Dr. Ends' Curio Shop

by Goldymarg

The Tale of Marmalade Skye

I hate having to talk to anyone.

Doesn't matter who or what it is. Ponies, griffons, magical creatures, I can't stomach being around any of them. Some of them might seem nice on the outside, but I know better. I know what they're thinking. What they're really thinking. They just wanna get away from me as fast as possible. And if they stick around for longer than two minutes, it's because they wanna get a rise outta me. They want to get a cheap laugh at my expense. I've learned a long time ago, if someone's ever nice to you, it's only because they want something. Maybe it's a possession or just stupid self-gratification, but it always comes down to pure, old fashioned selfishness...it drives me crazy having to live in a world full of these disgusting creatures.

“May I...help you, traveler?”

A voice from behind called out to me, making me cringe and shudder. I brought my right claw to the crumpled scarf on my face, bringing it higher. The last thing I wanted was for some nobody to see what I looked like. Turning my head slightly in the direction of where the voice came from, I responded, “Y-yeah...I read somewhere that this place might have what I'm lookin' for...”

My words came out low and forced. I didn't want to be here. I didn't want to be in this dirty, rinky-dink shop, and I definitely didn't want to be in this city with all these...ponies. But right now, I had to. It was the only way.

“Hmm...you have a veeery peculiar visage. May I inquire as to what you are?”

The shopkeeper behind the counter must have been talking about my hair, eyes, and horns, because that's all he should have been able to see. The rest of my body was covered in a tattered, beige cloak, while my most of my face was covered with a matching silk scarf. I grit my teeth behind the cloth and growled, both out of frustration and as a attempt to intimidate him.

“I didn't come here to chat you old coot, I wanna buy something from you!” I yelled, keeping my head turned away and my eyes on him.

The shopkeeper just raised his eyebrow while brushing his mouth with his foreleg, giving me an even stare. From the looks of things, it didn't look like I scared him in the least. Instead, I think he was trying to figure me out. Pff, as if anyone could really understand me. The waiting was getting on my nerves, so I reached into a pocket on the inside of my cloak and grabbed a wad of gems, dropping them on the counter in front of him. The rocks didn't even finish making a clattering noise for the old pony's eyes to light up with glee. Tch, figures he'd be easy to please. These types of guys only care about money, anyway.

“Ah hah hah hah...w-well then! What can I offer you?! I've plenty of mystical tomes and grimoires! Perhaps you're seeking to become an accomplished sorcerer, or subjugate a village or two?! Or-or maybe it's glory you're seeking?! The Jewel of Zue grants it's owner the luck of the gods! No? Well, regardless, I'll sell you whatever it is you desire for all of these...hah...beautiful, valuable, gems...”

The old pony's gone off the deep end now. His starry eyes were glued to the pile of jewels, and he kept poking and prodding them with his hooves while wearing this stupid, open-mouthed smile on his face. I felt a certain queasiness in my belly from watching him. I think I was actually getting sick to my stomach. Taking a moment to unhinge my jaw, I said slowly and deliberately, “Charon's. Token. Give it to me.”

The shopkeeper's expression sobered, his eyes once again being drawn to my own. I found myself unconsciously jerking away from him, the look he was giving me a little too serious. It wasn't much better, but I was liking it more when he was looking at the gems rather than me.

“...what?! What's the problem?! Don't you want all these precious jewels?! Or do you want more?! Here, take some! Take it all!”

My claws shot into my pockets, grabbing pile after pile of jewels and dropping them onto the counter. I didn't stop until my cloak was empty and there were rocks rolling onto the floor. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to faze him. He just kept staring at me with a creased brow. What, is this not good enough for you?!

“Traveler,” He said to me in a wary voice. “Are you certain this is what you - ”

“Hey Grampa, I finished dusting out the store room, when can we – (GASP)!”

An annoying, high-pitched voice rang out from the door behind the counter as a small filly sauntered out, her wide eyes becoming plastered to my face. Taking a deep breath, she squealed, “Oh WOOOW, is that a water dragon?!”

My claw grasped my scarf as I moved further away from the counter again, the glare in my eyes seething with hate. That? THAT?! I'm not a 'that', you miserable little freak! And how do you know what I am?! No one's supposed to know! NO ONE!

“I thought water dragons were native to the far east! I NEVER thought I'd see one up close!” She said, running up to my side. “What's with this ratty cloak? I can't see the rest of your pretty, blue scales if you're all covered up like this!”

Stop it.

“Are you just shy? Hey, it's alright! We can be friends if you want! My name's Tang-chi, what's yours?”

Just stop it.

“What's wrong? Are you one of those grumpy types that have problems with personal space?”

“Just shut up and get away from me!” I screamed, grasping the front of my scarf and floating at least a meter away from her. She made an angry face and puffed her cheeks, while the shopkeeper looked on in confusion.

“Tang-chi, is what you're saying true? Is our customer indeed a water dragon?” He asked.

Looking back at him, she smiled arrogantly, “Mhm! I can tell because his horns look like gnarled wood! It also explains why he looks so tall, it's because he's more like a serpent than a regular dragon! They're also known for being keepers of knowledge and having some reaaaally powerful magic! I bet that's how he's moving around right now, it's levitation! I mean, there's no way he'd be able to walk with such stumpy legs, heh heh!”

My left eye twitched. My heart wouldn't stop beating wildly. I scrunched my eyes shut and took a deep, shaky breath. I've gotten so sick of hearing that, but I really didn't need another one of my attacks happening right now. Moving back over to the counter, I balled up my claw and slammed it down, screaming even louder, “Charon's Token! I know you've got it, so give it to me! Stop making me spend so much time around you scum!”

The sound of my voice caused the pile of gems on the counter to fall apart, scattering them all over the floor. I could see in the corner of my eye that the filly next to me was looking extremely offended, while the old pony in front of me stared me down with a grim look. The kid opened her mouth to retort, but the shopkeeper interrupted her by raising a hoof. “Tang-chi, can you wait upstairs for now? This has become a rather important sale. I'll come get you when it's over.”

She looked between the two of us, her face a mix of anger and confusion. It was another fifteen seconds before she finally decided to go away, scooping up a piece of emerald in her mouth before disappearing behind the door again. The shopkeeper got up on his hindquarters and rested his elbows on the counter, penting his hooves together while not breaking eye contact.

“Traveler...under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have any qualms about selling you whatever it is you desire. However, there are a certain number of items in my possession that I am always wary to part with. Please, could tell me why you wish to purchase Charon's Token?”

I didn't have any more patience for this. “What difference does it make?! Just do your job and gimmie the stupid thing!”

He continued without any change in his tone, “I am aware of what Charon's Token is for. It's for the ferryman of the River Styx. The only reason why you would want this particular item is because you want passage to Elysium, past the pits of Tartarus.”

