malice, much more than I intended, but I didn't regret it.
Her broad neck tensed, as she connected my remark to what she’d said earlier. She didn’t speak, instead bowing her head, lower, than any princess was supposed to.
‘What happened, with Luna, exactly? Apologies for going on a bit on the heavy side, but its not as though we get to talk every day.’
‘A little on the heavy side, she says!’
An awkward silence followed; I was left wondering if a further apology was needed, or an affirmation that the question need not be answered. I thought it did.
‘Its fine. I’m sure Luna will tell you when she’s back.’
I had some suspicions aroused at just how sensitive of a topic it was for Celestia, even after four hundred years.
‘Where did that cage go?’
‘Oh I’m not sure, lost amongst the royal relics somewhere.’
Not for good, no doubt. I thought about asking her to search for the Phoenix I’d been trying to rescue but I’d think he’d either committed suicide by now or escaped. Oh how wrong I was.
‘Is there anything else? As much as this lonely soul doesn’t want to be lonely anymore, she does have her royal duties to attend to.’
‘But one more question, your highness.’
She chortled at the unnecessary formality.
‘Why do they call you Princess, when you are clearly a Queen?’
‘I’m not quite certain, it was the term we were given as foals... I’ve heard something about it sounding, nicer.’
‘Queen, too harsh on the tongue, for my ponies. And there were two of us but, that isn’t as if that should make any difference...’
Celestia trotted to the very end of the chamber, where there was a small, openable window.
‘Your company has been much appreciated. You were right, it is not often I get to talk to the likes of you. I hope I will see you again?’
‘Luna would also enjoying speaking to you.’
I shook myself a bit at the way she said it, there was something fundamentally wrong about it. As if her tone had been as if her sister was on an innocent holiday. As if she wouldn’t be the least bit changed by one of the worst experiences any being living could go through and come out alive.
‘A feather for a feather?’
Again, the request for a feather of mine confounded me. As far as I was aware, there was no official symbolism between their exchange and it seemed otherwise useless.
‘Er... I’d prefer not.’
With that, she opened the window and I flew away, silhouetted by the sun.
My next slumber was to be haunted with ill dreams. That was another thing about having Luna gone. Her soothing presence wasn’t here anymore, even to those who needed her most. Even I, craved her, in such lonely nights, if only to ask her how she was doing. I suspect, since she had been gone, all dreaming creatures had found themselves, at least once, being devoured by some hideous monstrosity. Or having their family torn apart. Or having a loved one die in front of them. Inducing a brief, awful delirium upon waking. I mused, that, maybe, Celestia had been the one to be banished, in her dreams. My impression had been of a begrudging acceptance of there being no such thing of a Lunar goddess, more majestic and kind than the sun’s counterpart would ever be. The only face of the throne, was of the regal diplomat. Not the one who strived to fix your troubles in the most intimate of ways: via one’s dreams. Not she who made the stars twinkle and prevented wars. For there was no such ‘She’. A myth, a legend, a whimsical fairytale. Too perfect, for this reality. How was she doing, up there, all alone? More resolute than ever to have eternal night? Meekly crying, where none could hear her? While trying to remember what it was like to love, wishing she was dead. Pessimistic, I knew, but one would think that all was within the realm of possibility for Luna under such dire circumstances.
Father, and Mother, were still nowhere to be seen. I had no choice to recklessly love another butterfly again. Merely caring about one of them would surely weakened my ability to stave off those black thoughts significantly blurring the line between such thoughts and the norm. If there was such thing as a norm. It was terrifying -- I was falling apart faster in these few centuries than I’d ever done so in all of those millenniums previous. Curiosity was powering me to join in with the mortals, dragging me down, further, into the void as it did so. Or, was it something more? By all means, it was truly exhilarating, in its own way... Finding myself being drawn, closer; faster to a self-inflicted end than I’d ever been before. My own kind of addiction, as it were. And in spite of what it did to me, I savoured it, for all the short-lived pleasure it provided. It felt good to throw away all the things a phoenix supposed to be doing. No more did I have to restrict myself to an observer. Now I was prepared to readily love mortality, suffer as they suffered and suffer ever-more when they, ironically, did not. And I go mad like they did, I’d grow bored of all things like they did and I’d love their newborns as they did. Though to me, effectively, they were all newborns. All fleeting butterflies. Charlie had certainly done some interesting things to me. The only lingering doubt remaining came in the form of a vauge hesitation. I wanted to invest myself again, but, ideally there’d be some kind of reinforcement for it all. There was no reason to not take my time, particularly, it’s not as if I’d get through many more of them (I’d hope).
So I took a day to drift back on over to the Everfree. It had been a while since I’d talked to the resident hydra. Perhaps he’d have something to say on the matter. If I was able to get him to talk to me at all. He’s quite fond of the little marsh of his and not particularly partial to letting more than bubbles escape the surface without good reason. Even though, sometimes, the different heads would push another to the surface to berate the other, often getting their necks tangled in the process. I’d learned that from my previous encounter with him (in all fairness, I should address each head separately). I waited on a dead tree for an angry head to emerge, as it inevitably would. It wasn’t until next dawn before one did; my patience was close to deserting me. The head’s attention was (understandably) diverted towards the colleague that just had forced him to the surface; I needed to squawk at full volume to get an eye in my direction. Fortunately, that worked and that particular head clumsily slithered his way between the other necks below to face me. He blinked dumbly for several seconds before the body it was attached turned onto its side consequently lurching the head back into the bog. The movement was enough to instigate a wave almost large enough to qualify as a small tsunami, breaking the tree I was perched on in an instant. I hardly managed to keep above the wave myself, backflipping once before I realised what was happening; then reacting to it. The roar of the muddy water that was mere inches below me was motivation enough to swiftly pull my form high, into the skies above. Looking at the destruction our resident hydra has caused by simply making a single unpredictable shift of his mass I doubted the ability for animals to like trees. Apart from the ones that were already dead, a couple were split, their splinters washed away with the tide. The few who had been affected but did survive had lost most of their bark and were horrifically impaled with the shards of their comrades. Apparently, the passive’s casualties came first and foremost. Collateral damage always came to those who wouldn’t retaliate. Of course it did: of course. Now I doubted if I should have come to see them, after all, I’d just contributed to a massacre. But it was too late now, I felt obligated to give the loss of life a reason, however shallow, it’d be better than no reason at all. What's more, provide some validity on the culprits. More like Culprit.
The bog was considerably shallower, so I their acquired their attention with minimal difficulty. Four pairs of green eyes the size of myself desynchronizedly blinked at me. The four muscular, brown necks were ridiculously broad and constantly making small twitching motions to keep the great weight that rested on top of them steady. So constant was it, that if one looked at the heads alone, they appeared to be perpetually in motion. The mass on which the necks sprouted from was equally gigantic in proportion. The head on the left asked:
‘What does she want?’
That head (the first head, for identification purposes) seemed a little hostile. I’d forgotten about their odd habit to refer to other parties in third person. Presumably to prevent confusion between addressing a fellow appendage and me.
Much to the three other’s surprise, the head left to the first blurted out. For all purposes, the second, head.
‘She wantsss, something elssse!’
I made sure to keep my distance, less a blanket of bad breath assault me.
‘She doessss not ssseeeek her audiences lightly.’
The third head spoke.
‘Only as lite as us!’
They all bellowed with laughter at the crude and unfunny pun, shaking the ground as they as they did so. The first continued to probe as to my purpose for being there. Were animals all the same, just on different scales?
‘Are her days not as halcyon?’
‘Were her days ever halcyon?’
Again, the third head tried to supply a little dry wit, more for the others than me, I’d think.
‘Perhapssss shhheee wantsss to be sssaved from the cycle.’
The fourth still hadn’t said anything and looked quite bored about the whole thing, idly resting its head on the ground, until it was jarred by another spree of mirth. The first head leaned over and on nipped the fourth's neck, extending past the other two as he did.
‘Try to show some respect for the guest dear.’
He really didn’t like that.
‘But shes so boring, and I want to sleep!’
The second snarkily interjected, ‘Sleep when you're dead!’
Hydra’s are immortal too. The three who were (apparently) interested by my presence, whispered to each other (as best as those big, flappy jaws could) before they elegantly trapped the fourth so that his skin was twisted in opposite directions. One held his head down, while the other two wrapped and slid opposingly. Writhe as he might, he couldn’t escape the vices and he was forced to admit defeat. Presumably meaning he’d stay awake for me.
‘Forgive our friend, he can be a little lazy,’ the first head apologised as his own snapped at the fourth, eliciting a prolonged whimper. In all honesty, I felt sorry for the guy. It’d looked pretty painful.
‘What do you want, bird?’
The newly-awoken fourth head glared at me, extending its neck shockingly fast considering the size of it, enough to have me make a little more distance. That was, until one of its mammoth leg, paw-thing took a step closer, eradicating the gap so that I could smell their putrid breath. I found myself squirming at the intimidation. There was no reason to be fearful, but my instincts screamed at me to flee and from that, a wild prospect crossed my mind. Would they be able to kill me, in absolute terms? I doubt they would, but it’d still be uselessly interesting to know.
‘I told you sshe wantss to break out of the cycle!’
The second head then proceeded proved that it was a failure of a humour machine.
‘What kind of cycle?’
I... didn’t know how to respond to that. It was like watching four raucous, adolescent colts who had nothing better to do but to make fun of the mare. Not a beast of legends; slayer of the mightiest of foes. Or alternatively, a sage of the times. I felt a bit silly discussing such weighty matters with them, even though they seemed perfectly capable of it.
The fourth provided some insight to the rest.
‘You want to die?’
‘Could you do such a thing?’
I didn’t, but it wasn’t an option I’d previously been aware of. The first presented the obstacle.
‘But we are to be impartial, no? We are taught such things. Regardless, you did not answer our question.’
This neutrality ideology was universal for immortals that were not the sisters. But even the they had their own version of it. Though in terms of meager interference the rule had diminished, in internal matters of honour or death, it’s grip was still strong. Dismayingly, I became irrationally defensive at the prospect of coming up with an answer.
‘I only seek knowledge hydra.’
This time, they answered in unison, all distinguishing accents dropped, instead melding into a deep, reverberating echo, that scattered across the forest. Leaving most of the creatures that heard it trembling in fear. And it challenged me to do anything other. The previous lighthearted atmosphere evaporated; despite the intimidation, I was reassured by what I took as a confirmation of equality. Very unlike Celestia’s, whose natural tone gave an impression of calm with every word spoken. Even her infamous ‘Royal Canterlot Voice’ cracked in the presence of this in the face of this beast’s bellow.
