"Thanks to the Sun for warming the land,
Thanks to the Moon for bringing the tides to the sand,
Thanks to the mortals, who heeded our call,
And thanks to Lord Second, for creating us all."
-Prayer of Thanks, from the Brotherhood of Man's holy book A Darker World.
A sombre mood gripped Canterlot Castle once Second left. The death of their beloved princess left everypony speechless, and they all retreated quietly into their own quarters for the night. Princess Luna locked herself away in her study, (her bedroom having been destroyed by Second and Spike's fight earlier that day), and ordered the guard patrols to stay off that entire floor. They had no complaints about that. Nopony really wanted to see their princess in such a state.
The remaining prisoners were all returned to the dungeon. Ancient Tome was placed in one of their high security cells, solitary of course. Sliske and his host Lady Arcane Arts were also placed in high security, and were kept under constant watch. It was lucky really that Sliske was so cooperative with them. He didn't put up a fight when they told him he had to be placed back in the dungeon, which was very uncharacteristic of him.
Broad Sword got a cell too, for high treason, but he got to share a cell with Explodey McGee for now, mostly because Explodey requested somepony to keep him company during his stay. And of course, Iron Hoof was imprisoned as well after Dr. Heart Beat was done mending his bloody stump.
As for the visitors, Soft Spoken and Mystic Chant were both spending the night in the infirmary, staying by the bed side of Gold Coin after he was injured during the attack. The place was pretty full right now, playing host to a lot of injured guards, and much to the chagrin of Dr. Heart Beat, also acting as a storage space for all the bodies.
In the late hours of the night, Captain Chain Mail made his way into the infirmary to see what was happening. The whole place was odd. For some reason, the infirmary was a cross shaped room, with a central area where they had set up a reception desk, (and yet for some reason never hired a receptionist to sit at it), and four 'wings' that split off from it.
The wings between them served three roles. One of them was left bare aside from a few potted plants, and acted just as a corridor into the central area of the infirmary. That was the one that lead out into the rest of the castle, and the one through which the captain entered. On the other side from it was the storage area, where some of those portable walls sometimes used in office cubicles had been set up to divide it into smaller rooms, most of which hosted open crates of medical supplies, though at least one had been turned into a break room for the doctor on duty, complete with water cooler.
And finally, the other two wings to the left and right of the entrance wing were all filled with rows and rows of beds, where the patients and/or corpses stayed. The entire left wing was mostly bodies, and so had not been lit tonight. The bodies were probably all kept there because that was the wing with the broken windows, from where Sliske had possessed Dr. Heart Beat and made his daring escape several days ago.
Chain Mail stopped abruptly by the front desk in the central area of the room as he heard the doctor cry out in frustration. Dr. Heart Beat was turned away from him and was ranting at two of his guards over by the darkened left wing, both of whom were evidently surprised by the outburst.
"Does this castle just not have a morgue?! I'm supposed to be healing living ponies here! Stop giving me bodies! I know you're really confident in my medical skills, but dead is still a little way beyond my abilities!"
One of the guards looked desperately at Chain Mail, asking him to intervene. Right now though, the captain was hardly in the mood to get into a shouting match with anypony. How Heart Beat could even complain about his own personal problems right now when the princess of Equestria laid dead on one of his beds not feet away was a mystery that the captain was certain would never be solved. So instead, he elected to slink away quietly into the other wing, leaving the guard to his fate.
A chocolate brown earth pony and a little blue unicorn both sat sadly at the side of one of the beds on the far end of the wing, while an unconscious yellow stallion laid next to them. The captain made his way over to them, eventually coming to a stop at the foot of the bed. The two conscious ponies both looked up at him as he approached, and waited for him to introduce himself.
Chain Mail cleared his throat.
"Hello Mr. Spoken," he said, "We don't know each other, but I'm Captain Chain Mail of her majesty's royal guard. I wanted to let you know that we've just finished confining Ancient Tome and Iron Hoof to their cells. Since you and the young colt here personally knew them, I thought you might want to be told."
The little unicorn looked sadly at the captain.
"Is my dad alright?" he asked.
Internally, the guard pony debated what would be best to say in this situation, but he really couldn't come up with anything. There wasn't really any nice way to talk about somepony's father being imprisoned, especially given the magnitude of his crimes. In fact, the captain wouldn't have been surprised if Luna brought back the death penalty just for Ancient Tome's sake.
"He's fine," he said eventually, "He wasn't harmed and he'll be looked after."
The blue unicorn slumped in his chair and just stared at the ground. The awkwardness of the moment was almost stifling. Chain Mail trotted over to Soft Spoken's side and took a seat next to him.
"Is he alright?" he whispered.
"Mystic will be fine," the old stallion answered, "He's having a bit of a hard time right now. As I understand it, he was partially responsible for what happened to that unicorn mare from the Brotherhood of Man. He won't tell me much, but he's a little shook up by it."
