Air whistling, cutting, crisp. Darkness all around me. The absence of life. I open my eyes, look out the window. The moon is out, full, bright like a frozen star. I feel cold. I feel nothing.
I roll onto my stomach, turn my head. I’m tall enough to see the whole bed, the crumpled pillow, the depression in the sheets. Empty. Clover isn’t there.
No no NO NO.
My vision blurs, narrows into flashes of shapes without colors. I’m standing up, staring at the wall that Clover’s sleeping form should obscure. I’m at the window, hanging halfway out over the sill. I’m outside, buried inside a thundercloud, rending the air apart as I bolt through it. Clover is gone. A part of me is gone. I’m drifting through the air, directionless, a boat without an anchor. Shapes jump out in front of my face, bang against my shoulders. I have to concentrate to see them. I have to ransack my mind to remember how.
I am Scared.
Something happened to her. Something—enemy—monster—came for her, took her away from me. I should have stopped it, protected her, stayed right by her side. The moon is out now. Middle of the night. Have to fix this. Need to find her.
I will find her.
I start at the tower, spiral down the outer wall, move so fast the stones sprout ice streaks where I fly too close. No auras. Empty. I reach the street below, skim my hooves along the cobblestones, paint them white with frost. I haven’t been down here since the ceremony. Nothing looks the same. There are no dim spots of light dancing inside houses, sitting behind carts, ducking into alleyways when they see me coming. Nopony is here. Nopony is Black. Nopony is Clover.
Where is she?
I throat-growl, point my hooves up. The cloud shoots higher, gives me altitude, fills my belly with rocks. From this height I can see the whole city, dyed black-and-white by moonlight, a map spread out on Clover’s table. Platinum Castle is dark, cleaned out. Conducting rods surround its grounds, stand speared upright twenty feet apart. Star Swirl will teleport it to Equestria tomorrow. He’s been meditating for three days, gathering his strength. Nopony else remains inside. Nopony else remains anywhere. Almost everyone has already moved out, gone to Equestria, settled down in New Platinum. Everyone except Star Swirl. Except Clover.
My focus wanes for a moment. The world blinks out of sight, goes dark but for the few feeble auras still sleeping in the houses below. In front of me, almost as high as me, two glow brighter than the others. One mare, one stallion. One Pink...
… one Purple.
I grit my teeth, force pony-sight back into my mind. On the far side of the castle, there’s a light on top of another tower, a torch throwing shadows across the parapets. It burns orange, matches my aura.
There are four towers attached to Platinum Castle, one on each corner, all flat on top. This one lies opposite the one I live in with Clover. I fly overtop the castle to reach it, see only the backs of heads at first, stop in midair to make sure. Green mane, white coat, sitting next to straw-yellow on top of tan. Clover’s looking at the stars. She doesn’t see me yet.
“... Swirl didn’t teach me until two whole days after it showed up.” She’s mouth-speaking, waving her hoof each time her voice rises. “I kind of screamed at him about it, actually, swore I’d run away and blow up the castle behind me if the damned thing wouldn’t back off and let me sleep. Once he lent me a few scrolls for meditation, though, I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Little beast just goes out like a lamp the second my mind calms down.”
Her guard is down, her wall lowered. She’s talking about me. She thinks I can’t hear her.
“So that’s how you got rid of it?” Alfalfa Surprise-asks. “You just made it think you were asleep?”
Clover smiles. Her throat vibrates, holds back a laugh. “Yep. Well, I guess you’re making it sound simpler than it was. Nearly broke my neck sneaking out to meet you. Turns out stairs get a lot more complicated after you’ve hypnotized yourself.”
Her mouth-voice cuts through me like a heated knife. Hypnotized. Sneaking out. Little beast. Clover did lie to me. She tricked me, made me think she was sleeping, met Alfalfa up here instead. He’s staring at her now, sitting inches away from her. His breath ruffles her mane, sendsPurple tendrils creeping down the back of her neck. I have never seen it this bright, felt it coming off him this strong. It makes my chest itch, my hooves tremble. I want to attack him, push him away, make him leave Clover alone.
Why does Alfalfa glow like that around Clover? Why does seeing it make me want to jump down between them, protect her from him? Whyshould I protect her? She lied to me. She left me behind, tore us apart, took half of me with her. Did she think I would never find her again? Did she mean for this to last forever?
Impossible. Clover would never abandon me. Clover Hates me. Hate is the strongest aura, the best feeling there is to be felt. If Clover wanted me to leave, she wouldn’t Hate me so much. Star Swirl said as much before. Maybe Clover would lie to me. Star Swirl wouldn’t. Star Swirl understands me, thought-speaks to me, calls me by my name.
