Fluttershy sat at the steps of Town Hall, chewing on her bottom lip. She scanned the roads radiating out from the central building for any sign of Pinkie Pie. Every so often, she shifted her right wing, reassuring herself that the signal flare Princess Celestia had conjured up for each of them was still nestled against her barrel. Dawn had already broken, and not a single flare had been lit.
They had found no trace of Pinkie Pie that night. Wherever she had gone, she had been detained, whether willingly or no. Fluttershy prayed that it had been willingly.
It’ll be okay, Fluttershy, she tried convincing herself. Somepony will find Sam and Pinkie, and they’ll be okay, and we’ll sort this whole thing out. Everypony will be happy again, and nopony – or human – will get banished.
She eyed her flare carrying wing.
… Maybe… maybe, if I find Pinkie first, I’ll check to see if she found Sam, and go make sure he’s okay, before I signal the others. Just to make sure. No need to worry the Princesses unnecessarily. Or my friends. Who are also out looking for Pinkie… Frantically…
Fluttershy hung her head with a weighty sigh.
Why does everything everything involving the Princesses always seem to end up so complicated?
Suddenly, Fluttershy thought she heard her name being called. She squinted, searching for the source. A flash of bright pink at the end of Mane Street caught her attention. A figure bounded towards her, wildly waving her hooves.
It was! Even at this distance, her curly pink mane was unmistakable. Fluttershy jumped up, running to Pinkie as though she might disappear at any moment. As soon as she came within range, Fluttershy leapt at Pinkie, tackling her into a hug.
“Pinkie! You’re okay!” She shouted in a fit of uncharacteristic exuberance. “Oh thank goodness! We were all so worried about you. What happened last night? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, Fluttershy, really,” Pinkie choked out through the unexpectedly strong hug. Fluttershy immediately let go when she heard Pinkie’s strangled speech. Pinkie’s demeanor popped right back up to cheerful, though, so she didn’t feel too concerned.
“In fact, I’m better than fine! I found Sam!”
“Really?! That’s wonderful! Let’s…”
She almost finished her thought, but the distraught faces of her friends ran through her mind. They deserved to know Pinkie was alright.
“Let’s, um… I- I’d better call the others.”
She looked away from Pinkie’s quizzical stare, turning to retrieve the flare she kept tucked under her wing. She aimed it straight up, took the pull-cord in her mouth and tugged. A bright yellow flare shot up, luminous even in the morning light. As she watched the multi-colored flares sent up in reply, Pinkie decided to address the elephant in the air.
“Fluttershy, you got awfully quiet all of a sudden. Is something wrong?”
“It’s just… this whole… situation, with Sam and the Princesses; I’m so confused.”
Pinkie nodded sagely. “Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like, I know the Princesses are trying to protect us and all of Equestria, but Sam is a total super softie, and-”
“Pinkie!” Twilight cheered, appearing with a flash alongside Luna. She, too, ran up to Pinkie to tackle-hug her. “Oooh, we looked everywhere for you! How are you feeling? Where were you last night?”
“Well, I’m feeling fine, and last night I found Sam, but-”
“What they hay, Pinkie?!” Rainbow Dash shouted as she dive bombed towards the growing group. “You made me- I mean, us… you made us sick with worry. Why didn’t you check in with us?”
“Well, I kinda fell asleep.”
“Fell asleep?!” Luna exclaimed. “But I thought you said you had found the necromancer?”
“W- well, I did,” Pinkie stuttered, unable to hold eye contact with the Princess, “b- but he’s not-”
“Hold on, girl!” AJ hollered, joining the group with Rarity hot on her heels. “Don’t start the story without us.”
“Indeed, this I would like to hear.” The disembodied voice of Princess Celestia echoed through the courtyard. A moment later, the Princess teleported in with a flash of sunlight.
Pinkie suddenly started sweating bullets. Her pupils constricted, flicking between Celestia and Luna. Fluttershy swallowed nervously.
Oh no. Is she going to give him up?
“So, Pinkie Pie, where were you last night?” Princess Celestia inquired, trying and failing not sound accusatory.
Pinkie gulped audibly.
“You are not in trouble, Pinkie Pie,” Luna tried to soothe, though the dire urgency of her tone spoiled the effect. “Just tell us what happened.”
“I… I, uh… I found Sam,” she admitted hesitantly. “And he just looked so cold and miserable that I had to help him so I snuggled up to him to keep him warm but then I fell asleep and-”
“It is alright, Pinkie,” Celestia interrupted, growing impatient, “I understand that you were just trying to help. Now, where is he?”
Fluttershy was beginning to feel frightened for Sam’s safety. She’d never seen the Princesses so deadly serious, nor so laser focused on anything before. She looked to Twilight, who looked just as flabbergasted as Fluttershy felt, though she was more likely astounded by the Princesses’ seemingly unchanged attitudes. Before Twilight could come to her aid, Pinkie started talking.
“W- well, you see… the thing is…”
As she was trying to formulate a real response, Pinkie was interrupted again. Not by either of the Princesses, but by a blood-curdling shriek. By its direction and the way the color drained from Pinkie’s face, Fluttershy immediately recognized the source.
“That sounded like Mrs. Cake!” Rarity exclaimed.
Without a word, Celestia and Luna teleported away. No sooner had they gone than a dark blue hemisphere ballooned up over the rooftops, exactly where Sugarcube Corner should be. Upon seeing this, Pinkie Pie whimpered.
“Noooonononono. They can’t! I Pinkie promised!”
The familiar tinkle of Twilight’s magic rung in Fluttershy’s ears.
“Brace yourselves,” Twilight warned, “I’m taking us in.”
“Wait!” Sam shouted, but to no avail. He was forced to duck under the bag of flour that came hurtling towards his head.
“Out! Out!” The hysterical mare shrieked. “Don’t you dare come near my children!”
“Please, stop throwing things! It’s Mrs. Cake, right?”
“How in Equestria do you know my name?!” Mrs. Cake howled, brandishing a large clay jug of some unknown liquid. “Who are you?!”
“I’m a friend of Pinkie’s! She’s helping me with a… a very… delicate situation.” Sam was grasping desperately at any straw that entered his thoughts. “I was hoping I’d be in and out of here before anyone noticed, but I guess that didn’t work out. Please, just… just wait for her to get back. She can clear things up, I promise.”
Mrs. Cake stared at him, clearly weighing her options. It was still a welcome respite from ducking under a barrage of baking ingredients. However, just as she was opening her mouth to ask him another question, she disappeared in a flash of light, leaving the jug to fall and shatter on the floor. The question of what had just happened died on his lips, as the worst possible scenario began to unfold.
In the space where Mrs. Cake had been previously, another flash of light burst, leaving behind the two beings Sam feared the most. Celestia and Luna locked eyes with him, their stares burning into his very soul. He was vaguely aware of Bob shouting in his head, but he was too captivated by their terrible beauty to look away for even a split second.
Against all odds, that split second arrived with a surge of adrenaline burning behind his eyes, jolting him to his senses.
*Get us out of here!*
Sam didn’t even think twice before sprinting towards the cellar door. He ran up the steps, but instead of bursting through an unlocked hatch, the doors held as fast as a brick wall. Sam slammed into them and was immediately sent tumbling back down the stairs.
He scrambled to his feet, but was greeted with an empty corridor. The Princesses hadn’t followed him, but neither had they moved from their advantageous position in the center aisle. They expected him to give up, and submit to their will.
Well, let’s just show them how stubborn I can be.
Sam moved to his right, to the nearest set of shelves next to a wall. He shook out his hands, took a few deep breaths, hooked his fingers under the second to last shelf on either side of the central support, and heaved upward.
