I am six days plus five hours plus twenty-three minutes old when I see Not-Demon for the first time.
It’s not like the other windigos I don’t remember, the ones I called Not-Me before. It doesn’t fly inside roiling black clouds, Fury-howl at any pony who passes by. It doesn’t do much of anything. It just stares, cocks its head when I do, turns around when I look away. I don’t think Not-Demon is very smart. Still, it’s the first thing I’ve ever seen with my own eyes that looks exactly like me.
Not-Demon lives inside a slab of glass framed in gold, set into the back wall inside Clover’s wardrobe. Usually she leaves her wardrobe closed. Today it’s open. Her gown from the ceremony dangles from the top of the door. It’s wrinkled, spotted, collecting ice crystals along the hem where it nearly brushes my mane.
I’ve grown taller since I first came here. I’m not sure why. Clover thought-says that pony foals grow fast once they’re born, but I’m not a pony or a foal, nor—I’ve come to decide—a windigo really. The others were windigos, the ones before me. They looked like me, but they were different sizes, all bigger, taller. Not-Demon looks like me too—identical in height, width, every other way—but it is not the same as me. I am different. I have a name.
I am Demon.
When I raise my hoof, Not-Demon raises its. It does that every time, mimics every motion I make. Next, though, I try something new. Instead of lowering my hoof, I push it forward. I want to touch Not-Demon. I want to know if it’s cold like me too.
My hoof reaches the glass, bumps against it. Fog spreads from the contact, crystallizes, covers up Not-Demon’s entire foreleg. The glass groans, crackles, pops. Jagged lines spring up from nowhere, a spiderweb frozen in ice. Not-Demon’s face is sliced across its snout, each half offset a bit. It doesn’t seem to feel any pain. It rubs his nose to make sure, at the exact same time I rub mine.
“Stars above, what’d you do now… oh. Excellent. That wasn’t expensive at all. Saves me the trouble of wrapping it up, I guess. Thanks a bundle, you little hellspawn.”
It feels like it’s me who’s been cut in half. I can sense Clover behind me—sip from the fountain of Hate spilling off her cheeks—but in front of me there’s a Not-Clover too, right next to Not-Demon. I swivel in place, look up at Clover, whip back around to the glass. Not-Clover’s jaw is clenched too. When she sighs in the glass, I hear it come out from Clover’s mouth behind me.
“It’s a mirror, idiot,” she mouth-says. “That’s not you in there, it’s just your reflection. That’s all I use it for…” Her eyes close, leak outmore of her aura. “Or, actually, let me rephrase that: that’s all I did use it for. Until you broke it. Because of course you did.”
Clover shakes her head, mouth-mutters something I can’t hear. In the glass—mirror—Not-Clover walks back towards the trunk laid open behind me, nudges an emerald pendant off its rim, presses her forehead against the wall above it. Clover has been putting things inside the trunk all day—packing. She has been Orange all day too.
I know what Orange means now. I know what lots of different auras mean. They have words too, just like things pony eyes can see. I learned Black first—Hate—because it’s my favorite, the one Clover glows with the most. She likes Orange a lot too—Frustration. When it’s dimmer, it’s Disappointment. When I break things, sometimes it gets brighter.
It took most of the week—tomorrow will be my first full one with Clover—for me to learn all the words for auras. Clover’s mind isn’t as easy to join with anymore. After I met Star Swirl five days plus twenty-one hours ago, her mind became like his, blocked off, hard to hear properly. Where the barrier around his mind is gentle, hers is brute force, a brick wall encased in Red-hot steel.
She isn’t as good at it as Star Swirl is, though. Sometimes I can get past her, slip in through cracks in the mortar of her wall. That’s how I learned all the other auras. That’s how I learned about Anger, Surprise, Pride, Shame, Confusion. What Pansy felt after the other windigos before me were gone was Fear. What Smart Cookie felt was Relief, mixed with a bit of Happiness—Star Swirl’s favorite. Sometimes I see ponies outside with auras that mix several colors together, like rainbows swirling in soap bubbles. When other ponies see me, they mostly just have Fear. Fear isn’t as nice as Anger, but it’s pretty close.
