Chapter I: Silhouette of a Life
The creature was so large, it blotted out the sun. I stared at it with amazement. Two other creatures flew with it, and it and one of the others carried another on their back. The three creatures landed, and the two riding jumped down. The crowd slowly approached the beasts. The beasts were shadowed over and I could not make out what they looked like. I stepped out from behind the rubble I hid behind.
“You, child with the bandages,” the largest one called out to me, “Come here.”
Everyone slowly turned to me. I felt some sort of force pulling me toward the silhouetted creatures. They stood waiting for me—one was even bouncing as I approached. The second largest one reached out it’s appendage at me, and I reached for it with my own hand and—
“Nhung!” I felt hands wrapped around my arms shaking me, and the voice yelled at me in my native tongue “Nhung! Are you okay? Please answer me!”
“Mama,” I shook my head and pressed my hand to my pounding forehead, “Did I space out again?”
“Yes, baby,” She fixed my hair, tucking it behind my ear, “Was it another vision?”
“Yeah,” I pressed my other hand to my forehead, “I think so. There were these creatures that flew in and called to me and—“
“Creatures,” She asked, “What did they look like?”
I hated being interrupted, but I shrugged it off since it was Mama, “I don’t know. They were all silhouettes. They stood on all fours though and—“
“Did they look like horses?”
“I’m sorry, Nhung,” She said, “I just had a dream last night about flying pastel colored horses coming to us and—“
I interrupted her this time, “They did look like horses. Mama, we have to tell Stellis about this.”
She didn’t say anything at first, but then tapped my hand that now lay on the table, “Eat first. You have to keep your strength up.”
I gobbled down my food, missing the plate several times in my haste. I rushed Mama out the door of our little hut, and she led me to Stellis. Stellis was always up really early giving jobs to the scavengers.
“Mr. Stellis, sir,” Mama said with her thick Vietnamese accent, “Nhung. Nhung has had another vision.”
“Ms. Nguyen,” Stellis replied with an exasperated tone, “You should know by now that I don’t believe any of this psychic bullshit.”
“I-I’m sorry Mr. Stellis, sir, I—“
“Ms. Nguyen, I’m not going to hurt you,” Stellis said with a much kinder voice.
“Mr. Stellis,” I spoke out, looking toward where his voice came from, “My vision is similar to a dream Mama had last night. These flying horses just appeared out of nowhere and landed in the middle of the stronghold and—“
I felt hands on each of my shoulders and I screamed and dropped to the ground, suddenly feeling like I was back in the cellar. Stellis’ apologizing voice filled my ears and I came back to reality, “I’m sorry, Nhung, I keep forgetting.”
I stood shakily. I felt two gentle hands on each side of my face and I urged myself to stay calm. Stellis’ voice came from directly in front of me as if he was kneeling down to my height, “Nhung. Tell me everything.”
“What happens when we get them all here,” I asked Celestia, walking alongside her around the castle. It had been about twenty minutes since she set the sun, “We can’t use the machines.”
“We will gather our magic and bring you all back, and since you have Barry and Twilight with you, it will make the whole ordeal easier,” She looked out at nothing in particular to keep from looking at me, “Shade. Thank you very much for doing this.”
“Why would you thank me,” I asked, “I’m not doing you any favors as far as I can tell.”
She sighed and looked down to the floor, “It hurt to see all the suffering in that world. I couldn’t sit idly by while hundreds die. I’m not as strong as I appear to be.”
I nodded. We rounded the corner into the courtyard. Ahead of us, Luna stood at the edge of the courtyard with her horn glowing. We stopped and watched Luna pull the moon from the horizon and lift it slowly into the sky. Twilight stood next to her. She hadn’t left Luna’s side since volunteering to leave.
“Luna has been worried,” Celestia said, “She refuses to show it because she wants to show she’s the tougher of us.”
“I can promise you I will bring back everypony safely,” I said watching the scene in front of us. I felt my mind wandering to the different things that could go wrong. The group finding us a threat and killing us. Stepping into a pocket of nuclear energy. Some militia robotics groups still alive. I shook my head to clear the images.
“I do hope so, Shade,” Celestia said. Twilight stood on her hind legs and kissed Luna. A glitter fell from Luna’s eye onto Twilight’s face.
I felt my heart twist at the sight, “I will make sure they all return safe and sound even if I have to die to do so.”
Celestia looked at the ground again, “We’re sending you on your way in the morning. The messages were sent and they’re expecting you. You should get some rest for the trip.”
I agreed and started heading back toward the castle and stopped. I looked back to Celestia, “Make sure to give that promise to Luna.”
