Automated wordcount: 104059
This was file was automatically generated by a google docs scraper, intended for use with e-reading devices. If you wish to have this removed from this list, email ra.llan.pcl+complaints @

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 1: A World of Grey

The mare stands, bathed in sunlight, on top of a small green hill. The air is fresh, cool and clean. Smiling, she inhales deeply, filling her lungs until she can hold no more. A soft breeze tickles her mane, blowing it gently around her face. She flicks her tail happily and presses her hooves deeper into the ground, revelling in the soft grass that stretches out as far as she can see.

Around her, butterflies dance gently in the air, their chaotic routines exuding a serene beauty and peace. The mare stares out onto the green pastures around her as they rise and fall with the undulating landscape, each hill forming an almost perfect bell-curve. To her left, trees dot the landscape, their branches swaying gently like her mane in the breeze.

In the distance, great mountains sulk on the horizon, their figures gloomy and vague, partly covered in great, dark clouds.

It is utterly silent except for the wind. The mare begins to trot down the hill on which she stands, feeling her muscles move in cohesion with each other, each one working independently yet also simultaneously to create movement.

Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, the mare finds a small stream, its bubbling finally adding another sound to the comfortable silence. The mare dips her head down and tastes the water. It’s sweet, pure and unsullied. She lifts her head and stares into the sky, watching as the small, light clouds move rapidly across the sky, their bodies becoming elongated by the wind.

Careful as to not step in the water, the mare crosses the stream and makes her way up the other side of the hill. On this hill there are small wildflowers, their petals open, gladly receiving the sun’s warm embrace. The mare stops and sniffs one slowly. The scent is soft, but pleasant and stirs something deep inside the pony. She continues up the hill, her pace increasing as she finally crests the summit.

The mare halts with a sense of unnameable unease. Below her, the grass has suddenly stopped. She looks around and sees that the pastures are still behind her. She puts a hoof gently onto the dirt in front of her. It puffs up in small clouds when she touches it, a substance of very little matter. Hesitantly, the mare reaches down to inspect the dirt closer. She nudges it carefully with her nose, and the dust causes her to sneeze.


She looks up; the gigantic ash fields stretch out in front of her like a horrific nightmare. Where is the grass? Where is the-

A low boom reverberates around the earth, shaking the mare where she stands. It is followed by another and another, each one shuddering the very foundations of the world. The mountains are now covered in a terrible red glow, illuminating the rock-faces with a light the colour of blood, the shadows of smoke dancing feverishly, visible even from this distance.

The mare stares with widened eyes as a great cloud rises up from the mountains and begins to race toward her. The cloud is immense in size, its black, billowing body highlighted by the terrifying red glow emanating from within. The sound of thunder, as loud as cannons, begins to reach the mare even as she sees the first flashes of lightning light up the ash fields.

With a great rush of darkness, the cloud passes over the mare, plunging the land into shadow. Looking up, she can see the source of the red glow. Fire.

She gasps in fear as the sky itself begins to burn, the body of the cloud feeding the flames. With a horrendous roar, the whole of the storm becomes engulfed in fire, the excess falling to the ground, igniting everything it touches.

The mare turns and runs down the hill back towards the stream as the sky continues to rain fire. She watches as the grass begins to burn, as do the trees, their branches silhouetted against the flames. The stream has become choked with ash, the water a diseased grey colour.

She crosses the stream and makes her way back up the first hill. The mare looks behind her and feels the ground fall away from beneath her hooves. In the distance a huge wall of fire and ash is streaking across the earth, swallowing up the hills whole.

The mare desperately picks up the pace, trying in vain to outrun the fire. Tears stream down her face as she chokes against the smoke filling her lungs. Her muscles grow tired and uncooperative. As her vision starts to blur, she falls to the ground, retching as her lungs fill with poison. She pays little attention to the burns from the grass. Weakly, she lifts her head, looking toward the grass in the distance not yet touched by the fire.

“Home…” she whispers before letting her head hit her hooves, defeated.

With a blinding flash and searing heat, the wall of fire rushes over the land leaving nothing but ash and destruction in its wake. Above, the sky continues to burn, raining death upon the world.

With a start, the mare woke violently, her breath coming in shuddering gasps. She fumbled around desperately, searching in the shadow, unable to see a thing. The darkness was impenetrable, all-consuming and ever present. It bore down on the mare with a physical weight. The pony was unable to concentrate; the dream still lingered within her mind, its presence taunting her.

Forcing herself to breathe normally, the mare laid back down, listening intently. Beside her she could hear the soft inhaling and exhaling of a small figure, each precious breath sustaining life in more ways than one. She allowed the sound to fill her consciousness as her heart rate slowly returned to normal.

Now feeling considerably better, the mare drew her ragged and filthy blankets around her tightly. It was cold outside, and she was sure if she could see, there would be small puffs of fog coming from her breath.

Her stomach rumbled as she continued to lie still. It had been almost two days since she had last eaten. The majority of their meagre food supplies always went to the precious pony beside her.

On the horizon, the mare could swear she saw a weak glow. Dawn was coming. In the all-consuming darkness that was the night, the mare was thankful for the frail light of dawn. It made the world feel less claustrophobic. She just hoped that Princess Luna wouldn’t be mad at her for having those thoughts. It had been so long since she had even seen the moon or the stars.

The mare stayed utterly silent as the light on the horizon slowly became stronger. Before long, she could just begin to make out objects in the perpetual gloom. The smell of decay lingered in the air. On their left, trees rose up, their skeletal branches sticking out into the sky, empty and naked. On their right, the ground jutted up sharply into a jagged rock-face, forming the side of the gully in which they were currently sleeping. It was a feeble shelter, but it was out of sight of the road and probably safe.

Finally, with a sense of incompleteness, dawn arrived in full. The mare watched the faint glow breaking through the clouds. The light illuminated the edges of the suspended vapour, a faint gold furnishing the grey and ash. She watched the morning sadly.

“Where are You?” she whispered to the sky. “Are You hiding away from us behind those clouds, hiding away from the world? Is this Your judgement? Do You hear us at all?”

The mare was met with nothing but the gentle rustling of ash as it stirred over the land and in the sky.

Are You dead? Are You lost? Or have You been judged yourselves? Judged by the fire like everything else in this world?

Overhead the cloud shifted, rolling over itself to censor the light.

Lowering her head, unable to continue, the mare got up. She could only assume that it was the sun in the sky. She just whispered to Celestia every day and every day dawn came.

A faint cough caused her to look down at the small form lying on the ground next to her.

“Mama?” asked the small, weak voice.

“I’m right here, little one.”

“Good,” was all she said in reply, lowering her head back down onto the rough pillow of rags.

The mare watched her daughter tenderly, her bony frame rising and falling with each breath. She was so thin - too thin, almost as if the slightest gust of wind would shatter her fragile body. Not that the mare herself was any better.

The older pony lowered the hood she wore while sleeping, letting her tangled mane free. She was clothed in an assortment of rags that would have once been described as clothing, all wrapped together to provide as much cover and warmth as possible.

The mare poked her head into one of their old, worn saddle bags and returned with a small metal canteen of water. It was almost empty. She unscrewed it with her mouth and took a small mouthful, trying not to think of the taste. She offered the filly some.

“Come on, you have to drink.”

“I’m not thirsty,” the small pony replied.

“Yes you are. Your lips are cracked.” Cracked was generous. Her lips almost appeared twisted, dead skin peeling off of their dehydrated owner.

“But then there won’t be any for you.”

The mare smiled softly at her foal. “I’ve already had some. Now it’s your turn.”

Slowly, and with hesitation, the filly got up and walked over to her mother. She was dressed almost identically to the mare: an assortment of rags and pieces of clothing stitched and wrapped together to form an almost uniform piece, covering the wearer from head to hoof. She too, had her hood down now.

When the filly reached the mare, she offered the canteen to the young one who took it and indulged herself in the smallest of sips.

“Do you want any more?”

The filly shook her head.

The mare turned and placed the water bottle back inside the pack, nestling it in amongst the lantern and the small cooking stove powered by whatever gasoline they could find. Gas had been a new substance in Equestria before the end and hard to find even then. As such, every drop was precious. There wasn’t much else in that bag. The other pack held the candles for the lantern, a single story book for the filly, a small, ragged plush pony, stained with ash, a needle and thread, some matches, two pairs of old goggles, some glow sticks she had found years ago yet never used, and finally, a small knife was strapped to the outside of the pack, in easy reach when they were being worn. And that was all she owned in the world.

The mare hated the knife. Its pitted edge whispered about acts of horrendous cruelty. The kind of behaviour the pony would not have thought possible before the end. She had never used it, but carried it out of necessity. The mare could never imagine actually cutting another pony. The thought made her sick, for it was an act she had seen too much over the years. She was not like them. She couldn’t be like them, especially with her daughter.

“Come on, we should leave,” the mare said to the small pony beside her. The filly merely nodded and stuffed the rough patchwork of rags that was her pillow into one of the packs. The mare followed suit with the blanket, its thick, tough and waterproof exterior making it hard to fold.

With everything back inside the saddlebags, the mare slipped them over her head, using her mouth to tighten them. Over the years she had watched the groove marks of where the buckles rested becoming higher and higher. She did not want to think what it would mean should they continue to do so.

Together, the mare and the small filly walked out of the gully through the skeletal trees, leaving their campsite behind them. Upon cresting the hill, the mare stared out over the land. Before them lay an empty plain, its surface broken only by the softest of hills. There wasn’t any grass here. There was only grey and ash. The mare let her gaze rise up the plain. The monotony of the fields of grey was finally broken by the looming shapes of mountains in the distance, their forms bruised and purple in the weak light. In front of them lay a road, stretching out toward the mountains through the grey.

A gentle wind threw the ash into soft swirls that breezed across the ground, disappearing behind rises only to reappear in the distance. Despite the visibility promised by the day, the temperature had barely increased. The mare could definitely see the fog expelled by her breathing now, each puff a reminder that there was, despite everything, warmth inside her body. It was a small comfort.

The mare drew her hood over her head with a hoof, poking her ears through the holes in the top as she did. Closing her eyes for a brief moment, the two ponies started to walk north along the road and toward the mountains.

“Where are we going, Mama?” came a small voice later that day. They had been walking for several hours now and despite this, the mountains refused to draw any closer, remaining nothing but cold bruises on the horizon.

“We’re going south,” the mare replied after a moment, her hooves hitting the road beneath them heavily.

“Why are we going south?”

“Because winter is coming and it will be too cold here in the north.”

“Oh,” the filly said softly. “Is that all?”

The mare’s brow furrowed. No, that was not all.

“We… we are going home.”

“Home?” She sounded confused, the word all together unfamiliar.

“Yes, home. We are going home.” The mare dipped her head slightly.

“But where is home, Mama?” the filly asked, oblivious to her mother’s sadness.

“It’s a long way south. It’s in a big city that’s built into the side of a mountain.”

“But I thought you said cities were dangerous?”

The mare paused. “It might be dangerous,” she admitted reluctantly.

“Then why are we going?” The filly sounded scared now. The mare knew that their experiences in the south were just as fresh in her mind as they were for herself.

“Because… because there’s something I have to see.”

“What’s that, Mama?” the filly queried, tilting her head to the side as she did.

The mare did not reply, choosing to walk on in silence. Knowing better than to press further, the filly fell silent again, falling quietly in to step beside her.

 She and the filly had been wandering for too long now, always heading toward rumours and lies.

The mare returned her gaze toward the horizon. She knew that the road isn’t the safest place to travel, especially with the influx of ponies that would be fleeing back south, but the road was the fastest and most direct route. In precaution, she kept on constant alert, her ears pricked and waiting for the slightest sound beyond their own hoof-steps. It led to a nerve-racking day.

Her stomach rumbled again, this time more quietly, almost as if it was losing the strength to make a convincing argument that it required food. The mare was craving cows milk. The thick, creamy liquid had disappeared from the world a long time ago, and so now, despite all of the cravings in the world, they would never be satisfied. All that was left was the mere memory of the drink, for whatever that was worth.  

The memory is fading around the edges now, a fact that the mare attributes to its age. She is young, only a small filly herself.

She stands in her old bedroom, the various paintings and pictures on the walls acting as reminders to a creative streak long since abandoned. Moonlight shines through an open window, the stars twinkling like jewels around it.

On the floor in her room there are toys of all shapes and sizes. The mare’s personal favourites is the large stuffed toy bear and pony plush-doll. Up against the wall in the middle of the room sits the filly’s bed, the covers pulled back slightly, inviting the tired pony into its embrace.

Behind the filly is her mother, a purple earth pony with a kind face and tightly curled dark-green mane. The mare is not particularly thrilled with her presence, however.

“Time for bed, little one,” her mother coos affectionately.

“I don’t wanna sleep, Mom!” she replies, her voice equal parts pleading and complaining. “I’m still wide awake!”

Her mother sees straight through the lie. “But if you don’t sleep, then how will you be able to play with your friends tomorrow?”

She pauses, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth as she thinks of a response. Her efforts are ruined when she emits a loud yawn, her eyes blinking in an attempt to stay open.

“See?” her mother presses. “You are exhausted. Now, go on and get into bed. There is a big, bright day waiting for you tomorrow.”

“And I will get to play with all of my friends?” the mare replies, defeated, as she walks slowly over to her bed.

“Of course you will. I am sure they are waiting to play with you as well,” her mother says as she moves over to the window and closes it.

“I sure hope so,” the mare says tiredly, as she gets into her bed, rolling over onto her side.

“Would you like some milk, darling?” her mother asks.

The mare nods her head sleepily in affirmation. The older pony leaves, her hoof-steps echoing down the hall. The tired little filly yawns again, fighting against her eyelids to stay awake.

Her mother returns shortly, a glass of milk sitting on a tray she is carrying in her mouth. She sets it down on the small bedside table, careful not to move the lamp.

The mare reaches over and grabs the glass between her two front hooves. She lifts it and takes several big long draughts. It’s as warm, thick and creamy as she was hoping, the liquid warming her insides and relaxing her muscles. When she finishes the glass, she places it back on the tray before allowing her head to hit the pillow again, a small smile on her face.

“There, was that nice?” her mother asks her kindly with a tender smile. She reaches down and strokes her daughter’s mane.

“Uh-huh,” the mare replies sleepily.

Her mother kisses her lightly on the forehead before moving to the door.

“I love you, Mom,” the mare whispers softly, finally losing the battle to keep her eyes open.

“I love you too,” her mother replies. “Now sleep well and dream happy dreams, little one.” She switches off the light and closes the door softly, leaving her daughter to the gentle embrace of sleep.

They had been walking south for several days before this. They had been part of one the last great mass-movements of peaceful ponies wanting nothing more than a life that somewhat resembled the peace of their old world. Together, driven by whispers of hope and peace and harmony, the mare and her daughter had headed north outside Equestria’s borders with the simple message of friendship. What they had found, however, was blood, and fire, and death. Many ponies had tried to escape. Most did not succeed. It made the mare feel sick. What had happened to Equestria, a land which was once the home of harmony and of friendship? The ash swirling around her feet proved to be answer enough. It had all burned away, burnt until there was nothing but evil and hatred left in the world.

Before the mare and the filly, the road continued to stretch on into the distance. Now the mare could swear she could see a splattering of shadows that grew thicker and more condensed as it approached the foothills of the mountains. They were the remains of the forests whose leaves used to be the most brilliant sage colour. The mare could still remember the birdsong. She hoped to reach the trees before dark; it was too dangerous out here on the plains.

In the early days of the end, ponies had clogged roads like these as refugees, the unlucky survivors of horrors all had thought impossible. The mare had been one of them. They had been starved, beaten and bruised, dressed in rags to keep away to extreme temperatures and goggles and masks to keep the toxic air out of their faces. The survivors had wandered the roads in groups, smiling and helping each other when they encountered fellow travellers. At first they believed that harmony would prevail, that with friendship the earth would recover. But that was before the descent. Now the very notion of hope was nothing but a memory, lingering around the edges of ponies like the mare’s mind, always just out of reach.

At around midday, or as close as the mare could tell, the filly spoke up again, “Mama, if we’re going home… we’re going to your home, aren’t we?” Her voice was tentative, the obvious product of a long, internal discussion.

The mare looked at her quizzically. “Yes, we are going to my home. Why?”

“Well,” the filly began, “that means that if it’s your home and I’ve never been there before, then it’s not my home. And… and that means I don’t have a home.”

Her mother broke stride for a second before replying rapidly, “It can be your home, too.”

“But it isn’t,” the filly pressed sadly. “I’ve never been there. I’ve never been home. I’ve never had a home at all.”

“Your home is with me,” the mare said, trying to cheer her up. “Wherever we are together, it’s your home.”

“It’s not the same…” the filly murmured slightly.

“Why not?”

“Because you said that home was somewhere you lived, and we don’t live anywhere.”

“Maybe we will find you a home then.”

The filly paused. She had clearly not considered this option. “Really, Mama?” she said eventually. “Do you really think we can find me a home?”

“Of course we can,” the mare replied.

“I… I’d like that,” the filly admitted, smiling happily to herself as they walked along the ashen path.

“Good,” she said, smiling too.

There was another reason the mare was going south. Winter was coming and it was coming quickly. Already the sky looked ready to snow, the clouds dark and angry, filled to the brim. Also, the nights grew colder and colder as the days trudged by. The mare knew that this was only the beginning. Winters, especially towards the north, were unforgiving apocalypses with temperatures that would freeze the blood of a pony as they walked. The very earth itself cracked under the icy winds that blasted across the barren Equestrian landscape, while the ground became buried by glaciers and ice sheets. Nopony could hope to survive in such conditions and the mare knew not to test their luck. She'd heard the tale from a refugee like themselves a few years or so ago. His ears had been stubs, lost to frostbite, and he, himself, had escaped the worst of it. His family had not.

As the day dragged on, the forest became closer and closer, a few dead trees now dotting the landscape around them. The ground became more and more undulating, the hills rising and falling gently, their surfaces covered in ash. The filly would stare at the trees, not saying a word. To the mare they were sentinels of the dead, watching over the land with cold eyes, cursing the living. The mare didn’t like to watch the trees.

It came as a surprise when the mare spotted the roof of a building slightly off the road. She wasn’t aware anypony had ever lived out here. It was clearly built to be hidden from the path and, were the trees alive, would have been completely covered by foliage. Gesturing to filly, the mare made her way towards it.

“No, Mama,” the filly said hurriedly after she had noticed their change in direction. “It mightn’t be safe.”

“We have to try,” the mare replied, almost desperately. “We have to find food.”

The small pony didn’t reply and instead walked closer to her mother, making sure to stay just behind her. They were both starving. There was no denying that.

