From the deepest reaches of the nether realms, I came.
Through the endless midnight passages and lightless tracks, I came.
Slithering, pulsating, twitching, galumphing... I came.
And for the first time in the span of a million million lives, for the first time since the stars burst into being and the fragmented totality of the universe began to congeal, I emerged into the light of day.
As I oozed out of the shadowed passageway, my tentacles rose involuntarily to shield my many eyes from the blinding sun. It was dazzling. And even as my eyes adjusted, I remained just as overwhelmed, for the sheer number of images and colors assaulting me from every direction were beyond anything I could ever have believed. I had no names to put to them. For the breadth of eternity, I had known only shades of darkness.
A small, winged creature landed on me and stuck fast to my mucus membrane. I brushed it free as gently as I could, and it fluttered away, leaving a trail of pollen and fear.
The light refracted through the slime dripping from my myriad appendages, casting mesmerizing shadows of a thousand hues. It was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. And it was only the beginning. I had to see more.
Soft petals brushed my scales and clung to me as I slid through a great field of flowers. Mountains rose in the distance, and trees whispered gently to eachother as the breeze stirred their leaves. I paused to observe a small animal, cloud-colored and fluffy and gifted with a pair of inert, white tentacles sprouting from its head, scuttling through the grass. When it caught my scent, it looked up at me; its eyes widened, and it dashed away with a series of quick hops. I smiled at it as it departed.
The blazing sun was high in the sky as I crested a hill and beheld something even more dazzling than I could have predicted. It was... a hive, of some sort. Small, four-legged creatures bustled about amidst a collection of artificial structures, both the creatures and their shelters a dazzling array of bright colors. Hues of sunset, of morning mist, of verdant grass, of colors I had not yet encountered—they were everywhere, mixed and matched at random, as far as my eyes could see.
It was too beautiful for me to contain. I opened my hundred mouths and let out an ululation of primal joy.
Too late, I realized I had startled the wondrous creatures. All of the activity below jerked to a sudden stop. Hundreds of eyes, each with irises the same remarkable array of colors, turned to me.
I raised my tentacles in greeting.
One of them screamed. Others followed. Two of them rose to their hind legs and then fell over in an apparent stupor. The creatures began scrambling about, running into eachother, terror etched onto their faces.
I quickly realized my mistake. These creatures were obviously quite territorial; likely, they came under assault by larger and fiercer creatures quite often, and were prepared to flee at a moment's notice. Some of the creatures in my own subterranean realm acted much the same. They would retreat to their tunnels while their warriors came to defend them. My joyful cry must have surprised them, and I would have to prove my lack of hostile intent if I meant to approach them.
Perhaps I should present a gift, as an offering of good will? I extended my eyes outward, peering about the hive, seeking something that might serve. I soon found a wheeled container of some sort filled to bursting with roughly spheroid plant growths the shade of sunset. Clearly, the creatures must have valued these greatly to horde so many. I turned my gaze outward, to the hills around me, and quickly found what I needed: a whole field of trees, their branches drooping beneath the weight of more of these sunset spheroids.
A copper instrument of some sort mounted atop the hive's largest structure began to clang and gong. Some sort of alarm, I surmised; the creatures were clearly clever and capable of utilizing tools. Fascinated, I left several of my eyes behind to watch the spectacle, while the rest of me sloshed towards the grove. I picked one of the spheroids from its branch, feeling the smoothness of its skin and sensing its clean, sweet smell. I absorbed the spheroid through my outer membrane and was nearly overwhelmed by the flavor, unlike anything I had ever consumed before. My globulous mass shuddered in delight.
Now I understood why the creatures valued these spheroids so highly. They must have consumed the objects, both for sustenance and pleasure. A proper offering would require a great amount, enough to feed the entire hive. Smiling in the anticipation of my future friendship with the creatures, I extended half a dozen pseudopods and wrapped them around the trunks of the trees; with a quick tension in my membrane, I plucked them easily from the ground and hoisted them above me. A few of the spheroids came loose and plummeted into my ichorous mass; perhaps selfishly, I did not object.
As I returned to the hive, as expected, I found myself confronted with what were clearly its guardians. To my surprise, there were only six of them. Behind them, clustered together or peeking through openings in the hive's artificial structures, dozens of the other creatures watched nervously.
