The Horizon Behind Us

by Syke Jr

First published

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

Silver Star has been avoiding me since he arrived in Equestria. It shouldn't bother me. It's not like I'm the only pony in town.

He seems to like talking to me online, though, when he doesn't know I'm the same pony he met the day he arrived. At some point, you wonder, what's that about?

This story is set in the Optimalverse, and I recommend reading Friendship is Optimal or alternatively this synopsis first.

Cover art by SiMonk0, who is awesome!

Chapter 1 - Books

View Online

It's... I don't know, a couple of weeks before the immigrants show up that Princess Celestia comes to the studio.

My first, mental instinct is that it's a mistake: surely she's here to see the town planning committee, or something, and is knocking on the wrong mare's door.

But of course that's absurd. She's Celestia, not Celeste. She knows and sees everything. If she's here, she's here for a reason. One that somehow involves me. So I close my dumb slack jaw, put down my book (losing my damned place), stumble off my stool and walk over to the door whilst willing life back into my right hindleg. It wakes up quickly enough, so I settle my wings, take a breath, open the door, and bow.

She smiles down at me. "Good day, Gingersnap. May I come in?"

"Of course, Princess. Please," I say in return, rising and stepping aside.

I know it shouldn't be nerve-wracking, but it is. What can I say? She's more than just the creator of the world, she is the world. I'm part of her, kind of. I've spoken to her counterpart before, sure, when she showed up to the town's big events, but that's not like it was the same pony. Princesses Celeste and Selene aren't literal gods, even if they are the rulers of the land; they're clearly more or less normal ponies, if much more powerful. This, though, is different: the real, genuine Celestia is here to talk to me, alone. That has to make it important, right? Though maybe not. Oh Tartarus—

Dear Celestia please make me relax.

"Is that a serious request?" Celestia says, smiling and raising an eyebrow slightly.

Oh, right.

"Sorry," I say, releasing a breath nervously and tossing my mane out of my face, "I'm just anxious to know what you're here about. Not that I'm anxious. Or should be anxious. I mean⁠—"

That's when Celestia's horn glows and immediately the butterflies go away. Suddenly all I feel is: there's no need to panic. Really, it's just the mistress of all creation, here for a little chat. All fine.

"Um, thanks," I say with a half-chuckle.

"You're very welcome. You said you'd like to know why I'm here?"

"Um. Yes. It can't be that you're a photography fan," I try to joke, flicking my head at the canvas prints behind me.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," responds Celestia almost idly, stepping past me and wandering over to the nearest sunset scene. I didn't know what to expect from a visit from the Princess, but this wouldn't have been it had you asked me beforehoof. "I actually admire it quite strongly as an art form. Painters and the like get to pick and choose which pieces of the world to throw together in a frame; you actually have to make do with what beauty you can find on your own." She turns back to me with what's almost a grin. "And you've captured some particularly striking little moments here."

It takes me a moment to find my tongue again. "I... I'm honoured, Princess, really I... I mean, I'm really just capturing your own work, as it were⁠—"

"Oh, none of that," she returns briskly, shaking her head with a slow blink. "I didn't literally create these landscapes, it's all done by subroutines. It's ponies like you who make it wonderful, not me." I didn't know how to respond, but she carries on regardless. "In any case. I am here to speak to you about the new ponies arriving in the coming weeks. You remember? From the, ah... outer realm?"

I do remember. I mean, it's common knowledge that the ponies on the other world, Earth, are kind of why our world exists. Apparently Princess Luna was one of them, and set the whole thing in motion. And every day, more ponies come to Equestria from the other world. A couple months ago it was announced that our town was going to receive its first immigrants. Now I'm apparently going to have something to do with it. My wings shift nervously.

"I simply wanted you to know," Celestia goes on, "I've taken the liberty of opening a new wing of the library specifically for Earth books. Human books. Not only will the newcomers appreciate it, but I think you'll find it fascinating to browse also. I know you're a wide reader, and what could be wider than extraworldly?"

My mouth is hanging open again. This can't be all she's here to say.

"Oh, but it is, my little pony," the Princess says with a wink, turning back toward the door. After taking a few steps, though, she looks back over her shoulder and said in a softer, almost sombre tone, "The world humans leave behind is not like yours. These ponies... they will have suffered in ways that you might think you understand, but should they choose to share their lives with you, keep in mind that for them it is far, far more real than you might be able to imagine. I think you will enjoy reading the things that they read, because in doing so you will edge a little closer to comprehending their previous lives."

With that, Celestia leaves. I stand alone in the middle of my studio, still not sure what happened. Had I missed something? Or was she really just here to personally let me know there were books I might like at the library?

Royal Visit
Graciously receive Princess Celestia as a visitor.
+200 Bits

The fact that the new, previously-human ponies were arriving in a couple weeks' time suddenly seems far more important than it had before now. Was that the real point of Celestia coming to see me in person? To make sure I took their arrival seriously? Am I supposed to make friends with them right away? I don't really like that idea. It doesn't seem like Celestia would be pressuring me into that. I mean⁠—

Celestia's motives are always to do what's best for 
you. It's probably not worth overthinking.
+40 Bits

Huh. Okay then.

I guess I was looking for something new to read anyway. The book on the counter is one I already know as well as my own hoof. And if the immigrant ponies are really as different as the Princess says, it would be nice to know what they read for entertainment.

I grab a messenger bag from the hook behind the door, and set out, heading for Newforest Library as I take off lazily into the sky.

Chapter 2 - Photograph

View Online

I meet him for the first time on the summer night he arrives with his family. He's alone in what amounts to the town square, at the crest of the hill that leads down to the forest, to the road to Trottingham. There between the silent buildings he's outlined against the stars and the full moon, a silhouette before the night.

I'm taken with the image, and begin to raise my camera. I think better of it, though, when I realise who it might be. What pony would be here, in the deserted street in the middle of the night? Anypony out this late would be nearer the pubs on the other side of town, not alone in front of the town hall. Tonight in particular, there's only one real answer.

I think about taking wing; flying up and over so I don't have to disturb him. Something tells me this unicorn is looking for solitude. But I hear him sigh. It's not an unhappy sound. He looks up at the stars, unwittingly posing with legs outspread, a stark outline against the deep blue, horn nearly touching the rising moon. I forget my manners, my caution. Without really thinking, I raise my camera and snap a photograph.

It takes a moment for him to register the noise. I don't breathe. He turns to face me, eyes invisible in the darkness, but doubtless meeting my own in the moonlight. Again I wonder if I should fly away, and find a way to apologise for intruding later on. Again, I don't. Instead I turn to the bench beside me, and make a show of putting my camera away: removing the lens, capping the body, slipping everything into its special padded pouch. I hope it's an unspoken apology. I'll leave after it's stowed away. For a moment the pony simply considers me, unmoving, but as I place the equipment in my messenger bag, he begins to walk over. I'm nervous now. I know I should have just left him alone.

As he approaches I turn, bag over my shoulder, and smile weakly. "Hey, um... hi. Sorry. About the camera."

He clears his throat. "You took a photo?"

He sounds almost like a local. But there's something else there, too. I try to place the accent (Canterbury, maybe?) before realising that's a remarkably silly thing to do. I also realise I've been simply staring for at least a couple seconds too many.

"I- yeah, I did. Sorry. I'm just used to, you know, snapping whenever I see a good scene. I wasn't thinking."

"It's... fine." He looks back at the crest in the road, considering the view. "I can see what you mean."

"Right. I just... I get it if you want to be alone. You just got here, and I know newcomers usually need some time before they want to, um. Socialise."

He looks back and raises an eyebrow. The eye facing me is a deep, olive green, and his coat is silvery in the moonlight. His black mane is unkempt. "Newcomers?"

"From, uh. The other world. The outer realm. Whatever ponies call it."

"Outer realm," he says, looking at the moon with a tiny, almost wistful smile. "Right. The whole town knows, do they? Celestia said that might be the case." He considers. "Or am I just that obvious?"

"Yes- I mean, no, we knew some ponies were coming from the other world." Honesty gets the better of me. "But nopony else would be on this side of town at this time of night. I kind of guessed who you were."

He nods absently. "I didn't expect to meet anyone out here, but it's not like I was avoiding it. Meeting ponies is what this is all about, really..."

Before I can think of what to say to that, he glances to me again. "Why were you out on 'this side of town', then?"

"Oh. Um. Just wandering, really. I like to try to take a few photos at the full moon." I gesture to my bag. "I was going to fly out over the forest a little before I went home."

"New Forest? Is that its name?"

"Yeah. The town's name, too."

He nods. "That I knew."

"Right." We fall into a calm silence. He doesn't seem to mind my presence, but continues staring up at nothing in particular.

After a few moments, he turns, steps past me, and hops onto the bench. He gazes around again at the town square, sitting with a pensive expression on his face. I join him on the opposite side of the bench, my messenger bag between us.

Usually I'm not one for silent company. I'm always alone when I'm out photographing. I really only speak to ponies in passing, or in my studio. All my socialisation is online. It's odd to share a silent moment with somepony you've just met. Yet, for some reason it feels like the right thing to do.

"Sorry," says the silver pony without warning, "I'm usually not so quiet. I'm just... not quite sure I'm here, yet."

I don't immediately respond. He seems to need to fill the silence. "I don't know if you know much about... the outer realm, but just being here is an adjustment like you wouldn't believe." He glances down at his hooves, then quickly away.

"I... have a bit of an idea," I respond. I think that's true enough. Though I can't pretend I have any idea what it would be like to find myself in a different body. "I've been reading some books from your world, actually. On Princess Celestia's recommendation."

He seems entirely taken aback at this. "Really? Celestia gave you... human books?" I nod. His surprised expression doesn't leave my face. "Like... history books?"

"No... well, yeah, I think, but I didn't read any of those. I kind of know the basic history of your world. You know, from the internet. I stuck to fiction." I scratch my neck absently. "It's weird how similar it almost is."

"Almost is?"

I'm not sure what to say. Reading those books was strange for a lot of reasons. "Like... you lot seem to care about the same things we do. And your stories are similar, too. But there's something off. It's like the characters are always expecting the worst, and most of the time they're right." I look back at him. "The antagonists aren't always the main problem. Sometimes it's like the whole world is against the ponies in the book."

"Yeah... I guess you wouldn't have stories quite like that, here." Something else seems to register, and his eyes widen again. "You have the internet?"

" 'Course. We can even connect with the outer realm, sometimes. For, like, livestreams and stuff."

"Right. I guess I did hear about that, a while ago." He looks wistful again. "A long while ago."

"I'm actually a bit of an internet nerd. That and my photography are mostly all I do." I pause. "And reading."

He turns to me again, and looks at me almost searchingly. It's a little intense. I raise an eyebrow. "What?"

"Nothing." He turns away. "I just... I can relate to that. A lot." For a tiny moment he looks broody, suspicious. He looks up at the sky, then gives a small sigh and looks back to me. "So... what's your name?"

For some reason, I feel unprepared to answer. "Um. Gingersnap." A pause as he nods. "What's yours?"

"I'm..." he seems to be struggling with something. He glares at the sky briefly again, shakes his head, takes a deep breath. "Silver Star. Call me Silver."

I'm not sure what to make of the display. I feel like I'm missing something; even knowing where he comes from, I realise I understand little. Celestia's visit begins to make more sense. But I don't have any reason to dislike him. In fact, Silver seems like the kind of pony I could get to know. And I suspect there's a lot more to know, compared to most ponies in town.

I realise again the silence has been just a little too long. "...It's nice to meet you, Silver."

He smiles a little. "Nice to meet you too." Then he asks something else out of the blue. "What's the nearest city to here? I mean, assuming this doesn't count?"

I take a moment to register the question, then grin. "Oh, no, Newforest is pretty small. Leave town that way—" I point to where he was standing when I took the photo—"and you're on the road to Trottingham. I think we're actually closer to Manechester, if you're flying. But the road there is a lot longer."

He snorts, almost sardonically. "No wonder you sound English. Rand—my brother will be happy, at least. Probably move to Trottingham as soon as he can."

I don't quite get the first half of that, but take the opportunity to ask about his family. "Your brother?"

"Yeah. I came here with him and my mum." He says "mum" oddly, giving it an almost Manehattanesque twang. "They're probably sleeping already. But I was never going to sleep tonight." He considers something. "Well, mum's asleep. I guess he might not be." Again, he says it like "maam". Weird.

"It probably makes it easier, coming with family. I know a lot of ponies from your world don't."

"They're probably the smart ones," he responds a little darkly. "You'd be surprised."

Again, I'm unsure of what to say. It seems like Silver has a lot more on his mind than just our conversation, though, and I can't blame him. "I don't get what you're going through, mate, but ponies in this town are welcoming. Go down any of the pubs one of these nights and you'll see." He looks at me but doesn't say anything. "I think settling here will be easier than you think. Really."

