Her bright blue eyes were wide, brimming with eagerness. She had swept her face in so close to mine it would have knocked me silly if I hadn’t jolted my head backwards into the pillows nestled behind me. Her body loomed over mine while her brilliant smile gleamed on, showing she held no shame for being this uncomfortably close.
Had this crazy mare never heard of personal space?!
Before I could object to being nearly assaulted by Pinkie, she pulled away from me. Her hoof whipped forward. In it lay a perfectly balanced cupcake topped with white frosting, decorated by gold and brown sprinkles.
“Go on, it’s delicious~” she sang out.
I eyed it suspiciously, hesitant to move any part of my aching body. Shifting my sight back to Pinkie, she met my nervous glance with foal-like innocence. She gave an encouraging nod to the cupcake, her smile growing so large it started to look scary. Tilting my head to the side, I took a peek past her cotton-candy-like mane to the line of ponies behind her. All eyes were on me. They’re faces bent forward with the oddest mix of anticipation and worry. It was as if they expected me to do a magic trick or punch Pinkie, the latter being a much more attractive choice personally. My drifting gaze fell on a pair of magenta eyes. Dash snapped her head away from me on immediate eye contact, taking a sudden, yet strained, interest at the nearby window. A small cold shudder shot down my spine.
Was she embarrassed? Did she still hate me?
I brought my sight back to the floating cupcake in front of me feeling a bit more confused, a bit more hurt.
With a short sigh, I began to lift my left cla – hoof towards the treat.
My small motion was a battle against gravity, my muscles straining just to lift my own foreleg. My golden hoof crept upwards, its hair meshing into a smooth brown coat that ran along my upper foreleg. In that small moment where my hoof hung suspended in space, it dawned upon me just how severe my loss was. This yellowed hoof had replaced my greatest tool; and more than that, it had replaced my identity. Without it, I could no longer hunt, fight, or precisely handle objects around me. I felt sickened to see this useless, inflexible excuse for a limb replace my sharp prehensile claws. I might as well have been amputated.
I narrowed my eyes in concentration as I closed in on Pinkie’s hoof. She gently slid the base of the cupcake into my quivering hoof. I took one deep breath to steady myself, and the cupcake leveled into a near balanced state. As I bent my foreleg backwards to my awaiting mouth, a spasm of pain struck me like lightning. My muscles buckled into a fiery cramp that had my mind reeling on how such a simple move could cause this much agony. On sudden reflex to the sight of the toppling cupcake, my right foreleg swung over my body in a wild attempt to save it. Instead of open claws to take hold of the cupcake, it was met with a blunt hoof that slapped it across the room. The top of the cupcake lay grounded into the tile, its icing splattered.
My cheeks flushed.
Smooth move Gilda.
“Whoopsie, don’t you worry Gilda. Let me just get you anoth-“
“Pinkie, I don’t think now is the time for that,” chided an anxious voice.
Pinkie stepped aside, turning to face the group.
A lavender unicorn stepped forward. Our eyes locked and she wavered instantly, shrinking back a few inches. I could feel the heat in my face build, not with embarrassment this time, but with hot rage. My former griffon self flashed in my mind’s eye. In it, I launched myself off the bed with one great gust of my wings, slamming the petrified mare against the wall. As I held her off the floor with one claw clutched to her throat, I shot my other claw to her horn. With a malicious smile, I snapped it off with one quick jerk as she screamed in pure terror.
Back in reality, she must have sensed the black thoughts resonating off me like echoes through a desolate cave. She stayed rooted on the spot, too hesitant to take another step towards me. The purple dragon rushed to her side and patted her shoulder in friendly encouragement.
“Come on Twilight, she won’t bite,” he chuckled lightly, yet his voice uneasy with doubt.
She gave him a quick smile and focused back on me. With the same caution of walking through a minefield, she gingerly made her way to the side of my bed.