She smiled, “Thank you.”
I turned and headed to my room. I stepped inside the dark room and waited for my eyes to adjust. I walked quietly over to where Sapphire slept and watched her for a moment. I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek and pulled a sheet over her. It was just one season, but the stakes were much higher now.
I slipped under the blanket in my own bed and snuggled up to Fluttershy. She wriggled a bit and whispered a weak good night. I kissed her on the forehead and closed my eyes waiting for sleep to take me, but it felt like hours before it came.
“Okay, here’s what all your jobs will be,” Sen floated a checklist in front of him and cleared his throat, “Shade, you will help the humans build the machine and be an overall leader.”
“Boy, you don’t leave anything for the imagination, do you,” Pinkie said rolling her eyes, “I’m sure we can all figure it out.”
Everypony looked at her in confusion. Maybe she was spending too much time reading Dr. Hooves’ interdimensional fiction. Pinkie had offered to go to help boost the morale of the undoubtedly downtrodden humans.
Sen lowered the list with a glare, “Fine, have it your way.”
Luna looked out over us, “So far, Fluttershy, Shade, Barry, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight are going. Are you all sure you do not wish to go with them?”
“I wanna go,” Sapphire stepped forward next to me.
“I don—“ I cut off Luna before she could continue.
Sapphire looked at me incredulous, “What? DAD! I’m a big pony. I can handle myself!”
“No. That’s final.”
“Why can’t I go?! I want to be useful for once!”
I nudged her with my forehoof and motioned my head towards the door to the next room. I walked out of the room and she followed me, temper flaring. I sat down and waited for her to cool off. She shouted a few more times at me, but I took the rage and just watched her pace.
“Are you done,” I asked when she final sat down in front of me.
I sighed through my nose, “Look, there’s plenty of reasons why I don’t want you to go and I want you to understand them.”
She huffed and glared at a wall to her right, so I began, “You probably think it’s just about me being worried about you getting hurt. It’s not. I’m not saying anything bad will happen out there, but if it does, I will be at peace knowing you are safe here in Equestria and that you will be taken care of.”
She huffed again, this time in resignation.
“And think about Scootaloo,” I said, catching her full attention, “She’s going through a hard time right now. She needs you.”
She lowered herself down to the floor and lay there while I continued, “Think about how she is right now, and imagine how she would feel knowing she can’t see you for a full season. Imagine how she would feel if something happened over there.”
A tear rolled down her resigned, angry face, “I’m sorry…”
I lowered myself to her level and kissed her on the forehead, “It’s alright.”
She stood up and hugged me, “Make sure you come back in one piece or I won’t forgive you.”
“I promise,” I said holding her tightly. We stayed there for a few moments and she finally hopped down and wiped her face and pretended she wasn’t crying, blaming the tears on ninja onions. She went off to a bathroom to try to get rid of the red in her eyes and I stepped back in the room with the others. I pulled Rainbow Dash aside while Sen lectured everypony on what to be careful of.
“What’s up,” She asked, glad to get away from the boringness of the lecture.
I looked down at the floor and to the doorway to make sure Sapph wasn’t walking in the room, “Can I ask a favor?”
“Of course,” She said with a more serious expression.
“I don’t trust anypony here more than I trust you and Applejack,” I said.
She puffed herself up, “Of course, we’re the best.”
I smiled at her boasting behavior, but then I frowned when I asked, “Can you look after Sapphire while I’m gone?”
“Is that all,” She asked with a fake laugh, “No problem.”
I looked her in the eyes, “And permanently if anything happens out there.”
Her smile disappeared and she searched for any sign of a joke on my face. Finally she closed her eyes and nodded, “Of course I will.”
“Thank you,” I said with a sneaking tone of sadness in my voice.
She looked straight up at me and gave a strong salute, “It will be my honor.”
I started to walk away, but she stopped me, “Shade… I know you only look at Twilight as a sister, but…”
I turned back to her and her eyes were glossy with wetness, “I’ve always considered you a brother. I just thought I would let you know that.”
She looked at the ground and swallowed, “You better come back.”
I pulled her into a hug. She tensed up for a moment, but loosened up and hugged me back, “I’ll try my best.”
We all made our final goodbyes twenty minutes later, and I stepped into the transportation circle with the other four. I felt like I was going off to war again. Fluttershy wrapped her foreleg around mine in nervousness. I pulled her closer and looked out to the small crowd gathered. Alicorns and unicorns and our friends all gathered around. Rainbow Dash stepped forward in the crowd and saluted. Applejack followed suit along with Sapphire. One by one each pony saluted.