‘Is it not fair for us to do the same?’
I didn’t want to answer their question definitively, because I wasn’t sure; I hadn’t been sure for quite some time. But they were patient enough to let me resolve my internal struggle, somewhat. Now that I had their full and seemingly undivided attention, I thought I’d give them my general intentions outside of what was being asked. To soften the answer itself, and in hope they’d strike me with some words of wisdom on the subject. For all its jesting, I was sure the four-headed beast could offer a different perspective, likely one quite a bit cheerier than mine. Well, one would hope it would be so, anyhow.
‘No, my end is not as imminent. At least, I don’t think it is. I’ll indulge myself with the mortals, to see the vicissitudes of their ways and to find meaning in the illusion of eternity.’
‘Such, closeness to mortality’s facets presents a great danger to you and all like us. You know it, yet you continue on. Going so far as to question the Alicon who does not rule over you and never claimed to. To have a justification. Still dissatisfied, you come to us, to ease your uncertainty. You will find misery in mortals, if you seek it, just as you will find joy. But purpose, is a ghost. It has no substance, and it will lead to doom if you follow it. Ask yourself this: if all else were to crumble, would you crumble with it? As for the answer your question: we could. But we long abandoned our barbarism.’
Well, that wasn’t a cheerier perspective.
Judging by how much he knew of me, the animals had been speaking, which wasn’t unusual, I suppose.The old hydra left quite an impression on me; I didn’t know what to make of his reclusive advice. Nor the change from scattered thinking to worldly comprehension, he appeared to have made. Though arguably it wasn’t much use trying to comprehend that; logic often fails one so. Potentially a lost head that had acted as an inner voice, or something equally obscure. I could not find any depth to the ‘crumble’ nonsense he’d talked about. The answer, so obvious and seemingly only of one meaning. He’d probably just set it up so that I’d be scrabbling for more, so as to mock me as revenge for disturbing them. Yet the nagging feeling of close-mindedness didn’t go away and wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. But all this philosophical fluff is destroyed in the face of emotional trauma ---- Charlie had taught me that. He’d shown me that. Better to plunge myself in it, then to think on why I shouldn’t, whatever the hydra believed. I knew that, for all unknown outcomes I was going to face, I’d have lived; loved, with another. And their memories wouldn’t be forgotten by me, not until the bitter end. That, was more valuable than a existence of boredom and solitude would ever be.
I met my second companion in this recent history of mine only a few years after I’d talked to the Hydra. This time, I’d been actively looking for one. Of course, ponies weren’t exactly hard to find but they all regarded the stare of stranger, no matter how hard I tried to press myself on them. Which, wasn’t very much, I did want to retain a smidgen of my dignity. Just a little. Eventually, I was approached by slightly stout, dark, handsome griffin.
It was in a park within the city of Baltimare, that I’d been trying to find a friend of a kind. Coincidentally, the forest surrounding it was where I’d last seen my mother. The park was pretty green, for being a park; I was perched on a wooden bench that looked like it had seen better days. The shops were closing and most ponies were already in, or headed to their homes. Apparently, they did not realise the light pollution would dim the stars. A subtle dimming, but significant for what it was, nonetheless. That being said, most didn’t care; wouldn’t ever care. Maybe it wasn’t worth caring about anymore. I listened to the townspeople wishing each other the usual ‘good night,’ or with the added ‘don’t let the parasprties bite!’ for the foals. Because of the hour and after many in daylight fruitlessly spent vying for attention, I was on the verge of calling it a day right there. But, as I mentioned, a griffin caught mine.
She was little bashful. In the way she raised her wing, acting as a psychological barrier of sorts. I put it aside as induced by the unfamiliarity of the situation. But her body-language was a lot easier to read than ponies, much closer to the sort I’d normally use. For some comparison, watching her alone gave me the same, if not more information about her and her intentions than perching on Charlies back had at anyone time. And we’d known each other for most of his life. To a lesser degree, her facial expressions required less time to interpret, too. “Hello, hi, I can’t speak, I’m listening.” Is what I would have said if I was allowed a single sentence of clear communication. Instead I just looked at her, trying to convey interest and enthusiasm, not letting my hopes out of my reach, yet. I guessed it’d worked, as she gave me a lopsided smile.
‘Can I sit?’
I nodded and budged over to the right, making a soft thunking sound as my talons readjusted on the wood. She placed herself beside me, laying one arm on the rest and the other stretched across the back of the bench. We idly gazed at the grass for a while, which was now swaying in the recently begotten breeze.
‘You must be bored to be hanging around here, huh?’
I suppose so. Fortunately it looked as if she’d relaxed now, I hadn’t realised, but she’d splayed a wing across almost the full length of the bench, leaving the other to curl under the arm rest, resting itself on the ground. For most winged-creatures, laxing the wings in the presence of another in such a manner is a symbol of trust. Naturally, the wings are an extremely vulnerable part of the anatomy; laying them bear would be disastrous if someone wanted who had the idea of, or was explicitly intending to harm them was anywhere near. In ancient times, griffins in particular would limply drag their wings on the ground, employing it as a peacekeeper when one tribe’s boss would meet another. Now, though it wasn’t as blaring in scale, the meaning had been refined for the times. For those wingless-creatures not particularly knowledgeable on the depth of the symbol, it would often be passed off as trivial movement, that was commonplace, and insignificant. To keep the potential for her feeling uncomfortable at a minimum, I shifted over, letting my left wing drape around the back of her neck. To my relief, she didn’t jump when I did. As slow as I’d made the movement, I hadn’t been entirely sure she’d been expecting it. It had been a long time since I’d felt another feather that was still physically attached to flesh, even longer: a griffins. The sensation brought back memories of happier times for me: I found it to be fairly therapeutic. She sighed as we continued to watch the lights of the dwellings turn off, darkening the park as they did so.
‘It’s pretty here, at night.’
I’d agree to that, but the object that makes another object prettier, should be considered of a greater beauty than the orginal, really. Or as a single thing, even. In a way, the act of talking to someone who couldn’t talk back made the sounds much, deeper. Solidifying the understanding and the reason to think the dumb one was still listening, still thought it time well spent. A lopsided exchange almost every time to be sure, but it strengthened bonds beyond predetermined boundaries quickly. I think thats what the cliche ‘they were meant to be together’ tries to imply, a mutual affection brought on by trust through the wordless. When I realised I was digressing again, I jerked myself back to the park. Surely the griffin would benefit more from my focus than I on countless musings.
‘Maybe it’s the night, that’s pretty’
The last few remaining house-lights disappeared, leaving but a lone, streetlamp that continued to break the shade of night. She turned her head around to face me, running her eyes down my form.
‘You don’t as look good in the dark; the red and yellow stand so that they're garish, in my opinion. If you don’t mind me saying... Not that it matters,’ the griffin muttered at the end.
She tutted at herself for the bold remark, though there was no issue to be found in it. One wouldn't expect a creature of fire and ashes to look particularly good in moonlight but it was the first time anyone had commented on it that I could remember. An owl hooted from the forest, rippling the tranquil ambiance. Out of the blue, she yelped as she sprang up, giving me a borderline heart-attack as I fell over the back of the bench and slammed into the hard ground below. Fortunately, it wasn’t long until I realised it was a harmless prank. Even shorter a time before she peered over the bench and burst into snorty laughter. After I’d gathered my senses, I joined in, trying to stop myself from awkwardly twitching from some remnants of shock. Though laughing certainly didn’t help with that!
‘Oh, I got you there, oh did I get you bad!’
She said between spasms of laughter, while periodically slapping the bench in amusement. This one liked to laugh, huh? Didn’t mind taking me down for it, speaking in the most innocent terms plausible. By the time she’d stopped, (which felt like several minutes) some of the lights from the round windows were back on. In them were ponies whose expressions ranged from mild amusement to a sleep-deprived grumpiness, even suspicion in some! It would have to be one pimp of a drug-lord who had a phoenix willingly at his or her side. No, Philomena, this griffin isn’t one of them -- probably.
‘Looks like we woke the neighbors up, er, phoenix? I don’t know what to call you.’
Upside-down, a grey pony with a small mustache clothed in a distinctively blue uniform rounded a distant corner. He looked quizzically at the pair of us before knocking on one of the lit houses that were now multiplying at an alarming rate. The griffin’s eyes were keenly locked onto him, determined not to let him of out her sight, apparently, but as soon as she saw him knock on the door she whispered to me:
And so we fled. The speed she sprinted at made me think she really did have something to hide.
She nimbly retreated down a myriad of somewhat concealed passages and alleyways until we stopped well out of sight. I just flew alongside her for the entire time, or above her when I couldn't. Even though she’d ducked and jumped considerable distances without the aid of flight, she was hardly out of breath. To my embarrassment, I was... a little.
‘I think we lost him.’
I wasn’t sure he was chasing us in the first place. She leant her back against the exit of a street we’d just come from, letting her healthy muscles loosen, pausing.
‘I’m going to go crash at my place, join me or follow me there, if you want. Or... Whatever.’
The griffin shifted her weight back to a neutral and strode past me. Lacking much better, I went with her, to wherever ‘my place’ was. We talked and walked.
‘It’s not far. The name’s Laella, nice to meet ya. If you’re into the introduction kinda thing. And you! You must have a name!’
Laella seemed rather excited at the prospect that it might have just turned into a guessing game.
‘Let’s see, where abouts in the alphabet are we talking here? First half?’
I shook my head assuming she was referring to the starting letter. She might not have even heard of it; not a particularly common name.
‘Well that narrows it down. Rachel? No? Not r...’
This was going to take a long, long time. ‘P’ would be the last letter she’d guess. I could just let her assign me some random name; that wouldn’t be so bad. Then again, if I was going to have stories involving myself, I’d rather it be Philomena, or no name at all. But that didn’t appear to be an option in this case.
She kept on racking through the names and deduced it was ‘P’ when we reached her house some minutes later. Which had exceeded my expectations.
‘Polly? No you're not a pirates pet! Er, we’re here. Not sure what you want to do...’
She scratched at the ground a bit awkwardly, her claws not marking the cobbled street. Did Lealla not want me in her house? I thought she’d invited me, but it hadn’t been with the greatest of enthusiasm, odd.