The mare knew that it would be a long shot to find food in a single, lone house in the middle of nowhere without any major settlements nearby, but she had to try, irrespective of the dangers.

They climbed the hill and began to descend into the small gully in which the house was situated. It was a medium, two storey affair built out of large wooden planks. The shingled roof was angled steeply to prevent snow build-up. Part of the wall facing north and some of the roof had collapsed. The rest of the building appeared scorched, but relatively intact, even if the building’s original colour was no longer discernable. All of the windows, however, had been shattered, their frames empty and dark.

Approaching carefully, the mare slowly pushed open the wooden door that sat only on one of its hinges. It creaked as it swung open, revealing a dark interior beyond. They entered cautiously, the filly sticking close to the mare. The inside was small, with the remnants of wooden panelling on the walls. Most of the furniture was either gone or broken. Probably used for firewood or scavenged for crude construction at some point – the clean timber was much more valuable than the burnt trees outside.

The mare walked carefully through the room - the cracks in the ceiling reason enough to give pause. There was a definite smell of rot in the air, and dark stains ran up the walls from patches near the windows. The mare made her way into the kitchen, picking a path around the upturned table and three broken chairs lying in the middle of the room. The inside of the kitchen was in a very similar condition to the first room, only most of the appliances were still in here. The oven was cracked and shattered, somepony obviously trying to scavenge parts.

The mare opened the pantry with a small, half-hearted sense of hope, and was not at all surprised to find it empty, filled only with dust.

The filly looked at her mother with interest as she sighed and turned away from the cupboard, now absentmindedly opening a few of the other shelves and cupboards to check for anything worth collecting.

“What do we do now, Mama? There’s no food there.”

The mare didn’t reply and instead started to knock around the walls, listening. The filly looked confused as the mare continued to tap the wooden panels.

“What are you doing, Mama?”

“You’ll see,” the older pony replied softly.

The filly watched for what seemed like forever before, finally, the mare appeared to find what she was looking for when her knocking suddenly returned with a considerably lighter sound. The small pony tilted her head gently to one side as her mother withdrew the knife from the saddlebags and started to work at the offending panel, easing the blade into the grooves.

Eventually, her efforts were rewarded as the wooden panel popped out, revealing a small storage space beneath.

“Oh thank the Princesses,” the mare breathed, her eyes wide.

Inside the cavity in the wall, the filly could see six whole cans of food, some cookies in a jar and a small packet of something she wasn’t quite familiar with. To her it was better than treasure as her small eyes widened, a smile creeping across her face.

“Mama! Food!”

“Yes, little one,” her mother said, laughing. “It’s food.”

“You’re so clever! How’d you know it was there?”

“Years of practice.” It was something she had done herself a long time ago, before the filly was old enough to remember.

“I’ve never seen you do that before,” the filly said, confused.

“You must not have been looking hard enough then,” the mare replied teasingly, stowing the tins of food into her saddlebags.

“That’s not true!” the filly cried out indignantly as her mother opened the jar of cookies.

The mare laughed good-naturedly. It felt good to laugh. “Would you like a cookie?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you,” the filly replied, gratefully taking one of the stale, hard sweets.

They sat there for a time in the abandoned kitchen, chewing on their tough prizes. It tasted terrible, but it would keep them alive.

“Thank you, Mama,” the filly said again when she had finished.

“You’re welcome,” the mare replied, getting up as she did.

“Where are we going now?” the filly asked.

“To see what’s upstairs.”

“Is it safe?”

“I don’t know,” the mare replied truthfully. “It was safe down here, so probably.”

The filly appeared unconvinced, but followed her mother anyway as they left the kitchen and approached the stairs. The staircase was dark and damp, probably the result of the top floors being exposed to the elements from the partly collapsed roof. Thankfully, all of the steps held as the pair ascended them slowly, listening out to anything out of the ordinary.

At the top they were met by a small hallway with four rooms branching off, two on each side. The first room on the right was inaccessible due to the cave in. The next two rooms proved to hold nothing of interest, just bedrooms with an identical layout. There was a small bed, stripped of a mattress, a cupboard and some bare shelving, showing nothing of their previous inhabitant’s lives. Even the books on the bookshelves had been taken.

With one room left, the mare approached it carefully, a the barest hint of a foul smell reaching her nostrils. Cautiously, she reached out with a hoof, her heart sinking at the realisation of what was probably in the room. Her eyes lowered in sadness as she warily opened the door. It was another bedroom, only this time three bodies were stretched out on the bed, clearly in one another’s embrace. One of the mostly decomposed bodies was a lot smaller, probably just a small foal.

“Celestia and Luna have mercy,” the mare whispered as she blocked the doorway, preventing the filly from seeing the dead.

“What is it, Mama?” the filly asked, trying to peek around her mother.

“Nothing… it’s… nothing,” the mare replied, closing the door behind them.

“There wasn’t anything useful in there?” she asked innocently, her eyes wide and hopeful.

“No,” the mare said sadly, “there wasn’t.”

“That’s too bad,” the filly said dejectedly.

“Yes. It is.”

The mare led the filly downstairs, trying very hard to not think of the dead in the bedroom, locked forever in a families’ embrace, sleeping peacefully away from the cares of the world. And in that, the mare was envious.

This is a well worn memory. In happier times she had re-visited it regularly, seeking comfort in a moment of simplicity and good fortune.

The mare is standing in amongst a sea of ponies, all them dressed up for the occasion. They are chatting amicably, smiling, eating and drinking. It is the spring ball, an open event to ponies from all over Canterlot. Over the last few years the upper-class had directed their attention upon this particular event, and the results had seen the ball become stale and burdensome.

The mare sighs as the ponies around her chat about fashion and art, all having obviously absolutely no clue about what they are talking about. She leans down to deftly snap one of the hors d’oeuvres resting upon her silver plate. The tasteless piece of art melts in her mouth, instantly forgotten about.

“I’m so bored…” the mare whispers unhappily, her brow creasing in frustration.

“I get what you mean,” comes the whispered reply from her left.

The mare spins. She is shocked that anypony had heard what she said. The pony is met with the smiling face of a stallion, his light-blue coat matching nicely with his jacket.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt or anything,” he adds as the mare stares at him accusingly. “I just had to say that yeah, I’m bored as well.”

“You’re not one of them?” the mare replies, gesturing to the cluster of ponies surrounding them on all sides.

“No. I’m a fire fighter by trade. It’s hard work but it’s an honest living,” the stallion says proudly.

“A fire fighter? That’s dangerous, isn’t it?”

“Not really. You just have to be careful. We just try to make sure nopony gets hurt.”

The mare nods her head. “I like that. It’s nice to know somepony still believes in hard work around this city.”

A dark look crosses over the stallion’s face. “You’re not wrong there.”

They fall into a silence then, both not sure what to say next. The stallion finally breaks it first, suddenly nervous. “So… I’m not sure if you would be interested, but would you be interested in taking a walk with me in the gardens? I hear it’s real nice out there this time of year and well… neither of us really want to be here.”

The mare thinks over his request, looking over the pony. His face is open, his eyes honest, hopeful. The mare likes that. There is something about him that just makes her feel… safe.

“I would love to,” she replies, smiling up at him warmly.

“That’s wonderful!” he replies enthusiastically, his face lighting up into a huge smile. The mare giggles. “Oh, um… I mean… that’s great,” he adds, blushing as he does so.

“Come on then,” the mare says, walking over to the exit, looking back over her shoulder at the flustered pony.

“Yes… of course.” He coughs. “Say,” he calls out to her as they push their way through the throngs of upper-class ponies. “I never asked you your name, I’m sorry about that.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did,” the mare replies, smiling as she did. “I don’t suppose you did…”

Years later, looking back, the mare could see with frightening clarity where everything had begun to go wrong. But right there, in that moment, she had been oblivious as everypony else. She had been excited, for that light-blue stallion, little did she know at the time, would become her husband and the father of her daughter. But now… it was just that: a memory, a relic of an age past. She knew full well that one day it would flicker out of existence forever, never to be remembered again.

The mare and the filly left the lonely house hidden in the gully and returned to their trek along the road. They watched as the shadows began to lengthen, signalling the beginning of the afternoon. Around them, the trees began to grow closer together, their blackened and blasted trunks thickening. The ground was now much more broken, rising and falling at closer and steeper intervals. To compensate, the path was starting to snake now, no longer a dead straight line.

The filly was back to being in a good mood, revitalised by finding the food. She would run up ahead a few feet before running back, a smile on her face. The mare watched her carefully; she didn’t want her too far away from her at anytime.

“We got really lucky with that food, didn’t we, Mama?” the filly asked.

“Yes, we did,” the mare replied, smiling as she did.

“That means we won’t be hungry for a while.”

“A long time if we use it sparingly.”

The filly suddenly stopped bouncing around, her expression concerned. She approached her mother carefully, who didn’t break stride.

“What did you see, Mama? What did you see in the room?”

“Nothing. The room was empty.” Her words sounded fake, even to herself.

The filly didn’t look convinced. “No it wasn’t,” she said sadly. “You saw something bad in there, didn’t you?”

The mare didn’t reply, walking on in silence. This time, however, the filly chose to press on.

“I hope you’re ok, Mama. I would be scared too.”

The mare looked at her daughter kindly; she tried so hard to protect her innocence. It was a jewel of hope that flickered against the backdrop of death that always coloured the land with its grey shadow.

“I am fine,” she replied softly. “But thank you for asking.”

The filly nodded her head. She seemed satisfied she had done the right thing. The pair fell into another silence, one that was not destined to live long.

“Mama?” the filly asked after a while.


“We’re good ponies, aren’t we?”

“Of course we are. Don’t you remember? We are like the mares of harmony.”

The filly nodded her small head, thinking over her mother’s response. “The ponies of friendship,” she said quietly. Their story was the only book the mare still carried around for the filly.

“Exactly. Just think, they freed the Princess and saved Equestria several times. And most importantly, they did it together. So as long as we stay together, we will always be like them.”

“I like that story book,” the filly said after a while.

“It’s not just a story book,” the mare replied. “It’s a real story of what those ponies did over a hundred years ago.”

“That’s a long time,” said the filly, her eyes wide. She had heard all of this before, but never seemed to get tired of it. The idea of time was still something that left the small filly in awe.

“Yes it is,” the mare admitted.

“Do you think that there are ponies like them still alive, Mama? That maybe they could make everything right again, back like when you were a filly?”

The mare thought long and hard before responding, “I don’t know. Maybe. But probably not.”

“Oh.” The filly hung her head.

“But maybe, out there somewhere, you’re right,” the mare added, making the small pony smile again. “But until then, always remember, we are harmony.”

“We are harmony,” the filly whispered. Her eyes appeared distant, staring into a world that only those who create them can see.

Satisfied, the mare allowed the conversation to once again lapse into silence. The filly had forgotten about the room upstairs and now had something hopeful to latch onto, a light amongst the ever-present grey that ate away at a pony’s soul.

She is young again, back inside her bedroom. The mare yawns tiredly. It is early morning and despite the excitement of what’s awaiting her in a few hours, the young hour was playing havoc on her young body.

“Come on, sleepy,” her mother presses gently. “You’re going to miss the Summer Sun Celebration!”

“No I’m not…” the mare defends herself halfheartedly. “I’m awake.”

“It’s time to watch our wonderful sun rise above the horizon as we welcome in the day.”

“Is Dad even awake yet?”

“Yes, he is. He’s packing us some food right now in the kitchen. That way, after the celebration, we can have a picnic.”

The mare’s ears prick up at that. “Really? Can we have it in the park?”

“Of course we can. That sounds really nice.”

The mare pauses for a second, her mind bubbling with the possibilities that the day seemed to now hold.

“Will Princess Celestia and Luna really be there, Mom?” the mare asks with a growing sense of excitement.

“Yes, they definitely will be. After all, the sun and the moon are theirs to control, we are very lucky that they watch over us to give us the night and day.”

“That’s really nice of them,” the mare replies. “It wouldn’t be any fun without night or day. I mean, what would we have then?”

“Exactly,” her mother says. “We should always be thankful to the Princesses for the gift of night and day, the sun and the moon.” Her mother smiles down at her. “Now come on, otherwise we’re going to be late.”

Now definitely wide awake, the mare bursts out of bed and runs down the hall. She couldn’t wait to see the Princesses. She also couldn’t wait for the picnic in the park afterwards, but more importantly, she couldn’t wait to see the sun.

They were gone now. They were gone and nopony knew where or why. It was a truth as cold as the earth itself and one that the mare knew all too well.

The afternoon wore on as the mare and her daughter made their way deeper into the forest. It was unnerving to see so many trees without a single leaf, their trunks blasted and burnt, but the mare had grown used to these sights. It was the same for the filly, the small pony knowing nothing but the ashen wastes.

“Mama, what did the trees look like before the end?” the small pony asked that afternoon. The notion of green foliage existing was nothing but a fantasy told to her in story books.

“I’ve already told you many times before.”

“I know... but I’d like to hear it again.”

The mare watched her carefully, but soon relented. “They were tall and brown, and they had lots of leaves on their branches. In the spring and summer the leaves would be brilliant shades of green, but in the autumn they would turn gold and orange and red.”


“Because the leaves would fall off before the winter, and then new ones would grow again in the spring,” the mare said almost wistfully.

“What did the leaves look like?” the small pony asked.

“You have seen them in the picture books,” the mare replied.

“Like, by themselves. In the books there are always lots.”

“Well... they looked a little like feathers, only they normally weren’t as soft.”

“A feather? Like on what the birds and pegasi had?”

“Yes... just like what they used to have,” the mare said slowly.

The filly nodded her head. “Oh. I bet they were pretty.”

“They were,” the mare replied. “They were.”

And with that, the conversation lapsed into nothing. The two ponies focused on the ashen road in front of them, watching as it disappeared below their hooves.

“Mama, what’s that?” The filly’s voice cut through the silence. The mare looked at her daughter; she was looking up toward the horizon, her eyes wide and fearful. Following her gaze, she looked up to the mountains in front of them, still probably a day or so away. The ridge was engulfed in a sickly red glow, highlighting the clouds with a smouldering, rusty light. Smoke billowed off the cliffs, being blown southward by the cold winds coming from the north. The jagged, pointed peaks were lit up amongst the flames, the forests along the mountains burning in an unstoppable inferno. Even dead trees can still burn.

The mare shuddered when she remembered her dream. The height of the fire almost did make it seem like the sky was burning.

“It’s a forest fire,” the mare finally replied. “The trees are burning.”

“Why are they burning?” She sounded scared.

“Probably a lightning strike,” said the mare.

“I haven’t seen any lightning,” the filly replied, obviously confused.

“The weather is different up in the mountains,” the older pony explained. “Everything is much wilder there.”

The filly didn’t respond, instead looking fearfully up at the malicious light dancing and flickering along the horizon.

“At least the ash is falling on the other side,” the mare said after awhile.

Again, the filly didn’t respond, choosing to continue to walk along the ashen road in front of them in silence.

The mare knew that daylight would be rapidly slipping away from them. As a result, the pony picked up the pace. She wasn’t sure why, but she wanted to make as much progress as she could. As they walked, the mare spotted several places that would make good shelters; it was a habit that she naturally fell into whenever evening drew near.

Along the side of the road, the ash had gathered in thick drifts forming a ripple pattern, driven that way by the wind. The mare could also make out a small gully about sixty feet from the road on their left. They would probably camp down there tonight, using the ash as cover and camouflage.

A sudden noise caused the mare to jump to attention. She motioned for the filly to stop, and she immediately fell silent. The mare lowered her hood, pricking her ears up, listening intently for… something.

It was the slow creak that stood out to her first. It was the tortured scream of a wooden-metal hybrid used for much longer than its life should have permitted. The the heavy sound of hoofsteps was what she heard next, each one causing a faint metallic clink - every sound heralding the approach of some unknown enemy.

“Run!” she hissed to the filly, pushing her towards the gully off the side of the road. The filly, needing no more encouragement, ran as fast as her small legs would carry her, keeping her weight low to the ground to minimise the sound her hoof-falls made – just like her mother had taught her.

The mare noticed the small puff of ash every step sent into the air and sent a silent prayer up to the Princesses that none of the ponies coming were any good at tracking.

Her heart pounded ferociously as she dived below the small rise that formed the gully, pushing the filly down with her. A small cloud of ash floated around them, taking an agonizingly long time to settle. The two ponies waited with baited breath, the filly shaking with terror in the dirt.

Slowly, cautiously, the mare stuck her head above the small ridge as she pulled up her hood. Using the ash as natural camouflage, she rested her head on the soot to blend into her surroundings. In this position, she waited, her heart pounding so loud that it would take a miracle for anypony not to hear it from the road.

It took an excruciating amount of time before, finally, blurred shapes made themselves visible through the trees. The mare could make out a small procession, an old-style wooden carriage forming the centrepiece of this macabre parade. In front of the carriage and flanking it were about ten ponies, all dressed in strips of hardened fabric that was clearly meant to act as barding. Each pony was armed, an assortment of re-purposed farm tools or other crude items now far outside their intended purposes. The mare could make out six earth ponies and four unicorns. As always, there was not a single pegasus.

The carriage itself was in sore need of repair, its wooden frame cracked and breaking, held together with thin sheets of rusty metal nailed crudely into the side. The wheels were buckled and bent, each revolution sending a high-pitch whine into the twilight.

Behind the carriage lay the true horror of the procession. It sent a sickly chill down the mare’s spine. Being literally dragged behind were six ponies, all spectre-thin, bruised, and beaten. Underneath the loose rags that hung uselessly from their bodies, the mare could see every bone of their ribcages. The outside flesh clung pathetically to their battered frames. As the mare watched, one of the ponies collapsed, unable to move any further. Nopony around her seemed to care, and so her body now dragged by the neck from the rusty chains they all wore.

The mare felt a surge of anger at the sight of these ponies, tortured and abused, without any food or protection. She wanted to scream in frustration. This was not how ponies were meant to be!

Slowly, the procession moved past them, also heading towards the mountains. The mare began to breathe a sigh of relief. They were moving away. They hadn’t been noticed. They ha-

The filly coughed. It was small, petite little sound. Perhaps some ash had gotten into her lungs. As quiet as it was, it almost echoed into the evening, timed perfectly right between one of the carriage’s squeals.

The mare froze, horrified, as one of the armed ponies, a unicorn, snapped his head in their direction, listening intently.

“Did ya hear that?” he said gruffly to one of his companions, his voice floating its way over to the mare.

“Hear what?” the other pony said, stopping in his tracks, causing the whole procession to freeze.

“I coulda swore I heard something over there,” the unicorn said defensively, motioning over to the gully. “Almost like a cough or a sneeze.”