I knew what was coming, and I wasn’t interested in what she was selling. This was the same unicorn that nearly killed me, and even though I was surrounded by all these ponies, I didn’t care to feign good manners to hear a cheap apology. It was only by good fortune on her part that I was too weak to act on my impulse to maul her.
She came to a stop on my right side, her expression etched with guilt. My eyes were set squarely on hers in an unblinking glare. She took one last breath.
“Gilda, I want to say that I’m —“
She took a step back like I had just struck her.
“Just get me a mirror,” I said in a dangerous tone.
“Oh, o-o-okay.” She spun on the spot and hurried back to the group of ponies.
“Nurse Redheart? Where can I find a large mirror for Gilda?”
“Oh well, I have one down on the first floor, but I can get it myse-“
“Oh, but I insist on helping you Nurse Redheart!” Twilight exclaimed.
Without waiting for her response, she nearly ran out the room. The nurse shrugged and turned to me.
“Be back in a moment dear,” she said with a strained smile, and left the room shutting the door quickly behind her.
The room fell into a heavy silence once more.
Nopony made any move towards me; one actually stumbled backwards in fright when I caught her staring at me. It was the same yellow wimp that had the bright idea of walking ducks in the middle of the street without looking where she was going. I was slightly amused that she could be this afraid of me in my weakened and… unique state.
I tried again to catch Dash’s attention again, yet she conveniently turned away to comfort the cowering butter-colored pony.
Damn it Dash.
I didn’t know what to really think. Part of me wanted to scream at her, to jump out of bed and shake her. I wanted at least some sliver of acknowledgement to let me know that she still held some value from our shattered friendship. Another part of me, the stronger side, wanted to stay silent and let the ice build between us for the time being.
She needed to make her move now. I was the victim here — I had nearly died for crying out loud! The situation was in my favor since I was lying in what could have been my death bed. She had to come to me. I couldn’t face the shame of begging for her forgiveness, especially not under these circumstances. Sure I wanted to become friends again, but I had to stay strong in the process. I couldn’t appear weak and I didn’t want to admit I was totally wrong either; my original plan never called for total submission. My pride was too strong for that.
A griffon is a brave, prideful, majestic creature. You must always stay strong, stay independent, stay fierce. You will know how to give pain, and more importantly — take pain. That is what my father taught me, that is what my father had beaten into me. Always stay strong, he said…
A sense of exhaustion washed over me. I laid my head flat against the bed, feeling emotionally spent.
Hushed whispers broke out beyond my bed. I could catch a few words, my name being one of them. Not caring for what was being said, I kept my body still hoping the pain would ebb away. After a few more seconds, the whispers stopped to be replaced by trotting hooves approaching my direction.
Out of the corner of my eye, a white unicorn came to the left side of my bed. Her horn glowed in a light blue aura as the splattered cupcake lifted off the ground. She took an extra second to aim, and the cupcake flew into a nearby trash bin with neat precision. She turned to me.
“Well we couldn’t have had that mess stay there all day,” she said elegantly, taking one step closer to me. “Now could we?” Her mouth lifted into a kind smile.
I turned my head, meeting her rich azure eyes. Icy silence hung in the air for a full minute as her gentle smile was becoming a strained pull by each passing second.
“What?” I finally asked in annoyance.
“Oh, well… Your coat! Yes your coat, it’s very sleek dear.”
“And your hooves, what a nice shade of yellow.”
“And your visage, its —“
“Are you coming on to me?” I interrupted, knowing that wasn’t true. I just wanted to get her away from me.
“What?! No!” she faltered backwards, her smile falling into an agitated frown.
She turned back to the ponies, her eyes pleading for them to help.
“Oh oh! Is this like that one story?” Pinkie chirped as she bounced next to the white unicorn. “Oh what big eyes you have Gilda.” She snorted a giggle at her own joke.
“Pinkie, my compliments were no where close to that foalish story,” the white unicorn said, rolling her eyes.