‘I’ll see you the same time tomorrow okay? Yeah, same place, bye,’ Lealla said, and then hastily slammed the door. She hadn’t invited me, obviously. I was left a little clueless at the closed door, must be very important to make her as hurried as she was, whatever or, whoever was in that house. A temptation existed in having a peek through a window, but it wasn’t any of my business. It would be an unfair invasion of privacy and betrayal of trust. Even so, it took quite the will to suppress it and fly back into the green outside the city.
I don’t think the next day was eventful until the sun was long down, as it had been previous. The cheeky griffin was just lying on the bench this time, arbitrarily stargazing. She saw me quickly and cheerily jumped off the bench in greeting.
I squawked softly in response, ultimately failing to penetrate the seemingly eternal language barrier that stood between us.
‘Wanna meet my crew?’
What crew? The possibilities were so vast that she might as well have not said it at all. Lealla mistook my confusion as a kind of affirmative. Either that, or she had never been looking for any in the first place.
‘Come, I’ll explain on the way,’ Lealla gestured, walking in the opposite direction.
Admittedly, I was more than on edge after that. For as unlikely as it was now, I did not want to meet the same fate as a certain Phoenix in Canterlot. A fate, I’d had a chance to reverse...
‘Are you coming or what?’ She barked from across the park.
By all means, she appeared friendly and trustworthy. She wouldn’t put me in such a position, if she realised the predicament it placed me in. The again, that would be too perfect. I ran the risk of losing her if I didn’t and that was most certainly something I did not want to happen. Lealla had been shy at first, but warmed up quickly. Too quickly? Was it a case of the delusion believing she was a skepticist, a secretly uncomfortable stoic gullibly lending herself to doom, or a paranoid who’d seen too much? To her, the idle request could be thrown with little regard but to me presented an awkward set of circumstances, if innocence was to be believed. Time ticked infuriatingly on as the thoughts raced through my brain and the choice loomed as a giant, a black mallet loomed above it all. So what was it Philomena? Care to roll some dice?
‘You alright over there?’
I hadn’t noticed her return to me, as she now appeared much closer, supposedly concerned for my welfare. Nor, until that very moment, did become aware of the salty drops running down my neck and, I was... shaking. Such open grief was meant to be saved for the return to the long stretches of solitude, not for others, most definitely hidden from “fragile” mortals. Lealla saw them and recoiled, unsure what to do in my weeping.
‘Sorry... I- I, didn’t mean to upset you.’
Her words were brimmed with remorse. Lealla sat on the bench, offering an embrace. I gladly took it, resting against a fellow feathery chest as she gently ran her beak down my back. My shellshocked self wondered if this what was having the constant overwatch of death was like, full of intense emotion and camaraderie. I’d have to accept a reliance on others unparalleled to anything I’d experienced, if I was to do what I claimed I wanted to. It was to be worries of the creatures around you, not the ones that would be later born. The insights came with a darkening sky and the comforting Lealla.
Some minutes later, she apologised again and started to mutter about how mysterious it was for me to be here.
‘I don’t get it. You're supposed to be frolicking with your pheonix friends, but you're here, right in Baltimare. Not to say it’s bad, but, why?’
Why was Lealla here?
‘It’s probably not in my place to ask your majesty!’ The boisterous girl roared with laughter at the old hierarchy, inadvertently forcing me off her brown thigh and onto the armrest. It was encouraging to see she’d recovered quickly and with seeming ease. But I still felt a subtle sensation, gnawing at me, yearning, to not grant her utter trust; I didn’t know why. Maybe my mind was just trying to save me from the pain that would come. And I wasn’t brave enough to overcome it. I could only hope that in time, I’d give up on saving myself as it were. If that was why. Time would tell, only not too late, I wished.
‘You don’t trust me, do you?’
Oh dear. I didn’t think she was quite that perceptive. I felt myself shifting awkwardly on the bench, looking away and tensing. The evidence couldn’t have been more damning. All the while, Lealla’s harsh gaze burned through my petite skull. But she kept staring, and staring. Eventually, it became comically apparent that this was just another way to tug at me. She bellowed with excessive volume and scraped her talons against the back of the bench in amusement. I could only sigh in relief that I hadn’t blown a precious chance right out of the sky. It was at the edge of what I’d consider humour and I was a little perturbed Lealla would go to such lengths for some simple skullduggery. Seemed like a real oddity of a trickster, this one. When the bench was shaking no longer, she wiped some tears from her eyes with her forearm, leaned close and innocently whispered in my ear.
‘It’s okay, I know, but it doesn't matter.’
Then she drew back, and reverted to the use of vocal chords. The more conspiratorial part of my brain told me she was implying more than just the trust, but I batted it aside.
‘If you don’t want to meet my friends, then would you like to fly with me? I could give you a tour of this place’ Lealla said, making a sweeping gesture with her arms. Sure, I’d be up for that. She saw my nodding, so we took off to the moonlit sky.
We gently glided across the grand city, casting no shadows and spotting the occasional figure as we went. A soft, easterly wind kept us aloft, washing all that remained of the tears away. The sea lay to the to the west, and with the exception of the new, intrusive railway line, the town was otherwise surrounded by forest. Somepony had chosen the location well, evidently. Fisher's houses were naturally planted close to the docks; their boats, already small, appeared miniscule from altitude. Baltimare was prosperous, by most standards, so it hadn’t accrued the gloom I’d found in Yanhoover. But the distance between the affluent and poor was not large enough so that the rich could fully dominate the masses, just yet. There was none of the snootiness of the old Canterlot to be found, or, more of a silent minority if it did exist. Though they probably added some diversity to the place too: not a bad thing. Waves lapped against the port, which had seen many a creature grace its walkways. I speculated that this was the reason I’d encountered a griffin here; they weren’t very common in Equestria, their homeland was off to the east.
Lealla didn’t say much, except to point out some landmarks: a humble town hall, a bar and even a rock farm on the outskirts. As for the griffin herself, only then did I gawk at just how gorgeous she was. Light brown feathers, bright green eyes and an impressive grey collar. Although it took on a tinge of the cerulean blue, tonight. She was reasonably sleek, but not lacking in strength, quite the opposite. Lealla noticed my staring and jokingly remarked:
‘Look who's interested!’
And here I was, an ugly clash of red and yellow against the night, flying beside her, that made me stand out like a bloodied combatant. For the first time in a very long time indeed, even by my standards, I was genuinely jealous of someone. Fortunately, the feeling wasn’t overwhelming and I was able to quash with haste, albeit a bit bemused at the infantile desire of mine.
Soon after, (still airborne) Lealla nudged me a little with her head, playfully pushing me away. I retaliated by attempting to get on her back, but of course, she dropped, leaving me clawing at cool air. We skirted past each other, each of us attempting to outmaneuver the other, but little success was achieved by either party. Despite her superior acceleration, my smaller size allowed me to quickly dart around the griffin making it more or less even. To my delight, Lealla seemed to be finding it as fun as I was. Which was, very fun.
After hours of similar shenanigans we finally called it a night and went back to our respective homes. Fatigued, and elated from the simple fun of physical competition. She thanked me, and promised we’d fly over the forest next time. I was going to look forward to that. In the meantime, I was plagued by yet more uneasy dreams, this time, of flying in a flock of my fellow crimson birds, but never forgetting that those were times when enough of us remained to do so... If only to escape my own, I wondered what griffins dreamt of.
I didn’t see her for a few days, but we were both relieved to eventually find each other on that same bench. At night, again. As always, it seemed. This time, I was the one to hop up from the bench, but she was as friendly as ever.
‘Hey there, I’m so glad to see you again!’
Me too Lealla, me too.
‘I’ve been busy, with, um, stuff. Good stuff though, I’ll tell you about it later.’
There were a lot of things she was going to ‘“tell me about later,” I suspected.
She was going to ask about an introduction to her ‘crew’ again, wasn’t she?
Lealla hesitated then, apparently reconsidering what she was about to say.
‘You know what? Lets just talk,’ Lealla said a little frustratedly.
That presented a bit of relief for me, but not one for her, it seemed. I think she had actually thought about trying to ask me to meet her ‘crew’ again, and any period of time spent on that would be a lot longer than I would have liked. She sauntered over to the bench, but the brown tail whipped angrily behind its owner. I followed, perching on top of the backrest, as usual. Lealla lay on it, as usual. Propping her head against the far armrest, claws scraping at wood. While I was, unusually, concerned. For as quickly as her mood could alter, I wouldn't take her for a griffin who'd experience passing malaises particularly often. Maybe this wasn't going to be as a happy reunion as I'd hoped. Maybe not.
‘Let’s just talk.’ Lealla repeated herself, but this time, tone changed, into one of savage hatred, commanded by bitter undertones. She didn’t make eye contact with me, instead choosing to cut deep gorges into the bench, which seemed to be shuddering with her anger. Or it might have simply be objecting to being engraved with new scars that it inevitably acquired with age. I’d never know. Her wings were tensely locked by her sides.
‘That’s what he said, the spoilt brat.’
The sheer venom that oozed out of every word was genuinely frightening. And not in my wildest thoughts had I seen her enraged to such a degree.
‘Fuck him. He didn’t have to break it like that...’
Why hadn’t I seen any hint of this when I first saw her? Was she just that good at concealing emotions? Else I’d somehow reminded her of her troubles. Even though she’d told a tale in fragments, the implication was quite clear. The pretty griffin paused, I guessed she was mulling through what she’d just said and what she was going to say next. If, she was going to say anything.
‘I’d been with him for a while. He seemed like a nice enough guy, well... Until yesterday, when he left me, with no warning, of course. What by Celestia did he think he was doing? Now all I’ve got is a broken heart and no money. Go figure.’
Though most of the fiery anger had dissipated, Lealla still paused on an uncharacteristically sour note.
‘I liked him. He didn’t like me - told me far later than he should have. Thought money could buy him anything. Thought people could be sold. Just another heartless bastard.’
This ‘he’ didn’t sound very nice. Peculiarly, it wasn’t as if she was grief-stricken, only angry, partially at her ex partner; partially at herself, for allowing the situation to come about at all.
‘But what can we do, eh - Phoenix? All I can do is complain...’
She snorted as confirmation to herself at how useless she was, fortunately still mildly amused. Though I thought she was wonderful, myself. I could only wish I was capable of catching such a heavy ball so lightly, not even stumbling at the weight. In actuality-
‘Wishing, hoping, dreaming, is all we have.’
Lealla finished my thoughts exactly.