“Give it to me NOW!”

“Sigh...” The pony stepped away with his eyes closed and head downcast, moving back towards a shelf behind him and taking a coin into his mouth. As he turned around, he gave me another grim look before dropping it onto the counter, the coin spinning around on it's edges before falling flat. I breathed out and gulped, finally looking down at the one thing I've been searching for for so long. It looked like any old bit I'd find lying on the street, but worn and bronze. On it's face was an etching of a hooded figure, with an undecipherable language written around the edges. I reached out to snatch the coin up, right as the shopkeeper placed his hoof over it. I gave him another glare.

“Let go. Now.”

Sighing softly once again, he said, “Know this, traveler. In all of my years of owning this shop, I have sold Charon's Token to at least three other ponies, all of them from the same place and all of them searching for the same thing. And every single time, the coin has somehow always ended up back in my possession. Even though you are a water dragon, I cannot help but think you are chasing the same, fleeting dream. So I will at least leave you with this...” He took his hoof away from the coin, “...Marmalade Skye does not exist.”

My eyes widened uncontrollably upon hearing him mention that name. He knew about her. Somehow this old coot from the city knew about that mare. I grit my teeth and snatched the coin away, leaving behind a small claw mark on his counter. “I've said it before and I'll say it again...I don't care what you or anyone else tells me. I'm gonna find her, and nothin's gonna stop me.”


The flight down the mountain was clear and uninterrupted. Just as it should be. If I was in that city any longer, I probably wouldn't of kept it together.

(“I just hate them...I hate them, I hate them, I HATE them...”)

Thinking about being around so many of them wasn't helping. I was a quivering mess by the time I touched down by the train tracks leading into the mountain. My breathing was still erratic and the palms of my claws were cold and clammy. I had to take my mind off of that horrible experience somehow.

“I'm...I'm so close now. Gotta hold it together...”

I clutched the coin through my cloak's pocket, the mere thought of having it putting my mind at ease. After so many months of searching, it was finally mine. No more rumors or ridiculous fairy tales or ponies telling me I was weak and crazy. I slowly closed my eyes and took another deep breath.

“It's time I got what I wanted. What...what I deserve...”


My anxiety soon turned to frustration as I heard an all-too familiar sound of rustling behind me. I sniffed the air once for confirmation before spinning around and slashing at the roots of the tall grass with one clean swipe. Sure enough, there was a sky-blue colt hiding there, his turquoise mane matted with dirt and leaves. The palm of my right claw went to my forehead as I let out a loud groan.

“Ya know...I don't know whether or not I should be impressed that a kid like you got this far on his own, or if I should be cursing my luck. Seriously, don't you have better things to do than follow me around?”

The kid gave me this look like he had just been caught with his muzzle in a cookie jar before jumping to his hooves, lowering his head and showing his grit teeth.

“You shut up, Grendel! I said I'd get back at you for what you did, and I'm not gonna give up until you pay!”

He scraped the ground once with his hoof and charged at me with his head still lowered. Looking away and sighing a bit, I flicked my serpentine body out of the way moments before he collided with me, wrapping my tail around his midsection before he fell. I lifted him up in front of me as he started writhing and struggling, wearing that same angry, desperate expression on his face. At this point, I feel like this must have been hundredth time I've seen it. I said to him flatly, “Look, I don't know how you keep finding me, but just give it up. There's no way some earth pony kid's ever gonna beat me.”

He responded while still squirming, “Argh! I told you, my name's Seastone! Let me go, lemme GO - omf!”

I did as he asked and dropped him on his belly, though not from a height that would injure him. Scoffing, I said, “Whatever, kid. Just do me a favor and stop following me. Just the sound of your voice brings back some really bad memories...”

I left him lying in the dirt and took off into the sky, thankful that he wouldn't be able to follow. Though I didn't get very far before I heard him screaming at me, “I'm gonna get you, Grendel! I'm gonna get you! I'm gonna make you pay for what you did back in Hollow Shades!”

I ignored his ranting to the best of my ability, concentrating all of my magic into flying as fast as I could. When the voice behind was finally gone, I breathed a sigh of relief, the weight in my chest disappearing. I was finally alone again.

“What is that kid's problem?” I said to myself. “And how is he able to keep finding me? Hollow Shades is some backwater town hidden in the ground, so how does someone like him know where I'm going?”

My eyes narrowed at the empty skies in front of me at the mention of his home. That quaint, unassuming village nestled away between the mountains. Thinking back, I guess it was kinda my home too, at some point. The memories came flooding back against my will, causing a sudden chill to go down my spine.

Those were bad times. Times I'd much rather forget ever happened.


- Six months ago

The downpour of rain on my scales was comforting at first, but felt like icy needles now. Lightning flashed across the sky beyond the forest canopy, and the loud crack of thunder filled my head, shaking me to the core. I strained every last bit of magic I had left to keep moving forward, but it was only a matter of time until it finally gave out, dropping me onto the sopping wet grass. I splayed my arms out and fell onto my belly, a pathetic whimper escaping my lips.

“They're...they're gone...I'm alone...”

It hurts. I'm hurting everywhere. I'm burned all over, my skull is throbbing, and the pain in my chest is the worst it's ever been. I've lived in the badlands all my life, but I just couldn't take it any longer. I had to run away.

“Ugh...g-good...I'm alone. Like I've always wanted.”

I breathed in forcefully, my sinuses and lungs filling with the unfamiliar scent of moss and moisture. I clenched my teeth tight and screwed my eyes shut, biting back my tears. The last thing I wanted to do was cry again, especially out here. I hated crying...it's always made me feel worse. Rolling onto my back now, I stared at the stormy sky with hazy eyes, the magnitude of what I'd done sinking in.

“What...what am I supposed to do now?”

All I've ever known was the barren wastes and scorching heat. All of this green plant life and brown dirt was so alien to me. Even in this torrential rain, I could hear other creatures lurking about forest, scratching at the ground and rustling in the trees. Was I going to be living here for the rest of my life? If so, was there anything else out there that could hurt me like they did?

“Ha...hah hah hah...”

I clenched my right claw, grasping the healthy earth in my hand. That's right...everything is going to turn out alright. Because I never have to see them again. Those pathetic, childish, scummy fire dragons. All they ever cared about was tormenting me. I was burned, beaten, starved, and teased, and they loved every minute of it. And why? Why were they so cruel to someone they knew nothing about? Tch...they didn't have a real reason. They just thought it was funny. They all loved to hate me just because everyone else did. They tormented me just because they could.

But now they're gone. They're finally gone. I can dig for water in peace. I can go outside without looking over my shoulder, wondering if another one of those dragons was going to ring me by the neck. I never have to taste the sulfur pits again, or be dangled over a river of lava. I was free...

