“Is the door locked?” Rainbow asked in an urgent whisper.
Twilight nodded. “And I’ve got a forcefield around the door. He won’t be able to get in.”
The five ponies stood in Twilight’s room, gathered to speak in hushed whispers. When the creature, Dread, had gone to his room, they each waited roughly an hour before quickly regrouping.
“What’s Princess Luna thinking?!” Rainbow asked. “I mean, no disrespect, but she’s crazy if she thinks we can trust that thing!”
“I don’t know…” Fluttershy said softly. “He seemed to feel bad for how he acted…”
Rarity shook her head. “The key word there is ‘seemed’, darling. He may be simply biding his time…”
“What are you three talking about?!” Pinkie said eagerly. “Didn’t you hear him? He’s a superhero where he comes from!”
“So he says…” Rainbow muttered bitterly.
“I certainly don’t think a hero would use something like that…” Twilight said, nodding.
“Exactly!” Rainbow said, heading towards the door. “So, here’s the plan. Twilight and I’ll head to the Everfree Forest and get the Elements back. We’ll hurry back, then we’ll--”
Rainbow turned to Fluttershy, who was standing with an unusually stern determination. “I won’t use the Elements on Dread without giving him a chance. He did something bad, and he apologized; isn’t that a sign that he’s not as bad as you think?”
“So he thinks a ‘sorry’ is gonna make it okay?” Rainbow snapped. “Like it’ll make us forget what he did to--”
There was a pause. Suddenly, all eyes fell on the door. “Applejack!!” Rainbow, Rarity and Twilight all said, in a volume that couldn’t decide between ‘whisper’ and ‘shout’. Rainbow bolted up to the door and began madly pulling on the handle. “It’s stuck!!” She said.
Rarity threw herself at the door. “That fiend!!” She cried. “He’s trapped us! Oh, Celestia knows what he’s doing to our sweet Applejack!!”
“Oh, wait…” Twilight said. With a sheepish smile she lit up her horn; the door was briefly illuminated in a purple aura, dispelling the barrier. “Sorry…” she said before Rainbow flung the door open.
She, Rarity and Twilight hurried into the hall and bolted for the door to Applejack’s room, Fluttershy and Pinkie in hesitant pursuit. Rainbow burst through the double doors and landed roughly on the floor before the bed. “NO!!” She yelled at the sight of the empty bed, before spinning towards her friends directly behind her. “We gotta--”
The group turned to look at the doorway; Applejack was standing in the hall, looking very confused. “What’re y’all doin’, causin’ all this ruckus?”
Rainbow flew over to Applejack and pulled her roughly into the room, Rarity pulling the doors shut behind them. “Are you okay?!” She asked. “What happened?!”
Applejack pulled herself out of Rainbow’s reach. “I’m fine! And whaddaya mean, ‘what happened’?”
“We thought that vile creature made off with you!” Rarity said, hurrying forward and hugging Applejack close. “Oh, we’re so glad you’re safe!”
“Ya mean Dread?” Applejack said. “Nah, I just… went ta see him.”
Rarity blinked. “Come again?”
“I went ta talk to him,” Applejack repeated. “I just… wanted to know about what I saw.”
Twilight bit her lip anxiously. “...What did you see, exactly?”
Applejack took a deep breath and closed her eyes; she clearly wanted to forget about it. “When he touched me, I… I saw the farmhouse burnin’, beyond savin’... But it weren’t the house I was upset about…” She opened her eyes. “Applebloom was trapped inside.”
Her friends gasped in terror, but Applejack continued. “There weren’t no way I could get in to save her, all I could do was stand there and watch the house burn… It was only for a few seconds, but…” She shut her eyes again, blinking back a fresh wave of tears. Fluttershy hurried forward and hugged her friend tightly, fighting back tears of her own.
“That’s what he made you see?” Twilight asked, horrified.
Applejack sniffled, but found the strength to continue. “But I went to him, ‘cause I wanted to know, fer a fact, that it ain’t real. He promised me it wasn’t… I asked if it ever would be, but he said he didn’t know… He said what I saw was ‘born of my own mind’, that his ‘Nightmare’ couldn’t tell the future…” Her words trailed off, her pain taking her voice again.
