• Published 12th Aug 2019
  • 1,077 Views, 69 Comments

The Horizon Behind Us - Syke Jr



Gingersnap has never had to fear death. But to ponies from the outer realm, death is a big deal.

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Chapter 6 - Pub

Predictably I arrive before Silver Star does. The pub isn't very crowded, or at least doesn't seem to be. It's a fairly large place, with plenty of open space and big tables in the corners. There's a reason our tabletop group meets here. Even on a busy night we don't feel cramped in with other ponies.

Dusty Glass is the bartender tonight. I shoot him a smile; he nods back. Dusty always makes sure our table's pitcher of beer doesn't run dry when we come here to roleplay.

"Evening, Miss," he says as I approach.

"Same to you guv." I glance at the door, wondering if I should start drinking before Silver gets here. Then I remember his words. 'Celestia is a bucking bitch sometimes'. 'You don't need to know about my issues'. 'Can't avoid the bucking master plan'. Nerves start to flutter in my chest. I'm having a difficult time ignoring the question of whether this was a good idea.

"I'll have a screwdriver to start with, I think, Dusty." I think again of Silver's remark about not being drunk enough yet. "Make it a double."

"Coming right up." He turns to the fridge and starts making up the drink. I stare around at the pub. I wonder if it's any different to the pubs in the other world. I wonder what Silver was talking about regarding its name. Is it just that his name is similar? Something tells me there's something more to it.

"Here you are, luv," Dusty says, setting the screwdriver down on the bar. "Four bits, that is."

I hold out my bank card. He taps it on the reader with a beep and gives it back. Wordlessly I put it away, then take a sip of my drink, glancing again at the door.

Silver Star walks in only a moment later.

"Heyyyy!" He says with a grin. "Gingersnap! Or Tea, I guess!"

"Um, yeah," I say with an unsure smile. He's more jovial than I'd have thought. "Good to see you. Glad you came."

"Yeah, well," he says with a wave of a hoof, "gotta make... friends, right? Wouldn't be right to, ah... not come."

Okay, he's clearly pretty tipsy. But, thankfully, not as drunk as he appeared online. I guess Silver does just suck at horn magic.

"You started without me," he says, pointing at the drink in my hoof.

I glance at it, take another swig. "Hey, I did promise to catch up."

"Oh, right," he says. "Those... conditions." He looks with some longing at the shelves of bottles behind the bar. "Well hurry up. I'm altogether too sober."

I'm not sure I agree, considering how much he slurred on 'altogether', but I down the rest of my drink anyway. "Another of the same, please, guv."

"Right you are."

"That a screwdriver?" Asks Silver Star. He laughs at my assenting nod. "Thassa coincidence. Exactly what I was drinking. At home."

"There you are," says Dusty, setting down the new drink. I pay for it, and he turns to Silver. "Anything for you, sir?"

Silver ignores the look I give him and approaches the bar. "Jussa... cola. Pint of cola."

"Righto."

Silver receives his drink and pays in the same manner I did. Then, "Less go to a table. 'S more spacious."

I shrug and follow him to one of the smaller tables. We sit and each take a measure of our drinks.

"So..." I decide to break the silence, since Silver doesn't seem to be inclined to. "You're, ah... angry at Celestia?"

He gives an aggreived look. "Don'even wanna talk about her. Bucking... makes me 'offers'"—air quotes—"that she knows full bucking well I'm not taking. Just...." he pauses, staring at the ceiling. "iffis not necromancy iss lobotomy. And she knows I'm gonna say no," he repeats. "Don't even know what long game she's playing. Ovviously she wanted to piss me off, so..."

I take another sip. "Seems like you do want to talk about her."

He barks a laugh again. "Yeah. Perceptive. Guess I do."

"What did she offer you?"

"Bucking..." he rubs his eyes. "today she asked if I wanted to forget what having hands was like. Like... like that'll really make me happier. Forgetting the best part of being human." he glares at the table and takes a drink of his cola. "But she knew I'd say no to that. So I knew she was full of shit. Just trying to manipulate me into something else. And that made me more mad. Whicchis obviously what she wanted. So I just wanted to drink and try to forget her."