“We are transporting you to about a kilometer outside of the stronghold,” Celestia said, stepping in front of the group, “You five are very brave to go out there in that war-torn world. Remember, this a rescue mission. Good luck.”
The last thing we saw before a blinding light enveloped us was Celestia raising her hoof to her forehead in a salute.
The redness of my eyelids slowly faded to black. I opened my eyes with a severe disoriented feeling. I shook my head violently, which did help, and I stood up. The sun was just peeking its head over the horizon, leaving the world still mostly dark but with a lovely glow on the skyline. Pinkie hugged a rock about three meters away emptying the contents of her stomach next to it. Twilight and Barry, who were used to teleportation, only seemed a little dizzy from the trip. I looked around for Fluttershy, but found her with her foreleg still wrapped around mine when I tried to take a step forward. She lay on her side with her eyes closed, so I shook her lightly to see if she was alright.
She didn’t move, so I called to her. She groaned, “Too loud.”
Fluttershy rose slowly to her feet with one hoof to her head. I moved her hoof and inspected her head for any injury. Twilight stepped forward, “It’s just a migraine. She’ll be fine in a few minutes.”
Fluttershy flinched at the sudden sound. She shrugged off any offer of comfort and wandered off. She sat a few meters away with her hooves on her head. Pinkie hobbled to us when her heaving fit stopped and leaned up against Barry for support, “Ooooh, I feel like my tummy is on fire…”
“Teleporting is horrible the first time,” Twilight said, “I can only imagine your first time being inter-dimensional.”
My disorientation went away after a good ten minutes. Pinkie was back to her normal, chipper self a couple minutes later, and Fluttershy joined us after twenty.
“This world is very,” Fluttershy looked around at the piles of rubble and the random mountains of rocks here and there, “Dull.”
“It needs more color,” Pinkie exclaimed, “It definitely needs some pink.”
They all exchanged comments about the landscape and coloring of this world—all of them used to the pastel they were born and raised in. I interrupted their comments, “Wait ‘til you see the people. The color of their skin and hair is not so diverse as the ponyfolk.”
The sun slowly rose in the distance. Twilight hopped on my back, and Pinkie jumped on Barry, and we took off toward the large wall of the human complex in the distance. I yelled to Barry and Fluttershy to circle overhead to give the humans a warning of our landing. After four or five circles, a huge crowd had gathered, so I gave the signal to land. I rolled my shoulders to warn Twilight, and she wrapped her forehooves around my neck as I went into a full out nose-dive to the ground. A few meters from the ground I flapped my heavy wings, decreasing my speed significantly. One-by-one, we landed with loud, satisfying thunks.
Twilight hopped off my back and Pinkie off Barry. Several of the humans had weapons in hand, and a few had them trained on us. We stood awkwardly in the stares of the crowd.
“Who are you,” One shaky male voice dared to ask.
“We are representatives of the land of Equestria,” I called out. The crowd broke into quiet but furious chatter.
“What do you want?”
“To help,” I said.
The crowd exploded into chatter until a woman yelled out, “Prove it!”
“Twilight,” Barry turned to her, “Celestia did teach you that heal-all spell, right?”
“Yeah,” She said, “But I can only do it once a day. It takes a lot out of me.”
Barry looked out to the crowd and faced a pile of rubble, “You, child with the bandages. Come here.”
After a moment, a young girl with a bandage wrapped around her eyes took a step forward. The crowd made a path and an older woman tried to stop the girl. The girl shrugged her off and held out a shaking hand. I took a few steps toward her to see several weapons raise at me. I ignored them and held out my hoof to the girl. Her hesitant steps told me that she could not see past the bandages. When she was close enough, I raised my hoof into her palm. She straightened up and took in a sharp breath. After a moment, she grabbed my hoof with both hands and felt up my foreleg. She felt up to my shoulder blades and up my neck. She reached my cheeks and jawbone when she stood on her tip toes.
She dropped back to her heels, “You are a horse.”
“A pegasus,” I corrected quietly, “What’s your name?”
“Nhung,” She said and took my hoof again.
“What a beautiful name,” I motioned with my head for Twilight to come closer, “What are these bandages for, Nhung?”
She looked toward Twilight, who was making enough noise to follow, “The T.O. took my eyes.”
I looked to Twilight—who nodded—and asked, “How would you like to see again?”
“But… I have no eyes,” The girl shook her head.
“My sister can fix that.”
Twilight stepped up to the girl, “What color were your eyes, Sweetheart?”
Nhung looked at her for a couple moments as if wondering if this was some cruel, sick joke, “Hazel.”
