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The Fourth Day: Prepare for Unforeseen Consequences
The lone voice echoed out into the surrounding area, bouncing off of bleached white walls and carrying past tall, curling spires that stretched impossibly into the sky before finally dying away.
“Is anyone there?”
Again the voice called out into the bleak atmosphere; the only sign of activity in this mute, lifeless landscape. For a few seconds, the sound spread out, growing steadily fainter until silence reigned once again.
Finally, the one behind the calls came out into the open, as Connor stepped gingerly through the opening of an alleyway that was only slightly wider than his own body. After listening to his own voice echo hopelessly into the distance, he lowered his hands from where they had been cupped near his mouth and sighed dejectedly, scuffing his sneaker on the dusty gray ground.
Stuffing his hands back in his jacket, he raised his head and took a look at his surroundings, disappointed at the bland sameness of it all.
He found himself standing on a large, open roadway, reminiscent of a ghost town from one of those old western movies. Except instead of dilapidated wooden buildings covered in dust and weathered by time, this street was lined by solid walls of white stucco with the shapes of doors and windows carved in them. On the roofs of these things which could loosely be described as “buildings,” a haphazard assortment of arches, domes, and checkered patterns took up the skyline, as well as curved towers that reached up for miles with no discernible end, mocking the laws of physics with their mere existence. To top it all off, everything appeared to have a grainy, staticy sort of quality, like it was a real life representation of a photograph from the nineteenth century.
Combined with the eerie silence and the fact that the only difference between sky and scenery was a few shades of darker gray, it all made for a pretty disturbing scene. But, then again, it didn’t really disturb Connor all that much.
After all, it was just a dream, even though this specific fact was implicitly lost on him.
As far as this subconscious version of himself was concerned, what was there to get worked up about? The only thing that really bugged him was the fact that there was nobody else around, human or pony -- and absolutely nothing to do.
Dream-Connor was terribly bored.
As this was not, in fact, an imagining of the lucid variety, the only action available to him was to keep walking along the lonely streets of Bizarro Canterlot, alert for any signs of activity and disappointingly finding none. After a while, it was starting to get rather lonely.
And so it was for an indeterminable amount of time, the only sounds being his footsteps against the dirt road, waiting for something interesting to happen.
Then, just as he was contemplating a reenactment of the “Ministry of Silly Walks” skit for lack of anything more productive to do, something on the road ahead gained Connor’s attention. Squinting to get a better look, it appeared to be a cloud of dust, billowing out from the horizon and growing larger by the second. After a while, a hazy black form came out of the cloud, like a mirage materializing in midair, which slowly resolved itself into what appeared to be the hood of a car. As it came closer, more details became apparent.
The car was, in fact, not just a car, but a shiny black limousine, with two waving flags on the front corners reminiscent of the limo often seen ferrying the President of the United States from place to place. Instead of the Stars and Stripes, however, these flags featured a small, stylized orange and yellow sun against a white background.
The seconds passed by slowly as Connor patiently waited for the car to come closer, folding his arms while he watched it with a half-interested expression on his face. Finally, it neared his position, turning to its left and circling around to park in front of him as the brakes squealed and the car slowly came to a halt. Then, the limo simply sat there, as if daring the teenager to make the first move.
“Do I have to do everything around here?” Connor sighed after a while, before incredulously walking up to the driver’s side window of the car. For a moment, he gazed at his reflection in the tinted windows, trying to peer inside but having no luck. Finally, he let out a puff of air through his nose and raised his hand, lightly tapping on the glass.
The reaction was instantaneous, as the pane smoothly rolled down halfway into the door, accompanied by the whirring sound of the lowering mechanism. As soon as there was room in the opening, a wave of cascading colors rippled out into the air, lapping soundlessly in a nonexistent breeze against the sides of the car. And in the center of this pastel mass of magical hair was the muzzle of none other than the ruler of Equestria herself, Princess Celestia.
Wearing a chauffeur's hat, no less.
“It’s about time you showed up,” Connor remarked casually, a hint of annoyance lacing his voice.
“Get in,” the Princess replied shortly, and with a glow of yellow magic, the passenger door of the limo was enveloped in a like-colored aura, clicking and swinging open.
Connor stared at the now open door for a few seconds, blinking a few times before he shrugged his shoulders. “Okay,” he quickly agreed, accepting the invitation from the pony demigoddess who, by all rights, shouldn’t have been able to fit her quadrupedal form so easily in the driver’s seat of a car.
Nope, nothing conspicuous about this at all.
Connor stepped around and entered the limousine’s snazzy, professional interior, and just as he sat down on the black leather seat, the door closed behind him with another click. With a slight lurch, the vehicle once again surged into motion, and through the passenger window the landscape started to move past.