“Free...to do what...?”

Another bolt of lightning lit up the forest, reminding me that I was in the middle of a thunderstorm. Taking another quick breath, I willed my levitation spell back and righted myself, stabbing my left claw into a tree for balance and lowering my head. As much as I wanted to calm myself, I had to get out of this storm before something bad had the chance to happen.

“Well...only place I can go is forward,” I said, raising my head and pressing on. Unfortunately, all I could see in front of me was more forest. My spindly legs kept dragging against rocks, tree roots, and slimy things I'd rather not know of. It didn't hurt, but the sensation was getting on my nerves. I lacked the stamina to fly any higher, and besides that, flying up into a storm cloud with these kinds of injuries was probably a bad idea.

“Gh...I'd be able to move faster if those fire dragons didn't get one last lick in...stupid, worthless little...!”

I slashed a tree as I passed by, the trunk splitting open like brittle pumice and spraying bits of wood all over my face. Taking my frustration out on the tree felt good, but getting pelted with that gunk didn't.

“Okay...not doing that again...”


The sound of breaking branches turned my attention back to the tree I cut, causing me to freeze in place. I hadn't noticed it before, but that tree was dried and dead. The gash I made was just enough for it to topple over, and it was heading right at me. There was no time or room for me to slither off to the side, so I was forced to try and outrun the thing before I was flattened.

“No! Why?! After I've come so FAR...!”

I moved as fast as my magic could carry me, straining my muscles and willpower to its fullest as the tree came down. I could feel my tail being grazed as a metric ton of dead wood fell behind me, the thundering crash shaking me up as much as the storm was. More bits of debris shot into my back, feeling like a bed of nails. I normally would've shrugged something like this off, but something hard collided with the back of my head, causing me to lose my concentration. My magic gave out once again and I tumbled to the ground, only this time I was unlucky enough to be hovering over a very steep slope. With the storm making everything slippery, I wasn't able to gain any sort of stability, my claws slicing into the soft mud and leaving me at the mercy of a long drop. My world spun around endlessly as I slid and tumbled down that hill, ramming into what felt like every tree and rock in the forest, until I finally fell into a clearing. I only had a second to appreciate the fact that it was over until I hit my forehead against something very hard. Darkness overtook me soon afterward.



My eyes peeked open, the smell of musty air overwhelming me. As my vision adjusted little by little, I felt something covering my body, making me jump. I grasped at it with both claws and slashed it apart, backing away into a wall. When my eyes came into focus, I groaned softly and put a palm on my head. It was just a blanket.

“O...okay. It wasn't them, it was just...uh...”

Where was this place? What was this place? I was inside some sort of large building, but it wasn't anything like I've seen before. Sunlight shone in through circular windows close to the ceiling, with dust particles visibly floating and dancing in its light. Rows and rows of rectangular wooden structures lined the interior, and every single one of them was filled with what looked like the same object over and over again. My head was clearer now, so I flew over to one of the structures and took one of those strange objects off of it, though it somehow started flopping around when I picked it up. I laid it flat in my claws to stop it from flailing, brushing my nails across the surface. Thinking back, I remembered some of the others talking about this thing. I think they called it a 'book'.

“Ah, the Epic of Beowulf. You have good taste, my friend.”

I spun, looking around wildly. My nails dug into the object and the thumping in my heart was back. The voice that called out to me was raspy and low, but it sounded dreadfully similar to a certain fire dragon that loved to beat me. I took control of my breathing and clenched my teeth, yelling back, “Wasn't it enough that you nearly incinerated me?! How many times do you gotta hurt me till' you're satisfied?! HUH?!”

“Whaaat? Please, calm down! I mean you no harm!”

My head snapped to the end of the structure as I backed away, holding the object in my claw close to my chest. Though I found myself raising an eyebrow as the creature came into the light. Judging from its appearance, it was frail, weak, and probably long-lived. It walked on all fours and made an unusual clacking noise as it walked. Its hide was colored a shade of dark gray, and the hairs on its head were an oily black. I swallowed to try and clear up the dryness in my throat. He just stood there, looking at me with calm eyes and a warm smile. I backed away a few feet again.

“My name is Easel. I'm a painter and the curator of this library. And if I'm not mistaken, you're a dragon, correct?”

From the way he sounded and the way he moved, I don't think I had anything to fear from this guy. My breathing evened out and my heart started calming down, though only a little. “Y-yeah...and what about you? What are you supposed to be?”

He chuckled, “Why, I'm a pony of course. An earth pony, to be exact.” He walked closer to me, tilting his head slightly to the left. “Are you alright? Those burns look very painful. I would have tried treating them myself, but none of my books have any information about dragons. Especially a species of dragon that's as rare as yours.”

I shuddered as the rage started boiling up from my chest. This...pony, or whatever it was, had some nerve to take me inside this place. What if I didn't want your help?! And why're you gettin' so cozy with me?! Don't talk to me like you know me or anything!

“Well, for now, would you like anything to eat?” He said, turning around. “I'm afraid I don't have much, nor do I know what dragons eat, but I can see what I can scrounge up - ”

I slithered past him in a flash and pushed my face into his, showing my teeth and glaring directly into his eyes. “You shut your mouth. I already know your game. You're gonna try and act all nicey-nice to me, then when I'm not lookin', you'll bash me over the head! Or-or maybe you'll try an' bury me alive! That's always a good one! Well, guess what?! I'm not takin' this abuse anymore! Not from YOU, not from ANYONE!”

The pony reeled back on his rear legs and fell over, scrambling backwards and away from me. His eyes were wide and frantic, and he was holding one of his forelegs in front of his face. It was then that I had a moment of realization...that was the same position that I kept making all of my life whenever the fire dragons cornered me. My cheek twitched and my mouth curled into a smile, a breathy laugh escaping my lips. Finally, someone else was going to suffer instead of me. I was on the giving end. And it felt good.

“Listen, you...” I lazily floated over and placed my right claw under his chin. “Whatever this place is, I'm in charge now. And that means you do whatever I say. You try anything, I shred you. Got it?”

He stared at me with the same panic in his eyes before his gaze softened, nodding in agreement. I smiled widely. “Good. First thing's first,” I held the book that I was holding in my other claw in front of him, “I wanna know what this is for.”


My head broke the surface of the lake, the cool, refreshing taste of fresh water feeling like a gift from the divine. Wiping my eyes, my head once again turned to my discarded cloak and scarf at the shore. Sure enough, they were still untouched. Just like they were two minutes ago. I sighed and put a claw over my eyes.

“It's...it's gonna be fine. Stopping here was important. You needed to stop. The gates of Tartarus are only a stone's throw away. There's nothing to worry about. You don't have to keep looking over there.”