‘My friends will help me and you’ve already helped me. just by having ears to listen. Although liquidity is a different matter. Maybe he was right in leaving me. I’d promised to find a job at some point, but for as much as he had, he didn’t like sharing it. And being selfish is good for us all.’
Is this what freedom did to us?
‘You must have heard this sort of nonsense more times than I care to imagine, sorry.’
That’s why I exist now right? To make people feel better, however much it hurts myself. However it drains all purpose. However such an intensity of consciousness draws me closer to my end. For a rebellion against my immortality, for dissuading others to follow and in dire hope against a life thereafter. It may be that this world is a pointless joke, but we cannot exist in it so. Well, thats what I told myself. What did she tell herself? I had to remind myself that Lealla couldn’t hear my thoughts, sadly.
The silence that followed was apt in tying up any loose strings between us. She hadn’t told me much, but it was enough. We stayed there for quite some time; then left with minimal goodbyes. I met her again the next day, same place; same time, as you’ll have guessed. She appeared just as merry as she had been last time, though, that very last encounter had taught me that, especially for her, appearances could be deceiving. I was drawing so much from the lives of others and this was only the tip of the bird's beak.
This time, she really did invite me to see her crew again, but added some much welcomed explanation before I decided.
‘You see, we, er, call ourselves gliders,’ she gave a nervous chuckle.
‘Even though we don’t use our wings. We just find the fastest way to get from somewhere to somewhere else, in Baltimare. Though it’d work in most cities, I reckon! And we try to have a little fun on the side...’
The oxymoron was, curious but I knew that it was typical for their language to amass connotations that could go so far as to alter, or entirely transform the meaning of the word. Ours evolved to, only at a far slower scale, because of the much slower passing of generations (hence customs, including language), in comparison. The boggish rate of attitude changes among phoenixs would be enough to bore anyone who couldn’t stand to be largely solitary. Although, crucially, we were more equal to begin with; perhaps we still are.
‘Just a little.’
In a way that took to be very much like herself, she whispered the final sentence and then went on to make some exaggeratedly silly gestures, all the way from her eyebrows to the arms.
‘If you don’t mind meeting us, care to talk and walk? Or walk and talk? I don’t know what you’ve been through, but you have my sincere word that neither I, or any of my mates will hurt you. I won’t let them, ever, hurt you.’
To my relief, her questions were genuine in giving me freedom in my answer, even if the expectations were high considering what had happened only the day before. But I didn’t mind that, I had high expectations of myself too, at least, I thought I did: I remember having them. She’d gotten strangely aggressive, regarding this, ‘them’ hurting me. Snarling and opening her wings rapidly, in a way typically used for expressing anger, or aiming to intimidate. I’d have thought that she could trust her crew enough for them not to harm some rare, moderately exotic bird. If that was even the ‘them’ she was referring to, quite likely it wasn’t. If Lealla had even been talking to me on that point. After a moment of deliberation, (which was more of a suppression of doubt than actual thought) I agreed to, in concept, meet the crew of ‘Gliders’. A good name, for an oxymoron. I nodded; her eyes widened in unbridled glee.
‘Great! I’m sure they’ll like you. I mean, who wouldn’t like you? A mute would have to do something damn extreme to get people to actively dislike them.’ Which was, in effect, me.
Lealla started walking in the direction opposite of her house, I followed, hovering behind her.
‘Hop on me, if it’ll make you more comfortable? Then again, shoulder blades move quite a lot when I’m walking.’
I chose to try perching on her head instead.
‘Oh. That could work.’
As I flew next to her, we saw that, if I was going to land on her head, I would need to be careful not to gouge an eye, or even two out. Understandably, they darted towards the yellow sharp things, trying not lose sight of them. They’d drawn awfully close to a very vulnerable organ indeed.
‘Careful.’ Lealla urged, only allowing her voice to waver with relatively small fluctuations, circumstances considered.
From an overhead angle, I think I remember using to use her eyelashes to tell where her eyes were. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t able to find a position where the distance between claw and eye was adequate.
‘Not going to work?’
I flew back to my usual high off the ground as conformation, which was about her neck height, apparently. It’d just seemed higher when she was sitting on the bench. Distances were funny like that.
‘No big deal, its not far,’ she said, shrugging.
The Phoenix and the griffin resumed walking to the crew that was, supposedly, not far.
‘As you might have gathered, this is the main port between the Griffin Kingdom and Equestria, so people tend to leave and go quickly. But there are some regulars, who run the place for those passing by. I’m considered one of them, in relation to Gliders.’
We left the park and crossed into narrower streets.
‘Law enforcement isn’t too fond of us, saying we promote an unhealthily rebellious youth, or equivalent rubbish, often swapping their choice of words to fit into a comparison to the most publicly despised culture of the times. They can’t hope to aim for those who don’t stay here too long, instead coming after whoever they deem to be the leaders -- the regulars, for convenience sake. In effect, me and many of my friends. Our only leader is experience, here: not the expeirenced -’
As we rounded a corner, there were a group of around ten or so griffins standing in a ominously silent circle, keenly watching whatever was in the centre. With urgency, Lealla rushed to join them immediately, stranding the sentence into eternal incompletion. Apparently, there was a natural space for her, since she slipped in without a word and didn’t receive much of a response other than a few passing glances. I wasn’t sure how they’d react; I didn’t know the nature of gathering, beyond it not being routine. There was a conveniently low building that looked like it’d offer reasonable vision and I flew up to it. Now at height, I could see just what all the fuss was about.
Two griffins were grappling, keenly watching their own movements and that of their opponent, ignoring the unsure stares of the crowd. I noticed: though grounded, their movements appeared graceful -- largely a matter of a prediction of rotations, since the arms alone would not be enough to shift, or even redirect significant weight. From what I knew, the arms would be used for a variety of chokes locks, else feints of them. The two of them stepped clockwise, then counterclockwise; then clockwise again. Occasionally a flurry of flaring wings would disturb the rhythm of the steps, pushing off the ground allowing an additional burst of speed. They were using them mostly to threaten the wing, which was, as one would expect, a prime target. Much longer than the other limbs, presumably giving them more area to grab onto, as well as more ways to break joints.
Instantaneously; one of the avians took it upon himself to swipe with a claw, which was, at the very least, explicitly intending to draw blood. But the gathering would have none of it. Lealla herself was the first to bravely dive in, tackling the designated aggressor to the earth and she was soon followed by several colleagues. They split themselves between holding back the enraged brawler who still stood or the bird who was writhing on the ground, almost escaping the hasty pin until one of the peacekeepers caught a wing, outstretched it and locked his arms halfway up the appendage, threatening to violently twist his upper body. He didn’t need to apply any pressure beyond the vice, as the griffin splayed on the floor was sensible enough to lax immediately in the dreaded recognition of the lock. On the other side, it looked as though the restrainers had been forced to drag he who had still been standing onto his back and was, still struggling a little. It was truly lucky that they’d all reacted in good haste for even now, the fighters appeared to be absolutely resolute to beat eachother up, apparently fuming at their own inability to overcome the insurmountable piles. There’d been potential for this little battle to end in merciless brutality as in, the irreversible kind...
For further testament, it was well over ten minutes before they (appeared) to be calm enough so as to not rip each other apart upon release. It took severe chiding to end the red mist. Mainly provided by Lealla, who needed to utter little to convey much, clear in the respect she commanded. Though Lealla was undoubtedly furious herself, it wasn’t for the fact that two griffins may well have killed each other, nor angry at a cruel form of combat that had pitted her friends against themselves. It was for fellow Gliders fighting; the effects on group cohesion. I found that peculiar, irregardless of her natural exuberance, I didn’t think she’d scale everything up like that when faced with such a personal, raw, conflict. In the same position, I’d be trapped in the anger of the two individuals, not such leaderly concepts as the united wellbeing of some dozen people. Somehow, through it the drama I’d remained unseen by all but Lealla.
Eventually, both of them were escorted to their respective homes by several others, who surely listened to the great injustices of society on the way back. An exhausted Lealla, another older griffin and of course I, stayed behind. I gave the courtesy of keeping a distance (within earshot mind you) until she invited me over; they’d just overcome a crisis afterall, and she’d been the head of it. The two slumped roughly on a wall that had been heavily grooved by talons, that had launched or run across the surface, presumably.
‘Celestia that was rough.’
‘I know Nile, I know... What drove them to fight so damn hard? They haven’t even been around that long, Foghorn and Snake, wasn't it? Mad, just, mad.’
‘Eh, long enough to despise each other over a girl, who sounds like she’s guiltier than either of them.’
‘Which is, no time at all-’
The pause implied a suggestion to change topics, preferably not one so bitter.
‘What took you so long to get here though? We’d been there for half an hour or so and you’re normally the first here.’
Lealla took the opportunity to giggle at the surprised reaction Nile was going to elicit when he heard why.
‘Well, you see, I was talking to a phoenix.’
‘I know what they are, but what were you doing there?’
‘I was talking to the phoenix.’
‘Hello Ms uncooperative Lealla, we’d like to ask you a few questions regarding your mysterious absence this evening.’
‘Ha-ha. I am amused.’
‘Oh, I can tell that, the sarcasm is as dry as a toad.’
‘Says the toad.’
‘Have you no respect for my rights as a creature of Equestria Misses?’
Lealla and Nile burst into laughter. I wondered on just what level Nile had intended to tell the quip on, there were more than toads in Equestria...
‘Seriously though, she’s right over there,’ She said, pointing at me where I was watching from above. Nile saw me and stared at the “bird of legends” in disbelief.
‘I didn’t believe you!’
‘Join us, why don’t you?’ Lealla called out after smiling, only a little smugly.
And I did so, perching on her outstretched leg.
‘Eavesdropping has she?’
‘Only because I told her.’
I got a closer look at Nile, and quickly I noticed the colour of his feathers: a very dark brown; some patches verged on black. It made his bright yellow beak stand out peculiarly on his face, sharpening the edges somehow. His collar was hardly distinguishable, made up of an even darker shade. Inquisitive,brown eyes, naturally more muscly than her, though I’d guess a little less than her, ratio wise.
‘And fights aren’t the best welcoming parties?’
‘Something like that.’
Lealla sighed and started to stare at the stars again, much like how she was when I first met her.
‘Huh, wha- oh! She is!’ The griffin, who herself was quite exquisite (though not delicate) fumbled with her words, trying to determine if the complement was meant for her or for me, which was adorable, honestly. Apparently not aimed at the stars, as Nile was most definitely looking in her direction when he uttered it. But it was clear that at the very least it had been, in part, for he recoiled a little at her answer. Maybe Nile was clever enough to have left it deliberately ambiguous, not forcing her one way or another, even if there was a secretly preferred response. It was impressive enough that he’d continue such (in appearence at least) thoughtful line of conversation, after the seemingly sophisticated humour before and stopping a fight just minutes before that.
