PART III - The Things We Need To Remember
We’re both at full gallop, trying to get as far as we can before nightfall. I don’t know if we’re going to stop after the sun sets, but I don’t think it would be wise to run so fast without an idea of where we were supposed to be going. I estimated that we could make it in two days, and I am going to make that happen. April is keeping up with me very well, even with her saddlebag on. She’s a lot stronger than she lets on.
I regret the cider from last night after an hour at our breakneck pace. I’m feeling sick and lightheaded, but that is likely due to more than just the night of drinking. We don’t stop for lunch; we both eat out of our saddlebags while running. When the sun does finally reach the end of its journey through the sky, I feel like we’ve both covered more than enough ground for the day. We collapse on the grassy side of the trail and try to catch out breath. We take turns sipping from water bottles and soon we’re lying down apart from each other for the first time since we met.
“What do you think we’re going to find there?” April asks after she finishes drinking.
“How could we know?” is my only answer. Despite the excitement of everything, exhaustion causes me to fall asleep quickly.
“This is your redemption day, everypony!” I scream in a voice that doesn’t sound anything like my own. The mass of ponies below is irate. They call for my blood. I go on with my theatrics; the process of revealing the button to the crown below and announcing my plan. I look to my right again and glowing as bright as ever is SEPTEMBER. It’s the last thing I see before the scope of my perception glows bright red.
It’s morning now and April is still asleep. Her tongue is hanging out of her mouth the same way it was when I first saw her, and I almost don’t want to wake her up. I get over myself and shake her so that she begins to open her eyes.
“Whozzat?” she asks dreamily.
“April, let’s go, this is it, remember?” I ask, trying to waste as little time as possible. I want to finish this. If September Falls turns out to be a bust I have no clue how I’m going to react. The mare gets up and shakes her head a few times before she’s ready to gallop. Once we take off, the day passes in a blur much in the same manner as the one that preceded it. We eat on the run again, and before I can even realize it the sun is going down again.
“We’ve got to be close. Let’s keep going,” I call behind me to April.
“Alright,” she calls forward, and I can hear how tired she is in her voice. I know she wants to stop, but we can make it if we just push on a little longer. Right as the sun is setting we make it to the fork in the path that leads to September Falls. I tilt my head in the direction we have to go, and we gallop on. It’ll only be another minute or so.
The path is flanked by trees on either side and I tell April to watch out for roots. Soon the path opens up, and I can see a small village within a few hundred yards.
“Look!” April yells, and I turn to see what she’s pointing at. Towering over the city is a sign. It glows bright green, and I don’t have to read it to know what it says.
It’s unmistakably the sign I’ve been seeing every single night. I slow down unintentionally, and April catches up to me.
“I can’t believe it,” she says. I can hardly trust my eyes either. My dreams are leeching into my reality. For a moment, staring at the sign makes me question whether I’m awake or asleep, but April calls me back to real life.
“C’mon Sunny, don’t slow down now,” she says to me. She starts to pull me along the path with her, and soon we’re both galloping again, this time with renewed vigor. We make it to the village entry in a few minutes, and we’re looking around in awe. The mental map I’ve created of this place it perfect. I recognize the houses and shops, and ahead, I recognize the one building I’ve never seen.
It’s a looming structure, at least three stories tall. It rises above the other small abodes, and it is actually level with the large sign welcoming visitors. I know the house, even though I’ve never seen it before. On the first floor of the building there are two windows visible from the street, and there is light visible through both of them.
I look at April, who has already turned to look at me. Her eyes look even brighter in the moonlight, and I can tell that she’s nervous by her face. I try to smile, but it comes out as more of a grimace, which she mimics. We begin to trod, one hoof at a time, towards the building. Why are we walking so slowly now that we’re here? Didn’t we gallop for two days straight for this moment? I try to move a little faster, and April follows my lead. We take ages, but soon we’re within a few feet of the house. The windows have curtains drawn over them, so neither of us knows what lies inside.
I nervously step forward to the home’s door, less sure of myself than I’ve ever been. I raise a front hoof and force myself to knock, though my muscles fight the motion every inch of the way. As with all of the other doors we’ve both encountered, this one swings in, unlocked. I can feel April standing behind me, waiting for me to take the last step forward to enter the house. I hold my breath, count to three, and put my hoof over the threshold. Another hoof follows, and another, and another, until I’m fully inside of the building. I step in a few feet more, and April is right behind me. The room we are in is furnished lavishly. The floor has an expensive-looking rug on it, and finely crafted furniture sits everywhere. This room is dark, but to our left there is an open doorway from which light spills into this sitting room. I take a few silent hoofsteps, and then I quickly transfer myself from this room to the next.