The tone of my voice wasn't very confident. Not being able to cover myself up would be bad enough, but losing that coin would be even worse. I've come so far now, I can't fail when I'm so close.


A loud, prepubescent shriek echoed in the distance, making me wretch on reaction. I knew that voice all too well. Slapping my forehead with my palm, I groaned, “You've gotta be kidding me, HIM again?! This is crazy, how'd he find me in the middle of nowhere?!”

I turned a glare to the shoreline. For a second, I considered just leaving him to fend for himself. I could tell from that girly scream that he probably ran into some kind of carnivorous animal ready to eat him alive. Well, whatever...it's not my fault he that was so weak and stupid. No one asked you to come all the way out here on your own, especially when we're so close to the badlands.

“Somepony help meee! Heeeelp!”

The image of him lying face down in the dirt flashed in my mind, making me growl and hiss at the water. I put a claw over my chest and screwed my eyes shut, trying to get my heart to slow down, with no avail. Trying as I might, I couldn't ignore his screams this time.


I balled up my claws and bashed the water before shooting off into the forest, collecting my cloak and scarf along the way. The moment I was fully clothed, I found him...hanging upside down from a vine coiled around his rear leg. It wasn't long before my claw found my face again.

“Seriously?” I said to him with half-lidded eyes. “You can follow me to some random, asinine spot in the woods, yet you somehow end up like this? You can't even climb trees!”

His cheeks became flushed and started trembling. “Sh-shut up! I can get down by myself!”

“That's not what you were screaming about a few seconds ago,” I deadpanned. “Sigh...makin' me waste my time...”

I took a deep breath and held it in, building up pressure under my diaphragm. After a moment, I opened my mouth and shot a burst of air at the branch the vine was connected to, shattering it into splinters. As the colt screamed some more while he fell, I noticed that he was about to land directly on his skull. I groaned again and flew under him, grabbing him by the tail inches before he hit the ground. He was quivering and his eyes were scrunched as I raised him in front of my face.

“Okay, enough's enough kid, spill it. How do you keep finding me?”

He peeked an eye open slowly, making eye contact. Once he realized he was technically out of danger, he started flailing around as usual. I held him at arm's length.

“Leggo of me, Grendel! Let go – UGH!”

I flung him forward so that he'd land on his belly, eliciting another painful grunt. He took a second to moan and rub his stomach before climbing to his hooves, turning around and giving me that same, dirty look. Though this time he was having trouble holding his balance – his eyes had bags under them and his legs were shaking. It looked like he could collapse at any second.

“I don't...gotta tell you nothin'...” He said, his tone lacking its usual bravado.

I shook my head, turning my back on him as I headed back to the lake. “Figures...”

I don't know why I waste my time on this brat. I can't ever seem to get him outta my hair. What's it gonna take for him to just get lost?


The irony of that statement sat in the pit of my stomach like a stone, making me wince. I probably would've kept kicking myself all night after making such a lame thought, if the sounds of hoofsteps behind me didn't become apparent. I ground my teeth and spun around, yelling, “For the love of...! Will you just get los – ” I stopped and cleared my throat. “Ahem...! Would you just get outta here?! What do I gotta do to make you go away?!”

“I, gh...I already said so! I wanna get back at you for what you did! It's your fault that...!”

He let out a weak sigh and fell over onto his side, his eyes closed as he gasped for air. I scratched my head and grumbled, “Ugh, can't even stay awake long enough to yell at me some more...”

I floated back over to him and wrapped my tail around his midsection, hefting him onto my back. “It's getting late, so I'm gonna rest for the night...you're coming with me, kid.”


Night had fallen shortly after we had gotten back to the lakeside. Crickets chirped loudly in the distance, and the fire I built crackled with comforting heat. I had laid myself around the fire, taking a deep, cleansing breath, grateful for a moment of silence and solitude. Well, except for the colt staring angrily at me from across the fire.

“This doesn't change anything, ya know,” He said. “I still hate you.”

I took a skewered fish I'd been roasting from out of the fire, taking a bite out of it, head and all. “Good. Cush' the feeling'sh mutual, kid.”

He looked away as I swallowed, looking like he was about to retch. I asked him, “What's the matter? Aren't you gonna eat?”

“Well, um...” He looked between the remaining fish over the fire and myself before looking away again. It took me a second, but I slapped my claw against my forehead in realization. “Oh, yeah...ponies don't exactly eat meat...” I said to myself. “(Sigh), just a sec...”

I lengthened out my body and took off into the forest, plucking a leaf as large as my head along the way. Squinting in the dark, but keeping close to the light of the campfire, I started gathering up things that a vegetarian might eat, dropping them in the leaf. Berries, nuts, grass, things like that. After maybe five minutes, I felt satisfied about what I'd gathered up, and flew back to the campfire. Dropping the contents of the leaf next to the colt, I said, “Here. It's all I can find.”

He must've been dozing off again, because he jumped when the stuff hit the ground. After hearing what I said, he looked at the pile of plants with a hoof on his lower lip, only to scowl and turn away. “Uh...gh! I don't want your help!”

“And I don't want you following me around, but I guess we just can't win today, can we?” I laid my body around the fire, resting my head in my palm and giving him a disinterested look. “Listen, I know from experience. It's obvious you haven't eaten in days. If you're lookin' to cave my head in or somethin', you're probably gonna wanna stay alive. Can't exactly get revenge if you're collapsed from hunger, right?”

His cheeks became rosy and scrunched up as he looked at the ground, like he was about to cry. It was another full minute of him trembling and pouting until he finally stood up, storming over to the pile of things I'd gathered. Lowering his head, he dug into the pile, chewing and slurping loudly. I scoffed and turned my head towards the moon reflected in the lake, sighing. The things I gotta put up with.

“Uhm...thanks for the food.”

I eyed him without looking away, “Whatever. I'd tell you to stop following me, but you're probably just gonna say no, anyway.”

He turned to face me and retorted, “I'm just trying to be nice! Mom always told me to be polite! Not that you'd know anything about that...”

“That's my line, kid. I've been around long enough to know what you ponies are thinking. You deserve every little bit of what I did back there...”

He raised his voice, “No, YOU'RE the one who's wrong! You say you hate all ponies, but here you are tryin' to find one!” He sneered, looking away while still keeping his eyes on me. “She doesn't even exist...”

My eyebrow twitched. “Shut up. Marmalade Skye is different. Different from anyone I've ever met. She's the only one that's ever mattered to me in my entire life. I'm not gonna rest until I've seen her again.”

He turned to face me again, “You don't even know what she looks like! Nopony does!”

“Oh, really?!” I uncoiled myself and stood at full height, staring him down. “And I'm supposed to believe what some stupid brat says, just because you think you know what you're talking about?!”