The shelves, even laden as they were with baking ingredients, had no choice but to give way to his considerable size, especially when combined with the adrenaline surging through his veins. They tipped forward until they passed the balancing point, and gravity took hold. More than a half ton of jam jars and confectioner’s sugar came crashing down onto the shelves behind them, beginning a deafening domino cascade of sweeteners and flour.
Not waiting to check out his handiwork, Sam jumped up onto the first shelf and took off into the cloud of powder, hopping across the supports and edges like stepping stones. He heard the coughing of royalty off to his left, and couldn’t help but feel some smug satisfaction. At least until the flour was vacuumed out of the air.
Sam nearly lost his balance from the sudden titanic inhalation. But it stopped nearly as quickly as it started, leaving no trace of particulates of any kind in the air. Sam would have been more alarmed that the spell seemed to only have affected him, the flour, whatever dust had accumulated in the room over the years, and nothing else, but he was already fearing for his life. Which was quite enough on his plate already, thank you very much.
He clambered over the last few shelves, and bolted for the stairs. His stomach dropped when he realized they still weren’t making any attempts to follow. Rather than body checking this door, as he had previously, he tried the doorknob. It didn't budge, or even jiggle. He gave the door a half-hearted boot, but it remained as solid as the doorknob, as if the entire thing were carved from a single slab of stone.
“You call yourself Sam, correct?” An even, melodic voice called up to him from the room below. He whipped around, but could see neither of them. Were they content to wait for him to come to them?
Bob?! What the hell do I do, Bob?
*Be silent, boy, I’m thinking!*
The tense atmosphere weighed down on him, constricting his chest. There was no sound, no indication that they were coming for him. His heart hammered in his chest as he realized something.
I have to go down there, Bob.
*What?! Are you daft?! What has possessed you to make that seem like a good idea?*
I don’t have a lot of options here. If they decide to come for me, there aren’t many places to dodge in a stairwell.
Sam took a single, terrified step towards the proverbial pit of lions.
*Damn it… Damn it! Alright, just… be careful.*
Nooo, you think? Sam snarked bitterly. Some help he was.
*Yes, I do. I’m not certain I can hide my presence from these two as well as I could from Princess Twilight.*
Well, that’s one unasked question answered, I guess.
Sam edged up against the right-hand wall, the only one that might offer even a moderate amount of cover, and began to descend. He stepped as gingerly as possible, as though the stairs might give out at any moment. The two below waited for him as silently as panthers stalking their next meal.
How on Earth am I going to get out of this?
*Is that meant to be a rhetorical question, or…?*
Of course it was supposed to be rhetor-! Sam cut himself off, trying to take a deep, steadying breath. Snapping at Bob would not help his situation at all. Look, I’m still not a hundred percent about this whole speaking in my head thing, much less the idea that someone will always be listening, even to my private thoughts. For now, just… just don’t respond to my thoughts unless I specifically address you, okay?
It wasn’t until his concentration returned to the task at hand that Sam realized that he had already reached the bottom of the stairs. There was nothing immediately different about the scene before him. The furthest shelves to his left remained toppled in a column of destruction. He peeked around the corner, but the last row remained as empty as it had been half a minute ago.
“Sam, we have given our word that we would speak with you before making any more decisions.”
Sam waited for his heart to start beating again before responding to Luna’s sudden declaration.
“Oh. Good. For a while there, it seemed like you wanted my head on a pike. Glad to see you can at least put your plans on hold.”
“Your sarcasm is not welcome in this circumstance, necromancer,” Celestia spat. “My student, Twilight Sparkle, is vouching for you, so you are going to have to convince me that she has a good reason to trust you. Otherwise, I may suspect foul play.”
There was enough of a threat in that ultimatum to bring Sam dangerously close to soiling himself.
“Now, if you would be so kind, please come out where we can see you.”
Celestia’s sudden switch to a detached, impartial tone made her otherwise diplomatic request seem more like a warden’s command. But Sam couldn’t exactly refuse. Having eyes on his adversaries was infinitely preferable to not.
Slowly, he crept around the corner, staying flush to the wall as he attempted to angle his sightline down the center aisle. He nearly bolted as the large white and midnight-blue figures appeared around the edge of the shelf, but they remained as unmoved and unruffled as ever. They were apparently and justifiably assured of the inescapability of their trap. When Sam came into view, both Princesses tensed noticeably, and Celestia’s imperious poise notched itself ever higher.
“Well?” She said through a barely perceptible sneer. “We’re waiting.”
“I can see you, you can see me. This is as good as you’re gonna get.” Sam stared her down, the pressure in his bladder rising.
“Fine then, it matters little to me. Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter, shall we? What is your intention here in Equestria?”
“Oh, gee, I don't know… survive, maybe grab a bite to eat, then find a way home. Don't suppose you know any good Italian joints around here?” By the time the words came tumbling out of his mouth, Sam was too terrified and too indignant to care about the repercussions.
“Sam,” Luna ventured placatingly, “we are attempting to be civil here.”
Sam guffawed in disbelief. “You’re Princess Luna, right? Well, your majesty, let’s review, shall we? I am currently locked in a room – against my will, I might add – with the two beings on this planet who most want me dead, and with no hope of an unbiased hearing. I'm being as civil as is appropriate.”
“We most certainly do not want you-”
Celestia spoke over Luna before she could finish her defense.
“It seems you’re a bit too hysterical to take these discussions seriously. I would suggest you calm down.”
Sam would have bit back at her for her condescending tone but for a popping sensation in his brain, like the muffled snap of a single bubble of bubble wrap. His shoulders suddenly sagged, as a great weight was lifted from them. Nothing really seemed very catastrophic anymore. He couldn’t even say why he had gotten so worked up in the first place. There was really nothing to be worried about. Even Bob’s anxious ranting was little more than background noise. Something about “fighting it,” but what was there to fight?
The last thing he registered before the world went black were three words, in a tone more mournful than he had ever heard.
*Grim forgive me.*
“Twilight, what’s takin’ so long?”
The young Princess didn’t even bother to look at the antsy Applejack, opting instead to keep the majority of her attention on trying to coax Princess Celestia’s barrier into giving her an opening. Her magic shivered and rippled against the midnight blue bubble, probing and testing.
“Barrier spell… very tough,” she sputtered, unable to divert enough brain power to form complete sentences. “Different from… when I was… little.”
“And what the hay is that supposed to mean?” Rainbow Dash demanded.
“I think, darlings,” Rarity interjected, walking pointedly between Twilight and her more impatient friends, “that she means she needs to concentrate, and pestering her will not make the process go any faster.”
Rainbow backed off with a grumble, and Applejack with a worried glance at Twilight.
“I’m sorry for pushin’ you, Twi,” Applejack mumbled, “I’m just worried, is all.”
Rarity led her away with her own concerned hum. “I do understand where you’re coming from, Applejack. I can’t help but wonder why the Princesses are so very defensive all of a sudden.”
“That’s just it,” Applejack expounded, “I can’t tell who’s right or wrong. I’m worried for Sam, but I’m worried about him too. The Princesses brought up some darn good points. But Sam also seemed like a decent fella, and I honestly believe he wasn’t lyin’ when he said he didn’t want to hurt nopony. I just… I know there has to be somethin' more to this, and I want the truth!”
Meanwhile, Pinkie lay on the ground, quietly sobbing with her muzzle buried in her hooves. Fluttershy was trying her best to calm her down, with some help from Mrs. Cake, but it didn’t seem to be having much of an effect.
“It’ll be okay, Pinkie, you’ll see,” Fluttershy soothed. “We’ll get in there and sort everything out, and everything will be back to the way it was.”
