• Published 27th Mar 2013
  • 6,345 Views, 280 Comments

Hope - TwilightSnarkle



Memories of the past can destroy even the strongest soul, but what happens when the past can visit in person?

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Snowdrop snuggled deep into her blankets, safe and warm against the lingering winter chill. She could not fall asleep—she was simply too excited. The little sky blue filly dug a tattered cloth rabbit out from his pillow-warren and squeezed him tightly. She kept one grey eye on the light that shone under her bedroom door, and whispered to her friend in conspiratorial tones.

“It’s my birthday tomorrow, Mr. Bunny,” she said. “I’m gonna be seven. Seven!” She nickered with glee and buried her face in the rabbit’s tummy to muffle her giggles.

Seven meant a lot of things. For one, it meant she could stay up a half-hour later. It also meant she could join the magic lessons with the other unicorns at school. But most importantly, it meant she could go on trips with her daddy to Canterlot. Just the two of them! She nearly laughed out loud, muffling a happy squeak, then froze. Someone was coming down the hall.

Another pony cast shadows under Snowdrop’s door, then the handle slowly turned. Snowdrop closed her eyes, pretending to sleep, hiding under her cerulean mane. She should have been done with reading and play-time an hour ago.

There was a brief silence, and then she heard a soft, gentle laugh. “Goodnight, angel,” her daddy said. “Go to sleep. You’ve got a big day ahead of you.”

She giggled despite herself. How could he tell?! She’d closed her eyes before he opened the door, this time!

“Love you,” he whispered in a voice loud enough to be heard in the next room.

Snowdrop giggled again, eyes screwed shut. The door squeaked softly as it began to close. The excited filly immediately sat up and called out to the pony in the doorway, “Daddy?”

He paused. “Yes, sweetheart?”

“Can you tell me a story? Please?” Please always worked.

“Well...”

She put on her best doe-eyed expression.

“...Okay.” He turned back into the room, switched her lamp to its lowest setting, and paused at her bookshelf.

“No, daddy. Can you tell me one?”

Ahh. Yes, I think I can.” He walked over beside her bed, pulled over a cushion to sit upon, and snuggled his chin onto the pillow next to her head. “In fact,” he yawned, “I think I know just the one.”

Snowdrop snuggled back beneath her covers, clutched Mr. Bunny close, and listened closely. Daddy always had the best stories.

Her father ran a hoof through his wild orange mane, then started as he always did. “Once upon a time...”


In the greatroom, Skyshine rested atop a thick, shaggy rug, buried in a warm blanket and an assortment of comfortable pillows. Fighting slumber, she flipped through a photo album, smiling along with the frozen faces. Despite her protection from the cold, she shivered a moment, and looked up from the photographs.

She peered down the hall towards her daughter’s room. The lamp was still on. If she listened carefully, she could hear Worker doing his best to emulate different voices. Chuckling to herself, she returned to her album, keeping one eye on the hallway for her husband’s return.

Before long, the voices stopped, and then the light went out. There was a brief pause, then Worker stepped carefully out of the room. He set each hoof down gently so as not to make a noise. Once he was clear, he channeled the door shut, then slowly exhaled, turning back towards the greatroom.

“Seaponies?” she asked.

He nodded in response, grinning broadly. “You know how she gets. Next week she’ll want stories about talking rabbits again.”

“She’s got your imagination,” Skyshine said, shifting atop the pillows to give Worker room.

He settled in beside her, and nuzzled the back of her neck, playing with her mane. “And your way with others. Why, I think the two of you have me tied to a lead. Did you know she’s added a lip-tremble to her big-eyed stare?”

Skyshine laughed. “That’s what daughters do, Worker. They reign over their daddies. I did the same with mine.”

“Then I’m happy to be her servant,” he replied, shifting comfortably and closing his eyes. “Just as I’ve been yours all these years.”

“Ha!” she laughed, turning her head to smile at him. “You stubborn old goat. I have to argue with you daily just to make you see sense.”

Worker chuckled into her mane. “Goat? Me?” He nipped at her neck, tugging at her mane. “As for arguing...” He grinned, unseen. “There’s an old saying, dearest. Don’t wrestle with a pig.” He snuggled in close, sighing contentedly. “You get muddy,” he continued, his voice dropping into a conspiratorial whisper, “and the pig enjoys it.”

“Ugh.” She closed the album, and shook her head ruefully. “Worker...”

“Oink,” he replied, laughing despite himself.

Skyshine picked up a pillow and swung it at him. “Ugh!


A foreboding, directionless whisper was the only warning. Suddenly, a thousand strange craft appeared, their buzzing rotors tearing through the featureless charcoal grey of an overcast sky. Each egg-shaped machine—in unison with its brothers—dropped to a height just above the rooftops, and then began a slow, steady progression forward.

Nearby, someone stirred, concealing himself from the searching skies while he cleaned a recent injury. The wound was shallow, but dangerously close to an artery. Worker bandaged it best he could, tying an oily rag about the dressing, hoping it would do some good. Standing slowly, he surveyed his surroundings.