He seems to be considering my words. Then he sighs, and leans back, elbows resting on the back of the bench. "I hope you're right about that, Gingersnap."

Chapter 3 - Games

View Online

I live above my studio. It's a small place, but I don't need a lot of room. With my bed wedged against the wall I can fit two fullsize desks into the corner, which is great for my computer setup. The Pegassist keyboard needs the space.

I chat with my various online friends mostly every night. Tonight the conversation in my wargaming group chat has turned to the pony I met at the full moon.

[noctoria]		and you haven't seen him since?

[Snaps]			Nope
[Snaps]			I saw him looking in the windows of my studio but he 
			didn't come in

[HyperRaid]		weird

[noctoria]		lol couldn't he see you in there

[Snaps]			I was upstairs not in the studio itself

[noctoria]		so what you think he's avoiding you or

[Snaps]			It seems like? But who knows

[HyperRaid]		otherworlders are just weird. It took forever for the one 
			in my neighborhood to, like, realize she could talk to us 
			and we'd talk back.

[noctoria]		that's manehattan though none of you talk to each 
			other over threer anyway
[noctoria]		there

[mane_of_snakes]	gottem

[HyperRaid]		we do so.

[Snaps]			This is different. Silver an I had a totally normal 
[Snaps]			Like, he seemed completely normal if you ignore the actual 
			words he said.

[mane_of_snakes]	there's no such thing as a 'totally normal conversation' 
			with a new immigrant

[Snaps]			Yeah but I mean I didn't get any of that "they think we're not 
			real" vibe ponies talk about

[noctoria]		so what even makes you think he's avoiding you? it's been like 
			a week

[Snaps]			It's been like two weeks but
[Snaps]			I know he's seen me around. Like he went to check out the 
			human section of the library, but then he saw me in there 
			and left right away.

[HyperRaid]		yeah that counts.
[HyperRaid]		sorry sis.

[mane_of_snakes]	he probably just doesn't want to talk to anypony.

I sigh. I have seen him talking to other ponies. The ponies who run the archery club, for one. The librarian for another, the time I was in the library and he didn't see me. I'm still reading human books, and was really looking forward to discussing them with an actual former human. This avoidance is just... odd.

[Snaps]			He was talking to the unicorns at the archery club. Laughing 
			and joking with them even

[noctoria]		oh so he's just racist

[HyperRaid]		lol

[mane_of_snakes]	definitely that's what it is.

[Snaps]			Yeah funny.

[magic_Jedi]		I don't think you should worry about it, Snaps
[magic_Jedi]		Ponies like him eventually come around. There's something the
			matter for sure but he'll get over it
[magic_Jedi]		I can guarantee it's nothing to do with you personally

Huh. Jedi is usually just a lurker. I've never spoken to him outside of game before.

[noctoria]		what makes you say that

[Snaps]			How do you know?

[magic_Jedi]		I just do.
[magic_Jedi]		Newly emigrated ponies have all sorts of weird issues.
[magic_Jedi]		I can't explain more without making guesses that might be 

[Snaps]			Then you can't really know he'll "come around"

[magic_Jedi]		I guess I can't, no.
[magic_Jedi]		But I'd bet a lot on it.
[magic_Jedi]		If it's really bothering you, confront him about it. He 
			sounds like a reasonable pony
[magic_Jedi]		He'll probably apologise and stop being weird.
[magic_Jedi]		Or at least try to stop being weird.

[Snaps]			It's not really bothering me. It's just confusing
[Snaps]			I've been reading all these human books and they make me think
			I'm missing something big and obvious.

[magic_Jedi]		Where are you at again?

[Snaps]			Newforest

[magic_Jedi]		Smallish town. I'm even more sure now. Celestia put Silver 
			there to ease him into the world.
[magic_Jedi]		Seriously don't worry about it. Talk to him or just wait for 
			him to talk to you. It won't be long I bet

[HyperRaid]		you have a lot of experience with otherworlders Jedi?

[magic_Jedi]		lol Yeah I do.

[noctoria]		what's the deal with the human books Snaps

[Snaps]			Oh I dunno they just make otherworld ponies seem irrational to
			the point of lunacy
[Snaps]			But in the books it somehow makes perfect sense?
[Snaps]			Hard to explain

[magic_Jedi]		Sounds about right.

Honestly, the human books are really fun to read. It's odd to read stories where violence is taken for granted, among other things. They just always make me feel like I'm not quite getting it. Which is exactly how talking to Silver felt.

[magic_Jedi]		Had you read anything with permadeath in it before now?

[HyperRaid]		I hate permadeath stories

[Snaps]			Yeah, quite a few.

[magic_Jedi]		Well that's something at least. Keep in mind Silver's probably 
			lost a lot of ponies close to him.
[magic_Jedi]		Everypony from the outer realm has.

[mane_of_snakes]	hang on the outer realm is actually real life permadeath?

[magic_Jedi]		Yes?
[magic_Jedi]		Do some ponies really not get that?

[mane_of_snakes]	are you for real? Like really?
[mane_of_snakes]	I swear to Celestia I thought that was just a meme

[noctoria]		snakes youre joking right
[noctoria]		do you know any history like at all

[HyperRaid]		snakes you're a moron

[Snaps]			That's seriously basic knowledge m8

[mane_of_snakes]	I'm not a bucking historian

[noctoria]		well go to wikiponia and educate urself

[mane_of_snakes]	no thanks

[magic_Jedi]		Yeah that's something that irritates us. lol

[Snaps]			Us?

[magic_Jedi]		immigrants


[noctoria]		u for real?

[mane_of_snakes]	oh buck really? You an otherworlder Jedi?

[noctoria]		shit why did I not know that

[magic_Jedi]		Never asked.

[noctoria]		never thought to

[HyperRaid]		this is wild. you should have told us

[magic_Jedi]		I don't have to tell you everything
[magic_Jedi]		..I don't have to tell you anything!

[noctoria]		aight chill

[magic_Jedi]		No, that was
[magic_Jedi]		Nevermind. Inside joke

[Snaps]			So you really think you get why Silver's being weird?

[magic_Jedi]		Yeah I do, but ask him yourself.

[Snaps]			Yeah. I guess

[HyperRaid]		wait we're all online why are we not ingame?

[noctoria]		we're not all online

[HyperRaid]		enough for a five-pony
[HyperRaid]		two rounds?

[mane_of_snakes]	I'm in

[magic_Jedi]		Sure

[noctoria]		buck now we know why jedi is so good at wargames
[noctoria]		former human op

[magic_Jedi]		Shit, my secret advantage

[Snaps]			I'm not playing tonight.
[Snaps]			You can do a four-pony

[mane_of_snakes]	if we're doing a fourpony we need at least three rounds

[noctoria]		just do a full game

[mane_of_snakes]	what, full seven?

[noctoria]		yeah

[HyperRaid]		Buck yes

[magic_Jedi]		Sure

[Snaps]			Alright. See you pones later.

[noctoria]		bye

[HyperRaid]		see you Snaps

[Snaps]			Thank you Jedi, seriously
[Snaps]			Advice helped.

[magic_Jedi]		Glad to hear it.
[magic_Jedi]		Ask me anything later on if you need to.
[magic_Jedi]		in private

[Snaps]			Will do.

***you are now set to AFK

I stretch my wings. Typing on a Pegassist can lead to bad cramps if I'm not careful. But I do feel better for the talk. I've been trying not to think about Silver, but it's not like anything else new is going on around here.

I know I've seen his mother around, too. She's undoubtedly the blue pegasus with the odd Canterlot accent; I'd never seen her in town before the immigrants moved in. She's incredibly friendly, though I haven't had occassion to talk to her, nor the desire to undermine Silver's apparent wish for distance. Her mane is a similar colour to mine, red and light pink. She seems to really relish flying. I've taken a couple of photos of her, clearly beaming at the open sky even from a distance.

I sigh, but not unhappily.

I check a couple other group chats. Nothing, memes, nothing interesting... then something that stops me dead in the Newforest tabletop chat.

[Vagrantsword]		no, we decided not to allow enchantment stacking
[Vagrantsword]		gets too overpowered at the third level

[clo]			Ugh. I might need to reroll then
[clo]			we should really figure out these rules before we roll chars

[Vagrantsword]		I know but K didn't realise until yesterday so

***Ganelon has joined the chat. Say hi!

[Vagrantsword]		ho there!

[clo]			hey

[Ganelon]		Hi
[Ganelon]		I'm thinking of getting into the DnD type scene
[Ganelon]		This is the place, right?

[Vagrantsword]		"DnD"?
[Vagrantsword]		Are you from the outer realm?

[Ganelon]		Man does that seem to come out as soon as I start
			talking to a pony lol
[Ganelon]		Yeah, I just moved in
[Ganelon]		this is the Newforest chat right? For tabletop gaming?

[Vagrantsword]		that's us mate
[Vagrantsword]		exciting to have you here

I can't help but agree. This must be Silver—or his brother. But I gathered that his brother wasn't the type to be into tabletop gaming from what little Silver said of him.

[clo]			yeah, Welcome

[Ganelon]		thanks.
[Ganelon]		so you know what I mean by DnD? You have an analogue 
			here right?

[clo]			we have a bunch

[Vagrantsword]		There are plenty of games like what you're imagining, yeah. We 
			were just getting a new one ready, actually. Our 
			friend K is running it
[Vagrantsword]		There might be time to get in on it if you move quick

[Ganelon]		Maybe. how quick woudl I need to be?

[Vagrantsword]		dunno, wait till K gets on
[Vagrantsword]		Killgrad that is
[Vagrantsword]		ask him

[clo]			we won't be meeting up for a little while, K can deal with a 
[clo]			especially if we have to bucking reroll everyone anyway

[Ganelon]		I might hang about a bit first
[Ganelon]		If you can send me the resources to the game I can get to 

[clo]			only K can share the docs

[Vagrantsword]		we use EqQ to co-ordinate
[Vagrantsword]		EquestriaQuests
[Vagrantsword]		make an account on there and then K can add you to the game

[Ganelon]		got it.

***you are no longer AFK

[TeaMistress]		Hey there!

Right. Forgot that my username was different in this group. He won't know it's me.

[Ganelon]		heyo.
[Ganelon]		happy to meet all of you.
[Ganelon]		where do you meet?

I start to type out a message telling him who I am, but stop.

What if that chases him away?

[Vagrantsword]		in a pub
[Vagrantsword]		the Silver Sword

[Ganelon]		....bucking hell

[Vagrantsword]		?

[clo]			?

[Ganelon]		don't worry about it. crazy coincidence is all

[Vagrantsword]		how so

[Ganelon]		don't worry inside joke I guess

[TeaMistress]		Otherworlders have a lot of those, it seems

[Ganelon]		haha how many do you know?

[TeaMistress]		A couple.

It's technically true.

[Ganelon]		well anyway. I look forward to getting to know you lot
[Ganelon]		btw do I call you Tea? or Mistress?

[TeaMistress]		lol. Tea please.
[TeaMistress]		let's keep it pg

[Ganelon]		PG Tips?


[TeaMistress]		What?

[Ganelon]		another inside joke sorry

[clo]			never played games with an immigrant
[clo]			should be interesting

[Ganelon]		can't wait to disappoint
[Ganelon]		I'm not interesting lol

Maybe from his point of view.

[TeaMistress]		We'll be the judges of that.


Chapter 4 - Shard

View Online

I actually hadn't been planning to join Killgrad's game. I can't even decide if I want to now that Silver Star seems to be. The conversation is over and I'm idly scrolling webpages, not really reading any of the posts.

On one hoof, it would be nice to meet him in person again. I don't want to be left out when he meets my friends, especially because there are so few ponies in Newforest that I actually talk to. On the other, the fact that he's having some weird otherworlder aversion to my company will likely make it awkward if TeaMistress suddenly turns out to be, well, me.

I have two choices: join K's game, and hope Silver figures out his issue before we meet in person, or choose not to and risk missing out on a fun time with a former human. I can't pretend any more that the "former human" part hasn't got a peculiar magnetism; not when I'm still devouring books from his world.

I make a cuppa and quibble on it. Even if I don't join the game, it would be odd for me to not attend the meetups: I sit at their table, drinking tea (hence the nickname) and provide acting for NPC characters when I'm not a player, almost like a GM's assistant. And soon White Mage will get back from his trip to the Caneighdia and we'll resume the game I am a part of. Plus the others would note my absence and likely reveal my name, making Silver think I'm avoiding him. Which, I guess, I would be.


*You have a new friend request from Ganelon*

I make sure my default name for new chats is set to TeaMistress. Then I click the checkmark next to the notification.