“Probably just a branch fallin’ or somethin’,” a third pony said, clearly frustrated.

The second pony, who was probably in charge, merely nodded his head at the unicorn and started to walk towards the gully in which the mare and the filly were hiding, pulling out a dark butchers knife as he did.

The unicorn quickly followed, levitating a wood-axe, looking cruel within a poison-green glow.

The mare began to panic. If they were found, they would die. She contemplated running, but with the filly, they would not get far, and there was nowhere that they could hide nearby. Fighting was useless, especially with her small weapon against her opponents’.

As the two ponies drew closer and closer, their dark gazes scanning the piles of ash, the mare looked down in panic. Her daughter was staring at her with wide eyes, filled with fear.

With the filly staring up at her helplessly, the mare poised herself to act. She had to protect her filly, no matter the cost. She took a slow, deep breath, readying her muscles for action.

“Well, you see anything?” the leader earth pony said, sticking his knife into the ash to speak.

The unicorn took another few steps, now only a few feet from the mare’s hiding spot. He stared straight over the top of them, peering into the gloom of the gully beyond. From as close as they were, the mare could see how his eyes almost appeared sunken, the pupils much smaller than they should have been. They were the eyes of an animal.

“Nah… But I swear…” he muttered in reply.

“Come on!” the earth pony still back in the procession called out angrily. “It’ll be almost dark soon and we wanna make it to the west road by nightfall so we stay ahead of Butcher.”

“He’s got a point,” the leader said. “It’s getting colder by the day and we want to be north of Manehatten in a less than two weeks.”


“It was just a branch,” the earth pony snapped. “Let’s go.”

The unicorn grumbled something incoherently before falling into step behind the earth pony, the magic holding his axe casting a sickly green glow onto the trees surrounding them.

The mare, however, didn’t allow herself to relax until the procession had finally left their sight, once again becoming shadows lost in the rapidly fading daylight.

As soon as she could no longer see them, the mare rolled over, her muscles cramped and aching from staying still for so long.

“Thank you…” she whispered weakly to the sky, her legs shaking as the adrenalin started to leave.

Next to the mare, her small body quivering, the filly began to cry.


They had camped a little ways back down the road where the gully had formed a small bend, providing excellent cover from the ridge above. The filly had barely said a word. The mare had cooked up a tin of beans over a small wooden fire - saving the gas for their stove - and the filly ate her half with mumbled thanks before falling back into a sullen silence. Out in the darkness the world was rapidly losing all visible structure. The mare made the filly some hot chocolate from the packet of cocoa she found back in the house, but even that failed to draw the small pony from her silent reflection.

Up above in the mountains, the ridge continued to emit a faint glow, the fire having moved toward the other side of the jagged peaks. The mare was thankful; its infernal red light would have given the filly night-terrors.

A lone candle sat burning inside the lantern the mare owned, its flickering light fighting an epic battle against the ever-encroaching darkness. Even the magnifying effect of the several reflective glass panels placed strategically inside the lantern resulted only in a small bubble of light, alone in the blinding darkness that was the night. She was reluctant to use the lantern, for not only was the light visible in the darkness, but it also wasted valuable candles. Regardless, the mare couldn’t shut the filly off from light, not yet.

The mare also sat in silence. The bandits had spoken of taking the west road, the same path she had planned on using. And if what they had spoken about ‘Butcher’ was true, and more were behind them, it wouldn’t be safe. With the potential for so many bandits, they couldn’t use the roads. She knew that they would be coming south too, especially with winter coming, but she hadn’t expected to come so soon...

Her stomach turned as she realised what her only other option was. They had to climb the mountains and use the pass on top of the ridge. It would already be snowing up there. It would be frozen and desolate. The mare felt a black spike that was as colourless as the night settle inside of her. She didn’t have a choice.

“Mama?” the filly said suddenly, her voice small and unsure.

“Yes, little one?”

“Are we still going south?”

“Yes, we are. We have to get home. And it’s too cold down here.”

“But…” the filly began, the candle light only partly illuminating her terrified eyes. “Those… those ponies said they were going south, too.”

“I know.”

“So why are we going south? It’s dangerous down there. Those ponies could hurt us and if I cough again…” The filly had started to tear up now, her hooves hitting the ashen ground in frustration.

“I won’t let anything happen to you. You will be safe,” was all the mare could say in reply. Her promise sounded empty in her own ears, a meaningless verse recited from memory like a school play rather than any real ability to fulfill her pledge.

The filly hung her head as a few small tears fell into the ash. She fell silent for a moment, staring at the ground.

“Mama?” she finally asked, looking up at her mother pleadingly, tears glistening in her eyes.


“Do you love me?”

The question took the mare by surprise. She quickly tried to recover. “Yes, of course I do.”

“Do you really?”

“Yes, more than anything in the world.” She meant it, too.

“Do… do you love me more than home, Mama?” the filly asked, her voice pitiful as she pleaded against the darkest fears inside her own head.

The mare’s heart broke. “Yes, I do. I love you more than home. I love you more than anything, little one.”

The filly burst into tears and threw herself at her mother, wrapping both of her forelegs around her neck. The mare held her close as she let out the stress of the day’s events.

“I love you, Mama,” the filly finally whispered into the mare’s shoulder.

The mare didn’t reply and instead held her daughter as close as she could. She began to rock back and forward, holding back silent despair as the darkness closed in around them.

A/N: Thank you to everyone for reading! I sincerely hoped you enjoyed it. I am very excited for this story, and it is shaping up to be quite epic!

I would like to thank Dacaz5 and Paladin3510 for their work on the amazing cover art. Be sure to check out Paladin’s DA page if you like Assassins Creed or any of Brent Week’s work. His drawings are spectacular!

Also, a massive thank you to my editor, Sessalisk, for helping me to such an incredible extent with this story. It means so much!

Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so feel free to let me know how you are finding it! Thank you again to everyone for reading, and I shall see you for chapter 2!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 2: How the Wind Howls

Dawn arrived with a sense of incompleteness. The cold, weak light did little to ease the fears of the night. The mare rose first like she always did, allowing the filly to get a little more sleep before they continued on their journey. Even then, she did so reluctantly. They had a lot of ground to cover now that they were going over the mountains, and time was certainly not their friend.

The mare walked over to their bags and withdrew the cookie jar. She removed one and set it aside for the filly. She did not take one for herself. She did, however, indulge herself with a small mouthful of water, the liquid somewhat soothing her cracked and dry lips.

She sat on the ground, watching the world slowly reveal itself. The walls of the gully rose steeply on either side, covered in boulders or trees.

The filly woke with gentle yawn, her eyes blinking in the cold light. She gazed around at her surroundings before curling ever so slightly into a tighter ball, wrapping her tail around herself.

“Would you like some food?” the mare asked.

“Yes please…” the filly murmured.

The mare took the cookie over to her daughter and watched as she nibbled on it slowly, savouring each bite.

“Thank you, Mama,” she said when she had finished the meagre meal.

“You’re welcome.”

They left the campsite soon after, leaving the gully far behind as they set out along the road again. The mare kept her hood down now, and she listened intently for any remaining bandits.

Around them the trees swayed under the influence of a wind that was growing slightly stronger as the day wore on. Their branches scratched against each other, their naked limbs creaking, seeming almost as old as the earth itself. The filly pulled the collar around her neck a little tighter to keep the wind from getting in.

While they walked through the wooded terrain, the mountains drew ever closer. The fire was barely noticeable now on this side, but smoke still poured out from across the ridge, pushed ever northwards by the wind. The mare hoped that the blaze would be long gone before they reached their destination.

As the morning passed by quietly, the land refused to stay consistent, flat for a few miles, undulating for a few more. At times the trees would grow close together, and others, far apart. They encountered nothing of interest, however. They were alone on the road.

Settling into the familiar monotony of travel, the filly began to lose herself in a world of fantasy. She would run around the mare, murmuring of adventure and wonder. Her mother watched her affectionately.

It was nice to know that at least somepony’s imagination still existed within Equestria. Celestia knows hers had died a long time ago. Like the world she loved, the fires had burnt it all away, leaving nothing but the harsh reality of the ash in its place - ash and her memories.

“Come on, Spades!” the mare cries out to her colt companion who is breathing heavily. “There are dragons around!”

   “I…” he gasps. “Stop running around so fast. I have to catch my breath.”

“Bah!” the mare exclaims in joy, totally lost in her imaginary world. “The fate of Equestria is more important than catching your breath! Come on, there is a dragon to slay and treasure to have!”

The small colt called Spades shrugs his shoulders before resuming the game, still slightly out of breath.

“Look! The dragon is coming out of his cave!” he yells, pointing over to a large cardboard box with the word fragile stamped across the side.

The mare jumps around her room. In her minds eye she can literally see the foul beast stepping out of the darkness, his fangs glistening, his small eyes glowing evily. Above the dragon the mountain looms up into the sky, shrouded in cloud. Behind her is a cliff face with a drop of over several hundred feet on the other side. But even his terrible claws or impenetrable scales could not hold her back.

“Stay back, dragon! We shall defeat you! Your days of terrorising the poor ponies of Equestria are over!”

Spades lets out a fake roar, now pretending to be the over-sized lizard. “You can never defeat me, small pony! I am a big and terrible dragon!”

“Never!” the mare shouts, grabbing a nearby broom with her mouth, lifting it like a lance. “Prpre t’ b dfeatd!”

With a yell, the mare charges the small colt.

He looks around wildly in fear. “Uh… what are you doing?” he whispers as the mare continues to charge.

“Yah!” the mare exclaims as the broom finds its mark, poking Spades in the chest.


“Sorry… but you’re a dragon, remember? How else am I meant to beat you?”

“You could have poked softer…”

The mare giggles before proudly strutting around the room. She stands, bathed in the sunlight streaming through her bedroom window, one hoof off the floor in victory.

“I have slain the dragon! I have brought peace back to Equestria!”

“But what about me?”

“…with my trusty side-kick, Spades of course!”


“Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s lots of treasure inside the cave.”

Spades’ mood picks up considerably at that, and a smile grows on his face.

“Yeah!” he says as he dives into the cardboard box. “Look, I found some diamonds!”

Not wanting to miss out, the mare follows close behind him. The imaginary gloom of the cave did little to scare her; she was a dragon slayer, after all.

“Look, Spades, gold!” She lifts up her empty hooves, showing off her invisible loot.

“We’re going to be rich!” the small colt exclaims.

“You know, being a dragon hunter in real life would be pretty cool…” the mare says, thinking out loud.

“Maybe a little scary…”

“True…” the mare replies, forgetting all about the bravado she had been showing barely a minute ago. “Still… it would be cool.”

“Do you think one day we will ever see a dragon?”

“I dunno. The last nice one died years ago, remember?”

“Yeah…” Spades says sadly.

“Still… I think our dragons are better, don’t you?” the mare offers.


She smiles. “I think it’s time we went out and found another dragon to slay! Only this time it’s stronger!”

Spades giggles as the mare raises herself up onto two hooves and growls angrily. “I’m a big and scary dragon and nopony can beat me!”

“We’ll see about that!” Spades exclaims as he picks up the broom from where the mare had left it.

Giggling, the two small ponies had played late into the afternoon, lost in a world of dragons and adventure.

The mare was sure that she had seen a dragon since the end. It had been a shadow, barely recognizable amongst the clouds, but the mare had sworn she had seen a creature with large bat-like wings, its tail streaking out behind it. It had been moving east, away from Equestria. Nopony believed her, though. Nothing ever flew anymore. Nothing could survive in those clouds, so she had to have been wrong. Perhaps that was the final nail for her imagination. It was hard to tell exactly when it went away.

The burnt carriages of the once bright and multi-coloured train lay twisted and warped along side the buckled train lines. It had been blasted off the tracks by a force of considerable strength, the carriages resting several feet away from its normal pathway. The right-hoof side of the passenger cars was black, the metal frames having been melted by those cursed flames. The actual steam engine was lying a little closer to the tracks, its metal bulk proving harder to move.

The mare and the filly approached the wreckage carefully, eyeing it with suspicion. The train tracks marked the beginning of the west road. Both the road and the train lines headed along the base of the mountains to the sea from where they would go south to Manehatten. They had to keep going south, up the mountains instead of around them. And now in their way, was the train.

“I’m going to have a look inside. Keep your eyes closed, ok?” the mare said to her daughter.


“Because there might be something useful,” she said, avoiding the obvious.

“No, I mean why do I have to close my eyes?”

“There are probably bad things inside.”

Silence, and then. “Then why are we going to look at it?” the filly asked, fear rising in her voice.

“Not that kind of bad thing.”

“I… don’t get it.” The small pony sounded confused.

“Just… just keep your eyes closed. Please.”




“Thank you.”

They walked in between two of the destroyed carriages, placing themselves on the other side. A buildup of ash allowed the mare to get up onto the side of the car without too much hassle. The filly followed, looking pointedly at the trees.

Looking down through the window and into the dark, the mare couldn’t make out anything but vague shapes of what appeared to be seats. There was the faint hint of a foul smell inside. Driven by curiosity and the ever present idea that there could be something worthwhile to scavenge, the mare opened one of her packs and pulled out the matches and an old piece of newspaper. After scrunching the paper up into a small ball, she lit the match carefully using her mouth. She then set flame to the yellowed page and let it fall into the train carriage.

The little light floated gently into the darkness, faintly illuminating the shapes of the seats, and the upholstery was burnt and melted. The mare watched in sadness as the flickering golden glow suddenly cast into horrific relief the bodies of several ponies, piled together on one side of the train where they were thrown by the initial impact. Their corpses were twisted and burnt, the charred flesh fusing into their neighbours’.

The mare’s gaze lingered on the body of a small foal, propped awkwardly against the side of a chair, away from the rest of the destruction. Its body appeared bubbled, the heat having literally crackled and charcoaled its flesh. The mare felt sick at the sight.

She turned around and was greeted by the wide eyes of the filly, staring past her and into the train. The mare grabbed her daughter and pulled her away from the broken window, as below them, the little piece of paper slowly disintegrated into a yet another pile of ash, its glowing edges like the petals of a rose.

“You promised!” she accused her daughter, suddenly angry. Why did she have to look?!

The filly didn’t reply and instead looked down at the side of the train on which they were standing.

The mare shook her gently by the shoulders, pressing for an answer. “Why did you look? Don’t you trust me?”

Again, the filly looked away from her mother. Her brow was trembling, her eyes sad.

The mare felt her anger ebb as she stared at her daughter, the anxiety clear on the small pony’s face face. “Do… do you want to talk about it?” she finally asked as gently as she could.

The filly shook her head.

Sighing, but with nothing more to say, the mare led the filly down back to the ground and resumed their journey. There was nothing for them here, only darkness and death.

They started to move through the forest, the ground now definitely beginning to rise uphill. There weren’t any set paths to follow, so the mare relied on the being able to see the peaks in front of her for guidance, hoping that they wouldn’t become too lost or be forced out of their way. Distractions and lost time could be the difference between life and death. Even still, south was still south.

The rest of the day passed with the monotony of long travel. They stopped briefly for a drink at what the mare guessed to be midday. They walked in silence, each lost to their own thoughts.

The two ponies camped that night at the base of one of the mountains. Its roots forced the earth into steep valleys that provided cover from the wind. Here the trees grew close together, their branches lifeless and black.

It started to grow colder, so the mare covered her daughter in a blanket. The small pony wrapped it around herself tightly, trapping in as much warmth as possible. The mare knew, however, that it was only going to get colder from here. Above, a gentle breeze droned into the ether.

Dinner comprised of another tin of beans, shared between the two of them in silence. A fire would be too visible, and the mare didn’t dare light one.

The two ponies sat in the darkness. The lantern provided a faint light - the most that the mare was willing to risk. The filly sat on her rump, staring into the depths of the lantern, her face twisted into an expression of thought. The mare watched her carefully, not wanting to interrupt, but desperately wanting to make sure she was ok.

“Mama?” the filly finally asked, her voice unsure.


“Where… where do ponies go when they die?”

The mare looked at her daughter sadly, fighting an internal struggle.

“I don’t really know. Nopony does.”

“Oh.” She was silent for a moment. “I wonder if it hurts to die. Or maybe it’s just like falling asleep.”

“I don’t know,” the mare replied again, her heart breaking.

“If it’s like falling asleep, then maybe you dream. That wouldn’t be so bad.”


“Maybe you dream of someplace nice, someplace with flowers or grass,” the filly said, visibly trying to imagine a place with two things she had never seen. “Maybe there are animals there too, like rabbits or birds.”

“And the sun shines down warmly, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky,” the mare said involuntarily, trying so hard not to picture the scene. It was too good to be true. It was too tempting.

“Yeah…” the filly murmured. “That sounds nice.”

The mare was silent, her heart gripped in anguish. Fight the fear, fight the cold, fight the dark. She told herself these things over and over, and every day they became harder and harder to fight.

“Do… do you think that there are any ponies left my age?” the small pony asked suddenly, breaking the silence that had fallen.

The mare paused – she was not expecting that. “I… I don’t know. Probably not.”

“Oh.” She sounded upset, but not surprised. “Are they all dead?” Her question was blunt, and the mare winced.

“Yes.” The mare’s voice echoed into the darkness and the filly closed her eyes for a moment.

“Mama, do you think that somewhere there are two ponies like us? One your age and one my age and that they want to go home too?”

“I don’t know,” the mare replied.

“Maybe we’ll meet them one day. And we can have fun together, like you did when you were a filly.”

“Maybe one day,” the mare said, smiling.

That would be nice. I’d like that,” the filly said dreamily.

The mare opened her mouth to speak, yet no words came out. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t break her daughter’s spirit, not like that.

“Me too,” was all she said in reply.

The filly yawned and curled into a ball, making sure her bundle of rags was comfortable beneath her head. She wrapped the blanket tightly around her small body, trying to keep warm.

The mare paused for a second, her conscience heavy with sorrow. This was life. She could do little to change it. She could do little at all but survive, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice.

Wrapped tightly under a blanket of her own, the mare blew out the lantern, letting the night fill the campsite like death itself. The mare fought briefly, but then surrendered to the dreams of sleep, lost in a world to which she could never return.

Fear was an ever-present condition to the mare. It was something that every pony who still lived battled against. Some ponies were stronger than others. Some ponies folded under the pressure. Some forgot who they were, removing all of their ideals, their morals, everything that made them ponies in the first place. Others submitted to the fear, chasing the impossibility of a better place, leaving the ashen world far behind.

It was always there, though. Like a snake curled around her insides. It was fear, and it was everywhere. The mare, like everypony else, fought against its cold embrace. Fight the fear, fight the dark. She couldn’t resort to the alternatives. She wouldn’t.