One of the guardians, colored like flame and sunlight with eyes the shade of grass, stepped forward. She was staring not at me, but at the trees I had brought as gifts. This struck me as a good sign. I smiled with my many mouths and waved the trees, shaking loose a few more of the spheroids.
The guardian said something I could not understand. Her eyes narrowed and focused on two of mine at the center of my mass. She reached up with her foreleg and tilted the canvas head covering she wore forward.
Oh no, I thought. She didn't like my offering! Hurriedly, I lowered one of the trees and dropped it to the ground. I moved with more speed than I intended, however, and the tree bounced forward after impacting with the ground. The guardians scattered, three of them taking to their air, the others scrambling around the spinning trunk.
One of the flyers, colored like the sky and refracted light, suddenly hurtled towards me. She hit me in the center of my mass, sinking halfway through my membrane before her momentum faded. I realized a moment later that she was stuck fast, her hind legs and tail flailing as she sought leverage to pull free. Before I could help her, the fire-and-sunlight guardian had produced a tentacle of her own and wrapped it around my attacker's legs. She came loose with an audible pop and emerged spitting and covered in slime.
I didn't dare drop another of the trees. I didn't dare do anything. I opened my mouths and began gibbering apologies in every ancient and unholy tongue I knew, trying desperately to communicate my benign intent.
Another of the flying guardians, this one the color of sunlight and flowers, spoke to her companions. Her voice was soft and calming, and I immediately realized that she was a source of empathy and understanding. If any of these creatures could understand my intentions, it was her.
I lowered the remaining trees as gently as I could. My stream of apologies slowed. Instead, I called up the most ancient of tongues, the words that bound all the universes and realities together in greeting and goodwill. I spoke them boldly and clearly.
The sky-and-refracted-light guardian stopped scooping mucus from her fur to regard me curiously, and repeated my words in as close an approximation as she could manage. "Ba weep gra na weep ninny bon?"
The third of the flyers descended in front of me, and for a moment, my hearts stopped beating. "Beautiful" does not begin to describe her. She was all the colors of the darkening sky at once, shimmering in the sunlight. While her companions were each gifted with wildly different colorations, she was all variations on a single hue. She was the evening itself, condensed into a mortal form. I had never imagined anything so striking.
She repeated my words of greeting. Properly, without the awkward inflections of her companion. I stared at her in awe and not a little surprise. And then, the horn rising from her head began to glow with yet another shade of evening. Two of the sunset spheroids were engulfed in the same glow, and then they rose up to me, and I took them gently with a dripping tentacle.
And that is how I met the best friends I would ever have.
The ponies, as I would come to know them, were willing to extend me some level of trust, but remained cautious. I could hardly blame them; they were quite small, barely reaching my first strata of pseudopods, Any creature would be wary of such a large, unknown newcomer, no matter how benign and pleasant they might be.
After some discussion, the guardians granted me shelter near what seemed to be the sunlight-and-flowers pony's lair. She dwelt within a artificial structure a short distance from the primary hive, heavily camouflaged by dense foliage in order to deceive predators. As well, she commanded the loyalty of a large group of non-pony followers, most of whom seemed tiny and relatively harmless individually, but who could undoubtedly mount a savage defense when their mistress was threatened. I was directed to a small clearing near the stream that passed near the pony's lair, given a soft sheet of fabric and a few of the sunset spheroids, and instructed by the eveningshade pony—through tone and expression, if not intelligible words—to stay put and cause no harm. I complied.
The sun set not long after, and the night passed without event save for the appearance of three pony younglings who approached under cover of darkness and began prodding me with sticks and, eventually, their bare hooves. I did my best to ignore them, fearing that sudden movement might frighten them off, until one of them poked me rather painfully in an eye. Caught by surprise, I let out a shout of pain from several dozen of my mouths, and the trio fled at a remarkable speed. To my relief, this incident did not damage my relations with the ponies.
The next morning, the eveningshade guardian arrived with a large collection of what I recognized as arcane grimoires. My awe of her grew yet further. Tomes of knowledge were virtually unknown in the nether realms from which I was spawned, and those who can wield their power can reshape reality to their infinite whims. I understood now why this hive had but six guardians; even just one could have erased me from existence with hardly a thought.