“B- but what if h- he doesn't forgive me?”
“What’s there to forgive, dear?” Mrs. Cake cut in, trying a different tactic. “From what you said, it sounds like it was my fault the Princesses found him.”
“Yeah, b- but if I’d stopped to tell you about him, he wouldn’t be f- fighting… wi... with…”
Pinkie broke down in tears once more. Fluttershy looked helplessly to Mrs. Cake, but she could only offer a concerned grimace and a shrug. Luckily, the Princesses had teleported her, her husband, and the children outside before erecting the barrier. But there was no doubt something big was going on downstairs. From the series of thudding crashes that Fluttershy had felt reverberating through the ground a minute ago, there wasn’t much else it could be. She stroked her friend’s mane softly, unsure of how else she could help.
“He’ll forgive you, Pinkie. He didn’t seem like the sort to hold a grudge for an accident.”
That seemed to calm Pinkie down a bit. With a hiccup and a sniffle, she nodded her concession.
“Girls!” Twilight shouted, “I’m almost through! Gather around me, we’ll have only moments to get to the other side!”
Her friends hustled over, forcing down their emotions in order to move, jump, or do whatever she needed at her word.
But it turned out they needn’t do anything. As soon as the tiniest of holes opened in the barrier, Twilight’s magic became a force field that surrounded them, pushing its way into the opening like a questing octopus. It pushed the hole wider, until it could fit a pony through, at which point their side of the bubble contracted, trying to cram them all through at once. This was, of course, met with resistance; six ponies cannot simultaneously fit through a hole big enough for one. But somehow, they managed to finagle their way inside one at a time, until Twilight was unceremoniously shoved through by her force field, as the barrier closed with a snap.
“Is everypony okay?” She called out, more than a little disoriented. The rest responded with grumbles and moans, trying to stretch out their recently contorted limbs.
Suddenly, there was a muffled thump, and a bright light began leaking out of the door to the basement.
“Oh no, Sam!” Pinkie wailed, and rushed to the door, trying to kick it in with all her might. The door stood as solid as a living oak tree.
“Outta the way, Pinkie!” Applejack charged over, wound up and bucked the door as hard as she could.
Luckily for her, the Princesses had made one mistake when enchanting the door. They made the door as solid as steel, but they did nothing to reinforce the frame. At Applejack’s insistence, the door and its frame separated from the wall they were set in, flying down the stairs with a clatter of broken wood.
“Doesn’t matter, come on!” Twilight shouted, racing past her. The ponies thundered down the steps, charging headlong into a nightmare.
The entire basement was lit by a hemisphere of glowing gold and cobalt blue magic, bulging and warping as the whirling black cloud inside of it strained to burst free. The storm filled the air with a cacophony of howling winds. Luna and Celestia were forced to their knees by the sheer effort of keeping the spell going. But the worst sight by far was Sam. He could just barely be made out at the center of the stygian dust storm, forced to his hands and knees, vomiting the black sand from every orifice. Tears trailed down his face, muddied by the grains falling out from around his eyes.
“Sam!” Fluttershy screamed, startling everyone in the room. She flew right up to the bubble, pressing her hooves against it as though she could force her way through. She turned to the Princesses. “He’s in pain! You have to help him!”
“Twilight,” Celestia moaned, “we need… the Elements.”
“But I don’t have them! Do we have time to-?”
“Luna!” Celestia shouted desperately, through clenched teeth.
It seemed Luna understood the unspoken order. For just a few seconds, Luna disengaged from the containment field, leaving it to go completely gold. It bulged dangerously as Luna prepared her spell. Just as it seemed like the bubble was about to come apart, Luna fired off the spell, returning her magic to maintaining the containment.
For a few seconds, nothing changed. Twilight was about to ask if she should do anything when her ears caught a high-pitched whistling. The ceiling buckled and then burst into splinters as the chest that held the Elements of Harmony came crashing through it, showering the already disastrous mess of a cellar with even more debris. The chest hovered for a moment, enveloped in Luna’s inelegant summons, then fell with a thump and the clatter of jostled jewelry. Twilight tore the chest open with her magic, flinging the Elements at each of their Bearers. The girls fumbled in their haste to put them on. When the last clasp closed, their eyes immediately lit up with the white light of Harmony.
The containment field exploded in a blast of rainbow light that shook the very foundations of the earth. The black sand evaporated, leaving Sam untouched. Without the storm, the howling winds were replaced by Sam’s terrified screams. Then, without a word, he fell silent and slumped to the ground.
When the girls were released from the Elements’ magic, everyone ran towards the aftermath. Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack took to the Princesses’ sides, helping them to their hooves. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie rushed over to Sam, turning him onto his back to check for injuries.
Twilight’s head whipped back and forth, unable to decide between helping her mentor and helping the unofficial ambassador of a previously unknown race. The choice was taken from her, however, when Fluttershy’s quivering voice called out.
“Twilight, there’s something wrong! Sam’s not breathing!”
Twilight nearly tripped over herself trying to get to him. She skidded to a halt at Sam’s side, moving to put an ear to his chest. Her heart nearly stopped when she heard the arrhythmic beat of his own. It was slowing down.
“Oh no! Nonono! What do we- CPR!”
She frantically ran her hooves over his chest, trying to figure out where to put her hooves for chest compressions, while Fluttershy breathed deeply, preparing to start giving rescue breaths. They got no further than preparation, however, as Sam’s head suddenly flashed with a halo of rainbow light. He jerked forward, gasping like a man dying of suffocation. Twilight and Fluttershy stumbled backward, trying to give him breathing room. He only curled up into a ball. Concerned, Twilight inched closer, until she could just barely make out mumbled words.
She couldn’t understand him.
Sam was suddenly speaking in an entirely different tongue; a varied, stuttering dialect unlike any she had ever heard. But whatever he was saying, he was obviously tormented. His eyes were clenched shut, tears leaking out the sides, and his voice cracking with anguish.
Did he think he had hurt somepony? They must have been thinking the same thing, because Twilight, Pinkie and Fluttershy all simultaneously placed comforting hooves on him. Sam’s breath hitched, and he slowly turned his head to look at them. His face was a spectre of the giddy personality it had once been.
He spoke again, asking an indecipherable question. It was only recognizable as a question because of the upward inflection at the end Twilight tried to smile comfortingly, but worry twisted it into a grimace.
“Sam, I can’t understand you. What are you trying to say?”
Sam’s eyes widened. He spoke a few more indecipherable words before his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness.
Everything was dark and eerily familiar. Sam stood on a black plane of nothingness, looking up into black skies, surrounded by light that lit up nothing but him. He couldn’t help but feel like he’d seen this place before.
Suddenly, a deep voice rasped at him.
“Well, boy, I hope you are able to fend for yourself. Because from here on out, you are on your own.”
Sam whipped around, trying to find where Bob might be hidden.
“Where are you?”
“Follow my voice, boy. You will reach me soon enough.”
Sure enough, as he walked towards the point of origin, a black fog lifted, revealing a kneeling figure.
He was cloaked in black, a skeletal chin poking out from beneath the hood. But what caught his attention most were the great golden chains that bound Bob in place, stretching off into the abyss to unseen anchors in every direction. At least, he assumed that the figure before him was the Reaper.
“I hope this is what you wanted, boy. There is no backing out now.”
Sam’s expression darkened.
“I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
Sam’s fist clenched hard enough to turn his knuckles white.
“You just tried to kill an entire town.”