The next morning, they woke to an icy cold dawn, the air temperature sucking the strength out of their limbs. The mare helped the filly up and fastened a blanket around her neck like a cape to add another layer. She hoped it would be enough.

After a breakfast of cookies, the two ponies began to climb. Above them the peaks disappeared into low-lying clouds that hadn’t been there the day before. The mare could only hope that it wasn’t snowing.

The ground rose steeply, and the mare felt their pace slow because of it. She didn’t want to push the filly further than she had to. There was still a long way to go before the summit.

Around them remained the familiar trees. Their blackened skeletons had been the two pony’s silent companions over the last few days. They were always watching.

By mid-morning they had come across a stream within a small gully, the swirling water murky and thick. The mare paused here. They needed water. After telling the filly to wait on a near by stump, the mare began to dig a small hole in the ground by the stream. She watched as the water began to fill by osmosis as the murky liquid seeped into the pit. Next she placed her container of water into the hole, watching the ripples dance of its contact.


After this she placed a small sheet of plastic tarpaulin over the whole and weighted it down with rocks along the edges. Its once bright-blue surface was faded almost beyond recognition now. The mare then placed a rock right over the middle of the sheet, directly over where the canteen sat. The plastic sagged into the hole, forming a point right over the container.


Now all the mare could do was wait while the still, through evaporation and condensation, removed the impurities from the water. It was a long process, but the mare was willing to spend the time in order to prevent getting sick. In this cold and in this weather, getting sick would probably mean death.

“Don’t get wet,” the mare warned when the filly jumped across the small stream.

“I know,” the filly replied.

“If you get wet you’ll get sick.”

“I know,” the filly repeated, ending the conversation.

With refilled water bottles, the two ponies followed the stream up through the gully. It was more temperate here outside of the wind. They walked side-by-side next to the small waterway, casting their gazes up toward the steep walls of earth rising above them. Boulders jutted out of the dirt and ash every now and then, their surfaces covered in dead weeds. The corpses of the plants provided a blotched, grey mosaic.

The gully ended in a steep cliff, the water pouring off the top as a small waterfall. Careful as to not be hit by any spray, the two ponies climbed the side of the gully, making their way to the top of the cliff. The constant splash of the water slapping the rocks below soon filled the air, drowning out the wind.

At the top of the cliff, the mare and the filly found themselves looking out into a small, flat gully, the centre of which was built by a lake, the water grey and ominously still. Around the lake, particularly on the left-hoof side, the mountains continued to rise up steeply, forming natural walls. The mare could see several small waterfalls falling from the cliffs around them, all feeding the body of water in the middle. One waterfall was larger than the others, the roar of its fall audible even from where the two ponies were standing. The stream they had been following was the single off-shoot of the lake, disappearing into the forest behind them.

The mare saw a way up the right hand side of the lake, where the mountain rose up less steeply and a river provided a natural pathway. With a direction now firmly in mind, she started to walk towards the large body of water. Around the two ponies the trees continued to stare down at them. The filly watched the lake with interest while its contents rippled slightly as it was filled with water from the waterfalls.

“Mama, do you think that there are any fish in the lake?” she had asked when they were about halfway around.

They walked along the bank, the small, dark pebbles crunching under-hoof.

The mare looked at her daughter carefully before replying. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Oh,” she said. “How come?”

“The water is toxic to fish now. It’s too poisonous for them.”


The whole world was toxic now, not just the water. The air, the ground, and especially the water, they were all poisoned. It was as one then, in a twisted presentation of harmony, that the world was dying, choked by the ash of the end.

The mare is young, still just a small filly. She is practically bouncing with excitement. Around her, the sun is warming the earth with its brilliant embrace, and the wind is gently playing with her mane.

Her parents stand next to her. They smile at their daughter.

“Go ahead,” says her father. “We have the whole day here. Go have some fun.”

The mare gives a squeal of joy before bounding off to enjoy herself. In front of her lies a gigantic lake, its water a brilliant ultramarine blue, sparkling like a multi-faceted gem in the sunlight.  Her family is holidaying outside of Trottingham and in the face of a magnificent summer day, decided to go the lake.

Laughing out loud as her hooves hit the soft sand of the natural beach, the mare bounces toward the water. Around her are dozens of ponies, all smiling and laughing, all of them enjoying the gorgeous weather. To her left, two earth ponies are head-butting a beach ball back and forward. On her right a bright-blue unicorn is building a monumental sandcastle, simultaneously levitating several buckets and spades. His structure of sand and love is almost as tall as he is.

At first the mare is a little overwhelmed by choices. What does she want to do? Build a sandcastle? Play some beach hoof-ball? She gasps. She’s got it!

Her smile so wide it is threatening to jump off her head, the small pony gallops as fast as she can toward the water, its twinkling blue surface lapping gently against the sand.

With joyful abandon, the mare splashes into the water, its deliciously cold temperature sending chills up her legs. As she pushes in deeper, she dives beneath the surface, pushing forward with her legs, awkwardly swimming further. Her coat and mane offer a fair bit of resistance, but she doesn’t care.

She breaks her head above the surface and takes in a satisfying breath of air. Her mane hangs down around her, dripping into the cool water. Flailing her legs around wildly, the mare stays afloat, smiling broadly the whole time.

Rolling onto her back, the mare tries to find her balance to stay afloat. She tucks her legs in tightly to her body to prevent them sticking into the air.

Around her, several ponies are splashing each other in the shallows, giggling as they do. Out deeper into the lake the mare can see a unicorn on a sailing boat using the wind to breeze across the water’s surface. His casual passing sent out small ripples that hit gently against the banks.

Closing her eyes contently, the mare smiles happily into the sky, listening to the sounds of ponies having fun. She wishes she could come here every day…

She gasps again as she realises that there is so much that she still wants to do! Hurriedly rolling over, the mare begins to swim back towards the shore. Next on her list of things to do: build the biggest sandcastle anypony had ever built!

The mare runs back on shore while behind her the water continues to lap the beach gently in the soft breeze, warmed by constant light of the sun.

“No,” the mare said suddenly, her voice breaking harshly into the silence. They were leaving the lake behind them now and were beginning to follow one of the tributaries through a valley that appeared to corkscrew its way down from the summit. “There aren’t any fish left.”

The filly didn’t respond.

All afternoon they followed the river, definitely far too large to be called a stream. The mare wondered how the lake could hold such a large volume of water considering just how much was coming down this one waterway. It ran its way through a ‘v’-like valley that twisted upon itself as it fell down the steep slope of the mountain. In some places it would run faster than others, the water forming a grey foam that rested along the banks.

The rapidly moving water had eroded the side of the valley, creating a small drop on either side into the river. Several trees had already fallen victim to this removal of earth, their corpses now creating rotting bridges that stretched over the waterway.

The mare stared up into the sky, the peaks of the mountains visible for brief moments while the cloud rearranged itself, building and growing, threatening to fall over into the valleys below. The older pony’s brow furrowed when she saw sheets of white intermingling with the black of the rock faces. It had been snowing.

When the two ponies paused to take a drink, the mare turned and looked back out over the plains from which they had come. They stretched out as far as the eye could see, the forests running for about half of the way. The ground bulged into ridges that formed the roots of the mountains they were now on, creating the same gullies that they had taken shelter in the last couple of nights. Beyond the trees lay the empty, desolate and windswept plains of the south. The oppressive grey of the ash-fields dominated the landscape. Beyond that, the world fell away beyond the horizon, too far away to make out any detail.

While the mare stared out over the world, unrecognizable and yet so normal now, the filly had moved off a little, looking toward the river with curiosity.

She made her way over to the side of the river, placing her hooves carefully around the multitude of small stones that had been deposited during the river’s spring flows. The rocks were smooth, shiny and jet black, their sleek surfaces just inviting a pony to slip. Between the stones lay a think blanket of ash, having recently fallen due the fires higher up the mountain.

Drawing close to the edge, the filly paused and looked down the small embankment and into the raging water. It bubbled ferociously as it moved past, writhing and twisting on its unstoppable descent.

The filly eyed the water suspiciously. Her face was scrunched up in intense concentration as she pondered the flowing river.

“Get back from the edge!” The mare’s voice burst out into the cold afternoon, causing the filly to jump.

“Mama! I’m not even close!” she complained.

“It’s not safe! Please get back now!”

The small pony huffed slightly in annoyance, full of self-confidence. Reluctantly, she turned and made to move back toward her mother.

As she moved, her back hoof stepped onto the edge of the embankment, and with a soft ‘thwump’, the earth below her back hooves slid into the seething water, the fault line in the dirt hidden by the ash.

The filly screamed out in fear as her body slipped along with the ground, pulled uncontrollably into the icy water. The mare watched in horror as her daughter disappeared below the edge of the embankment.


The mare sprinted as fast as her legs would carry her, watching helplessly as her daughter was swept along by the currents.

“ Ma- Pl- lp- me!” Was all the mare heard, the small pony being dunked again and again as she was dragged down the river, further and further away from her mother.

“Just hold on!” the mare yelled as she ran, careful to stay away from the edge herself.

Despite her efforts, the mare was running a lost race, the rapidly moving mountain flows pushing her daughter faster than she could run. Just as she was starting to panic, her muscles burning and her breathing coming in ragged gasps, did she see the small pony grab wildly at a dead tree that spanned most of the width of the river. Her heart soared when she saw the filly successfully grasp hold, hugging the branch with her legs.

And then the branch began to crack.

The mare redoubled her intensity as she made her way towards the tree. Her weakened, malnourished body screamed in protest. She sent a small, rushed prayer of thanks to the Princesses for making the tree’s base on her side of the river.

“I’m coming!” she yelled to her daughter, who was clinging to a branch, her eyes wide and frozen.

The mare reached the tree and without hesitation, placed her hoof slowly on the wood, testing it. It held firm at her end, but the mare watched with a sense of rising panic as the rotting wood started to crack further down at the filly’s.

Cautiously, the mare inched her way down the blackened tree. Below her, the water charged past, the rapids hungrily sending spray up at the pony.

“Just hold on! I’m almost there!”

The mare heard the filly whimper softly in reply, barely audible above the water.

Using her back legs to grasp the log tightly, the mare crawled out towards the filly. The tree dipped dangerously toward the river. The filly’s tail touched the water and was being flicked up by its pace.

The mare soon reached her daughter. She reached out with a hoof. 

“Grab on!” she yelled.

The filly didn’t move and the branch creaked ominously, sagging even further.

Inching herself even closer, using the crook between her front leg and hoof to grab onto a branch that was sticking up into the air, the mare tried again.

“Just grab on! I won’t let you fall!”

The small filly looked at her mother in terror, clinging to the branch with all four of her legs.

“Please! Grab on!” the mare begged, tears in her eyes. “Please!”

Slowly, tentatively, the small pony loosened her grip with her front two legs.

“That’s it! Reach out and grab my hoof. I’ll pull you up!”

Driven by pure fear, the filly suddenly let go with her front two legs and reached out to grab the mare’s leg. The mare tried to take the most of her weight, but the branch broke under the filly’s momentum. With a splintering crack, the branch fell into the water, disappearing below the foam and not once reappearing.

The filly, however, was not on it.

Grunting under the weight of the small pony, her shoulder screaming in pain, the mare started to lift her daughter up to safety. The filly had wrapped her front legs around the join between the mare’s foreleg and hoof and was holding on tightly, her eyes closed.

Mustering all of her strength, the mare pulled the filly up onto the tree, where she grabbed on with all of her legs, holding on for dear life. Relieved from the filly’s weight, the mare let her head hit the slimy tree, her breath coming in shaking gasps. Her shoulder felt like it was on fire.

It was the shuddering that told her something was wrong. The mare looked up and saw that her daughter was shivering violently, her saturated clothes sticking to her body, her small mane hanging around her face like a curtain. She could hear her teeth chattering from here.

Oh Celestia no.

The mare reached out and grabbed hold of the filly and helped her crawl back along the tree. She told herself not to panic, to think rationally.

Once they were both safely on the shore, the mare stripped the small pony of all her clothes. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out their two blankets, and hurriedly wrapped them around the filly like a cape – just like how she had done it earlier that morning. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.

The filly stood there wordlessly in the ash. Her whole body shook from the intensity of her body’s reaction to the shock of the icy water.

The mare took out another blanket, this one with a waterproof exterior and wrapped the filly’s wet clothes in it before stowing them back in her pack. She couldn’t allow the rest of their stuff to get wet.

She didn’t ask the filly whether she could walk and instead knelt down onto the ash.

“Get on,” she said. “Hold onto my neck.”

Barely able to control her shaking muscles, the filly did as she was told, climbing awkwardly onto her mother’s back. Her legs hung pathetically around the older pony’s neck, their grip weak and unconvincing. Getting the filly to hold onto her served two purposes. It would increase their speed, something that the mare desperately needed. It would also allow the mare to share her body heat with the small pony. The blankets rested on the filly, trapping her body against the mare’s. The older pony knew that blankets alone would not be able to warm up the filly’s frozen form.

Not wanting to waste any time and to keep her own rising fear down, the mare started off at a steady trot. To their right the valley rose up into a small ridge. The mare hoped that they could find a suitable shelter on the other side.

With her daughter still shivering uncontrollably on her back, the mare pushed herself to go even faster. Her legs shook from the effort she had exerted in saving the small pony. She flicked her head in annoyance at her own weakness.

 Upon cresting the ridge, the mare allowed a small sigh of relief to escape her lips. Below the two ponies lay a small wooded valley that ended in a steep wall on their right. It would provide the perfect place to camp outside of the wind.

Re-invigorated, the mare started to gallop down the hill, hoping that the filly would stay on. She pushed her way around the trees, making mental notes wherever fallen branches lay. Just before the valley ended, she saw a cluster of boulders that formed a lee between their large, grey bodies. It would be a perfect shelter. Entering their looming shadow, she urged the filly off her back and onto the largely undisturbed ash and dust. She then took off the packs and leaned them up against the rocks.

“Stay here, ok?” she said, trying not to sound panicked. “I have to go collect firewood.”

The filly nodded her head numbly, shaking as she tried to pull the blankets around her body more tightly.

The mare rushed off between the trees, trying to remember where she had spotted a fallen branch. Whenever she found one of the blackened prizes, she picked it up and raced back to their camp site. Before long she had collected a small pile. She needed more, though. It would have to last all night.

The filly appeared to be struggling to stay conscious and would often murmur gently to herself, her words altogether incomprehensible due to her shivering. Whenever she heard her daughter’s feeble voice, the mare only doubled her efforts.

As the glow behind the clouds started to dip toward the horizon, the mare concluded that if she didn’t have enough, then she would deal with that later. She had run out of time.

She arranged several of the logs into a small pile, stacked up against each other like a tent. The mare stuffed a sheet of newspaper into the middle of her pyre and took out the matches. Carefully, she lit one and placed it inside the bundle of yellowed paper, the flame taking greedily to the dry parchment.

The mare watched in hope as the fire began to lick the edges of the logs, its orange glow growing brighter as more and more of the paper began to burn. She breathed a sigh of relief when the wood itself caught fire, despite its already blackened surface.

Satisfied that the fire would survive for now, the mare pushed the filly as close to the fire as possible before she feared she would burn. She made sure that the blankets were still tucked around her small frame tightly, only now she left a small gap directly in front of the flames to let the heat in.

Next, the mare grabbed a few small stones from the ash around them. She picked the smooth ones, anything jagged wouldn’t do. After picking four large, flat rocks, she placed them near the fire. They were close enough to warm up, but not close enough to be covered in charcoal.

When the mare was satisfied the rocks had warmed up enough, she gently grabbed them between her two front hooves. She then placed them within the filly’s cocoon of blankets and got her daughter to hold them against her body. She held two pressed against her chest with her legs, and the other two rested against her body - like the water bottles of old.

Not sure what more she could do, the mare sat down next to her daughter. She reached out with a leg to wrap the blankets around herself and then pulled the filly against her body, adding her own body heat to the mix. The small pony’s shaking had started to slow now, the added warmth already paying dividends.

“How are you feeling?” the mare asked softly.

“Cold,” the filly replied. “But getting warmer.”


“Mama,” the filly began tentatively, “you said if we get wet, we’ll get sick.”


“And that if we get sick, we’ll die.”

“Not always,” the mare replied.

“But it might happen,” she stressed. “I could die.”

“We all could die,” the mare said. She didn’t mean for it to sound so blunt.

“But I might die tonight, Mama.” The filly spoke dispassionately, yet her voice wavered on the end of the sentence.

“You’re not going to die,” the mare said firmly.

“But why not? You said…”

“I know what I said, but you’re not going to die.”

“Why not?”

“Because I won’t let you,” she said with conviction. “I am not going to let you die. Not tonight.”


“I’m going to save you. Look, you’re already warming up,” she said, motioning to the fire which was now burning merrily, the flames dancing along the length of the wood. “And if we get you all warm and toasty, you won’t get sick.”

“And that… that will save me?” the filly said hopefully.

“Yes. I am going to save you. I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you.”

The filly smiled. “Thank you, Mama. Thank you for saving me. It was really brave of you for crawling out over that tree.”

“I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you.” She pulled her daughter closer, and the small filly rested her head against her mother.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

The pair fell into silence, staring at the fire as it continued to devour the wood the mare had placed into its centre.

The mare shudders in pain. She is exhausted, utterly spent. She is vaguely aware of her own ragged breathing, a soft crying and outside, a horrendous roar. She’s not completely sure of anything. The pain still racks her body in waves.

She is lying on a blood-stained blanket, the once white fabric now indiscernible from its original colour. The room is small and unfurnished, a single wooden table with a chair sitting in one corner. A window to her left is boarded up, but an ominous orange glow seeps through the cracks of the hastily constructed blinds. The light reflects off of the blood and other substances on the floor and on the table. The mare tries not to look at these things.

Another pony stands with her in the room, a stallion. He is bent over the table, fresh blankets in his mouth. From the table comes the sound of crying, as well as the occasional ‘drip’ as blood and other bodily fluids fall to floor.

The mare, though exhausted, is happy. No, she’s ecstatic - triumphant, almost.

She’s done it. Despite everything, she succeeded. She’s done it.

“She’s alive,” comes the voice of her husband, who is now smiling at her.

“I can hear,” the mare says, laughing shakily.

“You did it.”

“I know.” The mare smiles.

“Would you like to see her?”

“More than anything,” she replies.

The stallion nods and lifts a small bundle of blankets in the crook of his leg. He walks awkwardly over to the mare, careful not to drop the blankets. He gently places the small bundle in front of the exhausted pony.

Almost reverently, the mare tenderly lifts open a fold of fabric to reveal the face of her newborn daughter, her mane still filthy and soiled.