She began opening the tomes and examining them, muttering aloud the incantations she found within. I looked about nervously as she did so, fully expecting my eyes to boil or my tentacles to turn to ash. As the process continued, however, I began to realize that the eveningshade guardian did not intend me harm; she was, instead, seeking a way to communicate with me. I relaxed and watched her work with several of my eyes, while the others observed the goings-on around me.
The sunlight-and-flowers pony was tending to her followers, feeding them with bits of grain from a container she carried in the crook of her foreleg. Beside her stood another of the guardians, this one colored like clouds and the midnight sky. The two spoke to eachother quietly, occasionally casting looks at myself and the eveningshade pony, clearly ready to leap to her defense should I suddenly prove hostile.
The sun had risen nearly to its apex before, almost without realizing it, I began to understand the pony's words. "... don't think that one worked, either. Ponyfeathers, that was my last book. Maybe I could write to Princess Celestia...?"
I shuddered in surprise. The pony gave a start at my sudden movement, and jerked back, looking up into my centermost eyes. "Um, did you understand me?"
My mouths opened in a wide smile. "Yes!" I told her, cheer bubbling up through my innards. "I understand!"
The eveningshade pony recoiled from my words. The other two guardians, sunlight-and-flowers and cloud-and-midnight, were behind her in a heartbeat. I realized from their expressions that I had startled them with the volume of my outburst. Embarrassed, I focused hard on speaking with only a dozen voices.
"Yes, I understand," I repeated, much more quietly.
"O-okay," the eveningshade guardian said. "That's great! Great. Um. I'm Twilight Sparkle."
I half-closed the lids of my eyes in a sign of respect. "I greet you, great sorceress Twilight Sparkle." I told her my name.
She stared at me, her head tilted, her mouth moving as she tried to replicate the sound. Finally, she raised her eyebrows and asked, "Can I just call you 'Clip?'"
I smiled. "This is acceptable."
"Great! Um. Nice to meet you, Clip." She looked back at her friends, then back at me, apparently unsure what to say next. "So... what brings you to Ponyville?"
"I have escaped my eternal bonds, broken free the shackles of immortal fate that bound me to the nether realms of infinite madness, and forsworn the oaths that bound me 'ere time itself came into existence—my appointed destiny to consume all of reality at the end of all things—that I might journey to the fabled surface above and taste the delights of mortal existence."
She stared at me again.
"Also, I'm a bit lonely," I added.
The cloud-and-midnight one raised her hoof. "Excuse me, did you say 'consume reality?'"
"At the end of all things, yes."
She gave a short nod, her mouth tight.
The sunlight-and-flowers one took a step forward. "Um, well... I'm Fluttershy, and this is Rarity. It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Clip."
"I am honored to meet you, guardians of the hive," I told them, my eyes focusing on each. "I apologize for startling your workers. I meant no harm."
"Guardians of the hive?" the one named Rarity asked, glancing at Twilight Sparkle.
"Workers?" Twilight wondered around, looking at me. "Uh, do you think we're insects?"
"What is an 'insect?'" I asked.
"Well, it's... " She looked at her companions for guidance, then spied a small, flapping creature with intricately decorated wings, much like the one which had landed on me after I emerged from Below. Her horn began to glow, and a sphere of light gently enclosed the animal and brought it towards me. "Like that. That's an insect."
I examined the creature, stretching several eyes towards it for a closer look. "It appears to be a living creature. It has wings. It has pleasant coloration. There is much in common."
"He sort of has a point," Fluttershy noted.
Twilight Sparkle shook her head. "No, no, it's... we're ponies. We have four legs, and some of us can fly or use magic, and our brains have developed enough that we're sapient. A butterfly has six legs, and it's not intelligent."
I tilted a few eyes towards her. "What is a 'butterfly?'"
"That. That's a butterfly."
"I thought you said it was called an 'insect.'"
"It... it is! It's a type of insect called a butterfly!"
"Ah. Then you are a type of insect called a pony."