Inside the limo, across a section of short, scruffy carpet, Connor could see Celestia’s head, half hidden behind the portal separating the front end from the back. The wheel in front of her, grasped in her gilded hooves, turned occasionally as the Princess made slight adjustments, but other than this, she did nothing else to acknowledge his presence.
“Sooooo, are you gonna take me home?” Connor asked after a while.
“That depends,” Celestia answered, keeping her gaze fixed on the featureless road ahead. “Where is your home?”
Connor gave an amused snort. “Come on, you know where it is.”
“Do I?” The Princess turned her head, one of her sparkling pink irises training on him. “Do you?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Connor asked incredulously as he scratched his scalp.
“Are you really looking for home? Or simply a place to call home?” the alicorn replied cryptically.
Connor paused on her words for a moment, the corner of his mouth turning up in a thoughtful expression. Eventually, he narrowed his eyes on the white pony and turned his head slightly before giving voice to his suspicions. “You’re fuckin’ with me, aren’t you?”
Celestia was silent for a while, before her lips slowly pulled back to reveal a wide, toothy smile, which she held for several seconds before turning back to face away from him.
“Figures,” Connor muttered, rolling his eyes.
And then, before any more could be said on the matter, the other occupant of the limo decided to make herself known. Leaning to the side so that her face, as well as her velvety starlight mane, came into view next to her sister’s, was Luna, Princess of the Night. She was wearing a large pair of shiny aviator sunglasses on her snout, and as Connor watched, she reached up a hoof to pull them down so that her midnight eyes were visible, before speaking up.
“Dawn of the Fourth Day,” she said quietly. “Seventy-two hours remain.”
Connor raised an eyebrow, instantly recognizing the significance of her words. “Really, Luna? A Legend of Zelda reference?” He crossed his arms and eyed her suspiciously, more amused than surprised by the fact that a pony princess would be a fan of video games. “You didn’t even say it right.”
“Look up,” she told him simply, and without any indication as to why.
“Look. Up,” Luna repeated, before slipping the sunglasses back over her face and turning her back to him, saying nothing more.
Connor raised his hands in a defeated gesture. “Whatever.”
And with that, he tilted his head to get a view of whatever it was Luna wanted him to see through the limousine’s small sunroof.
What he saw there was definitely not what he expected.
Looming overhead and utterly dominating the sky with its presence was an object of truly massive scale, the size of a planet. In fact, it was a planet, and not just any. The dark blue oceans, brown and green landscapes, and wispy white clouds -- not to mention the shape of the continents themselves -- gave it right away. It was Earth. But this Earth had a feature that the original surely lacked.
Specifically, the massive face adorning its surface, with its wide, bloodshot eyes and frighteningly malicious expression, like that of a crazed murderer. It looked exactly like the surface of the moon from the very game Luna had referenced, and it was an image that Connor was well familiar with.
And as he watched, eyes wide in horror, he noticed that it was falling, coming closer to the surface.
“Hoooooly shit!” he exclaimed in spite of himself. Frantically, he turned back towards the front of the limo, heart hammering at a mile a minute. “Celestia, put your hoof on the gas! Get us outta here!”
But the Princess did not reply; the driver’s compartment was completely empty. Both Celestia and Luna had disappeared.
Connor’s breath caught in his throat as his thoughts skipped a beat, before he snapped out of it, vigorously shaking his head to fight off the panic as he shifted towards the passenger door and grasped the handle. Or he would have, if there was a handle to grasp in the first place.
Connor cursed his luck as his hands swept over the door’s surface, but it was all in vain, as the only way to the outside refused to divulge its secrets. Desperately, he pounded his fist against the glass window, even as the ground around him started to tremble and shake.
Realizing his efforts at escape were utterly futile, he flipped over on his back to peer back up at his doom, watching the maniacal ball of destruction hurtling ever downwards. Connor tried to raise his hands in some kind of defensive gesture, but then, as realization dawned at the futility of such a thing, he dropped them, knowing it wouldn’t have mattered; he was done for.
With a heavy sigh, he closed his eyes, resigned to his fate delivered via video game-themed apocalypse. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Connor’s eyes gently fluttered open, took half a second to decide it was far too bright for their liking, then closed shut almost immediately.
The human breathed in a deep lungful of air through his nose, noting how it carried the faintest traces of something that smelled... odd. Bitter, almost. Disinfectant?
With a grunt, he leaned upright from his laying position and brought his hands to his face, rubbing the corners of his eyes. He then tried to clear his head of the images that now stood out in his most recent memory, even as they started fading away almost as soon as he had awoken.
