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‘Who am I?’
‘Why am I here?
‘What’s my role to play?’
The answers to life’s most bothersome questions are elusive, transparent; over time, the true meaning of such questions change alongside the perspective of the individual, as the ever unreachable answer shifts with it, the faintest alteration of its near indistinguishable silhouette serving as the only indication that there was ever any change at all. Often the most distressing questions are those which linger just beyond the limitations of the spoken word. Those indecipherable questions drift, delving deeply into the dreary darkness of a dreadful dream, duly dithering in the dearth of discernable definition.
I woke in a soft, unfamiliar room: The light brown walls were oddly bowed outward, lined with some sort of fabric, defying any conception of architecture I was familiar with, though the lighting was too dark to identify specifics. There wasn’t a door to speak of, though at that moment, being trapped was the least of my worries: A half dozen chubby white animals approached me; quadrupeds, similar to my height with light darkly colored eyes approached me cautiously, looking to each other and back to me in a silent display of mutual bemusement. It was eerie how quiet they were. The largest one stepped forward looking at me watchfully, as if trying to come to some sort of significant decision. He patted a large rear paw twice against the ground, having apparently made his decision, and began to nudge some sort of orange scepter across the ground to me with his nose. Trying to avoid the possibility of offending the group, I reached forward to take proverbial peace-pipe… and balked at the sight of my right hand, or rather, the lack of.
What the… a paw?
I’m not sure why the correct solution came to me so quickly. Maybe I’d already adjusted to the sheer volume of nonsensicalness that seemed to follow me. The familiar organic smell of produce from the orange stick-like object was probably what jarred me out of my state of shock. The walls had been too high for me to see over before the newcomers had distracted me. It’s not a room, it’s a box. The cardboard box sat in the middle of a much larger room, one that was absolutely massive from my perspective. By the time I recognized the out-of-scale surroundings, I knew exactly where I was, leaving only one resounding query screaming in the back of my mind.
Note to self: I got it wrong. Life’s most bothersome questions can also be rather straightforward.
… WHY THE HELL AM I A BUNNY?
Okay, to be honest, I’m not exactly proud of what happened next. Regardless of justification, revealing that I may have tipped over a box of distressed bunnies in my fury-ridden-panic to get some answers is just one of those things that isn’t going to come across well secondhand. Allow me to offer a few tidbits at least, in my defense.
Firstly, they were being passive aggressive. I was doing my best to communicate, my panicked and angry voice should have come out as ‘HELP!’ The resulting noise held anything but the fury it should have, mistranslated as a cacophony of huffs and small squeaking noises. Despite my obvious ongoing crisis, they said nothing as they backed away. Had I been more in my right mind, I likely would have stopped to think: Hmm, perhaps these bunnies can’t understand me. However, the fuzzy pom-pom attached to my posterior was making it really difficult to be rational.
Reaching the foregone conclusion that everything was being lost in translation, I tried my ‘hand’ at hopping out of the box. Big mistake. I had absolutely no motor control and practically no idea how to use the limbs properly. It was so bad I didn’t even get a chance to push off the ground, my balance went haywire, and I faceplanted back inside the box. The second attempt had me barely even leaning forward before landing me on squarely on my nose. “SQUEAK.”
Of course it’s not going to work, Kate. You’re trying to send signals to muscles your mind doesn’t even know how to access. It takes a year for most kids to learn to walk, were you really expecting to just pick up an entirely new method of movement on the fly?
Note to self: Quadrupedalism: Not all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s about the point that all rationality and self-awareness went out the window. I began to ram the side of the box, unaware of the gaggle of mortified bunnies splaying themselves against the opposite side of the box, adapting the ‘If I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ tactic. To their credit, it wound up being effective. Finally tipping, the box tilted over and hit floor with a thud; the assorted contents (myself included) sent sliding across the tile. With an avenue of escape now open, the bunnies scattered, running almost tactical zigzag patterns towards Fluttershy’s doggy door. As the only movement I was comfortable with was using my two front feet to drag myself along the tile, I was the proverbial tortoise left in the wake of the literal hares.
Slow and steady wins the-
A yellow pegasus blocked my way in the gloom, her face obscured in the shadows
“Kate… you scared the friends I found you away again. I thought you’d like them.” My stomach dropped as I felt something clamp down on the back of my neck and lift me up, my hopes deflating with every step back towards the box… my box. “You know better.” She said, chiddingly.