"No! We're... look, there are mammals, and reptiles, and bacteria... "
Rarity made an odd, delicate little sound in her throat. "Twilight, dear, I think we need to approach this in a different way." She turned to me. "Mr. Clip, do you know what the difference is between a living creature and a rock?"
"There is no difference," I said confidently. "In the lightless realms below, all things live, all things hunt, and all things are destined to be consumed."
"Ah." She looked at Twilight with an expression I thought rested somewhere between triumph and terror. "Well, things are a bit different up here. Let me explain... "
For the rest of that day, I learned the fundamentals of reality upon the surface of existence. All things were generally divided into animal, mineral, or vegetable. Animals and plants were separated further into increasingly precise categories. Minerals were, according to Rarity, divided into "mundane" and "fabulous." She seemed to be something of an expert on the latter.
I also learned the names of many colors. Again, the ponies divided them up into increasingly precise classifications. Twilight Sparkle's knowledge was exhausted after about fifteen variants of the color purple, but Rarity, again, proved to possess a vast wealth of expertise on the delineations and their appropriateness in certain social situations. I admit that I was quite lost, and at some point during her lecture Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy had wandered away, but it seemed rude to interrupt a pony who seemed so happy to expound upon the relative merits of Orchid purple versus Eminence.
Night fell again, and this time I was informed that the sheet of fabric I was given—apparently a "blanket"—was intended to be used as a covering to help maintain a comfortable body temperature. As a twisted remnant of the primordial ether who existed beyond time and mortal limitations, I had no particular need of it, but I placed it over my writhing mass regardless and the ponies seemed satisfied with the gesture.
A week passed. The term was new to me, but apparently it measured a span of seven rotations of the planet. I thought "seven" to be a rather arbitrary number, and explained to Twilight Sparkle that a measurement of ten rotations would be more logical, given that the universe would end after this planet had rotated exactly one hundred decillion times. She promised to take this fact under consideration.
Eventually, I was deemed educated enough to begin interacting with other ponies. I was first introduced to Applejack, who apparently owned the trees I had uprooted and presented as gifts. Escorted by Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy, we journeyed to the sprawling grove of apple trees to the southwest of the hive—er, town. I had not noticed before, but the trees were lined up in precise rows—a clear sign of intelligent intent behind their design—and another cluster of artificial structures sat at the grove's center.
Applejack, the fire-and-sunlight guardian with the strange head covering, stood waiting for us next to a male pony nearly twice her size and colored red and orange. A long piece of wheat grass hung from his mouth, and he chewed it idly as he watched me. Applejack was more visibly agitated, her eyes narrowed with suspicion as she observed our progress.
We came to a stop several feet from her. An awkward silence fell. My tentacles twitched nervously.
"Um, Clip?" Twilight said, nudging me and then wiping her leg clean.
"Oh. Yes." I cleared my throats and turned to Applejack, eyes lowered. "I apologize for damaging your garden. I was unaware that ponies were capable of cultivating plants for food. The trees were meant as a gesture of goodwill. I thought you could eat the... ah, yes, the apples."
Applejack stared at me. She didn't say anything, and her eyes were still narrowed. The tension of the moment compelled me to continue speaking.
"I think it is very impressive that you can do that, by the way. 'Agriculture,' I believe Twilight Sparkle called it. In the unholy realm that exists beyond the pale of creation from which I was birthed in a great wave of entropy and destruction, agriculture does not exist."
She kept staring at me.
My tentacles fidgeted.
She kept staring.
I looked around for help, but Fluttershy was glancing nervously between us and Twilight Sparkle was simply watching Applejack with an eyebrow quirked.
Finally, I could not stand the silence any longer. "... I really like your mane."
"Fine," she said finally, letting out a breath. "Yer forgiven. Stop starin' at me. It's like when Winona starts beggin' for a treat, times, like, a thousand."
I lowered my eyes again. "Thank you, Applejack. I swear that I shall never harm your garden again, at least until this universe's preordained doom comes to pass and I must sweep forth to cleanse all light and life from this world and all others."
The next day, I helped Fluttershy feed her ducks.
She had seemed fairly unremarkable when I first encountered her on the road just outside Ponyville. She had neither the aggression of Rainbow Dash or Applejack, nor the mesmerizing beauty and power of Twilight Sparkle, nor the poise of Rarity, nor the radiant kindness of Fluttershy. At the time, had I not been so nervous, I might have even wondered why she was there.
But when I stared into her eyes, I understood. She, too, knew the secrets of unreality. She knew how to look beyond the veil. She alone, among all other mortals, had peered into the unknowable chasm at the center of all things and had the strength of mind to examine it, accept it, and incorporate what she had learned into her being. She, like me, existed beyond the constraints of this material world.
I knew I was in the presence of a mind beyond that of any pony, of any mortal being in all the infinite realms of the universe. I closed my eyes and lowered my tentacles in a show of absolute respect.
"Pinkie fhtagn," I said.
"Rarity, I have been told that your gift, your purpose in existence, is to unearth beauty in all things."
She looked up at me, her expression quizzical behind her thick-framed glasses, her tape measure hovering near her head. "Well, I suppose that's... actually a rather poetic way to put it. Did Spike tell you to say that?"
I popped an eye out of the rear of my mass to look at the tiny dragon, who shook his head and put a claw to his lips.
"I realize that to ponies, I am not pleasant to look upon," I continued, ignoring her question.
"Oh, dear, no!" Rarity protested in a very nearly convincing voice. "You take a bit of getting used to, I suppose, but you do have a certain... je ne sais quoi."
"Rarity," I said, my tones serious and my eyes level. "Can you make me beautiful?"
She stared at me for a long, long moment. And then her eyes narrowed in determination, and she flashed me a smile of complete confidence. "You bet your tail I can."
I left the Carousel Boutique several hours later. Gems in a dazzling array of cuts and colors glittered beneath the mucus coating my amorphous form. A shawl of magnificent silk, its colors shifting with every movement in the afternoon sunlight, was draped over me. Each of my eyes had been painstakingly highlighted with liner and mascara and long, magnificent lashes. And finally, a great, purple hat decorated with a single, massive yellow feather, sat atop it all.
I was beautiful.
And then, one day, it all came to an end.
It began with the distant, rolling boom of thunder. Storm clouds, blacker than night, began to move in from all sides, surrounding Ponyville with a nearly impenetrable wall of freezing rain and sleet. Yet the town itself was untouched by the storm; instead, the sky directly above began to redden and swirl, the sun itself bending and twisting until it resembled a burning, crimson cyclone... a portal to a world no mortal was ever meant to see.
"Clip!" Rainbow Dash called to me from above, struggling to hover in place while gale winds began to whip around her. "What the hay is going on?!"
"I'm sorry!" I shouted back, one tentacle stuck tightly to my wonderful hat to keep it from being blown away. I stood on a small hill near Fluttershy's lair, just short of the torrential downpour.
"What? Sorry for what?!" she demanded, narrowly avoiding a loose branch as it was sucked into the vortex.
"This is my fault!" I said. "It's here for me!"
Dash gave me a somewhat confused, somewhat accusatory look and was gone. It was only minutes before she returned, this time with Twilight and the others in tow. Each of them were wearing a golden necklace encrusted with a colored gem matching their cutie marks, save for Twilight Sparkle, who instead wore a crown. They looked tense and nervous.
"What's going on?!" Twilight asked me, shouting to be heard over the rising wind.
"It's my fault," I said again. "I knew this would happen eventually. I knew that I couldn't escape forever... "
The girls gave eachother worried looks. Fluttershy placed a hoof on one of my pseudopods, bravely ignoring the slime that enveloped it. "We won't let them hurt you, Clip," she told me firmly.
"Darn right, we won't," Twilight agreed.
"Yeah, sure," said Applejack. She, too, was trying to keep her hat from flying off. "But, uh... might help if we knew what was comin'."
Before I could answer, the sky split apart in an overwhelming cacophony of sound.
Several of my throats gulped. "It's too late. Please, just stay back. I don't want you to be hurt."
"As if!" Rarity snarled, stamping a hoof. "I don't care what horrible, writhing monster comes out of the sky—no offense, dear—we are not going to let it take our friend!"
"You don't understand, it's... "
The sky shattered again.
When reality reformed, Twilight looked at me, her eyes wide. "Wait, Clip... was that your name?"
"My full name, yes," I admitted.
And then a seething mass of boiling entropy descended from the sky, a host of screaming horrors beyond the ken of mortals flocking in its wake. It rode upon a chariot made of the twisted souls of the primordial dead, and its eyes blazed with light of a color no sane mind could describe.
What's worse, it was using its Mom Voice.
"Q'LPPOTH'NRGL'ANG'TI'LAS!" she shouted, blowing the ponies' manes back with her sheer volume. "I have been looking all over for you! Do you have any idea how many dimensions I've had to rip asunder trying to find you?!"
I shuddered. "Sorry, Mom."
"Don't you 'sorry, Mom' me! I've been worried sick! What if some being of pure reason had calculated your nonexistence?! Do you have any idea how dangerous the multiverse is nowadays?!"
"And you didn't even leave a note!" she continued, a mountain range melting into slush and then reassembling itself in punctuation of her rage. "I thought you'd been absorbed into the primal nether or something! But then I get a call from Uncle Nyogtha, and he tells me, no, you slunk your way up here to play with the mortals! Do you have any idea how much trouble you could get into for this?!"
"I know," I protested, "but these mortals are really nice, and they... "
She froze. "What are you wearing?"
I blinked. "What?"
"What are you... are you wearing clothes?! And makeup?!"
"By the infinite suffering of all the doomed souls in every dimension of reality, if any of our neighbors heard about this... "
"I like it. I feel beautiful."
She stared at me.
"He does look rather dashing," Rarity added.
Mom wheeled on her. "Are you the one who gave him those?!"
"Yes," she said defiantly. "Because he's my friend."
"And mine!" added Fluttershy.
"And mine!" said Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie.
Rainbow Dash and Applejack looked at eachother, shrugged, and said, "Yeah!"
Mom turned back to me. "You... made friends... with mortals?"
"Yeah," I said, kind of embarrassed. I rubbed a few tentacles over the back of my form. "They're nice."
"Oh, honey... " Mom sighed and shook her head. Suddenly, she looked more sad than angry. "You can't go making friends with mortals, honey."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Why not?" several of the girls asked at once.
"Because you're the harbinger of the apocalypse, sweetie," Mom said tenderly, stroking one of my pseudopods with a wave of antimatter. "Some day, the universe will end, and you'll have to wipe out all life in it. If you start making friends with mortals, it's going to make that job a lot harder."
"But," I asked quietly, "what if I don't want to purge reality of all traces of the creator's gift?"
"If you don't, somebody else will have to." Mom gestured vaguely towards the bleeding hole she had ripped into the fabric of reality. "And that somebody else might... might not be as kind, and sweet, and thoughtful as you are. Some of us... some of us are very jealous of mortals. They hate them. And if they were put in charge of wiping them out, they'd... they'd be very cruel about it."
She descended from her chariot and took a seat beside me. The ponies backed away a bit to give her room. "I know from experience, sweetie. I had your job last time."
I saw Twilight give the others a concerned look. "Last time?" she mouthed.
"But I was curious about the mortals, just like you, so I ran away so I could learn about them. And I made some very good friends. But trillions of years later, when it was time for me to wipe everything clean, I couldn't do it. I just kept thinking about my old friends. And so someone else stepped in, and... "
I bobbed several of my eyestalks. Mom didn't like to talk about the last cycle. The last time I'd asked, she'd just told me that it had "been bad," and made me promise to never be cruel when my turn came.
"You wouldn't want these mortals to suffer, would you?"
"No, Mom," I answered quietly.
"Then come home, son. Come on."
I sighed, nodded, and extended myself towards my mother's chariot. But I paused as I did, turning my eyes back to the small group of ponies who had become my friends.
"Thank you," I told them. "Thank you for being so kind to me. I'll never forget any of you."
"We won't forget you, either," Twilight Sparkle said, smiling despite the tears forming in her eyes. "Goodbye, Clip."
"Bye," Fluttershy echoed. Pinkie Pie started to say something, but the words caught in her throat. Rarity produced a handkerchief and began daintily dabbing at the corners of her eyes. Pinkie grabbed the cloth and blew her nose loudly into it.
"Wait," Rainbow Dash said after a moment, "is he still gonna destroy the world?"
I hugged my mom, she started the chariot forward, and I left Equestria behind.