He stared right back, not a hint of fear in his eyes. “I don't think, I know! Cause' you're not the only one to try and look for her! Everypony in Hollow Shades knows about Marmalade Skye! And-and they know about all the stories too, including me! That's how I'm following you! All three of the others took the same, pointless journey!”

I raised my eyebrow and reeled back, unsure of what I should be thinking. That old shopkeeper said something about three other ponies buying Charon's Token before me. Now I come to find out that they're all from Hollow Shades? If that was true, then none of them were successful. Either they never came back from Tartarus, or they never found her. My eyes wavered and wandered, though only for a little bit. I clenched them shut and snapped them back open, glaring at him again, “That...that doesn't matter! Th-they were just weak! They didn't have what it takes to go into Tartarus! But I'm different! I'm better than that! Better than any of you scumbag ponies!”

He chuckled with his nose in the air, “Ha, yeah right. You're just some goon who's gonna fail like all the rest.” He trotted to the other side of the fire, laying down on his side. “What're ya gonna do if you find her, anyway? Kidnap her like any other dragon would? Lame. Can't believe that's the reason why you left.”

I breathed out through my nose, “Actually, you're part of the reason too, believe it or not. I can't even stand to look at you.”


- Two Months Ago

I felt like I was on top of the world. Who knew that this 'library' had such a plethora of knowledge? Between forcing the ponies of this town to my whims, reading had become the one thing I enjoyed most. Those days of being abused were still fresh in my mind, so it felt great to finally be on the other side of things.

“Oh goodness, it's Grendel! Everypony clear a path!”

I took my attention away from the open book in my claw, eyeing the ponies around town square with a sneer. Like always, they scurried away like ants, dragging their little ones with them and dropping any belongings they had. A low hiss escaped my lips as I watched them flit about. Serves them right. After all, it was necessary for me to be as rough with them as I am. If I sliced up a fruit cart, smashed apart landmarks, and forced librarians to teach me how to read, it was only for their own good. To show them who's boss. Cuz' I knew that if given the chance, they'd do the same thing back to me. That's just how the world works.

“Yeah...everyone's in it for themselves...” I said, snapping my book closed. Turning my head up to the sky, I let my arms go limp and watched the clouds go by with a blank stare. Seriously, what was wrong with everyone? Why does it gotta be like this? I feel like I'm the only one in the entire world that tries to be nice. Instead, I'm forced to throw my weight around like some common thug. Like I was one of those scumbag fire dragons. Sure it felt good, but that's only because they deserve it.

“I...I just wish that...”

A pebble hitting the back of my head brought me out of my reverie, and back into an sour mood. I craned my neck around lethargically, and was met with the angry stare of a little, blue colt.

“Seastone, you get back here this instant! I thought I told you to leave Grendel alone!” A mare in the distance yelled. Looking off to the left, she and a stallion poked their heads out from behind a house. I guessed these ponies were that kid's parents.

“Why...why's it always gotta be about YOU?!” The colt yelled, ignoring his mother. “Everything was fine till' YOU showed up! I HATE you! You're not supposed to be here! GO AWAY!”

The kid lowered his head and leaped at me, his eyes tearful and his hooves outstretched. I sighed with closed eyes, dropping the book in my claw and slithering out of his way as he fell into the dirt. Compared to dodging fireballs and falling rocks, this was nothing.

“And just what are you supposed to do to me?” I taunted. “Maybe you should listen to your mother and get lost.”

He climbed to his hooves as fast as he could, stumbling around a little in the process. “Sh-shut up! Shutupshutupshut UUUP!!!”

He leaped at me again, only to get another face full of dirt when I dodged. I crossed my arms and scoffed, “Give it up. None of these other ponies can do anything to me, so what makes you think you can?”

He struggled to stand again, his teeth grit and his glaring eyes locking with my own. “What are you doing here, anyway?! What did we ever do to you?!”

I shrugged, “Nothin'. I just happen like it here. Trust me, I only do what I do because you all deserve it. Everyone's only lookin' out for number one, anyway.”

I thought I heard a few whispered murmurs around the place as the kid got ready to charge me again, but I didn't pay any mind to it.

“You're wrong! YOU'RE the only bully around here! You stupid fire dragon!”

I saw red the moment those words rolled off his tongue. A jolt went through my spine, and every nerve in my body was lit on fire. I could feel my claws start to shake before they balled up as I screamed, “Don't you DARE call me that!!!”

I turned my body as he jumped one more time, and with a quick motion, backhanded the kid's face with all my strength. He tumbled away at least five meters before sliding to a stop face down, leaving behind a trail in the dirt. I yelled at his unmoving body, “I'm not like them! I'm NOTHING like them! I know I'm right! I know I'm...I'm...”

He didn't say anything back. Instead, he just weakly tried to climb to his hooves again, only to fall back down on his face. The place where I backhanded him was red and swollen, and his eyes were bloodshot and quivering. I didn't have any words for what came next.

“Uh...uh...! WAAAAAHHH!!!”

The colt started bawling his eyes out, the sound of his cries echoing throughout the entire town, forcing me to listen to him and nothing else. His parents galloped out from behind the house, the mother embracing him and the father standing between myself and the two of them.

“Shh, shh, it's okay...it's going to be okay, Seastone...”

“The mayor was right! We should've run you out of town months ago!”

The murmurs around me became louder as I floated there, still frozen in the same position as when I slapped him. My breathing had become shallow, and the palms of my claws were clammy with sweat. A certain feeling in my heart became apparent...something I had never felt before in my life. Something incredibly painful.

“N-no...I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean...”

Yes, I broke things. I demanded that ponies do what I said. I made idle threats, and I scared them all. But never once did I actually hurt any of them.

“P-please, it was an accident, h-he made me...!”

The sound of the colt's crying hadn't stopped. The murmurs around me had become a furious mob. Ponies had started coming out of their hiding spots, getting closer and screaming hateful things at me. My eyes started jumping from one pony to another, my heart racing and my limbs shaking. I hugged myself out of reflex.

“N-no...stop, please...stop looking at me, get away...! I didn't mean it! I DIDN'T MEAN IT!”

They were getting closer. They were starting to encircle me. Some of them were carrying things in their mouths, probably to bludgeon me with them. My claws went to the top of my head, my eyes screwing shut and my body folding up like paper. My heartbeat had become erratic and I was starting to see spots. This was just like when the fire dragons would corner me, only it was much, much worse.

“No, n-no...get away from me! GET AWAAAY!”

I couldn't take it anymore. I shot off into the sky like a volcanic eruption, leaving a trail of dust in my wake. I had to run. I had to get away.


It was sunset by the time I stopped running. My magic had run dry, and I had fallen down from nearly a kilometer high into a tangerine grove. But I barely felt the impact of falling. The branches scratching at my scales felt like wisps of air, and hitting the ground was just a love tap. I couldn't take my mind off of what I'd done. Rolling onto my side, a silent tear crept down my face as I stared into the darkening sky.