Man, what a crazy dream, he thought as he shook off the mental cobwebs. It wasn’t typical for Connor’s dreams to be so vividly detailed, or to contain such strange and, at the same time, oddly contextual contents. But then again, it was just a dream, and he had never claimed to be a psychoanalyst to any extent, so it all meant nothing to him.
In any case, it was scarcely worth devoting too much attention to, especially since he had more immediate concerns. Namely, where was he, and why did his head feel so hot?
In order to answer the first question, Connor lowered his hands, cautiously peering out between his eyelids and giving himself time to adjust to the lighting. Not that it was particularly bright or anything, but all the same, he felt like taking things slow right now.
The first thing he noticed upon opening his eyes fully, was that everything had a slightly fuzzy aspect to it; not surprising since he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Now that he thought about it, his shoes and Rarity’s coat were also conspicuously absent from his person, leaving him in only his black silk T-shirt and blue jeans, covered by a blanket.
As for what he was currently sitting on, it seemed to be just a simple bed, nothing fancy -- though still a size too short for his frame. And sitting next to him at the bedside was a squat wooden nightstand, holding up a desk lamp, a box of tissues, and nothing else. Other than that, the room he was in was small, square, and barely furnished, save for a table and some chairs next to a single window. On one of the chairs he could spy his jacket hanging off the end, situated above a pair of black sneakers lying on the floor.
Well, that’s one mystery solved, at least.
The room’s lighting came from a white fluorescent light set into the green-colored ceiling, and it glowed steadily against the tiled floors and wood panel walls that were half covered in a wavy-patterned blue wallpaper, as well as two plain, windowless doors.
Now having placed his immediate surroundings as reminiscent of a cheesy 1950’s motel, Connor was free to turn his attention to the second question, and he tentatively reached up to examine what it was that felt like it was applying pressure around his head.
What he felt there appeared to be some kind of cloth -- a bandage, most likely -- wrapped snugly and thickly around his crown. He traced its path along the circumference of his head, wincing only slightly when he passed the densely packed wad near his forehead.
So that’s why it feels like my head’s being squeezed like a stress ball.
But this revelation only brought with it more questions, chief among them being why his head was bandaged up in the first place.
Before he could think more about the issue, however, the knob on one of the room’s only two entrances turned, and the door swung open with a creak, permitting entrance to a pony that Connor couldn’t say he recognized. She took a few steps inside, in the middle of humming a lofty tune to herself when she noticed him sitting upright in the bed, causing her ears to perk up.
“My, my! You’re finally awake!” the mystery mare spoke up in a folksy, cheerful tone reminiscent of a Canadian accent.
A warm smile plain on her features as she seemed pleasantly surprised, the sky-blue earth pony cantered in. Even without his glasses, it was plain to see her close-cropped auburn mane, and though he couldn’t be sure, her cutie mark resembled a white pillow with a tiny pink heart in the center. On her head she was wearing a small white cap with a red circular emblem that Connor couldn’t make out exactly, even as she closed the distance between them.
“And how are you feeling today, umm...” She paused at the foot of the bed and grabbed a clipboard posted on the end in one of her hooves, taking a second to glance at its contents. “Connor, is it?”
“Uh... Fine, I guess?” Connor responded hesitantly, still fairly confused, yet at the same time finding himself comforted by the blue pony’s cheery disposition. “You have me at a disadvantage, though.”
“Oh! Please excuse my rudeness, dearie,” the pony gasped lightly as she dismissively waved a hoof, her cheeks tinging the barest shade of red. “My name’s Bedside Manner, but you can just go ahead and call me Betty. Most of the nurses around here do, don’tcha know.”
“Okay... Betty.” Connor found it surprising to actually come across a pony in this world with a normal-sounding name (even if it was just a nickname). Then he dialed back his attention to something else the affable mare had just said. “What do you mean, ‘nurses’?”
“I mean the nurses that work here, myself included.” Betty nodded as she pointed out her nurse’s cap, before proceeding to explain. “This is Ponyville General, don’tcha know.”
“Ponyville Gen...” Connor trailed off as he put the pieces together, shooting the nurse a curious glance. “I’m in a hospital? Why am I in a hospital?”
That explains the bandages at least, he concluded, after the nurse nodded in the affirmative, though it still didn’t explain why his head was dressed like that. “How did I get here?” came his next question.
“You’re friends brought you here last night. They were very worried about you there, don’tcha know,” the blue pony told him. “I wasn’t on shift at the time, but I’m told you were out colder than a windigo’s freezer when they checked you in.”
“Last night...” Connor unconsciously reached up, gently rubbing the mass of cloth covering his forehead and getting phantom flashes of remembered pain, reminded of the pure anguish he had experienced moments before losing consciousness. “Wait, how long have I been out?”
Nurse Manner craned her head around to the side, looking at a simple wall-mounted clock to her left. “Oh, I’d say about a good fourteen hours, at least.”
