• Published 19th Dec 2016
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Bane - Scarheart

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A Journey's End

Edited by Chapter 13, TuxOKC and Malozi.

What have you done? Why can my magic not set things as they should be? Why did you take her from me? She was my first true friend! You… you took her from me. You took everything away from me! I cannot handle this. I will not handle this! You! You will handle this. I am done. Done, you hear! This world will no longer be blessed with my presence! I’ll give you my immortality. A parting gift for a mortal mind to experience. The madness will come in time. You’ll see. You’ll see! Watch the world pass by every moment becoming duller and duller, alone on this forsaken rock.

You took her. You took all of them. Fluttershy. My precious Fluttershy. She showed you kindness. She led the way for the others to accept you. They put up with your everything, your fears, your despair, your sorrow, your losses. Everything! This is how you repay them? This is how you treat those who took the effort to learn everything about you so they could befriend you? This is how you repay the benevolence of Celestia?

You killed them all. You have done the one thing all of Equestria’s enemies in the past failed to do, and it was unintentional! Such a tragic end to a story that was supposed to have a happy ending. Equestria was the place of happy endings! My happy ending started here! Fluttershy gave me that happy ending I never knew I needed. She was my friend.

You took my friend.

My immortality. It is yours. Have it. Know the curse of the ever living, the never dying. Learn what it means to find things dull. Every time you see one of them, my dear little meddlesome murderer, you will hear their voices. They will be all around you.

Take this time to put them to rest. The voices will only stop when all of those souls you ruined are given a proper rest. Only then, only then will you know silence. But the fun won’t end there. Oh, no! Once you have that silence, then the road to madness truly begins!

This is my gift to you. This is yours to have, from now on until eternity.

Enjoy.


I wander.

The road was dusty as I placed one bare foot in front of the other. Before me, as the road went on, lay the outlines of a town. It was another one, no different from all the others I had been through. There was only one reason I would visit. My clothes were tatters, kept together by my own efforts in maintaining some decorum of modesty. A beard had grown over time. It was a matted mess and filthy. I was filthy. I didn’t care. The sun, always watching me, pounded my head. These days, it doesn’t quite feel as angry and sad as it used to be. The rays of the sun have always been heavy, ever since…

There is a reason why I wander.

In my travels, I had seen few sapient beings at first. There were gaps in my memory. Feral recollections of hazed madness. There have been a few such bouts, followed by lucid clarity. I haven’t seen a sapient being in… how long has it been? Now, there are just wild animals. The silence I have always encountered, always the stark reminder. How many years had it been? How long did I put myself through this? Did it even matter anymore?

Before I wandered, before the Event which brought me here, I had been happy. I had a life, a good life. A good job. A loving family. I had children. A wife, a beautiful, wonderful wife who was exactly the sort of woman I needed to keep me even keeled. I remember we were planning on going on a family cruise to the Bahamas, that once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation earned by scraping and saving, all before my oldest boy was going off to college. My wife and I had wanted one last family hurrah before time and maturity took our children from our nest. Then, through circumstances I never understood, everything most precious to me was lost. The world I knew was gone, my friends and family, my life torn from me. The grief I had, the confusion, the wanting to know why this had happened to me…

It nearly drove me to madness. Or maybe it was just the start of everything. I don’t know. So much is a blur to me now. The years… the years! How many? Why can’t I remember? Have I forgotten? Did I forget on purpose? I don’t want to remember. The loneliness, it is a silent stalker, always there with me.

The aliens of this world, with their strange language and blinding palette of colors adorning their coats and manes, seemed equine. They snorted, whinnied, neighed, and behaved like horses. Tiny, miniscule little horses, like the miniature horses I had seen at the State Fair. They were very intelligent and, to my shock, sapient. So many behaviors reminded me of humans, my own kind. There were three kinds; earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns. The shock to my system as I came to terms with the revelation that they were quite real, and not figments of my imagination on maximum overdrive, took a long time for me to understand. They were colorful, so very colorful!

Some of them, I remember. Fluttershy, I remember! She was so kind to me. Her constant companion, the mismatching monster called Discord, he was my end and my new beginning, that son of a bitch. All of this is his fault.

I wander because he gave me two gifts.

But, there were those in this world who, over a relatively short amount of time, reached out to me. They kept me from spiraling into madness. There was no way back, but they promised to do everything they could to help me find peace with myself. New friendships were founded. The town I decided to call home was where I started my new life.

I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t think about it. They’re all gone, but every time I go near a town, I can hear their voices. I always hear them. I can’t stand the silence of a world with no one to talk to. The voices speak, but never to me. They are moments in time, caught in the magic left over from a mad god, forever tormenting my mind until I can put them to rest. Maybe I hope to find something alive, something still holding civilization together.

My hopes have dimmed until there is now nothing but emptiness in my heart. My soul feels hollow and I often ignore my own needs. There is not much of a reason to pay them any attention, not when there is work to be done. I must do something, have done something, yet it will never be enough. Faint recollections in my dreams, no, nightmares have a lady’s voice trying to tell me… what are they trying to tell me? I can never remember them. Sleep is difficult. The dreams. Always the dreams. I remember golden days. They always end with darkness and the sound of my own screaming. The waking world greets me with silence.

The cycle never ends. I have grown to despair the chances of it breaking.

The sun just feels less oppressive today. Last night, the moon didn’t seem so cold. Cold, cold anger, always glaring down at me every night. I could feel her, just as I could always seem to feel her sister. It’s crazy to think the sun and the moon watch me and only me. Over time, it became normal to me and I lived in fear because of that. A few times they sought me out and each time I ran from them in terror. It’s been a long time since their last attempt. How long, I have no idea. My legs have carried me, allowing me to wander on.

I wander to stay away from them.

You can’t hide from the Goddesses.

They are always watching.

Always.

Watching.

Sometimes thinking about it fills me with rage. Other times, fear. In between is the guilt. It is always there, lurking in my heart, my mind.

Before I know it, I’m in the outskirts of that same town I had spotted earlier. A glance up at the sun told me it had been a few hours. The Badlands lay beyond. My steps faltered for a moment and I took a deep breath. Fumbling for the water I carried, I unstoppered my canteen and drank sparing sips. I was thirsty. I was always thirsty. Hunger clawed at my stomach. I had been doing this for so long, I was immune to the feelings I once had when I had first started doing this. I used to cry.

Now, I just feel empty. No, not empty. More like driven by a sense of duty that has left me empty of anything else. I’ve learned to accept this life and I hate it. What else can I do? There is nothing else for me but this duty, this singular task I have given myself to fulfill.

No, that’s not right.

The sign on the side of the road has long since rotted away, be it from the ants or the elements. What is left of it has fallen and it crumbled at the touch. It doesn’t take long to spot the first skeletons. Bleached white from years in the sun. So many were still in the streets. The herd mentality could still be seen. Families had stayed together, as well as close friends. Even in the end, they could not be without each other. No warning, no matter how grave, could have parted herds. Ponies were never solitary creatures to begin with. They needed each other. Their society and instincts demanded it. Something stirred in my heart. The sorrow had never left. My remorse filled my soul. It was going to take a month for me to put them all to rest, judging from the size of the town.

All of Equestria was like this.

I cherish life. At one time, I did. I think I still do. It was a simple thing, unthought of and ignored until it was too late. As they healed my mind, so many years ago, my own biology betrayed me, betrayed them. I sometimes, no oftentimes think none of this would have happened if they had isolated me right off the bat. It had taken time for what was in me to incubate and eventually infect them. The disease took time to fester, grow, and as if overnight, exploding like an unstoppable tsunami. The panic following was one massive tragedy playing out on the world stage. I don’t remember. I don’t remember a lot of things these days. The faces, yes. Names escape me, save for a few. I don’t even know how long it’s been since the beginning of the end. After the end came the outbreak, which had struck without warning. Six months after that, Equestria was dead.