I shook my head to clarify that I was actually rather confused, and no, I did not know better. My drooping ears were indicative of my draining spirit. She yawned widely, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes with a hoof.
“I think we should talk about why you’re running.” She looked out the window at the waning moon, blue eyes full of an emptiness I’d never seen in her before. “before this whole displacement thing gets too out of hoof.”
‘I’m not running.’ I iterated defiantly. Fluttershy rolled her eyes in a very uncharacteristic manner.
“Not from the same thing you were, perhaps, but it’s obvious you’re still scared to face the truth.”
‘I’m facing it.’
“If you were, then wouldn’t you have asked when I came to see you? Your doubts have only been growing since Rarity told you that things weren’t as they appeared to be.”
‘I -Wait- how did you-?”
“Because this is a dream.”
‘…Oh.’ If what I was seeing was indeed my own projection of her, that was somewhat… disquieting… because my interpretation of her was gorgeous. The moonlight subtly illuminated her coat, granting her a shimmering golden glow. Despite her otherworldly appearance, I found myself worried. If she’s my projection… why does she look so sad?”
“You’re afraid, Kate. You’re afraid you might have lost yourself, and I don’t mean physically. Your defenses were gone, stripped away by cider and a touch of kindness. Who knows what you could have said? Who knows how far you let yourself fall for her?” The dryness in my mouth wouldn’t lie, even if I tried to. It finally clicked.
“I know what I need to do.”
Waking up to see that all my limbs were indeed human was a massive relief. Pony-Morphine has a side-effect referred to as ‘potentially vivid dreams.’ I must say, in my experience, I’ve found that to be more than a mild understatement. Careful not to draw attention to myself, I detached the IV with a pained grunt. I’d been quite tired of the sterile white hospital surroundings before the dream, now it had grown almost unbearable. Granted, the headache and dreams could have been from the glasses instead of the sedative, but being stuck on bed rest for a few days was more than enough for me to blame it on the latter. I understood where the worry was coming from, they had never treated a human before and wanted to err on the side of caution, a courtesy I appreciated… at first. Now though, the stitches hadn’t gotten infected, and were only a few days out for needing to be removed. I’d tried to tell that to Nurse Redheart... unfortunately, our prior ‘altercation’ seemed to have guaranteed lowered the chances of her trusting my judgment anytime soon. I was going to have to get creative.
I grunted, working out the jelly feeling in my legs from the lack of use, eventually grabbing a stack of clothes Rarity had left for me previously. That led me to my next problem: using the bathroom to change would require bypassing the Nurse’s station, which obviously wasn’t an option. This would require an alternative. Moving stealthily from the recovery room to the nearest unlocked door, I slipped inside a room labeled ‘storage.’ It was more than roomy enough to change in, so I realized the doorknob; it was one of those agonizing moments when you comprehend that something’s wrong just a second too late. My fingers slipped off the doorknob as the telltale faint impact of the doorknob bumping against in place locked tumblers had me lunging back to grab it, an attempt that missed entirely as the door swung shut. Trying the doorknob proved a fruitless affair.
Crap. Guess I might as well change.
When I slipped into the comfortable new pair of yoga pants the unicorn had tailored for me, I found myself impressed yet again. Not only did they feel exactly the same as my original pair, they also seemed to compensate for the couple of pounds I’d lost on hospital food.
Actually… Come to think of it that’s a little creepy.
The temporary silence was shattered as the hoofsteps trotted outside, almost knocking me off balance.
“Oh blast it, where did that dern alien get to.” A voice muttered from outside. Having stepped away from the door instinctively, I backed into a shelf of cleaning supplies that gave my position away with a rattle.
“Is somepony in there?” The feminine voice had an instantly familiar twang to it. Most importantly, it sounded nothing like Nurse Redheart. Realizing with no small embarrassment I still was only partially clothed, I grabbed my shirt.
“Applejack, right? Hold on.” I grunted, trying to adjust straps and get things clipped on properly in the dark. I couldn’t find the light switch if my life depended on it.
“What are ya’ll doin’ in there?”
“Looking for Narnia,” a few seconds of silence passed before I relented, “the door is stuck.”