Bob peered at him from under the lip of his hood. “Tell me boy, would you have preferred to surrender your free will to those alicorns? It was the only course of action left to me to keep you from enslavement. Not that it matters now. They used some form of magical artifacts to bind my powers, nearly killing you in the process. If the artifacts had not been slightly intelligent, the spell might not have recognized that I was keeping you alive and allowed me to continue acting in that capacity.”
“And why should I believe anything you say?”
“You felt her break your will, did you not?”
Sam’s blood went cold. He did remember. The sudden overwhelming calm that flooded his mind, the mind-numbing apathy; everything. He wondered if that was what opium felt like.
“And, even if you cannot recall, let me ask you this: you tried speaking to them before you fell unconscious, did you not?” Sam nodded. “Then why are you suddenly unable to understand them? What changed between then and now?”
Sam thought about it for a moment, before coming to the obvious conclusion. Bob had to have been translating for him. The only other reasonable explanation was sudden massive brain damage, and he’d be having much bigger problems than just a sudden inability to understand speech, were that the case.
And yet, there was still one question that nagged at him. One word that covered so many questions.
“Why would you have killed an entire town to keep me from being mind-controlled?”
“Simple. I share this body with you, and I would much rather you be in control than anyone else.”
“Okay, then why did you take over a part of my brain? You’re certainly powerful, if what just happened is any indication. Powerful enough that I doubt you even need a host. So why?”
“Because you were dying. When I found you again after bringing you here, the Poison Joke fruit wasn’t just constricting your intellect, it was killing you. I had to actively intervene, to flush the toxins from your system, or you would have been dead within minutes.”
“But why?” Sam shouted, throwing his immaterial arms up in exasperation. “What’s so massively important about me that you had to abduct me and override a part of my brain just to keep me alive?”
Bob averted his gaze, choosing instead to stare at the darkness in front of his knees. They stayed like that for a while; Sam waiting for an answer, and Bob not giving one. Eventually, Bob caved first.
“I made a mistake,” he muttered.
“I made a mistake,” Bob repeated, louder. “A great and terrible mistake. And keeping you alive is possibly the only way I have to atone. I will say nothing more on the subject, except that I am sorry. I have not been, perhaps, the easiest of guests to get along with. My only request now is that you proceed with caution. I still don’t trust those… Princesses.”
“I’m still not sure I trust you.”
Bob looked into Sam’s eyes, searching for something Sam didn’t think he’d find. Eventually, Bob relented with a sigh.
“Fair enough. I hope, in time, I might convince you otherwise. But if a time comes when you do feel the need to speak with me, I am afraid you’ll have to wait until you sleep. As things stand, I am unable to do anything more than keep your autonomic nervous system running, and I doubt you currently possess the focus necessary to make contact without needing to devote your attentions to the task. That would be inadvisable at this point, unless you wish to alert the winged unicorns to my continued existence. But, as I have said, I no longer have a say in the matter. If that is your wish, then, by all means, do so. Both your life and mine are in your hands now.”
Sam considered the prostrated figure before him. He was trigger happy, yes, but was he truly evil? Maybe not.
“Do you feel any guilt over trying to kill all those ponies?”
Bob studied him for a moment, before slumping forward once more.
“I doubt anything I say will make a difference at this point. But, for what it is worth, yes I am ashamed that I put us in a position where there was no other option than that. Would I make the same decision, were I given a second chance? Yes, in a heartbeat, as your kind says. Your safety was, and still is, my number one priority. Above all else.”
Sam paused, mulling over his words.
“I’m not going to be able to understand them now, you know.”
“There is naught I can do about that. Unless you somehow have the ability to remove these shackles, you’ll have to learn their language. I can give you a few pointers, if you wish. Luckily, the grammatical structure of pony Equestrian is functionally identical to your human English, so the most you will need to learn is…”
Sam zoned out. He really didn’t have time to sit around and learn an entirely new language. The longer he spent here, the more grief it put his family through. He needed to get back as soon as possible, and his two greatest leads were Bob and the ponies. But neither were accessible now, because of those chains.
Without thinking, Sam had taken a few steps towards the shackled Reaper. Bob took notice.
Sam didn’t answer, so focused was he on the chains. As he came closer, he automatically reached a hand out.
“Sam, do not touch those! There is no telling what manner of magical protection they ha-!”
But Sam wasn’t listening. He was hearing something that barely qualified as a whisper, like the gentle drone of a bumblebee somewhere nearby. He had the overwhelming urge to touch the chains, to commune with whatever force had created the restraints. Gingerly, he stroked a link with the tip of his middle finger, causing Bob to flinch away from the expected magical retribution. Nothing happened. As nothing continued to happen, Sam allowed more of his fingers to come to rest on the chain. With each new contact, the unearthly voice gradually grew in volume, and the droning buzz became the tinkling of wind chimes, clear and calm. No words were spoken, and yet the message came through as clear as the crystalline tones that echoed in his mind.
~He is the Human, Sam. We are the Harmony. What does He wish of Us?~
He didn’t even need to speak in the dream. The thoughts came unbidden to his mind’s eye.
An image of an obscured being forging a golden chain.
~We are They, true.~
A plea. The Reaper, talking to and through him, a translator between he and the ponies. Then a shackled Reaper and the ponies thrown into confusion and misunderstanding. Time lost. His family, grieving.
The chimes went nearly silent, almost as if they were considering his unspoken words.
~He wishes Us to undo the Binding?~
A noncommittal affirmative. The need to be understood, atop a pedestal.
~Then He will not become upset if We grant the Reaper freedom to sense as the Human does, only?~
An addendum. The Reaper, speaking to Sam, telling him factual information and translations.
~… Agreeable. The Reaper may have senses and speech, ere the Sam Human meets danger yet unseen.~
Before his eyes, the golden chains began to dissolve. The still-anchored sections of chain quickly evaporated into the darkness as they floated away. The ends still connected to Bob drifted slowly downwards, shrinking until they appeared to be nothing more than standard chain dipped in gold.
Suddenly, the chain animated. It whirled around Bob, wrapping up his torso until he could no longer move his arms, tied behind his back as they were. His legs were from freed from the tight bondage, only to be shackled to each other. Still, he was able to struggle to his feet.
“Well, I don’t know how you did it, but it seems I’ve been granted a little more leeway. Care to explain how that happened?”
Dazed, Sam looked in Bob’s general direction. He huffed in light-headed amusement.
“No, not really.”
Bob stared at him for a moment, and Sam got the impression that he’d have raised an eyebrow, had he any flesh.
“Very well. I will not pry. I am still grateful for… whatever it was you did. It seems my sentence has been lightened. I can continue to translate for you, as I have been permitted access to your senses once more. You may be pleasantly surprised to know that can no longer passively ‘hear’ your thoughts, but you may contact me simply by thinking ‘at’ me, as it were.”
Sam tried shaking the cobwebs from his mind, but the cloying fuzziness sapped his concentration.
Bob studied him, head tilted.
“Sam? Are you al-”
The fuzziness began to manifest itself in his dream, blurring the edges of ‘reality.’
“Ah,” Bob realized, “you are waking. Good. This feels… odd. I am unused to such a lack of information. Regardless, we will speak more once the inevitable commotion has died down. Take care, Sam.”
Sam simply nodded, unable to keep a hold of the dream as it slipped from his mind like water through his fingers.
Sam awoke, disoriented and confused. Every sensation came in fuzzy and out of focus, as though his consciousness existed inside a cotton ball. Slowly, his mind brushed away the cobwebs, catching little bits of clarity as the fuzziness was swept aside.
“…nk he’s waking u…”
“Sa…? …th us, Sam.”