But… I’m getting ahead of myself. Recollecting the past often brings up painful memories; names and faces that had become near and dear to me, never replacing what I had lost, but doing their best to fill the void of what I was missing. New friends to comfort me, to accept me and to help me find myself without losing myself. These sorts of friends were the ones who could keep you from falling even in the worst of times. I was in the worst of times and these ponies, having barely known me, took me in and treated me as an equal. Their empathy I at first rejected, as I had to accept the reality now before me. The ponies were gentle when they needed to be gentle and abrupt when the situation called for it. Through trial and error, they learned how to deal with me. In that time, I slowly, much too slowly, I think, came to live among them.

It took several months for me to recover and come to terms with my life as it now was. I wound up with a traveling showmare, thinking it would be a great way to figure out where I belonged in this new world. She was going to…

Her name... What was her name?

I shook my head from meandering thoughts. Thinking often led to dark places. Sad places I did not want to dwell on. What did I do to deserve this? What cosmic being did I upset so much as to warrant me losing not one world, but two? I considered drinking more water, giving myself a moment under the shade of an overgrown elm tree. The leaves were thick and full. Above, a squirrel scolded me. Further up in the tree, a bird sang. It was life, this was still a living land. There just were no more stewards to care for it.

My hands tingled in anticipation of the grim task at hand. I had no idea how long it would take me to find all the ponies and give them each what I felt was a proper burial. In a corner of my mind, a voice told me I was finishing what I had done. After all, it was rude to not clean up after one’s self. I quelled the voice, snarling and cursing. A balled fist punched into the unyielding bark of the elm tree. Pain shot through my knuckles and wrist. Looking down, there was skin torn and already blood was welling through. An uncontrollable urge to weep struck. I bawled, drawing my legs up to my chest, burying my face into my knees.

When would this end? When would I know peace? Would I know peace? Did I deserve it?

Already I was hearing the voice of a child, a little girl. A filly. She was nearby, or what remained of her was. I could always find the bodies. The voices took me to them. Discord’s laughter lingered somewhere behind those voices. It always ended with a choking sob. It was an echo, always the same sound and it looped. His voice still gave me chills. It added weight to my guilt.

I gathered my wits, rubbing my eyes. Growling to myself, I chased my tears away.

Grim determination wormed its way into my mind and I set myself to work. The dead needed to be put to rest. There was nothing else that mattered. All of this time, there was still much to be done. It was my work, my purpose, my responsibility. The burden was mine to bear.

I followed the voice. No, they’re several voices. Numbness overcame me as I came around a ruined building. Previous experience told me this would be a family. A mother, a father, and a filly. They were pressed up against a crumbling wall, some of their bones buried under the rubble. After a moment of looking at what needed to be done, I prioritized the process as I had done so a thousand times before and more, and started by preparing their graves.

When had I noticed how the earth moved with ease beneath my hands? I… I don’t remember. Over time, as I made more and more graves, the ground became easier and easier to move with my hands and feet. I might have revelled at this in another time, another place. It was just a tool now and a useful one. Digging my fingers into the ground, I scooped deep furrows. I made sure each grave was at least waist deep to me and large enough to hold a skeleton. Then, I climbed out and began digging out the bones from the rubble of the ruined wall. I had to find as many bones as I could and did the best I could to separate the individual ponies from each other. Having done that, I placed them in their holes, respectful of the dead but strained for time. There were so many others to lay to their final rest. Each one would get the same treatment. This was all that was left for me.

This is why I wander.

I stood up and examined my handiwork. The family was buried, mother on the left, father on the right and the filly in the middle. She had been young. Really young. The pit in my stomach was still there. Tears ran down my cheeks. It never changed. I could never get used to this. Ridden with guilt, I moved on. There were others who needed to be put to their final rest.

Day shifted to night. Night passed and the dawn returned. This repeated over and over. I rested when my body gave out. Ponies were usually found clustered, their graves were as close to where I found them as was possible, given the ground. Streets became cemeteries. The more ponies were laid to rest, the more voices stopped reaching out to me from the past. This felt like good was being done and a little part of me felt sad relief. Empathy was a thing I still clung to. My humanity, my morality, my convictions; had they changed in all this time? How different a man was I from the one who had once sat with his wife, planning the final details of a dream vacation?

There was talk of having a fourth baby before we were too old to have any more children.

I was back at the tree I had first rested under days ago. It had become more or less my place of rest. The sun was setting and I was exhausted. The voices were less, but there were still ponies out there in this town. My work was not yet done. Every muscle ached and I could see I was missing fingernails. This always happened. My fingers were torn and bloodied. Just because I could dig up the ground with ease didn’t mean my body did not suffer from my work. Each finger throbbed as blood pumped through them. My stomach growled and my body protested from lack of food. My water was nearly gone. My body felt quite mortal. It was still flesh and blood, would always be so.

The bark of the tree against my back felt good. My feet were hurting. They were always hurting because of all the wandering. I was too tired to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep. The dreams were always bad, if I remembered them at all. I always wake up in cold sweats. Sometimes I’m screaming.

I felt a rush of air. My eyes shot open as I came to with a start. It wasn’t wind. Wings. Great white wings fanned out to my left. There are the sounds of hooves striking the ground. A voice accompanied the wings and the hooves. It’s a living voice. Not dead. Definitely not dead. It’s also the last thing I ever wanted to see.

Without looking at her, I sprang to my feet and began running away, gibbering in terror. Using a voice I rarely if ever used anymore, it was a scratchy, screeching sound; an animalistic howl of primal fear. I used my hands and fingers to claw at the ground and rubble as my legs pumped as fast as I could manage. I lept over fallen walls and through empty houses. I had to get away from her. I had to! She had to be angry with me! She had to be furious! But why now? Why did she come now, after all this time?

“Leave me alone!” I repeated those words over and over again when some semblance of sanity took hold of me. If she came, then there was a good chance her sister was not far behind. She must be as angry as Celestia. I was aware they might be herding me, but that voice of reason was so tiny and miniscule. For the moment, I was nothing more than a terrified animal afraid for its life.

Then, she was in front of me, her voice pleading, “John.” Her aura was oppressive, even as her ethereal mane of eternal morning rippled with matronly calm. It was like she was meeting a willful child and knew how to deal with him.

“No!” I screamed at her, skidding to a halt. Already I was turning my body, falling to my side and scrambling in the opposite direction. “Stay away from me!”

“I won’t hurt you,” she called, following me with slow, deliberate steps. She was folding her wings to her sides. “I don’t want to hurt you. You’ve been hurt enough. Please? I only want to talk to you. John, please stop running. I promise no harm will come to you. If I had wished, I could have found you long ago and stopped you.”

“I don’t believe you! Not after what I’ve done!” I fell, falling face first into the ground. Spitting up gravel and dirt, I was crawling on my hands and knees, away from her. I sobbed, driven by my fear of the White Goddess.

“John,” she called again, her voice soft and filled with understanding, “please. Stop running. You’ve done enough. I have been watching you. Please, I cannot bear to see you in pain. None of this was your fault.”

“That’s a lie!” I screamed, my fear turning to rage. I spun on my wrists and knees, facing her. “They’re all dead because of me! If I had never come here, you’d still have them! They’d still be alive and you’d still have them! It’s all my fault, Princess!” My emotions rolled over and more tears fell. “My fault!”