If it wasn’t for the pain I was in, I would have face hoofed. Instead, I settled on rolling my body to the other side of the bed, turning my head away.
“Now now, we’re just fixin’ to help Gilda,” said somepony, her voice laced with a country accent.
“Isn’t that grrrr right Flutter- hummph shy?”
I poked my head up, and watched the orange pony shove Fluttershy towards me. Her hooves were placed on both flanks while Fluttershy desperately resisted, digging all her hooves against the tile. Unfortunately for her and me, she still slid slowly across the flat surface.
“Come on Fluttershy, its not like she’s going to spring out of bed and attack you!” piped the purple dragon, running forward to help the orange pony drag her closer.
Not yet at least.
She cried out in a surprisingly soft voice for somepony being forced against her will, squeaking and flailing her legs extra hard as she approached me.
“Bu-bu-but,” she stammered, coming to a stop at the base of my bed.
I took in her sorry quaking form, feeling a heavy hatred stir within me. Seeing her snivel in such weakness, such fear was arousing a dark beast in the pit of my chest. It clawed its way to my mind, leaving a sickening chill in its wake that gripped my heart. The beast solidified into a single thought — that she was the embodiment of everything wrong I knew to be.
Finally fed up by her pathetic display, I gave out the least offensive response I could muster at that moment.
“Well? Spit it out already,” I snarled.
Her eyes widened in fear. She promptly jumped to the side and scampered behind the orange pony, her head lowered in fear.
“Don’t do that,” called the only pony not gathered around me.
My heart dropped. Dash lifted off the ground and flew over in one quick motion. She came to a stop besides the orange pony.
“Well look who it is, better late than never,” I said through gritted teeth. Her face hardened, yet there was something off about her.
“Hold on there gals,” said the orange pony in a careful voice. “You two are friends, ain’t ya?”
Neither of us responded. Dash and I were locked into a fierce staring contest, anger boiling between us. My wings bristled with fury.
“Dash…” spoke the orange pony in a sad voice, “You can’t be seriously mad at her? Fer landsakes girl, you leapt to her rescue last night before any of us made a move! You rushed her to the hospital yerself, and stood by her side all night. Don’t you remember when I saw you silently weeping at her bedside, stroking her arm?”
I felt an invisible weight press against my chest as my mind sparked with new awareness. A light dawned upon me, yet it brought an unspeakable dread that cut deep into my mind. Something was running rampant inside me, flooding my being with the same heart-pounding doubt I felt yesterday morning.
My left hoof flickered. I witnessed it instinctively limp over to my lower right foreleg, falling on a familiar spot. The hoof caressed lightly against my fur, bringing back a mysterious comfort I had once thought to be imagined as I fell from the heavens above in pursuit of my former friend.
My head lifted, my eyes meeting her shimmering magenta eyes.
The door blew back against the wall, sending everypony jumping nearly out of their skins in fright. Protruding from the doorway was the wooden edge of something large covered in a magical glow. After a few more seconds of delay and muffled bickering beyond the doorway, a large wooden stand mirror floated into the room followed by a blushing Twilight and an annoyed Nurse Redheart.
“Sorry everypony,” said Twilight with a sheepish smile, setting down the mirror. “The mirror bashed against the door when somepony shoved me without warning,” she added in irritation.
“Well dear, you would have stayed outside that door all day worrying your head off if I didn’t give you a nudge,” shot back the nurse with no attempt to hide her exasperation.
Everypony around my bed sprang up to meet Twilight with relieved smiles, breaking out into small talk. Dash zipped on over to greet her, but instead of hanging around to chit chat, she faded to back of the room into a shadowed corner. Beyond the shuffling ponies, I could catch a few glimpses of her. She kept her head low, eyes averted away from me as if my gaze pressed her into retreat.
I wasn’t the only one to notice Dash hiding. The orange pony broke from the group to take a few measured steps towards her. Over the din, I caught just enough of her words to anxiously listen in.