I stepped away, which made the young, confused girl grasp at where I once stood. Twilight set her horn on the girl’s head, “This may sting for a moment.”
Twilight’s horn glowed and the girl stood straight and shook as the electromagical pulse went through her body. She screamed and several rifles pointed at Twilight. Barry and I stepped on either side of her and spread our wings, covering the pair and scaring all the front row wielders into dropping their weapons.
After a few moments, we were able to lower our wings. Twilight kneeled over the heavily breathing girl, “I had to borrow a bit of your DNA to make your new eyes, that’s why it hurt at first. Now, let me help you stand up.”
Twilight helped lift the girl to her feet, and I helped steady her. The crowd looked with curiosity and fear. When Nhung got her balance, Twilight said, “Okay, now close your eyes and take off the bandages.”
The girl lifted her shaky hands to her bandages and slowly unraveled them. She dropped the bandages to the ground and looked at us with closed eyes. Twilight gave the go-ahead to open her eyes, and I stepped so my shadow was over her so she wouldn’t be overcome by early morning sunlight. Nhung’s eye lids flickered and twitched trying to open, but eventually they came fully opened. A look of shock and amazement went over her face. She looked from me to Twilight and back again.
“I can see,” She whispered, and then she got louder, “I can see!”
“If it seems a little hazy, that’ll go away in a few hours,” Twilight said, ever the teacher.
The girl turned around and ran back where she was hiding beforehand and fell into the arms of the older woman that tried to stop her earlier. She then started crying in what sounded like Vietnamese—a language I was trained in, but very rusty with, “Mama! I can see, Mama! I can see! Mama, I can see! I can actually see, Mama!”
She cried into her mother’s shoulder, repeating herself over and over. The crowd stared at us and the girl in amazement and loud chatter began again.
“That wasn’t quite the reaction I was expecting,” Twilight said.
“When you lose something that important to you,” I said watching the young girl, “Getting it back… nothing can compare.”
After a few moments the crying girl took a step back from her mother who said, “Đi đi. Nói lời cảm ơn.”
She jogged back to us with tearful eyes. Twilight looked with concern, “Oh shoot! Your iris looks more violet than hazel. I can fix that.”
“That’s okay. I love purple,” the girl said. She stepped forward and threw her arms around the surprised purple unicorn, “Thank you. Thank you so much!”
She released Twilight and looked at me. Being twice the size of Twilight, I had to kneel down, and she threw her arms around me as well. She stepped back a few paces, “We had dreams of you. I had a vision of you. Are you angels?”
“No,” Twilight said, “We’re just ponies.”
Five minutes after the “miracle”—as the humans began calling it—a group of them led us to something similar to a mess hall while others were forced to go back to work. Many of them tried to offer food, but we declined with claims that we brought our own rations. Fluttershy unpacked a small meal of hay, daisies, and carrots while the five humans stared in amazement.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Fluttershy said, and they shook their heads saying they had already had their breakfast rations.
“Do you have a leader,” I asked them after a few bites from a carrot.
One elderly man with a rifle slung around his shoulder nodded, “We’re most of them. The head honcho is out hunting some caribou that must have been driven down here by the disease. He wanted to be here for your arrival, but he knew the caribou wouldn’t stay long.”
“Understandable,” Barry said, already finished with his meal.
The old man unslung his rifle and set it next to him, “Now, how do you expect to help us? You’re… ponies, for Christ’s sake.”
I looked at Barry and he nodded. I sighed and looked the man in the eye, which caused him to cast his gaze down, “We want to take your people with us back to our world.”
A couple of the younger men seemed startled by this, “What? So we can be your slaves or something?”
“No,” I said and stretched a bit, feeling cramped in the small building, “Believe it or not, I was once one of you.”
“Bullshit,” the other younger man said.
“I worked for the Los Angeles police department in the Special Victims Unit,” I said staring the men down, “My partner was Simon Stellis. I—“
“Simon Stellis,” The older man asked, “You can’t mean—“
The other men cut him off and told me to continue my story. So I did, “I ran away with my daughter and took up building a machine a good friend of mine started. It was a trans-dimensional teleportation device that would mix your DNA to fit the main species of the land it transported you to.”
“Too good to be true,” Another, middle-aged man said, “How can we believe you?”
“I can help you build the machine,” I said, refusing to break eye contact with any of them. They seemed to get really nervous before I realized that it was my habit of staring, non-blinking. I blinked and looked down, “The problem is I need your help. We’re only here for a season. Four months at most.”
“And how do we know we can trust you,” The old man questioned, sounding more like the younger men, “You perform a couple miracles, gain our trust, then send us into an incinerator?”