“F...fourteen hours?” the teenager stuttered slightly, barely able to wrap his mind around the number. He himself was no stranger to sleeping in, but this was ridiculous.
“That’s right, dearie.” Betty’s smile shifted downwards, as if sensing the alarm in Connor’s voice, and she put on a more empathetic expression. “Those friends of yours are really something special. They’ve been out in the foyer all morning waiting for you to wake up.”
When she mentioned this fact, some of the tension visibly drained from Connor’s face, and for some reason he felt himself relax in the knowledge that some of his new friends were close by. “They’re still here?”
“My, my. You sure are full of questions today, aren’t you, dearie?” Betty said with a chuckle, her cheerful demeanor back on in full force. “Indeed they are. In fact, I could go get them now, if you like. I’m sure they’d be happy to see you’ve recovered.”
Connor nodded to the nurse. “I’d appreciate it. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. That’s what I’m here for, don’tcha know.” With a friendly wink, the nurse pony turned around and trotted out the door, leaving it open behind her.
After Connor watched her go, he had the sudden urge to remove himself from the hospital bed and coax some life into his stiff limbs. Fourteen hours of lying asleep was making him feel all kinds of achy. So he tossed the bedsheets off to the side and shifted around, planting his feet on the tiled floor as he went about twisting his joints to relieve the stress. With a satisfied grunt, he pulled himself upright and stretched as far as he could, wiggling his fingers as he did so before breathing out.
He then cracked his neck twice and, trying to ignore the unpleasant taste of morning mouth, walked calmly over to the window on the far side of the room, curious about where in relation to Ponyville this hospital was.
Now that he was close enough to the window that his lack of corrective lenses didn’t matter, he could see that the panes were frosty with condensation, and a steady sheet of droplets ran down the outside surface along with the pitter-patter of a light drizzle. With a disinterested look on his face, he propped himself up on the sill, gazing out through the distorted image at the shapes of hills and houses set against a dreary gray background of clouds.
As he spent his time just watching the rain, it occurred to him that he never asked Nurse Betty about his apparent “injury,” but at the same time, he was certain his friends could clear some things up as soon as they arrived. Thankfully, he wouldn’t have to wait long at all, as he soon heard the sounds of multiple hoofsteps clicking on the tiles in the hallway, followed by the nurse’s saccharine voice coming from outside the door.
“He’s right inside here, girls. If there’s anything else you need, just let me know, okay?”
Connor turned around just in time to hear Twilight’s voice respond in kind, and moments later the purple pony quickly walked in, looking visibly relieved. Connor found himself smiling at the sight of his friend, and he took a single step forwards as he raised a hand in greeting.
“Twilight-- URK!” was all he managed to get out, before a ballistic missile of cotton candy fur barged in next to unicorn and came right up to him, scooping him up in its forelegs in an emotional embrace.
“You’re okay! I’m so happy I could practically burst!” shouted Pinkie Pie as she nearly lifted Connor off his feet while simultaneously squeezing the life out of him.
“Gkh... Nice... to see you, too... Pinkie...” he managed to choke out as the pink mare nuzzled her furry face uncomfortably close to his chest, while still standing upright on her hind legs and holding him in a vice grip with her other two. “Please...! Can’t... breathe...!”
“Pinkie, let him go. He’s starting to turn blue,” Twilight cautioned her excitable friend.
“Oh! Sorry!” The party pony didn’t seem all that apologetic as she mercifully released Connor, and he was able to take a few deep, gasping breaths. After taking a moment to recover, he still managed a brief chuckle even as he felt the blood flow returning to his upper body, increasing the feeling of pressure against his bandaged head.
“Well, if I wasn’t awake before, I definitely am now,” he commented wryly as he straightened up, looking over his two pony friends and alert for any more surprise glompings. “Is it just you two?”
“Unfortunately,” Twilight confirmed, nodding. “Everypony else wanted to be here, but they all had other things to do. Applejack and Rarity had to make sure their sisters got to school okay, Fluttershy had to go tend to her animals, Rainbow Dash has a shift with the Weather Patrol, and I sent Spike back to Golden Oak a couple hours ago to open for the day.”
“Oh...” Connor said, slightly crestfallen. “Well, at least you guys are here. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it! That’s what friends are for, right?” Pinkie said, her ever-present grin on full display. “Besides, I wanted to give this back to you.”
With that, Pinkie reached a hoof behind her back, and somehow produced a rectangular blue object out of thin air, which Connor instantly recognized as his iPod.
“Oh, yeah. I completely forgot about that thing,” he remarked, trying to ignore yet another of the pony’s incongruous behaviors. “Here, you can go ahead and stick that in my coat if you want.”