She paused, her magenta eyes filling with pity and her own tears. “What happened was unintentional. I have come to understand that now. I was angry with you, John, for the longest time. I was irrational, but I could not bring myself to find you. I held on to the part of my mind which allowed me to wait a thousand years for my sister to be restored to me. I counted on the wisdom of the ages I have accumulated to sort out the truth from the fiction. I have lived many, many lifetimes to understand the nature of beings. I will never claim to know everything, but I know enough about you to see the truth in the aftermath.” Celestia was not wearing her crown. She wore none of her regalia. How odd.

“No! Get away from me!” I was on my feet again, running away from Celestia. I didn’t care for what she had to say. What was done couldn’t be fixed. None of it could be fixed. I was a cursed man. I ignored her pleas. I just wanted to die, but death seemed impossible.

Do you know what it means to betray a whole world? Two worlds? Mine and this one. There was no way back to my own world. I was stuck on this one. Then, I betrayed the trust of its inhabitants. Celestia didn’t want to help me, not after she found out where this plague of death was coming from. I was certain of this. I killed all of her little ponies. How could she be so forgiving? I don’t deserve forgiveness. I’m a monster. I’m a monster that has tried to cover up his sins. So many sins… so many!

That’s why I ran away the first time. All around me, a world died, and I fled and hid.

I was running, weaving through fallen buildings and over rubble. I could hear the sounds of wings behind me. Celestia called out my name. I ignored her, terrified of her power and her anger. I was exhausted. My heart pounded in my chest and blood pounded in my ears. A glance over my shoulder at the princess made me miss a deep hole in the ground in front of me. With a cry I fell, pitching forward. My arms went ahead of my fall to brace. There was impact and a dull snap. Pain exploded in both my arms and I screamed. It was cut short when my face smacked into dirt and everything went black.


I can hear the rain falling. It combines with a voice, a beautiful voice.

Everything was a dull ache. My arms and my left shoulder were numb. I tried moving, but found it almost impossible to do. My nose picked up smells I was familiar with, but had not experienced in a long time. I could make out the smells of a home cooked meal. The scent became stronger. Where ever I was, the room was filled with spices and fresh baked bread.

“You are awake,” commented a familiar voice. I cracked my eyes open and groaned. “Don’t move. You broke both of your arms and dislocated your shoulder. The magic is mending the bones. I had to reset your shoulder. Some fingernails are missing. I had to wrap all of your fingers. There was little skin on them. You should be fine by morning. For now, rest. Supper will be ready in a moment.”

Blinking, I tried to locate the source of the voice. Above me was a circular roof. It was thatched and rafters criss-crossed neatly beneath it. A bright yellow and orange bird was perched on one of them and watching me with intelligent eyes. I flinched, unable to look into them. I found Celestia nearby, hovering over a stove with a wooden spoon in her magical grasp. What was this place? I rolled my head on my pillow, having just realized I was in a bed. It was a very fluffy pillow. The mattress was soft and felt clean. The blankets covering me weren’t too thick, nor too thin. Comfort was a thing alien to me. At a loss, I stared at Celestia’s backside as she hummed, stirring the pot. Her pink… pink? tail swished in tune with her song. It was the only view I had of her. Averting my eyes, I took sudden interest in the wall the bed was pushed up against.

“Why am I here?” I tried to ask. Instead, some croaking sounds fumbled out. I felt angry at being caught, angry at allowing her to have me in such a weakened state. I was at her mercy.

She paused from her cooking, pulling up her head and turning it so she could fix one of her magenta orbs on me. “Because this is where you need to be. The world is a lonely place these days. I think it would do the both of us good to share company.” Celestia returned her attentions to the pot, stirring and humming to herself.

Dull aches pulsated across every inch of my body. Grim, halting words fall from my throat, “I have to finish.”

“Finish?” she asked, turning more towards me, her wooden spoon paused, hovering over the pot. Her ears were perked forward. No crown adorned her head. Again, I thought this as odd and out of place. Also, her mane was no longer flowing on magical air. It was a rosey pink and spilled over her shoulders and neck in a cascade. The mare’s eyes wandered skyward slowly before locking back onto mine. “Ah. That has been taken care of. The last of my ponies are now at rest.” A sad sigh escaped her lips.

She resumed stirring supper.

“The last?” My throat was dry and it hurt to speak. A hollow emptiness began to form in my lurching heart.

Celestia tapped her spoon on the rim of her pot and set it aside. Her horn never stopped glowing as she turned fully to face me, her eyes flicking to my right. A cup floated into my field of vision and slid in front of my lips. Slight pressure went to the back of my neck and shoulders. I was eased up and forward, my eyes trying to read the immortal Goddess.

“Drink,” she said in a soft voice. “It’s only water.”

The cup was carved from wood. It was simple in design, something I thought would fit in the house of a poor peasant. Yet there was elegance in that cup, too. Like a petulant child, I resisted at first.

So thirsty!

“It’s been three days since I brought you here,” Celestia chided. “If I had wanted to do any sort of harm to you, I would have done it by now. I assure you, whatever ill feelings I might have had towards you have faded to almost nothing. Now, please drink before I begin to think I am conversing with a frog.”

I relented, if to avoid making Celestia angry. Deathly afraid of her and her unfathomable power, I drank from the cup, staring into the water as much as possible. I couldn’t look her in her eyes. Guilt pangs thumped with every beating of my heart. Celestia took another step or two closer to the side of the bed. I cringed from her, flinching from my drink. Her ears drooped, her expressive face giving me pain as her own lurched across her visage.

“I do not harm,” she whispered, taking a step back. “I have never harmed. I could not even bring myself to harm my sister when she became Nightmare Moon. Life is precious to me. All life, no matter the path those lives took.” Celestia looked as though she wanted to say more, but she instead just offered me the cup again.

My thirst took three cups of water. Celestia was silent, refilling it without prompting and offering, watching me with hawkish eyes.

“Rest and mend,” she said when I was done. Her magic set me back into the bed with a gentle touch. The covers were adjusted over me. The cup was set aside. “I must check on the broth. You are badly malnourished.” It took her a few steps and she was back at the stove and attending to whatever was in the pot. “I can’t give you as much as you like. Your stomach has to learn how to take in food. It will take a few weeks, but I’ll have you healthy soon enough.”

Fear. It gripped me in its icy talons. I was helpless and in the clutches of the one creature I probably had hurt more than anything else on this world. “What do you want from me?” I dared to ask. My voice shivered. My body was feeble, moreso my mind.

“An understanding between the two of us,” Celestia replied. There were shelves over her stove. Dishes were stacked there, nice and neat. She selected a small wooden bowl and fetched it with her magic. She spooned broth into it with deliberate and measured pours. “You ran. You hid. Do you know for how long you ran and hid?” A wooden tray appeared and she placed the bowl with steaming broth on it. A bit of bread and a tiny wedge of cheese joined it.

I shook my head after a moment of lost thought. “No.”

“Two hundred thirty-seven years, John.” She approached with food, taking small, mincing steps and watching me with care. “I am bringing you food. I am going to feed you, John. You need this. Please? Let me help you?”

I balked. “Two hundred—,” I stared at her in disbelief. “You’re lying! Humans don’t live that long!”

Celestia set the food on the table next to the bed, scooting aside the cup and pitcher of water. The mare shifted her body as she fit herself on the back corner of the bed. I moved my legs away from her, still trying to wrap my head around two hundred and thirty-seven years.

“You’ve dropped in and out of madness over the years,” she told me. “I think I know what might have happened. It took time and thought to puzzle the pieces of your immortality together. I had my suspicions and they proved over time to be true.” Once again, she lifted my upper body from the bed with her magic and held me there.