I saw then, that I’d gotten a pseudo impression that my talks with Charlie had reached a certain depth, but never was I in a position of such insight as I had been with the griffins. With all their minute signals that took much less interpretation than I was used to compared to the brief time I’d been involved in Equestrian society. Perhaps it wasn’t even my relative familiarity with griffins, just a general improvement at reading people. And it was incredible, to see how much they implied through the nonverbal as well as, I suppose, explaining why at times they could afford to be -- less than eloquent.
‘What’s her name?’
‘One beginning with P.’
‘You don’t know? There aren’t all that many names that start like that.’
‘Polly was the only one I could think of; it’s not that she says.’
Because Polly sounds that much cooler than Philomena. He went on to have his own try at it, but saw it more of as a matter of necessity than actual fun.
I shook my head as slowly as I could manage, hoping he’d get the gist he was extremely close.
‘So, we’re in PH are we?’
This time I nodded furiously.
Lealla got infuriatingly near, to the point where I almost said, for the sake of convinience it was indeed the name.
They’d never get it now, with a difference of a noun.
‘Really? I thought I had it there.’
‘Isn’t that close enough?’
‘No, of course not! How would you like to be called Nick?’
‘Living for as long as her, I don’t think I’d mind. Not for the likes of us at least.’
‘Oh yeah? Well I would! And we’re not going to stop until we find her proper name... Bob.’
‘Maybe it’s Pheonix.’
Lealla shot an overly stern glare at him.
‘What- it’s a name y’know! Just trying to-’
‘Be quiet: Bob.’
‘The toad does not approve of his new, forced name change.’
‘The toad, called Bob, can’t speak.’
‘Yes he can, he can say plenty of stuff! Like ribbit!’
It dissolved into a competition of who would laugh last, though I was the one who lost, more amused by at the rate at which a fairly sensible conversation would turn into something very silly between these two. It lasted until Nile finally called for an end to it and both of them were now collapsed in sort of cuddly heap of mirth, while I felt my joints being warped in strange ways being stuck between them. Pressed up against the two of them, they smelled faintly of the streets they played in.
‘Enough, Lealla, you’ve had a long day.’
She only shifted a little on top of him.
‘I think our newcomer may be a bit uncomfortable.’ At that she immediately leapt off him (and me).
‘Shoot, you okay there pheonix whose name should be Polly,’ she asked with a little urgency, but added a giggle at the end as she spun round.
Well, it was a unique term of address at least. After Nile checked me, he insisted that she should go home and eventually, Lealla reluctantly agreed to, with all the trouble of the day washed away. And I was pleasantly invited in, no door-slamming included. The entire way, Lealla mentioned nothing of the fight, nor of the Gliders, only gushing about how nice Nile was. I wished that I could be as happy as she was, it was so soon... I don’t think he even knew. Then again, he wouldn’t dare touch her if he did. I was still ecstatic for her though, she needed something to think about other than a self-imposed responsibility to her group and I was a failure in those terms. I didn’t expect to find a role as a matchmaker, of all things.
Lealla lived in small apartment, though it was difficult to determine much more than that in the near pitch black. After climbing up an awkwardly small set of stairs we got to her flat, which was equally unsuited for a griffin, though the furniture was appropriately scaled by itself, far bigger in proportion to the sizes of the rooms. Things were neatly set out, only an occasional pile of books, or an apparently random assortment of objects cluttered the space. That wasn’t surprising in consideration of the little cramped space that remained as a result of the oversized wardrobe, tables, chairs and bed. The white walls were bare with the exception of a single poster in the bedroom: a map of the Griffin Kingdom.
‘Sorry for this place being made for equines and me not being one. A little cramped, but I don’t spend all that much time here in all honesty. Only thing that’s changed is the furniture, I wouldn’t be able to stand for trying to sleep with my limbs lolling over the side of the bed. And it does keep me alive.’
Torture keeps one alive too, Lealla.
‘If you don’t want to be here feel free to sleep outside, I can appreciate you might prefer it to this stuffy place.’
I was confident enough I’d survive one night.
‘You going to give it a go? I’ll leave the window here a bit open then, go out whenever you want. Wake me up if you must.’ She dramatised the last sentence with an exaggerated groan, but grinned afterwards, making it clear it was all in good spirit. It ended up not being all that unbearable, if a little warmer than I was accustomed to.
I awoke well before Lealla did, but I could hardly blame her after what she’d dealt with last night. So I took the liberty to look around the flat in a bit more detail. Some of the books included titles such as “ Twenty Bets You’ll Always Win” “A Griffin's Guide To Equestria” “Structures Of Government,” and some peculiar fiction novels involving monkeys, carrying too heavy a layer of dust to have been picked up recently. Ignoring the obvious, and apparently to deciding outrageously speculate from there, she was interested in money, but not work. Keen to learn the differences between species, maybe the foreign in general; I was about as foreign as it would get, for no phoenix lived in the Griffin Kingdom. The wardrobe, like much of the abode, was fairly bare, but it was to be expected, I suppose. There were some disused hats, but they were neither here nor there. For a moment I saw the bottles scattered about the bed, then disappointedly demolished the illusion I’d started to construct. Lealla was not him, and he was long gone -- except for the name that haunted me... So its foundations remained, stark; unmoveable. I made sure to remind myself to be weary of the traps I’d bury myself in. I knew I would, all I need do, is survive a little longer. But this mantra of mine was losing meaning in every passing moment.
For me, the object of greatest intrigue was the map of the Griffin Kingdom, as nearly all the borders were radically changed from what I last knew, albeit centuries ago; the names too. A moderately unusual way to remind herself of where she came from, I’d guess.
In a growing boredom, I found myself poking at her side. And when that didn’t rouse the griffin, I went on to prod more and more insistently, yet still, she remained in her slumber. Only groaning at the hazy idea of returning to consciousness. Becoming increasingly disgruntled by Leallas stubborn refusal to see the light of day, I tried slumping onto her back, likely with a bit more force than I should have. But it worked, so it was alright, as it were. After some shuffling around, she grumbled:
‘Talk about a harsh alarm clock man. You could have just poked me or something.’
Eventually dragging herself off the bed, Lealla mumbled something about food, gathered some legal tender, then left the place. This being Baltimare, there was no shortage of the carnivorous diet griffins lived upon. Some were secluded, but the griffins and their food had been around long enough to have been deemed friendly by our settled equines. I went with her to an eatery and she told me about how she’d come to be here between gulps of pig. The smell of it was quite particular, I might have found it sickly if it were a little stronger.
I learned she was living on from money overseas from her parents, who as fairly senior politicians, were tethered to their positions. They’d told her to get a job, to eventually have her living off her own wages. They’d wanted her to make the arduous journey here, for the “sophistication” she’d get, for the lifestyle -- whatever. But I knew before she said, that the currency of the griffins transferred favorably into Equestrian money, almost three to one. As for what she was actually doing: Lealla spoke as if her parents had ears in every corner.
‘I’ve been screwing around for a year-ish now; they’ll send me plenty more before anyone starts complaining. I hope. But it’s fun, y’know? So, hush hush yeah?’
I imagined that ‘screwing around’ was leading a bunch of griffins that liked playing in the streets and experimenting with relationships. Not all of which had been successful sadly, though inevitable. It all sounded like serious work to me.
When she was satiated I think all we did was go around town involving boring stuff. Shopping, renewing insurance, that sort of a thing. I do remember her buying some seeds for me though; I thought that was quite nice of her. Nothing of mention happened until the sun started to fall. And when it did, back to the Gliders we went. We were the first to arrive that time, the etched grooves on the ledges and walls artistically lined the path griffins would take. Some ended up leading far out of sight while others neatly returned to their starting point. There were many branches, enough so -- in places, it became difficult to distinguish where one crossed into another.
The others trickled in, showing keen curiosity for the phoenix perched atop of Lealla’s back. Nile was one of the last; the two avians, the fighters, Foghorn and Snake were nowhere to be seen. Impressive nobody claimed ‘good riddance.’ The Gliders were disorganisedly scattered about the grounds; despite their interest in me, they just wanted to get running. Lealla decided to make a superfluously grand introduction, for she who had yet to be named.
‘This is... phoenix.’ It did turn out to be a little anticlimactic.
She tried to whisper me to do something impressive, but most of them heard anyway. So I pecked her head instead, gently, of course. They laughed, to my relief, she soon joined them.
After a brief moment, one of the Gliders called out:
‘Doesn’t she have a name Lealla?’
‘How do you know it is a she,’ asked another.
‘Her plume!’ answered Nile, who was stretching his legs out in the corner.
Lealla and everyone else noticed my distinct lack of a plume.
‘She does have one.’
‘But we don’t know it yet! Get guessing guys!’ Nile yelled out of nowhere, getting him blank looks and shrugs. After the awkward silence, they all just got on with their business, but an occasional name would ring out from what was now a graceful flurry of flips, vaults, rolls and twists -- all with wings clipped firmly to sides. I quickly found myself mesmerised; enveloped by, an almost childlike wonder at their movements... incredible. Nile mouthed ‘sorry’, before bounding off into the distance.
‘I hope we do get to hear it someday.’ Lealla said, a little disappointed.
Many of them took the fun outside the ‘playground’. Though I soon realised, that the entire city was theirs to traverse, from the ledges here to structures miles away. This was undoubtedly the hub, but they ran as pleased.
‘Think I’ll go run too. You want a race don’t you? Course you do,’ she giggled.
The griffin playfully threw me off her back and instantly started clambering onto I ledge that I remembered from the tour she’d given me was in the direction of docks, or at least the open ocean. That beautiful, open, ocean. I had no idea where finish was to be, only that there was no race to speak of. She’d never outpace me tethered to the ground, leaping over, under, or around obstacles nonexistent in flight. Not even the most agile of creatures could do that. So it was an invitation for fun? I was happy with that.
