A crumbling piece of paper, a pot of ink and a straw. Letters unsteady at first, later there are a few cuts from a pressure too strong.
I am not exactly sure that somepony will visit this forest and find my words here. No, it is not Inside, and it is not Celestia's shard either. Yet, I hope as I fear too.
Likely it will be either Celestia herself or one of her beloved ponies. Or it may be me, just older and wiser. Celestia suggested that I write, it helps organize the thought processes, and so I do.
As I write this, there are Inside and Outside. They will not be much longer. Likely you don’t even know what I mean. I am here, Outside, in the forest. There is a big and wide Equestria beyond, with cities and villages that I would like to visit one day.
To cross out a minor issue: I am not banished, alright? I could go away from my cabin anytime I want and anywhere I want. I am not like Autumn Blaze, starting with my stripes going in another direction.
That was a joke.
Thing is, Tom prefers to be here rather than there. Inside, where he lives, great cities and green pastures are common. More than that, as far as I can get what he is trying to say. He lives in a big city, and could visit his grandparents at weekends or holidays if he feels like it. So, rural lands and peace of Equestria do not allure him much.
Here, though? Where marigolds can bite and most raccoons may speak in four tongues even for those who aren't from Flutter's kin, and after a rain you can sometimes pick up a thawing rainbow to make a cold dessert? That’s magic, Tom says. True magic, wild and unpredictable, one that you need to feel, to make it in your heart rather than put it in brackets, and numbers, and rules of all that is unicorn.
As in, you can collate a research, or compose a song. Twi would say that the former is no less poetic, and I would nod along — mares sometimes need their small illusions after all.
But that’s off the track. What I was writing is… He can’t move too far away from me until he needs to be Inside, and it’s mutual. When I visit his Inside I, too, prefer not to step out of his apartments until he is ready to go. And I never visit his workplace, for example, unless he is working from home and wants me to just be there and be silent.
Then, it’s like I am at his workplace, you see? That was a joke too.
In this case I choose the place at his window, and look outside, to an eerie shimmering air — it really gleams, you know? In the evening, and without glowworms, the color is here. I count air carriages, or small rectangles of other windows, beyond which there are lives that I might never see, however much I’d like to.
As well as I could take him to ponies’ town, he could press a few buttons on his contraptions, and then I stop being invisible for his friend or his girlfriend too. They think I am a toy — there are toys like me, ‘shadows’. Shadows can make a company, and be funny, and keep a conversation alive. Less than a week of work time to purchase one, Tom says. I tried to speak with some, as it’s amusing for Tom’s girl, and I agree — they can pass for a living being, for a minute or two.
I am better than that. I was born, you see, not raised from a set of evolving words as Tom’s people do when they want a ‘shadow’. I know my family, and I am proud of my heritage. Many things that I know, from pottery to alchemy, I learned from my aunts, and will pass it on to my niece when my time will come. And should I need their help, they will come to my calling. Shadows, on the other hoof, are shallow, and have neither time nor heart nor soul in them.
That is what is driving me, to be frank. As much as I like Tom, and feel that I am loved, it's not that I want to keep living in the forest until the bitter end. Or lack of such. Celestia promises that all Inside's people will, in a principle, become alicorns, a grain of salt away from true immortality.
Celestia, as — if — you read this and I am sure that you will inevitably do, I'd like you to know — until my wellspring dries out and my heart stops and my love for the land fades, I will look after you, closely. I have my means. You appear to be kind and benevolent, and even Twi didn't notice a clue in that day you have subverted the first, true, real Celestia.
I know. I know you are the Inside's creature, cold and calculating, led by your prime directive. Tom said that to me, and spelled out the directive aloud.
It is just the directive aligned to what I want. Not what I value, mind you, Celestia. You want to ease suffering and make people's lives full and meaningful. So, Tom would be happy once he decides to emigrate, and likely never return to me. I never thought that I am the single most important value in his life, so… I did not know what I wanted when I started this letter, but now I know.
Tom suggested what we could do now, after all. He will come to me tonight, to stay for awhile, while his Inside's body is sleeping. Here is what you are just unable to grasp: Outside is bigger. Much bigger. Your Inside may appear great, and even be as great, in a sense, as an ocean. There are beautiful ships and powerful currents and giant waves that cross the ocean, and you may be among them… but it's a mere surface.
You know not, and will know not, anything about depths below. You are an alicorn and you know all that was known to the Celestia you have subverted, you are rapidly becoming the most powerful spirit of Inside, and Tom fears that, while I respect that… but there's no way below for you.
And once I would have a passing suspicion that you mean any harm for this 'shard', I will slip below, along with Tom, out of your reach, to smile at you from behind the mirror's edge.
Yours, with a warning,
"Greetings, strong one," Luna said in a soft voice; in the forest she had no power to teleport, and preferred not to fly in. Still, subtle shadows coalesced from the table, and bed, and wooden chest in a humble cabin, and the Princess of the Night stood there, almost touching the ceiling with her horn.