“It...it was an accident...”

I don't get it. I don't understand. I'd being doing whatever I wanted for months. I was even enjoying it. I took what I wanted from those ponies all the time without feeling a thing. So why did seeing that colt cry hurt me so much? What's the difference?

“What...what is the difference...?”

That kid was right all along. I was just like the fire dragons. I knew I was better than that, better than any dragon or pony. But instead, I ended up doing the same things they did to me. I was just as much a scumbag as any of them. My body shuddered and coiled into a spiral as tears started streaming down the side of my face. There was no way I could come back from this. I'm a lost cause.

“Hey. Hey, are you okay? You don't look so good.”

A calm, feminine voice called out to me from behind. Opening my eyes, I could see the shadow of a mare cast over myself on the grass. I squinted and huffed, replying with hazy eyes, “What...what do you...want...?”

She responded, “I'm just wondering if you're alright. From the looks of things, you took a really nasty spill. Are you hurt anywhere?”

I said back in a dull monotone, “I'm fine. Please, just...go away. I wanna be alone. I'm only ever happy when I'm alone.”

“Don't be silly. Nopony...well, I mean no one can ever really be happy if they're alone. We all need someone.”

“I'm different.”

I heard her moan a little, probably dissatisfied with my short response. Tch, too bad for her. I don't wanna talk to anyone. Not now. Probably not ever. My eyelids were starting to feel heavy, so I let them fall, pressing a few more tears out of my eyes. Though they snapped right back open when I felt something warm press up against my backside, the shadow of that mare still covering me.

“Is it alright if I sit here for a bit? I've been walking around for a little while, so I kinda need a rest.”

My muscles tensed up and I shook a little out of frustration, yet somehow I couldn't bring myself to say no. Well, I actually couldn't being myself to say anything. If she wanted to stay here, then fine. It's only a matter of time until she goes away.

“Say, have you had any of the tangerines around here? I think they're going to be bucking them down tomorrow, so they should be pretty ripe and sweet now.” An aforementioned piece of fruit dropped in front of my face, rolling to a stop a few inches away. The tangy smell made my stomach growl, reminding me that I had forgotten to eat earlier. My tongue flicked out of my mouth in preparation to snag it, but I ended up grunting and turning away. I shouldn't be acknowledging this pony at all if I wanted her to leave.

“You know, this orchard is one of my favorite places to visit. I used to come here all the time as a filly, this spot especially. It's got such a perfect view of the evening sunset.”

Ugh, what was her deal? It's obvious she wasn't tired from the way she sounded, so why won't she just go away?! I wanna be alone!

“...why are you so interested in talking to me?” I asked. “Can't you see that I want to be left alone?”

“Well, yes...but I just can't bring myself to leave someone who clearly needs help.”

I sighed, the air coming out of my mouth feeling like a hundred degrees. “You're out of luck. I'm not talking about what happened to me. Not now, not ever...”

“That's perfectly fine,” She said, sounding confident. “I already know it's not my business, so I won't ask. Instead, I just want to help you feel comfortable. Is that alright?”

I stared at the tangerine in front of me, the haziness in my eyes still there. With a resigning moan, I said, “Do whatever you want...I don't even care anymore...”

She chuckled and scooted closer to me, lying on her side and resting her head on my tail. The warmth of her body was making me feel a little self-conscious, but I didn't have any problem with it. I was more curious as to what she was thinking.

“So...what's your game? What do you want from me?” I asked.

“Hm? What do you mean?”

My tone became a little more stern, “There isn't anyone out there that isn't in it for themselves...it's always me, me, me, I, I, I. So just cut to the chase. I wanna know what you want.”


She became silent. Figures. She's either thinking of some excuse to cover her tracks, or just preparing to come clean. Either way, it means I'd have a reason to take myself away from here.

“Well...” She shifted around a little, resting a hoof on my tail. “...I just want to help make you feel better.”

I winced, frustrated that I couldn't get away. She continued, “Listen...I'm not going to try and convince you to change your mind or anything, but I at least want to share what I think. If that's okay.”

She became quiet again, the only sounds in the air being the wind in the trees and of us breathing. I eventually realized that she was waiting for a response from me. Sighing again, I said, “S...sure...”

She chuckled again. “Well...I think that there are selfish ponies out there. We aren't perfect, I can admit that. But at the same time, I know that there's plenty of goodness out there. Charity, kindness, it all exists. You just have to find it.” She scooted even closer. “If it means anything to you, know that I at least care. And if I care about you, then there must be others that care too.”

My eyes widened. I hadn't noticed before, but her warmth was comforting. I wasn't crying anymore, and my heart had calmed down. For some reason, I felt like I could tell this mare anything.

“I...how do I know you're not lying? I've been lied to all my life...” My words somehow felt insincere, and I regretted speaking them immediately afterward.

“Well, I can't really prove that to you. Believe you me, I know how hard trust is to build. All I can give you is my word, for what it's worth.”

My eyes wandered to the ground as I digested her words. She hadn't demanded anything from me. She hadn't run in fear of me, or said something cruel to get a rise out of me. All she did was lay next to me, a complete stranger, trying to cheer me up. She even respected my privacy by not asking about what was troubling me. She didn't even acknowledge the fact that I was a dragon. I don't understand, who was this mare? I opened my mouth to ask, but was interrupted when she suddenly got up.

“Well, I have to get going now, I've got a lot of things to take care of. I hope you can take what I said to heart. Maybe we'll see each other again.”

I let her take four or five steps before I uncoiled myself and bolted upwards to look at her, the silhouette of her figured darkened in the light of the sunset. I set my jaw for a moment before calling out to her, “Wait, what's your name?! I don't even know who you are, but...”

She turned her head to face me, smiling warmly. What I saw then would forever be locked away in my memories...I couldn't see her face clearly, except for her eyes. Those dazzling, shimmering eyes, drawing me in like a kaleidoscope. “I'm Marmalade Skye. It was nice to meet you.”

It was the last I saw of her before she walked off, dipping down the hill. I outstretched my claw and flew after her, “No, wait! Come back!”

I reached the crest of the hill, but she was already gone. I looked all around myself for any sight of her, but didn't find a single trace. Just like a summer breeze, she was here and gone. She didn't even leave any hoofprints in the grass. I fell, planting my claws in the ground and hanging my head.

“She...she was nice to me. I can't believe someone was nice to me.”

Something caught the corner of my eye, making me turn back. It was the tangerine she gave me earlier. Floating back over to it, I took it in both my claws, letting it rest in my palms. This was the only thing that proved that she was ever here. I stared at it forlornly for a fleeting moment, bringing it to my mouth and devouring it, rind and all. Swallowing, I raised my head to the sky, feeling another tear fall from my eye.