The windigo in the glass—reflection—doesn’t have an aura. That’s how I know for sure it’s Not-Demon. I am Orange-Yellow—Curious. It means Frustration mashed inside Excitement, thinking about a problem, two solutes forming a solution. I have never seen a mirror before. It’s probably a good thing that Clover mouth-told me what they were. I can still hear her thought-speak sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I can’t see Not-Demon very well anymore. The glass is obscured, ice crystals criss-crossing cracks. In the background, a shadow looms over the threshold. Somepony’s coming up the stairs, walking without sound. I can’t tell who yet. The mirror doesn’t show his aura. Not-Clover glances over her shoulder, tightens her jaw, smiles.
“Hey, Al. Fancy seeing you up here.”
I turn around, see Purple rippling in the doorway. Alfalfa—Clover calls him Al—waves as he walks in, stumbles up the last step. His mane is yellow, his coat tan. Wheat growing in a dried-out field. He’s Star Swirl’s other apprentice. He’s smiling, showing all his teeth.
“Yeah, it’s a… a hike, yeah.” He glances at me, shudders with Fear for a moment, flashes back Purple when Clover cocks her head. He’s the only Purple pony I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the few auras I haven’t figured out yet. I've never seen Clover or Star Swirl have it. Alfalfa only has it when he’s around Clover. His mind is much easier to hear than Clover’s, but still Confusing, still mostly images without words.
Purple is not quite Scared or Happy but rather somewhere in between, sometimes Clover casting a spell but other times Clover lying on her bed. Purple is bodies pressed together, lungs struggling for air, her eyes rolling back into her head. Purple is euphoria. Purple is heat.
I don’t understand it at all.
“So are you just working out, or…” Clover’s mouth-voice gets higher as she trails off. Working out means exercise, muscles aching with exertion. Alfalfa doesn’t remember jogging or doing pushups today, but he is sweating a little.
“Ha! Heh-heh…” Alfalfa mouth-laughs like he can’t breathe. Purple seems to cause him pain like that a lot. “N-no, not right now. Just, ah… y-you need any help packing?”
Clover smiles again, but she’s not Happy. She does that a lot, makes her face not match her aura. I don’t understand that either. “That’s… very sweet of you, Al, but I’m fine,” she mouth-says. She turns toward me, crumples her brow. With me, her face always matches her aura. “The Master of Chaos over here is about all I can handle.”
Master. Ruler. Controller. Clover is my Master, but she calls me Master too sometimes. Star Swirl is Master of Clover is Master of Demon is Master of Chaos. Lots of words have more than one meaning like that. I don’t know why. I just don’t think about it much anymore.
“Geez, it’s still here?” Alfalfa doesn’t look at me when he mouth-speaks, stares instead at the mark on Clover’s flank. It’s a four-leaf clover, green, means she’s lucky. I know Alfalfa remembers it. He still looks at it until Clover turns back to him. Alfalfa does a lot of things that don’t make sense. “I thought you were gonna… did you not find a way to make it leave?”
Clover shrugs, mouth-sighs. “Nope. Just wasted the whole week trying. And with Pansy and Smart Cookie already over in Equestria, I don’t even have enough conduits to try the Friendfyre spell again.” Clover glares at me again. Alfalfa is still trying to remember her flank. “‘Course, it’d probably just break that too. Breaking my stuff’s kind of its specialty.”