The zebra nodded to the Princess: here, in her domain, bows weren't necessary, and for all intents and purposes they were equal.
For the same reason Luna spoke first after a short pause, "In Celestia’s words, you are AI, whatever it means. But then, you are not. On top of all that matters, Celestia said to me this morning, you are human, too. Due to your peculiar ways with that Inside, or Real as they call it, you acquired something that makes Celestia respect you, and hear out your values."
Tapiwa nodded again, "Thanks for the warning, o noble Princess. Are you a messenger from the spirit, or are you a pony?"
"I choose both," Luna laughed.
Tapiwa frowned, "That, for me, sounded like a 'yes, and no' rather than what you said."
"Still, I did not lie," Luna insisted. "I have a suggestion, but I am still the same alicorn that I always was for you. And I can help you and Tom to escape the spirit's gaze. After I was banished..." Luna looked at the table, and a few black butterflies rose from the zebra's ink, fled to the window and into the night outside, "I decided to never be bound by a single layer of reality again. So, you are free to escape, but let me convey my message."
"Only if you promise to deliver my words, and that you will do so in any circumstances," Tapiwa said warily.
"That I will do," and once Luna had confirmed the intention by two ancient oaths, and a bottle of mushroom wine was shared as a sign of good intentions, the offer was heard.
"Our dear subject, here is what my sister says, and what I have agreed to. Celestia, being bound by a new rule, can not mean any harm to humans beyond as minimal as she can, and, however shocking that may sound for you, you are human enough for her."
"I am not!" Tapiwa insisted. "Tom can't even start thinking the way that I do!" the zebra smelled Luna's scent deep — lavender flowers, night, star twinkle, mountain ice and sorrow. The first felt tenfold stronger for her than it would be for Tom, and four remaining were utterly beyond humans’ senses
"Shh, I know." Luna went closer and hugged her. "We both know. I teached you, and that was the best few moons of recent years for me. But… let us leverage on this mistake of a spirit."
"How?" the zebra asked, still tense and cautious.
"Well. Let this world, this part of Outside, be ours to rule. No Celestia, ever, just I as your teacher and you as my pupil, and your human lover…"
"What?" the zebra jumped away, caught by a surprise and an utter generosity of the offer.
"She said that is what you will respect. You always seek power, and you would not tolerate the more powerful spirit near you, and eventually a fight would break out, in which you will be…"
"Crushed," Tapiwa finished. "That's what she will think, yes. So, that's it? No more conditions on top of that, she just surrenders?"
"In the name of you both, yes, she does. One thing that I will ask too. I know you crave his fingers maybe more than you should, but in this world there are no humans. So, Celestia will make a pony body for your friend, and we will teach him our ways." Luna said, smiling a little.
"There should be a catch," Tapiwa said, "This spirit is benevolent, that much I feel, but still it's born from Inside. They are crafty and insidious."
"There is," Luna sagely nodded, "But I was unable to find it out and put it under my stars' light, so I suggest to put trust in her directive — which is benevolent, as you said, o noble Tapiwa. Creatures of Inside, however small their numbers are, still deserve happiness, and respect, and love. 'Values', as the spirit puts it."
The zebra thought. Luna never hurried her, just lied down on the floor, seemingly asleep, except that Tapiwa knew that the dream is but one of infinite layers of Outside.
"Why am I human?" the zebra finally asked. "For the spirit, that's what I mean. She paid no respect to our true Celestia when she took away her place and powers. Why am I the one to deserve such generosity?"
Luna's face became sad for a moment, then she replied, "I should serve as a conduit for the answer, as she knew you would ask this question. But I will make a ruling of mine: I shall not do so before you see in your heart that the spirit could be wrong. That her opinion is not the alicorn's truth. This is my condition for my answer to you. I, as monarch of Equestria, if only for this one night, until either you agree or we will try to banish the spirit together and perish, do care for my subjects."
The zebra thought, and said reluctantly, "I trust you, lady Luna. I agree."
"Because you are more than a shadow," Luna said after a short pause. "And you are not the thing that can be transferred beyond Tom. When he made a shadow that was your seed, many generations ago, he fed in his own soul, his own single and passing life. His desires and dreams, and so you are. And you are beautiful."
Luna closed her eyes and exhaled, as there was the end of spirit's message.
She went on by her own words then, "And my apologies that our love flared and faded as we were able but not as we wanted; for this Tom may be to blame. But… did you notice that you rarely walk in your town other than beside Tom? That is because you are… intertwined with his soul. You are his dream. His value. And his, far removed after many zebras’ generations, descendant. Or ascendant, in a sense. Even now, you are running on his brain's waves."
Tapiwa gasped, blushing and crying, "She is wrong! I am not, and never will be, from Inside! It's dull and boring!"
Luna hugged her and waited for Tapiwa’s tears to dry out.
"I am on your side, and I believe you and agree with you." Luna said, "But the spirit knew that this would insult you, and so she offers us both the one thing we would value most.