These quarters are smaller than the entryway. Two candles flicker on the walls, and the only furniture is a bed in which an elderly Unicorn lies. His eyes are open, and he definitely notices both April and I. I’ve hardly breathed since I stepped in, but the Unicorn smiles at us.
“Be at ease, friends, your journey is nearly at an end now,” he says, cryptically. His voice is sandpaper, and I shudder to think about how much pain it must cause him to speak. April steps to my side and addresses the bedridden pony.
“Sir, if I may ask, who are you?” She speaks softly, as if afraid being too loud will harm the Unicorn.
“I will tell you both in good time, but there are more important,” the Unicorn pauses and coughs deeply, “there are more important matters which we must discuss first. Let me speak and then I will answer your questions.”
“There is a reason why the ponies in this room are the only three left on the entirety of the planet, and it is all a result of my actions,” the Unicorn reveals. My front legs tense up at that revelation. “Three months ago, I was not the pony you see lying before you. I was a healthy, young Unicorn with a happy wife who lived here with me. She was my world. Then, fate decided that it was her time to go. She was in the prime of her life, still so beautiful and vibrant, yet she was no match for the disease.” The Unicorn pauses and the room is totally silent.
“I was more than upset. I was missing a part of myself. Imagine trying to live life with no hooves. This is how I felt every single day that I was cursed to walk this planet. I grew cold to the world. Ponies stopped talking to me, and I stopped caring about anything. I was done with it all, and to me, my life had already ended.
“This was when a peculiar vision struck me. I had stopped leaving my house, and few ponies ever came to see me. When I saw a trio of stallions and a tall mare standing in front me as I awoke one morning, I was frightened out of my mind. They immediately calmed me when they began to speak however. They knew who I was, what I felt, and everything I had ever thought or done. They claimed to be powers higher than the princesses themselves, even. They were those ponies who had created the world.
“They knew that I had lost my will to live, and they had come to me with a proposal. They were tired of this world; it had grown cold to them. Ponies worshipped the princesses, when those two had done nothing but inherit the throne. After millennia, all ponies had forgotten about the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. They told me that there was a spell I could use to rid the earth of ponies, but at a great cost to myself. I would survive as I do now, and then, once my final task was done, I would be cursed to neither be alive nor dead, my soul would be erased as if it had never existed. I was so bitter then that I felt the only logical thing to do was to get back at the world however I could.
“The spell was unbelievably simple, but it had a number of ritualistic elements to it. The Four Horses explained to me that I would not really be destroying the ponies, or the world, but rather that I would be restoring both to the way things were before. As such, two ponies had to be chosen to survive on; a mare and a colt. They would be protected from the spell and then released back onto the planet to live as the first ponies did. They gave me the opportunity to choose, and I did not make me decision heedlessly.
“My friends were few in number, and I hardly regarded anypony as a real ‘friend.’ There was a couple, however, who never let me seal myself off from the world. That is where both you come in.” The Unicorn smiles and inhales deeply, his lungs rattling. “You two were always there for me, even after my wife passed on. You two helped me survive, no matter how badly I treated you in return. You genuinely cared, and in that moment, I recognized it. I gave the Horses your names, and they agreed to protect you from the effects of the spell.
“They made me create an inscription on an artifact, and when I was ready they told me that all that was necessary was for me to wish for the end, and it would come. This is how things came to be as they are now.”
I’m standing, speechless. The Unicorn looks at both of us, smiling, and I try to formulate some sort of question.
“Sir, we ended up in the middle of nowhere with only selective memory. Why was that?” The Unicorn chuckles at my question, which surprises me.
“That was of my own doing. The Four Horses rule the vastness of space and time, so when I asked them to put you back in this town with me, they might have missed by a bit. It’s a minute distance to them, but it sounds like you two have been through a lot.” April isn’t satisfied with that response.
“That doesn’t explain why we could only remember certain parts of anything. We’ve both had an extremely vivid dream every night, where we are the ones killing everypony. It was as if we had to live that event over and over again. What does that have to do with anything?” she asks, her voice rising.