“…Yer stuck in the closet?” It sounded like somepony was trying not to laugh on the outside. “Ah’ll try my hoof at gettin’ it open.”
“One second, I’m not quite dressed”
“… Yer changin’ in the closet?” Now I could definitely hear her giggling from the outside. I growled, ignoring the double entendre.
“Trying to, it’s not exactly bright in here. Okay, good to go, can you let me out?” To my disappointment, the door handle only jiggled in vain. I sighed.
“Yep, it’s locked from out here too, let me see if I can find anypony with the keys.” She trotted off, and I resigned myself to wait. It was a few minutes before I heard hoofsteps coming back my way. “ah’m mighty sorry. But the staff seems to think Redheart has the keys, and she’s at lunch.
“Figures. She seems to have it in for me.”
“I’ll keep ya company till she gets back. Rarity was gettin’ me up to speed on you and Redheart earlier, Ah heard ya’ll had a bit of a hoe down. That’s one of the reasons Ah came to visit”
“… I guess that’s one way to describe it. I had a bad reaction to some medication, wasn’t exactly in my right mind.” I said, displeased with my alleged self all over again.
“So Ah’ve been told. Explains why Nurse Redheart seemed to be in such a funk. Sad thing is you’re probably the best action she’s had in years.” Applejack laughed merrily before pausing. “Er, it might be best if you didn’t tell her Ah told you that.” The mention of any dirt on Nurse Redheart was instantly appealing, if only because she seemed so snooty. My interest was instantly piqued.
“I’m not the best judge of pony-features, but she doesn’t seem bad looking.”
“Ah’m rather biased against her, but I will say it’s not about her looks, more about her-whatchamacallit… orientation. She’s- well, Ah suppose she’s what some folks might call a colt-cuddler.” The term was lost on me.
“Meaning she’s straight?”
“Naw, not that. Ah mean to imply that she’d want to cuddle a colt the way a colt would cuddle a colt.”
“… Still not getting it.” Applejack hesitated.
“Yall know mah brother right?”
“I know of him, yes.” I answered carefully.
“Well the whole town already knows, so Ima tell you a story, long as yall promise not to say a word to ‘em.
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“That there’s a morbid way to promise. Anywho, Mac weren’t always so enamored with one word sentences. We used to never be able to shut ‘em up: the darn pony was always going on and on about his buddy Quiche and their harebrained adventures. If I had a bit for every time I heard ‘this one time, me and my buddy Quiche blah blah blah,’ Ah’d already have enough to buy mah own farm. Then she came along. Mac had never had a marefriend, and ah guess he had a thing for nurses, so they hit it off almost the first week she was in town.” I could hear Applejack shifting back and forth on her hoofs outside irritably.
“You don’t have to tell me. I mean I just appreciate the company and help flagging down Redheart when she gets back. Not that I’m not curious.”
“Naw, I opened my big mug so I might as well finish it. Long story short, she ‘invited’ em in, the afternoon of the third date. Half an hour later Big Mac came flyin’ outta that house like a bat out of tartarus, tail tucked so far ‘tween his legs he coulda used it for a handkerchief. If that weren’t embarassin enough, that darn nurse came outside chasin him in tears, yellin ‘Ah’m sorry, Ah’ll take it slower next time.’ Thing was, she’d been in such a hurry to stop him she’d forgotten to take off her giant black-
“-OK! Think I understand the basic concept of female dominant colt cuddling, thank you Applejack.” I stopped her, trying not to laugh.
“Not just that, Ah’m just sayin if there’s anything Ah can do, let me know, especially if it’s Redheart givin yall trouble.”
“Well, now that you mention it…"
It had begun to dawn on me that I had rather misjudged Applejack. Without the redneck appearance to strike terror into my heart, we had gone a whole conversation without a single mention of rope. It took us a long time to come up with a plan that would trick Redheart into opening the door without requiring Applejack to lie. I came up with the suggestion she drop a bit under the door and pester the unicorn to get it back for her, distracting her afterwards by picking an argument. I mouthed ‘thank you’ as I snuck around the arguing ponies, almost feeling bad for Nurse Redheart; Applejack was rather fiery when it came down to even an arranged argument. She’d even given me enough time to make a visit to the bathroom, in order to gussy myself up. Not because I was worried about looking nice for Fluttershy or anything of course, just… because. I made a mental note to go by and thank her later.