As Pinkie passed beside him to get to his jacket on the chair, slipping the gadget into a pocket, Twilight took the opportunity to speak as well, stepping forwards as her horn began to glow.
“I also have something that belongs to you.” The spell Twilight had been preparing resolved itself in a small flash of purple light in the air next to her, revealing Connor’s glasses, neatly folded and encased in her telekinetic aura. She continued talking as she floated them over to him. “They were broken after what happened last night. I fixed them up with magic, good as new.”
“Thanks, I was wondering where those were.” Connor reached out and plucked his glasses from the air, putting them on while simultaneously noting that the accumulated scuffs and scratches on their surface had completely vanished as well. As the world around him once again became clear as crystal, he felt comfortable enough to use the unicorn’s words as a segue into asking the question on the tip of his tongue. “Speaking of, what exactly happened last night? Does it have something to do with why my head looks like a botched mummification?”
In response to Connor’s query, Twilight’s shoulders hunched slightly, and though he couldn’t see it, a few beads of sweat started running down her neck. “Um, well... about that. It’s just... uh...” she said slowly, her eyes darting off and to the side as she spoke. The combination of her unsteady speech and nervous body language started setting off all kinds of alarm bells in Connor’s mind.
“Twilight, you’re hesitating,” he pointed out, unsettled by the kind of behavior he wouldn’t have expected from the intelligent pony. A pony who, so far as he knew her, had always been quick to the point.
“I-I know. I’m just trying to...” Twilight pursed her lips, reaching up a hoof to smooth down her dark mane. She then closed her eyes and breathed a steadying sigh, apparently making up her mind. “Maybe it’s better if I just show you.”
“Show me what?”
“Sit down, I’ll unwind the bandages.”
Finding himself affected by his lavender friend’s nervousness, he nonetheless did as she asked, backing up to one of the chairs by the window and taking a seat. With heavy steps, Twilight came forwards, and at the same time, both her horn and the upper periphery of Connor’s vision took on a violet aura.
As Pinkie stood off to the side, watching expectantly, Connor tried not to fidget while Twilight undid his covering. The squeezing sensation he’d been feeling lessened as more and more layers were peeled away, rolled up into a ball in front of the one using the magic. About ten seconds through the process, Twilight paused to look him right in the eyes. “Whatever you do... try to keep calm.”
Connor stayed silent, nervously contemplating her words and the serious expression she wore, before hesitantly nodding. Twilight nodded back, and proceeded to continue at a quickened pace. As the last layer was taken off, Connor shut his eyes out of reflex bracing himself for... Actually, he didn’t know what he was bracing for.
But he was about to find out.
Painfully aware of how fast his heart was beating, he slowly reached a slightly shaking hand up to touch his forehead, expecting to feel something along the lines of a gaping wound or some other terrible injury, going off of Twilight’s dire attitude.
It was immediately apparent that this was not the case, but the reality was no less disconcerting, as Connor’s fingers felt the surface of his skin a moment earlier than they should have. His eyes shot open and he gasped lightly at the sensation he got from gently probing the... He didn’t know what it was, but it was present on his forehead nonetheless. Pressing down with a little more force, he caused himself to wince as a tiny jolt of pain emanated from his skull.
“What... What is this?” Connor breathed out in a whisper, completely at a loss to describe this recent development.
Twilight gulped audibly, and turned to face the only other pony in the room. “Pinkie? Could you get a mi--” She was interrupted as Pinkie thrust a hoof in front of her, containing a small hand mirror with a handle. The unicorn looked between her friend and the inexplicably produced object several times, before shaking her head and grabbing it herself, then holding it up so that Connor could peer at his reflection.
The teenager’s face froze, and his body went stock still. He blinked at the image several times before he remembered once again to breathe as he took in the details.
It was sort of like a... bump. And a rather large one at that, standing out around a good inch and a half from the surface of his forehead. Colored the same as his skin, the smooth protrusion tapered off to a very obvious point, taking on a blunt, conical appearance. Connor ran his hand across it again, pulling and pinching the tender object as gently as he could in his trembling grip, feeling not the soft resistance of flesh, but rather, a hard surface underneath.
Then he raised a single finger, and tapped on the thing with his nail. The sound was muffled by the skin, but that didn’t make it any less recognizable; it sounded like bone.
Connor suddenly raised his gaze from the mirror, looking straight at Twilight as his mind tried to run away from what his senses were telling him. “Twilight... wh...what...” he barely managed.
“It’s a... well, I can’t say for certain,” Twilight explained, lowering her head, her voice low. Next to her, Pinkie was trying her hardest to keep quiet, but it was obviously a losing battle as her smile grew ever wider. “But I think... it’s a--”
“You have a horn!” the pink mare suddenly exclaimed, her expression going to full-blown ecstatic as she waved her forelegs in the air. “Look at it! It's so tiny and cute! It looks just like Pumpkin Cake’s, doesn’t it!?”
