tThe Redemption of Jericho Swain
Chapter 8: Reunited
Twilight’s glaring gaze only broke contact with Swain’s back when the zeppelin hit a patch of turbulence. Despite promising Rainbow Dash and Riven that she trusted their judgment, the resentment coursing through her was nauseatingly intense. Despite the differences in his appearance now, she still had the same memories of his duplicity, of being alone, tied down, and afraid, with only Singed and his needles and chemicals for company. Twilight Sparkle knew the value of friendship, and for the sake of friendship she had brushed aside what she truly felt toward Swain. Riven’s reforms could change the face of Noxus so that men like Swain would stop existing, and Rainbow Dash would never try to lead her friends astray. For what little comfort it was, even Swain himself could be relied upon to be as self-serving as possible, and thus far, he had made convincing arguments on the subject of how beneficial this arrangement was to him.
It still didn’t feel right though. Twilight Sparkle almost felt sick, and her shaking hands were barely enough to steady her against the rails of the zeppelin’s deck. She had always been an emotionally reserved individual, and she was in no way prepared for the sheer amount of feeling pouring through her.
As if sensing her searing eyes, Swain turned around, smirking arrogantly. “Shouldn’t you be below deck with all of your friends? Or did you just want my company that badly?”
Twilight found herself at a loss for words for a few seconds, before her halting response came. “I want...I want to understand. I know a lot of things, Swain. I’ve spent my entire life studying and learning. From the sleeping patterns of celestial beasts like the Ursa Major, to the physiology of changelings, I’ve memorized fact after fact. I’ve read the entire section of the Canterlot Archives dedicated to psychology, and I’m certified in multiple fields of engineering. I once built a machine that could study Pinkie’s brain activity, even, and my knowledge of astronomy could probably only be matched by the two Princesses themselves.” Twilight paused for a moment, staring at the wooden floor beneath her, before looking back up at Swain. “I don’t understand you though. You hurt and you break everything around you if it suits your goals. You associate with monsters who call abuse science. You...you are a monster yourself, even. You don’t care for anyone or anything but yourself, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill whatever twisted plans you make. We don’t have anything like you in Equestria. I don’t understand you at all, I don’t understand how you can even exist as you are. No guilt, no remorse. I don’t understand you at all! Being around you makes my stomach turn, and my head spin, and I feel more negative than I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. I look at you, and all I can think is the word ‘why’.”
“It’s called hate, little girl.” Swain rolled his eyes, and locked his stare with Twilight’s. “What you’re feeling is hate, born of a thousand petty and self-righteous judgments. Who are you, to tell me what is right and what is wrong? You know a lot of things, but none of them pertain to me or my world. Fools like you never understand, but I’ll be sporting and try to explain anyway.” Swain sneered, gathering himself to his full height from his leaning position on the rail. “You think you know so much? What do you know about having to fight every day to survive in a world that would rather discard you than offer the slightest bit of sympathy? What do you know of war and conflict, and the causes thereof? These myriad differences between this world and yours, between one city-state and another. We have no deities here who can keep us nice to each other. The only hope we’ve ever had of peace is in finding a unifying ideal. For now, the League seems to be doing that, but to be perfectly honest, the Institute of War is corrupt and impotent without the High Council of Equity. All it would take is one weak link in the leadership for the entire chain to collapse. Are we truly going to rely on that for our safety and the security of the generation after us? Of course not! You think I’m entirely self-serving, you shallow child. The truth is, you’re more selfish than I ever could be for trying to force your ideals into a world that couldn’t possibly contain them. It’s because of people like you that it falls to people like me to do the unthinkable, to make deals with devils and to put the many ahead of the few. Monsters, you call us. Monster is merely a word describing those willing to do whatever it takes to reach their goal, and my goal is an empire unlike any other, where peace and prosperity reign eternally, and the fighting that we have relied upon to refine and strengthen us so long will no longer be a staple in our lives. I’m willing to be a monster for that cause. I help myself by helping the entire continent of Valoran. Is that selfish? One day, every knee shall bow to a single throne, and then every man, woman, and child can rest easy at night knowing there will be no more war, and that peace can finally stand a chance. Is that so different from the rule of your vaunted Princesses? I am nothing but a man who knows what his world is, and what his place in it is. I will bring safety and happiness to my new empire, and we shall have...peace. So perhaps instead of coming to me with your accusations and your self-righteous condemnation, why don’t you take a moment to think before speaking, and maybe realize that I’m doing more for my people than you’re even capable of.”