"Understandable I suppose. And unfortunate. Miss Chameleon was one of the senior members of the brotherhood. She would have been a very good alternative for information if we were to fail to get anything out of Tome or Private Iron Hoof."
Soft Spoken didn't reply, but instead turned his gaze back to Gold Coin, who lied motionless before them.
"He's one of the brotherhood, isn't he?"
The two ponies turned to look at Chain Mail suddenly, both shocked by his statement. The old butler's face was the picture of horror.
"How did you know?" he asked.
"I didn't," the captain replied, "Until you just told me."
Soft Spoken sighed and closed his eyes.
"What's going to happen to him?"
"That's up to Princess Luna, but I get the feeling that any judgement will be postponed until she decides to face the world again. Personally, I think she will be more lenient with him. Brotherhood or not, he's shared his true nature with you, and even though you're obviously on our side, you've seen fit to protect him from us. You and he delivered the Reaper's Horn and a list of names to us, which has helped immensely, and his injuries are proof that he tried to combat the brotherhood when they attacked rather than helping them. I may not know the full story, but I can take a guess, and to me that sounds like he's one of us."
"Will you help him?" asked Mystic Chant, "Mr. Gold Coin is not a bad pony sir! He helped me when dad went crazy and trapped me in my room! Please don't let the princess banish him!"
That undertone of desperation in Mystic's voice was just adorable. The captain couldn't hold back a hint of a smile as he replied.
"Well little one, I'm afraid it's not really up to me, and it's my duty to report this information to the princess. However, I will put in a good word for him, and you have my personal promise that I will do my utmost to protect Mr. Coin from the worst of it."
Chain Mail rose from his seat and walked back over to the foot of the bed, preparing to leave. He looked back over his shoulder.
"Before I leave kid, your father is allowed to have visitors, in spite of everything. If you want to see him at all, I can make arrangements?"
Mystic was just silent. He looked up at the butler sadly.
"Well Mystic?" the old stallion asked, "Do you want to see your dad? You don't have to if you don't want to."
"I...Well..." he sighed, "Maybe tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow it is," said Chain Mail, "I will make arrangements for you. In the meantime, don't worry too much. Things are bad right now, but it'll get better. My mother always said that the night is darkest just before the dawn. It'll be okay. I promise."
Celestia stared with wide eyes at the structure before them. They had once again retreated into the mists of Hell, leaving behind the green and pleasant valley of before. What she expected, she had no idea, but it certainly wasn't this. In front of the princess was a stage, with curtains and a back area too. It was the portable kind, like the old travelling performers used, but it was fancy an elaborate like the stage of an opera house. On the stage were props and backgrounds, made to mimic the interior of a middle class home.
"Now, allow me to explain the concept to you."
Celestia broke out of her stupor. For a moment there she had almost forgotten the presence of the human Lord First, who had been walking behind her this whole time. He passed by her and headed towards the stage. The princess only just now noticed the rows and rows of chairs laid out in front of the stage as well, all cheap folding ones like you would bring out in the summer for a barbecue, which clashed with the more upper class feel of the stage itself, with it's detailed props and smooth red curtains.
First climbed up onto the stage and turned to face her.
"In theatre, it is assumed that the play is a work of fiction and exists within it's own self contained reality. Here on the stage, the actors play the parts of characters and the props represent the world in which those characters reside, here representing a room within a house. Count the walls."
Celestia looked around at the walls on the stage. The one at the back was adorned with framed pictures and potted plants. There was the one on the right was featureless, owing to the fact that it wasn't very visible, and the one on the far left held a door through which the pony actors would presumably enter.
"Three," she answered.
"Physically," First replied, "If however you imagine this fictional room in the context of a story, remember that these are characters and a setting in their own reality. A fictional pony walking into this fictional room would not see the chairs out where you are and would not see an audience, because in the context of the story, this is a real room. From a fictional character's perspective, there exists a fourth, unseen wall between the audience and the room."
Celestia contemplated that for a moment. It was an interesting insight into fiction and theatre.
"Now, that's where the term fourth wall comes from. In theory, there is always a metaphorical fourth wall between the characters and setting in a work of fiction and an audience reading or viewing that work. A fictional universe is self contained and believes itself to be reality. When you read a book about pirates, the pirates don't know they're characters in a book. They act and behave as real pirates, if the book is accurate to life of course. Now princess, tell me, where do you think I'm going with this?"
It was so obvious now what he was implying. Before, she had just been confused, but in retrospect all of Second's cryptic statements were beginning to make sense.
"...Are you saying that...We...Equestria...Is a work of fiction?"
First jumped down off the stage and walked up to her. He stood so that his face was mere inches from hers.
"That's exactly what I'm saying."