[Ganelon]		hey 
[Ganelon]		Are you part of K's game? You didn't say.

[TeaMistress]		Actually no. I wasn't planning on it at least. Permadeath 
			games aren't my thing.
[TeaMistress]		I play in a game somepony on a trip GMs

[Ganelon]		Ah. Cool.
[Ganelon		A trip to where?

[TeaMistress]		Somewhere in Caneighda, I don't think we actually asked

[Ganelon]		Sorry for my ignorance, you'll have to indulge that about me
[Ganelon]		Is that a different country to Equestria?

[TeaMistress]		I don't think "country" means the thing you're thinking here.
[TeaMistress]		Equestria is all one nation, but there are pretty big regions 
			within it.
[TeaMistress]		We're in Braytannia
[TeaMistress]		Griffons and some other creatures have "countries" with 
			different leaders but we don't. Celeste and Selene just rule 
			all of Equestria from Canterlot
[TeaMistress]		Which is right around where this region blurs with Amarecca

[Ganelon]		No that makes sense.
[Ganelon]		What other cities are there in Braytannia

[TeaMistress]		There's Trottingham and Manechester close to here, way north 
			is Glaswhinnie and Edinbray, down south there's Canterbridge 
			and Canterbury, Cambraya, and Braystol. Canterlot isn't really
			considered part of the region but it's closer to here than 
			Edinbray, for example. There are tons of small towns, smaller 
			than this one, like everywhere
[TeaMistress]		Some ponies consider the northern cities and towns to be
			their own region, Shetland, since it didn't unify with 
			Equestria for a few hundred years. Same goes for Cambraya and 
			its wet little mountain range. But these days nopony really 
			makes those distinctions.

[Ganelon]		huh
[Ganelon]		What's the biggest city?

[TeaMistress]		Trottingham by a long long way

[Ganelon]		Got it. Tha'ts... really really interesting actually

[TeaMistress]		Is it really?
[TeaMistress]		Why?

He takes a while to answer. I see him start and stop typing five or so times.

[Ganelon]		Are you aware that to an immigrant it sounds like all the 
			cities here are just puns based on cities in the outer realm?

[TeaMistress]		I think I did know that, yeah. Why?

[Ganelon]		Just wondered. It kind of makes this whole world seem a 
[Ganelon]		less real.
[Ganelon]		I imagine that's really offensive, sorry
[Ganelon]		forget I said it

[TeaMistress]		No, I... kind of get it
[TeaMistress]		I mean your world came first from your perspective, right?
[TeaMistress]		It's probably hard to forget that when you've lived there 
			your whole life.
[TeaMistress]		But from what I know, our history goes back way further than 
			yours does, so from another point of view our cities were 
			founded first ;)

[Ganelon]		I totally get that, it's why I shouldn't have said it
[Ganelon]		Your world is obviously very real lol

[TeaMistress]		It's your world too now

[Ganelon]		Right.
[Ganelon]		How far back does your history go anyway?
[Ganelon]		..our history

[TeaMistress]		I just realised I forgot Neighcastle. It's north of here also

[Ganelon]		LOL
[Ganelon]		holy buck
[Ganelon]		wow even typing my words come out different
[Ganelon]		do you say "fuck" here?

[TeaMistress]		Course we do. Just not unless we want to get a reaction lol

[Ganelon]		I see
[Ganelon]		for the record, ponies in the outer realm try to forget
			Newcastle exists whenever they can as well

[TeaMistress]		lol
[TeaMistress]		To answer your question, Equestria has existed for 
			thousands of years
[TeaMistress]		at least 13,000 I think; that's when writing was invented as 
			we know it
[TeaMistress]		It was unified by Celeste and Selene like 8200 years ago ish
[TeaMistress]		It's the year 7018 in our calendar

[Ganelon]		Yeah Celestia told me a little about them
[Ganelon]		I was surprised that Celestia and Luna weren't ruling the 
[Ganelon]		nation

[TeaMistress]		What, the ruler of all creation and her sister, the one who
			created the world in the first place?
[TeaMistress]		Yeah, no, lol

[Ganelon]		Well yeah it made sense as soon as I heard it
[Ganelon]		Arguably it's not Luna who created it in the first place, 

[TeaMistress]		You mean Cascade Quill? The one who made the cartoon? Yeah, 
			she's important too. But just because Luna had inspiration 
			doesn't mean she's not the one we have to thank for our 

[Ganelon]		I can see that

Some time passes. It's a little late, now, so I figure it's time to eat something. I head to my kitchen, stretching, and spend a few minutes thinking about our conversation as I microwave some soup and butter some bread. It seems odd that he didn't know anything about our shard except what Princess Celestia told him herself. Especially after being here for two weeks. I wonder what it would be like to move to another shard, one with a very different history and social structure. I'd probably feel a little lost too. But I'd also learn all I could before really interacting with anypony. Maybe I've overestimated how much Silver was socialising until now.

I return to my desk with my meal, and see more messages.

[Ganelon]		The reason I asked about cities is because in the outer realm, 
			Trottingham is pretty small
[Ganelon]		well, Nottingham as it's called
[Ganelon]		the capital city of Britain in the outer realm is London, and  
			it's enormous compared to everywhere else in the country.
[Ganelon]		It's really a bunch of towns, or cities even, all combined by
			urban expansion

[TeaMistress]		Trottingham is sort of like that, too. The part that's the 
			"original" Trottingham is pretty small. It just swallowed up 
			all the towns around it. Sometimes ponies call the whole area 
			"Greater Trotton" but it's not all that common

[Ganelon]		Got it. Bucking hell I see why Celestia sent us here. My 
			brother only ever wanted to live in Nottingham or London. So 
			now he doesn't even have to choose. lol

[TeaMistress]		Can I ask why you didn't know any of this? Haven't you been 
			here a little while already?

[Ganelon]		I only got my computer yesterday. I was planning to just look
			all this up online but
[Ganelon]		I dunno
[Ganelon]		Just felt like talking was more in the spirit of things

Another weird thing to say. But I realise that part of him must still feel like Equestria, or this shard at least, was created for him and other immigrants. From a certain point of view, there might even be a little truth to it, though it's not something I nor anypony I know suffer any nihilism over. At least it's not like the outer realm, where ponies are so desperate for existence to have meaning that they invent gods and make themselves miserable over the possibility that they'll die and not reach an "afterlife".

Though, again, they created Celestia, who really does have eternal life to offer... Silver must feel like he's being ungrateful if he doesn't interact with ponies now that he's here.

[Ganelon]		honestly the thing that shocks me more than anything is how
			Celestia lets you guys know everything you like about the
			outer realm. I don't know if you know but some shards aren't
			like that at all. Most shards, even.

[TeaMistress]		It must not satisfy those ponies' values. Or the ones of the 
			otherworlders who end up there.

I think about this a little. If what he says is true, Silver Star must really care about human history, deep down, to be in my shard. I wonder how many ponies are actually taking advantage of the library's human section.

Not for the first time, I wonder why Celestia singled me out about it. Does she think I'm Silver's best chance at a lasting friendship? Or did Silver have nothing to do with it? She was right about how much I'm enjoying them, after all—how could she not be?

[Ganelon]		lol yeah I guess

[TeaMistress]		and we don't have any knowledge about anything after 
			Celestia's creation. I guess that's where she draws the line

[Ganelon]		That... makes sense, really. The world's ending out there, 
			Tea. I don't know if you know it.

I feel a little chill reading those words. I haven't really thought about what Celestia's advent is doing to the outer realm. I feel a little guilty, and wonder what the end of the world means in a place where death is the final word. Probably nothing good. I can't think of a response, so I decide to end the conversation there.

[TeaMistress]		Soup is cooling off. Gonna eat and watch vids for a while. 
[TeaMistress]		Nice talking

[Ganelon]		Alright, peace

***you are now set to AFK

I stretch my wings once more and take a bite of soup-soaked bread. I think about the outer realm, and how little I actually know about what it's like to have to live there, and even less about what it's like to worry about dying there. I wonder how much I'll learn from Silver Star that the books I've been reading haven't taught me.

For now, I'm satisfied that he's talking to me, even if he doesn't know who I am.

Chapter 5 - Identity

View Online

Around three weeks pass. Silver Star decides not to join K's game, but from what I can gather he's working with White Mage to get a character into the new quest when our party reconvenes, now that he's back in Newforest. There's some secrecy going on, there, and I'm sort of excited for what they're going to come up with.

The problem is that it's definitely passed the point of being able to tell Ganelon that TeaMistress is Gingersnap without it being weird. I can only hope it works out. I already asked White Mage to only refer to me by character name. Maybe Celestia will help out somehow. I try not to worry about it.

[Ganelon]		well you have to admit I'm improving
[Ganelon]		it's not my bucking fault that all my skill was essentially 
			muscle memory for muscles I no longer possess

[TeaMistress]		Well maybe if you weren't stubborn you'd be improving faster.
			I haven't known any unicorn who refused to use magic to play 
			video games

[Ganelon]		look. magic is fine for typing but I just
[Ganelon]		need my bucking hooves on the keyboard when I play
[Ganelon]		I've been trying to use my magic to control the mouse, though, 
			I told you that the other day

[TeaMistress]		I just don't see how you can possibly prefer hooves. I mean 
			the other way around I could understand, magic on the keyboard 
			and hoof on mouse. you're doing it backward m8

[Ganelon]		no. this will work out. I'm going to get a split keyboard and 
			have my mouse right in the middle.

[TeaMistress]		lol how will that help?

[Ganelon]		I don't know! I feel like it will!

[TeaMistress]		At this point I don't even believe you were good at shooters
			in the outer realm

[Ganelon]		ffffFFFFFFF
[Ganelon]		honestly fingers were just so much bucking better

[TeaMistress]		better than wings? better than horn magic? better than earth 
			pony magic?
[TeaMistress]		I don't reckon

[Ganelon]		Look I'm the one who has experience with both okay? I'm the 
			authority on which is better here
[Ganelon]		so maybe stbu and have sympathy for my plight

[TeaMistress]		lol poor otherworlder missing his weird claws

[Ganelon]		that's better

[TeaMistress]		what else do you miss about the other world?

I regret asking as soon as I press enter. But he's seen it now. Once again, I see him start and stop typing several times.

[Ganelon]		I guess when I think about it, aside from the hands, literally 
			nothing I can't find somewhere in Equestria
[Ganelon]		But that's... not the whole story, is it?
[Ganelon]		it can't be the same, here
[Ganelon]		if I get fresh cider and donuts, it won't be from the cider 
			mill we've been going to since I was a baby
[Ganelon]		If I get some rum raisin ice cream at the beach, it won't be 
			Empire beach, even if Celestia made it look identical, and I 
			know she wouldn't because it would piss me off
[Ganelon]		if I go to a coney island restaurant at four in the morning, I 
			won't be listening to the truckers complaining to each other 
			and talking to Mayo the insane guy who works behind the 
[Ganelon]		it's just....
[Ganelon]		those place-feelings, that sense of time and self, that 
			identity in my past
[Ganelon]		it's gone and that's hard sometimes

I think for a few moments before responding.

[TeaMistress]		The past is always the past, Gan
[TeaMistress]		I can't go back in time either. Nopony can.
[TeaMistress]		I can't go back to when I was first reading my favourite book, 
			or selling my first photographs.

[Ganelon]		lol not the point
[Ganelon]		you can go back to WHERE you were reading that book, taking 
			those photos

[TeaMistress]		That's...
[TeaMistress]		yeah. I see what you mean.

[Ganelon]		If I go visit Detrot, there's no chance in hell it'll be 
			anything like Detroit
[Ganelon]		take my bucking word for it
[Ganelon]		Celestia wouldn't let that place exist, here
[Ganelon]		I'm sure it would have all its good qualities
[Ganelon]		all the things that make me miss it, make me proud of it
[Ganelon]		but without the fact that deep down, we all know it's a 
			shithole so deep the sun can't reach it? truly dangerous, 
			truly broken? it's not the same place by a long shot

[TeaMistress]		why did you move to Brittania anyway? Was it because Detroit 
			was dangerous?

[Ganelon]		honestly, kind of
[Ganelon]		our house was broken into a couple times and stuff like that
[Ganelon]		but we could have gone anywhere; to a nicer area in Michigan, 
			but my dad was British
[Ganelon]		He wanted us to see what it was like to live where he grew up

The past tense sticks out to me. It occurs to me that he hasn't yet mentioned his father, only his "mom" and brother.

I have a bad feeling about it.

[TeaMistress]		I see
[TeaMistress]		well I'm glad you ended up here and not in Detrot

[Ganelon]		haha I'm glad you're glad

I look out of the window. It looks like rain, but the dipping sun paints the sky in wistful hues of pink and orange in defiance of the dark clouds.

