I don’t go straight back to Clover’s tower after she vanishes. I fly around the castle for a while—maybe hours—lethargic, without any idea of where I’m going. Thinking. Remembering. Trying to decide whether I should look for Clover, whether I should come down to land, whether I should stay awake at all.
I am not a monster.
None of this would’ve happened if she hadn’t lied to me. I wouldn’t have been so curious about the Source if she hadn’t tried so hard to hide it from me. I wouldn’t have forced my way into her mind if I’d known what was festering at its core, eating away at her from the inside out. All I wanted to do was be with her. All I wanted was to know my Master like she knows me.
I am not a monster.
How could I have known how much pain my presence caused her, how sick her Hate made her? I thought Hate was sacred, profound, the most wonderful thing a pony could give to me. I never felt it as they do, as a cancer sapping the life from their blood, as Nothing where everything should be. This was just a misunderstanding, just Frustration, just the heat of the moment. This wasn’t my fault.
I didn’t want to be a monster.
Clover’s tower is still empty when I return to it. Her bedsheets are rumpled, cold, just as they were before I left. Her trunk still sits open against the wall. If she’s been back here since I last saw her, it wasn’t for long. Just enough to grab a few things, small trinkets somepony else wouldn’t think to look for. An overcoat, meant to hang on the hook behind the door. A bag of apothecary supplies, missing from the rectangular gap in the dust layer beneath her desk. A small emerald pendant I have never seen her wear, that I last saw caked in soot, flattened against a skinless throat, glistening in the light of embers dying under snowfall.
I stand over my spot next to her bed, fall onto my side, close my eyes. It’s too hard to keep standing, too hard to see where I’m walking. If Clover still Hates me, she won’t come back. If Clover doesn’t Hate me, she won’t be in pain anymore. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what she wants me to do.
I don’t know who I am anymore.
I am Demon.
Demon, wake up.
I am my Master’s Demon.
Demon, Clover needs you!
Clover is mine. I am hers. No matter what I am or was, that is what I will always be.
… I need you, Demon. I need you to help me again.
I open my eyes, think of Clover, watch shapes blossom back into view. Sunlight streams through the window, sets dust motes ablaze, stings as it inches closer to my outstretched hoof. Star Swirl is standing over me, as close as he can bear, frost gathering at the ends of his whiskers. He nose-sighs, eye-smiles.
“Thought I’d find you up here,” he mouth-says, hoarse, exhausted. For the first time since I’ve known him, he sounds as old as he looks. “She’s just past the northern gate, half a mile or so out by now. If you hurry, you can reach her in a few minutes. He’s…”
Star Swirl closes his eyes, clenches his teeth. I have never seen him filled with Shame before. He’s probably never seen me like that either. “I can’t go,” he mouth-murmurs. “The transportation spell’s culmination is too close at hand. Delaying it now would set us back weeks, maybe destroy the castle, maybe send it to the wrong place entirely. The Princess won’t accept that risk, even for Clover’s sake. I’ve been ordered to stay here and finish the job.”
He goes silent, looks back up at me. I don’t need him to ask again. His question repeats itself in his eyes, sags Turquoise from his cheeks. I stand up, shake some feeling into my legs, step up into the window.
I rejoin Star Swirl, expect his usual resistance, feel nothing instead. For the time it takes to mouth-tell me what he’s thinking, he lets me see him as he sees me. As I now see Clover.
“I’ve made too many mistakes with her. Please don’t be my worst one yet.”
He’s Afraid I’ll hurt her again. He’s Afraid he’s pushed her too far, forced her into a situation she’s not strong enough to face alone. I know what he’s talking about. He’s right. I have hurt her. She can’t face this alone.
I won’t now. She won’t now. A cloud blooms into being as I step outside, turns me around to face Star Swirl. I stare him down, nod my head—blink one eye. Relief isn’t as powerful or as potent as Hate, but seeing it flood out of Star Swirl’s face feels a whole lot better.