Celestia turned away and looked off into the mists, and began breathing heavily.
"That doesn't make sense though!" she protested, "We can't be fictional! We're real! The very definition of fiction is that it doesn't exist! How can I be thinking or moving or breathing if I don't exist?!"
"Because the universe isn't so rigidly defined, princess," First answered seriously, "You're real here, in your universe. In mine however, Equestria is a fantasy world dreamed up by writers. It's not quite a stage play. It's hard to really explain because I'm not entirely certain that ponies have an equivalent to compare it to, or at least not a widely known one, but the best description is that it's basically a moving comic book with voices. It's a drawing, but it also moves and has sound. We call them cartoons."
The princess bowed her head and sighed.
"What is that story then? How did humans come up with us? Why ponies? Why not other humans?"
Lord First furrowed his brow and looked upward as he tried to think of a way to explain.
"It's a children's story," he explained, "In our world, like in yours, our young often enjoy toys of cute animals. I'm sure you're familiar with what we're talking about. Teddy bears and bunny rabbits, that sort of thing?"
"Yes, I know."
"Well in the human world, ponies are unintelligent animals just like rabbits are, and some humans, especially little girls, consider them to be cute as well. So we make toy ponies, created from plastic and fake hair. The most popular toy line of this type, assuming there are any others because I'm not aware of them if that is the case, is a brand called My Little Pony, and your world is born from a cartoon based on those My Little Pony toys, featuring ponies with humanised features. Your hair style, facial structure, intelligence, language, culture, and many other things are all traits borrowed from humans."
So according to Lord First, all of Equestria and possibly their entire universe was a work of fiction based around toys that his species used to entertain their kids, which themselves were based on dumb animals from their world, and the only reason ponykind had any kind of intelligence or significance to speak of was because they were partially based on humans as well. She wasn't quite sure what to feel about that, but she was leaning towards insulted.
"As to the answer of what the story was, it was about some of the more important ponies among the toy line. Equestria is not the first example of a cartoon made about the My Little Pony toys. There were other tries that did things differently. The first was probably the closest to Equestria, but was a lot more simplified and it had human characters too. The second was based more closely on the human world, and so lacked many of the more magical elements of Equestria, since magic is also a fictional creation of humans, and does not exist in our world either. And the third attempt was...Ugh...I don't even want to go into that. It was bad, let's just say."
Wait, humans didn't have magic?
"Is that why magic doesn't affect your kind?" Celestia asked.
"Huh? Is what why?"
"Magic doesn't exist in your world. Is that why it can't affect you?"
"Umm...Basically...It's a little more complicated than that, but that is the general idea. What I was trying to say anyway, was that when they made their fourth attempt at a pony cartoon, (called Friendship is Magic), they got creative with it and made a much more complex world, filling it with fictional creatures from human mythology and adding fantastical elements to the world, such as the idea that the sun and moon or the weather need to be controlled by ponies, as in our world they are self sufficient. The premise of the show was that it focused on your old pupil Twilight Sparkle and her five main friends, the Elements of Harmony. You'll recall that they had quite a few adventures in their time together? That's because every adventure was an episode of the show, an individual story in itself."
Wow. That last part made so much sense in retrospect it was almost scary.
"So...It was all about them?" she asked, "I wasn't a part of it?"
"You were a side character," First explained, "You played a part in the story, but you weren't the focus. Twilight Sparkle was probably the most important one, with the other elements just below her. Most episodes focused on incidents in their lives. Since the show was geared towards young children, as well as entertaining them with action, adventure and comedy, it also had the secondary purpose of teaching them morals and virtues, so these adventures would inevitably lead to somepony learning something about friendship, which they could sum up at the end of the episode. Twilight Sparkle would send you friendship reports and read them aloud before sending them, because that was a good vehicle for the writers to get the moral across."
Celestia turned away from First. She couldn't take this. It was like everything in her life was artificial, just a creation of these creatures. She could raise the sun with her magic because the humans didn't have to raise theirs and they considered it a novelty. Her dear student learned about friendship and sent her letters because the humans thought it was a good way to get a moral message across to their children. Hell, they were only ponies at all because the humans considered ponies to be cute. If human children had a slightly different opinion of ponies, these invisible beings that apparently ruled their entire world could just snap their fingers and Equestria would suddenly be a nation of intelligent bunny rabbits!
"...I think I need a minute."
Broad Sword leaned against the bars, peering out into the corridor beyond longingly. Behind him, sitting on the tiny bench at the back of their cell, Explodey McGee watched him curiously.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
The guard looked back at him over his shoulder briefly, before returning to staring through the bars.
"I'm worried," he replied, "Princess Luna must be distraught right now, and I'm worried for the doc too. At least he didn't go with Second though. I'm glad he made the right choice."