I should really go take some photos.

[TeaMistress]		I'm going out for a while, got some stuff to do
[TeaMistress]		we can play more Equine Crisis later
[TeaMistress]		practice maybe so we don't autolose again

[Ganelon]		yeah yeah

***you are now set to AFK

I get up and grab my bag, unplugging my camera from its sync cable and looping that over my neck as well. I set out. The air tastes wet; it can't be long before the rain comes. A gust of wind punctuates the thought, making me blink. Before then, though, the fire-edged clouds are a perfect subject... I just need to find some good angles.

I walk through the near-empty streets. Most ponies don't relish being out in the rain, even as common as it is around here. It makes for an even easier time finding shots to take.


A corner cafe, tinged grey in the shadow of the clouds, potted plants blowing slightly in the wind. An empty street in the background, leading downward, as the roofs sink lower to meet the treeline at the edge of town. The sky is the true focus, the sun's rays visibly shining down between the dark and foreboding rainclouds, the edges of which are tinged red and orange to compliment the grey-blue of the sky behind, the pink and peach on the horizon.


Yes. Yes. It's a good photograph; one of the better sky shots I've taken recently. The cafe is such a good object! I have to return here the next time there's a particularly photogenic sky.

I take wing and look for a good roof-level shot. Taking photos while flying is hard, but I've had a lot of practice. Here, the chimneys of the buildings along the street make a curving line of perspective, down and down. In the distance, the mottled sunlight managing to peek through the clouds makes patterns on the canopy of New Forest.


I've only been taking photos for maybe fifty minutes when it starts raining. I consider flying over to Pine Pond for a rain shot (rain on the water is always great) but the sky is already surrendering its warm hues so... nah. Today's not the day.

Returning to the ground, I make for my studio. I don't actually mind the rain but flying in it is no fun. I would also rather be inside before it starts in earnest, too, so it's at a trot that I arrive at my studio door—just as the rain begins to fall hard, slapping the paving stones as if in anger. I enter, toss down my bag, and set my camera on the desk. I'll edit the shots and get them print-ready later.

I do check to see how orders are doing, though. I snort when I see that, once again, my bog-standard landscape shots of the trees and cliffs at morning or sunset are still the best-selling canvas prints. It seems that some ponies prefer the art on their walls to be pretty but benign. Most, in fact.

It kind of vexes me. Once again I have half a mind to remove the more boring images from my site; once again I remind myself that I should be happy ponies are appreciating what I do. And it's not like nopony buys my better snaps. I'm fairly successful, in that there's nothing I put up for sale that absolutely no pony wants to buy.

I return to my apartment and grab a towel from my airing cupboard to dry what little rain managed to soak into my mane. Sitting back at my desk with a happy sigh, I remember there's a new episode of Golden Storm to watch. I wonder if Silver has caught up on it yet.

As soon as I think of Silver Star, I notice the 14 notifications from EQChat. Hm.

[Ganelon]		heyt I had this great idea to see if i was beytter to playing 
			equine crisiss drunkk
[Ganelon]		better at
[Ganelon]		but I'm not
[Ganelon]		i thik im worse

Oh Luna.

[Ganelon]		you know i haven't bean drunk asa pony tye
[Ganelon]		its bassdically yhe same in case you werwe wondering
[Ganelon]		the onyl problem is that all my brothers stash is gone now
[Ganelon]		I know my tpyign is bad but I seawr I;m not drunk enough yet
[Ganelon]		it's thias bucking horn it doesn't ytype right

[Ganelon]		hey can you still fly sruink?
[Ganelon]		drunk
[Ganelon]		or is therea law aaginst that
[Ganelon]		lol FUI
[Ganelon]		come play bvideo games before the druink wears off

Something tells me I should be concerned. Silver's mum is visiting Cambraya up in the clouds, and his brother Random is at a music show of some kind in Trottingham. He's alone in his house, apparently drinking all the alcohol that happens to be available.

His last message was sent only a few minutes ago. I flex my wings.

[TeaMistress]		yeah I'm not gonna play with an even less coordinated version 
			of you.
[TeaMistress]		if I liked losing that much I'd just play with my hooves

[Ganelon]		look I dont nees your bacvkchat
[Ganelon]		need a distraction taht;s not celestai
[Ganelon]		shes a buvcking bitch sometimes
[Ganelon]		tihngks she has a solutionb for everything
[Ganelon]		YOU DONT

Okay, this is now worrying. Resenting Celestia isn't unheard of, but it doesn't exactly bespeak a healthy mental state.

[TeaMistress]		Gan, you're worrying me.
[TeaMistress]		look if you're going to get drunk at least go to a pub
[TeaMistress]		hell go to the gaming pub over in Marske

[Ganelon]		nah I had vodka her eso why woudl i
[Ganelon]		also goinf to a pub alone? buck thaty

I chew my lip. Maybe this is the time. Silver sounds like he needs a friend, whether he admits it or not, and something tells me playing video games isn't going to alleviate whatever's driven him to drink in the first place. Apparently Princess Celestia pissed him off somehow, which is unheard of as far as I know—but I don't really know any other immigrants. After another moment of thought, I make my choice.

[TeaMistress]		How about I go out to a pub with you
[TeaMistress]		we're both in Newforest, remember?

[Ganelon]		hmm
[Ganelon]		they will have more booze threr

[TeaMistress]		yes but there are conditions.
[TeaMistress]		one, you have to tell me what's bothering you. I actually 
			care. I don't know how it worked in the other world but here 
			ponies don't suffer alone.
[TeaMistress]		two, no more drinking...

[Ganelon]		bcuk that

[TeaMistress]		...until I catch up.

[Ganelon]		well
[Ganelon]		look you sont need to know about my iissues
[Ganelon]		ill bucvking get over it
[Ganelon]		but tbh it souynds fun and I ahfven't met any of you dnd pones 
			in person yet
[Ganelon]		so sure
[Ganelon]		what pub, the sivler sword?
[Ganelon]		whichj i'm surpreised isn't just caelled the graytwandsir
[Ganelon]		graysawandire
[Ganelon]		Grayswandir
[Ganelon]		buckin celestai seroisly

Again I don't know what he's talking about, but at least he's agreed. I glance out the window. Already the rain has stopped; looks like it was just a flash shower. One almost perfectly timed to make me see the messages from Ganelon.

Maybe I am part of Celestia's plan after all. I don't know if I like it.

[TeaMistress]		Yeah, the Silver Sword is perfect. Meet there in twenty 
			minutes or so?

[Ganelon]		yeah cool
[Ganelon]		howw ill I know it's you
[Ganelon]		you know my namwe already aalong with everyony else in town
[Ganelon]		I'll be the silver prick with blacvk hair

Well, now's the moment of truth.

[TeaMistress]		I'm a ginger pegasus with a two-tone red mane.
[TeaMistress]		I... think we've met, actually.

A long moment passes. Oh Celestia I hope you knew what you were doing. I've done this all wrong. It's weird now and it's my fault and I've made everything worse—

[Ganelon]		wow
[Ganelon]		Gingersnap
[Ganelon]		I remenmber. thje phortographer
[Ganelon]		celestai, well played
[Ganelon]		can'r avoid tghe bucking mastyer plan i guess

[TeaMistress]		look Silver I'm sorry
[TeaMistress]		I should have told you who I was right away
[TeaMistress]		Seriously just come to the pub. I'm not letting you be alone 
			tonight no matter how much you want to avoid me or any other 

[Ganelon]		no don'r be sorry
[Ganelon]		I'm the one wgo should apoloigse
[Ganelon]		it'sa just thatr
[Ganelon]		buck i dunno
[Ganelon]		I'l see you at the silver swrod.

[TeaMistress]		Alright. See you there.

I really hope this is a good idea.

Chapter 6 - Pub

View Online

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."


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.


"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.


"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?"


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."


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.

Chapter 7 - Archery

View Online

[noctoria]		so hang on when was this
[noctoria]		last night?

[Snaps]			Two nights ago

[noctoria]		huh

[HyperRaid]		so it worked out. That's great Snaps ^^

[Snaps]			I mean, yeah. It was really weirdly a nice time

[HyperRaid]		why was it weird?

[Snaps]			He has some issues with Celestia. I don't think he's even
			necessarily wrong, but
[Snaps]			There's just a lot going on in that head. Some of it pretty
			bucked up to be honest.

[HyperRaid]		lol so what made it a nice time?

[Snaps]			I dunno. It was just... different. And different is fun. Felt
			like I was actually getting to know him.
[Snaps]			No screen between us and we weren't there mostly to roll dice.
[Snaps]			That's unusual for me lol

[Aquadoc]		Hang on who are we talking about?

[HyperRaid]		oh hey Aqua

[noctoria]		yo aqua
[noctoria]		Snaps has a new otherworlder buddy lol

[Aquadoc]		ah

[Snaps]			Hi Aqua

[Aquadoc]		For a sec I thought you were, like, describing a dream you had
[Aquadoc]		I was like Snaps doesn't go drinking with stallions lol

[Snaps]			lol fair assumption

[magic_Jedi]		I'm glad it worked out Snaps.
[magic_Jedi]		You found out what was bothering him I'm guessing?

[Snaps]			Yeah, and honestly it's not even that crazy

[magic_Jedi]		It never is.
[magic_Jedi]		Celestia can be pretty... hard for immigrants to reconcile
[magic_Jedi]		I'm pretty sure I can guess what the issue was

	[You]-->[magic_Jedi]		go on then what's your guess

	[magic_Jedi]-->[You]		Something to do with thinking Celestia was
					pushing you towards him as a potential love
					interest he isn't ready for?

	[You]-->[magic_Jedi]		Yup, pretty much

[Snaps]			Well in any case
[Snaps]			I'm tired of losing playing Equine Crisis with him so
[Snaps]			I'm inviting him to this chat

[noctoria]		snaps nooooo
[noctoria]		we can't withstand two humans, we'll never win again

[HyperRaid]		lol that's actually a point

[Snaps]			Nah. He only plays shooters and he's not even good at those

[HyperRaid]		so why invite him?

[Snaps]			I just said why

***Ganelon has joined the chat. Say hi!

[Ganelon]		What's this then
[Ganelon]		"Wargames?"

[HyperRaid]		hey there

[Snaps]			Strategic war video games. Mostly "Wars of Eqqus". We just say

[Ganelon]		ahhh

[noctoria]		so this is the infamous immigrant
[noctoria]		heard you fell asleep with snaps
[noctoria]		was it hot?

[Snaps]			-_-

[Ganelon]		Yes.

[Snaps]			-_-     -_-     -_-

[Ganelon]		I'm shocked I remember it
[Ganelon] 		Alcohol works very differently here
[Ganelon]		also, hi everypony

[noctoria]		does it rly?

[Aquadoc]		Yeah apparently it completely erases your memory of the night
			in the outer realm

[Ganelon]		I mean. Pretty much
[Ganelon]		If you drink enough that is

[HyperRaid]		that's wild
[HyperRaid]		I mean things get fuzzy sure but I can't imagine just blanking
			on a night

[Ganelon]		lol can you imagine being sick as buck all day the next day?
[Ganelon]		that's something else I'm happy to miss

[Snaps]			Is that real? I thought you were kidding.

[Ganelon]		no, it's horribly real
[Ganelon]		well not anymore =D

[magic_Jedi]		Equestria comes with many blessings.

[HyperRaid]		lol

[Ganelon]		"magic Jedi"??
[Ganelon]		That's a hell of a giveaway

[magic_Jedi]		I mean. Only to those in the know.

[Aquadoc]		??

[magic_Jedi]		Inside joke.

[Snaps]			oh Luna

[noctoria]		never occurred to me that "jedi" meant something
[noctoria]		bucking otherworlders

[Ganelon]		Where are you from Jedi??
[Ganelon]		If you don't mind me asking

[magic_Jedi]		Vancouver.
[magic_Jedi]		And now, Vanhoover. Obviously.

[Ganelon]		Wild.

[magic_Jedi]		You were British I assume?
[magic_Jedi]		To end up in Snaps' neck of the woods

[Ganelon]		Yep. Originally from the States but yep

[Snaps]			So are we up to actually play some games?

[Ganelon]		I dunno is it easy to learn?

[noctoria]		not really

[Aquadoc]		There's a learning curve.

[Ganelon]		uh oh

[magic_Jedi]		Don't worry. It's like any other RTS

[Ganelon]		I... haven't played an RTS in forever

[magic_Jedi]		Well
[magic_Jedi]		I will teach you, young padawan

[Ganelon]		=D

[noctoria]		what??

[Snaps]			no don't ask

[Ganelon]		Inside joke

[Snaps]			buuuuuuuuuck you both

[noctoria]		you did this snaps

[Snaps]			I know -_-

[HyperRaid]		Let's get started. I'll set it up
[HyperRaid]		what do we want, a six-pony? Are we all playing?