“She’s beautiful,” the mare breathes, awed.

The stallion doesn’t reply and instead smiles sadly at her wife. The mare doesn’t see that, though, too focused on the small pony lying in front of her.

The baby has stopped crying and is now staring up at her mother with large, white eyes, the colour of her pupils impossible to make out in the orange glow. She yawns gently, scrunching up her face to do so.

“Hello there,” the mare coos softly, her heart filling with warmth. “Welcome to our family.”

The stallion walks over to the window and attempts to look through one of the cracks. The mare doesn’t pay him any attention.

“It’s still burning,” he mutters to himself. “How can it still be burning?”

Oblivious, the mare reaches down and kisses her daughter softly on the head. Her own pain is now a distant memory. She only sees her daughter.

“I’m going to be here for you, you know,” she whispers softly. “Forever and always.”

Her baby’s eyes begin to close, her mouth opened in a small ‘o’. The mare smiles lovingly as her newborn falls swiftly to sleep, exhausted by the mere act of being alive.

Kissing her again softly, the mare closes her eyes as well. She has done it. Amidst all the pain, fire and fear, she has brought new life into the world.

Smiling contently, the mare lets her head lie next to her baby’s, one leg stretched out around her protectively.

Peacefully, the mare drifts off to sleep. Outside, the world is lost to a sea of flames. They consume everything and leave nothing but ash.

Except for a small filly, born but an hour ago into this cursed world - a light in the darkness.

The mare woke into a bruised dawn. She could hear the wind slice through the trees above her and was incredibly thankful for the shelter the rocks provided. Overhead, the clouds had plummeted off the peaks of the mountains. Their blackened and angry bodies were bringing with them the wrath of the sky. She was vaguely aware of how cold it was. Her nose had grown numb.

Groaning as she sat upright, the mare looked over to her daughter. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the small filly’s body move consistently with each inhalation. Next to her the fire was now nothing but a small pile of faintly glowing embers. It had served its purpose.

The mare got up and checked the filly’s clothes that she had left drying the night before. They were cold and stiff, but no longer wet. Satisfied, she swiftly pulled out two cookies for their breakfast, trying to ignore the fact that there were only two left. She wanted to get moving quickly. The clouds overhead spoke of bad weather approaching. She shuddered to think of what it may be like as they went higher.

The filly woke soon after, cocooned within her blankets. She smiled softly when she saw her mother. “You did it, Mama. You saved me.”

“I told you I would,” she replied, touching her daughter’s face gently with a hoof. “Now get up. We have to be moving quickly.”

After breakfast, the two ponies wrapped themselves up as best they could, using most of their blankets for added warmth. Bulky and cumbersome, but as warm as they were ever going to get, they left their campsite and proceeded to climb higher into the mountains.

They followed a ridge as it rose steadily uphill. Around them the wind whipped ferociously at their clothing, snatching their voices out of the air if they tried to speak. The mare could no longer see their destination above them, the swirl of grey and angry clouds limiting visibility. They watched in apprehension as small grey flecks got blown out of the blanket overhead. It was starting to snow.

As they climbed higher, the weather got worse and worse. It was definitely snowing now, the wind causing the snowflakes to tear past them and into oblivion off the edge of the ridge. In places the snow had started to form banks, grey pockets of slush up against rocks or trees. Occasionally the clouds would open for a second and the mare could see the peaks above them. She watched fearfully as each time the sides of the mountains became darker and darker from the heavy and dirty snowfalls.

Slowly, the two ponies forced their way up the mountain, alone in the swirling darkness. The storm was gaining in strength, and the mare knew that they had to keep going. Staying still for too long would mean death in this wind.

After an unknowable amount of time, they stopped to get a drink under the protective shadow of a boulder. The constant scream of the wind blasted their eardrums. There were no longer any trees on these slopes. They had passed the altitude where trees could grow.

While they rested, the snow continued to build up around them, forming murky sheets that covered the ashen ridges. The filly sat silently in the icy air, shaking slightly as she did. It was so very cold.

Her joints creaking in protest, the mare stood up. They had to keep moving. She had no idea how much further it was to the summit. She couldn’t see it due to the clouds.

They pushed on into the torrent of grey that tore around them with a vengeance.

A deep roar echoed through the valleys, causing the two ponies’ hooves to shake. They peered into the gloom from where the sound seemed to have originated, but could see nothing but a swirl of grey moving rapidly down the mountain slopes on their left. The fast moving mass of cloud and snow veered down the valley and began to race down toward the plains below.

The mare and the filly moved on, focusing on each step, keeping their heads down against the wind.

The day dragged on and the mare knew that the filly was struggling. The wind made every step a challenge of strength, and since her own endurance was wearing thin, she could only imagine what her daughter must be going through.

Just a little further, she hoped. She prayed.

Another echoing rumble tore through the air. This time it was closer, in front of them. They watched as the great grey mass swept through the valley, falling away on their left. There was no mistaking it this time. It was an avalanche.

The mare’s heart dropped. Where was the pass? It had to be nearby. Please Celestia let it be nearby. Please…

The ridge was moving toward the left now, and a great hulking blue shadow loomed up in front of the two ponies. The mare assumed this was one of the peaks. She pushed herself onwards. The pony had no idea whether or not it was their destination, but as long as the altitude dropped on the other side, she wouldn’t care.

The snow lay thickly on the ground now. Each hoof-step sunk deeper and deeper into the grey ice. On their right a great wall of stone rose up the side of the mountain. They followed it, grateful somewhat for the meagre shelter it provided.

As they walked, the two ponies suddenly became aware of a dark hole that seemed to fall away into the rock-face. They approached it carefully, the wind lashing out against them.

On closer inspection, the dark mouth of the mountain revealed itself to be a cave. The filly looked at her mother in fear, not bothering to speak against the wind. The mare stood still, silhouetted by the dark opening in front of her. She had no clue whether or not danger lurked inside its gloomy depths.

She shivered. The darkness taunted her, willing her to come inside. She was sure it was just her imagination, but even the snow itself appeared to avoid the black opening.

The ground began to shake. Startled, the mare looked up the sheer rock-face as it disappeared into the swirling storm. A great roar began to assault the two ponies as they stood in front of the mouth of the mountain. She had a second to react and she knew it.

“Move!” she screamed, pushing her daughter into the cave.

They charged into the blackness, their hooves hitting the cold rock. Utterly blind, they pushed on deeper and deeper. The roar grew louder until suddenly, it ended in a loud whump. The ground, however, shook for seconds afterwards, sending small tremors through the earth as aftershocks.

The mare paused in horror. She couldn’t see a thing.

“Mama!” the filly yelled into the darkness.

“I’m right here,” she replied.

“I can’t see, Mama! What happened to the light?”

“I think the avalanche sealed us in.” The mare’s voice shook, her breathing loud in the absolute shadow.

The mare heard her daughter’s breathing come in faster and faster when she heard that.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get us out,” she said, trying to calm her down.

The small pony whimpered. Forcing herself to breathe normally, the mare blindly reached around and opened one of their saddlebags. She stuck her head inside, feeling carefully for her goal. When her lips encountered the dirty plastic, she smiled softly.

She gently removed the glow-stick from the pack before cracking it with one of her hooves. The mare shook it vigorously with her mouth and then proceeded to wait as the soft orange glow grew brighter and brighter.

Before long the mare could make out shapes in the orange light. The filly was sitting near her, staring back at her mother in fear. Around them were the stone walls, floors and roof of a gigantic cave, taller and longer than the mare could make out with their limited visibility.

She had often pictured caves like these when she was a filly. This was just like the dragon caves she had constructed in her mind. The reality lay before her, its stone walls grey and pitted.

Loose boulders lay strewn about the cave floor, and by the wall she could make out a stalagmite pillar. The mare could hear the soft sound of water trickling somewhere in the earth.

The light had started to go out. Even though she knew that the glow stick was old, she couldn’t help but feel dismayed that it was going out so soon. Not wanting to waste the rapidly fading glow stick, the mare made use of its light. She took out the lantern and inserted a candle into its holder. There weren’t many candles like this left in the world. It was a magic candle, created by unicorns to last longer than normal wax would have permitted. She had been saving it for a time just like this.

After the lantern was lit, the mare tied a piece of thick string twice through the loop on top. She slipped her head through the string, wearing the lantern like a piece of jewellery. After a few tugs to ensure that the lamp wouldn’t move around too much when she walked or if she had to run, the mare paused, satisfied with her work.

“Now what, Mama?” the filly asked.

“We see if we can find a way out,” she replied.

The mare started to walk deeper into the cave, the filly close behind her. Their hoof-steps echoed into the blackness as they walked. They could hear each breath as it was nervously inhaled or exhaled. The sound of running water was louder now and coming from several different places.

They had walked for several minutes when they reached the back of the cave. The mare paused, looking helplessly around for an exit. The filly had moved away, her attention grabbed by something shiny.

“Look, Mama! Look what I found!”

The mare turned and saw that the filly was holding a dirty, yet unmistakably golden, coin. It shimmered slightly as the light reflected off its surface.

“It’s a coin,” she replied, still looking around the cave wall.

“Can I keep it?”

“Of course you can.”

The filly smiled, temporarily forgetting about the larger problem at hand. She carefully tucked the coin inside a small pocket on her clothing.


“What is it, Mama?”

The mare had finally found what she was praying for. A small, dark crevice ran along one corner of the cave, just large enough for a pony to squeeze through. She had no idea where it headed, but as long as the cave continued, there was hope.

“Do… we really have to go in there?” the filly said, clearly crashing back down to reality at the sight of the narrow opening.

“We have to try.”

“O… Ok.”

The mare took a deep breath before squeezing her way through the crack. Behind her, her daughter waited, and in front of her, the darkness hung like a curtain, punctured weakly by their only light source.

Steeling her nerves, the mare, followed closely by the filly, made her way deeper into the mountain.

A/N: A massive thank you to my editor, Sessalisk, for helping me to such an incredible extent with this story. It means so much!

Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so feel free to let me know how you are finding it! Thank you again to everyone for reading, and I shall see you for chapter 3!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 3: Monsters in the Dark

The darkness seemed to almost flicker around them. It bounced off the walls, reverberating around the cave invisibly yet inescapably present. Their lantern fought valiantly against the shadow surrounding the two ponies, but it was fighting a losing battle. The small bubble of light did little but offer a mere token of visibility in the darkness. It was all around them, hissing angrily. There was more than one set of walls within these caves.

“Mama?” the filly whispered.


“Where are we going?”

The mare paused. She honestly didn’t know. She just kept pushing onwards, hoping against hope to find some sort of exit. “We’re trying to find a way out.”

“Oh.” She didn’t sound convinced.

The cave around them was small and cramped. The ground rose unevenly, punctuated by stalagmites and other grotesque rock formations formed over aeons of water movement. Water runoff trickled endlessly, making the rocks smooth and slippery. More than once the filly had lost her balance. Their weak light battled endlessly against the shadow, but served to add nothing but a dim glow – just enough to see several paces in front. Punctuating the silence was their hoof-steps, echoing into the inky blackness. Their breaths came short and sharp, and the rustling of their clothing and packs seemed to resonate within the cave.

The mare and the filly pressed on. As they went deeper into the cave, the walls became closer and closer. Their slick surfaces were angled steeply, lined with small stone bumps. It was not long before the mare was forced to lower her head to prevent hitting it against the roof in the darkness. As they walked, the older pony became more and more worried. If they didn’t find an exit here, she had absolutely no idea what they could do to get out. The snow blocking the main entrance would have to be several feet deep. Even with proper tools it might take days, even weeks. Their own water would only last a couple of days, and the mare didn’t trust the water around them to be safe enough to drink. They just didn’t have enough supplies... or light.

The mare stopped suddenly as one of her front hooves slipped into nothing. Her muscles locked into place as she pressed her weight backwards to stabilise herself.


“It’s alright,” the mare replied, breathing heavily.

Her daughter nuzzled her gently. “Don’t scare me like that, Mama,” she said shakily.

The mare briefly returned the nuzzle before examining the fall in front of them. Rather than falling as a straight drop, the rock actually swept away, evening out into a flatter decline as it went. A shelf of rock jutting out from the roof prevented the mare from seeing what lay down this embankment.

Carefully, the mare placed a tentative hoof onto the sliding rock-face. It was slick, explaining why she slipped. Slowly, she pressed more weight onto the hoof. When she didn’t fall uncontrollably, she placed her other hooves down as well, causing her body to skate tentatively down to the bottom like a slide. She had to put a hoof up to stop herself from hitting the wall at the far end.

At the end of this decline, the cave ended in a dead end. Or at least that’s what the mare thought before she noticed another crack running down the length of the wall, its jagged edges glistening dangerously in the weak light of her lantern.

“I think I’ve found another way forward!” the mare yelled to her. “Come down!”

“Is it safe?” came the tentative reply.

“Just come down. I’ll catch you!”

The mare heard her take a deep breath before a second later; the small pony came sliding down on her haunches, her eyes wide. The mare caught her with an outstretched leg before she hit the cave wall at the end. The filly trembled in her embrace. Before the mare could react, however, a huge smile lit up the filly’s face.

“That was fun, Mama!”

She laughed. “See? Nothing to worry about.”

The filly smiled, an expression that seemed to light up the cave far more than the lantern. “Where next, Mama?”

The mare pointed toward the jagged break in the wall and the filly’s face dropped.


“It’s still somewhere,” the mare said.

The filly frowned slightly, but didn’t respond. Taking her cue, the mare proceeded to manoeuvre her body through the fracture in the rock. It was a tight fit, and the mare winced slightly when the edge of her hood got caught on one of the jags, causing it split slightly along the worn seam.

On the other side, the mare’s jaw dropped. Barely illuminated by the rusty metal lantern, was a room that had definitely been hewn out of the stone by pony-folk, or at least something with some degree of technical proficiency. While small, the walls were at ninety degrees and without the pockmarks that cursed the walls of the cave behind her. Inside the room sat row after row of wooden shelving, interspaced by small piles of barrels between each one. Most of the shelves were bare, but the mare could make out some shapes sitting on each one. At her feet lay a small pile of broken wooden boards. The edges of the door still remained on its hinges on either side of the entrance.

“Good Celestia,” she breathed.

“What is it, Mama?” the small pony behind her asked, just catching up.

“I… I don’t know.”

The mare slowly approached one of the shelves. It was empty and caked with dust. Thoroughly confused, the pony started to search the room. The storage spaces held little of interest. She could only find a few mouldy sacks of flour and a couple of seed bags for some unmarked, and probably extinct, plant. The mare packed the seeds away carefully within her saddlebags.

Frowning slightly, the mare turned her attention to the barrels. The wood on each one was damp and cool. The rotting lids broke easily on those that had not already been opened. Inside, the mare found that most of them were already emptied. She did, however, find two tins of cabbage whose tinplate seals appeared to have not yet rusted through. Allowing herself a small smile, she packed them inside their bags.

When she had checked the four corners of the room for anything hidden in the shadows, the mare turned towards the wooden door that sat at the far end of the room. The rotting planks of wood were held together by rusted metal bands that stretched horizontally across the frame. There wasn’t a handle, suggesting that whoever had built it had accommodated for more than just unicorns.

The mare searched the filly’s expression. She merely stared blankly back at her, not saying a word. After receiving no response, the mare tentatively pushed the door open, the rusted hinges protesting loudly as they moved. Beyond the door lay darkness, broken only by a small stone tunnel that stretched as far as the pony could see both left and right. Taking a deep breath, the mare walked into the corridor, leaving the cave far behind.

The mare is young, really young. Her small body, devoid of a cutie mark, trembles as the storm rages outside with a vengeance. She can hear the rain lash against the roof like a thousand miniature fire-crackers and the wind howl like a pack of timber wolves. Every now and then, her bedroom is illuminated by a great flash which is followed shortly by a resounding boom that shakes the house to its foundations.

The mare whimpers as the storm grows worse with each passing second. She can’t stand the loud noises and she can’t stand the dark. Even the lightning does nothing but cast terrifying shadows around her room, their outlines like demons or ghosts.

She quivers underneath her blankets, her head fully submerged between her two pillows. She just wants the storm to go away.

“Go away,” she whispers. “Please go away.”

There is another flash and another explosion of thunder. The room always seems darker after the immediate aftermath of a lightning strike.


Her door suddenly begins to creak open and a bright light enters, piercing through her protective veil of blankets.

“Are you ok?” her mother asks gently, the older pony’s hoof-steps following her voice into the room.

The mare doesn’t reply, instead choosing to whimper again into her pillow.

“Oh, little one,” she coos softly. “Come here.”

Before the mare knows it, her mother has crossed the room, placed the lantern on her bedside table and got into bed with her, holding her trembling body close. She snuggles deeper into her mother’s soft, warm coat, trying to get her mother to protect her.

“It’s just a storm,” her mother says. “Nothing to be afraid of.”

“It’s not just the storm. It’s the dark, too.”

Her mother kisses the top of her head. “But why is the dark so scary?”

“Because there are monsters! Because I can’t see things clearly! Bad things can be in the dark!” She speaks quickly.

“There aren’t any monsters.”

“That’s what all grown ups say...”

Her mother stops for a second, thinking. “Even if there were monsters,” she begins, speaking slowly, “then you wouldn’t have to be afraid of them.”

“Why not?”

“Because monsters can’t get ponies who are loved.” Her voice is assertive and matter-of-fact.

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is that none of the bad things in the dark can get little fillies who have somepony who loves them.

“But why?”

“Bad things in the dark are mean, and all you need to do to get rid of mean things is show them that you aren’t affected by how mean they are. So if you tell them that, ‘No, I don’t care, Mr. Mean Thing. My mommy loves me very much!’ then they go away.”

“Really?” The mare is wide-eyed.

“It’s true. The bad things can only get us if we let them.”

“Then I’ll never let them get me!”

“There you go!” Her mother nuzzles her affectionately. “The bad things in the dark can never get you.”

“Yeah!” The mare gives her mother a quick squeeze of a hug. “Thanks, Mom.”

Her mother kisses the top of her head again. “Now sleep, little one. Get some rest.”

She is awfully tired now that her mother mentions it. The mare yawns. She lets her head rest against the soft pillow. Her eyes blink, slowly. Sleeping is too easy.

“Sweet dreams, little one,” her mother whispers. “None of the bad things will ever hurt you.”

“Never… hurt… me,” she responds, quickly falling asleep.

After some time, her mother leaves the room, leaving the mare alone on the bed. She leaves the light on the bedside table, while outside the storm continues to buffet the world.

The mare often looked back on this memory. She would laugh at herself. So young, so naïve. She was so oblivious. Nothing, absolutely nothing would have prepared her for what was waiting just around the corner.