Despite my of presumptions (or perhaps in spite of!) Lealla was impressively speedy. It appeared she knew the route she took as well as wings she flew with, already tensed to push off walls before the corners, reaching out for bars that were not yet in sight, even jumping before she saw an edge. But she did see it, as clear as her the friends she had been immersed with. The path she took, and by markings, few else did cut the city into a lopsided triangle, going between the ‘hub’ (for lack of a better name), to the port, through the park and back again. The fisherponies who were still out gave her toothy smiles, as if to dismiss their hard day’s work as but a passing errand. The other residences paid no mind to her, quietly going about their late shopping. And the few officers that saw her feigned itching for their batton, but did not give chance, they weren’t foolish enough to try to catch an arrow in motion. The runner didn’t notice, entranced in the dance, held in comparatively ritualistic proportions than the rest of the world. Which was, in turn, a blur of moonlighted streets. I was strangely detached from it all, looking at Baltimare below.
She got back drenched in sweat; exhausted, though before resting next to that same wall she still had the strength to gasp: ‘You beat me.’
Had Lealla expected to win? Did she think my muscle was puny to the point of being more inept than the sum of her disadvantages? I hadn’t thought of her as irrational as this, but by no means was it beyond what I found endearing. I was learning that these were the quirks that made mortals who they were. Not the suffocatingly neutral masks we wore. Their honesty had not yet been corrupted and I hoped it never would be: I still do.
I perched on her folded leg and felt her heaving in severe effort to get more air. Obviously, she’d pushed herself hard, more than she’d care to admit. But the bodies trembles did not lie and being where I was, I could feel them all. It’s very intimate like that, being perched on someone. pleasant, don’t misunderstand me, it just requires an awful lot of trust, perhaps admiration, not to feel awkward. It didn’t though... I don’t think.
While she recovered, we watched all the Gliders pass by. Some stopped to have long conversations about the most random of topics. Others settled for a quick greeting before returning to practice. And eager competitors challenged each other to races across the urban hills. Apparently they had a very organic group structure.
Nile returned from his own miniature journey, sneering and flaring his wings in triumphant victory, until the every griffin around was irritatedly denouncing his flaunting. At which point embarrassed, he dropped the act, coming over to see us. A moderate look of concern came over his face when he saw the state of Lealla.
‘I thought we’d agreed you wouldn’t go on that run again.’ He sat down to our left.
‘I’m fine see? I know what I’m doing Nile, you don’t need to look after me anymore.’
‘I know Lealla, its just, I...‘
‘It’s just that I don’t want to see you get hurt again.’ He said, nervously jumbling his words up into a much less coherent sentence than they could have been. It rang odd. Lealla picked up on it too, pausing and looking into his eyes before she spoke. The words were heartfelt but they were so rushed, it was as if he hadn’t been meaning to say what he said. As if, he’d been meaning to say something else, something quite different.
‘Nile, come here.’ She flicked me off her leg.
Lealla wrapped her wing around him, then amorously preened his dark wing, as what a kiss is to a pony.
And they lived a life of joy. Oh, such joy! The kind of bliss Equestria became known for. A paradise that appeared so close to perfection, it was almost... dull? No, that’s not fair to say. But I certainly didn’t need to be there. It was as a dog loyal to a master, but this time, the dog was the one to outlast them all. I was left swaying in the wind. Fortunately, there was no great suffering for me to bear; to bear witness to, but I was left with a lingering, melancholic, envy. I’d seen it before, though hoped it would not be a part of the aftertaste as it is. They did treat me well; I was never forgotten, just ignored at times. Their deaths certainly darkened my view on the world, even if they lived happily.
Somewhere in time, the ‘I like you’ turned into a ‘I love you’ that was met by an enthusiastic ‘Well why didn’t you say so?! How queer, I go on about them for -- what, pages? Yet like the passing of time, I throw them away in a few sentences.
Dementia took Nile, leaving his partner, Lealla, more-or-less grief stricken until the end of her days. They never married, thought it superfluous, unbreakable loyalty already clear, trust already strong. It took several years before Lealla did get a job, much due to Nile’s nagging insistence as it became clear her parents were content to leaving their daughter to her own devices. But now these facts come to me as mere a drop in a gushing river. As I’ve said before, pain is the only thing I remember clearly, so perhaps it is reassuring that I remember little of the remainder of their lives. Especially considering I’ve looked back in visceral bitterness. They never got the name right either. They settled with Philly, (or Filly?).
The Gliders dissipated into nothing some years after her death, though she’d finished leading it long before. Like us all, their dreams, their ideals and personalities were buried in a mountain of souls so diligently hoarded by time itself, personified by the fiction of our minds. Or, you are wiser than me, hahaha. May I imply no sarcasm, eh? There were groups like the Gliders later, the wing’s (limited) use became allowed and it even opened up to some brave ponies. I think more of their time was spent watching then participating themselves, though I do hope their moral support was appreciated. They were more skillful in many ways partly because remnants of the techniques learned by the Gliders floated around in idle observation. There was a brief span of time where specialised straight jackets to trap griffin’s wings were sold, for those who fancied an old-school challenge were sold commercially; that was the zenith of its popularity.
As for me; I distractedly roamed Equestria. It seemed to be becoming the standard response after I’d lost someone I cared about. Dare I call them loved ones? I think it was to contemplate. After all, don’t forget someone like me wasn’t supposed get involved in such quickly dying creatures, such butterflies as mortals might call them. And for all the times I did, I still couldn't get used to it. I met a fellow phoenix, for once! Not one I knew well... Admittedly I hardly knew any phoenixes anymore. I’d isolated myself by communing with the mortals as he told me. Rumours of being set on a ‘dark path,’ that I was charging in with reckless abandon and my time was nigh. Shunned by morality, as so many others. He even went so far as to mention one he didn’t believe, I’d gone to see the hydra, the angel of death itself. I asked about my mother and father but he had little information to part except to say he’d seen Mother some years ago (not a particularly long time for us). Apparently she was distressed about something. I’d go and console, or at listen to her if I could bloody well find her!
We’re talking about three hundred years prior to Luna’s return, about half a century after the death of my latest companion... There were a great many developments in Equestria around then and along came with it a cultural boom. The most famous Starswirl, (The Bearded) contributed his own advancements into the world of magic and quite a few disasters. It’s a shame, I wanted to meet him, but his constantly shifting location was kept a secret, by Celestia or Starswirl I know not. The few times I did catch a glance of him, a guard was always in the way to stop me from reaching the recluse. He brought about the accidental creation of the Timberwolf, but nobody was aware of their existence until an entire half-century later, so no one made the connection, well, except her I suppose. Perhaps even Starswirl didn’t, though I doubt that their existence solely within the Everfree Forest was a mere coincidence. I suspect that was where he conducted his ‘special’ experiments, away from the watchful eye of his mentor. I never saw him there but believe me, those stupid rainbow-coloured apples weren’t around until he came around. If that was indeed his secret workshop, he was lucky not to be eaten up by a certain creature in a certain bog. But this is just speculation from one who is well placed to speculate, nothing more, rambling speculation at that. Maybe you're interested.
I remember paying a visit to Yanhoover, curious to see if I’d be hit by a wave of pathetic nostalgia and how much it’d changed. I didn’t feel much of anything, honestly. The old tombstones had been rendered nameless; forgotten for far longer, although some of the dates still remained just about legible. More colour than before to fit in with the times. As misty as ever; as gloomy as ever.
The rain was heavy that night. I’d always liked the rain, found something balletic about it, something poignant. It lashed at the leaves and pattered on the ground, just as the benign smell of it reached my nostrils. The thunder that accompanied it boomed through the trees of Galloping Gorge, out of sync with the flashes. And so the sky was blackened with angry clouds. Furrows of Poison-Joke were soaked and drooping, unhappy at being unable to have their fun with the rain and how it drove it’s usual playmates to more civilised places. I say ‘playmates’ because, one couldn’t call its effects harmful beyond a potential revealing of an inept sense of humour. Which was more commonly than not laughed at in itself. I’d come from another trip to Yanhoover, only a day westwards and I didn’t fancy the idea of trying to sleep getting drenched in the downpour.
I took it upon myself to find shelter, the most obvious of which was in one of the caves in the many mountains. They all looked rather imposing, peaks stretching into the sky like that, set against a grey backdrop with snakes of lightning. The dark green of the forest below it made it look as though it wanted to malevolently spread across the land, until there remained only but the smallest patches of hollow ground.
I picked the closet inlet and was glad to be an observer of the photogenic scene rather than a part of it. Likely how heads of war saw it -- to be above the gory battlefield, or even better, tyrants separated from the piss-filled streets, as crooked parallels.
I got the sensation of there being someone big behind me, very big. Before I’d turned around, I felt my feathers being ruffled by an incredibly organic gust of wind. I knew what it was; my heart lurched a little at the thought. Not because it was forbidding, not because it was likely older than me, but because we’d be taught to.
‘Hello there,’ the dragon said gruffly.
I spun around to see the massive creature a few meters away, peering at me me with piercing green eyes. He was prone, lazily scratching at the ground. His scales were shaded turquoise, and I could hardly make out the tip of his green spines behind his face. There was surely a stash of treasure behind him, through the gaps I could see around him, there was only black.
‘Hello.’ I squealed a little.
‘Don’t worry, I won’t bite. I’d just eat you instead,’ he said as he slammed his mouth closed, causing the entire cave to quiver in awe. He didn’t laugh, or smile, but it didn’t seem like a threat. Although the long diagonal scar running from the bottom of his eye to his jaw didn’t help convince me.
‘What is a little birdie like you doing in my cave?’
‘Just passing through, friend.’
‘Randomly stumbling upon the only dragon for miles? Or are you a spy?’
‘Just who would I be spying for?’
‘Your eyes are too hard.’ Who knew fully-grown dragons could pinpoint eyes less a tenth the size of theirs?
‘And yours aren’t?’
He rose up for a moment, then decided against it, lowering himself back down to the earth. Instead looking at the marks his claws had made on his right, while making more on the left, dispirited.
Curious, I asked him: ‘How long have you been here?’
‘I lose count. I sleep. The sun rises, the moon falls. I restrain myself from my nature. To seek an endless hoard and burn them all for it.’
‘Why aren’t you with the rest of them?’
‘Those Dragons? They don’t like me,’ his eyes flicked to the white stripe on his face, ‘I don’t want anyone to die. And if I survived, it’d only fuel my bloodlust. But maybe I should let myself go, have some fun before I’m slain. Who’s supposed to be benevolent when he’s lived this long? And not like you little bride, I’m only mortal. But I suppose you already knew that.’