I am Demon. Clover is my Master. I will protect her. I will not let her abandon me.
… I will wait. Just long enough to know she’s safe. Just long enough to find out what Purple is.
While I was thinking, Clover kept mouth-speaking to Alfalfa—laughing. Whatever I wasn’t meant to hear, I didn’t. I listen more closely now, wait for the lull in their conversation to end. Clover lung-sighs, is the first to turn away from the stars again. Alfalfa meets her eyes, leans a bit closer.
“You know something, Al? I’m really glad you came by tonight.” Clover grins, looks back up. Al doesn’t. “I needed something like this. This was… this was fun.”
Alfalfa leans back, stretches his foreleg out. He’s a breath away from Clover’s shoulders, so close that I can feel his body heat through her. “I’m glad I came by too,” he throat-whispers. “I should’ve done it sooner.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it.” Clover is still star-gazing, still smiling. She doesn’t feel his proximity, his heat. How does she not feel it? “It’s half my fault anyway. Just wanted to say thanks. For being a good friend.”
Now, Alfalfa thought-whispers. He is swathed in flames, all Purple. Do it now.
“You’re welcome,” he throat-murmurs. Clover twitches her brow, turns towards him. She watches as he closes his eyes, opens his mouth, anchors his foreleg around her neck.
Just before his lips press into hers, she leans away from him.
“Uh… Al?” she mouth-asks. “What are you doing?”
I lean forward, grit my teeth. Alfalfa is staring at Clover, hang-jawed, Turquoise. My cloud is fifty feet from his head. “What d’you mean, what am I… you…”
Clover lifts her hoof to her mouth, notices—finally—what I could see all day. “Oh… wow. Oh, stars above, I… Al, listen, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Are you serious...” Alfalfa throat-whispers. He’s looking at the ground, not at her. Something is building inside him, congealing,darkening.
“Look, Al, I know this… stars, this is awkward, but I swear it’s nothing personal, I just–”
“Are you serious?” Alfalfa’s mouth-voice cracks, claws at the back of his throat. His words are choked with vines of Shame, laced with blood-Red thorns. Clover feels them too. She straightens up, faces him as he jumps to his hooves.
“Excuse me?” she mouth-says. Her tongue is Orange, blushing Red.
I am forty feet away.
“What did I ever do to you, huh?” Alfalfa screws up his eyes, shakes his head. “No, you know what, what didn’t I do for you? I did all the chores you didn’t like doing, I stayed up every night to help you with your research, I read through every scroll and spellbook under the damn sun just so you wouldn’t worry about Star Swirl quizzing us… stars above, I get sick whenever you do, because I’m so busy taking care of you I don’t have time to take care of myself!”
“Al, I’m grateful for all of that. You know I am,” Clover mouth-says, measured out, not-quite-colorless. She’s moving, edging back towards the stairs that lead into the tower. “Why are you acting like this?”
Alfalfa lurches forward, closes the gap Clover managed to open. His laugh sounds like a donkey’s bray, painful, Indignant. “And thenthis week, you… I’m the only pony in the kingdom who’ll even talk to you after this week! Everypony else is terrified of you, thinks you’ve lost your mind. You know there’s a rumor that you’re the one who brought the windigos here in the first place? That you’re communicating with them, ordering them around with some mysterious black magic? You know who’s the only pony in or out of Equestria who tells those idiots they’re wrong?”
“Alfalfa, you’re overreacting,” Clover mouth-says. I don’t need you to take care of me, she thought-growls instead. I am thirty feet away. I could reach them in less than a second, one-sixtieth of a minute.
“No, you’re underreacting!” Alfalfa throat-yells. He’s even closer to her, hoof raised, hovering in front of her chest. The cloud writhes beneath me, bunches up behind my hind legs. “I do everything for you, and you never see it! To you, I might as well not even exist!”
Alfalfa’s mind is a fountain, a cracked cup running over. His thoughts spill out everywhere, splatter across my mind: Clover on her knees,weeping into her hooves, begging him to forgive her. He knows this Clover well, thinks about her all the time. He doesn’t know the real Clover at all.
“Oh, grow up!” Red tints her vision, charges her words with force that stops Alfalfa dead. “We’re not in a fairy tale, Alfalfa! I’m not a damsel in distress waiting for some gallant, pigheaded knight to break me out of my tower, and I sure as hellfire am not gonna sleep with you just because you act like a decent equine being around me!”
“Then don’t sleep with me!” Fear has mixed with Purple inside him, created a new aura dark as the night sky—Desperation. “Don’t love me, don’t ever speak to me again after tonight. Just kiss me. Just one time, pretend that I exist.”