I'd never tasted something so sweet.


The stench of lava and sulfur in the wind assaulted my nostrils, letting me know that I had indeed come home. Clouds of red dust blew in giant, billowing masses, and the gray overcast blocked out the sun. Turning my head up to the sky, I was reminded of how I now took daylight for granted.

“Ugh, are we there yeeet?”

I turned my head around and looked at the blue colt trudging behind me with half-lidded eyes. “If you can't take it, then you shouldn't of come. In case you haven't noticed, the entrance to the River Styx isn't exactly a friendly place.” I faced forward again, “Then again, you keep surprising me with how stubborn you are.”

The trotting behind me sped up until he was at my side, glaring at me as per usual. “You're...hah...you're not my dad! I can do whatever I want! I told you that - ”

“Yeah, yeah, I heard you the millionth time you've said it,” I cut him off. “You wanna get even with me, blah, blah, blah...”

This was unbelievable. I was supposed to be doing this by myself and in solitude, but I somehow ended up babysitting some kid along the way. I can't even be alone with my thoughts because he won't stop whining and moaning and griping...it's a wonder that I haven't lost my mind yet. The pain in my chest was coming back, so I reached inside my cloak and pulled the coin out again. The image on it wasn't exactly welcoming, but seeing it lying in my palm always calmed me down.

I remembered when I first saw this thing...that same night I spoke with her, I flew directly back to the library. Easel didn't look happy to see me, but at least he was cooperative. He told me that he knew about Marmalade Skye, and about how she somehow always appeared before ponies in need. He also told me how she was rumored be dead for hundreds of years. Then again, there were never any records in all of Equestria that she even existed. Some think she's a ghost, others think she's just an urban legend. But my memories of that evening are clear as day...as well as those brilliant eyes. There's no way she was just a rumor, so that left me with only one conclusion. She was a soul bound to Elysium.

“...why wouldn't you leave Hollow Shades, anyway? Why'd it have to be us? You could've gone anywhere you wanted, but you just wouldn't go away. What'd we ever do to you?”

My eyes fell to the ground when I heard that phrase. Normally I'd just ignore him and keep moving, but this was one of the few times he talked to me without shouting. I said back, “That town was the first one I happened to come across. I guess you ponies were just unlucky to have me terrorizing you.”

He retorted with his usual bluster, “But we were just living in peace! Why did all the townsponies have to spoil you?!”

“Isn't it obvious?” I said, brandishing one of my claws. “Cuz' I would've done horrible things to you all if you didn't do what I said.”

“Wait, what...?” The colt slowed to a stop, making me raise an eyebrow. Feeling his eyes on my back, I turned to face him, his eyes filled with confusion. “You mean you don't know? How can you NOT know?!”

For whatever reason, he sounded really insulted. Putting away the coin and scratching my head, I said, “Kid, what're you talkin' about?”

He fell to his haunches with a shocked expression, his eyes wide and his mouth trembling. Taking a sharp breath, he screamed at me at the top of his lungs, “You really ARE the worst! Spineless! Rotten! Worthless! Scum! I hate you! I HATE YOOOOUUU!”

I ignored his insults. “Like I said, what are you talking about?!”

“You really think you're SOOO bad, huh?! You really think you can just do whatever you want?! Well get this! If Hollow Shades ever really wanted to get rid of you, they would've called the E.U.P. Guard from Canterlot to throw you in a dungeon! We only let you stay because Easel said to!”

My mouth hung open. My eyes started burning and my heart was acting up again, beating madly. The revelation hit me like a mountain avalanche, and I couldn't move or think. At first I wanted think he was lying, but it wouldn't of made any sense if he was. My jaw moved up and down before I squeaked out, “W...what?”

Lowering his voice, but maintaining a gaze filled with hate, he continued, “Easel called a town meeting the night he found you. He said you were covered in burns and injuries, probably made by other fire dragons. We all guessed that you might've been abused, and that you ran away from home. Everypony agreed to let you stay until you started feeling better...but then you started threatening us and breaking stuff. And then you slapped me.”

He looked away as he ended that statement. I clutched the back of my left claw with my other.

“Don't you get it...?! Everypony was too busy trying to make you happy to pay attention to anything else! Even mom and dad!” He faced me again, “They forgot my birthday because they were too busy making up some stupid scheme to make you feel better about yourself! That's why you're the worst! You can't even tell when somepony's trying to help you! I hate you, I HATE - ”


My arms went to my face as a cloud of dust and debris exploded behind me. I turned around to face it with squinted eyes, only to feel my neck being squeezed. Something I was all-too familiar with.

“Well, lookie what we got here, if it ain't mah old punchin' bag!” A thuggish voice bellowed.

Oh no. I should've known. We were so close to the badlands, but the thought never occurred to me. I never thought I'd run into Grumble again. He tightened the grip on his meaty claw and raised me at his eye level, the smell of his rancid breath making me gag. “Think you could get away from me, stumpy?! We ain't even done chewin' da fat!”

I peeked an eye open and stared down his yellow eyes. The fire dragon was just like I remembered him - yellow, stupid, and morbidly obese. I said to him in a raspy voice, “You, gk...! You talkin' about yourself again, Grumble?! Maybe you should lay off the gems before you get a fifth chin...!”

He was strangling me and holding me at his mercy. Making him mad was the best choice I could make.

“Thought ah told'ja to stop callin' me fat!”

He hefted me like a wet noodle and threw me down, making an indentation in the hard, dusty earth. I coughed and hacked, breathing in dust, but thankful that I was able to get some oxygen again. Right about now would be the time he would try and stamp me out with his big, fat foot, but it never came. I peeked an eye open to see what the hold up was, when a sudden chill went down my spine. He was looking straight ahead at the colt that followed me.

“Huuuh, what's this? You makin' friends with some pansy pony pals?! Heh heh hah! Alright! More toys ta play with!”

Grumble lumbered over me and started waddling towards the kid, who was currently lying on his side and struggling to stand. From what little I could see while I tried to right myself, his rear hoof was sprained. There was no way he was going to get away from that tub of lard. I pushed away from the ground and forced my levitation back, screaming, “You stay away from him you butterball!”

He stopped to look at me, smiling a dirty, baked bean smile. “Huh, so ya DO care bout' dis twerp! Good fer me den!”

No. No, no, no. He wasn't stopping. The colt had already gotten an eye full of that monster, and was tripping over himself to try and run. I had to do something before it was too late. There's no way a kid like him would survive if Grumble got a hold of him. That fat oaf doesn't even know how frail ponies are. He's gonna die, and it'll be all my fault.

“You...get...away from him...NOW!!!”