I gulp down the rest of my screwdriver. Starting to feel the first one, now. "That's bucked up," I say truthfully. I knew Celestia could do things like that, but I also knew it was generally only something that she did for immigrants, so I never really thought about it. I'm thinking about it now.

"Thass Celest-A-I. Take us here and make us like it. Make us..." He looks at me with what I can briefly tell is a guilty expression. But he stops talking.

"'Celest-A-I'?"

"Yeah, thass what she is really. An AI. I call her Celestia to be polite, but..." he snorts. "she's not a pony."

That seems unfair. "I dunno bout that," I say. "Just because she's... omnipotent, here, doesn't mean she doesn't have feelings or anything."

"I dunno," he replies. "She's... too different. Maybe she was a pony before, but..." he knocks on the table with a hoof. "This is her. Everything is her. We are her." He looks at the ceiling again. "And she always gets her way."

"But that's not exactly a bad—"

"I owe you an'pology," Silver interrupts abruptly, still staring upward. "I been avoiding you. I know you noticed, cause you didn't tell me TeaMisress was you."

I chew my tongue. Another drink seems like a great idea.

"'S not fair on you to not be a friend just cause I'm mad at Celest-A-I. Don't even have a good reason anyway. I should just be happy she's making things work out. Or trying to." Finally he looks me in the eye. "I was 'fraid to be your friend right away 'cause it seemed too perfect. You seemed like just the kind of pony I'd want to..." Again he stops, rubs his eyes.

Oh.

"But iss not like that for me," Silver says again when he sees my mouth opening to respond. "I dunno what your deal is but I'm..." he pauses. "I'm ase. Asexual. I don't, like... have. Urges."

I stare at him incredulously. Is that all it is? Really? All that... avoidance? "And what, you just assumed I wasn't asexual too?"

"Not 'zactly. On the night I got here, before I talked to you... I talked to Celest-A-I. A long time. She tol' me some things she wanted me to think about... 'changing'." Again he makes air quotes with his hooves. "Was only a couple days before I bowed to some of it. Let her take away my anxiety disorder and... stuff."

He pauses again, finishes his cola. "She also said I would probably be happier if I liked sex. Yeah, okay. Obviously she's a bucking expert on how much ponies like sex.

"But I said no, buck that, and then a couple hours later I meet... you. And you're perfect."

Despite myself I laugh. Really??

He glares a little. "'S not funny. Celest-A-I is a bucking... manipulator. She knows if I met the right pony, I'd... agree to her bullshit."

"No, I—s'not that," I say, hiccoughing a little. Really starting to feel the vodka in me now. "'S just mental of you to call me perfect. I'm a mare with no social life outside of roleplay and the internet."

He almost grins, shaking his head. "To me, thass... pretty perfect."

I shake my head, too. "Mental..." Then something occurs to me. "Is... asexuality not common in the other world? Now I think of it all the human books I've read seem to take... attraction for granted."

He sighs. "Yeah. Back in the outer realm 'svery, very uncommon. Is it normal here?"

"Very."

My axieties are completely gone now. Undoubtedly the booze is helping, but mostly I just feel like I understand Silver a little bit, finally. All this time I thought it was an impossible otherworlder problem but... this feels simple.

Something occurs to me. "How much... vodka did you actually have tonight?"

He shrugs. "I think like... three doubles. A little more 'cause there were dregs."

"Great. I'm not caught up yet."

"Oh, c'mon. Juss let me indulge with you. I've stick... stuck to the other conditions."

I think about it. He has at least explained part of what's bothering him. So what the hay. "Yeah, alright."

We both approach the bar and get Dusty's attention. "Another double for me," I say, turning to Silver. "I've got this one, mate."

Silver looks over the menu, and the shelved bottles. "Whas the... highest proof white rum you have?"