“Pinkie!” Twilight turned to scold her excitable friend. “This isn’t the time! Can’t you be a little more sensitive? This is obviously very shocking to him!”
“Come on, Twilight. Why do you gotta be such a downer?” Pinkie continued, steadfastly refusing to take a hint. “I think it’s really neat! I had no idea humans could grow horns like that! You think maybe he can use magic too? That would be awesome!”
“Pinkie Pie,” Twilight said through clenched teeth, very much not in the mood to put up with her antics at this moment. She then breathed in and snorted loudly, bringing a hoof up to the bridge of her snout. “Maybe it’s best if you go. I think the two of us need to talk about this -- without distractions.”
The party pony sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. “Fiiiine. I should be heading back to Sugarcube Corner anyways; The Cakes are probably wondering where I am,” Pinkie reluctantly agreed, the smile on her face lessening to a shadow of its former self. She shifted around and trotted over to the door, stopping for a moment to look over her shoulder. “Are you sure you don’t want me to--”
“Pinkie...” Twilight stressed the word to make her point clear.
“Alright, I’m goin’.” Pinkie shrugged, deciding it would be prudent not to press the issue. “See you guys later!”
With a wave of her hoof, the fuchsia mare exited, leaving Twilight alone with the still shellshocked human. During the entirety of the two ponies’ conversation after Pinkie’s rather blunt remark, Connor remained transfixed on his reflection in the mirror, unable to keep his eyes nor his hand off of what the manic pony had labeled a “horn.”
And even as he desperately wanted not to believe her, the evidence was staring him right in the face.
“Are you alright?”
Visibly shaking in his seat, Connor snapped out of his daze, his attention drawn to Twilight as she focused on him with those large eyes of hers.
If the revelation that a horn was slowly but surely growing out of his forehead could be compared to a figurative crowbar being thrown into the clockwork arrangement of gears and cogs that represented his thoughts, the unicorn’s simple question was the jarring impact required to set them in motion again. And they were making up for lost time.
“Am I... Twilight, do I look like I’m alright!?” he shouted suddenly, causing the mare to flinch and lower her ears. With a start, Connor got to his feet, his whole body trembling as he struggled to stave off the panic that was rising in the back of his mind. “Look at me! I don’t... I’m... I’m a...”
Outright denial came to mind; a typical response, surely, in the face of a possibility as obviously unreal as this. But as a consequence of being in Equestria, after witnessing so many things he would have once thought impossible, what was one more thing added to the heap? One might say he had been inoculated from deniability at this point.
Connor could only stare at the mirror in his hand, grasping feebly for the right words to describe what stared back at him.
“Connor, please! You need to calm down,” Twilight pleaded with him, having had enough experience in going off the deep end once or twice herself to recognize when things were about to spiral out of control.
Even Connor himself knew that panicking wasn’t going to solve anything, but in this case, rational thought had flown out the window as soon as that last bandage was lifted away, and there was nothing he could do to prevent himself from losing it.
Unless... he found a way to redirect it. And the unicorn present in the room with him was as convenient a target as any.
“Calm down!? Don’t you tell me to calm down!” Connor found himself saying, his fevered thoughts turning into words as fast as he could think them. “You’re not the one who has a...”
The human’s eye twitched as he saw the obvious flaw in the logic of his next statement. He then turned away from Twilight, lips pulled back in a snarl.
“Goddammit!” Connor reared back with the mirror in his hand, letting it fly against the wall with all the force he could muster. With a thick cracking sound, the plastic around it impacted the wood-paneled surface, and it unceremoniously fell to the ground, still intact but with two large breaks running down the back.
Breathing heavily with his fists clenched at his sides, Connor sadly couldn’t derive any feeling of catharsis from the violent action, while Twilight did her best to console him, coming up to his side and laying a hoof on his arm.
“Don’t worry... We’ll find a way to fix this,” she said, her voice tinged with a healthy dose of concern, and a tiny dash of fear.
Connor flinched at the contact, brusquely shoving away her foreleg as he turned to address her. “Oh, really?” he spat bitterly. “And I suppose you know a handy spell that’ll make everything better. Just wave a magic wand and it’ll all go away.”
Twilight looked down and to the side with a sense of shame clearly evident. “Well... no, I don’t know if I can... I just don’t know.”
“Well, fan-fucking-tastic! Figures, since this is pretty much your fault, anyway.”
“My fault?” Twilight balked, taking a few steps backward as she regarded him with indignation. “How is any of this my fault!?”