Explodey tilted his head thoughtfully.
"You really don't see anything wrong with Sliske, do you?" he asked.
Broad Sword turned around to face the unicorn properly.
"That's because there isn't anything wrong with him," he replied, "Sure, it was a bit harsh of him to execute that mare from the brotherhood, but he doesn't really act like some genocidal maniac. I've spent a lot of time with him now. Sure, everypony tells me that he's killed hundreds and that he's evil and needs to be stopped, and to be fair he did align with Second briefly, but..."
Explodey raised an eyebrow.
"But he's also so much like us. I met him while he was diving in a dumpster for food. He talked to me about his parents, he complained about a shop that gave him bad service once, he had dinner with my mother and talked about his favourite kinds of soup and contemplated Equestrian politics. He made and kept a Pinkie Pie promise. He even blew his cover hiding in my head and condemned us both to be imprisoned here so he could save you from Arcane Arts and Swift Justice. Maybe it's just me, but from what I've seen of him, he's just not like how everypony describes him."
"Sounds nothing like the stories I heard," Explodey replied, "The way I heard it, Sliske was always described as some dark force of nature. They called him Sliske of Seven Hundred Souls because when he made war on the early ponies, they believed that when he possessed a pony he would steal their soul and leave them nothing but an empty husk. I don't know how true the stories were, and the fact that the Elements of Harmony didn't end up like that even though he possessed all of them at least once seems to disprove it, but a legend like that doesn't come from nowhere."
Broad Sword reflected on that.
"I'll ask him," he concluded, "Next time I see the doc I will ask him about his past. Maybe he can give me some answers about it all. I'd love to know why he is like he is."
In the hallway outside, the sound of an old key rattling in a lock caught the two ponies' attention. A moment later, Explodey McGee vacated his seat and ran over to see through the bars as well. It soon turned out that it was Captain Chain Mail entering the prison.
"Hey Chain Mail!" Explodey called out, "Is everything all right up there? How's the princess?"
The captain turned to face the two ponies in their cell, and sighed deeply.
"She's not good," he answered, "Refuses to come out of her room. Celestia's body was moved to the infirmary, along with the remains of Chameleon and the other guards. The visitors Gold Coin, Soft Spoken and Mystic Chant are all okay, fortunately. They're dealing with events in their own way. Spike I haven't heard anything about. Right now, I plan on interrogating Sliske and Tome for information. I won't be able to report anything back to Luna until she comes outside again, but for now I can at least continue my investigation."
"What would the doc know about anything?" Broad Sword asked.
"Huh? Who's the doc?" asked Chain Mail.
"That's his name for Sliske," the unicorn explained.
The captain let that hang in the air for a moment, before asking the obvious question.
"Because he told me he was a doctor," Broad Sword answered.
"...Well he's not. Why are you still calling him doc?"
"I dunno. Seems to suit him."
"HE IS AN ALIEN BODYSNATCHER! IT DOES NOT SUIT HIM IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM!"
The former guard backed away from the bars slightly and didn't say anything more.
"Geeze Chain Mail, anger issues much?" Explodey commented.
Chain Mail's eyes darted between both the prisoners erratically. He sighed.
"I'm a little on edge tonight. I apologise. I should probably get to work with Tome. In the meantime, you two should get some sleep. It's past midnight already."
"Will do cappy!"
Chain Mail glared at Broad Sword for a second, internally debating whether it would be worth reminding him that he promised to never call him 'cappy' again. Eventually deciding that he probably didn't have a memory span longer than half an hour, he decided to just drop the issue and get to work.
"Alright then..." he said apprehensively, "I'll be going now."
The captain turned around and trotted off towards the interview room. He called over his shoulder;
"Good night Explodey."
"'Night Chain Mail."
"Good night Broad Sword."
The captain's eyebrow twitched.
"Good night Explodey," he could hear Broad Sword say.
"'Night John boy."
Silence now. For a moment, Captain Chain Mail stood alone in the corridor, having briefly forgotten what he was doing. For some reason those two ponies always threw off his train of thought whenever either of them spoke. He would need to get used to such distractions. He was fairly certain that Explodey at least would remain a big part of his life for a while.
Sighing to himself, the captain pushed aside the double doors ahead of him and continued on towards the interview room.
There was a knocking on the door. Luna pulled her head out from underneath her pillow and looked over to the entrance. The guard on the other side, fool that he was, took her silence as an invitation to enter, and the door slowly eased open to allow a bat pegasus night guard into the room, wearing the armour of a lieutenant. He cleared his throat.
"Your majesty, I know you wanted to be left alone, but my job requires that I keep you informed of any updates around the castle."
He kept up a serious tone, but the guard was visibly shaken by recent events too. He looked sympathetically at the princess, and she couldn't bring herself to shout at him. Instead, Luna simply groaned and laid back down on the bed.