A burning SWATbot lay nearby, sparking randomly as its limbs twitched. A few hundred paces away, a foundry fire roared—he could feel the heat from its flames, even at this distance—and the building slowly warped as its support trusses melted.

As for his assailants, they were nowhere to be seen. Had they left? Did they think him dead, or escaped? No time to worry about it. Not yet. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and then paused, looking at his hands. He had hands again. He looked at himself, and noticed his spindly limbs, and pronounced belly. Reaching up, he patted his head, and found smooth skin.

He grumbled quietly, and decided on his next course of action. The platforms at his feet obscured part of the subway system. He would head there and...

A low groan interrupted his thoughts. Turning to look over his shoulder, he saw them. A shambling mass of tattered fur, bone, and charred flesh surged forward, claws and talons outstretched, grasping at him. Their eyes—those which still had them—glowed with a sickening green light. Despite their shattered features he recognized them all: the victims of his reign.

He scrambled backwards, falling, his legs tangled in thick cables. In a flash, they were atop him, pulling, scratching, biting. He struggled to fight them off, but soon found himself overcome by...


Worker’s eyes fluttered open in the darkness. His legs were twisted in his sheets, and his face pressed against the floor. Uncomfortably supported by the linens, with his neck twisted awkwardly, he waited in silence, straining to hear his wife’s breathing.

Ah, there it was. Regular and calm. He hadn’t woken her.

He glanced at the clock; it was just after three. Sighing, he decided to get up, get dressed, and check on the house. “Better safe than sorry,” he grumbled. Resigning himself to a sleepless night, he struggled free from his woven prison.

Worker set his hooves on the floor. He peered out the small window by his side of the bed, staring into the darkened forest. Nothing stared back. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was out...

There.

Something stirred in the underbrush just past the tree line. It was something larger than a rabbit, or else one that was extremely clumsy.

He moved cautiously, so as not to wake Skyshine. He didn’t want to have that argument again, and he had reasons for his paranoia. Worker left their room, and then strode down the hall towards the foyer, absent-mindedly flipping on the light. There, he slipped on a coat and levitated a flashlight, pressed a button to turn on the outdoor lighting, and ventured outside, locking the door behind himself.

He stepped out onto the porch, and into the night. Above his head, the fluorescent tubes began to glow, slowly increasing in intensity as they defrosted. He paced a moment, warming himself, trying to ignore the great clouds of breath that swirled about his muzzle, and then started his patrol.

“Hrm,” he muttered to himself, “windows first, and Snowdrop’s first of those.” He checked the glass and the window’s seal. Once satisfied that both were secure, he continued his route. The greatroom was next, as well as the scattered chairs and tables on its deck, followed by the master bedroom and kitchen.

Perimeter secure, he turned his attention to the woods. He peered into the underbrush and switched on his light, scanning it from left to right. Nothing stirred. Worker snorted, shook out his mane against the cold, and paced back to the deck. There, he leaned against the railing, and watched Pasofino below.

So much had changed since he first saw it, all that time ago. Now that this year’s Winter Wrap-Up was nearly complete, it was almost fifteen years to the day since he first stepped out of the woods and approached the curious village. He did not observe the anniversary. Fifteen since he met Skyshine, ten since they had wed, and now, seven since Snowdrop had joined them.

Pasofino had grown in leaps and bounds, and he felt a small amount of pride for that. It had, after all, been largely been due to his funding and his wife’s influence. What was once a small hamlet founded as a retreat for musicians had grown into a notable town, with its own hospital, postal office, and foundry. He had paid for those, from groundbreaking through construction, but insisted they bear no mention of him.

The dirt roads of the village he had first encountered were now dressed in pavers, and the road towards Canterlot was next on the workponies’ agenda. The town’s central meeting house had been expanded, and surrounded by a beautiful garden. Housing had tripled, and new boulevards thrived with shops and other businesses.

On the far edge of town, he could just make out the lamps of the Conservatory, now just as much a draw for Pasofino as his toy shop. When the wind was right, he could treat himself to their performances from his porch, although he preferred the box seats with his family. Below him, on the closer side of the town, was Pearmain’s newest acreage, filled with an assortment of apple trees and smaller gardens that would soon begin to sprout. Between the trees marched a small number of machines, scanning for damaged branches or root rot.

It was those machines that had allowed him to change the town and, to a smaller degree, Equestria. Under his badge of office as Royal Engineer, he had begun placing his devices wherever overdue projects lacked the necessary ponies to complete work, and withdrawing them when strong shoulders and eager hooves were available. He did not want his creations becoming commonplace. Familiarity bred contempt, as well as the desire to ‘improve’ his designs.

One pony had tried to do so, already. He had purchased a baseline wood-harvester, and then removed the safeties in an attempt to increase the speed of production. The machine was discovered ten miles away, in a straight line from where he had powered it up. The colt...

Worker frowned. It was too early in the morning to dwell on such things, and today was meant to be a happy occasion. In a few hours, Snowdrop’s friends would visit for a party, and there would be noise and chaos and joy.