Left or right - those were their two options. It was simple enough, yet the mare hesitated. The stone corridor stretched out on either side as far as the eye could see - rapidly falling away into darkness as the lantern’s light failed to reveal the end. The stone was cut fairly evenly, though the floor was covered in a thick layer of dust. The mare could just begin to make out dark shapes set evenly on the inside of the walls, each one the same size as the door they had just come through.

Acting on a sudden impulse, the mare chose left and proceeded to walk down the silent hallway. The first doorway they came to was jammed shut and refused to open despite the mare’s attempts. The second door opened, but only revealed a small cave-in, the large pile of rubble destroying anything that would tell the mare of its purpose.

The third, however, opened without hassle, the wooden frame moving slowly along decaying hinges. The inside of the room featured only a few broken barrels, some piles of rope and some cleaning equipment. It was obviously just more storage. The mare didn’t bother to enter and continued on down the hallway.

The two ponies encountered several other rooms in this regard. Many of them were blocked, probably from the inside, and two more had been subject to roof collapses. The ones they could enter proved to be little more than storage spaces. There was never any permanent looking furniture, and whatever was inside was in poor repair. If there were wooden items, they were often burnt, the outsides charcoaled, now rotting in the damp cave air.

The tunnel they were following ended abruptly, turning a sharp ninety degrees to the right. Left with no other choice than to follow it or go back, the mare followed this new direction. This new hallway proved to be almost identical to the first, doors set alongside the right hoof side of the wall.

The mare stopped. The tunnel’s layout had suddenly changed. A door sat on the left. The inside of this fissure banked steeply down, stone steps cut neatly into the floor. Just as the descent made it’s first turn into the darkness, barely visible from the mare’s position, a huge pile of rubble blocked the passage way. The whistling proved that air was still able to move between the blockage, but the mare knew there was no way she would be strong enough to lift any of the rocks.

“It’s a staircase,” the mare said, more to herself than the filly.

“But where does it lead?”

“I don’t know. Hopefully an exit,” the older pony replied.

“I hope so.”

Further down the tunnel, the hallway suddenly shifted right by another ninety degrees, taking them the opposite way that they first started. The mare prayed that they were not merely walking in an enclosed loop, the only exit the way they had come. But the staircase filled her with hope - it would have had to lead somewhere, she just had to find where that somewhere was.

They had no choice but to continue along, and hope that maybe, just maybe there was another way out.

It was the darkness that first alerted the mare to its presence. They were in complete and utter shadow already, but from the hole, the darkness seemed to pour out, literally filling the hallway in front of them. The mare watched anxiously as the dark seemed to emanate from the massive opening in the wall on their left.

She approached it slowly, fighting a natural reaction to turn tail and flee. She had to press on; she had to keep herself going. The opening stood about five metres high and about four wide. Beyond it was nothing but shadow, the darkness itself stretching out for as far as the mare could see.

Steeling her nerves, the mare stepped through the gigantic doorway and into the space beyond. She gasped as her light stretched out in front of her, growing weaker as it spread out further and further from its source. What the mare could see caused her pause in shock.

They were standing inside an enormous cavern, the roof higher than the mare could tell. The walls on their left and right were only barely visible, just discernible due to the ornate pillars carved into their sides. The far wall was lost to the sea of shadow, too far away for the light to reach.

In the middle of this ancient hall lay the remains of a pony settlement - rows upon rows of tents, all supported by weakening poles, their tarpaulin roofs and walls crumpling in on themselves. Chairs, tables, crates and other loose items lay scattered among the abandoned living spaces, their upended surfaces all collecting mountains of dust.

The middle of this settlement was gone. It had been rent in half by a jagged fissure running diagonally from the left hoof corner of the room to as far as the mare could see and about fifteen metres wide at its widest point. The dark fracture fell away into oblivion, its depth unknowable in the weak light. Awed, the mare couldn’t help but shudder at the sight of the small town swallowed up by the crack in the earth, fallen away, lost to darkness.

Just off to the side of the settlement, barely spanning the width of the fissure, rested a haphazard rope bridge of mismatched wood and metal, its wooden planks sagging under its own weight. The mare considered it with caution. Whoever had built it had placed it there after the town had been destroyed and abandoned - she could tell by the loose furniture lying around from the camp that had been partly used in its construction, but if that was the case, then where were the ponies who had assembled it?

The mare approached the bridge with caution. On her right the pony settlement sat silently, illuminated by the ghostly light of her lamp. The crumpled tents were the only gravestones their owners would ever receive. Visible between the corridors of tents, the mare saw a host of living utensils such as plates, cups and cutlery. Whoever had lived here left in a hurry.

The first of the dead could be found by the bridge. Two crumpled bodies sat against the opposite support poles, one even resting a hoof over the rope that stretched the length of the chasm. Their flesh was dry and blackened, tufts of their coats still clinging to their decaying bodies, punctured occasionally by bleached bone. Around them was a dark stain, the remnants of a grisly fluid. The mare was thankful she couldn’t see their cause of death on their decomposing bodies. The diameter of the pool testament to the extent of their injuries.

“Look away,” she said to the filly. “Just look away.”

“Why?” the filly responded, staring at the two bodies.

“Because it’s bad.”

The filly looked at her quizzically, yet the mare did not elaborate.

Oh Celestia, some things should never be seen.

The mare placed a hoof onto the decaying bridge, testing its integrity slowly. After it held with one, she placed another onto the wooden planks, adding more weight. When she finally stepped out onto the dangerously flexing crossing, it creaked ominously into the darkness, yet held. The mare turned to the small pony waiting behind her.

“Come on. It’s safe.”

“Really?” The filly’s voice sounded unconvinced, but the mare recognized the fear.

“See? I’m already on it. It’s fine.”

Her lips set into a straight line, the filly stepped onto the bridge behind her mother. Slowly, they began to cross, placing one hoof after the other as carefully as they could. The bridge flexed and moaned as the travellers moved and would often shake from side-to-side. Broken planks tried to trip the ponies up, but the mare kept a close eye on the aging wood and alerted the filly whenever there was a weak spot. Below the two ponies, the bridge fell away into the immeasurable darkness, the shadow staring hungrily back at them, almost willing them to fall. The mare was very thankful for the barriers of rope that framed the walkway.

Upon reaching the other side, the mare let loose a breath she did not realise she was holding. She could have sworn she heard the filly do the same. Now safely back on solid ground, the mare began to walk through the tent settlement. She noticed in sadness that there were several more bodies here, often set in small groups, black stains encircling their fallen forms. The absence of any weapons that may have brought this destruction caught the mare’s attention. Somepony, or something, had clearly scavenged the bodies for items, yet left them here to rot.

The mare could see further evidence of this ransacking. Many barrels or containers lay overturned or smashed, spoiled contents left next to the corpses of their previous homes. Several tents had been knocked over now lying trampled and crushed. Some even appeared to have been torched, the burnt and melted tarp in black puddles on the ground.

“I don’t like this place,” the filly said suddenly, her voice echoing out into the vast hall.

“Me neither,” the mare responded, frowning as she did. She didn’t notice the fearful glance the small pony shot her way; perhaps if she did she would have regretted the next words out of her mouth. “There is nothing good about this cave.”

 “But maybe a way out?” the filly suggested shakily.


Walking across the hall like they were, the mare could now make out the far wall. It was broken up like its counterparts adjacent to it by semi-circular stone pillars that were probably for decoration rather than any structural support. Set deep into the middle of the wall was a doorway, larger than the ones back in the catacombs behind them, but considerably smaller than the entrance to the cavern they were currently in. However, the great wooden door was smashed open, its hinges twisted and its wooden frame scorched.

The mare drew near to the door and appraised the inside curiously. Beyond the entrance lay a small ante-chamber, its miniature size surprising, considering the size of the door. A single upturned desk laid against the wall, surrounded by loose sheets of paper that were spread out all over the floor, the yellowed pages appearing almost luminescent under the light of the lantern. A lone, dark stain sat in the middle of the ground and stretched up to the desk. Its red shade was visible on any of the parchment that it touched. There was no body though, a small comfort to the mare.

Entering the room slowly, the mare carefully looked over the paper that wasn’t stained in blood. Most of the pages had been ruined by the exposure to dust or time. Making sure to skirt around the streak of blood on the floor, the mare moved to the upturned desk. The back of the drawers had been smashed open, but the mare could see that its contents were all still inside. Here the mare found the end of the trail of blood, its grisly path smeared over the surface of the desk, the fluid clearly having dripped into the open compartments inside. Carefully, the mare fished around inside with a hoof. Inside was nothing but paper or an empty pot of ink. Just before she pulled out her hoof, however, the mare found something different: a small leather-bound book lying at the back of the drawers.

Removing it slowly, the mare pulled it out. Its cover was stiff and stained with blood. The pony opened it delicately and a few pages fell out, fluttering to the floor. The inside of the jacket contained the words, “Owned by Scarlet Quill” in cursive. Scarlet Quill… the mare had heard that name before… where was it from…?

That’s it! She was the mayor of Manehatten before the end. Curious, the mare opened the rigid pages. The ink, where it was still readable, was fading from age. It was a journal, the dates starting after the end, but yet still over seven years ago. With her brow furrowed in apprehension, the mare began to read.

‘…the road was impassable in many places. We saw many ponies and invited them to come with us. Some accepted, some declined. Many of our fellow travellers reported some worrying rumours, of ponies acting violently, even attacking and enslaving each other. I shudder to think that such things could be true. We have been walking for two days now. Everything is burnt. Where is the sun? I cannot see the sun! It has been almost two years, so where are our Princesses? I am a little worried. We have nothing but each other and the clothes on our backs and any food we can scavenge. Where are we going? I do not know. We only need to get away from the city, it holds nothing but death, now.’

The next few entries were impossible to read, the pages having been stained with blood. The mare skipped forward to the next legible part.

‘Sunny reported that she found a cave today. She said she had no idea how she found it, but was certain she could find it again. I knew that the mountains were a perfect choice for our little rag tag bunch of survivors. The stories say that they are riddled with dragon caves. She did say that it didn’t look like a dragon cave, at least not what from she saw. Only time will tell. Any shelter is good shelter. The ash is still so hot. I am a little concerned about Sunny’s cough. That sky cannot be healthy for anypony, but I am not sure she listens to me. She is loyal and dependable, after all. She doesn’t want to let anypony down. So I guess to the mountains it is then. Let us pray we can find it someplace worthy to call home.

‘Success! The cave in the mountains has proved to be a magnificent shelter. Though I am not sure ‘cave’ is the right word. The place is huge! It’s comprised of three massive floors, each one divided into two sections, a large cavern and then a rectangle of tunnels that ring around the outside of catacomb of rooms. There appears to be an entrance on the top and then two on the bottom floor (one of which we came through), though the top one was boarded up and only leads to a cave. There is so much space for us here, it’s amazing. I got Cogs to put out a message on the radios, to try and get all ponies to find shelter here with us. In the morning I will send out a search party to the farms down on the plains on a hunt to find food. I have to admit, though, I am not sure whoever built this was a pony. The architecture… it’s unlike anything any of us have ever seen. Not that that’s important right now. We have everything we need to survive for now, let us thank the Princesses for that.’

The next few entries detailed day-to-day routine in the caves, detailing the struggle to survive in the darkness. After missing a section due to absent pages, the mare started to read again.

‘Another family and a few lone travellers arrived today. There are so many of us now.  Ponies hear our radio broadcast and come from all over Equestria to live in some semblance of peace like our old lives. It’s becoming harder and harder to feed everypony, but that’s of little concern, as long as we’re all alive. Cogs has perfected the water purifier, and it’s such a relief to drink clean water again. Poor Sunny’s health has been rapidly declining, yet she still insists on helping out. That poor mare. There aren’t many pegasi left in the caves, not since Contrail and Flightspeed passed away from lung problems.’

The mare skipped forward a few pages and was surprised to find that she had jumped forward over a month.

‘Sunny passed away today. I knew this day was coming… but it’s not the same without her. She was one my closest friends. I just wish I had told her that… before… well… no point getting upset now.

‘We expanded our little community up to the top floor today. I put my office in there as well, away from the other ponies. I just don’t feel like talking too much these days. Cogs has mentioned that he’s noticed some problems with the water purifier. I’m sure he can fix it, though.’

‘To think… it’s been over a year and a half since we found this little cave. To think all that’s happened. It’s so very dark in here. The water purifier broke down yesterday, though Cogs did say he should be able to get it running again sometime today. We are having food problems again, not surprising considering we have to feed over two hundred ponies. Ponies always get short tempered when they’re hungry. I just have to hope they’re patient and understand that there just isn’t that much food anymore. Here’s to our bright and wonderful future. Also, I miss Sunny; she always knew how to make me smile.’

The mare was beginning to get to the end of the book now and the time gaps between entries were getting larger and larger. Looking around, she realised she had sat down without realising it. Next to her, the filly was reading the old ponies of harmony book, lost within its pages. Satisfied that a rest would do them good, the mare read on.

‘The water purifier broke again today. Cogs doesn’t know when it will be back and working. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everything is breaking these days. Even the radio gave out a few days ago, though we couldn’t take any more ponies any way.’

‘Morning Dew told me something worrying today. She said that she had heard several ponies talk about the food shortages, about how they are angry at me for not providing enough food. Is it enough that I try? Probably not, but I do. Oh Celestia please know that I try so hard. She also mentioned that they said something about chaos… I don’t quite know what that means. Everypony has heard the stories about chaos, but after all that we have seen, they are as likely as the Princesses being alive. So why are they whispering about a force just as dead as the sun or the moon? I may have to look in to this matter further.’

‘There was an earthquake today. It caused a massive crack in the top and middle floors roofs (or floors, respectively). Ponies are beginning to argue again, that the place isn’t safe, that we are running out of food. I just have to tell them everything’s ok. And it will be. I know it. The purifier is almost fixed and soon we will all be ok again. I know it. We just need some more food… There are more ponies whispering about chaos now. I don’t like it. I wish they would talk about something else. Here’s to the Princesses memory that everything will be ok. After all, what more can we do?’

The mare suddenly realised that she had reached the last entry of the diary. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she read on.

‘I’m scared, so very scared. They are everywhere. All my friends, Cogs, Morning Dew… they’re all dead. They’re all dead. A few of the ponies have barricaded themselves with me on the top floor. It won’t hold them for long, especially since they have the mountain entrance on the top covered. They are still whispering, we can hear them through the barricade. They are whispering while our defences’ burn. Oh Celestia, Oh please Celestia. Why did this happen? Where did we go wrong? Why has it come to this? I tried, please know that I tried so hard. All I wanted was for the old days, for ponies to live in peace. I have failed. I have tried and I failed. If anypony reads this, know that I am sorry. Oh Celestia, I am so sorry. I have to say goodbye now, they are nearly through. Oh Celestia I am sorry.’

There was a break in the page.

‘I am not sure if I am scared now. It just feels numb. Goodbye. I will always remember the good days, the days of harmony. Maybe it’s like that on the other side; maybe it’ll all be ok. Maybe…’

And then the entry stopped. The rest of the page was blank, marked only by a few small, crinkled drops. They weren’t hers, but when the mare reached up, her own face was wet. She gently wiped them away.

A small voice yelled within the mare’s subconscious. Something terrible had happened in these caves. Something violent. Despite the evidence that she had seen today that the cave was utterly abandoned and had been for a long time, the mare couldn’t completely force down a nagging feeling of worry. But then... this was nothing different to every other night they slept. Even then, she decided that she and the filly would sleep behind the desk. It was a small precaution, but a precaution nonetheless.

“I think we’ll sleep here tonight,” she said, her voice soft.

The filly nodded her head. “Ok.”

Slowly, carefully, the mare closed the book and placed it inside one of their packs. It would never be forgotten now, always treasured. At least somepony would carry the memory, for memories are all that anypony has left. The mare hoped that one day, somepony might do the same for her. She knew it probably wouldn’t happen, but all she hoped for it all the same.

That night, the mare slept poorly, haunted by a constant whispering whose source she could never locate. All around her, the world burned, leaving nothing but ash and the memories of a world before the darkness.

The sun is setting gloriously over the mountain, washing the city with brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. The stone walls almost appear to be on fire with a radiant beauty. However, the mare sees none of this. She is sitting inside her living room, the sizzling sounds of dinner being prepared making their way from the kitchen. Tonight it is her husband's turn to cook.

"Smells delicious," the mare says languidly, enjoying resting her tired body.

"Darn well better be," comes the disgruntled reply.

The mare smirks. He does not enjoy cooking. Basking in the pleasure of the afternoon, the mare closes her eyes. Beside the pony a record player sings softly to her, the volume turned down low.

'I know that things always seem their darkest,

Right when you are around,

But please believe me when I say this,

I will not rest till our love is found.'

Along the walls of her living space sit several bookshelves, each packed to the point of overflow or double stacked to accommodate their inhabitants. In the corner rests a coat stand, which currently features her husband's work clothes and a red helmet. A wooden coffee table completes the scene, piled high with various magazines and newspapers. Next to her, the chorus starts to play and so the mare sings along softly.

"I tried so hard to complete this,

That I lost sight of the beginning,

And now that we have nothing but each other,

Will it prove to be enough in the end?"

Her husband enters the room just as she finishes singing. He is smiling at her kindly as he walks, his large, honest eyes twinkling as he does. The mare stares at him accusingly.

"You have a nice voice," he offers in his defence. "You should use it more often."

"Nonsense," she replies. "I can't sing."

He rolls his eyes. "Yes you can. Please believe me, you really can. When have I ever lied to you?"

Before the mare can rebut his claim, the song suddenly hits its catchy instrumental hook. Her eyes light up in excitement.

"Come dance with me!"

"What?" he says, not just a little bit shocked.

"Yeah! Dance with me! Now!"


But as he is speaking, the mare dashes over with lightning speed. She wraps a leg around his neck and proceeds to lead him awkwardly around the living room. More than once he has to stop her from bumping in to something.

"This isn't really working," he grumbles.

"How do you mean?" she says innocently.

"You’re limping around on three hooves while I'm on all four. This isn't working."

She pouts. "Hmmph. You’re no fun." She drops back down properly to a normal standing position.

Outside, a siren blasts out into the dusk air, its repetitive whine the only sound beside the quietly playing song.

"But don't worry, you can still sing," he says to her, trying to lighten the mood.

"No I can't," she replies sadly.

He doesn't say anything in return. He turns and walks back toward the kitchen.

"Dinner will be ready soon," he offers over his shoulder.

"Sounds great."

He stops. "Oh, that reminded me, did you lock the door?"

She sighs. "Yes, I did."