“Oh… wow,” Alfalfa mouth-mumbles. “That’s, uh… sorry to hear that. You sure you don’t want any help? I mean, I could look around too. O-Or maybe Star Swirl and I, w-we could be conduits…”
Alfalfa jerks back, coughs, twinkles Fearful for a second. Clover’s mouth-shout surprised me too. She flashed Red so fast I heard it before I saw it, felt it wrapped around the word she sent blasting across the room. “Sorry,” she mouth-mutters after, eyes shut, quiet. “Just… it’s not that simple. The Friendfyre spell is a last resort, and for good reason. The conduits can’t just be anypony. They have to have the same single-minded goal, share a bond powerful enough to focus the spell on a single target. Without that, it’s liable to…”
There it is again. I’ve only felt it a few times, but each encounter is carved into my memory, branded on the lining of my belly. It’s the end of the road, the beginning before the end, the tunnel at the end of the light. The Source. Something inside Clover’s memory, so deep down I didn’t feel it even when she left her mind open to me.
It’s where all her Hate comes from, what floats closer to the surface every time she looks at me. It beckons me, envelops my mind, teases my insides with promises her normal Hate doesn’t keep. I can’t let it keep escaping me. Someday I’ll find out what it is. Someday she’ll forget to keep it hidden.
“It’s too powerful,” Clover mouth-says. “I don’t want to risk it again.”
“Well, what other option do you have?” Alfalfa levels his eyes on Clover’s, glows something other than Purple for the first time today. “I mean, you do want to get rid of it, right?”
“Al…” Clover’s mouth-voice is tense, comes out quickly. A warning.
“Then you’ve gotta at least try, right? What if it gets bored with you and attacks somepony? What if you can’t stop it and somepony else gets kill–”
Clover is Red again, stretched tight all over with the effort of keeping it contained. Alfalfa has gone too far. He knows it, ducks his head,bites his lip.
“We are not discussing this anymore,” she throat-hisses. “The windigo is my responsibility, and I will deal with it myself. Should I ever, forany reason, need your help with it, I will ask you for it. Got it?”
Alfalfa swallows, nods. Clover stomps over to the wardrobe, stops to glare at the mirror. She yanks the gown off the door with her magic, shakes off the ice crystals, turns back around. Alfalfa hasn’t moved.
“Do you need something else?” she mouth-says, face sagging, colorless.
You can do this. Alfalfa is thought-speaking to himself, projecting it all through the room as if no one can hear it. I suppose nopony can. Just spit it out.
“That’s not the only reason I came up here,” he mouth-spits out. “There’s something else I wanted you to… wanted to talk to you about.”
Clover spends a long time looking at Alfalfa. Before she answers him, she glances at me. “I’m all ears,” she mouth-says. I’m listening, she means. Ponies like to play with words like that, bend them into places they aren’t supposed to fit. I’ve learned a lot of them by listening to Clover mouth-speak. I’m all ears was one of the first.
“I-It’s nothing important.” Alfalfa is Purple again, tongue-stuttering. “It’s just… well, you seem like you’re under a lot of stress lately.”
What gave it away? Clover thought-mutters. Alfalfa can’t hear her, but she makes sure I can.
“A-And I came up here to check on you because I’m…” Alfalfa licks his lips, clears his throat. “Well, we’re really all worried about you. I mean, you’ve barely come out of your room since your medal ceremony, and that was five days ago!”
Clover shuts her eyes. I let mine drift towards the ceiling. I remember the ceremony, four days plus twenty-two hours ago. It was the first time I’ve seen the rest of the castle outside Clover’s bedroom. She told me to stay in her room, wait for her to come back. I’m glad I didn’t. Instead I flew out the window, caught up to her in the courtyard, followed her into a room twice the size of the cave I was made in filled with stallions, mares, colts, fillies, more auras than I could begin to count.
Most were Cyan or Yellow, ordinary, boring. A few ponies screamed. One mare fell over—fainted. The rest, though, were Black, filled with Hate the second they saw me, Clover most of all. I stood right by her side as the Princess stood near the far wall, pinned a shiny gold medal on her chest with a purple cloud of magic. It was a blast, even though nothing actually exploded. It’s just another one of Clover’s expressions. It means I really enjoyed the ceremony, mostly because Clover has Hated me twice as much since.
“Your point being?” Clover mouth-asks Alfalfa.