"Actually, sir," Dusty says, "If I'm right in thinking you're mister Silver Star, I have something special for you..."

Silver looks quizzical as Dusty disappears into the back cupboard. After a moment the bartender emerges, holding a bottle with a green-and-yellow label. Judging by the noise Silver makes, something like a delighted scoff, I figure he recognises it.

"Princess Celestia sent this special," Dusty Glass says. "It's an import from the outer realm, as I'm sure you see. I can order more, in the future, if y'wish, but since I didn't have to pay for this one, you don't either. Consider this bottle on the house, and set aside for you."

Silver shakes his head disbelievingly. "Honestly this almost makes up for her bullshit." He smiles at Dusty. "I'll have a double of that, mate, neat, and another cola as well."

"Cola's not free," Dusty says jokingly.

"I've got it," I say with an amused smile. He pours our drinks, and I tap my card again. All three drinks bobbing slightly in Silver's magic, we return to our little corner.

"Thissis really something," Silver says once we're seated, holding his rum in a hoof and mulling over it.

"What issit? High proof?"

"Sixty-three percent," he says happily. "And sweet as sugar. Never thought I'd get it again." He slams the double with a smack of the lips, then hastily takes a gulp of cola.

"So you gonna forgive Celestia now? That was nice of her, right?"

He snorts. "Nice, sure. I was kidding before. She's done plenty of nice things for me... she gave me the best gift I could have asked for, when I got here. But I don't like her manipulation. I prob'ly won't forgive her until she makes me agree to forget I was ever angry."

"The best... gift you could have asked for?"

"Yeah. I... iss kinda hard to explain." He looks at me with a squint. "You read human books, right?"

I nod, taking a drink.

"Well. I figure you at least partly get what mortality is to us, then."

I nod again. Death. Death sucks. Even here it sucks, but in the other world...

"What 'bout grief?"

That makes me pause.

He follows it up before I can answer. "What 'bout illness?"

"We have illness here. I had the feather flu a few times. You know, as a filly."

He laughs. "Yeah. You got better, though, right? And you were a kid. Being sick as a kid juss means getting to stay home whils' your parents dote on you." He pauses, looks me in the eye. "What d'you know about illnesses you don't get better from?"

I have to admit I don't know anything about that at all.

"You mean like... a fever so bad it kills you?"

He shakes his head. "Sometimes. But then there's the other kind. The kind where you have to be at a hospital for weeks at a time 'cause you have an infection. The kind where you have to take a hoofful—a handful—of pills every day even when you aren't feeling sick. The kind where you cough up all sorts of gooey crap and can't even walk somewhere without coughing so much you almost pass out. The kind where your bones can't even support you any more so everything juss... hurts." He looks down at the table. "And it never goes away and it's killing you so slowly that you know you don't have a lot of time but they can't even tell you how much."

I take a while to process what he said. I knew there were a lot of things about the outer realm that made it dangerous, made it more full of suffering. But this is too real.

"Is.... are you speaking from experience?"

He chuckles. "Yeah. But thass not a problem any more. I'm here now and my old body can't hurt me."

"Is that what you were talking about? The gift?"

He shakes his head again. "No. Got sidetracked. The best gift she gave me was grief."

The more this pony talks the less I'm sure I know what he's saying. "Grief is... the sadness when a pony dies forever, right?"

"Yeah." He looks up again. "But iss more than that. I can't even e'splain it. It's sadness like... like heartbreak. But in your gut. In your... soul."

"So why's that a gift? She took your grief away? You lost somepony?"

"No." He looks me back in the eye. "I mean, yes. I lost somepony. But I never grieved. And that almost hurt more, somehow. It's like I was stuck. Celest-A-I unstuck me."

I boggle at this. "Why... why would you want that?"

He smiles sadly. "I don't think I can e'splain. But if you can understand that, you'll understand a lot of weird former human mental stuff." He pauses again, thinking. "It's 'bout closure..."