"You know that it's new, and you have to turn i-"

"I know," she says. Realising that her words sounded harsh, she offers him a small smile. "We're locked up safe and tight. Don't worry."

"I'm not," he says before walking back into the kitchen. "But you can't be too careful."

As he leaves, the song comes to its conclusion, the soft voice and the piano the only parts left. As the mare stands there, the lyrics fade quietly into nothing.

'But please remember that I love you,

Even though it means little now,

And even in the depths of your goodbyes

I, oh yes I, will stand by you... forever...'

Should they have seen it coming? Should she be able to look back at those days and see all the signs pointing toward their inevitable demise? Toward a future filled with nothing but ash and darkness? Perhaps. But she could not. There were no signs, at least ones that were obvious. Life had been normal, or she thinks it had been.

But maybe there were signs, maybe if she looked hard enough she would remember the ominous reminders that ponies were about to fade away into oblivion. Notice the subtle tightening of the noose around their necks. Maybe the signs had always been there and she was too ignorant, too unwilling to see them, comfortable within her peaceful existence. She couldn't be sure. Memories are such a fickle thing, after all.

It had been such a beautiful day, one of celebration and joy, a day to celebrate the gift of the sun on the longest day of the year. It was meant to be a day of hope and harmony. Who knew that it would be their last? If anypony did, they did nothing to stop it… or maybe they did. Maybe they tried and failed, like Scarlet Quill had done. If so, their story has already been forgotten. Their valiant attempt at saving the entire pony civilization was now lost forever, never to be remembered. Who could know? Who would know? Did anypony ever know at all? It almost seemed pointless to try and imagine these things now. After all, what good would it do but remind her of a past she would never re-live? There was no joy in considering what could have been.

The mare woke to a dark so perfect and so complete she had thought she had died. When she didn’t panic and began to accept this realization, her stomach curled up. She was feeling guilty. It was then she realized that she wasn’t dead, and the memories of the previous day came flooding back. They were still inside a gigantic cave, and they were still desperate for a way out. Suddenly, death seemed much more inviting.

She cursed herself silently into the dark. She couldn’t think like that, not now, not ever. That was the kind of talk that saw a pony give up all hope. That was the kind of talk that saw a pony submit to the darkness.

Fumbling slightly as she did, the mare re-lit the lantern, the magic candle about half used up. She hoped that it would last for another day. Then again, she had no idea when, if ever, they would escape. The best place to start would be to follow the journal and head towards the main entrance on the bottom floor.

The mare frowned when she remembered the collapsed staircase back inside the catacombs. Perhaps there was another one. Or even better, one within the large chamber just outside.

There was, however, a problem that she had to consider. Something had killed Scarlet Quill and the other ponies. What was it...? And more importantly, was it still here? The mare hadn’t seen any sign of anything having moved, let alone living within what the mare had seen of the cave, but even then, she couldn’t be sure. They would have to be very careful in their travels today.

The filly had woken now due to the lantern’s light. She yawned sleepily and rubbed her hooves over her eyes.

“Sleep well?” the mare asked.

The filly nodded her head, still too groggy to answer. Smiling, the mare pulled out the last cookie they had and offered them to the filly for breakfast.

“What about you, Mama?”

“I already ate,” she lied, hoping that the small pony didn’t press the issue any further.

“Oh,” was all she said before beginning to munch happily on the dry and stale cookies.

When the filly had eaten, the mare packed away their sleeping apparel and with the filly walking beside her as always, headed out into the cave. She wasted little time in making her way straight over to the side of the cavern, watching out for another staircase. Her search proved fruitful sooner than she expected - they soon found another rectangle of darkness set inside the cave wall. And this time, it wasn’t blocked with rubble.

Making sure the filly was following her closely, the mare set out down the staircase as it fell away into the mountain, spiraling as it went. She listened out carefully for any noises besides what they were making, but yet heard nothing. The air here was dry and musty, filled with dust.

At the bottom of the staircase, the mare found themselves inside another gigantic cavern, identical to the one they had just come down from. This one even had the exact same jagged fissure running through it. The only difference was the piles of rubble that had crushed many of the tents on either side of the fracture, perhaps overflow from the fallen roof above.

What the mare did notice different, however, was the level of destruction around the tents that had not been crushed. Many more were torn and burnt, the furniture around them stained and broken. More bodies rested in here as well, even more so than the previous cavern, their corpses cast into weak relief by the flickering lamplight.

On their right was another staircase, this one also going down. Eager to avoid walking through the settlement and across another rope bridge, the mare headed down. Hopefully they could skip this chamber all together. Her hopes were short lived, however. She found that this staircase had also been subject to a cave in, the blockage about halfway down the descent.

With no other choice but to turn around, the mare headed reluctantly back up. They would have to go through the cavern and into the catacombs.

Walking through the small town of tents and the dead, the mare noticed the filly staring at the dead ponies with a look of curiosity that scared the mare. She didn’t say anything, though. After all, what was there to say?

It was with a small smile that the mare noted that this bridge was in slightly better condition than the one in the cave above. It featured triangle-shaped supports along each side and two lines of rope acting as guard rails. Just like before, the darkness leered up at the two ponies when they crossed the creaking bridge. It beckoned at them to dive into its inky depths.

Safely on the other side, the mare set out towards the catacombs. The large entrance seemed much less imposing on the other side of its swirling shadow.

Now back inside the familiar tunnels, the mare chose to head left. On their right was the same staircase that had been blocked on the first level. Not trusting their luck, the mare didn’t want to waste any time by finding another dead end.

Much like the level above, the tunnel stretched out into the darkness, doors set along the inside wall. What was different, though, was the contents of these rooms. There were living quarters now as well as storage, or at least they had been before being seemingly abandoned. Small beds had been cut into the side of the rock, rotting mattresses on these shelves. Simple desks or bookshelves also sat along the walls, their surfaces bare and dusty.

Another difference, or at least something that the mare failed to notice before, was that all of these rooms seemed to interconnect. There were doors on all four sides of the room, placed in the corners to maximize the amount of uninterrupted wall. The mare found that each door opened into the room beyond and vice versa until they reached a room connecting to a tunnel.

Every room appeared to be abandoned. They were filled with dust and decay, stripped of anything worthwhile. Realising this, the mare returned to the outside tunnel, still heading in the same direction as they had started. Just where was that right hoof turn?

Almost as soon as she had thought it, the sharp ninety degree turn rushed up to meet them in the darkness, taking them in a direction that the mare had lost all ability to decipher. East perhaps?

They continued down this hallway, rapidly becoming lost in the familiarity of travel. The mare hung her head slightly as they walked; the lantern was certainly not a light burden to carry around one’s neck.

It was like this that she first noticed them in the dust.


There were multiple sets imprinted into the dust all around them. The mare began to breathe heavily, how did she not notice them before?

She stopped suddenly, listening out into the darkness. There was nothing, just like there had been nothing for the last two days - nothing except her heartbeat which was now pounding ferociously.

“Mama, what’s wrong?” the filly asked, her head tilted slightly to the side.

“N-nothing,” she replied. “Nothing at all, just keep a listen out to any sounds, ok?”

The mare watched the filly’s eyes grew wide. That was a mistake. The damage done, the mare walked on, her ears straining to make out any sound in the darkness.

As they walked, the number of hoof-prints grew larger and larger, all of them converging on a single point. The mare stopped when she realized where: the staircase. They were all to and from the staircase they had to travel down to escape.

“Mama,” the filly began, her voice rising in panic, “why are there hoof prints all over the ground? Mama?!”

“Shh! Quiet!”

“Mama!” Her voice was loud now, echoing in the silence.

“Quiet! Please!” the mare exclaimed.


Both ponies froze. They had both heard it, a short metallic rasping sound. It was wraith-like, yet ever so quiet. It had come from the staircase, drifting out from within the shadows.

They stood there, not moving a muscle, listening out to any further sounds. There was nothing, only silence, an echoing, deafening silence.

“Mama, what was tha-?”

It happened without any warning. They came out of the shadows with speed and ferocity, malice glinting from their sunken eyes. Two ponies had jumped out of the staircase, one unicorn and one earth pony, the former levitating a pick-axe and the latter gripping a jagged knife with her mouth. They were filthy and starved creatures with strange tattoos marked all over their bodies. Both were dressed in rags with an assortment of cruel and demonic looking wooden carvings resting around their necks like jewelry.

Reacting on nothing but pure instinct, the mare spun on her front hooves and bucked the charging earth pony as hard as she could. Their attacker was struck hard in the chest and knocked back into the unicorn behind her. Her breath left her body in an audible cough as she tumbled to the ground.

“Run!” the mare shouted to her daughter as she pushed her along the tunnel. “For the love of Celestia, run!”

Not needing further encouragement, the small pony began to sprint as fast as her legs would carry her down the darkened hallway. Behind them, the two ponies were recovering from the initial failed attack.

“Chaos! You can’t run from the shadows of Discord!” One of them howled down into the darkness, the voice reverberating around the cave walls.

The mare and the filly tore down the hallway and soon reached the right hoof turn, taking them back along the way they had first come, only now on the other side of the catacomb. Snatching a brief look back, the mare saw that the two ponies had given chase, their eyes glinting evilly in the light of the lantern.

Discord? The word seemed unfamiliar to the mare, then suddenly she remembered the old stories, the spirit of chaos, Discord. But they were just that - stories. Discord was destroyed in the fires, he had to have been. Unless this was what Scarlet Quill was talking about, ponies losing themselves to myths in the dark…?

“You will help us!” one of them screeched as they ran. “Help us with the freedom of death!”

Run. Oh Celestia, run.

As the mare ran as fast as her legs would carry her, she realized that they had no other option but to go to the staircase on the other side of the catacombs. From there she would have to assume there would be more of these ponies down in the bottom level and make a run for the main entrance.

Practically dragging the filly along, the the mare thundered down the stone corridor, the black doorways on either side rushing past as blurred shadows. They ran through the darkness, not knowing whether or not there were any more threats lying wait in front of them. They couldn’t know, they just had to hope.

Another right hoof bend met them at the end of this tunnel. They were almost to the other staircase now. The mare offered herself another glance backwards while the filly got a head start and saw that the two ponies were still chasing, but further behind, their skeletal sides visibly heaving from exertion.

Not wanting to waste this advantage, the mare forced herself on. Her breathing was coming harder and harder now, and her legs were filling up with the familiar burn of exercise. The filly appeared to be doing little better.

“Just… a little… further…” she gasped out.

On their left the staircase suddenly loomed out of the side of the tunnel. Not missing a beat, the two ponies charged down the stairs, caring little for the loud echoing their hooves made in the enclosed space.

At the end of the stairway, the mare found herself in an identical tunnel to the one they had just left. They had to get to the great cavern, for that was where the main entrance was, or at least as far as the mare could tell from the journal. Guiding the filly next to her, the mare turned and began to run left.

“Fire, shadow, death and chaos!” came a tortured cry from behind them, their pursuers only just reaching the bottom of the stairs themselves. “Intruders in the catacombs! Sacrifices to the spirit of chaos!”

The mare listened in panic as suddenly more shouts rang out through the system of tunnels, echoing dementedly in the shadows. She even heard a howl rip through the air, a twisted mimicry of a wolf on the hunt.

Metallic clinks began to follow the shouts as the mare realised that they were being hunted. She tried to ignore the rising sense of panic and almost threw herself and her daughter around the final right hoof bend they would have to take before reaching the great hall. They were so close now, so close.

“Chaos!” The shout echoed down the tunnel, coming from the opposite direction.

“Faster!” the mare panted out. “We have to run faster!”

The filly whimpered as she ran, her tongue hanging out of her mouth.

With a spike of elation, the mare realised that they had reached the entrance, the gargantuan black portal looming out into the hall. Only now the mare ran straight into its welcoming shadow. They were almost the-

She froze, her hooves skidding along the stone. The entrance was blocked. Huge piles of rubble rose up in front of the mare, filling the great cavern entirely. With a sinking feeling, the mare suddenly realised where all of the stone displaced by the two fissures above had fallen.

The mare turned, desperately trying to work out where to go next. That’s it! The journal spoke of a second entrance on this level, a smaller one like the one they had come in from.

…On the other side of the catacombs. The very catacombs which were currently filled with Celestia-knows-how many cult members hunting them down.

“Do not fear chaos! It always lurks in the shadows. Soon you will realise, soon you will learn.”

The mare spun around as fast as she could, lowering her body to ground to coil her muscles for an attack. Rapidly approaching from the opposite direction were three ponies, all dressed similarly to the ones that had been chasing them. There were two earth ponies and a unicorn; they were all armed so it was the unicorn who had spoken.

“You’re not ponies,” the mare hissed, edging herself and the terrified filly into the middle of the tunnel. “You’re monsters.”

The unicorn snarled slightly. “What more is there, in the shadows of chaos? Nothing. There is nothing but chaos and death. And you will soon learn…”

He motioned to the two ponies beside him to attack, but she was ready. While he was speaking she had positioned herself and her daughter to be in the perfect location to throw herself sideways, taking the filly with her, and into an open doorway inside the wall.

The two ponies landed heavily inside the room and the mare kicked the old wooden door shut with a back hoof as she did. She quickly scrambled to her hooves, dragging the filly up by the collar with her mouth.

“Run,” she hissed. “Through the doors to the other side.”

The filly whimpered but did as she was told, sprinting to the next doorway, heading deeper into the catacombs. Just as they were leaving, the first door shattered open, sending shards of wood scattering through the air.

“After them!” the unicorn screamed. “Everypony after them!”

Refusing to look back, the mare continued to run, pushing her legs as fast as they would go. Each room they burst through showed obvious signs of habitation. Dirty cooking utensils, sleeping apparel or clothes and weapons lay strewn over the floors. Every room stank atrociously, the product of poor ventilation.

Once they even passed by a pony who was chasing them. He stuck his hooves into the stone, holding a spear out in front of him, blocking the doorway the mare had intended to run through. Ducking to the side, the mare pushed the filly off to a door on the other wall, going around the pony, praying that they weren’t being led into a trap.

They were slowly losing their pursuers in the convoluted pattern of doors that they were taking. The mare could hear their hoof-steps slowly fall behind. While they ran, the mare, driven on pure desperation, pulled out the knife from its scabbard on her side. Its dulled and serrated edge glinted in the lantern-light. Could she use it? Probably not, but she was running out of options to get past the ponies who stood in her way. She noticed the filly look up at the knife that she was holding fearfully. Celestia damn us all.

It was almost with a sense of surprise that the mare found herself bursting out of the honeycombed rooms and back out into the tunnel on the other side. She quickly looked around, searching for the looming dark of the small room leading off to where the exit should be.

She found it, but when she did, her blood ran cold. Standing in front, guarding it, were two foals, both barely older than her daughter. One was male, the other female and both were armed and staring maliciously at the mare and her daughter.

“Give us the filly,” the female one hissed. “Give her to us!”

The mare’s blood caught fire. She snorted as pure rage coursed through her body. These were not children, they were monsters. And there was no way in Equestria they would threaten her daughter.

Her vision awash with red, the mare charged the two small ponies. When she reached them, she reared back on her two back hooves, kicking out with her front legs. She was filled with the righteous fury of a parent, her eyes glinting in the darkness. She landed heavily back down on all four of her hooves, threatening the two foals with her knife. Upon seeing the mare charge them, the two ponies had broken, the male sprinting as fast as he could down the tunnel while the other filly whimpered into the wall, cowering as she did.

“Run,” the mare mumbled to her daughter, who was shivering in fear. “Run!” With the filly, she couldn’t be sure they would stay away long enough to escape. Maybe she could buy her time, stop them from catching up. Her own muscles were already screaming in protest.

The filly, needing no further instruction, sprinted into the room. The mare regarded the small pony trembling in front of her, her knife glinting hungrily. She was so small… her ribs stuck out like the supports of a barrel. She was quivering in fear. The mare’s anger broke at the sight of this pathetic creature, crying into the dust, and her stomach twisted into shards of razor sharp ice.

“Keep them alive!” roared the voice of the unicorn. “We want them alive for the sacrifices…”

The mare turned, now facing the unicorn whom was surrounded now by ten other ponies, all glaring at the mare with a hunger that made the pony’s skin crawl.

She glared back at them, their depravity re-igniting the burning sense of frustration and justice within her chest.

“No,” she said simply, the word coming out distorted due to the blade in her mouth.

“Get her,” the unicorn jeered. “Turn her to chaos.”

Before her assailants could move, the mare spun and sped off into the room she had sent her daughter into. She had given her daughter enough of a head-start. The inside was almost an exact replica of the first room they had entered in this Celestia-forsaken cave, complete with shelving and small piles of barrels. Through an open door on the other side there was a tunnel. It was not built of stone, but of earth, held together by old wooden support beams, each one clearly beginning to rot.

Wasting little time, the mare sprinted into the tunnel, chasing her daughter through the darkness. She realised that the small pony would not have had any light and cursed herself for sending her off like that. Behind her, the cult members were giving chase, their haunting cries echoing up the tunnel. Gritting her teeth, the mare just ran faster.

The mare was only just beginning to realise that the tunnel was sweeping toward the left when she found the filly running blindly through the dark, one leg occasionally stretching out to prevent her from running into a wall.

“Mama!” the small pony screamed in relief when she saw that it was the mare.

“Run,” was all the older pony said in reply. “Run.”

Together again, the two ponies sprinted through the tunnel of earth and stone. It was becoming narrower. The mare was sure of it. Her legs were burning now, and her lungs burned from exertion. She just wasn’t sure how much longer she would be able to keep going.

Just a little further... for the love of Celestia and Luna, just a little further.

Then suddenly, bursting forward out of the darkness like a rainbow after a summer storm, a shaft of light pierced the mare’s eyes. She couldn’t believe it, the surface, it was right there! It was right in front of them! They were going to escape!

“Catch them!” the unicorn screamed. “The small one, we have to get the small one!”

And with that, the mare stopped in her tracks, the filly sprinting past her. Anger coursing through her body, the mare snorted. With a savage grimace, the mare turned and bucked as hard as she could against one of the wooden support frames. It shattered with splintering crack as her hooves punched through the ancient wood. Above her, the roof shook, small clouds of dust falling to the floor. Moving to the one in front, the mare bucked again, breaking the support beam. Now small pebbles fell from the ceiling and the earth groaned ominously.

“Mama!” the filly screamed from outside the tunnel. “Mama, please, come on!”

The mare ran forward a little, almost out of the cursed darkness, the fresh air teasing her nostrils with its scent. Behind her, the cult ponies were barely thirty feet away, screaming as they chased. Above them, the roof groaned again, and more debris trickled from the ceiling. She stopped and with one final kick, broke another of the support beams.