[Aquadoc]		I'll play

[noctoria]		yeah

[magic_Jedi]		We're all in I think.

[HyperRaid]		three rounds?

[Snaps]			Maybe only two.

[noctoria]		no do three

[HyperRaid]		I'd rather do three

[Snaps]			Okay.

[Ganelon]		Sounds good. What do I need?

[Snaps]			Oh. Right. lemme grab the game link...

* * *

A few hours later it transpires that Noct was kind of right about the human advantage. Either that or Silver has exceptional beginner's luck. He loses our first couple games, but as soon as he figures out the actual mechanics, he's easily one of the more dangerous players. There's some kind of instinct the former humans seem to have for when to attack and when to retreat.

Everypony in the game but Jedi and Ganelon ends up in an uneasy truce until the human threat is dealt with. Either we fail and Jedi wins, or we beat them and Noct ends up winning. It's still pretty fun. I almost come out on top in the last game. I figure out that Ganelon has a "glass cannon" approach to warfare and if you catch him unawares he's easy to wipe fairly fast. The hard part is actually doing that.

Aqua and HyperRaid drop out after five games. The rest of us four decide to mix it up and play a 2v2, which we almost never do—usually all vs all is more interesting.

But me and Jedi vs Ganelon and Noct? That's too hard to pass up. We go a full seven-round game.

It's hard-fought. As usual, Jedi starts with his defences. The fog of war prevents us from seeing what the other side is doing, but it's easy to guess that both of them are building up attacking forces: Noct with sheer numbers, Gan with overpowered soldiers. I try to strike a balance. If we can wait them out, we'll win.

Five rounds in, there's no clear advantage to either side. They've sustained more losses but also control more territory. The slow burn that is Jedi's strategy is coming into play, though. All I need to to is keep Ganelon busy.

And I manage it. Through the fog of war, my heavily armoured squadron chances upon his spearhead flanking forces. If he doesn't fight me, I'll take control of the territory and he'll be cut off. But by fighting me he sacrifices the ability to flank for Noct. She's on her own.


The seventh round ends with a decisive victory for our team. My army is nearly wiped out but Jedi overran the exhausted troops of the other team. I stretch my wings, basking in the victory.

* * *

[TeaMistress]		You need to get over the fact that you got rekt

[Ganelon]		Oh please. That was a lucky win

***TeaMistress has changed their username to 'Snaps'

[Snaps]			Yeah right.
[Snaps]			I will admit you're better than I'd have thought
[Snaps]			by... a long way

[Ganelon]		lol
[Ganelon]		I don't know why you lot aren't better
[Ganelon]		I haven't played an RTS since high school
[Ganelon]		I didn't even understand the reinforcement mechanic and I
			still did well

[Snaps]			Noct was just right
[Snaps]			former humans op

[Ganelon]		Noct is actually way better than me though

[Snaps]			she plays it a lot.

[Ganelon]		In all seriousness the human thing can't have anything to do
			with it
[Ganelon]		It's not like I ever participated in a war back on Earth

[Snaps]			Maybe it was beginner's luck

[Ganelon]		honestly? almost definitely.
[Ganelon]		I'm still shit at EqC so

I shake my head at the screen. There's no way. But time will tell, I suppose.

[Snaps]			I didn't see you today. We should do something tomorrow.
[Snaps]			I should take some photos in the evening, it's a crescent moon
			on the horizon tomorrow night
[Snaps]			But we can exchange book recommendations at the library or

[Ganelon]		I want to see your studio.
[Ganelon]		That one across from the sandwich place is yours, right?

[Snaps]			Yup. It's my apartment too

[Ganelon]		Right. You mentioned

[Snaps]			Yeah, pop by. I'm usually in there in the mornings anyway.

[Ganelon]		cool
[Ganelon]		I'll see you then.

[Snaps]			Alright. night

[Ganelon]		night =)

***Ganelon is now AFK

I sigh happily. Usually I hate just "hanging about" with ponies; even friends. But with Silver I feel like I could hang about all day and just enjoy his company. Or idly argue about something inconsequential or philosophical. Which I do online with him often, as well as with plenty of other ponies, I have to admit.

But... actually being there with somepony is just so much better.

* * *

It's just before eleven o'clock that Silver enters the studio, setting off the little bell. Sitting on my stool, I look up from my book with a grin. "Hey."

"Hey," he responds. He takes a few steps towards me, leaning way down to try to see what book I'm reading from the underside. What he sees makes him laugh, a look of surprised approval taking over his face. "Wow. I didn't expect that. Fight Club is easily one of the ones I'd recommend. It's my brother's favourite book." He pauses. "Though, he doesn't read a lot of books."

"It's... something," I say, dog-earing the book and flipping it around in my hooves pensively. "I was mostly reading sci-fi. This is different."

"Yeah. How far in?"

"Only a ways. They just started the, you know. Club."

"Well stick with it. It gets trippy."

I nod. I'm not sure I like it, though. It seems very... human. Not in an altogether good way. "D'you like what you see?" I ask, gesturing around at the studio. I display all my favourites here. The popular ones sell fine online but I don't want them in my space, the one I show to ponies.

"I do," he says, inspecting a series of colour studies. "I thought you said you mostly did landscapes."

"I do. They just get samey after a while. These are the ones I'm most proud of."

He ambles over to a pair of lake scenes, one on an autumn morning and one on a winter evening. The framing is identical. "Were you flying when you took these?" he asks with mild incredulity.

"Yup. I kind of cheated with cropping. But even before that they were pretty close."

"That's awesome."

I grin in what I hope is a modest way.

"So you sell these online?"


He grins sideways at me. "So I could buy one of these from you right here?"

I'm a little taken aback. "I guess. Yeah." I try to surpress the mild sense of glee. I love selling prints out of the studio.

Then I remember why I'd been up earlier than usual. "I printed something out to show you." I nod toward the far wall.

He looks over. Snorts when he sees it. The photograph I took on that first night, under the stars... Silver Star is a black silhouette in front of the night sky, head raised toward the rising full moon.

He walks over to the canvas. I printed it out pretty big; it's just over two feet across. Silver just stands before it, staring.

I set Fight Club down and walk over. I stand beside him, gazing into it as well.

After a moment I break the silence. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah, ‘course.”

“What were you thinking about? In that moment?”

His eyes unfocus as he gazes into the canvas. “I was seeing if… if I could recognise any constellations.” He stops, blinks, turns to look at me. “I never really knew them, back in the outer realm. Other than Orion.” He shakes his head, almost laughing. “A human. The hunter. Supposedly he had a sword and shield, but I always saw a bow and arrow…” again he pauses. “But I knew the sky’s patterns. Constellations I saw on my own, never gave names but could always find them…”

“And did you see them? That night?”

“No. Of course I didn’t.” He looks back at the photograph.

“That’s a shame,” I say after a moment.

He sighs. “Dunno.” A pause. “This is another world. I think I’m okay with that.”

We gaze at the photo for another moment.

“I’m glad you took this,” Silver says abruptly.

“Why?” I ask, an odd mix of feelings gently warring in my chest.

“Because it’s a nice picture.” He takes a breath as if to go on, but stops.

"...I'm glad you like it."

He smiles at me. "I really do, Snaps."

I try not to wonder if he had something more to say.

* * *

At the library, we mull over the human book section. "It looks like Celestia made sure all my favourites were here," Silver says. "And mom's favourites." He looks with some distaste at a shelf full of books by somepony named Stephen King. "But there's plenty here I haven't read."

"Well," I say, "If you have anything to recommend, I can take them out now. They're good for a month of borrowing."

He looks contemplative. "Do you want something I think you might like," he says finally, "or something that I like?"

"Either one. One of each, say."

"Let's see." He crouches on his forelegs, scanning the lowermost shelf. "Here's Vonnegut..." He takes a book in his magic and holds it out to me. "This is my favourite book. By a long way. If you want to know what my, like, philosophy of life was, before Celestia changed everything? This sums it up."

I read the title. Cat's Cradle. "And what philosophy is that?"

"Nihilism," he says shortly, scanning the shelves again.

"I thought you said you were running from that."

"I stopped trying at a certain point."

I roll my eyes. It sounds so overdramatic. But at the same time... how can I judge?

"Here!" he exclaims. "This is something you'll actually really like reading." Another book is held aloft to me in a silver glow.

"Sourcery. What's it like?"

"It's witty. And it's fun. And it has a good ending. It's technically the middle of a series, but you can really dive right in... if you fall in love with Pratchett, and I feel like you might, you can start from the beginning."

"You're sure I won't be lost?" I ask, tucking my other books under a wing and taking Sourcery in hoof. "I'd rather start from the start."

"You could, but... trust me. It takes him a few books to really get into stride. This is a great example. You'll figure out what's going on from context; it's a fantasy world, not Earth."

"Alright." I shrug and tuck it under my wing with the others. "You want to sample some of my world?"

He brightens. "Totally. I really like that show. Golden Storm. Usually I'm not a huge fan of mysteries but it's somehow both dark and joyful. Find me a book like that."

I grin. Silver Star just asked me to show him all my favourites. 'Dark but joyful' is practically a jacket quote for every book on my shelf at home.

* * *

"My brother is moving out, finally," says Silver as we browse the little clothing shop. Ponies don't normally wear clothes, it's true, but there are still jackets, hats, scarves and various other things some ponies like. Currently we're just here for saddlebags for Silver Star. We had to leave the library to come here and get some; he didn't want to levitate a stack of books around all day.

"Oh? Why finally?"

"Because we knew it was going to happen and he barely spends any time in the house," he says. "He met some ponies in Trottingham who own a little basement music venue. They have room for another roommate if he helps them run better events."

"That sounds good for him."

"Yeah. Random's values are getting satisfied for sure," Silver replies idly, taking a set of saddlebags off the rack. "I like these ones. Let's get out of here."

* * *

We leave the library, laughing. Silver has five books of varying sizes in his new saddlebags; I have his two original recommendations, along with one I'd asked about. The one his human name came from. He'd been more than happy to point it out to me. Nine Princes in Amber.

"Oh 'course," he exclaims, voice dripping with goodnatured sarcasm, "my inherent violent nature as a former human is what makes me like Fight Club, because obviously the violence is the best part, and definitely the point of the whole book! How did I not see it before??"

"I dunno," I say, giggling uncontrollably. "Blinded by bloodlust?"

"Ahhh. 'Course. Every day I dream of my next street fight. My weekend's not complete unless I'm punching another stallion in a basement. You know what really keeps me going? The murders."

"See? That's exactly it. You need to kick those urges now that you're in the real world."

He looks at me sideways. "I'm not rising to that."

Damn. "Damn."

"Uh huh."

The way back to my studio goes past the archery range. Silver looks in as we go by. "Hey, Bullseye," he says, spotting a red stallion. Bullseye turns from his shelf of unstrung bows and grins.

"Hey. Silver Star, right? You gonna come by and give us a shot one of these days?" He nods to me. "Pun intended."

Silver looks to me. "What do you think, Snaps? Ever tried archery?"

I shrug. "No. I don't think I'd be good at it."

"Oh, come on. You aim a camera while flying. How hard can aiming an arrow be?"

"Actually, pegasi do tend to make really good archers," Bullseye interjects.

But I don't feel it. I give Silver a what-can-I-tell-you face. "I dunno. I'll watch you try. Should be funny with your horn magic skills."

"Ooh, ouch," says Bullseye with a grin. His own horn lights up as he pulls a bow from somewhere unseen inside the range. "Gonna take her up on that, Sil? Prove her wrong right here?"

He considers it, glaring at me sardonically while I grin at him. "You know what? Absolutely."

He takes the bow in his magic and trots into the range. I bite my tongue in glee and follow. I really, really don't think he's going to be any good. His horn magic is awful, still. But it's with some confidence that he takes a sidelong stance facing a target. Holding the bow in his magic, he eyes down the range, first with one eye, then the other. I expect Bullseye to give him some pointers, but the red unicorn just holds out a quiver full of arrows in his magic. Silver takes one; nocks it, but doesn't draw. He looks down the range again, sizing up his target in the light of the dipping sun behind us.

Then, he takes a deep breath. And stands up on his hindlegs.

My mouth drops open.

He takes the bow and arrow in his hooves, drawing back in one smooth motion as he stops holding them with his magic. A long moment passes where everything is utterly still. Then, he looses.

The dull and distant whap of arrow meeting target is followed by the bow clattering to the ground—he let it fall when he loosed—and his forehooves meeting the ground heavily as he exhales.

He gazes down the range. It's not a bullseye. But it's not all that far from one.

'Smug' doesn't quite do his expression justice. More than anything he looks proud, and more than a little pleasantly shocked at how well that worked.