"Fine," she replied.
The guard walked over to the bed and sat on his haunches right next to her. He had never seen the princess in such a state before. She wasn't crying right now, but the red around her eyes showed that she had been recently, and her mane laid limp and lifeless, showing not a starry night sky but instead just a solid dark blue. He didn't know what exactly to make of that.
"Well..." he began, "The prisoners are all confined again, the bodies have all been moved, including..."
He couldn't bring himself to say it. Instead he just cleared his throat again.
"...Yes. And we have already sent out a contingency of night guards to the homes of all known members of the Brotherhood of Man. They should all be in custody before the night's out. Captain Chain Mail is going to be personally interrogating Sliske and the Brotherhood prisoners we've already captured. He also requests a private audience with you later to discuss some sensitive matters."
"What sensitive matters?" Luna mumbled half-heartedly.
"He wouldn't tell me. I would assume it's for your ears only."
"...Yeah. Anyway, that's all I've got to report right now. If you have any questions or requests your majesty?"
Luna rolled over onto her back and let her head hang down over the side of the bed.
"How's Spike doing?" she asked.
"I'm not entirely sure your highness," the lieutenant answered, "He's locked himself within the ball room and we haven't heard anything from him."
"Then I request somepony be sent to comfort him. He's very sensitive, even if he doesn't seem like it. He'll likely want somepony to be there."
"Pardon me for being so bold your highness, but why not go see him yourself? You are his oldest friend, are you not?"
Luna rolled back onto her stomach and raised her head to glare at the captain.
"That is too bold. And I don't wish to see him because I am not like Spike. I want to be alone when I grieve."
The emphasis made it clear to the pegasus that he was unwelcome.
"If you wish for me to leave your highness, I shall do so immediately."
The night guard stood up again and turned back to the door.
He turned back around to face the princess again.
"I do have another request," Luna explained, "I don't think I'll be in any fit state to lead the country or make any public appearances for a while, but Equestria needs its ruler right now. If it's not too much trouble, I would like you to find my sister's advisor and ask him to contact Prince Blueblood in Trottingham. I'll need to appoint a temporary regent to keep Equestria going while I try to get back on my feet, and I think he'll be worthy of the job."
The bat pegasus nodded in understanding, and made his way over to the still open door.
"Oh, and uh..." Luna interrupted.
He stopped and looked back at the princess. She struggled for words.
"...Any sign of...the Doctor?"
He shook his head sadly. Luna just slumped on the bed again.
"I didn't think so. Thank you lieutenant. You are dismissed."
Celestia hung her head low, breathing heavily. A thousand memories flashed across the forefront of her mind. So many conversations with Second and First back in the ancient past that made so much more sense in context, all the cryptic comments they made about higher reality and their claims of power. She shut her eyes tight and shook her head around to try and make it stop.
"No, no, NO!" she shouted, "This can't be all there is to it! We can't possibly matter that little!"
First stepped up beside her and placed a hand on the princess's shoulder, and knelt down so that his face was level with hers.
"Tia, come on," he said, "Don't break down on me now. There's more to hear, and I need you to be strong. Don't prove my dad right for keeping this from you."
Celestia raised up to her full height again and turned on First.
"YOU!" she shouted, "You kept this from me too! Don't think for a moment I forgot anything you two did! Second wasn't the only one causing chaos a thousand years ago! You are just as guilty as he is!"
First raised his hands either side of him in surrender.
"Fair point," he said, "You're right. I did a lot of wrong too. And I feel you are owed an explanation for my behaviour as well. Truth is though, I really don't have one."
The princess eased up slightly, but remained tense. She waited for him to continue.
"Thing is," First explained, "I was little more than a child when I came to your world. A teenage boy only just turned sixteen. I grew up here in these mists and down in that valley. A thousand years have passed now, and I feel I've become wiser for it, but we were all young once, and I was just a troublemaker in my youth. I wasn't always powerful. Once, a very long time ago, I was as mundane as an earth pony farmer, and not at all powerful. I lived back on Earth, a universe away from here, and I enjoyed a casual life. Then one day, suddenly I'm thrust into Equestria and promoted to the most powerful being in your universe. So, being a teenager who just suddenly gained ultimate power, what else was I going to do with it? I went on joyride."
Celestia raised an eyebrow.
"You fought my entire army to a standstill," she said, "Over three hundred thousand ponies beaten to the point of unconsciousness, and at least five of them actually died from their wounds. You caused property damage in excess of the average dragon attack everywhere you visited. You brutally murdered an Ursa Major right on the doorstep of my palace, you sunk my private yacht, your father SHOT ME, and every single time we ever encountered one another outside of a combat situation you would do nothing but taunt me and the Elements of Harmony or sing annoying songs that I have spent that past millennium trying to forget!"