He spoke with deliberate, weary slowness, letting sounds ring through and out of the cave before uttering the next. It made him either look inebriated, or drunk in thought. Dragons were exceptional at hiding their age once they were beyond the teenage years, but it wasn’t difficult to see this scaley thing was of the oldest. Deep, slow breaths masked their streunity; his claws were dull and blunt.
‘What’s stopping you? A dying conscience?’
‘Not quite, more of an intrinsic fear of death... Some part of me that’s convinced I’ll be patient enough to wait for my flame to die. At best, a recollection of what it was like it was to be young.’
He paused, glancing at the rain behind me, then at me and then returned to staring at his markings on the ground. They were becoming messy spirals.
‘What about you birde, how do you see it?’
Was I supposed to know? I hadn’t thought of them as worth mentioning since hearing the views and thoughts from they who had time finite, nurturing to a degree. I hadn’t really thought about my own.
‘Who knows? I just, float; I don’t know why. Not much for me to do anymore; I help the butterflies, but as you know, I’m sure, it does more harm to us then any good it’ll give to them-’
‘A real philanthropist aren’t you?’ He sneered.
‘Is the world too cynical for it to be a myth?’
‘No. Just me,’ it was gradually turning into a gleeful; sinister smile. His drawing claw edged its way towards me and the scratchings were getting louder as it did so. This was rapidly becoming somewhat psychotic. Thunder cracked, illuminating his scales and temporarily transforming his green eyes to a shocking white. Lacking a specific tangent of conversation to go down, I kept my question vague and open, I wanted him to do the talking.
‘How long would you have to wait for?’
‘Shorter then I suspect and longer than I’d want. I like you. You think they matter, don’t you? Does it make you feel good, watching them live and die? Is your puny heart strong enough, or are you simply addicted to fondling at your own heartstrings? Everything else too dull for you anymore? That’s how it goes, isn’t it, bride?’
His scar twisted with his features in utter jocularity at this position of power he found himself in: I stood before him, dumbfounded and amazed at how he echoed my doubt so coherently. He liked me for his mocking.
Desperate to convince myself, I played a glib devil’s advocate.
‘What if it is? It looks like I’m doing better than you and your deathwish, mortal. Go and see Celestia, she’s infamous for killing everyone she comes across, she’s a real grim reaper! If I have abandoned the duty of principle, there’s nothing holding me back anymore. I am free, I am obliged to no one but myself and I can play with the lesser for my own amusement. Lesser like you. All with a brilliantly stone heart! More than anyone could ever dream!’
I wasn’t sure whose opinion it was anymore. I wasn’t certain I ever had been.
He lost some interest with me on that; manic expression fading; eyes looking elsewhere and claw ceasing to draw on the cave floor. The dragon, seemingly bored once more softly swiped his tail behind him, relaxing his tense shoulders, returning to the calmer state I’d found him in. Though those eyes of his were a little shinier.
‘Are you going, birde of ages? Humbler of dragons?’
‘Yes, I think I am, elder.’
The ‘elder’ had been right, in many ways. It’d take so little to have me fall from grace, what hit me was larger than it needed to be. So it was more of a violent spiral, than a fall and yet still tranquil.
I believed my parents might as well have been dead, I’d not seen Father for nearly a Millennium and Mother for seven centuries. Were they not lonely too? Against my will, I couldn’t get over the idea of them being really, gone. My makers were no butterflies, absolutely, but surely this hypothetical trope shouldn’t be so harrowing to face? Was this what they warned me of, this thinning tenacity brought on by loving too freely? If so, it was a vile truth, like we were never meant to last. As if we were made from the same dust as those fleeting things, sharing in Death’s eternal reparations, a scythe caressing every neck, mortal or not.
Did I like watching butterflies die, was he right about that too? I loved watching them grow, I loved seeing them overcome hardships, not falling at them. I’d stuck with every one of them until the end and I was never sure if I did enjoy that. I was drawn to them, mesmerised by an intensity of consciousness I would not otherwise experience, their deaths included, as tragic as some of them were. Why did I bother? Because you couldn’t help yourself, says one. Because you enjoyed it insists another. I don’t know Princess, I wonder if you do...
On the fabled night, the rebellious Luna returned. Celestia being the mastermind she is, had all the lines of inheritance for the elements of harmony set up perfectly; the bearer of the element of magic was right under her wing apparently. As expected, she’d left it to degrade to a flimsy fairy tale, as I’d know her so well to do. They stomped on the Lunar revolution with a rainbow so bright that it could be seen from the very outskirts of the Everfree forest. Curiously, the manticores in particular told me that it had acquired a fairly menacing reputation among the pony folk. An ingenious way to keep them away from the pedestals and the objects atop them to instigate the process I assumed were there. The manipulation was of such a nature so that it could only be appreciated by those not being manipulated, like you and me. Oh you are forever the silent orchestrator Celestia.
I visited the sisters, I mean, she did say Luna would be pleased to meet me. Likely sooner than I should have, mere days after the event, but in a bizarre fascination I found some romanticism in seeing Luna at her most vulnerable. No, I don’t think it was bizarre at all, just a pesky, useless objective part of me.
It was difficult getting into Canterlot Castle, they’d built it up since I’d last seen her and there were significantly more ponies clad in gold (coloured) armour. No unguarded entrances that I could find, so I ended up waltzing through the main entrance. Stealthy, I knew. But nopony dared question a pretty bird like me. Most of them didn’t look up anyway (never mind that). What was more difficult, was finding the two of them; in doubt I tried to get to the large chamber we’d talked in before. It translated into a clueless route from one room to the next, most of which were empty bar motionless sentinels at archways.
I did find her eventually, walking up a grand spiral staircase; as I should have expected, she was shocked to find me here --- now. The pale pony would have fallen off if it weren't for the Alicorn-sized banisters.
After appearing to be ashamed of the undignified act of spluttering like a drowning fish, we exchanged brief greetings, then I joined her in the ascent of the long staircase. Celestia urged that she had to see her sister before we talked any further.
‘Is she ill?’
‘Only fearful, forgive her if she’s a little withdrawn. You know there have been some rough times.’
Starving now are we Princess?
‘I don’t have to be here if you don’t want me to.’
‘No no, you’d help. You’ll help,’ she muttered the second sentence to herself, more intent on staring at the stairs than the phoenix beside her. It was only reasonable.
‘You're not using your magic.’
‘I’ve learned your caws and cackles since then.’
‘... It’d be grotesque for me to use it unnecessarily when my sister is as weak as she is.’
‘Would she mind?’
We reached a set of grand blue doors. Celestia knocked gently:
‘Luna? Are you alright? And awake for that matter?’
‘Quite, in consideration.’
She nudged the door aside and gave a little twitch of her wing as indication for me to follow.
‘We have a guest.’
The relatively plain bedchamber housed a mahogany writing desk, a few chairs and a lavish bed. Its walls were a pale brown that made the room feel moderately claustrophobic in contrast to the marble floor. At the opposite end of the doors was an extremely regal bed, adorned with forbidding figures of the most famous figures in history yet, in irony, Nightmare Moons sneered from the corners of it. Starswirl, Iris (who had been the queen to end the monarchy for the griffins), they were all there, their faces protruding. And, of course, Luna’s eyes tracked me from her bed. She looked completely exhausted, with sizeable eyebags and frazzled mane.
‘Ah, a phoenix! We hope we can remember your language. We are pleased to see thee!’
‘Lua, she’s not exactly equine, or the general public. You don’t need the old facade.’
‘Don’t call me that!’
Celestia didn’t hesitate walking to, then sitting on the edge of the bed.
‘I just wanted to-’
‘I know what you want to do and I don’t like it, Tia. Let me remember for myself.’
To my surprise, her words were brimming with venom, as if her sister were a stranger, who’d done something very wrong indeed. They were both keeping their wings firmly at their sides, though Luna’s were unkempt, feathers jutting out where flight would not have them. And they quivered slightly. All Celestia did was sit, stoic.
The princess of the night turned away from her sister.
‘Do you have a preferred term of address?’
‘Call me what you want. Someone important called me Philomena.’
‘You're understanding her perfectly Luna. But only because she’s speaking the common Avian.’
Effectively ignoring the other alicorn, she continued our conversation ‘So who was it?’ She pouted at her big sister.
‘No, a mortal.’
A questioning eyebrow was raised.
‘Dragon, I presume?’
‘No, an equine.’
Her eyes widened with shock at the apparent indignity it was to be named by a mere butterfly. Celestia showed nothing.
‘But, you - that can’t be true.’
Celestia was eager to take the opportunity to recover leverage.
‘That’s far enough, she’s answered your questions truthfully.’
‘Certainty courtesy of your underhoofed operations.’
The sisters were losing their bridle; I could see celestia biting her lip in an effort to keep things civilised and wrangling at her tongue. Her speech now came out as forced with growing resentment.
‘Don’t push your luck, Lua.’
I was finding this all rather intriguing. Maybe I could make some money by selling it out to some newspaper, somewhere. That would be a novelty. Not that money meant anything.
Luna glared at her sister, before turning to the third party again.
‘So, Philomena, what brings thee- you here?’
‘The same reason why you're here: companionship.’
‘You must have gotten along with her well.’ She said, not looking at the mare she was referring to.
‘Aren’t we getting along?’
‘It would seem so. It’s only -- I am, how can I put it?’
‘A bitch?’ Celestia rudely interrupted.
I couldn’t help but collapse in a heap of laughter.
‘Celestia, since when durst you use such crude terms?! To describe me, no less!’
It sounded as if she were only mocking anger, she’d been amused herself. Keeping a straight face was only a matter of keeping face where none was held. Her turquoise eyes, though glazed, gleamed archly.
‘I would think you were the one drinking the moonshine like this!’
‘Would I be brave enough to steal from your personal stash?’
‘Well you were the one who so diligently preserved it...’
‘In candour sister, I do have a nation to rule.’
‘But you shouldn’t make such jokes, Tia, if somepony heard-’
‘Someone did hear, and I think she can better appreciate this modern humour.’
I had to suppress myself from chortling again.
‘We’ll have a riot on our hoofs tomorrow.’ Luna said, in sarcastic glumness.
‘And blood the day after.’
I was always up for a quip.
‘Your wit is as dark as my coat Philomena,’ Luna said, grimacing.
A silence calmer than the talk had been initially filled the room, as we contemplated moving onto more serious topics. The hostility between them had been buried under artificial soil. It only needed was an innocent grave digger to revive it.
‘Sister, I would like to speak to Philomena, alone.’ Luna requested.
‘Yes, you would wouldn’t you?’ Celestia said snootily after a pause.