Star Swirl was right about me, wrong about something else. It doesn’t take me a few minutes to reach the northern gate in the castle’s walls. It takes me one-half of a moment to aim, the other half to fire, a few seconds to blaze across the sky like a bolt from a five-story crossbow. I hear their voices before I see their faces, but I don’t need to see them to know who’s talking. Even after last night, Alfalfa still doesn’t bother to guard his mind at all, doesn’t even think about anything other than what he’s about to say next.
... did I tell you, Clover? Remind me what I told you last night. You’re so smart, I’m sure you remember…
Half a mile from the gate, Star Swirl. Three more seconds. I can see him now, a black dot in the distance, a little prick of a pin.
... even one smart comment for me? Shame. Guess you’re not so cocky without your little friend Demon to protect you…
There are two other stallions with him, each gripping one of my Master’s forelegs in their own, neither aware that I’m coming straight for them. Clover is bruised, panting, soaked Red all the way to her bones—but alive. How lucky Alfalfa is for that. He will regret thinking I was gone. He will regret real soon thinking I’ve forgotten about him.
“… going to be mine one way or the other. You had your chance at the easy way last night. Now…”
Now I’m gonna show you the hard way, Al.
Clover notices me at the last second, dives to the ground, pulls the stallion closest to me down with her. The second one never sees me coming, drops his jaw, spits teeth when I slam into him. His ribs groan with strain, crack in half as he’s bowled off his hooves. I break his fall with a sheet of ice, freeze him solid from the neck down before he even lands. Immediate cold pressure for broken bones. Clover taught me that four days ago. I’m nothing if not considerate.
I spin around in midair, skid to a halt with icicles clawing at my hooves. Alfalfa is in Shock, staring at me with his mouth open, not even watching as Clover twists out of her captor’s grip, kicks the rucksack off a walking staff lying nearby, drives it up under the stallion’s chin with pink magic blazing along its length. He crumples like a rag doll, leaves us alone with Alfalfa. I look to Clover, meet her eyes, glance towards Alfalfa’s quivering form.
She lowers her staff, sighs, nods. Alfalfa tries to mouth-speak, doesn’t have time. I’m on him in a blink of Clover’s eyes, staring down at his limp body pinned between my forehooves. I am not a monster. I am all monsters put together. I am Nightmare.
I am starving.
Alfalfa’s Fear collides with his Anger, melds with his Hate, forms a heavenly cocktail that makes me want more with every drop I taste. I drink straight from his aura, siphon off his energy, add it to my own. To kill him like this—defeated, defenseless—would be easy, as simple as waiting for the light around his heart to sputter out. It would be justified. It would be exactly what Clover gave me permission to do.
It would be monstrous.
I catch Clover’s attention, make sure she’s watching before I cut myself off. Alfalfa shudders as I step away from him. His fur is crusted over with ice. His skin is blue, pale with weakness, with Terror. I stare after him as he stumbles to his hooves, limps away with his tail between his legs. Clover stares at me.
“Why did you stop?” she mouth-asks. “Y-You could’ve just…”
I know I could have. I knew I shouldn’t.
I am not a monster, Clover.
Clover empties her lungs, slumps onto her haunches, rubs her hoof hard against her temple. There’s nothing left for her to be Angry about. Her eyes are rimmed red now, shining a soft Blue. I take one step towards her, wait until she nods again before moving any further. When I sit down by her side, she doesn’t move away, hugs herself with her forelegs instead.
“I’m sorry…” she mouth-whispers.
You don’t have to be Sorry, Clover.
“Yes, I do.” Thunder rumbles in her eyes, flashes Red in a storm of Black. “Yes, I do. I’ve been nothing but awful to you since the day you… the day I created you. All I did was hate you for something you didn’t do.”
Hate made me strong, Clover. I never thought about what Hate did to you.
Clover throat-laughs. The noise is hollow, like wind echoing in a cave. “I don’t even know why you saved me just now. Stars know, I didn’t deserve it.”
I am not a monster, Clover.
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry I–”
Neither are you.
Clover bites her tongue mid-word, turns away from me. I can still see the twitch in her jaw, the gleam of Black wetness in her eyes. “It’s not that simple.”
You didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
“It doesn’t matter what I meant to do!” Clover mouth-yells. Her eyes are squeezed shut, still leaking. Her voice pitches higher, crackslouder with every word. “All that matters is what I did. I killed them. They’re dead because of me.”
I didn’t mean to hurt you either. I didn’t know I could hurt you. I was too young to know any better, more powerful than I thought. You were no different.
Clover shakes her head again, throws droplets off her eyelashes that freeze against my coat. “I still brought them there. They felt my hatred and followed back to the house. That’s the only reason it ever happened.”
You never let go of that Hate. You let it build up inside you for years, poison every thought you had. When it peaked in that cave, all it did was create me. One pony is not enough for three windigos. It wasn’t your fault.
“Why are you doing this?” Clover Black-whispers. It’s not me she’s talking to. It’s not me she Hates. “I’ve killed dozens of windigos. I’ve tried to kill you. Why are you still here? How can you even stand the sight of me?”
I forgive you.
I forgive you, Clover.
She grits her teeth, tightens every muscle in her body, tries to hold herself together like she always has. It’s not enough anymore. Her wall dissolves, washes out in the Blank tide that’s finally risen too high. I approach her slowly, let her feel me coming, take on as much of herGrief as I can bear. It nauseates me, feels like acid flowing through my body, but it’s pain she no longer has to feel, weight she no longer has to carry on her own.
Outside, I hear her sobbing. Inside, I watch the rest of her life flash in front of us. Townsponies pull her away from the burned-out house. Star Swirl takes her in, teaches her how to use her magic safely. Princess Platinum declares her a squire, takes her along to find new land for the unicorns to settle. Her new friends stand with her in the cave, lend her their strength, channel her Friendfyre through their bodies. I feel her Anger, her Pride, her Frustration, her Fear. I drain the Hate out of her, let it linger on my tongue before swallowing it down. In retrospect, its taste is not worth its price.
When Clover’s mind is empty, something new refills it. Her aura is milky White, not quite as bright as Star Swirl’s was a week ago but still new, still growing. A monster would leave now, find somepony else to provide them the Hate my Master no longer feels. The thought of doing so never crosses my mind. When Clover realizes this, her aura doubles in size.
“We’ll have to find something else for you, though,” she mouth-says after a few seconds. “If you really plan on sticking around.”
My brow creases. I hadn’t really thought about that before. For a moment, both of us are Orange.
Clover is thinking about Alfalfa, remembering what I did to him. Her idea covers him up as it develops in her mind: the two of us traveling all over Equestria, helping Happy ponies, bringing Hateful ones to justice. She would have an identity, some purpose to her life beyond politics, princesses, ponies who want to be something she's not. I would have an outlet, a way to nourish myself that wouldn’t hurt anypony innocent. We would be together.
I like her idea. I like it a lot.
“So what should I call you, then?” she mouth-asks.
I am Demon.
Clover shakes her head, mouth-replies fast. “You’re not a demon.”
I shake my head too, duck back inside hers for a moment, send a barrage of my own memories her way. I gaze up in awe of her as sheglares down at me. I follow in her footsteps as she paces around her room. I wink at Star Swirl, seek her out, save her from herself.
Clover smiles. She understands.
My name is Demon, and Clover is my Master.
“Well, Demon, we better get moving,” she mouth-says. “Star Swirl’s spell has to be almost ready by now. If we miss the teleportation, it’s a three-day walk from here to New–”
A colossal pulse knocks the words from her mouth, sends us both stumbling. A blinding-bright flash paints the sky purple, covers the horizon where Platinum Castle used to stand. When the light fades, the skyline is empty. We stare at it for a second, at each other next.
“... Platinum,” Clover mouth-finishes. “Horseapples.”
I’ve never heard Clover use that word before. I search her mind for its meaning, blink at her, flush with Confusion. Why would she be talking about that right now? Clover doesn’t answer me. Clover just bites her lip, bursts out laughing.
“Come on, Demon,” she mouth-says between giggles. “No rest for the wicked.”
I don’t understand what’s funny. I don’t understand why laughter makes Clover White. I’ll never understand ponies.
I think I’m starting to like them, though. At the very least, there’s one by my side who likes me.