"Yeah...I'll never forget that one time I made dad sing Bad Touch. That was just amazing."
"And you're seriously telling me that was all just you joking around?!"
First stopped smiling, returning to his serious tone.
"Yes. And I am sorry for it, really. We just wanted to have fun with our powers, but a little while after we first arrived in Ponyville, some overzealous police pony tried to arrest us for disturbing the peace. When dad fought back, that's when we discovered that we were basically invincible and could easily defeat anypony without killing them. Then she called in the royal guards, we beat them too, they went for reinforcements, and it just kept escalating until we were fighting them off by the hundreds. By that point, diplomacy was out of the question. When you're standing on top of a mountain of bodies, you can't really claim over twelve thousand counts of self defence with a straight face. I think there's an unspoken rule in society that if that many people are trying to kill you, you should be dead.
"Now of course, for the crimes we committed against you personally, there really is no excuse. To be fair somewhat, we were willing to just leave you alone outside of our conversations, but when you started trying to fight us too, we really didn't have much of an option. Now, we had no idea at the time that alicorns are invincible, but we found out quick enough. Honestly, I didn't expect that the shotgun of all things would actually harm you. Dad was just trying to slow you down . We figured you'd shrug it off like you did everything else we threw at you."
"How could I shrug it off?!" Celestia demanded, "It's a God-killer! You should know! It's what killed you!"
"Thing is though, it's not meant to be a God-killer. Back in our world, we aren't invincible. Humans are normally as mortal as any pony is, and the SPAS is a weapon for killing mortals. We thought it would just bounce off you like our punches and kicks did. I didn't know it also got an upgrade when we came here."
"Here's a question," said the princess, "You claim you just intended to have some fun with your powers here. So why did you even bring a weapon in the first place?"
"Security," First answered, "We didn't know what would happen when we entered Equestria. We might have remained just like we were in our world, in which case we could have ended up being eaten by a monster from the Everfree or something. Hell, for all we knew we could have just transformed into ponies when we crossed over. That was what I was actually hoping for, and I'm rather disappointed that didn't happen actually. That would have opened up so many options..."
Celestia raised an eyebrow distrustfully. She at least now understood why he did what he did, even if she didn't like the answer. He seemed to be remorseful for what he did, partially at least, and so she decided to let it go for now, but she was nowhere near ready to forgive him for all the damage he caused in the name of 'fun'. That kind of selfishness and carelessness that he and his father displayed was why she took down Discord, and this was exactly the same as that.
Speaking of his father, another question came to the princess's mind.
"So you did all this because you were careless teenager," she said, "Well Second is not. As I understand it, he's at least forty five now. I don't know how fast you humans age, but in Equestrian society, a pony is expected to be a mature and responsible adult by then. What's his excuse for these atrocities?"
First turned his back to her and folded his arms.
"...He just wanted to be a part of my life," he said, "It's all my fault really...I mean, my dad was cool. Most kids in their teens drift away from their parents somewhat. They never completely go away, but they become distant. They spend most of their time in their room playing video games and going on the computer. They stop spending time with them. My dad though was always a part of my life, because he loved me. He'd sit with me in my room and watch me play, pointing out things I had missed, and with some practice he could even learn how to join me in multiplayer stuff. When we came to Equestria, it was the same sort of deal. We both had powers. I wanted to have fun with them, and being the 'cool dad' he always was, he just wanted to join the party."
Celestia blinked. She wasn't expecting such an emotional answer. First couldn't even face her right now for whatever reason. She couldn't see, but she strongly suspected he might have been crying. If he was, his voice wasn't betraying it though.
"Truth is," First continued, "My dad was the one who followed me. He just treated the whole thing like another game, and we both played together, like we always did. We'd laugh and joke, often at your expense as you'll no doubt remember, and had those stupid little bets and singing contests just because we could. He loved to sing, even if he acted like he didn't want to. He told me once he actually always wanted to be a singer, but his own father, my granddad, made him go into other lines of work."
First turned back to face the princess again. She couldn't actually tell if he had been crying or not. There were no signs of tears, but he did look upset. Celestia still thought he had been though. He was omnipotent in this realm. He could easily have used his powers to clean them away and hide it.
"Now though? He's changed now. One thousand years in stone? And killing his only family? I mean damn, could you even imagine what would happen if somepony did that to you princess? He was just a guy having fun before, but now you've killed his son and put him through a thousand years of living hell. You've broken him princess, and this right here is him lashing out.
"It's actually not as bad as it could be. He spent the first hundred and fifty years of his time in stone just screaming in his head, but he stopped eventually, and he made peace with my death a long time ago. That doesn't mean he can't hold a grudge though, and he did. Right now, Equestria could easily be experiencing the full wrath of an angry and vengeful father in mourning. Instead, very fortunately, all they have to deal with is a bitter old man who has gone insane over time. I'd say that's a slight improvement, but it obviously didn't do you any good."