Following the trend, my third walk through Ponyville was significantly less stressful than the last. There were still long glances and whispers, yet the feeling that I was slowly gathering a crowd behind me was no longer present. The ward really was working, I had never been so happy to wear something so self-deprecating. My vision went hazy for a moment, and I almost tripped over my own feet, head spinning. Steadying myself against the nearest building, I waited for the moment to pass. Everything is fine. I just need to learn to ignore the massive headaches, that’s the only downside. Detecting an odd bit of wetness on my lip, I reached up to check the spot. My hand came away covered in scarlet. Headaches and nosebleeds. No biggie.
I’d intended to at least look presentable for my meeting with the mare in question. Presentable? Hah. I was standing on her doorstep, pinching my nose miserably with one hand as I knocked with the other. When the door open, she looked… rather awful actually. There were bags under her eyes, and her mane was unkempt.
“Sorry,” I rubbed my neck awkwardly, still pinching my nose, “is this a bad time?” She shook her head.
“Oh no, not at all. What happened to your nose? Sit down, sit down, I’ll get you some tissues.” She ushered me in, demeanor changing completely when she saw the injury. I took a seat on the couch, still tilting my head up. After a few minutes of Fluttercoptering the bleeding had stopped. The space between us was odd, a few inches too close to be comfortable yet too far to be considered anything near flirty, the mutual bubbles of personal space barely intersecting.
“I’m… sorry I didn’t come to see you again at the hospital, that sparrow we found hasn’t been doing too well. I was afraid if I left…” She glanced down.
“It’s fine, that’s important. Plus, by staying away you probably saved the hospital a fortune in extra ceiling tiles.” Too late to take it back, I felt myself warming under the collar, the memory of ‘practice’ still fresh in my mind. Stay focused Kate. I crossed my legs, settling myself.
“Shy, we need to talk.”
NOT THAT LINE YOU IDIOT.
“Oh, okay, what do we need to talk about?” There wasn’t a hint of guilt on her face; she looked perplexed rather than worried. Leaning forward, I looked away.
“I’ve been hearing things. A lot of things about the mingle mark. It sounds a lot more serious than I… you lead me to believe.” It sounded less accusatory in my head, but it was too late to stop now. “the fact that it’s usually preceded by marriage, the fact that it leads to the possibility of raising a family, that’s kind of… heavy. Really heavy.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Her reaction was off. I was expecting sadness, maybe even anger, not simple curiosity.
“I remember the first kiss. After that everything kind of blends together. We just…” the question stuck in my mouth, not wanting to be asked, “went to bed after that, right?” Her jaw dropped.
“Oh Kate I’m so sorry, you said you didn’t remember but I thought you were just talking about when we were… um, doing-some-things.”
“It’s fine. We got interrupted before either of us could say much of anything anyway. Mind filling me in now though?” My head was pounding, the stress of the conversation not doing anything to lessen my discomfort.
“I wasn’t thinking clearly. I realized that after I kissed you and we stopped. After that we talked for a long time, and I explained everything. I warned you that something might happen after the joining, but it wasn’t something we could ever repeat because of the risk involved with the mingle mark. Um… and you agreed.” She stated plainly and earnestly. I knew from personal experience that Shy was a terrible liar. An inkling of deception and it would have been clear as day, yet there was nary a hint of dishonesty.
“Flutters… I don’t see how that’s possible.” I held my head in my hands. “I’m not that kind of girl, not that impulsive. I don’t take risks of that magnitude, even if I am plastered out of my mind.”
“Um, that’s what you said at first.
“So what changed?”
All the answers I was dreading flooded through my mind
I said I loved you.
Or I promised to marry you.
Or I said I would stay with you forever.
And you agreed.
“I told you I was in love with somepony else.” Somehow, her answer blindsided me harder than any of the others would have. My view of the situation flew out the window, smashing to pieces. “I told you that I wasn’t dating her yet, but I’d been attracted to her ever since Nightmare Night a few years ago... the um, opportunity just hadn’t arisen to approach her yet. It was actually your suggestion to dissolve the mingle mark if she ever does come back to Ponyville.” My eyes were closed, world spinning in more ways than one. It made sense now, but not in a way that made me feel any better.