Food was levitated at me. Celestia curled a foreleg under her barrel as she was by now half leaning on the bed. She appeared comfortable, even though half of her hooves were still bracing her on the floor. “Let’s focus on one thing at a time. We can have this conversation in detail when you have regained some strength.” She blew on the bowl, sniffing with her nostrils as she did so. “It’s still a bit too hot.” Her voice was apologetic. A spoon appeared.

I stared at the spoon. “I’m not a baby.”

She ignored my complaint. “The broth has medicinal properties. Everything in it is herbal, with a touch of magic. Most of it is to help your body heal and convalesce. There are some ingredients to help you think clearly. It’s a little something I picked up in my youngers days, when the world was new and everything was to be explored.” Celestia was trying to make conversation with me, trying to put me at ease.

Why?

She spooned some broth and blew on it before offering me a taste. I resisted at first.

“John, don’t be a foal. This is good for you. You need this. Please?” The spoon hovered inches from my face. It smelled wonderful. My stomach rumbled, threatening terrible things if it was not satisfied.

I opened my mouth. Broth went in. My taste buds exploded, absorbing the wonderful mix of herbs and spices. It was like drinking a thicker herbal tea. The effects were almost immediate; my body tingled from my head all the way to my toes. The aches in my shoulder and arms faded until they were barely noticeable. I hadn’t tasted anything this good in a very long time.

“When you are well,” she told me as I was fed, “there is a tree outside next to my garden you can sit under and rest when you are well enough to be outside. We can discuss things as adults. There will be no fear, no shame. Just an attempt to understand what happened.”

My eyes switched from spoon to pony face, depending on which was craving my attention more. The broth was really, really good. Was that joy in Celestia’s eyes? Yes, I do believe that was exactly what I was witnessing on the face of the Goddess. It had to be some sort of ruse. At any moment, she would obliterate me and I would be helpless to do anything about it. Had she gone mad, too?

“What will it take for me to show I mean you no harm?” It was as if Celestia had read my thoughts. The bowl was now empty. More! I wanted more! She offered me a bit of bread with some cheese on it. I gobbled it down without thinking. “There was a time when I was furious with you, I’ll admit that. But none of us realized what was happening until it was too late. It was not your fault, John. It was not. Your. Fault.” Before I knew it, the food was gone and I was set back into the bed once again.

It was obvious I did not believe her.

“Three days you lay in that bed, John,” she went on, rising to her hooves. The bed creaked again as she did. “Before that, I took the time to bathe you and get you cleaned. I trimmed that awful beard of yours. Honestly! I could have sworn you had a bird’s nest in there!” Light laughter chased her words and she smiled. It was a genuine smile, I think. It faded quickly and she became serious. “I could have done terrible things to you, John, but I did not. I could not. I did not want to. I need for you to understand there is nothing to forgive. What happened was regrettable. It caused me no end of pain in my heart.”

“Why?” I pleaded with a voice as timid as a mouse. “Why are you doing this?”

“I am alone, John. You have been alone for well over two hundred years. Think about how you felt. Now think about how I might feel.” She took the tray with the empty bowl to the kitchen area. I just now noticed there was a small round table next to it. Small pictures and paintings hung on the walls. There were four windows and each one was closed. The sky —what I could see of it— was gray and rain splattered against the glass. “I can’t expect you to forget what happened. That would be foolish and irresponsible. The best I can do for you is to help cope with the past so you can mend in the present and hope for a brighter future.”

I wanted to run away. I so wanted to escape Celestia! She wanted me to relive everything! I couldn’t do that! I refused to do that! The past was nothing but pain and misery and she wanted me to face it? Why? Was this her revenge? Was this how she would make me pay for all of those deaths? I felt angry. So angry!

I choked out a sob. “I don’t want to! It hurts so much!”

She set the dishes in the sink next to the stove, cocking a hind hoof on its tip as she settled her weight. A wing flicked and adjusted from her side. Celestia turned her head to look at me, her ancient eyes searching. “I know it does. You are not well, John.” She lowered her muzzle and muttered something.

I could have sworn her words were ‘I am not well’.

“Sleep, John. Rest. It will be raining the rest of the day. I’ll leave you in peace, but I won’t be leaving the cottage.” Her smile was warm and gentle. Lightning flashed through the window and for a moment, I thought I saw fangs.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but my heart still leaped into my throat.

“I’ll be here if you need me, John,” Celestia said as she eased herself into a plush rocking chair. A wicker basket filled with balls of yarn lay there. The same song she had been humming earlier filled the house as the mare produced a pair of knitting needles. They sounded as though they were made of wood as she busied herself with knitting.

I could not even curl myself into a ball as I lay in that bed, fear gnawing at me. Where was the castle? Was she not a ruler? Where was her crown? The only conclusion was I had killed all of her subjects. Why be a princess if there was nothing more to rule over? I seethed, squeezing my eyes shut as yet another wave of guilt washed over me, threatening to drown me. I was experiencing all the emotions all at once and it was overwhelming. Was Celestia a monster, biding her time or was she being sincere?

The rustling of feathers above me made me look. The brightly colored bird hopped from rafter to rafter, peering down at me with its fiery eyes. I noted with passing interest cloves of garlic and other drying herbs dangling over the kitchen area. There were shelves packed neatly with everything from books to baubles, and perhaps some mementos and knick knacks. Seeing nothing better to do (and not at all feeling the need to speak with the knitting Goddess), I studied Celestia’s home and found it small and neat. She had built it to suit, as I could not possibly imagine there could have been anyone to help her.

The Goddess hummed on, ignoring me, or so she would have had me believe. No, she was paying attention to me, I noted as she had an ear pointed at me. My bandaged fingers hurt when I tried to move them. Everything in both arms hurt. Celestia rocked in slow, gentle motions, her knitting needles clicking together in an endless pattern. Her eyes were forward, relaxed and focused on her work. A small smile graced her muzzle.

How can she not care that Equestria was dead?

I opened my mouth to speak, but she interrupted me, “Rest now. Questions answered tomorrow.” Her horn flared and my eyes felt heavy and my mind muddled. “Sleep, John. I will still be here in the morning.”


When I awoke again, sunlight was streaming into the cottage. Golden rays bathed my face like a gentle caress. Birds sang outside and a breeze rustled the leaves of what I assumed were trees outside as if teasing them. My eyes focused and adjusted, my ears strained for any signs of life within the dwelling. The cottage was silent.

I found my left shoulder and arm was bound to my chest, keeping it immobile. My right arm was wrapped with clean cloth with strips of wood keeping my wrist immobile. A clear mind was making the difference as the awareness of my surroundings felt far more detailed. For the moment, I was lost as to what to do. I needed to wander, to finish what I started. There was no way I could have finished and there was no way…!

Two hundred years, she said.

Two hundred thirty-seven years!

With a great amount of struggling, I managed to sit myself up. My injured limbs protested and my shoulder sent sharp stabs of pain as a reminder of its condition. A whimper came out of me. I sat there in bed, collecting myself and waiting for the pain to die down. Rolling the covers off me, I swung my legs out and over the side of the bed. My toes touched a wooden floor partially covered by a throw rug.

Two hundred thirty-seven years.

I wobbled to my feet and took slow, shuffling steps towards the small table I remembered from before. The left arm hung in its sling, immobilized. My right arm was somewhat still useful, as my thumb and fingers were still useable. I used it to help support my weight by placing my knuckles on top of the table, near the edge. The lone door to the cottage had horizontal double doors. The bottom half was closed while the other one was swung inward. I made my way to it, ignoring the throbbing pain.

There was a squawk above me and a fluttering of wings. A large orange streak dove down past my head before swooping out the opened door half. I jumped with a yelp and almost fell over. The door saved me as I stumbled forward, my one somewhat useful arm reaching out and bracing my fall. Pain raced up my arm and I hissed, leaning into the door frame and pulling my arm to my chest. A curse chased after the bird. It ignored me, disappearing to the right and around the house.