Twilight was caught completely off-guard. She had wanted to confront him, to show him the evil of his ways, to resolve in her mind the conflict between them. She hadn’t expected the man to be so self-assured of his cause. Problems in Equestria had always been very easily divided between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’. Swain, though... He honestly believed in what he was doing. Can someone so assured that they were serving the greater good be a ‘bad guy’? Equestrian villains were Spirits of Chaos who just wanted to see the world burn, or changeling Queens who wanted power, or even something as simple as an arrogant showmare who wanted to show everypony else up. There hadn’t been much thinking about who was in the right and who was in the wrong, only how to stop them and what could be learned from the experience. Faced with a question she couldn’t answer, Twilight fell back to what seemed her only available recourse.
As she fled to her quarters, blinking back tears, Twilight heard Swain’s mocking laughter chasing her.
- - - -
Celestia blinked back tears of her own as the vision of her fleeing student faded. ‘What is a student without her teacher?’ She wasn’t really sure where her thoughts began and her guiding voice ended. As her hooves crunched across the desert sands, she left a trail of molten glass as sun-fire dripped from once-beautiful mane, which seemed to have faded from its soft, multi-colored palette to nothing more than a flickering trail of flame that flowed almost mournfully behind her. She couldn’t exactly recall when her coat had started to darken, but she knew that there was no longer a speck of white on it, having been replaced entirely by an unsightly, mottled looking mixture of ash-gray and black, though the black seemed to be winning lately. “We must not tarry. Our student will not last long against the vile influence of that world.” As Celestia spoke, her voice rang out with echoes of other, darker-sounding voices, creating an eerie echo to everything she said. “Fear not, dear student. We shall be with you soon.”
- - - -
Rarity smiled as she gave the last few bits of money due to the person who she had been renting her ad hoc dressmaking shop from. It hadn’t been a hard thing to set up the shop in the first place, due to a few friendly folks at the Embassy and an odd string of Demacian laws allowing loans from the royal treasury itself, on the condition of a few personal interviews and interest repaid in full, though for for a woman as down on her luck and attractive as Rarity, it hadn’t been especially hard to get a little reduction on the interest rates. Rarity smiled. Males were just too easy to predict sometimes, even in another dimension. Of course, now that she was done educating the Demacians on what fashion truly was, it was time to pack up in anticipation of her friends’ arrival. Pinkie had been spending most of her time exploring, so Rarity had used her time to finish up the last parts of the paperwork of her week-long stay in Demacia. It had been a fun diversion, though the rumors she’d been chasing were becoming increasingly worrisome, as it was becoming easy to hear whispers that this so-called Cult of the Void was becoming more active than ever with its recruiting. The fact that it had been brave enough to strike at her friends spoke volumes on the sort of people this group attracted, and even though nothing had come of it, Rarity couldn’t help but feel concerned that as the group grew, so would the power of the strikes against her and her friends. It was probably best to get to the Institute of War as quickly as possible. It was highly unlikely that anyone would attack them there.
It was about a half an hour’s walk to the shipyard that Rarity had told Pinkie to meet her at, but it wasn’t an unpleasant walk. Averse to physical exertion as she was, Rarity found walking through whatever city or village she happened to be in was an excellent source of artistic inspiration, and could be just as excellent for clearing her thoughts. Thus, it was no chore at all to trek to the shipyard. She even managed to arrive a little early and have a little time to marvel at the collection of both waterborne and airborne craft residing together at the massive port. So lost in thought was she that she was completely caught off guard when another person slammed into her, tackling her to the ground. With a panicked squeak, she looked up at her assailant before rolling her eyes. “Pinkie, dear, I’m glad to see you too, but you’re ruining a perfectly good dress.”
Pinkie deflated slightly. “Oh, sorry. I just saw you looking all thoughtful and stuff, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘She looks like she could use a surprise!’, so I got all sneaky and stuff and then BAM! I forgot about your dress though.”
Rarity laughed it off. “Think nothing of it, Pinkie. Just try to be a little more aware next time. I think the others will be arriving here in about half an hour, so we have a little time to wait. Care to take a look around? This place is truly nothing like home.”