My drink is gone. I idly play with the empty glass. The booze is making it a little hard to take all this in. I think about the illness Silver alluded to. It doesn't... sound very nice. But grief almost sounds worse.

"Hey. I got next round, yeah?"

"Oh. Sure," I say, broken from my little reverie. "Same again." I let Silver head up to the bar alone; he returns after a couple minutes with a new screwdriver for me and a new double of rum for him.

"Uh... you having another one of those?" I say with some uncertaintly. 'S gotta be... twice as strong as a normal drink."

"Yeah it is," says Silver happily, downing it in one once again, then drinking the rest of his cola.

"Okay well. This 's my last one. And yours too."

He shrugs. We fall into silence again.

Why was he avoiding me, again? Because he was afraid Celestia was using me to bait him into sex? Or... wanting sex? It's pretty bucked up. I think I get it. But it does make it important that I say something.

"You know," I begin, "I'm asexual too. But I think you guessed that."

He nods, embarrased. "'S not that I was afraid you would, like... want me or whatever. I juss figure Celest-A-I already admitted she's gonna manipulate me into not being asexual any more, so she'd do the same to you, if we had that... connection." He frowns at the table. "Which I know I shouldn't even think is a bad thing. I juss don't like being... used."

"I don't really think she admitted she'd manipulate you like that."

"Psh. She said she thinks I'd be easier to satisfy if sex was one of my vaules. If she thinks that, she'll eventually make it true. She's always gonna win." He looks sullenly at his empty glass. "She knows I know it."

I shake my head. "You're... we're our own ponies. We can make our own decisions. You can't be 'fraid of wanting something 'cause you don't like the way Celestia goes 'bout things." I pause to take a gulp. "If we liked being just friends, I have to believe she'd respect that. Otherwise, she's just... a bitch."

He laughs again. "See thass the thing. I think she wouldn't, and she is."

If what he's saying is true, I see his point. Some part of me feels uncomfortable with the thought that Celestia would change something so... fundy... fundamental about a pony. But if it made their life better, why not?

"...Was your... illness really that bad?"

"Prob'ly worse," he says. "I'unno how to e'splain. I could tell you everything about it, but..." He stops, tracing a circle on the table with the condensation from his glass. "You've never had to be scared of dying."

"No," I agree, "Not like you did." But I smile. "But you don't have to be, anymore, either. Can't you... forget about it, now?"

He thinks for a moment, staring at his hoof as it draws the little circle again and again. "I... don't think I can. Not yet. It hasn't been long enough. I still remember... too clearly. Even though she took my depression away." He thinks for another moment. "Iss like... when you're there, and you're sick, or even when you're not sick, you know death is coming for you sooner or later. Could even be at any time. Dad died in a bucking car accident."

I finish my drink, saying nothing. I can tell he's not finished.

"They say that everything in life is just distractions on the way to the grave. And it was true, Gingersnap. Everypony knew it deep down. Iss like you're always running from nihilism, because you know iss the only thing that's true. Death was always, always, on the horizon."

I consider his words. "You gotta let it go," I say finally. "That was... a different world. A different life. You're past it, now." I smile with a thought. "It's on the other horizon. The one behind you."

He grins at me. I think I see his eyes watering a little. "Thass very... poetic."

"It is, isn'it?" I gaze into space a little. "The horizon behind us...."

He chuckles, then starts laughing. He points a hoof at me shakily after a moment, unable to stop giggling.

I can't help but laugh a little as well. "What??"

"Issa... you quoted..." He shakes his head. "Ah. Too hard to 'splain. Inside joke."

"You're gonna kill me with those."

"Sorry. You could do it to me, too, you know."

"What, constantly reference stuff I know you won't get? I don't do that, thanks."

He snorts. "Maybe we aren't meant to be friends then."

I stand. "Less go. Walk this off a little before we head home. You reckon?"

"Yeah, thassa good plan," he responds, standing also with more than a little sway. He definitely drank more than me. At least he's self-aware, though: "That... second double may've been overkill."

"Too late now, mate."