Emotions conflicted as I wondered where the Goddess was. Pondering the conversation I had with Celestia brought more questions and confusion. There was no way I was two hundred seventy-two!

“Impossible,” I growled. An almost unbearable ache gripped my heart. That would mean my wife and my kids are dead.

I wandered out into the sunshine. Summer was just coming into full swing. The late morning air felt just right. The breeze went through my hair and over my bare skin. I took a deep breath. My head felt clearer than it ever had. What was in that broth Celestia had given me? Memories, tumbled and jumbled recollections flitted through my mind. Were they forgotten, only to be rediscovered? The questions I had in my head swirled and churned. The answers to them no doubt lay with the one creature I was afraid might be planning something vengeful.

I heard a familiar voice humming on the breeze. Following the song around the cottage, a very large tree dominating the sky over the thatched roof could be seen. The home itself had plastered walls and wooden beams, giving it a Bavarian feel. The tree looming over it with its thick and leafy branches was oak. It was a powerful, vibrant tree casting a protective shade. Once noon passed, the shade would soon fall over the house, protecting it from the heat of the sun. A large wooden chair sat next to the thick trunk. Next to it was a small table with a clay pitcher of water on it with a few cups arranged around it.

Is it wrong to think Celestia wants to be shaded from her own sun during the hottest part of the day? The thought put me a little at ease. Beyond the tree, as I rounded the house, there lay a sizable garden bursting with all manner of vegetables and fruits. Lush plants flourished with healthy leaves. The humming was coming from the center of the garden, its owner lost behind the layers of foliage. There were stalks of corn, tomato plants, carrots, beets, green onions, herbs, peppermint, chives, basil, cilantro, and other plants growing in neat, obsessive-compulsive rows.

A white head with a pink mane rose above the garden. “John? Is that you? Philomena just told me you were up and about.” I caught a brief glimpse of alicorn eye through the vegetation.

“I guess it’s me,” I replied, wondering if there was truth in my own words. Swallowing what fears I had, I watched as the head moved through the garden, one ear locked on my location. Who was Philomena? The bird?

Celestia emerged from her garden. Her knees and hooves were smeared with dirt. Sweat lined her fine alabaster coat and her mane and tail were balled up in canvas coverings and tied off with string. She eyed me up and down. “How are you feeling?”

“Angry. Guilty. Pessimistic.” I glared at her. “Terrified of you. I keep thinking all this niceness is just some sort of trick. I keep thinking you’re going to jerk the rug out from under me.” My knees began to knock together as I searched her face for some sort of reaction. Two hundred years. Two hundred thirty-seven years. Where had the time gone? How could I have lost track of so much time? How is it I am not dead?

Celestia sighed, as if she had expected this answer. She poured herself a cup of water and sipped it, her eyes never leaving me. “If you are ready to speak, then I am more than willing to answer any questions you might have. I have a few questions of my own, if you wish to answer.”

I didn’t want to. I wanted to run away, but there was a need to know. My own curiosities harbored their own questions. Celestia had done nothing to harm me to this point, but it didn’t mean I was willing to trust her. It was her fault my arms had been broken in the first place. There was conflict in my mind as she had taken the effort to bring me to her home and fix me up. Still, did this mean she was expecting something of me in return?

I wasn’t sure.

Flexing my fingers, I told her, “What’s keeping you from forcing me to stay here against my will?”

“Nothing,” she said after a pause. “If you do not wish to be here, then you are free to leave anytime you please. I would ask you wait until you are fully recovered, first.”

I fidgeted where I stood. “I’m afraid of you, Celestia.”

“There is no reason for you to be. Please. Have a seat. There is much to talk about. I feel there are some things I need to explain to you. Things that happened in the after.”

Was she referring to death? “I don’t understand.” My wife, my children. Oh, God!

The Goddess smiled at me. “Sit down, John.”

A birdlike sound chirruped from the branches of the tree above me. I looked up and saw that bright bird again. It had its head tilted to one side as it seemed to be studying me. “What kind of bird is that?” I asked.

“A phoenix. They are very intelligent and can understand every word we say. Her name is Philomena and she has been my friend for a very long time.” Celestia tilted her head up and smiled at the bird. “Thank you for telling me he was awake.”

Philomena bobbed her head and fluffed her fiery feathers.

“Is she on fire?”

“Yes. Her flames are harmless unless she feels threatened.”

I moved to sit down. Celestia watched me, as if waiting for me to ask for assistance. With a grunt and a groan, I plopped like a sack of potatoes into the chair, bare skin on wood. “I don’t feel like talking right now, Celestia.” Her smile irritated me. She still terrified me and I led myself to believe all that power she had gave her a reason to toy with me like this. My reasoning was she could move the sun on a whim and she was timeless.

She appeared as though she expected my answer. “Of course. You need to heal. Take your time, John. I want you comfortable. There is water, if you wish. If you want something to eat, let me know and I’ll fix you something. You might be able to have a little more than you had yesterday.” The Goddess fluffed her wings and flicked her tail. “Are you hungry?”

I grunted at her. “Yeah.” Two hundred years… Everything is gone. Everything.

Her unflappable smile shined. “I’ll get you some of that broth and a little more bread and cheese. I’ll be right back.” She moved towards the front of the cottage with a little spring in her step.

Why was she so happy to have me here?

The bird squawked at me. I looked up and found it glaring at me. I don’t think the phoenix liked me. Whatever sympathy the Goddess had seemed nowhere to be found in the eyes of the bird. The burning bird intimidated me and I avoided making eye contact. Visions of my eyes being pecked out came to mind.

A strange, feminine voice filled my head, accusing. Bane.

I looked around. There was nothing. The leaves rustled in the gentle breeze and in the distance, a lark sang. Was it just my imagination? Out of instinct, I found myself drawn to Philomena. Celestia had said the bird was intelligent, but could she talk?

“Was that you?” I asked.

The phoenix ignored me, opting to instead dive off her perch and swoop up and over the roof of the cottage. In her passing, uncomfortable heat washed over my body for a brief instant. Moments after, Celestia rounded from the font of the house carrying a tray in front of her with her magic. It had a bowl and some bread and cheese loaded on it. Pretty much the same fare as from yesterday. She paused in her step as she gave me a tilting of her head.

“I don’t think Philomena likes you,” she observed. Her approach resumed, her cheerful demeanor undiminished. Setting the tray on the table, Celestia sat on her haunches. “I hope you don’t mind me feeding you. Given your condition, I should imagine holding a spoon would be a chore.”

Scowling, I waved my one free arm in her face. “You think?”

She laughed. “It won’t be that way for too much longer. The magic will make everything as right as rain in a few days. Now, ready to eat?”

“I’m at a loss,” I told her. “Why are you so nice? Why should I trust you? Haven’t you gotten it into your head that I am responsible for the deaths of every one of your subjects?”

I might as well have punched her in the soul. Hurt flooded her expression and she recoiled, her ears drooping. Words. What words could I say to her? How could I tell her? Why should I trust what I would say would not be twisted and used against me? Jumbled memories flitted through my mind. Flashes of faces more recent and familiar to me danced. I saw a crushed mare in front of me, or was this just another trick?

I found I pitied her. How could I feel this way? How did she earn the right to my pity? I was the one who suffered! I was the one who lost everything! Did she hurt as I did? Did she leave me alone for all these years because she wanted me to go on suffering? Rage. Rage! A Goddess failed and she was using false empathy to gain my trust!

But why?

Did it matter?