“You’re the one who said it was nothing to worry about!” Connor shot back sarcastically, throwing his hands up in the air as he bore down on his friend. “I thought it might be something serious, but noooooo! Here, take an aspirin! You’ll be fine by tomorrow! What’s the worst that could happen!? THIS!” He pointed at the object of his distress. “THIS COULD HAPPEN!”
Connor’s words cut into the lavender pony like sharp daggers, causing her to cringe as if she’d been struck, even though she had done absolutely nothing to deserve them. She then raised a hoof and planted it down assertively, trying to maintain her composure even as she fought back tears of her own.
“I don’t understand why you’re taking this out on me! This isn’t like you!” Twilight countered angrily, before her expression grew more sullen and reserved, and she managed to lower her voice somewhat. “Why can’t you see that I’m only trying to help?”
Even though more venting seemed like a good idea at first, Twilight’s words, and the hurt and conflict reflected in her features, managed to just barely break through the wall of jumbled thoughts and emotions that was clouding Connor’s judgment. He balled up his fists again, still trembling with suppressed anguish, and found that he couldn’t bring himself to look the pony in the eyes.
Connor had no choice but to turn away and stare at the wall, wishing he could be anywhere but in that room. “You can help by leaving me alone. Just... leave,” he told her, making it clear in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t welcome.
The two of them held an uneasy silence for a long time.
“Fine. If that’s what you want. Take all the time you need to sort yourself out,” Twilight finally said after a while, trying to mask the tone of resentment lacing her words. With his back turned, Connor could hear the sound of her hooves moving away from him, until she spoke up again from the hallway outside. “I should warn you, though. You’ll have to find your own way back to the library once you’ve decided to stop acting like a foal.”
“Oh? Are you still here?” Connor grumbled, driving home the fact that he wanted her gone.
“Ugh!” the unicorn exclaimed, disgusted, and the next sound Connor heard was the warping sound of a magic field, followed by the sharp and reverberating slam of a door.
The teenager breathed out in very loud and audible sigh, trying to sort out his jumbled thoughts before they evaded his attempts to pin them down. But he didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know what it was he was supposed to do now. At least, in the pervasive silence that hung in the air after his argument with Twilight, he could finally take time to collect himself.
The panic was gone, as was the anger. And in their place he felt... nothing. He’d been emptied; ran out of fuel, so to speak. He’d managed to cling to his sanity in the face of this newest predicament, so, mission accomplished, at least.
All it took was to possibly sacrifice the friendship of one of the only friends he could claim to have in this world. Not to mention the possibility of losing the rest of them, if Twilight felt the need to relay what had just happened between them to her fellow Elements of Harmony. He couldn’t blame her if she did, though.
Not even he wanted to be around himself right now.
Despondently, Connor plodded over to the bed and slowly went to his knees. Then he placed his arms on the mattress and buried his head between them, shifting around so that he wouldn’t have to feel any sensation from the alien appendage adorning his crown.
He didn’t want to think about anything, didn’t want to feel anything, didn’t want to do anything.
From the pit of regret and helplessness he currently found himself trapped in... all he wanted was for the world to just stop.
Connor had stayed in his defeated position for who knew how long, only interrupted when Nurse Betty returned to the room, bearing both a tray containing a serving of hospital food, as well as a few carefully chosen words of empathy. Yet, it seemed she was also keen enough to understand that privacy was what Connor required at this point, and she mercifully left it at that and went on her way.
Roused from his stupor, Connor managed to drag himself over to the tray and sit down to examine what the nurse had brought for him. It was unsurprising, as far as hospital food goes: a glass of apple juice, a sizable slice of bread with some butter, and some kind of unidentifiable green vegetable glop. Not feeling particularly hungry, Connor partook of the bread and drink, neglecting to even touch the unappetizing third item.
Feeling he might as well try to understand the fullness of what he was facing -- as much as he didn’t want to -- Connor then decided it would make it easier to figure out what to do next.
So it was that Connor found himself yet again staring at his reflection, in the mirror of the hospital room’s simple bathroom, and the haggard face that was shown in the bathroom mirror’s image spoke volumes as to his current state. Yet he was able to ignore the tired lines under his eyes and the unkempt nature of his hair, in favor of focusing on the unsightly extension of flesh and bone jutting out from his features.
Some artful placement of his bangs was moderately successful at hiding the diminutive horn. Not that it mattered, as he could still feel its presence through the contact with his skin, accompanied by a dull sensation of pressure in his scalp that communicated to him that the ordeal wasn’t even close to being over.
Also, as far as he could tell, the damn thing wasn’t even useful, as no amount of staring intently at a bar of soap could coax it to move via telekinesis. Not so much as a single spark.