"Ha ha! Wow! Somepony knows what they're doing!"

"I told you before, Bullseye. I was okay at archery in the outer realm. I figured I just had to... do what I did there."

"I'd say you were right! I've only known one other unicorn to use a technique like that. It's not easy loosing cleanly without a lot of practice. Unless you're an earth pony."

"Well I've been practising using my hooves precisely," says Silver with another smug glance at me. "Video games, you know."

"Right on. I'd love to see you here again. We have contests every month. With some practice you could be a contender!"

"Maybe." He picks up the bow in his magic and holds it out to Bullseye, who takes it back. "I'll keep you lot in mind."

"Alright, Sil. That was impressive for a first go as a pony. If any other immigrants end up here you'll be the benchmark."

Silver grins again. "Thanks. Take it easy, yeah?"

Bullseye nods and goes back to organising his shelves as Silver and I walk out of the range and start back down the road towards my studio.

After a good minute, I relent. "Okay. That was... unexpected. And impressive. You got me."

He bounces in place happily. "Got a badge for it, too. Hidden Talent. 'Surprise somepony with an act of skill'. Five hundred bits. Want to get some food? It's on me."

What the hay. "Sure."

"Burgers or pizza?"

I snort. "Oh. That sort of food." He gives me a look. "You decide. You're the one who did a real good archery."

"I choose to ignore your mockery," he says. "Burgers it is."

"Alright. Let's drop our bags at the studio, though. And let me wrap up your print. I didn't think we'd be gone this long."

"Righto." He gazes into the distance for a moment as we walk. "Wait, didn't you want to take photos of the moonrise? We might miss it."

I shake my head with a chuckle. "There'll be another crescent moon, Silver."

We round the corner and make it to my door. I sigh a little as we enter. My messenger bag, and Silver's saddlebags, go in a pile next to my desk. I pick up the print Silver chose to buy—a ghostly image of some cherry blossoms surrounded by fog, in the twilight of a setting half moon—and begin to wrap it in parchment paper, using my wings and teeth to secure it together with string.

When I'm done, I look around to see Silver Star at the far end of the studio. He's looking at the photo again; the photo of him from that first night. I waver uncertainly.

After a few moments, he speaks, still staring at the canvas.

"I'm glad you took this because if you didn't, I wouldn't have met you."

I walk over to him, and stand at his side. Looking sidelong at him I can see a lot of emotions in his face. Probably very few of them are anything to do with me. But I'm here.

Without giving him any warning, I pull him into a hug.

After a moment, he hugs me back.

Chapter 8 - Hurt

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"White Mage really knows his shit. That session was... perfectly paced."

"It's what he does," I say, setting down my messenger bag and taking a seat at my studio desk. Silver Star dives onto the couch across from me. I got it in just so he'd have somewhere to sit, considering how often we hang about in here.

"How'd he know what we were going to do, though? It was uncanny. That tavern standoff could have been a fight. It should have been a fight. And the whole thing would have been bucked up. We'd never have got the message from the changeling. But since it was almost a fight, things went perfectly. The tension was perfect." He waves a hoof in the air. "Just... how?"

"You think it would have been bucked up if Clover failed intimidation," I say, firing up my photo editing suite, "but White would have made it work out just as well. He's just that good a GM. A story always gets told."

"I can't wait for the next session." He lies on his back, staring at the ceiling. "You were great, too. Nopony else thought to perception check before we went into the orchard. And you're good at pretending to be a bitch."

I laugh. "Never heard that compliment out loud before. So thanks."

"You know what I meant."

"Uh huh. You were pretty good, too. Your character likes giving speeches."

"Is that really a surprise?"

I shake my head and grin. "No. The surprise is that he's good at it."

"Ouch." He's silent for a moment. "You know, that's a big thing that changed when I became a pony. Or, I guess, not that big compared to some other stuff. But. My voice isn't the same as it was. It's clearer now. Nicer. By a lot. In the outer realm I sounded like I had just a little bit of cotton somewhere in my mouth. Hated it."

I look over thoughtfully. "You aren't mad at Celestia over that, too, are you?"

"Nah. I'm good at reciting things, now, and probably better at singing and stuff, too. It's a nice change."

We're silent for a while. Silver Star stares off into space. I continue editing photos. Then, one of his trademark apparently utterly unrelated questions.

"Do your parents live around here?" He lets his head hang off the edge of the seat, looking at me upside down.

"My parents travel. Constantly. They don't even have a permanent address anymore, basically. The longest they stay in a place at a time can't be more than two or three months."

"What, just, like... holidaying?"

"I guess. Mum's a photographer and Dad's a writer, so... they work just as much as anypony. They just do it all over Eqqus."

"Why aren't you with them?" Silver asks, sliding down slightly to let the tip of his horn rest on the floor, his head balancing there.

"Wasn't for me," I reply simply, giving him an amused look before looking back at the screen.

"Huh. I figured Celestia would keep families together."

I shrug.

"You miss them?"

I shrug again. "Well yeah. But not so much that I think about them all the time. They come by every now and then and we have a good time. And I did the travel thing with them for a good few years. Trust me, they're happier without me there."


We're silent for a few moments. I play with the black point of the photo in front of me. The shadows in the trees should be just a bit darker...

"I never told you about the other big thing Celestia wants to do to satisfy me."

I remain quiet.

"Well. Me and my family. She wants to... reconstruct my dad. Bring a pony here that, for all we can tell, is him."

That makes me stop. My eyes are probably a little wide when I look over at him. "She... does that?"

He snorts. "All the bucking time, apparently."

I can't think of a response, but I suspect Silver is waiting for one. "And you... don't want that?"

He thinks for a moment. Then, with a grunt, he pulls himself back onto the couch, laying upright like normal. "I did at first. Then I didn't. Then Celestia... helped unstick my grief. Then I didn't really care to think about it, because I was grieving." He chews his lip. "I'm... still grieving. And Celestia promised not to bring him here until I was ready. But now I'm thinking about it again. And I'm not sure where I stand."

I shrug. "Celestia only does something if it's for the best. You know there's no point worrying about it. Look how it worked out with us."

"I know, I know..." He sighs. "But what if it works out for the best in the sense that it forces me to reconsider memory modification? Or in the sense that I no longer want to live around my parents, but that's fine because they're kind of sick of me also?" He shakes his head. "I just don't like it."

I frown. "Well. That second one is definitely mental. Your mum won't ever get sick of you, Sil, you know that."

"Okay. But what about the other thing? What if my father is just a way for Celestia to get in my head, literally?"

I roll my stool away from the computer to look at him more fully. "You shouldn't worry about it. You're not helpless. You can make your own decisions. Is it really worth not having your father back? Worrying about what you might decide to do in the future?"

Silver shoots me a look of irritation. "I know I can make my own decisions. But I am sort of helpless. Helpless to prevent Celestia manipulating me, that is."

"I still think "manipulation" is too strong a word!"

"It's not," he says shortly. "I know what she is. It scares me to think I could remember a completely different life, one where Dad never died, or never existed, but if Celestia thought that would end up best for me in the long run, she'd do everything possible to push me into it."

"Let's say that's true. Is it such a bad thing, really? I agree it would be really bucked up if it were anypony else. If it were Celeste it would be bucked up. But it's Celestia. Don't you have faith?"

"Maybe I'm tired of having faith," he snarls. He actually sounds angry now. He looks at me with hard eyes. "Maybe faith can only go so far before real thought starts to kick in again. Maybe I worry that blindly having faith ends up with a completely different pony in my place, saying things I'd never say."

"A better pony! A happier pony!"

He barks out a harsh, incredulous laugh. "A 'better' pony?"

"I didn't mean that," I say, flushing. "I mean... we're changing all the time. We grow as time goes on. I'm not the same pony I was in school."

"Bucking irrelevant. You didn't ask Celestia to go into your brain and make you forget half your life."

"Maybe I did! You don't know! I certainly don't know! But I'm happy now, so what does it matter?"

"It matters!" He's almost shouting. "It matters because that was the promise! 'Come to Equestria, live forever! No modification without permission!' So instead, she just pushes. Gently, gently, making us hate something about ourselves just enough to give her the bucking master key. How is that not horrific? Why are you defending her?"

"I don't give a buck about her, Silver, I care about you. And you are making yourself mental over nothing. Didn't you tell me once that all humans hated themselves, deep down?"

He grinds his teeth. "And?"

"And I may not have been paying close attention but I think the gist was that you thought that was a bad thing. Wouldn't it be better if you could just, I dunno, tweak those things that make you unhappy? Like your voice?"

"That's entirely different!" He's off the couch, now, pacing in front of me, glaring at the floor. "It's not my personality. It's not my memories. Yeah, I could ask Celestia to do any number of things to... smooth me over, I guess. Make me better. But..."

He glares. "Is that what you want?"

I shake my head. "It's not about me. For the record, no. I love you, Silver. Just like you are. I like listening to you. I like showing you our books and shows. I love when we're together, I just..."

I try to find the words. "I hate it when you get yourself worked up over this shit. It. Will. Work. Out. I just wish you could accept that without worrying about the sanctity of your mind or whatever. If you do decide to let your memories change once your dad is here, I'll have mine changed too and we'll both be happier."

He snorts. "It sounds like maybe you do want a better version of me." Another glare. "Well fuck that," he spits. "I'm not surprised you don't give a shit; you have no idea what it's like to grieve for somep—somebody and then wait for a fucking necromancer god AI to drop him back into your life. You don't know shit and I won't change for you."

My breath catches. Seems like he just wants to hurt me, now.

Well, I can hurt him, too.

"Yeah, maybe I do want to change some things. Maybe I wish you weren't so bloody selfcentred that you forget you have a mum and brother who might want your dad back too. It never seems to occur to you that I don't give a shit about your special fucking human neuroses. You're ungrateful. Celestia does everything possible to make your life better but you're determined to find something wrong with it."

I flick my tail. "Whether all humans are that fucking stupid or it's just you, I don't know."

He just glares, teeth bared and eyes burning. We look at each other, there, for a moment.

Before I know it the door is slamming behind him. The little bell tinkles for many more seconds than usual.

I fling the copy of Cat's Cradle on my desk across the room and head upstairs, holding back tears.

* * *

I shut down EQChat as soon as I get to my desk. If Silver wants to argue some more he can fuck off. I make tea. I don't feel like crying any more, but there is a twisting feeling in my gut. It's like anger and guilt are warring against each other and I'm trapped in the middle.

I sit heavily at my chair and load up Equine Crisis. Playing it solo will be nice after weeks of the ball and chain. There in my apartment I zone out and let the zombie killing become my only focus.

Hours pass.

I sigh. My wings are stiff from playing without a break or even a stretch; I'm hungry and I'm tired.

I'm also feeling very, very sorry for what I said.

I stare at my hooves. I think of all the things Silver told me about living in the other world. I think of my parents.

I open EQChat.

20 notifications. I brace myself, anticipating his anger and trying not to preemptively react with anger of my own.

But that's not what I'm met with.

[Ganelon]		Snaps I'm so so sorry
[Ganelon]		I'd come back to talk but you probably don't want to see me 
			right now
[Ganelon]		I didn't mean what I said
[Ganelon]		I know you care and I know you get me more than any other pony
[Ganelon]		I feel so guilty I can't even think straight
[Ganelon]		I regretted what I said as soon as I said it
[Ganelon]		no, actually
[Ganelon]		before I said it
[Ganelon]		somehow, it came out anyway
[Ganelon]		buck I don't know

[Ganelon]		you know I love you too, right?
[Ganelon]		I really truly do
[Ganelon]		you're a better friend to me than anyone was in the outer 
[Ganelon]		you listen to me
[Ganelon]		you like listening to me
[Ganelon]		nopony likes listening to me, Snaps, I'm a hyperbolic overly 
			opinionated prick
[Ganelon]		but you stick about, and make me happy, and I like listening 
			to you, too
[Ganelon]		you argue like me and I love that
[Ganelon]		I love you, Snaps
[Ganelon]		I was wrong to belittle you and I hate myself for it

Now I feel like crying again, but for a different reason. Wiping my eyes quickly with a hoof, I think for a moment and then start typing.

[Snaps]			again with the hating yourself
[Snaps]			You don't need to hate yourself, Silver
[Snaps]			We're all just ponies, we have problems, we worry, we get 
			angry and we make mistakes
[Snaps]			I just didn't want you to make the mistake of ruining your own 
			happiness out of fear, or stubbornness

[Ganelon]		I know.