“I can’t die, Celestia! I’ve tried to kill myself! I always heal, even if it means suffering through days, weeks, and even months of pain!” I roared at her. “Why would you even bother trying to help me? What makes me so worth your time? All I hear are the voices of the dead and his laughter. Always!” I was flailing an arm at her, leaning from my seat towards her, the rage just erupting from me. “I should have died a long time ago, Celestia, but for some reason I can’t die! I want to die. I want to die! Can’t you understand that? If all those years have gone by like you said, then it isn’t natural for me! It isn’t natural for any human to live this long! I’ve lived longer than my country has even existed! My wife is dead! My children are dead! Any grandchildren I might have had are dead! Gone! Everything I ever cared for is dead! So how can you, O’ mighty Goddess, have such a goddamn chipper attitude? Tell me!”

“Life goes on,” she whispered. “These moments, as we live, must be cherished. I will not let my sorrow dominate my heart, John. There must always be hope. What better place to find it than within myself? Regardless, life will go on, with or without us.”

“Yeah, well I am not happy! I have not been happy for a long time, lady!” My wounds ached, fueling my anger. “I never knew you before all this happened! I met you once and the only thing you asked me to do was not harm your ponies. I don’t know you, Celestia! I don’t know if you’re planning to torture me, or humiliate me, or whatever! And after! Even after your nation died around you, you never approached me! You never once back then tried to bring me in or talk to me. Why now, Celestia?”

For long moments, we just stared at each other. My heart pounded in my chest and I was breathing hard. Tension built up in the muscles and my stomach began churning in a mix of fear and anger.

Finally, she spoke. “I’ll leave this here for you. It might be easier if you drink directly from the bowl instead of trying to use a spoon.” Her voice was so soft I could barely make out her words. Without another word, she turned and left, her head hanging.

I don’t know how much time passed as I sat there, but I found myself casting my eyes over the land beyond Celestia’s home. There were mountains in the distance, the tallest peak bearing at its side the ghost of a city. I could not quite make out the spires. What was the name of the city? I had been there just once before.

Two hundred thirty-seven years. I felt empty as I stared at the city. I tried to imagine what it had been when it was alive and full of the living. I remember very little detail as my visit was at night. Had I been there? Was this just something imagined? What was the name of the city?

Canterlot. That was the name of the city. Celestia had ruled there.

My stomach growled, not letting my feelings get in the way of my hunger. With blank thoughts, I picked up the bowl of broth with my one usable hand. It was difficult to grip with my wrapped fingers and immobilized wrist. It was cold when the taste touched my tongue and felt as though it had lost much of what made it so amazing the first time. Or was that just a figment of my imagination? I ate my meal in silence, feeling weak in many different ways. When was the last time I tried to feel anything other than numbing guilt? My mind swam with the impossibilities, never able to tear away from the thought I might be several generations old, in my third century, and all without me noticing.

Had I gone mad, or was Celestia insane?

I wanted the truth. I didn’t think I’d be able to trust Celestia with telling me the truth. There was no way my work was done. It couldn’t be as simple as that. I could still hear the voices, though they were distant, as if on the far side of a valley. There was another nagging question begging to be asked.

Where was Luna?

I stood up, taking a moment to steady my legs. I hobbled back to the house, hoping to find Celestia. Why was I seeking her out? I had to know. If she could tell me, then maybe…

No.

I stopped before a window and peered in. Celestia sat alone, her head hanging low, in the middle of the floor next to the table. Her sides were heaving and she had a hoof to her face. I pulled away, at a loss and confused by what I had seen. Was she crying? Stumbling back to the chair under the tree, I did not sit. Instead, I leaned against the trunk of the tree with my good shoulder and stared at the back of the house.

Why was Celestia crying? It didn’t make sense. She was a Goddess, wasn’t she? My muddled mind could not fathom her loss, so focused was I on my own. Wasn’t she perfection in the flesh in the eyes of the world?

Yet… she wept, as a mortal would weep. There were no diamond beads falling from her eyes, no raging elements to echo her emotions. I could see a clear memory of my wife, a picture in time, weeping on the day she received the phone call of her father passing. No, she’s a pony deity. She could never understand what it means to be human.

You! You will handle this. Discord’s mad words crackled in my mind. I’ll give you my immortality. A parting gift for a mortal mind to experience. The madness will come in time. You’ll see. You’ll see! Watch the world pass by, every moment becoming duller and duller, alone on this forsaken rock. This is my gift to you. This is yours to have, from now on until eternity.

Had I gone mad? I remembered his words. Had they come true? Had he understood me enough? Had he made me a god in his stead? Did Celestia know this? If she did, why did she not bring it up? I could not hope to understand all of this. How could I? Yelling, I clutched my head with one hand, frustrated at having so many memories come at me all at once. Why did my mind have to be so clear, yet so stymied? Things had been simpler when I had been just a wanderer putting the remnants of the living into the earth. On top of that, was I using magic now? It wasn’t possible before. It shouldn’t have been possible. Twilight had told me such a thing was neigh impossible.

Neigh.

Neigh.

Stupid puns. Giggling with no mirth, I muttered, “I’m talking like them. Or how they used to.” Now I was sad again. This wasn’t fair. None of this was fair! If Celestia had been telling me the truth, there would be no way to get home. What would be the point? There had been no chance to begin with. Twilight Sparkle, Celestia’s student, had looked into it.

The name summoned up a face. The purple smart pony with the three tone mane. Fuzzy memories recollected she had spent a lot of her free time researching how I had gotten to Equestria, concluding I had arrived from another dimension. How I had gotten to this world was beyond her comprehension and her inquisitive nature resulted in me paying a visit to Canterlot my one and only time. I met Celestia and her sister Luna. They were curious about me and were quick to deem me as being no threat to their subjects. After giving me a formal welcome to their country…

“Should have locked me up, or checked me for diseases, viruses, something!” How many months had gone by from when I first arrived to when there was time on the royal schedule to meet me? The utter trust Celestia had in Twilight to be able to deal with a strange pale ape with a penchant for clothing had been telling.

“Don’t worry, John,” Twilight’s voice was a phantom. I could almost picture her standing in front of me, as she had back then. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to see about getting you home. I can’t guarantee I can do it. I don’t even know if it’s possible, but I’m going to try. I just want you to be aware I am going to try and do the impossible. In the event I fail, please, please, please consider life here in Equestria. We’ve kinda gotten used to you and there are plenty of ponies here who would do their best to welcome you as a part of the community. Please consider that. We want you to be happy. You have friends here. Remember that.”

Twilight had the smile of an angel and the soul of a saint. I miss her. She had been a good friend.

She did fail. I remember falling apart in front of her when she delivered the bad news. Twilight had just told me in a nutshell I would never get to see my family again. Her last desperate act had been to ask Discord, the self-proclaimed Lord of Chaos to see if he could send me home.

“Can’t,” he had said with a shrug, playing with a yoyo, “Dimensional magic is something of a multiverse level. I’m local. In other words, I don’t have that kind of power. I’m a prankster, not a travel agent!” I hate yoyos. I remember the one he had bore a picture of me wearing an expression of unwanted surprise. He was a mismatched, mad creature. I avoided him like the plague.

There was a hitch in my thoughts, my own words. Tears formed and spilled. I covered my eyes with my right hand. I was never going home. I was being reminded.

“John?” I looked up through reddened eyes to see a concerned Goddess standing at arm’s length from me.

“I can’t go home,” I blurted without thinking. “Twilight tried to help me, but I couldn’t go home. She tried to be my friend, but I hated her for months. She was a good friend to me and I resented her. I didn’t think she had tried hard enough. I blamed her for not being able to do the impossible, but never told her. I was a bad friend to her, Celestia.”