And so, feeling cheated out of the only thing that he could consider remotely close to a silver lining in all this, his thoughts once again turned to what he should be doing next.
Connor looked back at the horn... his horn... and shuddered, feelings of resentment threatening to well up once more. Why did this have to happen to him? Why now? What did it mean? Would things ever go back to the way they were before?
As this and other questions swirled around in a torrent within his mind, he felt the urge to raise his fist and press it feebly against the glass, wanting the image to go away but not having the will to make it happen.
I’m just... so confused. I feel like I wanna just break something, but, Connor sighed, leaning his head forwards against the cool mirror and angling at the last second to barely avoid smacking into it with his forehead. But that wouldn’t solve anything. Just like taking it all out on Twilight didn’t solve anything.
Fresh feelings of regret and shame washed over him as he remembered what he’d said to her, and he couldn’t stand the thought of having to face her again after that. He’d give anything just to start the day over and avoid making the wrong decisions again.
This whole thing is going to drive me crazy if I keep thinking about it. I need to do something.
Connor raised his eyes and looked at the blank and sterile surroundings of the bathroom, and the plain and oppressive interior of the hospital room outside.
“I need to get out of here,” he concluded to himself. “Need to take a walk... Clear my head.”
Grateful at least for a course of action, Connor took one last look at the mirror and turned away, feeling disgusted at himself. He then made his way back into the room, past the bed over to the rest of his clothes, and numbly slid into his jacket and shoes. He paused for a second at the window, noting that it was still softly drizzling outside, before deciding he really didn’t care at this point. Right now, this hospital felt like a prison, and he needed to escape.
Without a second thought, he went over to the door, opening it gently and slipping outside, before quietly closing it behind him. The hallway of this wing resembled the patient room, just with different color walls and ceilings, along with some orange domed lights along the top that led off in either direction. A few potted plants and a thick blue carpet added a touch of hominess, but they weren’t important enough to notice.
What Connor was looking for, and eventually found, were the signs and markers adorning the walls, spelling out directions to different parts of the hospital. Upon discovering the way to the hospital foyer, he proceeded to follow the arrows down the hall, passing by an array of other doors, and the occasional patient or staff pony. Some of them regarded him oddly, but he paid them no mind, and they thankfully had the wisdom to see that he wasn’t in a pleasant mood and left him alone.
Connor eventually came to the hospital entrance, bypassing the waiting area and making a beeline for the door to the outside. About halfway across the room, however, a voice called out from the kiosk located between two branching hallways. “Um, sir!”
Connor turned to notice the hospital attendant: a lime-green pegasus mare with a curly blonde mane. She was sitting behind the desk, obscuring the lower half of her body, with a magazine open in her hooves. As he observed, her full attention had been diverted to him, and she spoke with a degree of concern as she held an outstretched hoof in his direction. “Where do you think you’re going? You haven’t been discharged yet,” the pegasus pointed out.
Connor lowered his head with a sigh, hardly willing to put up with any more difficulties today. “To answer your question, outside,” he said, his voice conveying a sense that he was far from amused. “And in response to your statement, do I look like I care?”
The mare drew back, unprepared for the aspect of negativity the human was giving off. “But, patients aren’t supposed to leave until they’ve been cleared by--”
“Sorry, I don’t have time for this,” Connor snapped, further offsetting the attendant who was really only doing her job. “Are you going to force me to stay here?”
The mare blinked for a few times, unsure of how to respond to his obstruction, before slowly lowering her hoof and slumping back in her seat, speechless.
“Didn’t think so.”
The teenager turned around, reaching out an arm to touch the door to the outside, when the pegasus pony spoke out again. “Wait!”
Connor twisted his neck to face the attendant again. “What is it now?” he growled.
The pony’s jaw worked up and down soundlessly, before finally managing a response. “It’s... raining out.”
Connor huffed in annoyance, before making a point of reaching up, drawing the red hood of his coat and throwing it forwards around his head. He then grabbed onto the sapphire tassels and yanked on them, securing the hood tightly in place.
And with that, he once again turned to face the hospital’s threshold, and without hesitation pushed the door open and stepped outside. He was greeted with a rush of cold air that made a shiver run down his spine and blew light mist onto his face. Grimacing, he pulled the lip of his hood down across the top of his head, serving a dual purpose of keeping the light rain out of his eyes as well as obscuring his horn from any passive observers. Not that there were likely to be very many ponies outside on a day like this, but all the same, the less attention he garnered, the better.
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Connor picked a direction and started walking, his sneakers squishing on the road that was covered in a thin layer of mud.
He didn’t particularly care where he ended up, but it didn’t matter.
Until he could decide on what he was supposed to do next, it was easier to empty his thoughts and simply focus on putting one foot in front of the other.