• Published 15th Aug 2015
  • 3,086 Views, 145 Comments

What is Left - OnionPie

Five years of cheap thrills in the big city has left Sweetie Belle in bad debt with dangerous ponies. Forced to pay up, she returns to Ponyville to seek money from an estranged sister she loathes with a passion.

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7. Shadow

“Rarity!” I stumbled down the steps, felt the thin rain on my face. “Rari—” I coughed as I reached her. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Her dress was spotted with black soot, but she didn’t look injured.

I cringed. “Before you start shouting, let me explain.”

Her eyes were turned above me, back at the fire, her lips sealed.

“It wasn’t…” I lowered my eyes. Trails of sooty rainwater ran down my coat. “I didn’t mean...”

Rarity looked numb, staring at the rising smoke behind me like it held some kind of answer.

“You could have told me it was a funeral,” I said, frustration drowning my guilt. “How was I supposed to know? None of this would have happened if you’d just—”

Wood creaked and crashed behind me. Bright light flared across the square and surrounding buildings. I turned to see a hail of sparks rising through the smoke.

I looked away from the searing light and closed my eyes, gritting my teeth against the pounding headache.

When I opened my eyes a moment later, the glow was gone and Rarity was walking away, the crowd parting before her.

I looked back at the burning building and cringed. “Oh, fuck…” I pushed into the crowd after her. “Rarity, wait!”

The town square was empty behind the crowd, the clock tower standing tall and lonely in all that open space. I caught a glimpse of Rarity exiting the square and hurried after her.

I caught up with her on a narrow road flanked by stone buildings. “Rarity, just...” I followed close behind her. “I didn’t mean to ruin your party, okay? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You were so… I just wanted to cheer you up, you know?”

A few ponies hurried past us in the opposite direction, no doubt on their way to see my latest screwup.

“It’s not so bad,” I said. “I can help you fix this. I…”

Rarity stopped on the empty road, eyes away from me. She looked like she had something to say but couldn’t.

“I’m still here,” I said, struggling to keep my voice from cracking. “I’m back now. I can make things better. I’m still—”

“I don’t want you,” she hissed, looking me in the eye. “I want Sweetie Belle. I want mom and dad and my sister.” She held my eyes a moment longer, then turned away. “You can’t put it back together. No one can. My family died a long time ago.”

My heart sank. My lips trembled. The fire bells fell silent behind me.

Rarity continued down the road.

“But…” My voice was so low I could barely hear it. “I’m better now. I can still...”

Rarity disappeared around a corner.

My chest tightened, and rage rushed in to fill the emptiness inside me. “Fucking go, then!” I screamed. “I don’t need you! I didn’t even want to come back!”

But she was long gone, and no one was listening.

I spun and stormed away from Rarity, away from the fire, away from everything.

The burning roof of the building spat and cracked and grasped at the clouds. Specks of ash snowed from the dark sky. More ponies passed me in the opposite direction, toward the building, no one giving me as much as a glance.

I’d be sleeping in the streets again while Rarity enjoyed a warm bed under a good roof. Fuck her. I was glad to be rid of this place. What did I care what she thought?

I walked slower. My throat and eyes stung. I breathed faster, my mind racing with thoughts of mom and dad and my sister. I stopped, supporting myself against a brick wall. Despite what I told myself, my heart hurt more than it ever had.

I screamed and kicked a trash can spinning down the road. I lost my balance, staggered sideways, and fell to the ground in the mouth of an alley. I breathed into the dirty cobblestone. The strength to rise had long since fled me. I crawled into the shadow of the alley and propped myself against a stone wall.

I covered my stinging eyes with my ankle and let out a long, miserable exhale. Quiet sobs rocked my body. Tears tickled my cheek. Half a lifetime of bottled-up misery and grief boiled to the surface. I was too broken to fight it anymore, too tired to fill the void with rage. So I sat there, alone in the cold alley, and cried.

I lowered my leg from my eyes and took a deep, trembling breath. The sky glowed orange. Rarity would have been able to see the fire all the way from her house. If she hadn’t succumbed to the temptation of killing herself already.

My guts went cold at the thought. I reached into my dress and pulled out the gem I’d taken from Chuck-Chuck. It glittered white. Dust. Sweet, pain-erasing dust.

I looked away from it, grimacing. I couldn’t go back to it now. It had brought me nothing but misery and heartache. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t let it control my life anymore. But I had broken promises before.

I ground the gem’s surface with my magic. It cracked and eroded, and the familiar white powder trickled from the gem into my hoof, twinkling softly in the streetlight.