The gentleness in the eyes of the Goddess prompted me to go on. I don’t know why. All I knew was I had lost so much and I wanted something back. Anything. I just didn’t know what it was. Lost, hurt, confused, and angry, I wanted to lash out. I wanted to go back to not remembering. I wanted to hide from the truth. I wanted the truth to crush me, end me, put an end to my misery.

“I remember when the plague became an epidemic,” I said to Celestia. My eyes went to the fading sun on its journey to the horizon. When had it gotten so late? “None of you knew what was happening. All you knew was ponies were getting sick.”

“We didn’t think to check you, John,” Celestia said, taking a step closer. “Our world is so used to so many different sapient beings living together. Most diseases known were treatable. Nothing lethal had existed that could not be controlled. Magic had always served as the key. It was not always perfect and never foolproof, but it was our primary defense against pandemics.”

She sighed, and with it came sadness, “We did not expect the bacteria you carried to be immune to treatments. We didn’t even know the strains responsible for most of the deaths to be as adaptive. It was so similar to so many different diseases, we did not catch the difference until half the population was infected.”

“I tried to tell your ponies it could be me making them sick,” I said in earnest. Looking down at myself, I realized I could see my ribs sticking out beneath the skin. My legs were thin. By all rights, I should have starved to death a long time ago. Swallowing hard, I began to think Celestia might have been telling the truth. “I asked them to check. They took blood samples and ran tests, but they were so confident it wasn’t me.”

“Are you sure you want to talk about this now?” Celestia was sitting next to me. For a big girl, she could move like a ghost. At some point, I had slid to the ground and was sitting cross legged in the grass. I felt her wing go over my shoulders and settle with an angel soft touch. “You have to heal. You must get stronger. You may have Discord's immortality, but you must treat your body as you would any mortal flesh. You can still get sick, strain your body, and become exhausted. Though you seem to have begun to develope some magic within you over time.”

I don’t want to be immortal! I don’t want magical abilities! “I’m tired, Celestia. I’m so very tired.” I looked up at her. She was taller than me when we sat next to each other, yet when we were both standing, it was I who had the height advantage. “Magic?”

The Goddess nodded. “Yes. Are you sure you want to talk about this?”

“I saw you crying.”

“You did?”

“I’m sorry. I... I… I just don’t know anymore. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where my life has taken me. Everything I know is gone, a now dead god gave me his immortality, and I get the feeling you watched me for a long time. I don’t get why you didn’t do anything or try to talk to me then. I don’t know why you let me go mad. I don’t even know if I’ve already gone insane. Everything is madness. I look like I was living in a concentration camp.” My voice babbled, my brain was lost in incomprehension. I had awoken from a bad dream, only to find it had not been a dream.

Her wing tightened around me. I felt her side press into my good shoulder. “The passing of Discord sent ripples throughout the ley lines. I felt his passing. Though I was often at odds with him, his death was a shock. What he did to ensure his passing was even more so. By giving you his immortality, I saw his last act was one of cruelty of the highest order.”

“He blamed me for Flutteryshy,”

“Fluttershy,” Celestia corrected. “She was the most gentle of ponies. A powerful young mare, in her own way. Very kind, like the Element she embodied.”

“I liked her. Maybe a bit too animal crazy, but she was nice. My first friend here in Equestria. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t. She was a remarkable pony.” I could feel the sadness in her voice. “I remember them all, John, as if I had just spoken to them yesterday. I think of them and all the other ponies who have touched my life every moment of every day.”

I had to ask, “Do you miss them?”

“Every moment of every day,” the Goddess repeated with a sigh. “It is our duty as the living to cherish the memories of those who are no longer with us. It is a burden I bear and I do so gladly.”

The sun dipped below the horizon.

I changed the subject. “Do you still raise the sun?”

“Yes.”

My heart lurched as I thought of her sister. “Did Luna—?”

“No,” Celestia replied, shaking her head once. “Once things became hopeless in saving those we could, she became depressed and put herself into her moon.” I could see her muzzle lift out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head for a better look at her profile. Her horn wore her golden aura. “She is alive, but mourns to this day.”

My heart sank. “Does she blame me?”

“Yes and no. She was angry with you for a very long time, but she would not blame you as I could not blame you. However, you did harbor the things that brought us to where we are today. You were as much a victim as we were. Look to the horizon. She can still be seen.”

Numbed by the years of neglect to my mind and body, I watched the silvery orb that was the moon rise up into the growing night sky. My breath caught and my heart skipped a beat with a painful lurch. The moon rose, bearing upon it the shadow of a weeping mare. The sight moved me to tears and I became angry with myself. I shook with fury, only to have Celestia’s wing pull me close to her. The soft touch of her muzzle to the top of my head melted away my anger in an instant. It gave way to helplessness.

“What can I do?”

“In time, she will return to us. Until then, I sing to her and we meet when I dream.”

“It’s kind of a dick move she left you here alone,” I commented without thinking.

“She is still angry with you, but she also cannot trust herself not to act out against you. My sister wears her mask to conceal her emotions, but when that mask breaks, they tend to rule her. Luna still is trying to work out her issues. She still raises her moon and has spent her time naming the stars after our ponies.” Celestia sighed, her lower lip quivering.

I felt even worse. “Oh.”

A moment of silence passed between us as we watched Luna in her moon rise higher into the sky. Her wing was the softest blanket I ever had over my shoulders. The mare in the sphere… turned from her profile and seemed to be looking down at us. I stared in dumb disbelief as the image became imperious and impassive before returning to its previous position. It might have been the shock to the system, but it also seemed as though the moon was pulling away from us.

“You surprised her,” Celestia said in low tones, as if she thought the moon might eavesdrop. “She thought you would continue in your single minded wanderings.”

What did that mean? Had Luna been watching me? I guess it made sense, since Celestia had been doing the same thing. “Why?”

“Your mind is mortal. She thought you would have gone irreversibly insane in due time, hence one of the reasons she chose not to go after you.”

Mulling that revelation over, I scratched an itch on my left side. “I guess I don’t blame her. I probably would have done the same if I was in her shoes.”

“I disagree,” the Goddess arched her neck, fixing me with a look. “I do not think you are the sort to let someone go mad. I love my sister, but some of her methods leave a lot to be desired. She can be a vengeful pony and at times very petty. But she is my sister and I love her for all that she is. One day, I hope the two of you can come to at least an understanding.” There was hope in her words. Her optimism was a comfort, as if it was something I needed in the worst way.

“I remember meeting her once,” I recollected, blinking and looking up at the sky with wary eyes. “She seemed curious. A nice lady, if a bit antisocial.”

“One cannot be on the moon for a thousand years and suddenly be the spark of social interaction,” Celestia chuckled. A small frown tugged at the corner of her lips. “I just wish she had not chosen to go back into the moon. I do not think it is healthy for her.”

“I’m still afraid, Celestia.”

“What of, if I may ask?”

“How does one live in a world where you have no one to talk to?”

“I have my sister. I have you.”

“I’m afraid of you.”

“You have no reason to be. Why would you fear me so?” Her body tensed.

I swallowed and stared at the ground in front of me. “Because I killed everyone you loved! How can you not hate me for that?”

“That is not who I am, John,” she said, sounding disappointed in me. “It would serve no purpose to harbor such evil thoughts. Hatred is nothing more than a tool that has its proper use at the proper time. Hatred would have been wasted on you.”

“I would have,” I muttered, more to myself than anything else. What kind of a soul did this mare have? It was like having all the good things about the Bible my mother had taught me given flesh and set down next to me in the body of a living, breathing winged unicorn. At some point, my life had taken an absurd twist somewhere down the road. I was miffed at being told hate was wasted on me. Or should I have been relieved to hear that?