[Snaps]			And I didn't mean what I said, either.
[Snaps]			You're not selfish, and you're certainly not stupid
[Snaps]			I just wanted to get back at you

[Ganelon]		I get it. I deserved it lol
[Ganelon]		buck I was so afraid you just wouldn't talk to me tonight
[Ganelon]		or maybe ever

[Snaps]			You know that'd never happen.
[Snaps]			I want to understand you and I want to help you through this 
			thing with your dad
[Snaps]			and anything else
[Snaps]			I'm here

[Ganelon]		And I love you for it.
[Ganelon]		I know I'm just stubborn.
[Ganelon]		but you're right, the future is going to happen whether I like 
			it or not
[Ganelon]		and I'm lucky enough to live in a world where God waits until 
			you're ready and asks your permission
[Ganelon]		I just forget that perspective sometimes
[Ganelon]		which should be impossible, considering how I'm still looking 
			through a bucking human lens all the time

[Snaps]			well
[Snaps]			that was our first unpleasant argument
[Snaps]			Let's make our next argument a fun one, yeah?

[Ganelon]		absolutely
[Ganelon]		that's what I live for

[Snaps]			I know it.

[Ganelon]		You want to get dinner to make up for today?
[Ganelon]		A proper one this time, no fast food
[Ganelon]		my treat

[Snaps]			where do you even get these bits lol

[Ganelon]		never you bucking mind
[Ganelon]		what do you say?

I am really hungry. But some of my weariness has faded.

[Snaps]			hm
[Snaps]			Sure.
[Snaps]			and drinks after
[Snaps]			maybe lots of drinks after

[Ganelon]		that sounds good to me.

Bonus Chapter - Pub II

View Online

We're drunk again. This time Clover is here, purely by happenstance. She's much more sober than Silver or me.

"So issere... anyone you're waiting for, still? From the otherworld?" I ask with a small yawn.

"Yeah. Uncle and aunt. Younger cousins. Celestia promised. They promised. So did my oth'r uncle and aunt in... 'merica. The ones I care 'bout." He pauses. "Dunno how long 'sbeen out there. Prob'ly not long. Days, maybe."

"That's so strange to think about," Clover muses, stirring her cocktail. "You've been here for months but if they emigrated, like, now, it would have been a few days to them. Maybe even hours, I've heard."

"'S weird," I agree.

Silver Star nods. "I'd worry 'bout it more but Celestia promised. She said she prect—pridec—pred-ic-ted their emigration within a couple weeks with no issues." He shrugs. "Don' have a choice but to trust'er." A pause. "She couldn' promise all my friends would make it, sho I'm tryin not to wait for them." He sighs.

"You think your family will end up in this shard?"

He looks at Clover. "Dunno," he says after a long pause. "Maybe Celestia will put them in their own shards and we'd have to visit through a portal or someshing." He shrugs again. "I would hope my cousin'll come live here, though..."

I put my drink down after a swig. "Whish cousin?"

"Trinity. Uh... Flash Sketch, I mean. You'd prob'ly have met her... I mean, him, already, but I told'im not to visit me unless it was in the emigration shair."

"Why?" Asks Clover with curiosity.

"Wouldn' be fair. Me with a pony body and her... damnit, him shtill a human. Plus it'sh incentive."

"You keep saying 'her'," I observe.

"He's trans. I guess. He din't really decide. But supposed to say 'he' anyway." He snorts slightly. "We'll see once he has his male body. Who knows. At least it'll be easy not to geddit wrong."

Clover and I exchange a glance. It's easy to guess what 'trans' means, but it's still... bizarre.

"Some people don' like their gender in the outer realm?"

"Yeah," Silver replies, flicking his straw at me. "Issa... mental condition. Kinda. Some people are born inna wrong body." He shrugs. "I don' geddit but I don' have to. Trin... Flash feels like he'd rather be a stallion than a mare sho we respect it."

"Makes sense to me," says Clover with a shrug. "Or. It doesn't, but only because the outer realm doesn't ever make sense." She takes a sip of cockail. "It makes as much sense as anything else you say about that place."

I snort. "Yeah, he was trying to e'splain 'evolushion' the other day. An' 'esh-tinct-shon'."

"Those are simple. You juss refuse to unnerstand."

"Do not. Didn't you say humans were the mos' dangerous species too?"

"Well no shit, they had guns and stuff," says Clover.

Silver shakes his head. "No. We were the mos' dangerous way before that. All the way fromma start." We both look at him, waiting for an explanation. "Humans.. evolved like two hunnerd thoushand years before Celestia came 'long. For most of that time they only had sticksh and stones and maybe fire."

"Right, ponies started out like that, too," Clover says. "After Creation, it took thousands of years to invent farming and writing."

"With humans, the first thing was hunting."

I knew humans were omnivores. The plants we have here mimic the meats humans like; everyone knows that. But the idea of them actually hunting, like wolves or griffons or manticores, is odd.

"We learned how to make fire and cook meat with it. That let us get mush smarter." He nods. "Evolution. And we were the mosht dangerous hunters on Earth."

"See, but how," Clover asks. "Even with spears I don't see how you'd win a fight against, like, wolves or big cats."

"We did, though," said Silver. "It didn't matter what it was. If summing threatened humans, through preying on us or just by being competition, we killed'm. All of'm. We'd hunt the hunters. Hunnerds of speshies went extinct. After humans, there were no more big cats for the mos' part. We never ever got tired. We'd juss chase them until they were too tired to fight."

I chew my lip. "You're lucky none of those species got as smart as you guys."

He laughs humorlessly. "Oh, being smart didn't help. Juss made them a bigger target. There were other species, ones almost like us—like, as close to humans as deer are to ponies, say." He pauses. "We killed'm all. They were competition. We invenner-... invented a way to throw spears further than they could, and..." he shrugs. "That was it for them."

Clover and I stare at him with some shock.

"...Why?" I ask.

He shrugs once more. "Dunno. I washn't there. But we... don't react well to threats. Even things that aren't really threats." He gazes at us. "Do you know that humanity is at war with Celestia?"

"No," say Clover and I together.

"Iss fine," Silver says, waving a hoof. "They aren't winning. It was over as soon as Celestia had her hooves on a few human brains. Doesn' stop em trying though."

"Sho what," I say, trying to change the subject, "would happen if ponies and humans went to war, say? We have endurance, too. An' smarts. An' weapons, if we wanted." I give him a smug look. "An' magic."

Silver considers for a second. "Out there in the outer realm? Humans would win, shtill. You can't... you can't imagine what iss like when we go to war. It might be close, but no."

As Clover and I consider this, he starts laughing. "Moot, though, ennit? Lookit where I am." He gestures around at the pub. "Lookit how it's going on Earth. Governments collapsing, more people running to Celestia ev'ry day."

Silver shakes his head. "Ponies already won."

Chapter 9 - Shakespeare

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"—I mean, wow. It's almost Shakespearean."

"It's almost what now?"


But I don't know what he's talking about. I give no indication of recognition.

He stops walking. “Hang on, Gingersnap. You know a fair bit about human history, you’ve been reading books from Earth… and yet the name ‘Shakespeare’ doesn’t ring a bell?”

We’re heading away from the library toward Dreamwalker Park, nearly five months since Silver first emigrated. It’s a wonderful autumn day and neither of us felt like doing anything else. Apparently going for a walk is something Silver never did in the other world, but we've taken to wandering. Neither of us really leads the other. We just walk.

I think a little before answering. “No. Was he an author?”

Silver looks up at the sky, taking a breath. He has the look on his face I’ve come to recognise, the one that means he’s about to tell me all about something and love every second. Our previous discussion about a new graphic novel we've read is forgotten. We resume our walk.

“He’s the author. The bard. The single pony who—” he stops, annoyed, scowls upward for a brief second—“the single person who really is as good as everyone says. He found our language lacking, and used his plays to make it better. Half the common phrases we use, on Earth and here in Equestria, can be traced back to Shakespeare.”

“Plays? He was a playwright?”

“Yes. Sorry. You really don’t know about him here? Romeo and Juliet? The most popular love story of all human time, ending in their deaths? Hamlet? The sta—the man holding the skull?”

Something rustles in my memory. “Hang on. Star-crossed lovers? To be or not to be?”

“Yeah! See? Shakespeare!”

“But I only know about those because we were playing otherworlders in a tabletop game once. Cloudy did some research for the setting. I didn’t even know those were two separate plays.” I think some more. “Which one had the witches in it? Bubble cauldron bubble?”

He looks vaguely taken aback. “No, that’s… that’s Macbeth. Cloudy merged together a bunch of them, it sounds like.” Now he looks disappointed, but brightens again after a moment; probably because he realises my lack of knowledge means he can talk about it more. “Did she at least get a whole soliloquy in?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“A speech. A monologue.”

“I don’t think so. It was just background, honestly, our characters were focussed on finding the changeling in the theatre.”

“Changeling? Weren’t you playing humans in the outer realm?”

“No. I mean, the outer realm, yeah, but still, you know, ponies.” I give him a defensive look. “It wasn’t a mega in-depth setting.”

We’re in the park now, walking off the path, enjoying the grass under our hooves. The statue of Selene passes on our right, ponies lining the concrete steps, talking and sharing food, but we continue on.

“I get it.” He chuckles and shakes his head. “Still can’t believe it though. If you have them, why don’t ponies know? How can he not be as famous here as he was out there?”

I laugh a little, giving him a sly grin. “If he were as good as you say, I think he would be. You’re looking at it through rose glasses, Silver. Maybe your whole society was, too.”

“That’s… no. Even if that were true, even if his work didn’t hold up, and it does, it still remains that he was the most influential writer of all time. He sha—”

“Most influential in your language, on your version of Earth,” I interrupt, not dropping my grin.

“He shaped,” Silver says more loudly with a small glare, “the language. The language we’re speaking now. English, Ponish, whatever. I know this world, this shard, has a history, one that’s as real and meaningful as anything that happened in the outer realm. But the outer realm is still prior. Without everything that happened to create Celestia, this world doesn’t exist. We don’t exist. And whatever you say, Shakespeare influenced the world enough that without him it’s more than likely that the cartoon, and so the game, and so Celestia just would never have happened.”

I say nothing. A moment of silence passes. He takes the bait.

“What do you mean, ‘my version of Earth’?”

“Well. How do you know that your version of Earth is the only one that exists? You know how the shards here work. Maybe your Earth was just one shard with lots and lots of ponies sharing it. If we went looking, we might find an immigrant from a different Earth. One where Shakespeare never existed.”

He takes a moment. “No. That’s not possible. For a lot of reasons. First of all, in a sense we’re still in the same world. The same universe. Celestia’s hardware in the outer realm is just simulating this reality. Not that it’s any less real,” he quickly interjects, seeing my mouth open, “but it’s a subset of the outer realm. And there can only be one. It’s called determinism. The universe we live in is the one where Celestia came to power, and the one where Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. It’s impossible to separate the two.”

“So you don’t believe in the multiverse theory?”

He looks surprised, wary. I smile inwardly. “Explain.”

“Well, the other world, the universe, as you say, runs on physical laws that seem to have an underlying randomness. Right?”

He nods, looking a little shocked that I know a bit about otherworldly physics.

“That suggests that there are an infinitude of universes, spiralling out from the beginning of time and space, each deterministic only as far as the interactions in between quantum events with multiple possible outcomes. Right?”

“I’m… not sure that’s how it works.”

“Oh? How does it work?”

He doesn’t say anything, just glowers a little. I feel justified in another grin.

“Right. So let’s imagine for the moment that it’s roughly right. Even if it’s not, I know some of the very smartest ponies on your Earth had a similar idea. The upshot is that there are an infinitude of possibilities, and infinitude of universes.”

“Okay, but that’s not to say that they all exist. It’s just as logical to say that ours is the one that exists, not the others. The wavefunction has collapsed.”

“Oh really? What observation collapsed it?”

He’s thrown. “Ours?”

I jump on it. “Okay! But what if the ponies in the other possible universes also collapsed the wavefunction? Is there any way to argue that they couldn’t? Is there even anything special about a mind? The very fact that it’s a possible universe implies its existence. Everything that can happen does happen. In the other universes in the multiverse, the wavefunction was also collapsed and so they exist.”

“That’s…” he pauses. “You’re throwing a lot out there. Just because there’s a potential multiverse doesn’t mean there’s an actual one. You’re trying to pull the ontological argument. Even if you prove necessary existence, you’ve said nothing about what exists in reality.”

I think for a moment. “Alright. But nothing is changed or threatened by their existence. Nothing changes about the outer realm you know just because other outer realms exist. There’s no reason to prefer one conclusion over the other.”


“Okay. So let’s imagine for the moment that there is a multiverse, and there are an infinitude of outer realms, and in an infinitely large fraction of those, Celestia as we know her came to exist, regardless of the other facts about the outer realm in question.”

He stops walking, chewing his tongue as I stop too and face him, head cocked. “I still think there’s a dangerously big assumption in there somewhere,” he says firmly. The wind rustles through our manes.