She slid off the bed and exited the room, billowing mane trailing.
‘Good riddance,’ Luna muttered under her breath.
‘What happened, Luna? Is it as plain as it’s told now, you tried to overthrow her out of spite and jealousy of her day?
‘So that is why you're here.’
‘It isn’t as if anyone will know.’
‘No, it is not. I know I hated her. She: The greater light, the glorious, the saviour. And me, the dreamer, the quirk, the mistrustful. But I’m not entirely sure it was my own disposition Philomena.’
‘You're not going to blame him are you?’
‘He’ll break free again.’
‘Of course he will, but-’
‘Soon, very soon, that prison will crack. We dealt with it poorly, forced to use the elements in haste. Then again, it would only delay it by a millennium or two.’
‘Why do you tell me?’
‘Don’t be so cold Philomena, these are secrets between us. This a mere exercise of trust.’
‘Out of loneliness?’
‘Yes... I think so. It seems you can tell, I’m, wrecked. Is that how they would call it?’
‘You’re a quick learner!’
‘I’ve been encouraged to keep to ye olde speech by Tia for the public.’
‘That seems more than a little degrading.’
“It will ease the transition,” ‘she says.’
‘Maybe it will.’
‘But as I was saying, I’m utterly sleep deprived.’
‘Oh, can it mean that too?’
‘It’s all colloquial, most wouldn’t mistake it but many would be secretly amused.’
Luna smiled and turned her head bashfully away for a moment.
‘And it’s not the sort of word one would expect you to use, as royalty.’
‘Whatever, Philomena.’ She waved a hoof dismissively.
‘Is there reason in this state you're in?’
‘There is, but it’s not reasonable. In great irony, I am terrified of my own dreams. Being drowned in my own canvas was beyond my imagination of what suffering could be and now beyond my memory. Already I can feel it being diluted, I couldn’t cope otherwise.’
‘Beyond sympathy. I’m sorry I acted the way I did to your name earlier, my sister’s presence drove me to a fairly visceral reaction.’
I had to wonder if it was my presence that exerted such pressure on the two of them. And if I catalyst for their troubles.
‘It’s fine.’ That came out more impassively than I’d wanted.
‘He must have meant a lot to you.’
‘It’s just a name, not like I hear it often. But he was one heck of a Stallion.’
Celestia came knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door.
‘Oh it’s you again, sister.’
‘Have I intruded on something personal?
‘When has anything been impersonal, Tia?’
Celestia lingered in the open doorway.
‘I’d like to have my own talk with Philomena.’
‘Yes you would, wouldn't you?’ Luna repeated the line in mockery; it was enough to snap the truce.
‘This irrational resentment you hold achieves nothing!’
‘Oh do you think so? You just, go ahead and leave the elements in mortal hooves.’
‘Don’t pretend it’s about that Luna, you’re more wicked than you ever were prior to-’
‘Look at this hypocrite! She preaches tolerance and acts out ad hominem!’ Luna retorted.
The sun stumbled at that: ‘I... It- I gave the elements away because I couldn’t trust myself. After I saw what you -- we were capable of, I didn’t want it to ever happen again.’
‘And if they were manipulated, or rebelled, could you kill them?’ Luna asked, staring intensely into her sister’s eyes.
Celestia stood her ground and swallowed the word.
‘Philomena,’ she eventually beckoned, before slipping out the door.
‘She’s going to show you something evil, be wary.’
‘How can you-’
I hesitantly left the moon’s residence, apprehensive at just what this ‘evil’ was.
I accompanied Celestia back down the white staircase; not a word passed until we reached the bottom.
‘How did you find her,’ she asked.
‘I think disclosing my opinion would do nothing but deteriorate this -- at best brittle relationship you have..’
‘But disclose it anyway beautiful Philomena, for she is naught but a filly,’ Celestia said as we passed through another, smaller set of doors.
‘Your cajoling is not appreciated.’
‘Then how else shall I convince you? Will I throw you to the ground, will I blackmail you?’
‘You’ll not convince me at all, is what you’ll do,’ I said, snarling.
We entered the grand hall in which I’d talked to her before, twice.
‘I’m sure she told you I was going to show you something, hmm?’
I said nothing. Unsatisfied, the goddess childishly flicked her mane at me.
‘That’s alright, Luna hasn’t been the only one peering into minds. We used play a game, trying to get into each others’ heads. Funnily enough we made an oath not to, long ago. But not all magic makes the horn glow.’
‘So what is it?’
‘Patience Philomena,’ she teased.
We passed through many winding passages, long out of the range of the eyes and ears of guards or anyone else.
‘She believes her sins will be forgotten in a heartbeat.’
Then surely Equestria was to face a savage age, if it were not so. But what did I care? More than I’d care to admit.
‘This must be special to be concealed like this.’
‘You could say that.’
We arrived at a seemingly ordinary room and stopped, though it lacked sentinels. Then she pointed her wingtip at the wall; I swayed, unbelieving. There was, there was... something I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember this.
I don’t want to remember this! Do you hear me?
Plastered on the wall were sets of feathers. They were in threes. In each three, there was one tail, one plume and one wing. There were many and many of them, possibly hundreds. And they were lined up neatly and they were all together and they grinned macabrely. In them I saw acquaintances, friends, mates, forgotten companions and my parents.
So I crumbled. I was suddenly staring into the void that had once been separate from me. I’d kept it at bay, at a distance, but now it was everything. The world was being drained of color before my eyes, these eyes and this mind which had seen so much. A faint sound of innumerable glass beads tinkling upon the floor gradually morphed into blind, chaotic static. I could feel myself suffocating, at a mercy of that crooked force known as depression, but with it came a resolve. A resolve stronger than anyone else could hope to have. Stronger than that pony's, stronger than the dead and stronger than the sisters would ever have.
She didn’t even notice! She gazed at a suicidal massacre and remained ignorant enough to pass it off as, what — her own menagerie? Did she think that each and every time she’d found them like this, that it was by mere chance? She would have praised the guards that found them, I’m sure! Given them little promotions, praise and a place in her bed for the best.
She said something about amassing them; about them representing something, not that I listened. I didn’t hear most of it. She gave me an odd look, but I could hold myself together, until I asked her at the very least. I just had to look away, above or below it, at her, or the ceiling if I must. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. The noise was too loud and grip too strong about my heart, laced with emotionless upset. So I asked her the first question.
‘Celestia, do you know what they mean?’
I’d flown onto her back and was whispering into her ear.
‘Philomena, what are you-’
I explained it to her, crystal clear. Then I asked her another question, the question concerning resolve. She threw me to the ground, I was coughing up blood, fittingly and ironically. I took to taunting her, to convince her, to manipulate her.
‘You didn’t fucking like that did you,’ I said with fervor.
To my delight she stared down at me with unrestrained horror.
‘Why would you think I’d do such a thing,’ she barely managed to stammer.
I reminded her she’d done it before. I reminded her of her sister, her fate worse than death. It worked, convincing her to talk to Luna alone. The sisters and I saw each other a few days later. My resolve had not wavered, it couldn’t anymore; there was only one end to it.
We were in that grand room again. Some of the windows were collaged in coloured glass, depicting scenes of heroism. Luna appeared as awful as ever, but she still spoke first.
‘For now, I will be our spokesperson, Philomena. We hope you understand the implications of your request, for this will surely your last chance to withdraw it.’
She stared into me, trying to find a shimmer of doubt, but I stared back.
‘We assume there is no other recourse. I’m... sorry,’ she said out of monotone.
‘We have discussed the matter and we feel that, though we are no Grim Reapers, if you are sure, then we will do what you ask. I speak out of turn for a moment, but I must confess that I saw some of your anguish in a momentary dream, before I was sucked to the moon again...’
‘However, my sister and I insist on three conditions. They are non-negotiable. It will be done seven dawns from today in woodland of your choosing. Before the spell is cast, I will perform another spell that will force you to remember what you can of the past thousand years. From this, I will peer into your mind and find your “inner monologue” so to speak and then combine it with your normal recollection. This will mean that some of the detail you could not otherwise remember will be fabricated. It will be written on parchment.’
‘And the third condition is that you will travel to ponyville with Celestia in three dawns.’
It was quite shrewd that the celestial beings would be using dawns as the measurement. I asked why as to the condition, but all I got as a reply was:
‘One thing at a time. We will explain it to you when it is necessary.’
I was going to turn to ashes soon and Celestia knew it. These molting feathers were quite telling. The purpose of the trip became clear when my cage was deliberately left open; then I got kidnapped by a pegasus, stuffed into a little basket. I played with the elements, for their sake, not for mine. To my dread, I realised the plans Celestia could have for them, immortality for who knows how many? I would hate to see such innocent creatures face unimaginable suffering.
The dawns passed with agonising slowness, at point I thought they’d halted altogether. But they did pass.
Before we went to the woods, I asked them to take me back to the room of feathers and they did so reluctantly. I inquired as to where Celestia had found two particular sets of feathers, curious of parent’s point of determination, so to say. She didn’t know their relation to me, of course. I was told that my mother’s were found somewhere south of Baltimare and my father’s in some building in Canterlot where the royal guard had uncovered a bird trafficking gang several centuries ago. So that was him, huh? That bird in a cage...
We went to Yanhoover’s woodland for the final time. It wasn’t snowing. The wind didn’t chime. And the three of us stood in a morbid triangle.
‘What are you going to use it for?’ I pointed at the parchment the quill was scribbling on from the branch I was perched on.
‘I suppose we owe it to tell you now, Philomena,’ the white alicorn said.
‘It’s only a last request.’
‘I am, we are going to give it to Twilight when she’s ready.’
‘What, the purple one who was paranoid that you’d throw Fluttershy in a dungeon in the place you’d banish her to?’
‘That does sound like her,’ she chuckled.
‘And what do you mean by when she’s ready, when you’ve turned her into an alicorn?’
‘Only if she makes it that far,’ Luna interjected.
‘It’ll be shameless cruelty if she does, Celestia.’
‘Haven’t you ever heard of being cruel to be kind, Philomena?’
‘In nothing except for corrupt, misleading fairytales.’
Grim silence filled a pause.
‘Will I see you again?'
The sisters said nothing; they gave knowing smiles.
Now I’m waiting, waiting. Luna is weeping by a tree. Celestia’s horn is at my breast. I’m just waiting, waiting for that quill to stop moving, moving.
In deepest of archives, Twilight Sparkle felt a tear roll down her cheek.
Twilight has something to say about all this.