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Thirty: The Permutation Bureau
The glasses at the end of his muzzle were making crinkling and popping sounds, like ice melting during Winter Wrap Up. The gray, stone shapes were turning to golden metal, the gray stone lenses became glass once again. It was then that Windfeather realized that he could not move, and he began to panic.
The strange sound continued; soon the bookish pegasus could feel his entire mouth, and move his lips. He found that though he now had a mouth, he couldn't scream because his chest was still made of stone. He was not breathing, yet he did not die; neither was he suffering except from the horror of the experience itself.
Now Windfeather could turn his head, and move his neck. He swung his view around; the stone that was his body and legs and tail stood on a stone base, the very kind that supported the statues in Celestia's garden.
Slowly his mind wrapped itself around the concept of what must be happening; he was gradually turning from being just such a statue, back into being a living pony. Just a second ago, just an instant, he had been shouting at Celestia, then... the stories were true. The horrifying stories were actually true.
He could move his upraised hoof, now. He had raised it to make a point. That was it. He rotated his hoof and flexed the muscles in his cannon. Just one second and... no. Something in him, something he could not identify felt a strange distance; a distance in time. It felt like having dozed off in the sun for a short nap, and then being surprised to find out that one had slept for hours and hours. Some amount of time had passed, longer than just one second, but beyond that, he could discern nothing more.
The crinkling revivification was spreading downward, soon he would be free. He worked to calm down, to assess his situation. He was a pegasus, after all, and not some dim earth pony, or some pretentious unicorn. He was by nature quick. He would figure this out.
Windfeather looked around, bothering to notice, for the first time, something besides his own body. He was on a dais of some kind, at the center of... something that felt like a workshop. It wasn't a normal workshop; it wasn't even a room in a building as such. It was more of a space, a place, a zone... he had no words. Whatever it was, he had a dim feeling that he had spent a long time here as a statue, on one of the... shelves... here.
The only word he could come up with was shelf; the flat ribbons of layered light streamed in exotic curves round and across and into unfathomable distances. There were things on the shelves, if that is what they truly were, and as Windfeather idly pushed his glasses higher on his nose, he could see that they were ponies.
No, not ponies; the shape, the form, the essence of ponies were there. They were not alive; but they were the form of what a living being might be, and they were all different.
One, near him, began a shelf. It was not a pony as he knew his kind; it was chubby, rounded, with almost no neck. The face was very short, the mouth large. The head drooped low as if the creature were plodding. It had a colorful mane and tail, and some form of cutie mark, though he could not make out what it was. Windfeather had the strange feeling that these were some kind of molds, as if life itself could be poured into the shapes and living creatures would walk out. How did he know this? It was as if some part of him had been aware of his surroundings, despite having been a statue.
The next spirit mold -where did that name come from?- was very different. This was an elegant creature, much thinner and longer of leg. The head high, the muzzle elongated, far more so than the ponies of his generation. Generation? Had there been generations of ponies? No, not just ponies. The part of him that had been aware in the stone whispered to his mind that there had been iterations of his world, of his entire universe. It wasn't just ponies, it was the nature of reality itself.
The third form he saw was stout again; a roly-poly sort of pony reminiscent of the first form, but only marginally more appealing. It looked ridiculous to him; the face short and almost oppressively fetal.
Finally he saw a mold of his own kind. It was unmistakable. That was a pony, that was true ponykind. The elegant shape, the beautiful curves, the perfect muzzle, the lovely mane and tail.
But wait; there was a fifth generation, and a sixth. The fifth was more like the second, thinner and taller. The sixth was almost stylized, almost abstract. As windfeather turned, the strange shelves of light curved on beyond his sight, hundreds, thousands of spirit molds, each different, each more alien than the last.
As the curving shelves returned from the distance, the forms upon them were barely recognizable as ponies at all; some were made of sharp, mathematical planes, others were masses of curves, still others seemed to only represent the idea of ponyness, devoid of shape as he understood it.
Names came to him; a valley of dreams, a garden of friendship, A town of ponies, Equestria, then name after name after name flooded his mind, endless ages whispered to him from the part that had lived even while he had been stone. They were names of the world, the land, the universe itself. Always there were constants; rainbows, princesses, magic, friendship and laughter, music... these were the primal elements that they worked with.
Who worked with? Whose workshop was this?
Beings. There were beings, beyond understanding, beyond reason. Elder gods, they made these iterative universes. And Windfeather began to remember, just as his feet were freed, just as the statue base melted away into the air and he found himself falling to the dais itself - spirits went into the molds and became the ponies in each iteration.