“And I said I’d only agree to it if you let me help you in return, didn’t I?”
“Um… yes. And that was-“
Her words cut out, overrode by the legion of bass drums using my brain as a practice room. I would have never been able to accept a gift as drastic as what she’d given me without predicting eventual recourse, that something underhanded was afoot, or that there would be inevitable demands made of me. But if I felt I already knew what was going to be asked of me, and it wasn’t unreasonable… I would have considered it. I had jumped to all the wrong conclusions. It should have been a happy moment.
So why does it hurt so much?
Stretching, I stood, mentally preparing my fake smile to be as convincing as I could muster.
“Well, I’m glad we had this talk. Thank you Fluttershy, I guess I really can’t hold my alcohol.”
“Oh, me too! I think that’s the last time I make any important decisions under the influence of cider. I should probably check on that sparrow, it’s been almost an hour.”
“You look like you could use a break. Why don’t you let me take care of it, and you go grab a shower and some you time.” The words felt preprogrammed. I wasn’t sure why I was upset or what was bothering me, and the fact alone that something was bothering me was bothersome in and of itself. I felt rather lost.
“I shouldn’t… um… if that’s okay with you that would be really nice.” Her smile was genuine, kind… agonizing.
“Sure, go ahead.” I waved her off without looking her way again, both for my sake and hers. I removed baby bird, despite its weak chirps to the contrary and put it in a smaller container. Fluttershy knew her craft, I found myself saddened as the sparrow appeared to be on borrowed time. I watched out of the corner of my eye as the assorted animals around the house frolicked, healthy, without a care in the world. Then I looked back to the sparrow that I had personally invested in.
Cruelty or coincidence? It was the question of my life. As I worked I found myself contemplating what would have happened if I had kept on running that night, and hadn’t followed the singing into the woods. What would have changed had I not entered the picture? Lights began to flash behind my eyes, early warning signs I’d seen only once before that indicated the beginning of a migraine. I needed to take off the glasses, I’d taken it like a trooper but this pain was beginning to eclipse anything I’d ever felt before. Something had to be wrong. In a panic, I threw the pieces of the makeshift bird hospital back together, saving the bird for last, careful not to drop it in spite of my current agony.
Release. All at once, from every sort of tension imaginable occurred, pushing itself down from my head into my hands. I watched in horror as the torrent of energy drained like arcing electricity from myself into the tiny bird. Desperately I tried to let go of it, unable to regain motor control as my muscles traumatized body vibrated. It was excruciating. Then it stopped. Nothing moved. A small group of guinea pigs stared, mortified. All the birds had ceased movement, landing on some solid surface and staring. When the small squirrel in the corner dropped his nut, the small noise was all it took for the animals to go crazy, running into walls, all eventually tearing down the hallway to hide behind a bemused Fluttershy. In my eyes, I was the ‘Lennie’ of this world. I would eventually break everything I cared about.
“What. Happened?” With the wellbeing of her animals at stake, Fluttershy’s assertiveness was at full force. If I had an explanation, I would have given it to her. Sometimes, there are no words.
We stared speechless as the baby bird that should have been rendered at the very least catatonic flew about the room, chirping happily. If anything, it was far healthier than before.
“What happened?” she repeated in a softer tone.
“I have no idea.”
“Ah, last one. I don’t think I’ve done that much paperwork since I banished- er. Well it’s been a while, anyway.”
“Sister. Did you just alter the light?”
“No-“ Celestia frowned, realizing the problem: It was indeed much darker than it should have been at this time of day. Both alicorns shot to their feet, teleporting to the roof of the castle.
“Dear mother of me…”
A bureaucratic snowstorm rained towards them, at least three times the size of the first which had occurred little more than a week ago. The papers swished in their direction ominously, taking up an unbelievably large chunk of the sky. Celestia was so momentarily overwhelmed she almost missed the moment Luna teleported back in beside her, having retrieved that box.
“I do believe those pages are blotting out my sun, dear sister.” Celestia quipped wryly. They opened the box together, telekinetically splitting the thousand quills equally between the two of them in the matter of moments. Luna smiled wickedly, the purified armor of nightmare moon adorning her body for what felt like the first time in ages.
“Then we shall write in the shade.”