Pinkie answered with a series of rapid nods. “That sounds super fun! Hot air balloons don’t hold a candle, torch, or any other potential source of lift-inducing hot-air to these zeppelin thingies. It’s a little slower than pegasus wings, though, but that’s okay, cause this place doesn’t have any pegasi, so the competition has already been eliminated...Unless...The different city-states themselves are the competition, and every year they host a super-duper flying contest to see who has the best aircraft.” Pinkie tapped her chin thoughtfully while Rarity merely rolled her eyes. “Of course, since this place has so many different types of magic, I best someone’s even thought of using time magic to make some of these things even faster.”
Rarity giggled. “Oh, Pinkie. Half the time I don’t know if your over-active imagination is endearing or if I should be going insane.”
Pinkie beamed. “Silly Rarity! Artists can’t go crazy. They just become eccentric. How are we gonna know when Twilight and the others get here, anyway?”
“They’ll be in on a zeppelin named Imminent Pursuit. It’s supposed to be one of the smaller ones, meaning they’ll probably be the only ones on it. Once we rendezvous with them, we’ll transfer to another private zeppelin named Sword of the Righteous. That will take us right to the Institute of War, where we will spend the remainder of our time on Valoran until we get home.” Rarity pointed to an empty docking bay and a small zeppelin in turn as they walked through the busy port.
“Those are silly names.” Pinkie paused for a moment. “What does rendezvous mean?” Rarity only sighed in response.
- - - -
‘Well aren’t you just a bottle of sunshine and daisies,’ Nightmare remarked lazily within Swain’s thoughts. ‘I’d gotten that impression from our interactions thus far, but wow, you really did a number on that poor girl’s self-confidence.’
Swain scowled. “You should know all about me by now. Don’t you reside within my thoughts?”
Nightmare chuckled. ‘Oh, no. That’d be a terrible invasion of privacy. I’m in your head, yes, but not your thoughts, per se. Really, the only thing your brain shares with me is sensory information. Didn’t you ever wonder why I only respond when you talk aloud? I’m surprised one such as you would overlook that detail.’
“I’m not too proud to admit a mistake. Just because I am one of the best tactical minds on Valoran does not make me incapable of making a mistake,” responded Swain dismissively, trying not to think of all of the years he’d wasted trying to exact petty revenge on the prince of Demacia. He had grown as a person since then. Nothing was going to distract him from his goal of ruling Valoran.
‘A very mature stance on the matter, yet still laced with your trademark arro-I mean confidence.’ Nightmare’s tone bore a slight condescension to it.
Swain growled. “You’re probably the most talkative Void-dweller I’ve ever encountered. Be silent, if you can. The zeppelin is about to land, and I do not wish for the others to hear me.”
As Swain predicted, as the zeppelin came in to land, the seven others came out to see if they could spot Pinkie Pie and Rarity. Deciding that it would be best to give the others a chance to explain his presence, he delayed his disembarkation until the teary reunion had time to bleed off its sappiness, though he noted with a cynical smile that Twilight seemed a little more reserved than she usually was. After waiting a few minutes, and seeing a few fingers pointed in his general vicinity, he decided to grace the two additions to their group with his presence.
Even Pinkie’s constant chatter wavered for a moment when Swain joined the group, and she tilted her head for a moment. “You look...different. Did you change your hair? No, wait! It’s your bird. Your bird changed its hair, or feathers, in this case.”
Nobody really blamed Swain for ignoring Pinkie. “We should get moving. From what I understand, I am not the only one with hostile attention centered on me. I also do not think that the powers that rule Demacia would take kindly to my presence in their lands.”
“What bird-boy said,” affirmed Ezreal. “Though, perhaps the part about Demacia hating him was a bit understated. Seriously, we should get out of here before someone gets a good look at his face.”
The Sword of the Righteous followed the standard blue and gold motif that most things Demacian favored, though it was a bit more lavish an example than the recently departed Imminent Pursuit, which had offered rather spartan accommodations to its passengers, though until they boarded its Demacian counterpart, the earth-bound Equestrians had simply delighted in the experience of being in the air at speeds faster than the hot air balloons that were currently novel in their homeland. Faced with the obvious increase in service quality, though, even the two former-pegasi had been forced to admit that it was a nice experience. It hadn’t taken long for the girls to find the room designated ‘Lounge’ amidst the cabins, and the majority of the passengers soon gravitated towards it for snacks, drinks, and the company of friends.
Two of the passengers did not follow suit, though, instead preferring the open-aired deck. For about an hour, Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle had sat in silence, with nothing but the sound of the wind and the zeppelin’s propulsion as the backdrop to a strange contest of wills. Twilight Sparkle knew that it was most unlike Pinkie to be in one place for very long, but she also knew that Pinkie could very easily get into the thoughts of those around her, and Twilight’s mind was a place that she definitely did not want company in.
