Petal sat and played in the meadow by the river, sniffing the flowers and enjoying the feel of the grass. Her friends were somewhere behind her, back over the hill. For some reason she couldn’t remember, she felt embarrassed about going back to get them.
At heart she was a unicorn, and had been ever since she had first seen one as a little girl. Unicorns were kind and gentle, beautiful and noble. They never hurt anyone out of anger, never raised their horn except against the most fiendish of enemies. Whether in Narnia, or in Xanth, or in Hagsgate, or in Equestria, unicorns were always the ideal.
And so Petal thought of herself as one. Doing so hurt no one as she could see, and helped her cope with the world. Here, in the meadow in Equestria, she could—
But she couldn’t be in Equestria, because she was still a human. All her memories came flooding back. All of Earth, and her life, and the hard jobs she’d done and been fired from. That was why she couldn’t call her friends, because they were ponies and she…was dreaming. Now she understood. She was having a dream about being in Equestria, and now that she realized it, it would be a lucid dream.
The first thing to do, she realized, was to not think about that too hard. If she did, she would start wondering if she could will herself to wake up, which would collapse the dream and be counterproductive. The right thing would be to get back on her knees and keep playing with the flowers.
A lucid dream could be controlled, but she didn’t wish to control it. Just to be in Equestria, to breathe the clean air and feel the soft grass would be enough. Later on, she would drink from the river. If she was feeling bold, she would venture back over the hill. The ponies would welcome her, even though she was human. They were kind.
But not now, not tonight. She was too afraid. Equestria wasn’t for her.
The voice seemed to be carried on the wind, ethereal and soft. She looked around. Not only was no one there, but there was no place for anyone to be. Even if the voice had come from beyond the hill, it would have been too far away for her to hear.
Now it came again, stretching out. “Who’s there?” Petal called.
“It is We.”
The voice was right beside her, and Petal turned her head to see the starry mane of Princess Luna. As soon as she realized in whose presence she was, Petal fell to her knees again and buried her face in the grass.
“Your majesty,” she said, trying to keep her voice as small as possible.
“Grovel not. Such obsequiousness is barely tolerable at formal events, unwarranted in this bucolic setting. We are not here to command thee, but only to discover what troubles thy mind, and bring what succor we may.”
“You just want to talk?”
“To listen, yes.
And so Petal poured out her heart. All of the pain of her lost loves, and loves that were true but forbidden, and all of the hate she received for who she was and for what she did that affected no one, and all of the cruelty that was not directed at her, but that she was expected to ignore. All of it she told to her princess.
It seemed like she talked for years, for more time than it had taken to live her life. Princess Luna said nothing, but never did it strike Petal that she was giving any less than her full attention. And yet it was only when she concluded that she saw the princess look at her body. Throughout the one-sided conversation, Petal realized, Luna had been looking at her soul.
“Petal, someone has shorn the fur from thine body.”
It seemed incongruous, but she looked down at herself. It was the same body she had known all her life. She looked up at the princess, confusion in her eyes, but after all she had not been asked a question.
Again Luna spoke, her tone rising. “Petal, someone has thrice-cloven thine hooves!” She lifted her hands, and Luna looked closer. “Nay, we have erred. Four times has thy hoof been split. The pain must have been unbearable.”
Petal wanted to correct her, explain that it was natural, but Princess Luna gave her no time to respond, as she was staring right at her forehead.
With all the fury of the moon crashing to earth, she said, “Petal, someone has sliced thine horn from thy brow, rendering it impossible to correct these mutilations. We demand of thee, who is responsible for this? The terrors of Tartarus would not be enough punishment for such a violation of Our subjects. New spells of pain and punishment, We must derive when the rogue is brought to justice!”
Petal quaked at the princess’s wrath. Even though she understood that Luna was speaking of someone else, she still felt responsible. “No, please. It’s no one’s fault. Don’t sully yourself by trying to think of punishments. This is just my cross to bear.”
Luna seemed confused at the expression, then, as if digging into long-unused memories, she said, “To bear a cross is folly, especially when it is thee who are to be nailed to it. Set it down, rather, and be free.”
“I would like to be. But this is what I am. I’ve come to accept it. Soon, by your reckoning, I shall grow old and die, and then I won’t be a bother to anyone anymore.” Petal stood up. “This has been a lovely dream, and you are exactly the kind of Luna I would have conjured up. I have a good subconscious mind, at least. But now I believe I am going to wake up. It will be too painful to remember this in the morning.”
“A moment longer, please.” Princess Luna extended her wing over Petal’s head, and gave her the gentlest of touches. “Our powers are indeed limited to the world of night. But when the scars run so deep, We must consult Our sister. Yes, wake. But, we beg, do not feel pain. It is not for you.”
The bubble rising from the ocean was anticlimactic. It would have barely warranted a footnote in the story, except that the story did not need to be written. Everyone had seen it. The vision of Princess Celestia that had appeared in the sky spoke to all people in all languages. Even the hearing impaired were shown the message.
“My sister has brought to my attention that you poor souls were abandoned on a barren world, bereft of magic, unable to advance yourself save through exploitation of the earth that supported you. But fear not, dear children. Your call has been answered. Equestria is coming for you, to return you home. At present our finest thaumaturgists have been tasked with deriving a curative for the diminished state you find yourselves in. My sister and I are aware of your vast numbers, and indeed, we are proud of you for thriving under such harsh conditions. On the other hoof, we have looked into your history and seen the…activities you found it necessary to ensure such survival. But all this will be forgiven.
Nonetheless, since there are so many of you, we hope that your existing governmental structures will aid us in the logistics of helping all of you, before they can be mercifully disbanded. If you act reasonably, there will be no difficulty in establishing the locations where you will find help. We will work together. By the time our worlds meet, I have full confidence that we will be able to restore you to the ponies you were always meant to be.”
The restoration bureaus were established, and the potion was created. And of course Celestia’s message was overoptimistic, and the HLF and the PER were established, and there were many holdouts and many who leaped at the chance. But lives were saved, and good was done.
Petal sat and played in the meadow by the river, sniffing the flowers and enjoying the feel of the grass. Her friends were somewhere behind her, back over the hill. She got up and trotted to get them.