“Once again, it was a request of mine for the Four Horses to leave you with enough memory to find your way back here, and it appears they did that in their own way. That scene you describe sounds like a facsimile of my memory of the night I cast the spell. At least that’s one thing I won’t have to explain to you,” he chuckles as he finishes speaking.
“But what about the button? How did that tie into the ritual?” I yell, though I’m immediately afraid that the aging Unicorn is going to shatter if I raise my voice too much.
“The button was the object onto which I carved the necessary inscription. It was arbitrary. I wanted to use my last days to inspire fear in the hearts of the ponies around the town. I told them exactly what would happen if I cast the spell, only I attributed it to the button. They didn’t ignore me after that. They worshiped me. You two had already been whisked away by the Horses, or I’m sure you would have done something to stop me. I could only keep the façade up for so long, however, and eventually I felt it was time for me to hold up my end of the bargain.”
“You have no idea what kind of hell you’ve put us through,” I say, hardly believing what the Unicorn has said. “YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED ALONG WITH THE OTHERS,” I scream, and April has to throw her hooves over me to keep me from taking another step forward. “What gives you the right to decide the fate of every other pony? How twisted are you?” I ask, still yelling. The Unicorn looks at me, not angry, but understanding.
“I’ve asked myself the same thing over and over as I’ve been lying here. I told you, I’m not the same pony I was back then. I can see where I went wrong, and I think I’ve got a much better grip on reality now. I’m not asking you to forgive me. I could never be so pig-headed as that. I will ask, however that you let me do the one thing that I’ve wanted to do since that spell was cast.” April speaks before I can.
“And what is that?”
“I want to thank you. Both of you have taught me as much during my life as you have during my dying days. I’ll never know the result of my actions, but I think I picked the right pair of ponies to survive.”
“But, sir,” April continues, “What about everypony else? Are they gone forever now?” That’s about the farthest from any question I want to ask, but I keep silent.
“My dear, let us just say that no cutie mark will be gone forever. This isn’t the first time that The Horses have done this, and I’m sure that in a great number of years it will be time to repeat the process. The world is cyclical, and those who leave find there way back in one way or another. It’ll just take a little time.”
“So will the world just run itself? April and I can’t control the weather, or raise the sun or the moon, we don’t even know what our talents are!” I spit. He looks at both of our flanks and then looks at me.
“You’ve got a family tree as a mark. I’m guessing that’s a symbol of lineage. As for you, April, I recognize the simple of fertility on your flank,” he then turns and looks out of the room’s window, even though its curtain is drawn. “In regards to the world, I think it’s been doing a pretty good job of sustaining itself, don’t you?” he asks, attempting to laugh but only wheezing. “It has had a few thousand years where it has just let the ponies do its work for it. It could use a little exercise.” I go to open my mouth to ask him something else, I’ve cooled off after his explanation, and now I’m filled with questions instead of rage. He holds up a hoof as far as he can to stop me, however.
“This is as far as I go, next stop, who knows?” he says, laughing again. “Once I do make my exit, I believe things are going to be very different. You probably won’t remember anything, and I wouldn’t count on there being any cities or roads around. If you have anything to say to each other, I’d do it now.” I turn to face April, and she’s already looking up at me. I’m overcome with emotion as the last few days with her play through my mind. I remember her jumping, and the way her tongue doesn’t stay in her mouth when she sleeps. I remember the cider and how much she giggled when I kissed her. I don’t want to forget that.
“I… I don’t know what to say, April. The time I’ve spent with you has been the greatest in my life.” I pause, not sure what to say next. “You’re the most beautiful mare who’s ever lived, both inside and out. I don’t want to say goodbye. I know we’ll see each other on the other side of this mess, and I know we’ll still feel the same way, even if we don’t know it. I love you, and I always will.” I say, spilling all of my emotions in this one final outpouring. I’m tearing up uncontrollably, and soon I’m crying outright. She’s crying too, but she manages to get out her own words.
“I love you too, Sunny. I was so alone before you were in my life. You complete me, and I know that fact will never change, come hell or high water. Even if you never remember this, I want you to know right that you make me the pony I am. Nothing could make me forget you.” We lean forward and lock in a kiss, not caring about the Unicorn watching us in our moment of unguarded emotion. He smiles at us.
“You two remind me of some ponies I used to know,” he says as he closes his eyes for the last time. He takes in one final breath.