Twilight spoke over me, “I can turn him back into his human form for three hours, but I need a day’s rest after that, uh…. ‘miracle’.”
“Or I can do it right now,” Barry said, “But he’s going to need to borrow some clothes. You humans seem more intent on wearing clothes even in this heat.”
“It’s only common decency,” The old man said, “We can’t have five hundred people walking around in their birthday suits.”
“Clothes are for styling and to keep us warm during the cold season,” Pinkie said, breaking her surprising quiet streak, “What’s a birthday suit?”
I laughed at her perkiness, “It means naked, Pinkie.”
She looked at me with confusion, “Well that’s a boring birthday suit!”
The small group laughed except Pinkie. She looked around at us in confusion before bursting into laughter herself. Pinkie had that effect on people, even the most serious of them.
A sliver of sunlight filled the room. Every eye went to the doorway where Nhung stood clutching the door. Her eyes seemed to plead for access to the room.
“Nhung, what are you doing here,” The older man asked her.
“I,” She looked at us, “I don’t have a job to do. I wanted to see the ponies again.”
I tapped the bench next to me where I sat on the floor, and she walked cautiously and sat down staring at me with her new, violet eyes. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the five men readying themselves should they need their weapons.
“Twilight,” I said now that I had a closer look at the girl’s eyes, “I think you gave her your eye color.”
The girl looked over to Twilight, “You mean her?”
“She has a point,” one of the younger men said, releasing his grip on his pistol at his hip, “Shall we all introduce ourselves? Perhaps get rid of some of this tension?”
I stood to my full height and bowed low, “My name is Enigma Shade, Chief of Law Enforcement for Ponyville.”
“Twilight Sparkle,” Twilight bowed her head, “Apprentice of Celestia and librarian of Ponyville Library.”
“I’m Fluttershy,” Fluttershy said quietly, facing away from the group, “I’m Shade’s wife and Veterinarian for Ponyville.”
“Barrier,” Barry gave a serious nod, really out of character for him, “Guard and escort for Celestia and Luna.”
“And I’m Pinkie Pie,” Pinkie squealed with a bright smile, “I’m a baker!”
The old man gave me an inquisitive look, “You seem to be the leader here, so I’ll ask you. All of you seem to have quite high-end jobs, why is she here?”
I smiled and leaned toward him and whispered, “Can you look at that and not smile?”
They humored me and looked over at Pinkie’s wide-smiling face. They tried to resist it, but they were soon all smiling and forcing themselves to look away. The five men introduced themselves by first name only.
“Enigma Shade,” Nhung said, “That’s an odd name.”
“Our names are much different from humans,” I explained and pat her on the shoulder. The men reacted again by tensing up with their hands on their weapons, “You guys seem really protective of this girl, why not the several men and women that crowded us before?”
“She’s the youngest of our group,” one of the middle-aged men said, “She’s like a little sister to all of us. You harm a single hair on her head, you’re dead.”
“How old are you, Nhung,” I asked, and she slid a little closer to me.
“Thirteen,” She answered. I looked at her confused until I remembered she was going by years and not seasons. After a moment, something hit me, and I felt a pang of grief, “Are you okay, Shade?”
“I just assumed,” I said, “That there would be more children.”
“When the plagues broke out,” the old man said, “The children were the slowest. Nhung here was lucky, but then again… not lucky at all.”
Nhung looked at the floor and refused to speak anymore. I decided to ask her later, so instead I asked the old man, “What plagues?”
One of the younger men laughed, “You’re from here, then you know about those zombie jokes, right? All those survival games and movies?”
“How is that…” I shook my head, “How?”
“The CDC, man, they released an evolved strain of rabies,” He tapped his head, “meant to use it on the armies, but ended up taking out half the population. By now about half of the strain should be dead, but we have to carry weapons around just in case.”
Nhung had her arms wrapped around my neck by now. She remained silent the rest of the conversation. The five men did not let us ask any more questions until we answered theirs. We answered each question, all the way down to cutie marks. Through the conversation, Nhung drifted off to sleep leaning against me, and the men lay a blanket over her. They were now showing more trust in us with each answered question.
Nhung jumped when the door opened and a man strolled toward us, “So these are the beasts that have the whole place talking of miracles.”
I looked at the man incredulous. I stood up and walked toward him, which must have made him nervous because he reached for his knife, “Simon?”
“Simon Stellis,” He said and tilted his head in confusion, “How’d you know that?”
“Simon, remember I always used to talk about a world of ponies,” I said smiling, “Guess what. The machine worked.”
Simon took a couple steps back and looked me up and down, “Oh my God.”