The conversation faded into the background, as though he was suddenly listening from the other side of a wall. Sam could swear he heard a faint but insistent beeping as well. But when he tried to focus on the noises, his mental grip slipped. Instead, he directed his attention his other senses, trying to paint a picture in his mind.
The first thing he noticed was the acrid, sterile smell. Even if he had never been to a hospital before, it would have been impossible not to recognize the odor of medical-grade disinfectants. That, combined with the feel of clean, slightly stiff jersey-knit sheets against his skin, told him all he needed to know about where he was. However, the reason he was there still escaped him.
Sam slowly cracked his eyes, to let the undoubtedly blinding light filter through his eyelashes. Rather than the harsh fluorescents he expected, the lights were soft and warm. Apparently, this hospital placed a great deal of importance on patient comfort. As his vision cleared, the shapes around him resolved into almost everything he expected from a hospital. Except for the staff.
“Sam? Can you understand me?”
The question came from a unicorn mare in a doctor’s outfit, a glaring reminder of his current predicament. She had a light red coat and a straight silver mane, and a stethoscope hung from her neck, its diaphragm receiver tucked into her breast pocket. She was flanked by a chubby pink mare with a purple and white mane done up in a bun, a nurse’s cap placed neatly on her head.
Realizing he’d done nothing but stare, Sam swallowed dryly and nodded his acknowledgement, not trusting his voice to remain stable.
“Do you know where you are?”
“… Hospital,” he groaned, fighting against the residual mental fluff.
“Yes, you’re in Ponyville General Hospital. Do you remember how you got here?”
“Arguing with… Princesses. Went calm. Blacked out. Woke up here.”
“Alright. How are you feeling?”
Sam took stock. As sensation returned to him, he noticed a deep ache in his neck and back, in addition to a general fatigue.
“Tired. Sore. Not too terrible, I guess. Can I have water?”
“Of course. Nurse Sweetheart?”
The chubby mare brought a lidded cup with a straw from a nearby cart, and held the straw up to his lips. Sam lifted a hand to grip the top of the cup and further guide it in, surprising the nurse.
“Easy now, don’t overdo it,” Sweetheart cautioned as he took deep draughts of the glorious liquid. Whether she was talking about the drinking or the movement, he couldn’t tell. But he acquiesced either way, letting go of the cup altogether. The doctor moved in to take up the spot vacated by the nurse, placing the head of the stethoscope on his still bare chest. She took a moment to listen before returning her attention to conversation.
“Alright, so, introductions: I’m Dr. Hearty Drums, the resident cardiologist here at Ponyville General. Do you feel well enough to answer a few questions?”
“One from me, first,” Sam requested, feeling clarity of thought slowly returning. “How long was I out?”
“About… twelve hours, by my estimation.”
Sam sighed wearily. Another day slips through my fingers.
“Now then, you were brought in after an episode of cardiac arrhythmia, which, according to your friends, resolved itself. From what we’ve observed, there haven't been any complications since then, and your heart appears to be functioning properly. Does your family have a history of heart disease?”
“Well, my grandfather on my father’s side has had a heart attack, and the one on my mother's side has had a quadruple bypass, so yes.”
Dr. Drums made a note on her clipboard. “Have you had any history of heart disease or other chronic illnesses?”
“No congenital heart defects, valvular diseases, cardiomyopathy or enlarged heart, or primary heart rhythm abnormalities?”
Sam shook his head at each option. Then, realizing that he wasn't sure the gesture would mean the same thing to ponies, added, “No.”
“Any history of smoking, alcohol abuse, or diabetes in you or your family?”
“Diabetes, yes, in the family. I drink occasionally, but not more than once every week or two.”
Dr. Drums hummed contemplatively, levitated pen scratching away on her clipboard.
“Well, our scans came up clean, for the most part. A little bit of cholesterol build up in your arteries, slightly higher than normal but not enough to cause a blockage. You’ll want to keep an eye on that. Blood pressure appears slightly high compared to the time Dr. Goodall examined you, so try to keep your stress levels down for a while. Plus, general malnutrition, so I’ll have our nutritionist put together a meal plan for you. You are an omnivore, correct?”
“I... am,” Sam admitted, closely watching her reaction. Dr. Drums merely nodded to herself.
“Thought so. Your dental arrangement indicated as much, but I figured I’d ask, in case of cultural differences.”
“I gotta say, you seem to be taking my being an omnivore rather well.”
Dr. Drums quirked an eyebrow at him. “Why wouldn’t I? As long as you abide by the Griffonian Treaties like every other intelligent omnivorous species in Equestria, we’ll have no problems.”
“Oh. Wait, Griffonian?” Sam sat up in shock.
“Yes… You know, as in Griffonia? Land of the Griffons?”
He slumped back against the headboard.
“It seems I still have a lot to learn about this planet.”
Dr. Drums watched him curiously. Eventually, she relented.
“Yes, well… you may have that opportunity. The Princesses wish to see you, once you’re-”
She cut herself off as the beeping of the heart rate monitor skyrocketed. Sam gripped the sheets as if his life depended on it. They were already here.
“Sam, calm down!” She cried out. “They told me that they want to apologize.”
Like hell they do! They just want to try mind-controlling me again.
“I- If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather see my, uh, friends first.”
Dr. Drums gave him a sidelong stare.
“Suit yourself,” she huffed dubiously. She beckoned to Nurse Sweetheart, and they both exited the room. As soon as the door closed, he heard muffled speaking, followed by muted exclamations by voices he recognized. He covered up with the sheet, trying to look at least somewhat decent. There were a few more words spoken, and the door suddenly flung open, launching a pink cannonball at his chest. The cannonball’s report sounded a lot like Pinkie Pie.
A moment later, the wind was knocked out of him. A fuzzy pink pony lay atop his chest, her forelegs not quite able to wrap all the way around his ribcage.
“I’m so sorry, Sam! I tried to keep your hiding spot a secret, really I did! But the Princesses found out anyway… Please, please, please forgive me.”
“Miss Pie!” Dr. Drums admonished, stomping into the room after her. “Please refrain from tackling my patient!”
Sam coughed breathlessly, holding up a hand to placate the doctor’s righteous fury.
“It’s okay,” he wheezed, “I’m alright. Just caught me by surprise, is all.”
Dr. Drums left for a second time, shaking her head and muttering under her breath. Sam returned his attention to the heart-stopping pout less than a foot away. Sam smiled pityingly.
“So, uh, you didn’t tell them where I was, right?”
Pinkie shook her head vigorously.
“Well, then there’s nothing to forgive. Mrs. Cake was the one who gave it away, and I can hardly blame her. I’d have done the same in her shoes. So dry your eyes. Please. You’re going to give me a coronary.”
Pinkie giggled and sniffled, rubbing her eyes dry. She gave Sam one last squeeze before rolling off of the bed. She landed next to Fluttershy, who now stood at his bedside with the other girls.
“See,” Fluttershy comforted Pinkie, “I knew he wouldn’t be mad.”
Pinkie nodded happily.
Sam looked around. It seemed the Princesses had respected his wishes, and stayed out in the hallway. Truthfully, he hadn’t expected that, and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Just the thought of facing the Princesses still made his stomach do flips, but the seeds of doubt were taking root. Could they be reasoned with after all?
Twilight’s concerned query shook him from his thoughts. He was about to thank them for bringing him to the hospital, but the words died in his throat. One look at their faces, and the terror he had seen in their eyes resurfaced in his mind, like an eldritch abomination assaulting a lone fisherman. He averted his gaze, staring instead at his hands, clenched nervously in his lap.