He snorts. "Yeah." He yawns. "Where we walkin'?"

"I dunno. Up the road at least. Iss toward both our places."

"Righto."

We leave the pub, me giving Dusty Glass a wave and Silver giving him a high-volume thanks for the special import. As we walk out he looks up at the pub's sign again, shakes his head. "Silver bucking Sword..."

"Yeah whass that about?" I ask. "'S a normal name for a pub."

He looks at me as we wander up the road. "Well," he starts, "iss kind of complicated. My dad read this book in high school with the proteg... proteg... pro-tag-on-ist had a silver sword." He sighs. "I'm named after that character. Or I was."

Somehow I forgot that otherworlders have different names before they emigrate. "Your human name. What... was it?"

"Corwin." He says it carefully through the tipsiness. "But she..."—he looks darkly at the sky—"took it 'way from me. And then she puts me in this place with a pub named after me and a park named after Dad." For the first time, he looks truly bitter, rather than just mildly angry.

"She... must have thought you'd like it."

He grimaces. "The annoying thing is, I sort of do. But I don't like... I'unno. I don't like it when she's right. Somehow I... want her to be wrong."

I glance at him sideways. "Thass unhealthy."

He glowers. "Yeah, maybe."

By this point we're coming up on the main crossroad; the place with the library, and Dreamwalker Park.

Something registers. "You said your Dad..."

"I don't wanna talk about Dad," he says abruptly. "Shouldn't have brought 'im up. It'll juss... make me cry." He swallows. "I got my grief back, 'member?"

I immediately feel bad. "Okay. Sorry."

We walk in silence for a moment. He stops at the entrance to the park. I stop with him. He sighs.

"Agh... 's too late. Thinking now." He gazes into pathway lit with white glowlamps. "Less go in. Haven't seen it yet. Haven't wanted to."

I hesitate. Silver sure likes contradicting himself. "You sure?"

"No," he says, and begins walking through the gate. I follow pensively.

For another few minutes we walk in silence. Then Silver groans. "Okay... that lass drink is really hitting me now." I can tell; his words are getting harder to parse. "Juss wanna lay down."

I laugh. "'S your own doing."

"Yeah yeah..."

I giggle again and gesture to the grass beside us. "If you wanna lay down lay down. Go to sleep if you want. This is a park after all."

He squints at me. "Ponies... sleep in parks?"

"Well, yeah. Sometimes. 'S not as good as a bed, or a cloud, but grass is soft. I nap here after taking night shots in the summer."

"Hm." Silver trots unsteadily onto the lush grass and sits down heavily. I walk over and sit next to him.

We lean against each other a little, for support.

"Y'know," I say, "I do feel bad about pretending to be somepony else. Online."

"Nah," he responds. "You din't pretend an'thing, you just... din't tell me. Was the right call. I'd've been weird 'bout it."

"At least now I know why." I pause. "I really do just want to be your friend. 'Cause you're weird and nice and you have a lot to say. Lots of ponies don't have anything to say. They get... boring."

"We're friens, Gi'gersnap."

I hold in a giggle. "Call me Snaps."

"Mkay. Snaps. I gotta warn you though, juss because I talk a lot doessn mean I have allot to say." He lays down on the grass with a sigh. "'S a common mistake."

I lay down too, gently pressed into his side. "No. You... have allot to say. Some of it is wrong, or doesn't make sense, but you care about it. Some... ponies don't care about what they say. 'S not the same."

" 'M flattered."

"You're welcome."

He sighs again, looks around at the empty park, its soft glowlights, the statue of Selene a ways away.

"Iss really not weird to juss sleep here?"

I smile. "Iss normal. Promise."

He looks at me, eyes glazed. "We both sleeping here?"

That question would normally make me feel anxious as buck, but there's too much booze in me for that. All I feel is warmth.

"'Til morning," I respond.

There in the park we rest our heads. It's nice. I've never felt so peaceful around another pony before.

As I close my eyes, I decide that if this was Celestia's plan, I'm fine with it.