"You know, since dying, I've had a long time to think things over, and I've decided that I don't hold it against you."
That surprised the princess.
"You don't?" she repeated, "But...We killed you! Or we were responsible for your death anyway!"
"True, but I can't hold the actions of your soldiers against you," First replied, "Hell, I can't even hold it against them. They were just doing their jobs, and if anything I have to commend my killer for his bravery. The private who killed me tried something that no pony ever tried before. He ran right up to an enemy that he had no hope of ever hitting, let alone killing, wrenched the weapon of the Gods right out of his hand, and shot him with it. That takes guts. I admire that."
First lifted his shirt. Celestia recoiled in horror upon seeing that First was even now still sporting a bloody wound in his stomach where the Reaper's Horn, or rather the SPAS 12, had been used against him.
"The rules of life and death are strange," he said, "In essence, you are in here as you were in life. An elderly pony who dies of old age could show up here as ancient and decrepit as they were in their final moments of life, or they could once again be the sprightly young pony they were in their fond memories of youth. You come back as you were in the moment of your life which defined you. Me, I was only sixteen when I died. I didn't have a life yet, so my defining moment was my death. It doesn't hurt or anything. It's just there. And it never stops bleeding."
In his cell, Ancient Tome stared at the wall. One eye was twitching erratically, while the other was wide open and bloodshot. He was actually in a proper jail cell unlike some other prisoners here, with bars and everything. He couldn't escape though. A metal ring clipped around his horn disabled his magic. Standard procedure when imprisoning unicorn criminals. Still humiliating though.
On the other side of the bars, Captain Chain Mail came into view, accompanied by a random guard who looked on into the cell with mild curiosity. Ancient Tome spoke first.
"Aren't I supposed to be taken to an interview room for this?" he asked.
"Yes, but I decided you don't deserve it," Chain Mail replied, "If I had my way, you'd stay in that same single cell and rot there for the rest of your life, but something tells me that I will eventually have to let you out to escort you to the gallows."
"Hah! As if you would! I know Equestria doesn't have capital punishment anymore. You don't scare me."
"I know it doesn't," said Chain Mail, "I suspect it will be brought back temporarily though, just long enough for us to execute you. Remember that it was Princess Celestia who pushed to have the law repealed and Princess Luna who was still for it. Then remember which princess is now dead, and which one is still alive and has more reason than ever before to wipe you and your entire order off the map."
The old grey unicorn kept silent, but a look of worry briefly crossed his face.
"...You know something Tome?"
"Your order is over eight hundred years old. The Equestrian government has been trying to track you ever since it discovered your existence. In all those centuries of actively combating your group, we only ever discovered the identities of nine members total, only eight of which we could ever prove. Of those eight, only four were ever captured, and of those four we could only ever prevent one of them from killing himself before we could question him, and he was freed in the biggest prison break in history less than a day afterwards. And now, we know the names of eight of your eleven surviving members including yourself, and half of them are being held alive in this very castle."
Tome raised an eyebrow.
"What's your point?"
"My point is that you have to be the most incompetent, idiotic ponies I've ever seen, and you don't even come close to the threat level that previous generations of the Brotherhood of Man posed to the crown. How it is that your generation of the Brotherhood was able to resurrect Lord Second and steal the Reaper's Horn when the thousands of much smarter cultists that came before you failed is a mystery. I'm genuinely shocked Tomey, I really am."
Tome had gone back to the eye twitching now.
"I guess what I'm saying is, you're all doomed. The other four members of the Brotherhood of Man whose names we know will be in custody as well by morning, because they won't even know we're coming. Between all of them, finding out the identities of the other three shouldn't be hard, and your entire order will likely be either imprisoned or dead shortly. So here's the deal. Give me the other three names now to save me the trouble, and I can personally guarantee you protection from the death sentence."
Ancient Tome smiled.
"Go fuck yourself, captain."
Chain Mail sighed.
"Okay, here's a better deal for you. In addition to a lighter sentence, give me the names, and I'll stop the chef from pissing in your cornflakes tomorrow."
"I'm fine with starving to death, FYI."
"I'll let you see your son tomorrow."
Ancient Tome leaned in closer.
"You have my attention."
The guards out the front of the palace sat in silence. They had failed at their job in a way that nopony had ever done before. Princess Celestia was dead, Second had escaped, and they had lost a lot of good ponies in the Brotherhood's attack, many of them friends of the surviving guards on duty. Everypony's sense of loss and responsibility for what happened had left them quiet and reflective.
They didn't expect any further trouble tonight after what had already transpired, but nonetheless they had to have somepony watching the gates. A number of guards from other patrols had been taken off their usual routes to stand at the front gate, as the original gate guards who had stopped Ancient Tome and the Brotherhood here earlier were among the earliest casualties of the first attack, save one who was now in the infirmary.