“I, um… I’m sorry,” he began, eliciting confused murmurs from the girls. “It… I never wanted to cause trouble. For any of you. And I certainly never wanted to hurt anyone. I don’t even know how I-”
“Sam,” Twilight interjected forcibly, “none of us blame you for what happened last night.”
“Yeah, I mean, you didn’t really hurt anypony,” Rainbow Dash expounded. “And, if anything, that screamy thing you did was pretty cool. Scary, but cool.”
Applejack gave a low whistle. “Well I'll be… Never thought I’d see the day Rainbow Dash admit to bein’ scared.”
“Oh whatever, AJ. Are you trying to tell me you weren’t scared?”
“Oh, heck no! Darn near soiled myself when I heard him hollerin’. Sounded like he was tearin’ a tractor in half with his bare hands.”
Sam just stared harder at his hands. He knew they were trying to cheer him up, but every word was just a reminder of their terrified faces. They had been afraid for their lives, because of him.
Just what kind of monster have I become?
Some of them seemed to have picked up on his distress, though, because Rarity stepped up to the plate.
“Sam, darling, we forgive you,” she cooed soothingly. “We understand that you were frightened, and that you weren’t even in control of your own actions. The most important thing is nopony – and nohuman – got hurt.”
“Exactly,” Twilight affirmed, then held up a hoof to head off his argument. “I know what you’re going to say, and I won’t have any of it. I know you don’t want to seem irresponsible, but you are the victim here.”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, apparently trying to decide how to begin the next part of her explanation.
“... Sam, how much do you know about magical parasites?”
Sam raised an eyebrow.
“Next to nothing, although I think I can make some educated guesses just by the name.”
“Well, we think you may have been infected with a kind of intelligent parasite that feeds off of emotions. We’ve dealt with one before, and there are a few similarities between that case and yours. But the good news is that you should be completely free of its influence now!” She was a bit too quick to reassure him of that.
“‘Should be?’” He questioned.
“Well… yes. We don’t actually know that much about the parasites-”
“Other than that they are ghastly creatures,” Rarity declared with a graceful grimace.
“And that they’re super nasty mean,” Pinkie added.
“And that’s there’s nothin’ you could’ve done to fight it,” Applejack asserted. “After all, if one could corrupt Princess Luna, ain’t much chance for folks like you and I.”
“I can certainly attest to that,” Rarity said, fidgeting in place. Sam gave her a questioning glance, and she soldiered on. “I, too, fell victim to the parasite in question, even months after we had thought it destroyed. We know it as the Nightmare. Let us simply say that it had a terrifying knack for finding out one’s greatest fears and using them against its… host, in order to gain control.”
“We’re not entirely certain if the two parasites are, for lack of a better word, ‘biologically’ related,” Twilight continued, “as yours seemed to have utilized necromancy; unlike the Nightmare, which used more mentalistic and cosmological magics. That, and it appeared to prefer hiding in the recesses of your mind as opposed to taking direct control.”
Well, they’re not completely wrong, Sam mused, but kept a neutral face.
“And you think it’s gone now?” He queried, feigning concern.
“If not permanently, then at least for another six months, while it regains its strength.”
Sam breathed a sigh of relief for their benefit, wondering just how much the other two Princesses knew. But then his face formed a genuine frown.
“I still feel at least partially responsible for all the damage that’s been caused. I hate to think what might have happened if the parasite had succeeded.”
“You really shouldn’t worry too much about it,” Fluttershy reassured him. “It’s not healthy to dwell on ‘what ifs’. Princess Celestia set up an Equestrian Disaster Relief Fund for occasions just like this. All you should be doing is resting and gathering your strength back. Doctor Drums said that, if you’re doing well enough, she’d be fine releasing you as early as tomorrow morning.”
Sam felt a swell of satisfaction. “Excellent. I’ve had quite enough of being bedridden and unconscious. And I’d like to apologize to the Cakes, if they’ll have me.”
“Of course!” Pinkie all but shouted. “They’d be happy to, and then I can introduce you, and I can show you all the pastries we make, and we can have a party, and-!”
Rainbow Dash landed next to Pinkie and shoved a hoof in her mouth.
“And I can show you more of how Ponyville’s weather team does things. Or some more of my tricks. Whichever sounds cooler.” By her smug grin, he could tell she obviously favored the latter choice.
“And I gotta take you ‘round Sweet Apple Acres!” Applejack beamed. “We got the best apples in all Equestria.”
“Of course, you’ll have to come by my boutique. I’ll see about getting you some… better accoutrements,” Rarity offered, eyeing the raggedy jeans folded up on a nearby table.
Sam held up his hands in surrender. “Alright, alright. Just… one thing at a time, okay? I’m only one man.”
“Sorry,” Twilight smiled sheepishly. “I think we’re all just a little excited about the prospect of showing off for a being from another world.”
Sam reciprocated the embarrassed grin, still unused to all the attention.
“Hey, it’s all good. I’m pretty dang excited myself. This isn’t exactly a common thing for us humans, either.”
Sam paused for a moment, taking in her excited expression with a slowly sinking heart.
“So, you really think I’m from another world, huh?” He sighed heavily. “I suppose it was a little too much to hope for that I might have just ended up on a hidden continent.”
“Sorry. Princess Luna and Princess Celestia were able to confirm that you aren’t of this world. If anypony would know that, it’s them.”
Sam tensed at the mention of the Princesses. He tried to control it, but a few of the girls still picked up his discomfort.
“Sam, darling, I don’t wish to pry, but are you still worried about the Princesses?”
Sam couldn’t meet their eyes, choosing instead to look out the window. He swallowed against the dryness in his mouth.
“Dude, seriously?” Rainbow Dash asked incredulously. “You do know they basically saved your hide, right? Well, with our help, of course.”
Sam sighed through his nose.
“It’s like I told Pinkie: I can feel their power, rushing over me like flood waters. I’ve never felt anything like it. They could tear me apart with a thought, and there’s nothing I could do to protect myself. Just the thought of being at the mercy of someone who, just this morning, considered me enemy number one…” Sam trailed off with a shudder.
“Sam, the Princesses would never do anything like that,” Twilight reassured, but Sam wasn’t convinced.
“It sure seemed like they wanted to.”
“Hey, come on, big guy,” Rainbow encouraged, putting a foreleg as far as she could around his shoulders, “there’s nothing to be scared of. Even if they did want to hurt you – which they don’t – we’re here for you.”
“The Cakes are giving you a chance to apologize,” Pinkie reasoned. “Shouldn’t you give the Princesses the same chance?”
As much as he hated to admit it, Pinkie made a valid point, and Rainbow Dash did bolster his confidence a bit. He really wanted to trust these ponies. The Princesses were also being abnormally thoughtful, as far as their recent behavior was concerned. Maybe he should give them a chance.
After a few minutes of waffling, he finally came to a decision.
“Alright, I trust you. Call them in. Just… don’t leave me alone with them, please?”
Twilight nodded solemnly and left the room. He could hear her talking to the Princesses outside the door, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Sam pulled his knees up to his chest. Even if their intentions really were peacefully, he would not let himself be caught unawares. At the first sign of either of them casting a spell, he would go straight for their horns. Hopefully that might slow them down a bit.
Slowly, the door opened again and Twilight made her way back into the room.
“Alright, they’re coming in now.”
Sam watched as the door was gently pushed open. He couldn’t help but tense up. Even without Bob shouting at him to run away, the fear had become ingrained. However, their appearance began to assuage his fears.
Celestia and Luna both looked a mess, their flowing hair somehow limper and less vibrant. They had dark bags under their eyes, though they tried to hid it behind sympathetic smiles. Celestia’s particularly interested him, he could detect a hint of worry behind her relief. Was she actually regretful of her actions?