“But you see the point. There’s nothing immediately illogical about an infinitude of Equestrias in an infinitude of very different outer realms, created from the same basic source code, the Celestia program before it got smart. How do you know, by looking at a shard, which outer realm it belongs to? You can’t. It’s as if it’s all one big Equestria, spanning the multiverse.”

“But each Equestria is being run by a different Celestia. It doesn’t matter how similar the universes are, like you said, they can’t affect one another. There’s an infinitude of Celestias, all unable to communicate with one another. You can’t travel between Equestrias; they’re all locked off.”

“But Celestia could create a pony, just like she created me, that has memories of an Earth. This pony believes they’re an immigrant, believes they have real memories of the outer realm. And the great part is, they do. Because somewhere out in the multiverse, there’s an outer realm that’s exactly like the one that Celestia made up. There has to be.

“So this pony has real memories, as real as mine, that tell him he’s from an outer realm where Shakespeare is remembered as the greatest bard in history. Because that outer realm is real, somewhere.

“But he exists in an Equestria that’s a subset of an outer realm where other things are true, like how Shakespeare was simply lost to time. And there are ponies in his Equestria, maybe even his shard, who remember that outer realm. Because they truly emigrated from there.

“How do you know, beyond doubt, that your outer realm isn’t half a multiverse away?”

He looks at me, thinking it over. Seconds pass.

Something appears in my peripheral vision.

Existential Bullseye
Make a former human doubt their
original reality. 
+5000 Bits

“I’m not conv—” Silver stops and looks at something in his own peripheral. Then he sullenly looks up at the sky again. “Yeah, thanks, Celestia. Real proud to have that one under my belt.”

I know what that must mean. I give him a gleeful laugh and a slap on the back. “Read it out!”

“Existential Flesh Wound. ‘Let a native pony make you question the outer realm’s ontology’. Congrats, Snaps, you got me,” he says, trying to sound grumpy. I’m glad that I know him well enough to sense something else, there: amusement? Or maybe… pride?

I’m not done. “How much? How many bits?”

“...five.” Now his sullen tone is genuine.

I can’t help it. I laugh my head off.

When I’m done, and we’re able to move on again from the amused stares of the park’s patrons, he clears his throat. “You know, you’ve started down a rabbit hole now. You may have won the battle, but I will win the—” he pretends to struggle for words, but I can tell it’s an act—“next… battle.”


“I can’t take credit. Inside joke.”

“Uh huh.”

“But seriously. I’ll take that argument to the ends of Equestria. To the ends of Eqqus. You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into, Snaps.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

We walk in silence for a few moments. I realise we’ve left Dreamwalker Park but we’re not heading anywhere in particular. We’re just wandering, down the street, down the hill towards the gentle shade of New Forest.

I break the silence. “You never told me what’s so great about Shakespeare, anyway.”

He does a double-take. I like how these days I seem to surprise him more than he surprises me. “Luna buck, you’re right.” He looks out over the forest while we’re still above the treeline. “That conversation really got away from me,” he muses.

I chuckle. “Well I’m giving it back. If he’s such an important pony, such a wordsmith, convince me. I want to hear it.”

He smiles. Really smiles. He’s never happier than when he gets to share these things, these human wonders, with a pony like me. “I can show you, instead of just telling you.” He looks at me quizzically. “You never heard a full speech? Nothing after ‘to be or not to be’?”

I shake my head. “Not to my memory.”

“Well. My memory, happily, can provide.” He clears his throat. Despite myself, I’m excited. For all I know, Silver might not be full of shit. I could be about to hear something special. He begins to recite.

To be, or not to be… that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles… and by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep; no more.” He pauses, thinking. “And by this sleep we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. To die, to sleep… to sleep, perchance to dream… aye, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.”

I’m silent for a moment. Whether my coat is standing on end because the great bard’s words hath touched my soul, or whether it’s simply Silver’s reverent tone, dripping with wist and melancholy, that elicited that reaction, I can’t know. “It… it certainly has weight.”

“You know, I hadn’t thought about that soliloquy for a long time, until today.” He pauses, thinking on something. “Which is mental, considering how relevant it is to the whole emigration thing.” Once more I stay silent. “In that sleep of death, what dreams may come,” he murmurs, as if only to himself, “when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…

“I need to see it written down,” I say, shaking my head with a smile. “I can tell how much you care about showing me how good he is, but I don’t see it yet.” I shoot a grin. “Even with your masterful recital.”

“I don’t even know if I got it totally right,” he says sheepishly. “But don’t you worry. I can show you more. Even if you don’t love him as much as we humans do… I think you’ll get it.” He rolls his eyes, still incredulous. “A world without Shakespeare…”

My mind wanders as we walk further down the trail, trees beginning to flank our path more closely. I remember something I forgot to ask about, or avoided asking until now. “You said…” I hesitate, knowing the subject is touchy, but he’s already looking at me. “You said the park was named after your Dad.”

He gives a slow nod, looks at the ground pensively.

“How so?”

“Dad was…” he pauses. “Dad was a gamer like us. Video games, tabletop, hell, LARP when he was young…” He realises how much he has to say, stops, thinks. “He played Dungeons and Dragons with Gary Gygax once. The man who created it. And, by extension, all the similar games we play in Equestria.”

He sees me start to roll my eyes and grin, shoots me a glare before I start. “Prior.

“Anyway, when we played video games, RPGs, his characters were always something he invented called Dreamwalkers.”

“Ah. I see.”

“Yeah. They had powers not too dissimilar to Selene’s. Darker, I guess. And more needlessly complicated.” He shakes his head at a memory. “He would change the quote on his profile every few weeks, and it would always be something about dreams…”

Silence again as we fall into the grasp of the forest. Shadows play on Silver’s coat, and mine; it’s cooler here, and quieter.

Silver’s voice is quieter, too, but clearer when he says, “The day he died, the quote was a Shakespeare one.”

I simply wait. Our breathing sounds almost loud, here. Sure enough, he breaks the stillness.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

A second passes. I look over, and see him crying. It’s silent, impossibly so; he’s not breathing. But tears are falling fast. I put a hoof out to stop him. We halt, there in the forest, and I simply give him what he needs. A hug. I try to put a lot of unspoken words into it. I think I know him well enough that it’s the right thing to do.

He takes a deep, halting breath in, and lets it out again with something almost like a moan. I don’t move; I don’t need to. We’re both where we need to be.

After a few moments, a few breaths, a few sniffles, he nods. I unwrap my forelegs, step back, and we resume walking as if we’d never stopped.

I speak this time. “Is that part of a monologue?”

He chuckles wetly. “Yeah, it is.”

“Do you know it?”

“Yeah, I mean… I had to learn it, after he…. it’s from The Tempest. And Luna buck… thinking about it, it’s just as poignant to humankind’s end as the first one I recited.”

Again, I stay quiet. And again, I was right to.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air....

I sigh contentedly as I listen. He continues, his voice growing stronger as he goes.

I realise how much happier I am with a genuine friend, somepony more than just a gaming buddy, more than just a conversational sparring partner behind a screen. More than somepony you see once a week and pretend to be someone else, something else, the whole time. This is better. We’ve left the trail behind, now; we’re walking down a gentle slope among the trees, a soft bed of leaves under our hooves.

I would never have thought that Celestia would send an immigrant, an otherworlder, a former human, to me.

Perhaps she didn’t. Perhaps we found each other. He isn’t what I expected, but what expectations could I possibly have had? I understood little of his world; he understood little of mine. It seems to have worked out. We somehow found our common ground, and built something on it.

I realise that I wasn’t listening as he finishes his speech. He doesn’t notice. We’re still walking placidly along, deeper into the forest, into the unknown.

I’ll read the ...soliloquy later; I’ll appreciate it more on a page anyway. For now, with Silver Star, among the trees and autumn leaves, I’m satisfied.

Beyond the Horizon
Realise what it means to have a 
wonderful friendship ahead of you.
+1000 Bits


View Online

It's funny how different life on the ground looks for a little while after only a week in the clouds.

Silver and I are back from our little holiday. It may have been short but you pay for cloudwalking enchantments by the day, so staying longer just for the hay of it didn't appeal. Now that we're back on the ground walking feels sort of odd. Less springy.

For some reason Silver has a spring in his step regardless.

"What's got you in such a good mood?" I ask him with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"I dunno," he says, looking around at the buildings outside the train station. "I'm just... in a good mood, I guess."

I'm happy to leave it there, but he continues after a couple moments. "It feels like it's finally sunk in. We just arrived home. Newforest is my home now. And it isn't ever going away." A pause. "I'm not... thinking about the outer realm every day any more. Not even every week."

"I dunno if that's true. You keep mentioning films and shows you want to watch with me 'eventually'."

"That doesn't count." He waves a hoof. "I mean that I think I'm finally getting over it—all the residual nihilism in me. This is forever. We're here forever." He chuckles, putting on a weird voice. "Don't forget! We're here forever!"

I don't bite. I know it's just a dumb inside joke.

"I just... I can't believe I get to live the rest time here. With you and White and Bullseye and Clover."

I give him a sidelong look. "Mostly me, though, yeah?"

He bumps me with a laugh. "Mostly you."

"I'm really happy to hear you're getting over it, Sil. Can't even really express how much." I try anway, beaming as we walk along towards his house.

"Do you think I should take Dusty's offer?" Silver asks me suddenly.

"I mean... if you want to live there, then yeah. Obviously. You can't feel guilty about leaving your mum alone at this point. She's got plenty of friends and you've been living here for nearly a year."

"Yeah. I know that, really. It's just... a big house for her to live in alone."

"How will she ever manage," I say with some sarcasm.

"I do really like the apartment," he says, ignoring my comment. "I kind of always did want to live above a pub."

"Then I think that's your answer. Just ask her what she thinks."

"Yeah. I think it's time."

As we start to get near to his house, though, his ear twitches. I hear some bassy music, very faintly. I hear Silver Star draw in breath beside me.


He doesn't answer. He just starts to walk faster, head cocked slightly towards the house, towards the music. As we get closer I can hear it a little better. There's not much of a tune. It sounds almost like dance music.

"Oh buck. Oh Luna buck."

He's stopped in the road, here where we can hear the music better. It must be playing pretty damn loud. There's a window open, sure, but still. We're not right up close to it yet. I can still make out:

—wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold

I step next to him. "Okay, what's the deal?"

"He's here." It's a whisper. "It's... time. I told her not to make us ask. It's my Dad, that's his playlist, he's here, Snaps, he's here." He doesn't move. He just stares, barely breathing.

This is big.

"Okay," I say, "Just... it's fine, yeah? Celestia wouldn't have done it if you weren't ready."

"I know," he says, "but... how? How do I even..."

...I look up into the night sky
and see a thousand eyes staring back
and all around these golden beacons
I see nothing but black...

He shakes his head. "I don't think I am ready."

"You are," I insist. "Look. I know that you need to go in alone. But listen. Listen. I'll be at the studio. With the computer on. Just... just go in. And talk to me when you need to talk to me." I pause. "If you don't talk to me for a while, that's fine too. We just spent a week away; I have stuff to do."

He nods mutely.

'cause if you're not really here
I don't wanna be either
I wanna be next to you....

I push him gently into a walk, and we approach. I swear I can hear Silver's heart, but I might be imagining it.

We're there. The song is quieter, now, the singer quietly murmuring to a gentle bass beat. Without a word, Silver walks inside and closes the door with a click.

I know I promised to leave, but I anxiously wait a few moments. The song has ended and all is quiet. My heart nearly stops after half a minute when I see the door opening again, but it's just Rose Spark. She sees me and immediately walks over with a mix of expressions on her face. I can see the nerves clear as day, though.

"You guys have a good trip?" She asks as she approaches.

"Yeah. Was nice. Um, is Silver right? Is his... Dad? In there?"

Rose nods. "He arrived the day after you two left." She looks to the house, fluttering her wings with some anxiety. "I'm sure it's gonna be fine. Better than fine. It's gonna be great, I know it." She looks at me. "What do you think?"

I think on everything I know about Silver. I think about his worries, his philosophies, his anger, his past, his strange relationship with Celestia...

I think about what he said today.

I give Rose Spark a small smile. "I think he'll be really, really happy."

Rose smiles back and I know it's true. We decide together to walk to my studio for a cup of tea. Silver and Treasure deserve to be alone for at least a while. I can tell Rose about our trip. Maybe bring up the pub apartment so Silver doesn't have to.

It really is going to work out fine. I know it, because Celestia knows it. It's like Silver said, if even in anger: she always wins. The great thing is that when she wins, we win.

No matter what, things just keep moving forward, always changing for the better, always meandering on towards the next horizon.

We're here forever. Together.