The sound of hooves on wood awoke him to the presence of his wife, who approached with a small basket that held mugs and a carafe. She set it down on the rail, and then nuzzled her husband. “Can’t sleep?” she asked. “Excited about today?”

“Mm,” he delayed, pouring a mug of coffee for them both. “Just thinking, really. I wonder sometimes if it’s enough.”

“Enough?” She sipped from the mug, then leaned against the rail with him, holding the warm mug in her hooves.

“I know you don’t like to talk about it. Neither do I, for that matter. But...”

She set down her mug and rested a hoof on his shoulder. “No, go ahead. Whatever this is has robbed you of enough sleep. I’ll listen.”

Worker drank deeply from his mug as he thought. Setting it down, he stepped closer to his wife, enjoying her presence as well as her warmth in the late-night chill. “I’ve done some horrible things, in my past life. Things for which I’ll never be able to atone. I don’t deserve this, here. These accolades, this love. Sometimes I don’t think I deserve you, or Snowdrop.”

Skyshine silently stared out at the sleeping town. Not meeting his eye, she began, “That’s what this is? You feel guilty for what happened, before you came here?”

“That’s being generous, love. Nothing ‘happened’ that I didn’t make happen.”

“You’re different, now.”

“That doesn’t change who I was, then. I made an entire world suffer, Skyshine.” He shook out his mane and studied his hooves. “Creatures very much like our friends, our acquaintances. Like ponies, and griffons, and those dogs that help work the foundry. I am—”

“A lummox,” she provided, then kissed him on the cheek. “Do you remember when you came back to me, after the trial?”

He began to answer, but she held up a hoof.

“Rhetorical. Don’t interrupt.”

Worker sipped his coffee instead, and watched her.

“When you returned to me, and to the town, everyone was there. They all waited in the meeting hall for you. Each one had the same two questions: Had you told the truth, and were you the same pony?”

“But...”

Skyshine, still watching the quiet homes below, dismissed him with a raised hoof. “I said don’t interrupt. It’s not often I get to lecture you, and I’m not about to pass this one up, especially since you seem to be unable to see something so simple. You told everyone that yes, you had told the truth, and no, you didn’t feel like you were the same pony. You said pony, Worker. You’re one of us, now, and you weren’t then. We simply cannot hold you responsible for your actions in another life.”

She turned towards him, and poked him in the shoulder, marking each word with an insistent hoof. “And you shouldn’t either.”

Skyshine sipped her coffee, eyeing him over the rim, daring him to speak. Worker opted to keep his tongue still. Satisfied, she set the mug back down, and continued. “You’re a good pony, Worker. A good person, to use the word you so frequently choose. Not once, despite your previous existence, have you ever raised a hoof in anger.

“Not once have you been dishonest, or hateful, or even condescending, which is remarkable in itself, seeing that you clearly know so much more than many of us. You live to make me, your daughter, and your town happy—and by extension, Equestria. You do not steal. You don’t cheat, even at rummy, which I’m happy to say you’re bad at.”

Her voice slowly intensified, a quiet thunder. “Your existence in Equestria has been nothing but a blessing, despite the heartache of the past. And now you doubt that you deserve happiness? You’ve built a hospital for the town! A hospital, out of your own funds and with the help of your marvelous machines. And you—”

She stopped speaking as Worker closed his eyes and turned away. There was a long silence, until her eyes slowly widened in realization.

“So... you think you’ve done all these things...” She tilted her head inquisitively. “And have been this wonderful pony that I know, and love, and treasure, as a deliberate act of kindness?” The tilt leveled out, her gaze becoming a level stare. “An attempt to purchase your salvation? Do I have to remind you that, even when you walked on two legs instead of four, you were just as kind? Just as generous?”

Her voice fell into hushed tones, but what it lost in volume it gained in intensity. “I remember your testimony, Worker. Nearly every word of it, until I couldn’t hear you over my own tears. You were not that... that bastard when you came here. You were different. Changed. Maybe you were just tired, like you said, but I think there was something more. I think you saw the futility of your... horrific conquest, and found that the one thing you wanted was acceptance. A chance for a peaceful future, instead of a crown in the present.”

She walked around him until she could see his face, then stepped closer into a hug, wrapping her neck around his. “I’ve told you before, Worker, that I don’t care about your past. I don’t care about it because it’s not who you are. You are Worker, pony of Equestria, Royal Engineer, father of a beautiful filly...” She tightened the hug, and whispered into his ear. “...And the love of my life. Remember that last one. It will never change, and I won’t let you try.”


The tiny horses lingered on the back porch for some time, then turned and entered the house. After a moment, the outdoor lighting faded. A few minutes later, the glow from a small window followed suit.

The watcher waited, silently counting out three minutes, before stirring. Then he stood, stepped gingerly out of the brambles, and, making sure he was no longer tangled, took off down the hill. Running swiftly over unfamiliar ground—especially in the dark—was dangerous, but he was on an extremely tight schedule.