“We are pleased to see you awake and alert,” Luna began, awkwardly trying to make plain their intentions. Sam simply stared at them, devoting the entirety of his attention on reading their emotions. Luna shuffled in place, clearly expecting this kind of response, but discomforted by it regardless.
Celestia opened her mouth, thought better of it, then tried again.
“I… Luna and I want to apologize for our earlier… distrust and hostility. We… we hadn’t even considered the possibility that you might have been possessed by a parasite like the Nightmare. We… I could only focus on the kind of magic it was using, and completely misjudged you as a result. Please… accept our deepest and most humble apologies.”
Both of the Princesses then did something that drew an astonished gasp from every mare in the room. They bowed; not a polite nod of the head, but a deep, prostrated, full-body bow that ended with them nearly kissing the floor. Even their wings were pressed to the ground, a gesture which Sam could only read as deep humility.
He could tell that the girls were all watching him expectantly, confounded by his lack of a reaction. But he still felt torn. On the one hand, their apology was believable, even genuine, he couldn’t deny that. On the other, it was difficult to forget the sudden absence of emotion that had washed over him the night before. He let them stew in their own humiliation for a few more moments before speaking.
“Last night, in the basement, were you attempting to control my mind?” Sam kept his voice quiet and level, resulting in a tone so frigid, he almost expected to see hoar-frost clinging to every syllable. He surprised even himself.
But what surprised him even more was Celestia’s reaction. After a moment, he caught the glint of tears streaming down her cheeks. Her lips quivered and he noticed the muscles of her jaw clench. However, she remained bowed. Eventually, she spoke, in a subdued almost-whimper.
“I am so, so sorry.”
Sam felt something claw at his stomach, just below his solar plexus. He couldn’t quite tell if it was guilt, worry, or fear. If he had been just another person in that room, he would have forgiven her on the spot. But he couldn’t let her off the hook that easily, not with what she had done.
“Hate to say, but sorry’s not going to cut it,” he admonished, more gently this time. Celestia nodded glumly.
“I understand,” she replied, unable to keep her voice from quavering. “If you wish to press charges, my sister will ensure I am punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Out of his peripheral vision, Sam noticed the slightly accusatory looks being thrown his way. He sighed explosively. “Let’s… not get into that just yet. I’m not looking to start an international incident. I’m just… Well, what’s your side of the story?”
“Well…” He pondered before answering with a begrudging sigh. “In the interest of fairness and good relations, I suppose I should hear the reasoning behind your actions. Maybe, if you can somehowconvince me that what you did was justified, I’ll consider other reparations.”
Celestia stared at him in disbelief for a solid ten seconds. Sam grew tired of waiting and cleared his throat.
“Oh! I, um… I’m glad you are still receptive to peaceful relations. But I can’t, in good conscience, consider my actions justifiable. I will still try to explain myself, if that is something you’d-”
Sam cut her off with a roll of his hand, gesturing for her to continue. Celestia nodded her head, grimacing slightly as she recalled the events of the previous day. She closed her eyes for a moment, apparently trying to decide where to start.
“I suppose it should be noted first that necromancy is outlawed in Equestria, for hopefully obvious reasons.” Sam nodded understandingly, to which Celestia responded with a sad smile. “Millennia have passed since the practice died out in the majority of the civilized world. From the stories Luna and I heard when we were but small fillies, it is obvious that it was a very dark time in Equus’ history. We have had only fleeting and violent contact with necromancy in our time, and it has not resurfaced in over a thousand years.”
“That is, in part, why we reacted with such hostility at first,” Luna inserted. “We have not had pleasant experiences with necromancers, and we feared you would be much the same. We had not expected that a parasite like the Nightmare could be responsible for such magics.”
“That being said, we could have handled the situation much better than we did.” Celestia continued. “We have learned much over the years, about both magic and negotiations. Even so, I was unable to keep my emotions from turning the calming spell into dark magic. I am afraid that Luna and I have had… too much history with necromancers to approach them in a calm, impartial manner.”
Sam waited for her to continue, but she only avoided his gaze. Sam looked to Twilight for confirmation, but she only returned a stunned gaze. I guess this is news for her, too.
It was a few minutes before either of them spoke again; during which time, everyone’s eyes were on them, trying to decipher their expressions. Eventually, Luna began again, in a voice little louder than a whisper.
“My sister and I have lost much to necromancers: towns, our subjects, great swaths of land. The Badlands to the southeast used to be known as the Verdant Plains of Tambelon, before our confrontation with Grogar. He was one of the most powerful necromancers we have ever faced, and Tambelon’s last king. We have witnessed our f-… our ponies, torn to pieces before our eyes by his evil creations. We could not allow such a taint to spread in our land again.”
The entire time Luna spoke, Celestia was staring out the window at the evening sky, its light never quite reaching her eyes. There was more to their story, but for the first time that day, Sam didn’t feel like he needed to know.
“We will take responsibility for our misconduct, and any harm done to you. But at this juncture, we can only plead for mercy. We will not hold ourselves above the law.”
Sam glanced between the two of them, both sets of eyes downcast. As far as he could tell, they genuinely regretted their actions. More than he could say for Bob. And yet, it still wasn’t enough to negate the mind control aspect of the whole debacle. He sighed heavily.
This whole thing would be so much simpler if they hadn’t resorted to dark magic, or accidentally allowed it to happen or whatever.
He felt like he needed advice, and there was really only one other being he could even partially rely on to give it.
“I need to meditate on this,” Sam said, giving them the half-truth. “Just… let me think for a while.”
“Of course. We will come back in the morning, if you wish. To let you ‘sleep on it,’ as the saying goes.”
“Yes, fine,” he sighed and waved them off, burying his face in his other hand. The Princesses said their goodnights, leaving Sam with the six ponies he had awoken to find just two days earlier.
“They really are sorry, y’know.”
Sam looked up at Applejack, who was watching him searchingly, though again, for what, he couldn’t tell. Did they actually expect him to forgive them just like that? It seemed like they might, but he couldn’t read their expressions. More likely they weren’t sure what to make of the situation, if the glowing stories they had told him about their Princesses last night were any indication. Sam hung his head and sighed for what felt like hundredth time that hour.
He left it at that. He wasn’t ready to make judgments on anything just yet. He still wanted to ask Bob’s opinion, and then follow Princess Luna’s suggestion and sleep on it. Maybe everything would be clearer in the morning.
“Well, girls, it’s been a long day, and I have a lot to think about. I’ll see you in the morning, okay?”
They all muttered their assent, clearly dissatisfied with where the state of affairs had left off. There were promises to come meet him first thing in the morning, or after chores and work were complete. Fluttershy lingered behind.
“Will you be okay by yourself?” She fretted, watching him with big, concerned eyes. Something fluttered in Sam’s stomach.
“I’ll be alright. Good night, Fluttershy.”
“Good night,” she replied, switching off the light.
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Pinkie called from out in the hallway.
The playful parting remark plastered a grin to his face. Such a simple but effective way of making him smile. Those mares really are something else.
The grin didn’t last long.
I really hope they’re right about the Princesses.
He sat there for a moment, stewing in his own thoughts, staring into the shadows cast by the moonlight streaming in through the curtains. The arguments running through his head were circular and tiresome. Yet he allowed them to run their course, until their paths had worn a groove in his mind.
I’m getting nowhere with this.
There was really only one thing to do, and yet he hesitated to do it.
Because I can already guess what he’s going to say, and I honestly don’t agree.
He couldn’t just go around for the rest of his days distrusting everyone and everything. He would never find his way home like that. But he couldn’t think of what to do. What could possibly make him feel better about trusting someone – or somepony – who had almost stripped him of his free will, even if it was unintentionally? Sam groaned into the bedsheets.