Rainbow shot a venomous glare towards the door. “Some hero…”
“But then he… he asked about Applebloom,” Applejack continued. “I told him about her, he said that… ‘human’ kids’re more of the same…” she smiled, then looked up at them. “I don’t think he’s that bad. He made some mistakes, sure, but… I think he’s a good feller.”
Rainbow frowned at the floor, trying to wrap her head around her friend’s words. Twilight stepped forward. “Come on, girls, let’s get some sleep. We can talk about this in the morning.” The group filed out of the room, leaving Applejack alone again. Once she’d heard the last door in the hallway close, she walked over to the window. Even in the dim night sky, with the moonlight she could just barely make out Ponyville in the distance.
After the day’s events, she found herself wanting to hold her sister close, and never let go.
- - - - -
Yep. Still here.
Thanks to the size of the bed, I hadn’t slipped off of it in the middle of the night. As such, when I woke up I found myself staring up at the white, domed ceiling up above—the universe’s way of saying, ‘Hey, that wasn’t a dream last night.’
I reformed and climbed out of the bed, flexing my mass and limbering up. The time on my HUD read 4:21 pm; either I’d vastly overslept, or I needed to change it to the local time. I slithered towards the door and reached for the handle when I heard something; a soft rustle of feathers. If it weren’t for my enhanced awareness I might not have heard it. I adjusted my focus towards the corner to the right; I spotted the barest glimpse of a cyan feather poking out of the curtains.
I turned my head towards it. “I see you there.”
The feathers tensed up, but the figure didn’t come out. With an annoyed sigh I slithered over to the curtains and pulled them aside. Rainbow Dash was standing on the cushioned windowsill, trying to find her balance on her hind legs after the curtains she’d been gripping were pulled away. With a yelp and a flail of forelegs she began to fall forward. Casually I reached out and caught her by the stomach, helping ease her to the floor. “Morning to you, too…” I said casually before turning and heading towards the door.
“Hold it!” Rainbow yelled, quickly shrugging off the embarrassing display. She hovered up to me as I turned, and stared me directly in the ‘eyes’. “What’re you up to?”
I tilted my head. “Could ask you the same. Why’re you spying on me?” A pause. “Actually, never mind, I can hazard a guess.” I turned around again to head for the door, but Rainbow suddenly flew around to face me again, not missing a step.
“You’d better watch your step, buddy…” she said, jabbing a hoof at me.
I bit back a snark. “I plan on it,” I said before moving around her and leaving the room; I didn’t need the expanded consciousness to feel her glaring daggers at me.
Deciding a breakfast was in order, I headed down the halls, reversing the path we’d taken last night from the dining hall. I could hear Dash walking some distance behind me, annoyance creeping up on me. THIS is gonna be the start of something… I thought as I rounded a corner. I quickly found the dining hall and entered, stopping to hold the door open for Dash. She didn’t pass through, though—evidently not wanting to turn her back on me. With an agitated groan I simply went in, hoping she’d grow out of it.
The other ponies were gathered at the table, having what seemed like a generally pleasant series of chats before they noticed my entry. Only a few of them—namely Luna, Applejack and Pinkie—seemed welcoming of my presence. Fluttershy glanced at Celestia, Twilight and Rarity, who were giving me looks, before returning to her own meal, pretending nothing was wrong. Rainbow sat near her friends, apparently trying to send them messages through facial expressions.
I sat down in the same spot as yesterday and beheld the morning’s meal. “Nice!” I said at the sight of the pancakes lining the table. I took a decent helping of the stuff and dug in; the ponies seemed surprised at my use of tableware, rather than tearing into the stuff like a… well, a monster.
I glanced around the table and gave a small whine at the glaring lack of bacon. “Hmm, I’m probably gonna miss... certain human foods more than others… But I’m glad your foods are familiar.”
Luna smiled. “I’d say you were fortunate; you landed in a world that’s similar to your own… relatively, at least.”
“I’m glad your world seems to understand courtesy…” Rarity said conversationally, not looking up from her meal. “I feared we’d both have customs that would confuse the other.”
“Like offering a hot meal would be considered a declaration of war back home?” I joked. Luna covered a snorting giggle that put a huge grin on my face.
“So, tell us about yourself, Dread…” Celestia said, also not looking up from her plate. “You’ve told us where you come from and what you do for… work, what about in your spare time?”
“Well, MHAs work in forty-eight hour shifts, then get a day off…” I said. “In the times we’re not called in for emergencies, I basically lounge in our team’s base. Watching television—I’ll tell you later,” I added, upon receiving a confused glance from Luna. “Chatting with my friends, reading, stuff like that… I spend time with my family, when I can—my parents, my little brother Jake. We go out to eat, see a show or just spend the day at home together, you know?”
“Not a bad way to spend yer time,” Applejack said, nodding. She was looking much better, fully rested and cheerful.
“What about when you’re working?” Pinkie asked eagerly. “Tell us one of your adventures!!”
I glanced around for a moment. “Uh, really?”
Pinkie nodded rapidly. “Yeah! Was there a big bad guy who wanted to do something big and bad? Or something big, but not necessarily bad, or something bad but not necessarily big? What if he was doing something small and good, but you thought he was doing something big and bad…?”
“All right, all right!!” I said quickly. I tapped a claw to my chin in thought; I did have a fair few I could pull out. New Hampshire was actually somewhat tame compared to most other places, with only the occasional Malefactor spicing things up, so I didn’t have that deep a trove of interesting stories.
“...Okay, here’s one,” I said. “So, a couple years back this guy, Derek Swayze—a real tech nut, designed himself a big suit of robot armor, right? Armed with big plasma cannons, made him around twice as tall as… as the Princess there.” I pointed at Celestia for reference. “He’d wanted to sell his design on the Black Market, make himself a profit, but when he put it on to test it, it gave him something of a god complex.”
“A what complex?” Fluttershy asked.
“Basically, when something makes you feel powerful or awesome, you feel pretty much unstoppable,” Twilight said helpfully.
“Like Rainbow, after every Sonic Rainboom?” Applejack asked with a smirk.
“Can you blame me?” Rainbow asked smugly.
“So the guy gets in his suit and calls himself ‘the Blitz’,” I continued. “He goes on a bit of a rampage through the streets, blowing up cars and stuff—thank Christ, no one was hurt, though I can’t say the same for their premiums—and challenging anyone to try and stop him. I show up, I actually feel a bit intimidated—more for the sake of the collateral damage, seeing as I might not have an easy time taking him down. The guy’s like a massive, bipedal mass of metal, his crazed face peering through a big glass window the thing had for a face. He’s just like, ‘You’re about to be Blitzed’, or something like that, and he aims his cannon at me.”
“So I just sprang like a snake at his arm, right? And the spot I was just standing is reduced to a crater about two-feet wide. I coil around his arm, trying to find a way to disarm the cannon and stop him from blowing anything else up. When I don’t see anything on the outside, I think, ‘Well, the wires and crap are probably on the inside of the armor.’” I stood up and backed off before forming my left arm into a thick blade. The more skittish ponies flinched, but I ignored them. “So I make my claw like this, and I swing it at the guy’s arm.”
“It was then we both realized, we’d vastly overestimated just how tough his armor was. While it took most of the blow, my claw ended up breaking the poor guy’s arm.” The ponies winced; I nodded. “Yeah; ouch. He falls over, his yells muffled in his suit, so I tear his armor open like wrapping paper to get him out. I managed to get him to the prison hospital—his arm got better... roughly a month into his life sentence.” I sat down, returning my claw to normal.
“What’d the guy think he could do?” Applejack asked, befuddled. “I mean, even bein’ good with machinery and all, that weren’t the smartest thing to do…”
“Well, people can do stupid things when their emotions get the better of them,” I said, returning to my meal. “Happens to the best of us.”
I noticed something strange from Luna; she seemed to be cutting her food slower, in the way one would when something sad crossed their mind. I noticed the other ponies reacting the same, making the occasional glance at the younger Princess. I opted to change the subject. “So, I’m just curious; last night, you said you needed to ‘tend to the sun and moon’. What does that mean?”
“At every dawn and dusk, Luna and I raise or lower the Moon and Sun, respectively,” Celestia said.
I ‘blinked’. “...No, seriously.”
Celestia frowned. “What?”
“It’s true!” Twilight said. “Every morning, Celestia brings up the Sun, and every night, Luna brings up the Moon!”
I scratched my head. “...Okay?”
“Is that strange to you?” Luna asked.
“Well, kinda…” I said. “In that, back home, our planet orbits around the Sun, taking a year to make a full revolution, while the Moon orbits around the planet. I’m no astronomer or geologist, but I think the mass of the Moon, or whatever, controls the tides of our oceans. Our planet, itself, rotates at one revolution every twenty-four hours; if the Sun or Moon were ‘raised’ at someone’s will, it could really throw off our world’s sense of gravity.” I took a needless breath. “But, again, constants and variables… Reality and logic gets really flimsy between other dimensions.”
“So the Sun and Moon rise and lower on their own?” Celestia asked, skeptically.
“If it were the same here, we’d be out of a job, sister!” Luna joked.
“Well, we call them ‘sunrise’, ‘sunset’...” I gave a little laugh. “Swiftly, fly the years… Anyway, they’re called that ‘cause they look like they’re rising or setting, but really it’s the planet, rotating in a way that they come into view. The Sun is on one side of the planet for twelve hours, then on the other side at a full revolution. The Moon, on the other hand, ‘doesn’t care about your rules, maaan!’ Sometimes it can be seen in the day, though it’s not quite as impressive as at night. None of that, ‘Hey, it’s my time to shine’ glow, just, ‘Um, hey guys, I’m… here, if anyone’s interested...’”
Another snicker from Luna. “Well, I think you’ll find our Moon has a better sense of timing.”
“I prefer the night, anyway,” I said. “Partly due to the fact that I try to scare baddies without the Nightmare, but it may be that I’ve become something of a night owl in this line of work.”
“You said you work for forty-eight hours at a time?” Rarity asked. “Surely, you must get the time to eat!”
“Well, really, if nothing’s going down during our shift, we’re really just hanging in our areas of jurisdiction,” I said. “If we’re not patrolling, we can spare a minute to grab a bite to eat from a take-out joint or something; anything we grab is billed to the Department, so we don’t need to carry a wallet in our utility belts. No, Pinkie, I don’t carry one, it’s just a joke.”
The meal found a lull in conversation for a few moments before Celestia turned to Twilight. “Twilight, once we’re done here, perhaps you can work with our Scribes and examine the spot where the Tear was the other night—find any abnormalities or residue. Anything that can help us find a way to help Dread return home.”
“I’m sorry that you don’t feel me to be worthwhile company…” I said, my voice quivering in mock-pain; I noticed Celestia’s lips fighting back a little smile, to my satisfaction. Tell jokes, get ‘em to like you, that’s right… EARN their trust.
“Is there an Aura Stone in the labs I can borrow?” Twilight asked. “It might help me locate and identify any lingering radiation. Oh! And I’ll need a copy of Aura: A Guide to Fields Both Controlled and Spontaneous; it might help identify what sort of magic the Tear was made of. And I’ll need somepony to record my findings, since Spike’s still running things back home, and if it’s not too much trouble, I’ll need a workspace in the lab, if I’m gonna be working with the Scribes…”
“You’ll have whatever you need, Twilight,” Celestia said with a patient smile.
“Speaking of home, perhaps the rest of us should get ready to catch a train back to Ponyville,” Rarity said, dabbing a napkin at her chin before standing. “I’ve many orders to catch up on at the Boutique.”
“And I need to get back to that poor, sick badger!” said Fluttershy. “I almost didn’t come here yesterday, I was so worried he’d take a turn for the worse! Angel said he’d take care of him but… ooh, I hope the poor thing’s okay!”
“Plus we got some storms coming in over the next few days…” Rainbow said.
“And y’all know what I gotta do,” Applejack said, flexing a hind leg and giving a quick buck kick.
“And I don’t have a purpose in the story anymore, so I gotta skedaddle!” Pinkie said cheerfully, hopping out the door. “Bye, Dread!” She was followed by her friends, who each bid farewells in varying levels of sincerity. Rainbow gave me one last, suspicious glare before turning and heading out; she clearly didn’t want to let me out of her sight, but seemed confident that I was being left with the Princesses.
I stood up, flexing my mass in the same way one would stretch stiffened muscles. “Any chance I could get some fresh air? This place is nice, but I wouldn’t mind getting the lay of the place if I’m gonna be here awhile.”
The look in Celestia’s eyes told me she would rather I didn’t; as she opened her mouth, though, Luna spoke up. “Sure! Why don’t I show you the courtyard?” She stood up and led me out of the dining hall. I gave a wave to Celestia and Twilight as I left; the suspicious looks gave me the impression they felt my wave was less of a friendly farewell, and more of a grim ‘see you soon’ deal. I dearly missed being able to give facial expressions. I mean, I could, when I put on my human form, but that was still vastly difficult; I only did it off duty, when I walked among Basics or hung out with my family.
I cursed myself for thinking of my family again. Not yet. Later.
- - - - -
Celestia watched as Dread left the dining hall, the tip of his black tail slipping out of sight. When she was sure he was out of earshot, she turned to her student. “What do you make of Dread?”
Twilight sighed. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in learning more about his culture… It’s just that, after yesterday, I’m not sure what to make of him. When he first woke up, I didn’t see any of that seemingly friendly demeanor we’ve seen afterwards… From the way he… threatened us? There was something in his voice… Something bestial… I was afraid, afraid of what had come to our world, afraid of what it would do.”
Celestia nodded. “I agree, Twilight… I wish there was something I could call a fact.”
“But Applejack said she talked to him last night,” Twilight said. “She said he was very nice, that he tried to assuage her fears… But that just confuses things even more… Is he truly trying to fix things?”
Celestia sighed. “For now, we can only watch and wait.” She stood up, as did Twilight. “Let’s examine the site of the Tear.”
Twilight nodded, and the pair headed for the door. “Best case scenario, we send Dread home, and don’t have to worry about him.”
- - - - -
Applejack hurried off the train the moment the carriage doors opened, onto the Ponyville platform. “I’ll see y’all later, I gotta get back to work.” Without another word to her friends she galloped off, hurrying towards the dirt road leading to Sweet Apple Acres.
“Something tells me it’s not work she’s so eager to return to…” Rarity mused before turning to her friends. “But I’ve many pieces I need to see to, myself. Why don’t we meet for dinner, later, girls? We can chat about certain… developments.”
Fluttershy nodded. “That sounds nice,” she turned towards Pinkie. “What do you two think--” She stopped and blinked. “...Where’s Rainbow Dash?”
“Oh! She got off the train after it left Canterlot!” Pinkie chirped. “I saw her heading for the caboose,” she stopped to giggle. “And I went after her, I asked her what she was doing in the caboose, then I began giggling and asked her what she thought of the word ‘caboose’, she was all,” Pinkie suddenly stretched and shaped her hair into a passable representation of Rainbow’s loose-hanging mane. “‘Pinkie, quiet!’” Her mane poofed back to normal. “And I was like, ‘why?’ And she said,” her mane switched to Dash’s shape again. “‘I’m going to Canterlot to make sure Dread doesn’t do anything!’ And I said, ‘You mean like walking? Eating? Talking? Seeing things?’ Then she rolled her eyes and said, ‘I just wanna make sure Dread doesn’t do anything bad! I’ll come home later!’ Then she flew out the back door and I went back to you guys! Then the train got here, and Applejack said…”
Before she could start styling her mane to look like Applejack’s, however, Rarity quickly shushed her. “That’s fine, Pinkie, you can stop.” She cast her gaze to the distant city of Canterlot. “I do hope Rainbow knows what she’s doing…”
- - - - -
Applejack didn’t let her growing shortness of breath slow her down as she got back to the farm; Big Mac wouldn’t like that she’d worn herself out before she’d even bucked a single tree, but she didn’t care. There was something she needed right now. She could only hope that…
With a relieved sigh she spotted Applebloom walking in her direction down the path, sided by her friends, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. Before Applebloom could even utter a greeting, Applejack had already closed the distance and practically tackled her. Rolling onto her back as they hit the ground, Applejack held Applebloom close in a tight hug, ignoring her sister’s confused protests and her friends’ baffled looks. Applejack repeatedly kissed her sibling’s head, stroked her mane, relished the chance to hold her sweet sister close.
In a way, she was almost grateful to Dread; he’d made her realize just how much her sister meant to her…
And just how horrifying it would be to lose her.
- - - - -
The marble statues littering the Canterlot Gardens depicted some of their most prominent figures. Luna would gesture to each one as we passed, giving a brief history on their time period and the feats they performed that earned them the right to be immortalized in this courtyard. From griffons that defended both their kingdom and Equestria from great threats, to scholars that discovered new technologies that forwarded the world’s capabilities, it was clear each figure meant a great deal to this world’s history.
As we neared the hedge maze where Luna said they’d found me, she gestured to a space that looked to have held a statue for quite some time. “While all the other statues held individuals of great prestige, this space once acted as a thousand-year prison for a being of great power. A Draconequus, by the name of Discord.”
“What’s a Draconequus?” I asked.
“Essentially, it is a chimera—an amalgamation of various animals,” Luna said. “Discord was a being that loved and caused chaos. He held dominion over Equestria, over a thousand years ago, wreaking untold havoc and bringing great pain and despair to the land’s denizens. It wasn’t until Celestia and I found the Elements of Harmony that his great reign was brought to an end; he was transformed into a statue, and we placed him here.”
I glanced at the empty space. “And now?”
“Two years ago, he escaped,” Luna said. “Because the Elements were no longer bound to Celestia and I, we turned to their new Bearers: Twilight Sparkle and her friends.”
“What’re the Elements of Harmony?” I asked.
“Essentially? They are Equestria’s most powerful magic, and acted as our best means of defense against those who would wish us harm,” Luna said. “They are Honesty, Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Loyalty and Magic.”
“So Twilight and her friends are more than just good friends to you and Celestia?” I asked. “They’re… heroes?”
Luna nodded. “They’ve only used the Elements sparingly; the first time was…” She became sad again; I desperately wanted to know what was bugging her, but felt it would be more tactful to let her tell me when she wanted. “...well, it was some time ago. Then they used them to defeat Discord again, returning him to stone.”
I looked at the empty space again. “...So he got out, got put in again… Is he a statue somewhere else?”
“Oh, I can tell they sometimes wish it were so.”
I spun around at the new voice; male, a hint of mischievous smugness lining every word. Hovering some distance above us was a slender being, formed of multiple animal parts: a brown, eagle-like chest and left claw, a lion paw, goat head with a goat horn and deer antler, one lizard leg, one goat leg, a blue wing of some unknown creature alongside a batwing, and a tail that seemed to come from a red Chinese dragon. He had a single, curved fang on his upper jaw, and yellow eyes with piercing red pupils. He was floating in midair, lying on his side and resting his head on a paw, observing me with interest. Like Pinkie Pie’s antics the previous day, I hadn’t sensed his approach or appearance; did some of these folks just become invisible whenever they felt like it?
“I say, it’s always fun when somepony else stirs up the pot around here! Keeps it interesting, and gives me new ideas!” He floated closer to me, making me lean back a bit. “So… You’re this ‘Dread’ fellow I’ve heard about!”
I nodded, slowly. “And… you’re Discord?” I glanced at Luna, but she seemed somewhat relaxed; was he supposed to be out?
Discord snapped his ‘fingers’; with a flash, a duct-tape wallet appeared in his eagle talon. He flipped it open and presented what looked like an ID card. It had an old picture of him, only he had what appeared to be a 70’s afro and Beatles glasses.
Name: Discord T. Edgington
Place of Birth: Butter
“At your service!” He said, sending the wallet away with a snap and giving a curtsy. “You certainly wasted no time in making a buzz around the castle! From your spectacular entrance, to the little spat you had with our friends here…” He wiped a tear from his eye. “Ah, chaos creates confusion, but sometimes, confusion creates some of the best chaos!”
I rubbed my gangly arm awkwardly. “Yeah, things got a bit… hectic down there. I’m trying to make it better.”
“Well, do take your time!” Discord said; he conjured up an old-looking video camera and zoomed it in on me, his eye poking through the lense as it stretched into my face. “I want to savor every minute of the effect you’ve had on this joint! The unease among the staff, the constant fears that you’ll suddenly turn around and eat somepony…”
“Not gonna do that…” I muttered.
He ignored me, spun the camera around and aimed it upwards; I followed his gaze and noticed a few ponies gathered around an empty space. I recognized two of them as Celestia and Twilight, holding various tools and papers in their magic fields as they examined where the portal had been. The others were either pegasi, decked in royal armor, or unicorns being held aloft in Celestia’s trademark yellow aura. “And the turmoil in the hearts of our dear, sweet Princesses! They’re acting like they've put those thoughts on hold, but, really, anypony can see just how anxious you make them!”
I glanced at Luna; she didn’t seem ‘anxious’. If anything, she was looking very annoyed at Discord. I looked up at him. “I don’t want to make ‘anypony’ anxious! I made a huge mistake, and I’m working to rectify it!”
“Oh, of course, no one’s disputing that…” Discord said, vanishing the camcorder as he turned to me, grinning. “I just wish to thank you for bringing your own special blend of havoc! I dearly hope to see more of it!” He gave a happy gasp. “Perhaps you can give me some pointers!! Ooh, I can’t wait!” He snapped his fingers and, with a flash, he vanished.
I slowly turned to Luna. “So... he on parole or something?”
Luna sighed. “Celestia decided that Discord’s power could be used for the betterment of our subjects. We had Fluttershy help reform him; she gave him her friendship and, to our surprise, he actually treasured it better than anypony could have expected. When he realized that his antics would cost him that friendship, he decided to… ‘play nice’, as he calls it. While he does still cause the occasional bout of mischief, it’s to a far lesser extent than before, and he’s quick to clean up his messes… for the most part. Though we do have to push him to use his powers to mend affairs that aren’t his doing.”
I glanced at the spot where his statue had been. “Not dissimilar to some stories I’ve heard back home; Malefactors who’ve opted to use their powers in a better way. Any metahumans with a criminal past are put through a more… ‘supervised’ training regiment. They need to train longer before they’ll become MHAs, to prove that their evil ways are behind them, but there’ve been some former Malefactors who’ve ended up saving hundreds of people at a time.”
“Just how many threats does your world face?” Luna asked. “Surely, if MHAs are as widely spread as you say, criminal activity must be at an all-time low.”
“You would think!” I said, gesturing wildly. “But, by some miracle, criminals keep doing that crap! Stealing, violence, terrorism—the thought seems to be that we can’t be everywhere at once. And, sometimes, they’re right; there’ll be times where we can’t stop a crime—only apprehend those responsible…” I sighed. “I’ve had a couple of those instances…”
Luna frowned. “What happened?”
I shook my head. “Another time…” I glanced up at the ponies above, examining the site of the portal. “I really hope they find something…”
Luna put a hoof on my claw. “We’ll do everything to get you home.”
I smiled at her. “Thanks, Princess.”
Luna raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Please, call me Luna.”
- - - - -
“That’ll be forty bits,” said the clerk at the stand, flatly.
Bulwark glanced at the price on the sign; the price on the number of ears of corn he’d purchased should have been thirty. With a sigh, however, he levitated the requested bits onto the counter and left without a word.
Every crystal pony he passed gave him a brief look—one of unease and distrust. He’d earned every single one of them, he felt, as he walked stiffly down the road from the marketplace. As he neared his home, Bulwark glanced up at the balcony of the Crystal Palace; for a moment, he thought he saw him standing there... The King he’d so proudly served all those years ago, his cruel grin visible even from such a great distance.
He’d turned his back on those days—his time as one of those who had aided and supported Sombra’s rise to power all those centuries ago, who’d reaped the benefits of loyalty… It was only after the Empire had been cursed to a thousand years, lost in some unknown void, that he’d realized how Sombra had manipulated him, had manipulated all of his ‘loyal’ minions, into servitude. He saw how Sombra had clouded his mind, made him his puppet…
If it weren’t for the Crystal Heart, he would be that way again.
Now he simply tried to live, tried to forget… Yet the distrust he’d earned served as a constant reminder of his folly… Him and every other who followed Sombra.
Bulwark entered his home stiffly, levitating the produce onto the kitchen counter. He threw himself onto the couch, his grim mood leaving him exhausted. A nap, that is all… he thought, feeling his head sink into a throw pillow. He shut his eyes. Perhaps my dreams will be pleasant this time…
“Wasn’t it your ‘dreams’ that had you follow me, old friend?”
With a jolt Bulwark sat up, glancing about his house for the source of the voice. “Who’s there?!” He called, his voice cracking nervously.
No answer. Quivering, Bulwark lay back down on the couch.
His question had been redundant; he very well knew whose voice that was. He very well knew it hadn’t come from anywhere in his house.
Tears formed in his eyes as he curled his legs inwards. “Please,” he whispered. “Please leave me be…”