One of the guards spotted a group of ponies making their way up the pathway leading to the palace entrance. He reached to his side and drew a mace in preparation. The other two guards on duty had not really been paying attention, but upon seeing their friend draw his weapon, they did so themselves and stood to attention to greet the figures.
They soon came into view. They were a group of ten ponies, exactly five mares and five stallions, all pegasi. They varied in colour, but the group all looked very similar somehow, as if they were all distantly related, and they all looked extremely serious. What got the guards worried though was that these ten ponies all wore dark armour, vaguely reminiscent of the kind used by the bat-like night guards.
"Halt!" the guard with the mace shouted, "Identify yourselves!"
One of the pegasus mares in the centre of the line stepped forward confidently.
"We are the Knights of Man, and we are here to reclaim our stolen property!"
The guard with the mace exchanged a look with the two guards behind him. He wasn't sure what to make of the new arrivals, but the 'of Man' part on the end of their name signified bad things.
"What 'stolen property'?" he asked.
"The items you took from our master the Second!" the mare shouted back, "Now stand aside and lead us to the Princess Luna, or you would declare war on our nation!"
"Nation?" one of the other guards repeated, "What nation?"
"On the nation of the United States of America, and the New Human Empire!"
Ugh. Damn. This chapter. I was just feeling really uninspired when writing this. I couldn't come up with anything at first. Later chapters I really have a lot of ideas for, including a whole new story arc that will probably double this entire fic in length that I thought up after having possibly the most amazing dream of my entire life a few days ago. However, it's not in this chapter, because this chapter still has all the aftermath of Celestia's death to deal with and the supreme annoyance of the time scale. I hate the fact that all the chapters since the first have so far taken place over the course of a single day. That really bugs me. I'm very eager to move onto a different time of day.
It's also only eight thousand or so words, meaning that this chapter clocks in as my shortest yet, for which I apologise. I will compensate for this by an additional release.
Anyway, I suppose I have to talk about criticisms and such. Umm...Let's see...Well, actually I've got nothing this time. There are no action scenes in this part, so I can't really say I've addressed the criticisms of that, and I actually didn't hear any complaints at all about the Interlude, which I consider a good thing, but I wonder if that's because people really liked the Interlude more than most the chapters or if my more vocal critics didn't want to bother commenting because it was only an Interlude.
In any case, I would like to put in some special thanks here. In my earlier chapters, I gave thanks to Muppetz and Pen Stroke, because their stories Article 2 and Past Sins were inspirations to me when writing. Well, I want to make an addition to that list. While those two were inspirations to me, my actual biggest inspiration is a user on FF.net by the name of Klutzybear, who wrote an HiE story called My Little Brony: Reality vs Fantasy. I didn't want to mention him in my earlier special thanks because the fact that MLB is all about the concept of Equestria as a cartoon world would have given away early on that that was also the premise of Human. Hell, the First is actually named after the main character of MLB, Anthony.
The stories, though exploring the same theme, are very distinct, as his is closer to the more traditional HiE story but played differently. For what it is, the story is actually really good, but as far as I know it never got onto Equestria Daily, which is a real shame because I consider it a quality work. I don't think you'll like it if you're not already a really big fan of HiE stories, but if you are I definitely recommend it, because it does have some really funny moments.
I also feel I should explain that while writing this, I'm doing so on a different computer than I usually use. My normal one has both wordpad and a lesser form of Microsoft Word on it. I normally write all my stories in wordpad and then use MS Word to spell check it before posting the final version on here. This computer however only has wordpad and and Microsoft Word Viewer, meaning I have no programs with a spellcheck on here. However, the chapter is done and I want to post it, so I've instead put the whole thing into Fimfiction without a spellcheck first and decided to use the weird pseudo-spellcheck that Google Chrome uses. However, I'm copy-pasting a large body of text into the box here and then going through it, and I think the red lines only show up if you actually type the incorrectly spelled word into Chrome. If that is the case, then this will likely be full of spelling and grammar errors.
You may consider me unprofessional for putting out a chapter without a proper spellcheck first, and that's a fair complaint, however I know that not everybody cares about grammar and spelling, and if they want the chapter then I'll give it to them right now and not make them wait for another two days until I can get back to my old computer. When I do get back to my old one, I promise to give this chapter an overhaul and fix all the spelling and grammar mistakes. Please, those of you that consider spelling and grammar important, forgive me just this once. I'll do everything in my power to make sure this never has to happen again.
As a kind of apology for those mistakes and the short length, and also a thanks for those that are still reading now, I am also releasing a bonus chapter compiling deleted scenes as well, if you're interested in that sort of thing.
Thanks for everything guys. You're the best.