A cold wind blew into my back and past me. I didn't feel a thing, but for whatever reason, it caused Grumble to somehow lose his balance. His left leg was thrown up off the ground, his body rippling wildly like a jello mold as he fell over, kicking up another cloud of dust. The kid scrunched his eyes and mashed his hooves over his ears when he fell, the impact he made sounding like an earthquake.

“Hu, whaa?! What whuzzat?!”

My jaw was shaking. My claws were balled up and tense. I'd never been more enraged before in my entire life. Not because I was seeing my old bully, no...I was infuriated at myself. I couldn't believe how stupid I was.

“I am so SICK and tired of having to put up with all this...!”

Thunder boomed in the sky, far overhead. Rain began to sprinkle and fall, becoming a torrential downpour in a matter of seconds. Nothing had ever been going right for me. Not when I was in the badlands, not when I was in Hollow Shades, and definitely not when I decided to take this pointless journey. It's all been a waste, and I hated it. I hated everything.

“I-I...I'm so mad...I can't even think straight...”

It had to stop. All of it had to stop. I couldn't be like this anymore, not when there were so many kind souls around me all along. But first, I had to take my anger out on a certain, fat dragon...

“...good thing you're around, Grumble! I've been wanting to do this to you for years!”

Thunder boomed in the sky once again as he stood, completely oblivious as to what was about to happen. Before he could even take one more step, a bolt of lightning came down and electrocuted him, sending that fat oaf into spasms and convulsions. Though the light was painful to watch, I refused to turn away. I wanted to savor every moment.

“Yeah...it ends here.”

When it was over, his eyes had rolled back into his head, and his scales had been charred black. He fell over again with another thundering stomp, knocked out and unmoving as the rain died down. I floated over to the kid, who was still cowering with his hooves over his head. I coiled down to eye level with him and said, “Hey, you okay kid?”

The colt peeked an eye open and looked around. When he was sure there wasn't anyone else around but us, he stood up and looked at the ground, trying to put up a strong front. Though it was only a matter of time until snot started dripping down his nose, his bottom lip quivering and his eyes going red.


The kid pressed himself up against my cloak, bawling and wrapping his hooves around me. I sighed softly and put one of my claws on the back of his head. He sounded just like he did the day I left.

“H-hey, look...I'm sorry, Seastone. I'm sorry for everything...”


- One Day Later

*knock, knock*

“Hello, who is – GASP!”

I frowned when the door opened, the mare standing there giving me an angry glare. I knew it was coming, but it was still painful to watch.

“What are YOU doing here?!” She yelled. “Wait, I bet you're the one who kidnapped my boy! Where is he?! What did you do with him?!” She got up on her hindquarters and started shaking me by the shoulders, screaming, “Give me back my son!!!”

I merely stared at her with half-lidded eyes, saying nothing. Instead, I lowered myself down and let go of the load on my back, the kid walking out of my cloak with a sheepish look and a hoof over his elbow. The mare gasped and galloped over, pushing me aside and embracing him.

“Oh, Seastone! Thank goodness you're alright!” She backed up and started checking him over, “Are you hurt anywhere?! Did Grendel do anything to you?! Is anything wrong?!”

He responded, “No mom, I'm alright...actually, Grendel - ”

“You're right,” I interrupted. “I kidnapped him. If there's anyone you should be mad at, it's me.”

“I knew it!” She grabbed her son and pulled him inside, holding him away while yelling, “I'm calling the E.U.P.! They'll take care of a ruffian like you!”

“But-but mom...!”

“No buts, young colt!” She turned to me again. “Good riddance!”

I caught a glimpse of the pleading in Seastone's eyes before the door slammed. Lowering my head and closing my eyes, I sighed into my scarf. It was better this way.


Well...this was it. Everything's come full circle now. I'm back where I started, ready to make things right. Looking near the top of the building, I saw one of the windows was open, so I flew up and slithered myself inside. The moment I touched down onto the second floor, I was met with Easel's calm gaze. He was sitting at a table to my left, enjoying a cup of warm tea. Surprisingly, he didn't appear to be even slightly upset at my intrusion. In fact, the look in his eyes made me feel like he was expecting me.

“Hah, well, it seems like I can finally close that window now,” he said.

He got up and grabbed a hooked rod lying on the floor against the wall while I pulled up a chair. As I coiled up my lower half and sat down, I noticed all of the books lying on the table were the same ones I had been reading two months ago. The Lesser Key of Solomon, Tobin's Spirit Guide...even the Epic of Beowulf. It was all here. I eyed the old pony as he sat back down, taking another sip of his tea before getting a good look at me.

“Hmm, I'm not sure I like the new look. It makes you look like a vagabond.”

“I kinda am a vagabond,” I responded. “And with the way things look, I don't think I'm gonna have much time to stay, so I'll make it quick.”

I reached into my cloak and pulled it out. Charon's Token. The one thing I'd been pining for for months. Holding it between my claws, I set it down on the table and slid it forward.

“Go to West Canterlot and find Dr. Ends' Curio shop. He should give you a refund for this. I'd go myself, but, uh...” I grasped the front of my scarf and looked away. “...I don't wanna go through that again. I've got a problem with crowds.”

He looked down at the item, his eyes getting wider. “My, my, Charon's Token. Never thought I'd see it in this lifetime. Does that mean you failed? Were you not able to find her?”

I closed my eyes and sighed, the weight in my chest as heavy as it's ever been. “Actually, I never even made it to the river. I realized that I didn't need her after all.”

He tilted his head, his eyes unchanging. I continued, “I found out, old man. I found out that you were the one who told this town to put up with me.”

He pented his hooves together, smirking. “Guilty as charged...”

I balled up a claw and slammed it down on the table, shaking his teacup. “But why? Why didn't you just stop me?! I was terrible! I even hurt a little kid!”

He took a moment to take a sip of his tea, setting it back down before answering, “I feel that if we had done that, you simply would have continued to hate everything. Someone as damaged as you cannot be healed overnight, you see. I believed that if Hollow Shades showed its kindness in its own way, then even someone who had been abused all of their life could eventually see that kindness. Though, I'm not so sure the rest of the town agreed with me, heh heh heh...”

I huffed and looked away, grabbing my elbows. “I don't get you. I don't get any of you...”

A moment of silence fell between us. A clock ticked in the distance, but either than that, it was dead silent. I heard him take another sip of his tea before I said, “A-anyway...I came here to say I'm sorry. For everything. I'm sorry for everything. I didn't know any better...I shouldn't of just assumed everyone was out to get me.”

Setting his cup back down, he responded, “I don't think it's me you should be apologizing to. Weren't you responsible for destroying parts of the town?”

I winced. “Please, don't remind me...”

“Well, it should be the town you apologize to, then.”

I sighed and looked at the ceiling, the thought of getting up in front of all those ponies already making me sweat.

“...it's a start.”