It must have been done to him, long ago, or to his ponykind, the ponykind unique to his Equestria. The bodies changed, the universe changed, but the souls went on, sometimes with new names, new shapes, different personalities, but some essence was always the same and...
Now he was falling, the dais had spiraled open and Windfeather found himself falling down a terrible shaft. The shaft sank through nameless spaces, through time itself, and he knew that he had left the workshop of the gods and he knew not where he was being pulled.
When he could focus again, Windfeather used his hooves to carefully lift up his glasses, and place them on his nose again. Able to focus, he saw that he was standing on a platform made of... something he could not quite describe. It was a little like a cloud and a little like a mass of bubbles. It shimmered in the light; a strange light that came from all around.
When he finally took it in, his mind reeled, and he struggled to keep from screaming.
Equestria was gone. Everything he knew or understood was gone. Windfeather stood on a platform of bubbles in an endless sky streaked with neon curves of light. The sky slowly shifted in patches of pastel colors, against that backdrop. Clusters of strange, fractal shapes drifted, complex beyond understanding, bulbous and covered with protrusions.
The neon snakes of light wove around the bulbous masses, interrupted only by the hanging arches of unsupported rainbows and curious formations of not-cloud that disturbed Windfeather so much that he could not look at them for long.
"Welcome to the Conversion Bureau, Windfeather." The voice was strange, but it had a familiar cadence, and familiar quality. It reminded him of... Celestia.
Windfeather spun, only to look up and see two immense horrors. Vast, like zeppelins, the creatures were great living sacs, balloon like, they swam through the air with gossamer fins extending from long tentacles. Huge, flat eyes gazed down at him. Ethereal curtains of light ran down the backs of the monstrosities, with another curtain, long and ribbon-like, hanging from the back.
One was translucent white with curtains of sea-green, pink and blue, the other dark purple with curtains of deep blue sparkling with tiny, glittering lights.
As his bowels evacuated, as his mind recoiled in horror, Windfeather understood. These floating whales of the air were ponies. They were what ponies had to be, here, in this endless sky of neon streaks and floating globs. These two creatures were Celestia and Luna in this universe, in this generation.
The Celestia-thing laughed, her voice echoing through the strange void. "Yes, Windfeather, it is time to join the herd."
"How... long?" It was all he could do to say that much. His consciousness felt like it might buckle at any moment, crumbling into madness.
The vast floating mass that was Celestia here wriggled tiny tendrils near its front, this was where it made speech. "There are no words that you know to express such passages of time in any meaningful way. A long time. It has been a very long time." The horrific entity seemed as though it were trying to be kind now; Windfeather felt something like pity emanating from the here-Celestia.
"To live forever is a burden, Windfeather. Eternity is made bearable only by change; so it is that there have been many versions of our pony world, each different, yet each retaining the primal elements that define what we are. In this iteration of the world, you are an alien, strange and unfit to survive. The only place you can exist is on this platform, suspended in the void. But there is a way out, if you will take it."
The Celestia-thing wriggled its fins and tendrils and puffed up with air. Lights ran over its gigantic, inflated body.
"Windfeather, this is the Conversion Bureau of this place. Here is your salvation." A long, white tentacle snaked down from somewhere in the folds of the blimp-like body of the strange Celestia; it held in its writhing coils a sphere, a ball of liquid. The liquid was purple, and gleamed with a metallic sheen.
The creature's delicate tendrils wriggled as the strange Celestia recited: "Our plan is to ponifaloonify you, the sooner the better. Expect this to happen when you least expect it. You'll get used to our culture, our food, and our lack of hooves. Trust me, it's easier than it looks. Because ponies can't handle the magic radiating from Aerostatica's borders, becoming a ponifaloon is crucial to expanding the peaceful, friendly aura that surrounds Aerostatica every dae of every monath of every Yuur. Thank you."
Windfeather was screaming now, but his voice was lost in the strange winds of this alien realm. Yet other-Celestia's voice was clear and crisp.
"We welcome you to Aerostatica, with open tentacles and open sacs. Join us and float in peace and harmony. Just drink this, a mere three ounces of ponifaloonification serum, and you will live in love and joy as one of us."
The tiny, alien creature, heavy, solid and filled with bones, stood on the small platform that had been made for him. His weird, round eyes darted from side to side, the pupils small. His ears were flat against his bizarre, hard skull, and though copious amounts of air went inside and out of him, he did not inflate in the least.
The orb of liquid sat in it's nest of writhing Celestia-tentacle. "Go on, Windfeather, it's completely painless. And after you are changed, there will be many friends to help you adjust to your new life." The horrific creature radiated only love and concern.
Somehow, that only made everything worse.
The Conversion Bureau Novels:
The Short Stories:
The Non-Conversion Bureau Fanfics: