• Published 11th Nov 2013
  • 15,989 Views, 1,280 Comments

Gladiator - Not_A_Hat

Human in Equestria? Check. Trying to find his way home? Check. Surrounded by clueless candy-colored equines? Check. Magically soul-bonded to Twilight Sparkle using dread necromantic magic and an evil artifact? Check.

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3 - Relapse

"So then, we went WOOOOSH! up the ramp, and came back down, SPLAT! in this big mud puddle!" Apple Bloom gestured furiously, tracing out the motions she and her friends had followed on their skateboards. "Mah sister wasn't very happy about that." I laughed softly and nodded.

"I bet she wasn't." The young filly and I were sitting on the grass outside of Zecora's hut. It had been a few days and my cuts and scratches were mostly healed. I was starting to feel a little restless about staying here and was considering visiting town.

"Hey, Apple Bloom." I asked, turning to the cheerful youngster.


"You didn't seem too scared or even surprised to see me, even though I'm about as far from a pony as possible. Why is that?"

"Oh, you ain't nothing at all. We get plenty of non-pony people through Ponyville. We even have a dragon living there, and no-one looks at him twice! Sure, you're a little strange, but you don't hurt nobody."

"So...if I went into town, you don't think it would cause problems? Would anyone care?"

"Nah, it'd be fine! Are you going to go? Ah could introduce you to my friends! Can we go now?" She bounced up and grabbed my sleeve with her teeth, tugging me towards town. I stumbled up and took a few steps towards her, at which point she promptly fell flat on her haunches.

"Now, just hold on a minute." I said, as I freed my sleeve from her grip. "I don't know if-"

"Oh, please! Please come! Mah friends are lots of fun, and the ponies in Ponyville are friendly, and Ah'll even buy you a cupcake!" She looked up at me, and widened her eyes, sticking out her lower lip just a bit.

"You are just too. Dang. Cute." I said, caving in to adorable overload. Talking with Apple Bloom had improved my Equestrian significantly, although at first it had taken a bit of work for me to understand her accent. "Fine, fine. I do want to go. And a cupcake sounds like it would be great. But, Apple Bloom, I don't know if I can deal with crowds well, so let's try and stick to quiet places, OK?"

"OK, Mister Wes! Come on, let's go!" She set off down the path, bounding ahead quickly.

"Wait wait, slow down! I can't run as fast as you can!"

Laughing a little, I chased her down the path to Ponyville.

"And this is the Golden Oaks Library! Twilight Sparkle lives here with Spike! She's best friends with mah sister; she's really smart, and knows all sorts of things. Do you want to meet her?” Apple Bloom gave me a questioning look. We’d been all over town, and I’d seen most of the landmarks. I felt like heading back and taking a nap, but I couldn’t say that. My mouth was full of cupcake. I swallowed, but not fast enough. She pushed the door open and darted through. l cautiously followed, ducking through the door and following her to the middle of the room.

The interior of the library was oddly similar to Zecora's hut. Again, a house made in a tree. Again, packed with shelves. This time however, the shelves were filled to the brim with books instead of being stuffed with reagents. I scanned the spines, eyes sliding across the unfamiliar script.

"Twilight? Twilight, are you here? I have someone who wants to meet you!" Apple Bloom yelled.

"Apple Bloom? I'll be down in a minute!" A female voice yelled from the other room. There was a muted pop behind me. "What is-CHANGELING!" I heard the yell and spun, trying to orient myself on the new threat, just as I was picked up in a magic aura. My combat instincts kicked into high gear, and the room turned into a war zone.

Rule four of fighting magic; any grapples go by center-of-mass.

I kicked off the floor, spinning myself in the magic aura and reached for one of the bookcases. At full extension, I hooked my fingers under the lip of a shelf and hauled. My attacker, a purple unicorn, obviously hadn't expected any sort of resistance. Her eyes popped wide as I managed to heave myself several inches before her telekinetic grip firmed up. It wasn't much, but it was enough for me to seize the heaviest book I could see.

Rule two of fighting magic; any active spells can be canceled at their source.

I winged the book at the unicorn, and the hard binding smacked into her head with a satisfying thump. The aura around me winked out for a second, long enough for me to get my feet under me, draw my dagger, and leap towards my attacker.

Rule three of fighting magic; mana burn stings like crazy.

She shook her head, obviously woozy from the magic backlash, and I almost had her. I would have been on her like a ton of bricks a split second later, but a small tan and red figure jumped in my way. I swerved, trying to avoid Apple Bloom, and that gave my opponent time to recover.

Rule number one of fighting magic; if you don't deal with competent spellcasters quickly, you’re in for a world of hurt.

This time, the magic that wrapped me was some sort of binding spell. I could feel the hard strands wrap around my limbs, tightening until I could barely move a muscle. Scenarios and plans cascaded through my head as I tried to think of some way, any way, out of this predicament. I calmed a bit when I heard Apple Bloom crying.

"-don't fight! Wes, Ah'm sorry, Ah didn't think-" Calmer now, I did what little I could; I focused all of my remaining strength into my legs and kicked as hard as possible, hoping to break free.

"OW!" The unicorn holding me winced, but didn't relent. "Apple Bloom, I can sense changeling magic all over him! You've been tricked!" Her horn began to glow brighter, the magic aura from two spells re-enforcing to form a brilliant glow. "Now, deceiver, let's see your true form!" A beam of bright magenta magic lashed out from her horn, striking me right in the chest.

Right where my gem was.

I blacked out to the sound of a dull crunch.

I swam in and out of consciousness. I heard snatches of panicked yelling, some hysterical sobbing and a few attempts to remain calm. None of them really made it through my own haze of confusion and pain, until I felt the soft familiarity of Zecora's bed.

"What do I do? What do I do?" That was the unicorn who had attacked me. What had Apple Bloom called her? Twilight?

"Is...is he going to be OK?" That voice, on the edge of tears, was Apple Bloom. I tried to move, to reassure her that I'd had worse, even if it was a lie. But the blackness around me was impenetrable and my limbs wouldn't respond. I guess I was hurt bad. The helplessness fed my terror, and I heard a crunch and a fizzle.

"He is getting worse. I fear at this rate, there is not much I can do." That was the calm voice of my zebra friend, Zecora.

"He can't die! He just can't!" Apple Bloom cried. "Ah haven't even taken him to see the farm! He never got the chance to meet Sweetie and Scoots! Twilight, I hate you! You KILLED my FRIEND!" There was a shocked gasp, a stampede of tiny hooves and a rattling slam as the door was bucked closed hard enough to rattle the shelves.

"I..." There was a choking sound and quiet sobs started. "I killed him? Dear Celestia, what have I done?"

"You must take the blame, this much is true. But his chance of salvation lies also with you. He is not dead yet, merely headed there fast. You have shattered his heart; it was made out of glass. It was strong, evil magic, that much is right, but for magical problems, trust your mind over might." The zebra paused for a minute, and dropped the rhyme. "There is hope yet, Twilight Sparkle. It will not be simple or easy, but you may yet be able to save his life and make amends. I am no stranger to dark magic, and I think I can help you..."

Dreamless sleep is something I don't often have the luxury of. Waking this time however, I didn't feel so much like I'd been asleep, but as though I'd been drowning in oblivion and just now happened to surface. I tried to stretch, but groaned in pain. My whole body hurt. Not the sore ache of tired muscles, or even the sting of cuts or burns, but a bone-deep pain, like a sore tooth, throbbing over my entire body. It HURT. More than anything...oh wait, except for when those bugs... more than ALMOST anything I'd ever felt. On a scale from 'one' to 'excruciating', it ranked an 'OW OW OW OW'.

I managed to pry my eyes open. I was back in Zecora's hut. A warm weight was draped over my legs. I turned to look; it was Apple Bloom. As I moved, her eyes snapped open and she bounced up.

"Wes! You're awake! You're ALIVE!" She hugged me, squealed, and broke into tears. "Ah was so worried! Twilight shot you and then there was this horrible noise and flames started to shoot everywhere and... and...Waaaaah!"

I nodded, and petted her for a bit while she calmed down. Once she'd stopped crying, a guilty look snuck onto her face and she leaped off the bed.

"Ah'm sorry, Zecora said not to bother you, but Ah just..." She looked down, ashamed, and kicked the floor. "Sorry. It's good to see you're OK. Ah need to go find Zecora."

I nodded, but held out a hand. "Water." I croaked, surprised my voice worked. She eagerly fetched me a drink before leaving the hut and closing the door gently behind her. Thirst quenched, I sank back into oblivion.

When I surfaced again, it was night. The fire crackled merrily and cheerful light flickered on the walls. I sat up slowly, once again groaning at the pain. It felt like my body had been ripped apart. Few people know what that feels like, but I could make the comparison firsthand.

Zecora was at my side in an instant, supporting my back and holding a cup to my lips.

"This will help with the pain," she said. I drank it slowly. It tasted worse than fermented feet, but I would proclaim it ambrosia if it alleviated my aches.

"What happened?" I croaked.

"Later." She said. "We will explain later. For now, sleep." I sighed in bliss as the potion burned through my body, consuming the pain and leaving behind cool relief. Suddenly exhausted, I closed my eyes.

Blood. Pain. Fire. Screams.

I opened my eyes. It was day and I was feeling much less awful. I lay in bed, enjoying the feeling of being relaxed. As I did, my mind wandered back to the dream I'd had. It had been particularly bad this time. Something had dredged up my memory of the night I was fitted with my gem. It had happened soon after I'd ended up in this world.

I had been captured and dragged to the Hive, where they had 'tested' me and deemed me fit to be a gladiator, the prized food source of the changelings. It wasn't until later that I really understood what had been happening; at the time, all I knew was that I'd gone camping in the woods and ended up being tortured by pony-sized bugs.

This dream though, was of one very specific night. Not long after I'd been 'approved', the changelings had retrieved me from my cell. They dragged me through the tunnels, ignoring my weeping and manacled me to the wall in the Nexus, a giant crystal cave. Afterwards they brought in another one of the prisoners, who I later realized had failed the examination.

They killed him in front of me.

Blood. There wasn't much. Just some ritual runes and things. Pain. My wrists and ankles had hurt, from manacles and struggling. Fire. The chamber and the crystals of the Nexus had been lit by dancing flames. Screams. Soon, my anguish faded into the uncaring void.

The whole ritual had been marked by austerity. In some ways, it was the least of my memories. Seen objectively, many worse things happened to me. There was a reason that I had nightmares about it, though, and they all centered around the gem in my chest. Moving with care, a changeling had arranged us in the patterns, and cast the ritual that bound me to the cursed crystal...at the cost of anothers life. Over the course of several hours, the life of the pony across from me was leached out and the flickering of the gem attached to my chest grew. When I saw the yellow energy seeping out of his body and into the pattern, and I noticed his breathing was becoming labored, I started to realize what was going on. I fought my bonds the whole time, but when he breathed his last, I screamed and thrashed until I broke an arm.

That was the first night of my nightmare. I knew, on an intellectual level, that I hadn't killed him. I hadn't been party to the evil magic that turned his life force into a tool for cruel amusement. But the weight always hung on me, like a millstone around my neck. Every time I was healed, his face flashed in front of my eyes. Nameless. I couldn't even discern the color of his coat, much less his cutie mark.

Even though I might not have cast the spell, my skin had always crawled at the touch of the stone's magic. A pony had died for this. A sentient being, killed for the convenience of my captors, so they could enjoy making a blood sport out of me. I abhorred the gem.

"Wes?" I prized my eyes open, to find Zecora standing above me. "Wes, Twilight wants to talk to you, to explain what happened. I know she attacked you, but she wants to apologize. If I let her in here, will you listen? You don't have to do any more than that, but I want your promise not to hurt her. She made a mistake, and wants to atone for it. Just listen. Please?"

I nodded my acceptance, and the zebra left. A second later, the door squeaked again and Twilight entered. Her steps were hesitant and her ears were laid flat against her head. I turned so I could see her and she winced as my gaze landed on her.

"Um...first, I want to say I'm so, so, sorry." She sighed. "I could claim ignorance. I thought you were a changeling and I tried to dispel the disguise. But...well, I was wrong. That's all there is to it. I should have listened to Apple Bloom and given you a chance to speak. The bolt cracked your crystal heart. You nearly died.” Her voice broke and she paused for a few seconds, before continuing hoarsely. "I nearly killed you. Because of a mistake." She sniffled and wiped her nose with a hoof. "You convulsed and flames started shooting out of your chest. I was shocked and nearly dropped you. Apple Bloom finally got through to me and we came to Zecora for help. She explained a little of what you told her. About the changelings. And the fights. She worked as fast and hard as she could, but you were fading quickly. You were going to die."

She raised her head a little. "You almost did die. The crystal heart is linked to your soul. Every time it healed you, it burned a little more of your life energy away. When I broke the heart, I shattered your soul along with it." She paused again, obviously disturbed. "I couldn't let you die. I couldn't! I..." She stopped, obviously struggling to continue, although it seemed she had rehearsed this speech. "I-I rebuilt the gem and bound part of my soul in it to save your life. It's all I could do! I don't know if you can ever forgive me, but I hope I can make it up to you. You will heal, slowly. I hope until then, you will let me help you." Her voice faded out, and she stared at me. A tear rolled down her cheek, a mixture of hope, fear, and self-loathing fighting in her eyes.

I lifted my shirt and carefully pulled on the bandages, trying to reveal the crystal. When I saw it, I froze in shock. Instead of glowing the familiar yellow I knew, it was filled with a gentle lilac fire. My breathing accelerated as I flashed back to...blood. Pain. Fire. Screams. I rubbed my wrists, as the manacles seemed to clamp down on them, and curled up in a ball on the bed, trying to exorcise the memories.

They refused to leave me alone. Once again I felt the obscene pressure draining the life of that poor unfortunate, hanging it on my shoulders. Half of my hate for this gem had been where it came from. And now, I was responsible for it happening again.

I barely heard the slow retreating hoofsteps as Twilight left.

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