“Rainbow, wha’chya doin’?”
“Shhhh!” Dash quickly waved her down with a hoof. Dash took one wary glance in my direction catching my eyes for a brief second. She snapped away as if she couldn’t bear to see me. She wrapped a foreleg around the orange pony and turned their backs into me, entering into a whispered conversation.
A familiar despair lapped into my senses. I felt like Dash was slipping away into a dark void, and the worst part about it was that she was letting herself go with no regret, no complaint.
At the sign of weakness, my old pride kicked in — injecting frustration and anger to overwhelm the sadness in my heart.
I tore my eyes away from Dash to Twilight. She was still talking, wearing a bright smile because she was surrounded by true friends. A few stray laughs from the group set the perfect scene for a mare like her. She was happy, because she never had problems that were remotely close to mine. She could never understand the sheer misery I had experienced throughout my life. She also couldn't understand how much grief she had inflicted upon me with the stroke of a single spell. The friendly group was a picture of paradise, and a glass barrier had been set between me and them, between me and Dash. I was just a pitiful creature only allowed to observe, but never to experience the same joy they brought to one another…
A red flash crossed my eyes. I finally lashed out.
“Get me the mirror!” I bellowed.
The chatter stopped instantly. Everypony turned to face me.
“Oh! Of course Gilda, I’m sorry, but I for-“
“Just get it,” I said in a steely voice.
The mirror became enveloped by the same magenta glow I hated. It flew to the base of my bed, the glass rising above its edge.
Before I began to take a look, I struggled to right myself into a sitting position. The pain wasn’t as bad from the first moment I woke up, but it still smothered my motions to a slow and painful crawl.
“Gilda, let us help you. You’re strugg-“
One poisonous glance was enough to shut Twilight up. The ponies fell back in the same line formation from when Pinkie first approached me. Two ponies were absent however, Dash and the orange pony kept to the corner. The only difference was that they were now facing me, or at least one of them was. Dash kept her head lowered, taking up a staring contest with the floor.
I moved my hooves to press against the mattress, pushing my body up to rest on my haunches. My teeth gritted in pain, yet I never stopped moving. I fought through the pain, almost happy to feel it light up my whole body. It brought a sense of purpose — a type of ‘no pain no gain’ achievement.
My body stilled in an upright position, and I finally lifted my face to peer into the mirror.
My first impression was that I had stayed exactly the same. My colors remained almost completely unchanged from my griffon form. My amber eyes were masked in my natural markings of light lavender. My head and neck was covered in pearly white fur while long tufts of hair jutted out beyond my forehead. The edges of these tufts were coated with the same light lavender of my eye markings. The rest of my body retained the same shade of brown. With some effort, I gently extended one of my wings to the side to see it coated in the same dark shades of brown, akin to my original griffon wings. My white ears rose above my head, and with one thought, they folded down and back up. It was an experience I had never felt before. With a twitch of my tail, I saw its silky strands flow with a lush shade of bronze that darkened at its tip.
Hmmm, I wonder.
I turned my leg to the side, holding my breath in anticipation.
Blank. My flank was absent of any symbol, or what ponies called it, a ‘cutie mark’. My hoof fell to the absent area, rubbing the fur in longing.
My vision floated off the mirror to the shadowed corner, meeting Dash eye to eye.
She didn’t back down this time. She kept her face square on mine, her expression unreadable. A whisper drifted in my brain. It was indistinct, yet it carried a horrible feeling. It was me this time that finally relented. I recoiled in fear, ripping my eyes off Dash and back again to my reflection.
Both of my hooves glided to my face and clasped onto my pale cheeks. My eyes widened in horror, and I felt something drop in my chest, releasing an icy ripple to every corner of my body. The whisper crescendoed into a crystal clear statement. With my eyes glued to the pony in the mirror, I mouthed these deadly words:
Was it because of this?