“That first day when I woke up, I saw you with fangs,” I forced the words out, wanting to get everything out into the open. A few hours ago, I wanted nothing to do with talking. Now I just could not shut up. “During the storm, when lightning lit up the room. I saw you with fangs. Earlier today, I heard a voice in my head, a woman’s voice. It said Bane.”

The Goddess inhaled slowly, raising her head and looking away for a moment. “An alicorn’s thoughts are powerful, John. As much as I am in control of my emotions, we all have a dark side we struggle with. We have lived a very long time, my sister and I. With having such long lives comes certain… things.”

I gave her a worried stare.

“You have nothing to fear, please believe me,” she begged, her ears splayed out. “I have been alone and I have been battling my own demons. I am not perfect, John, but I want to be the better pony. I refuse to give in to the dark side we all have within ourselves. I have seen what that can do to a pony with enormous power. I cannot let myself fall. I simply cannot abide being alone. I begged my sister to not leave me, but she would not listen. Luna can be so stubborn. I have tried to ask her to come back, but she won’t until she is ready.” Tears welled up and fell in rivers. “I’ve been so alone, John. I need a friend. Please, I need a friend! I cannot abide being alone!”

The Goddess Celestia broke down and wept. As I had done with my wife a world ago, I comforted a proud lady, aware of my vows and mindful of them. It was an awkward embrace, considering my condition. There was also the matter I was hugging a pony that was thousands of years old.

“Bane?” I asked as I stroked her mane. I remember ponies liked being petted. They were social creatures. Touch was very important to them, even if it made me think I was petting a giant cat.

“It was my sister who spoke to you,” Celestia whimpered. “It is harder for her to combat her inner demon, as she has fallen to it before. She is conflicted in her anger. Frustration and helplessness do not agree with her. Please forgive her. She is a good pony.”

“I can’t even forgive myself yet, Celestia,” I told her in a quivering voice. There was a pregnant pause as I remembered the faces of my family. I remembered, as strange as it seemed, my faith. “I’ll try. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I don’t want to hear the voices anymore. I don’t want to hear his laughter anymore. I can’t do this by myself. I’m not strong enough!”

“I think we can help each other,” Celestia pulled away from the hug and wiped her eyes with the tip of a primary feather. Hope was in her smile, small and needing to be nurtured. “We don’t have to be alone anymore.”

I felt as though there was something missing and ominous. I chanced a glance up at the moon and felt cold fury coming from it. That voice returned and filled my thoughts as a singular entity. Bane. I see you. I will be watching you. It is fortunate for you my sister deems you worthy of her company. I, however, am not so inclined to dismiss what you brought with you. My wrath once lasted a thousand years. Do keep that in mind, John Bane.

There were still so many questions and not enough answers. I would always carry the guilt with me. I stared up at the moon and the vision within it. Terror filled my heart. The other Goddess was making her presence felt and I was but an insect before her might.

I will be watching your dreams, John Bane. Your nightmares will be no more. I have seen your atonement and I find your efforts to be satisfactory. Do not hide your heart from my sister and perhaps one day I shall tolerate your presence.

With those last words, Luna’s presence was gone from my head. I gasped, my body shaking. Celestia rose to her hooves, glaring up at the moon. She closed her eyes for a moment, her expression determined. After what seemed a few minutes, she let out a slow exhale. “So stubborn!”

“What was that about?” I demanded, quaking in my skin. “That was so confusing! I mean, what the hell? Is she trying to be friends or scare me to death?”

Celestia nuzzled me. “She has her ways. Come, let us go inside. I will make dinner. Do you remember how to read? I only ask because it has been a long time since you read anything.”

“I, uh, think so.”

“Good,” she nodded in approval. “I have several journals I have written you might find interesting. You might even find it enlightening. There is much I think you must know. Unfortunately, they are not pleasant. I’ll leave the decision up to you.”

I blinked as she offered me a hoof. “Why would you want me to read them?” My hand grasped it and I was helped up.

“A cure had been found,” she sighed, flicking her tail.

What? “A cure? When?”

“Shortly after you disappeared. It had been two years since the first major outbreak. The best and brightest Equestria had to offer, as well as brilliant minds from around the world converged together. By some miracle, they made progress within a year. They were on the verge of finalizing the serum. I helped, as did my sister and Twilight. But—”

“Something went wrong?” I guessed.

Celestia nodded. “Somepony was abusing the time stream and came through. Another pony followed. There was a battle at the facility. It was destroyed, along with all the research. Worse, most of the doctors and scientists were killed in the fighting. Then, the time portal reopened and both combatants disappeared before they could be stopped. The results were catastrophic.” I could feel her sadness.

My bandaged hand found her withers. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I thought it might put your mind at ease to know the truth of what ended my little ponies, as well the world’s other species.” Her smile was wan. “We had the solution. We had it!” She lifted a hoof and stomped the ground in a sudden display of anger. The ground rumbled and the tree shook.

I recoiled from Celestia, stumbling as I was caught by complete surprise.

She was breathing deep, heavy breaths. “I apologize. I did not mean to lash out.”

“It’s fine. You’re just a terrifying Goddess,” I told her, gathering my wits and resisting the urge to run. The surge I felt from her made me feel small and insignificant.

“They could have been saved! All of my ponies could have been saved!” Celestia cried. She then gave me the saddest expression I had ever seen on any living thing. “It haunts my dreams, John. The answer to the greatest disaster I have ever seen taken without thought or reason! I felt so helpless. There was not enough time to try again. We tried, John! We tried to recreate the research from scratch, but it was too late. It-it wa-wa-was t-t-t-too late!” The Goddess was in tears and she tore again at the earth with her hoof.

Not knowing what else to do, I embraced the sobbing Goddess. I thought she had a pretty good handle on her emotions, but that assumption had been wrong. We were both a mess and who knew how bad Luna was traumatized?

Supper was forgotten, despite what my stomach was telling me. I was having a difficult time standing, given my condition. “Let’s go inside, Celestia,” I suggested in her ear. She nodded, sniffling in her misery. With slow steps, we made it inside the cottage, leaning on each other for support.


I used to wander.

The world is still quiet, but not as much as it used to be. Five years have passed since Celestia brought me into her home. I’ve gotten better, but I still miss my old life. I still think of my wife and my kids. I think of the new friends who did their best to count me as one of their own. I think of the cataclysmic loss and the silence death brings in its wake.

I used to wander.

I buried the dead, losing myself to madness, pulling myself from it on my own, albeit just. Despair pulled me back into the chaos and the sober task I had given myself thrust me from it. I had waged an inner struggle, neglecting myself in the process. I could not die, as a mad God gave me his immortality before sending himself to oblivion.

I am where I need to be, where I can heal and recover. I wake every morning now to the sounds of new life and new hope. The burden in my heart has lessened and I find myself curious to the circumstances which brought me to this point in my life. One that, as I have come to understand with reluctance, will go on for a very long time.

I think I am happy. At least happier than I have been since I could last remember. Necessity has brought me to understanding. I have done things I would have never dreamed of. The results have been little voices and little hooves and a mare who has newfound meaning in her life. I am a very confused man at times, but I do not think I am unhappy. The old wounds are still healing, but I am where I need to be. There are still questions and I still do not understand this newfound magic of mine. My wife is doing her best to help me understand what is in me and progress is slow, but not boring. Luna still has not come down from her moon, but she watches and with great interest. I think she will be coming home soon. I have hope now. It is still a fragile thing. I cling to it, knowing I have someone who will hold on to it with me.

I am John Bane, and I will wander no more.

The End

Author's Note:

I hope you enjoy this story as much as I had writing it.

Two songs came to mind while writing this:

I find them both appropriate.

Expanded Third Act by clicking the 'Next' button! Sadly, there is no Muffin Button.