My mouth watered. It would melt away the world and take me to the moonlit lake for a few blissful hours. My body screamed at me to ignite it, to breathe in the magical smoke. It was what I needed, and for the past years of my life it was all I wanted. But now, in the shadow of that alleyway, the sight of it made my stomach twist in revulsion.

I threw the dust away, scattering it in a burst of glittering white, and pressed the back of my head against the wall, feeling sick.

The sound of hooves rushing past startled me. I looked around the corner of the alley. It was just more ponies going to see the fire. But there was something else, too; a small crowd had gathered around something farther down the street. Odd for anyone to be drawn to something other than the fire.

Glad for the distraction, I wiped my eyes and struggled up on my hooves, my legs trembling as I stepped out into the brightly lit street.

The some dozen ponies stood in a half-circle around a dead lamp post. Most were silent, a few whispering and muttering. I moved around the crowd to see.

Three bodies lay on the ground outside a flower store, dead eyes staring up at the orange sky, their blue uniforms specked with falling ash—the guards I’d had arrest Chuck-Chuck. One of them had his throat cut open, blood pooling under his head. The other two’s faces had turned dark, foam coating their mouths and trailing down their cheeks.

I looked away, bile burning in my throat.

The two living guardsponies made no effort to keep the onlookers away. One of them wiped a trail of vomit from his mouth and looked like he was going to be sick again. The other stood dumbfounded, staring at the corpses like the rest of them.

I swallowed. At least the bastard was dead now, no matter how dangerous he’d been an hour ago. I was safe, at least until my magical contract led the next lunatic debt collector right to me.

I broke away from the crowd. I had time to put distance between myself and the city, but not much.

A horrible stench made me gag. It smelled like something between burned trash and rotten food. I paused; the falling ashes had no scent, and the wind was not blowing from the direction of the fire.

A hooded stallion stood alone at the edge of the crowd, looking at the corpses through gaps between the onlookers. He wore what looked like a blanket wrapped around his body, a heavy hood hiding his face.

The stallion slowly reared his head, and what I saw in the shadow of his hood sent horror down my spine. His face was a scorched ruin, burned flesh clinging to blackened bone. He looked more a nightmarish husk than a pony, but his white eyes were enough to recognize.

Chuck-Chuck rushed out from behind the crowd, swinging his leg at me. He caught me by my throat and tugged me so hard my neck nearly snapped. I opened my mouth to scream, but he slammed hoof in my stomach and the wind went out of me.

He pulled me away from the crowd before anyone had a chance to turn their heads, dragging me kicking into the dark alleyway. Shadow swallowed us and the streetlight faded far behind. My hooves scraped on moist stone. The black and orange sky moved in the gap between brick buildings above.

He stopped and threw me against a wall. Before I even had time to whimper, he pressed his ankle into my throat and hoisted me up, choking me.

“You...” he rasped, strangling me harder. “Never… learn... do you?”

I stared wide-eyed into his molten face—no longer pony, no longer living, no longer anything that belonged in this world, yet there he was, wheezing into my face, his white eyes glaring into mine.

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t whimper or beg or even breathe.

He leaned in closer. “I am your shadow. I will follow you to your grave.” The remnants of his face twisted and cracked. “Why do you fight?” He loosened his hold on my throat. “Why do you struggle so hard against something you can’t escape?”

I drew in breath, closed my eyes, and shrank back as far as his grasp would allow. “Just do it,” I whimpered. “Just be done with it.”

“Done?” he asked. “No, not done.” He released me, and I sank down the to the ground with my back against the wall, coughing. “You still have a debt to pay.”

I looked up at him in shock. “The money? You still want the money?” My voice cracked. “Don’t you get it? I can’t. I’m done. I—”

He hit me. “You’re done when I say you’re done.” He hit me again. “I always, always collect.”

I curled up against the wall, tasting blood in my mouth.

“You don’t get to die.” His cracked lips curled into a sick smile. “Not yet.” He pulled me up, dragged me deeper into the alley until we reached an opening, and threw me out on a dirt road. “You have until midnight. Then, I collect.”

I scrambled away, but when I looked back, the mouth of the alley was empty, and Chuck-Chuck was gone.

The clock tower boomed out across the town as I stood there staring at the alley, my bones vibrating with each deafening clang. The bell rang nine, ten, eleven times, and the world fell silent again.

I looked up the hill toward Rarity’s house. I could see it in the distance, no lights in the windows.

I took a trembling step, then another, and another. My body ached and my heart raced, but despite pain and exhaustion, I walked on. I couldn’t die, not now, not yet. But if I had to, I would make things right first.