Clover crinkles her nose, glares pure jet-Black—Disgust. “Goodnight, Alfalfa,” she mouth-spits. She shuts her eyes, turns to leave.
“Don’t walk away from me…” Alfalfa throat-growls. Clover doesn’t stop. He nose-snorts, stomps towards her. “Clover, don’t youdare walk away from m–”
I don’t slow down before I hit the top of the tower. The impact rattles the entire structure, carves inch-deep fissures in the stones beneath my hooves. Spears of ice flash-freeze the floor around me, spray pebbles of hail into Alfalfa’s face. A rush of Red opens my lungs, pushes out a mouth-roar so loud it makes my own ears ring. Alfalfa falls on his rump, scrabbles back against the parapet, bleeds Blue all over the floor as he cowers behind reedy hooves. Saplings in the path of an avalanche. He couldn’t stop me if he tried. Only one pony can stop me now–
My Master mouth-screams at me, orders me back. I don’t want to listen. I want to rip him apart, encase his heart in ice, pack his lungs full of powder-snow. I could do it. I should do it.
I don’t. For some reason, Clover doesn’t want me to. Alfalfa notices, Green-smiles-Orange, shakes his head.
“Unbelievable,” he mouth-mutters. “All those times I stuck up for you, all those ponies I argued with… and they were right. You reallyare as far gone as they say.”
“Alfalfa, shut up,” Clover mouth-growls. “I’m not controlling it, I don’t know what it’s gonna–”
“Oh, please.” He’s standing now, still pressed against the parapet but leaning forward a bit. “Clover the Clever, savior of the realm, the most powerful magical sorceress in recorded history, out of control? The mare who sits cooped up in her tower all day doing stars know what, who found herself so enthralled with the creatures that nearly wiped out our species that she took one home and kept it as a pet?” He Hate-smiles, crinkles his nose like Clover did—sneers. “Named it Demon?”
Clover’s jaw quivers, hooves scuff at the ground. For the second time in my life, I see my Master’s aura turn Blue. “I… I didn’t name it Demon,” she mouth-says. Her eyes are pointed at neither me nor Alfalfa, hung up between us, out of focus. “It calls itself that, it won’t shut up about it. I-I didn’t know what else to do…”
“You know, I get it,” Alfalfa mouth-says, wheezes out like a persistent cough. “I finally get it. You’re paranoid, antisocial, emotionally distant, frigid as an icebox… of course you’d be friends with a windigo. You practically already are one.”
Shock ripples through Clover’s body, leaves behind a chasm that dwarfs it, drains every other color out of her. “Don’t you dare,” she Blank-whispers. “Don’t you dare…”
“And even now, you still won’t let me talk.” Alfalfa steps to the side, glances towards the stairs. He’s about to escape. I can still stop him. All I need is Clover’s word, gesture, permission. She says nothing. “That’s the real reason you don’t have any friends, Clover. It’s not because you’re intimidating or hard to talk to. It’s because you don’t want us to be your friends. You think you’re too good for us, too special to be associated with common ponies. All you did was use Smart Cookie and Pansy to get what you wanted, and then it was right back into Cloverland, where everything’s all about you again.”
I’m still waiting for an order, still watching Clover for any sign of one. She doesn’t look like she wants to give it to me. She doesn’t look like my Master at all. She looks like Alfalfa’s thought-vision of her: shoulders hunched, chin trembling, eyes red, Empty inside.
“Someday you’re gonna regret acting like that,” Alfalfa mouth-says. “And someday real soon, you’re gonna regret acting like that with me.”
He stands silent for a moment, walks over to the stairs, descends out of sight. Clover doesn’t run after him, doesn’t order me forward, doesn’t say a word. I step closer to her, keep one eye on Alfalfa’s Black aura descending. Her lips shudder, crack apart. She stares at her hooves, mouth-whispers something.
“Get away from me…”
I don’t listen, take another step forward, ignore the hole in her chest until suddenly it’s a VOID, a gaping Nothingness that pushes away instead of pulling in.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!”
Clover is red-faced, on her hooves, throat-screaming so loud that her next words crack like dry parchment. I’m not looking at her. I’m looking inside her. Beneath her Hate, there is Anger. Beneath her Anger, there is Fear. Beneath her Fear, there is the Source, pulsating, intoxicating. It’s never felt this strong before, this close to the surface.
“I don’t care if you like me! I don’t care if you think I’m your mother! I don’t want to be your mother! I never wanted you! I never wantedany of this!”
She still has her guard down. She hasn’t remembered to put up her wall. After everything she’s done to me, everything I’ve been through tonight, I deserve to see it. I deserve to finally know what the Source of all this is.