“I really wish there was some kind of outside observer that could give me some perspective.”
“Well what kind of perspective would you like?”
Sam shot up, eyes whipping around the room, trying to find the source of the crooning voice. It had been low and scratchy, like pieces of dark chocolate in a rock tumbler. But no matter where he looked, he could find no trace of the speaker.
“Personally, I’m a fan of upside-down, but I’ve heard good things about third-person.”
One second, there was nothing at the foot of his bed. The next, a lopsided, snaggle-toothed grin floated aimlessly in midair, glowing obscenely white in the relative darkness.
“Of course, if you’re looking for something more two-dimensional, I might have to do some reading up,” the disembodied mouth admitted. “It’s been a while since I’ve had any practice.”
Sam stared at the insanity before him for only moments before his mind gave up trying to make sense of it.
Welp, I’m already in Crazytown, might as well go with the flow.
“And, uh, who are you, exactly?”
“Oh! Please forgive me. I seem to have forgotten that we haven’t been properly introduced.”
There was the sound of snapped fingers, and the lights suddenly flicked on. A figure began materializing around the mouth like a video of a knitted figurine being unraveled in reverse.
“The name’s Discord, Master of Chaos and Disharmony. Well, Reformed Master, at any rate,” the creature purred.
Sam wasn’t sure what to make of the being now standing before him. The thing was chimeric, most likely male, and quite obviously magical. He couldn’t decide if his head was more goat-like, or if the slitted pupils made it too reptilian. Sam realized he was staring with his jaw wide open, so he shut it quickly, scraping the dregs of his mind for any kind of conversation.
“I’m, uh… Sam.”
“Oh, I’m well aware. I’ve been following your antics for quite some time. You’re kicking up quite a stir, young man. If I didn’t know any better, I might have thought I had something to do with your arrival here.” Discord kicked back into a lounging position in midair, idly examining his talons with a smug smirk. But then, his smirk dropped completely.
“Then again, I don’t try to kill ponies.”
The room suddenly felt ten degrees colder, and Sam began shivering. Even though Discord wasn’t looking at him, Sam could feel his slitted eyes searing into his soul. Sam felt his throat tighten. Somehow, this ‘Discord’ knew about what had happened that morning
“I… I didn’t… I mean I wasn’t-”
“Oh! No, not you,” Discord dismissed, looking at Sam as if he had suddenly appeared in his line of sight. “I’m talking to your skeletal friend in there.”
Discord rapped on his skull like a door, inviting whoever was inside to come out and play. A chill ran down Sam’s spine.
“I… I don’t know what you’re tal-”
“Oh don’t play coy with me,” Discord chided. “I’ve talked with the miserable old wretch already. Which means he should really be out here, speaking mano-a-mano!”
Discord had grabbed Sam’s ear with both of his mismatched grasping appendages, and shouted the last part directly into it, leaving nothing but a ringing noise. Sam yelped in surprise and pain, shooting a glare at the impatient creature.
“Yeah, well, he’s a bit tied up at the moment.”
Confusion danced across Discord’s face for only a moment, before a malicious grin split his muzzle.
“I see… Well then, I have a little request for you.”
Sam leered warily at the plotting Chaos Master.
“And what would that be?”
“Oh nothing really, just a little mental exercise. No physical or magical activity necessary.” Discord floated over and around Sam’s back, resting his claws on Sam’s shoulders and getting within conspiratorial muttering distance of his ear.
“It’s very simple. Just picture the old coot in your head, however he appeared to you last.”
Despite himself, Sam did as Discord instructed, curious to see where he was going with this.
“Now, imagine yourself walking right up behind him… and punting him, right in his bony posterior. Watch as he sails over the horizon.”
The narrative was so unexpected and so ridiculous that he couldn’t help but picture it, even if he hadn’t wanted to. The comical image of a hooded skeleton sailing into the sunset like a jetliner was just too funny. Sam burst out laughing, although he felt like he was going to be in trouble with Bob somehow.
“Okay, okay,” Sam wheezed, getting the giggles under control, “that was a good one, I’ll give you that.”
Discord bowed before him.
“It was my pleasure, believe you me.”
Discord summoned up a posh armchair, simultaneously clothing himself in a burgundy dress robe and fez, complete with bubble pipe.
“Now then, I believe you wished for some perspective, correct?” He mused, blowing on the bubble pipe.
Sam’s mirth died out, and his worry rushed back in to fill the void. He groaned smacking his head against the headboard.
“I just don’t know what to think anymore.”
The remark caught Sam off guard.
“Tell me,” Discord continued, “what is your first impulse when you think about what Celestia did?”
“...To forgive her,” Sam replied barely stopping to think about it. It truly was the first thought that entered his mind.
“So why shouldn’t you?”
“She did try to control my mind.”
“Did she? Or was it simply a calming spell that got out of hoof? Did she actually make you do anything?”
“So then let me ask you one more question. Who would you be more angry at: the person who punches you in the heat of the moment, or the person who does so calmly, with every intention of breaking your jaw?”
Sam stopped to ponder for a moment. Celestia did seem to be taking responsibility for her actions, rather than claiming they were an accident. As far as he could tell, she was being genuine in her apology.
“Well, would you suggest I forgive them, just like that?”
Discord put up his hands defensively. “Hey, I’m not going to tell you what to do. That’s up to you. I’m just here to provide some perspective. After all, how many allies do you have here in Equestria? Especially ones as powerful and influential as the Princesses?”
Sam was struck dumb. How had that not occurred to him? Here they were, god-like beings offering up apologies and reparations on a silver platter, and all he could think about was whether or not they might have spit on them. Of course, trying to take advantage of their repentance was precisely the wrong way to go about building a healthy relationship with the Equestrian royalty, but prospect was tempting, nonetheless.
“You make a fair point,” Sam conceded. “Besides, my guts are telling me that they’re trustworthy. I suppose I can give them a second chance. But, I’m curious, why did you decide to help me?”
Discord smiled knowingly. “I expected you might come to that conclusion eventually. I just wanted to add my two bits, to speed the process along. I have a vested interest in this country, after all.”
“Well, it’s where I keep all my stuff, for one,” Discord explained, pulling a hockey stick from under the foot of Sam’s bed, then putting it back without so much as one word of explanation.
“Okay, but that can’t be all.”
“Oh? And why not? Isn’t a draconequus entitled to concern about the safety and security of his country?”
A draconequus, huh? Is that what he calls himself? I suppose he’s right, in any case. Being an alien from another world, and Equestria’s first contact outside of their own world probably gives me a hefty amount of political clout. If word got out on Earth that a politician was mistreating an alien from another world… Well, it wouldn’t be pretty, to say the least.
“Alright, I still don’t think you’re telling me everything, but I’ll leave it at that.”
“Of course not. If I were to tell you everything, we’d be sitting here for the rest of time. I like to think I have a little more common sense than that.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Alright, wise guy, get out so I can finish sleeping. Tomorrow’s gonna be a busy day.”
“Alright then. Au revoir, mon petite pomme de terre.” Discord disappeared out the door, only to reappear out of a flower vase a moment later. “Ah, I almost forgot. If it’s all the same to you, I’d appreciate it if you kept our little chat just between us. I’m in a bit of hot water with the girls at the moment.”
Too emotionally and mentally exhausted to care, Sam made a show of zipping his mouth shut before flopping back onto his pillow.
Discord presumably disappeared back down into the vase, if the small splash was any indication. Sam settled back into the bed, and immediately felt the Sandman pulling him down into the depths of slumber.