Pinkie, though often hyperactive and unfocused, lived up to her title as the Element of Laughter, and it seemed an innate talent for her to know what to say, or in this case, what not to say, to bring peace and happiness to those around her. Thus, the standoff continued for what seemed to both to be an eternity.
Twilight broke first. “What’s the difference between a good guy and a bad guy? Discord was thoroughly destructive, but he was really just acting according to his nature. Faced with being the incarnation of chaos, would any of us acted better?”
Pinkie smiled gently at Twilight. “When I throw a party for somepony, it’s often a crazy, chaotic thing. Ponies say I’m really random and unpredictable, and occasionally say I have a mental disorder or something. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. It never mattered to me. No matter how I act, I act according to my personality...but...I could still act according to my personality if I was random and unpredictable in mean ways. What makes me Pinkie Pie though, more than anything else, is that I choose to make ponies smile. Being good or bad isn’t written into our brains like instructions. It’s a choice we make.”
Twilight frowned in response. “But what if we think the choices we make are good, but others don’t? If somepony says that I’m doing wrong, but I think I’m doing right, who is correct? We caused you a lot of hurt on your birthday when we hid it from you and you thought we hated you, but in the end it all worked out. Does that absolve us of the pain we accidentally brought to you? If it all works out in the end, does causing a little pain matter?”
“Well, were you trying to make me sad?” Pinkie put a hand on Twilight’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “I can make the best party in the world, but if I steal the ingredients for it, it isn’t a very good party after all. If I make the same party, and accidentally hurt someone’s feelings along the way, well, that’s no good, but I still have room to fix my mistake, make a new friend, and maybe add someone to the guest list.” Pinkie bit her lip for a moment, deep in thought. “I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that what we call good comes from inside you to start, a choice you make, and the way you see it is unique to you. Some might say that if it causes a net increase in joy, happiness, contentment, and other stuff like that, it’s good, but you can’t just judge something by the end result. If you cause pain and misery and unhappiness along the way, well that doesn’t really seem right to me. What are words like right and wrong good for if you are just willing to cast them aside and then pick them up once you’re done with whatever you’re doing? If you do that, you might as well not bother with them in the first place. That’s probably what that big ol’ bird-faced meanie doesn’t understand, so don’t worry about what he says. Oh, and Twi’? Try to cheer up, would ya?”
“Thanks Pinkie.” Twilight giggled for a moment before realization hit her. “What, what? How did you kn-”
“Come down to the lounge with me, Twi’! I wanna be there when they find out that the cider here is hard. It’ll be hilarious.” Pinkie skipped to the stairs, leaving a befuddled, but resoundingly less troubled Twilight in her wake.
- - - -
Nasus smiled weakly at Renekton, who was trying to reach out to throttle his brother. “The High Council of Equity wasn’t able to fulfil my request. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to. They did leave me with a little hope though. As soon as the young Equestrians get here, I’ll start working with the other champions to train them, so we can get them into the League as fast as possible. With our combined influence, it shouldn’t take too much lobbying to get the General Assembly on our side. Then, after that, maybe I can start dealing with Malzahar. He and his ilk have been getting out of hand lately. I think that they may be planning something big, with the recent attacks. It’s a pity I cannot just strike him down now, but you are well aware of the restrictions of the Institute of War.”
Renekton’s eyes sharpened in an instant. “Fool. Abandon your charges to protect them. Your shortsightedness was always a weakness, and now, tampering with dimensional boundaries amidst the ambitious snakes of this world and others is no different. They will all die...especially if I reach them first.” Nasus sighed, and walked out of the room, unsettled at the implications of his brother’s brief moment of lucidity. For the brief moment before the door was closed, Renekton’s enraged howls could be heard through several floors of the Institute.
‘On the brighter side, he is becoming lucid more often. Still, his rage will not abate.’ Nasus sighed. ‘I must think on his words, though. He was never one for misdirection.’
- - - -
Malzahar laughed as his eyes dimmed, the magic draining from them after he had just showed another fool the power of the Void. It was satisfying, even if the ‘death’ was only temporary. As he stood over a pile of bones covered in a robe, Malzahar turned to his eager teammate and Void dweller, who was currently dripping digestive juices over the corpse of yet another fallen champion. “Soon, my friend, we will leave behind these games. Soon.”