“If I ever see you again… if you ever come near me again, I will destroy you. I will burn this entire continent to the ground if I have to. And I will hunt down every single one of your wretched kind until you are wiped from existence and nopony even remembers what you… what… w-what are you doing?”
I’m pushing back, Clover. I’m not creeping around the edge of your wall, sneaking in through the cracks. I’m tearing open new ones,shattering the brick, melting through the steel. I want to know what you’ve been hiding from me.
“Don’t… gonna kill you, you hear me, rip you apart like… stop it. Stop it!”
It’s coming together in front of me, forming into shapes—colors—memories. I’m so close. A few more inches, a little more pressure at the base...
Thunderclap. Cold water down my back. Connection. The wall has collapsed. I’m inside her memory…
… I am Furious, stomping through a field of wildflowers, running away. Voices echo from the house behind me, call my name, threaten to lock me inside for a week. There’s a storm coming, they tell me, please come back inside. I walk faster. They’re just Scared because they’re earth ponies, stupid because they think I’m still a baby who doesn’t know any better. I am a unicorn. I am a better magician than anypony for miles.
I am invincible.
Lightning strike. Rain soaking into my mane. I ignore it. I don’t want to go back. I don’t care if they’re my parents. I Hate them. I Hate them because they don’t trust me, Hate them because they never let me play outside like the other fillies, Hate them because they’re so Terrified of magic they don’t even let me leave the house alone. They’re ignorant. I’m blind, gritting my teeth so hard I see white. Little flakes fluttering down instead of raindrops, sticking to my face, blending into my coat.
I shiver with cold, with sudden clarity. It’s the middle of summer. It shouldn’t be snowing.
There’s only one reason it could be snowing.
I turn around, numb, Horrified. Too late. The Demons are already here. Three of them, circling around the house, baying at the blanketed sun. They’ve been spotted recently in the Outer Territories, miles away. Never here. Never this far south before.
I start to run, kick up petals, trip over hidden ridges. My legs are aching, too short. My knees are cracked, leaking red. One Demon peels off, dives down towards the house, smashes through the roof. I hear wind roaring, ice crackling, lungs heaving for breath.
Snow piles up in my mane, melts against my body. I can feel something happening, can’t think about it, just fight past it. I’m twenty feet from the house when I’m forced to my knees, laid out flat by the power coursing through me. Pink flames swirl between my legs, lift me off the ground, coalesce into a tight cocoon around my body. I am forbidden magic. I am the spell my parents refused to let me attempt. I am the only thing that can defeat the Demons.
I am Friendfyre.
For a moment, it works. For a moment, the Demons shy away, scream in agony. I pour every bit of energy I have left into the spell, cross a line I never knew to look for. Too much power. Too bright fire. My horn shudders, pulses, cracks apart.
I’m knocked unconscious—the memory splits down the middle, skips ahead. I wake up sore all over, spitting out dirt, freezing cold. The house is gone, a wood skeleton flash-burned black. I limp towards it, shove my shoulder against the door, fall through as cinders sizzle on my back. The pain keeps me lucid, from passing out, from looking away.
They are the only things left standing, the only things still with color. Half blue, half black. Hind legs still frozen solid. Forelegs smoking, peeled back by heat down to soot-caked bone. Chests shorn of fur, smoldering. Faces—their faces—twisted, mangled, burned away, ashes. My hooves kick up gray clouds, tufts of green mane. Just like mine. My throat fills with bile, spews it out onto my hooves, leaves a hole in my stomach that widens with every passing second.
My voice croaks, cries out for them, begs for something I already know is impossible. Anything to make this all go away. Anything to undo what I’ve done.
What I’ve done.
The hole sucks the energy from my legs, the light from my aura. There is no color for what I am, no word for what I feel. This is Blankness, unbeing, a bottomless pit I shouldn’t still be alive to fall into. This is the horror that I did this, the knowledge that it can’t be undone, the agony of realizing it’s my fault it happened, it’s my fault they’re dead, it’s my fault
I am screaming, I am evil, I am a murderer.
My head smacks against the parapet, drives a spike of pain through my mind. Clover has shoved me away from her, away from her memory. Her Nothingness clings to me like wet sand, grinds into my skin, saps at my own aura. I can’t move, can’t think, can’t bear to feel it any longer. It’s all-consuming. It’s darker-than-Black. It hurts.
I break off from Clover entirely, feel the world go fuzzy, manage to look up at her face. Her eyes are ice, melting. Inside them, Not-Demon stares back at me.
“You’re a monster,” she Dead-whispers. Her horn shimmers, surrounds her with light. I hear a spell-chime, a sob, nothing. Clover is gone. She’s teleported away. I can’t feel her anywhere close to me.
I am alone.