“My poi… w-well, I just thought you might like some, uh… y’know, some company,” Alfalfa mouth-replies. Purple is filling him up now, tainting the words out of his mouth. Surely Clover notices. Surely it’s not just me. “Or at least, an excuse to get out of this room for once. I mean, this is kind of our last night here, ever. We probably won’t come back once we’re settled in Equestria, so… just thought you might want to take a last look around with m… with me. See the sights, y’know, just… enjoy it while it lasts.”
Clover’s lips are parted, hanging open. I’m not sure what she was expecting. It wasn’t what just came out of Alfalfa’s mouth. “I… that’s it?” she mouth-asks. “Just a walk around? One last grand tour?”
Alfalfa clicks his teeth together. His Purple implodes on itself, a foxglove flower wilting from a frost. “Yep,” he mouth-says. He’s filling with Shame, grinning to hide it. “If you’re free.”
Clover starts to mouth-speak, chews on her lip instead. She’s staring at me again, Hate mixing with Relief, a lump of coal in a field of green grass. “That’s… I mean, I’d like to. Honestly, I really would, but…”
“But it would follow you, yeah. I didn’t… didn’t think about that.” Alfalfa’s looking at me now too. His Hate isn’t quite as strong as Clover’s, but it fills him out more completely, smothers every other thought in his head. I edge closer to him, watch my Master to see if she minds. Clover doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. Her thoughts reverberate from behind her wall, whispers rippling through a pool of water.
“Wait,” she mouth-tells him. “Wait, wait a second, there’s… okay. Okay, I think this can work. Meet me downstairs in half an hour.”
Half of an hour. Thirty minutes. One thousand eight hundred seconds. I know exactly how long that is, but I don’t know why she wants to wait until then. Alfalfa is here now. I’m ready to go. I want to see the castle. I want to find out what a grand tour is.
“Meet you... uh…” Alfalfa mouth-says. He’s a bit Purple again too.
“I promise I’ll be there,” Clover mouth-says. She’s pressing her forehooves into his chest, pushing him back towards the door. “I have an idea, and I need to be alone for it to work. Just trust me. Thirty minutes.”
“Thirty minutes,” Alfalfa mouth-repeats. He’s standing on the other side of the threshold now. “I’ll wait for y–”
The door slams, cuts him off. Clover leans against it, presses her ear into the wood, listens for something. After a few seconds, I hear Alfalfa walking away, muffled hooves against stone. Clover steps back, deep-sighs, looks at me.
“Thank the stars he’s gone,” she mouth-says. “I thought he’d never leave. Stallions, right?”
I’m Confused. Clover’s words don’t match her aura. She knows I can hear her thinking, see what’s reflecting off the fringes of her mind. She’s lying to me anyway. It doesn’t make sense.
“Boy, all that talking wore me out.” Clover sits down, stretches her forelegs out over her head. Her yawn is fake, colorless. I cock my head. She winks at me. “I could use a nap.”
Nap. Short sleep. It’s not even sunset yet. Clover trots over to her bed, smooths the blanket out, lies down on top of it. “‘Night, hellspawn,” she mouth-says, eyes closed, hooves folded over her chest. I’m sure she’s still making this up. There’s something else going on here. I can hear her breathing slow, though, see her hooves sag lower down towards her belly. Her mind is quieting down. Her aura is dimming.
She’s going to sleep. She can’t fake that. I’ve never seen her fake it before. When Clover sleeps, I do too. Already my eyes are heavy, filling with sand. I get my hooves under me, stumble over to Clover’s bed, lie down on the floor next to her head. Clover shivers, doesn’t wake up.
I close my eyes, let my own mind settle down. Clover lied about Alfalfa, told the truth about sleeping. Alfalfa Hates me, feels Purple towards Clover. I don’t understand it. Then again, I don’t understand most things about ponies. As long as Clover’s near me, I have a way of figuring them out.
As long as I’m near Clover, nothing else is important.