It happened so very fast. The roof cracked and then shattered, filling in the tunnel with a resounding boom. The mare dove forward, escaping the falling rock by millimeters. The cries of the Discord ponies suddenly disappeared, muffled completely by the collapsing roof.

The mare rolled over onto her back, relishing in the cool twilight air as the dust around her settled. The light of the sun was low on the horizon, and darkness was falling rapidly. Around them, the trees cast long shadows onto the ashen mountain slope.

Breathing heavily, the mare looked up and realised that they were on the other side of the mountains. The plains of Equestria swept out below them, broken only by the occasional hill or the lone river that snaked its way through the landscape and toward the sea.

Around them, the mountain slope was covered in trees, indicating that they were no longer too high up in the mountains. The trees here were all blackened, and the ground was covered in a thick layer of ash and charcoal, remnants of the fires only a few days ago. Pockets of snow also dotted the slope, melting rapidly from the residual heat still present in the earth.

Her legs trembling from exertion, the mare got up. It would be dark soon and they had to find shelter. The mountain rolled gently down to the plains, forming plenty of natural gullies on its descent. Picking one of the deeper recesses, the mare started towards it, willing her legs to carry her forward just a little further.

The gully was small with steep slopes, trees growing up on either side, reaching toward the sky with charcoaled branches. At the bottom, the mare found the remnants of a stream, small boulders littering the gully floor, washed down eons ago when the stream had been larger. Utterly exhausted, the mare collapsed behind one, and the filly followed suit, letting her body fall unceremoniously onto the ash.

They were safe. After everything, they had escaped and were safe. The mare couldn’t believe it and had never been more excited to see the corpses of the trees standing watch over the Equestrian landscape.

The mare struggled to open one of the cans of food for dinner and they ate it cold. Neither of them cared.

As soon as the filly finished eating, she lowered her head down and promptly fell asleep. The mare covered her in a blanket, watching the rise and fall of her breath.

The mare laid down and pulled her own blanket around her tightly. They were safe… they were safe… They were safe...

The mare winced. The image of the small filly, crying in the dust while she threatened her with a knife flashed through her mind.

Despite the uncomfortable twisting in her stomach, the mare felt herself quickly lose consciousness, no matter how hard she fought against it. Tomorrow they would reach the plains and from there, Manehatten. After that, there was only one thing the mare cared about, and that was home. By the grace of Celestia, she was going home.

Closing her eyes, her mind torn between images of home and of death, the mare finally fell asleep, losing herself to a world of dreams.

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so feel free to let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for chapter 4!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 4: A Statue by the Sea

The light is cold. It’s cold and weak, the kind of light that would not have endeared the ponies of old to their pegasus weather teams, regardless of whether or not it was scheduled. Like the light, the world is cold. Cold, and a light so weak it is generous to call it so after all-consuming fire, these are the self evident truths of Equestria after the end.

But yet, there was no denying it. There still was a light. It fought its way onto the land through the blankets of grey cloud, as they sulked in the sky. And no matter how cold, or how weak, the mare was always thankful.

Dawn brought forward this light onto the wasted earth of Equestria. The mare, as usual, woke with it, her body aching and stiff, reminders of her exploits the day before. They had been lucky - sore muscles were laughable.

The filly, as was habit, woke soon after. She blinked and looked around, her eyes familiarising themselves to their new location. She did this every morning as far back as the mare could remember.

After a hurried and silent breakfast, the two ponies restarted their trek towards their all encompassing goal. They still had at least a full day’s travel in front of them to get down the slopes of the mountain. The mare didn’t want to spend any more time then they had to on these blackened peaks.

As the day progressed, the two ponies climbed rise after rise and fell down into gully after gully. Around them the ground was broken with the corpses of trees, their bodies charcoaled and ashen due to the fires that had passed through here only a few days ago. The slopes were covered in a thick layer of black ash, and the remaining banks of snow had mixed with it to create a muddy slush. It made progress slow, but they continued regardless.

Watched as always by the trees, the two ponies made their way down the mountain. They saw nothing but what the monotony of travel had steeled them to: trees, rocks and the ever-present ash. The mare both blessed and cursed days like these. It was these days that provided a relative peace to the dangers of the world, but yet also gave room for idle thought. The pony knew just how dangerous thinking could be in a world where everything was grey.

She couldn’t, however, no matter how hard she tried, escape the voice in her head. The filly appeared to be suffering from a similar problem.

“Mama,” she said. “Are those ponies back inside the cave, are they going to die?”

“I…” The mare hung her head slightly. “Yes. Probably.”

“Oh. There isn’t any way out for them is there?”

“No. Not after the avalanche and the cave-in.” Her voice was heavy, laden with guilt. Thinking in a world of grey was never a good idea.

“They shouldn’t have to die,” the filly said suddenly.

“Why?” was all the mare could reply.

“Because nopony deserves to die.”

“But you heard them, they would have killed us.”

The small pony frowned. “So? Nopony should have to die.”

“I…” The mare wasn’t sure what to say. “Even bad ponies?” she asked at last.

“They probably weren’t always bad,” the filly replied. “Maybe they were just scared.”

“I… maybe.” Bad ponies tried to survive...  That’s what it came down to, survival. “But they weren’t just scared. They weren’t trying to survive like bandits. They were crazy.”

The filly looked at her closely. “They probably just need somepony to be nice to them.”

The mare didn’t reply. She couldn’t reply. There was no way she could destroy that hope, no matter how untrue it was. The mare knew the world; she knew that those ponies were too far gone. Nothing would ever save them.

“That’s what the mares of harmony would have done, though,” the filly added. “They would have been kind to everypony, and you always say that we should be like them.”

The mare’s heart broke. Where was harmony? Where was harmony?

There had been foals in that cave, not much older than the filly herself. And she had condemned them to die. Did survivalism justify her actions alone? 

The mares of harmony - they were storybook legends, figures from a past so long ago that it seemed impossible to even believe that they ever existed. They were ideals, symbols that lived only through the pages of a tattered storybook in their possession. What would the mares have done? How would they have reacted to save themselves and those whom they loved? The mare didn’t know. Nopony would know.

The filly’s words resonated with her. Be a better pony, just like them. Just like those mares. She wanted to be a better pony. She wanted to live up to the mares. But the world wasn’t the way it used to be. The mare stared around at the ashen landscape covered in a permanent miasma. She stared at the diseased clouds, hanging in the air like rotting curtains. No. It was nothing like it was before.

But that didn’t change the facts. That didn’t change the truth. For better or worse, for right or wrong, she had condemned those ponies to die, and she, and she alone, had to live with that.

The rest of the day passed without incident, the light in the sky quickly slipping toward the west, taking the visibility with it. The two ponies had climbed down most of the mountain during the day. They were now in a tightly wooded area, one that had been untouched by the fire. The snow was gone now too, but the cold in the air remained. The mountain slopes still undulated sharply, broken by steep rises that fell into narrow gullies. However, the mare knew that before them lay the gently flowing country of Equestria’s heartland. That area had once rich and ripe with all manner of plant and wildlife.

Through it all wound a wide river, its grey body moving sluggishly along the earth, visible from a long way away. The mare knew it ran all the way to the sea from the mountains.

As dusk began to fall, the two ponies set up camp in a clearing within the forest. A light fog was beginning to grow amongst the low places of the land, clinging like mould, away from the dying sun’s light. The mare knew that the easiest way to get to Manehatten from here was to follow the river. From their campsite, the river was in a valley was less than a mile or so away, the peaks on the gentle rises visible above the tops of the trees.

They ate dinner in silence, sharing a tin of spinach between the two of them, trying to ignore the texture. It was slimy and rubbery, and it left a foul after-taste in their mouth. A gentle breeze caused the branches to creak in a cacophony of scratching, putting the mare’s teeth on edge. As the lengthening shadows began to consume the world, helped along by the fog, the mare prepared herself for sleep. Following her lead, the filly did the same, curling up into a tight ball.

As the mare’s eyes fought to stay open, the branches continued to crack ominously into the evening. It wasn’t long before the mare fell into an uneasy slumber.

It is early in the morning and the sun is shining brilliantly, while a gentle breeze provides refreshment from the warmth of the light. In the sky there is not a single cloud - the weather teams doing an impressive job for the day’s race.

The mare, in her teens, is nervous. Today she is going to run the Canterlot running of the leaves, and Celestia help her, she’s going to win. Even though the actual race takes place in the valley below the city, nopony seems to mind. It’s the sentiment that counts.

Beside her stands Spades. He too is running the race, though he appears to be considerably less excited than the mare.

“But it’s so long,” he complains softly. “I don’t know if Im going to make it…”

“Of course you will,” the mare replies. “Just stick with me, I’ll see you through to the end.”

“Yeah, but you’re probably going to win the thing…”

“Don’t jinx it!” the mare exclaims, horrified. She’s trained too long for this.

“I’m not! I’m just saying there is no way Ill be able to keep up.”

“Yeah you will. Just try ok? Do your best and all that jazz.”

Spades rolls his eyes. “Whatever. I’m still doomed.”

The mare appraises her friend with a raised eyebrow. He grumbles and looks down at the dirt, kicking it gently between his hooves.

“Don’t worry. I’ll look after you.”

He looks up, a small frown on his face. “Really?” He doesn’t sound convinced

“Yeah, just you wait and see.” She says her words with a forced smile. What has happened to them? They used to be so close… but now… the mare doesn’t know. She loves Spades, she really does, but something is missing from their friendship.

“Alright everypony, are you ready for the big race?” says an enthusiastic voice from beyond the white start line drawn into the earth.

The mare looks up and sees the race referee, a blue pegasus with a cheerful smile, present himself in front of the contestants. She gently pushes her way to front of the line, careful to not bump into anypony and be accused of pushing in. Behind her, Spades follows half-heartedly.

“Alright then!” The pegasus continues when the contests mumble their understanding. “You all know the rules, so try your best, have fun and we shall see you all at the end after all the leaves are gone! May the best pony win!”

And just like that, the mare is ready. Her body tenses like a spring. Her muscles coil, unreleased power surging through them. She takes a deep breath and lowers her game face. She was never really much of a sport pony, but when she had found running, she took to it like a fish to water. And now, after months of training, it was going to pay off. She was sure of it.

The race referee stands back, eager to get the competition started. Beside him, a tan-coloured earth pony holds a chequered flag within his mouth. The mare can feel the other contests psyche themselves up. Clearly she isn’t the only pony with the desire to win.

“Alrighty! On three then! One, two aaaaaaand go!!”

And she is off, her hooves kicking up small clouds of dust behind her that swirl in the air. Looking over her shoulder, the mare realises she is already far ahead of everypony and forces herself to slow down. After all, she knows she has to pace herself to win. Everypony knows that.

The mare felt the familiar thrill of exercise take hold of her limbs. She loved to run, the power of each stride as she flew along the ground. Nopony said pegasi were the only ponies who could fly. Casting her gaze back over her shoulder, she saw Spades keeping up only a few metres behind. He really is fitter than he looks.

The race ran its way through groves of trees, their canopies orange thanks to the multitude of leaves hanging desperately on to tired branches.

As the contestants speed through the Canterlot valley, the ground trembles slightly, and the leaves fall dreamily around them to the ground, succumbing to their inevitable fate. The mare feels good. In fact, she feels great, a feeling helped by the laboured breaths coming from the contests around her. She pushes the pace up slightly, revelling in the power of her legs. She smiles as her competitors grimace in pain.

They were starting the one and only climb of the day, a short rise up the side of valley before they dropped down and crossed the river on the other side for the finish. Her legs are burning now, and her lungs are tightening ever so slightly. She ignores the pain and pushes on, willing her legs up the hill. She has to win, and nothing is going to stop her.

With a sense of relief, the mare summits the hill, gasping slightly as the breeze hits her in the face, rapidly cooling her sweat-drenched body. She grits her teeth into a grim smile. She can see the finish now, just on the other side of the bridge down in the valley below. She can see her victory.

As the hill descends into the valley, the mare presses up the pace. She can hear the hoof-steps of her competitors grow distant and sneaks a quick look back. She can’t believe it. She’s winning! And Spades is still there! Even if he does look like he’s about to drop dead on his hooves…

Even as she has the thought, her friend looks up at her, his eyes pleading. The mare shoots him a confused look and his eyes appear sad, frustrated almost. Confused, the mare almost doesn’t notice another earth pony rapidly closing the distance between them. The mare grits her teeth and pushes herself onwards. She has to focus. She has to win!

They are speeding along the valley floor now, and the arching cobblestone bridge is right in front of them, spanning the length of the sparkling blue water. The mare makes toward it with all her strength. She is tired now. There is no debating that. But she is also determined.

Her hooves hit the cobblestones with a resounding echo. They are rough and uneven, dangerous for tired runners. She doesn’t care about that now; she only cares about the finish line. It is less than a hundred metres away, surrounded by yelling and smiling ponies, cheering the racers to home.

She is across the bridge, and thundering back along the path. She is so close. She is-

A shout suddenly raises itself into the beautiful day - a cry of panic. The mare looks back in horror at the sound of Spade’s voice, only to watch him tumble to the ground heavily, having tripped over one of the cobblestones. She breaks her stride, torn between her friend and the finish. He looks up, or at least, she thinks he does and appears to yell something, her name perhaps, or maybe that’s just the ponies on the finish line.

“Spades… I…” The mare looks between her friend, lying on the ground, his leg out on an odd angle, and the finish line, its promise of victory so, so close. The other competitors are almost on her now, closing the lead she has created.

With tears in her eyes, she makes her choice and speeds off toward the finish line, leaving her friend hurt in the dust behind her.

“You promised…” he cries out, his voice thick with pain. The mare can’t shake the thought that it’s not just physical hurt, too.

The mare crosses the finish line to wild applause, the ponies cheering her victory. She is vaguely aware of a few medical ponies rushing toward Spades. She looks around angrily and confused. She is becoming lost in amongst the sea of well-wishers and congratulators, pressing in around her on all sides. Where is Spades? She has to get to him! She has to make sure he is ok!

When she finally breaks free of the crowds, it is too late; Spades is already being taken away by the medical ponies on a pegasus cart, heading toward the city.

“Spades… I’m sorry…” she says weakly to the rapidly disappearing wagon. “I’m…” But she is immediately swamped by supporters, oblivious to the medical cart in the sky.

The fog had not lifted by the next morning, instead clinging to land with thick tendrils of moisture, further obscuring the details of the world. Rising early, only just able to make out a few metres in front of her with any sort of clarity, the mare packed up their things quickly and silently.

The filly awoke and stared out at the fog that hugged the trees with its damp, misty embrace. They were silhouettes in the darkness, vague forms lost to obscurity.

“How can we see where we’re going, Mama?” the filly asked.

The mare pointed to the horizon. “I can still see the tops of the valley we have to be following.”


“The purple outlines,” the mare said, pointing again.


“You don’t see do you?”


The mare smiled. “That’s ok, I can see for both of us.”

The two ponies headed out towards the ridge, the river on the other side. The trees reached out into the gloom, moisture collecting on the underside of their branches. At least with this fog it wasn’t as icy as before.

On the top of the ridge, the mare looked down. She could barely make out the river crawling its way through the land. The fog was thicker down in the bottom of the valley, settling in the low places of the world. She wasn’t too concerned, however. Travellers were few and far between in these parts, and following the river, they wouldn’t get lost.

Down in the valley, the two ponies were sure to give the bank a clear berth. Despite the fact there wasn’t a drop here, the memories of last time were still fresh in their minds. The water moved slowly, solutes swirling within its polluted waters. Beside the river, the skeletons of old willows lined the pebbly beaches, their droopy branches sagging toward the ground, bearing some unseeable weight.

On their left, the valley wall rose up gently. The same was true on the other side of the river on the right. But the mare could barely see this. The fog was just too thick. 

Making sure to keep the grey-coloured water firmly in their sight, the ponies started walking down the length of the valley.

The fog grew mercifully lighter as the day progressed. While it never truly disappeared, it instead became a light haze, merely obscuring the scenery around them. The land was now much flatter, having left the valley behind them, and now it meandered along with small natural rises and falls, dotted by trees. Otherwise the land was empty, the river the only noticeable landmark.

Manehatten was their destination, and the mare chose this reluctantly. She hadn’t been to the once-glorious metropolis since before the end. A pony was foolish to venture into the city in the years after the fall, as the city had become a haven for bandits and other dangerous groups. That had been long ago, though, back before ponies had started to fade from the land altogether. So now there was a chance it was safe. Especially considering that the tour through the mountain had put them several days in front of any traffic coming along from the west road down. Manehatten was the fastest and most direct route home, and the opportunity to find supplies was too tempting to pass up. Even though they weren’t desperate as they had been in the recent past, food was too hard to come by to pass up lightly.

The river continued to move sluggishly along, almost as if the dissolved ash itself was slowing its speed. The mare was reluctant to draw any water out of it for drinking, but did so out of necessity. Not only did she use a still, but she boiled it as well.

As the two ponies walked, the filly remained silent throughout most of the day. She stared at the ground, her brow occasionally bunching up in frustration. There was something on her mind, the mare could tell. These days it was rare if there wasn’t.

Often she would let the silence rest between, today though she chose to break it. The fog put her on edge.

“Are you ok?” she asked gently, probing the air between them with her question, testing her reaction.

“Yeah,” the filly said after a while. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure. Just thinking, that’s all.” Her forehead wrinkled again as she spoke.

“Thinking about what?” the mare asked.

“The ponies in the cave,” the small pony said reluctantly.

“Oh…” She was still on that. Well of course she was. The mare should have guessed. “What about the ponies in the cave?”

“Why did they want us, Mama?”

“I’m not sure,” the mare replied half-truthfully. She had heard the word ‘sacrifices’ but didn’t want to repeat it. “They were just bad ponies.”

“But why did they want me? What did I do?” The small pony was speaking slightly louder now.

“They didn’t want just you…”

“Yes they did. They said so! They said to keep me alive, especially me.”

I don’t know what they would have done. It could have been something worse than not being alive,” the mare finally said.

The small pony looked at her, confused.

“I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. They weren’t going to get you. I promise,” the mare explained.

“But…” the filly began, but she soon petered off.

“I wouldn’t let anything happen to you,” the mare asserted more firmly. “You know that.”

The filly didn’t reply, and instead stared down at the ground as it passed beneath their always-moving hooves. It was almost as if they were locked in perpetual motion, forever moving without any choice in the matter. The ash made no sound under their hoof-falls and didn’t swirl either due to the moisture in the air.

“Mama,” the filly suddenly began, “what would you do if I died?”

The mare jerked her head toward her daughter who was staring up at her expectantly. Even though the mare didn’t answer right away, the small pony waited patiently, her eyes wide and innocent.

“I…” the mare finally said after a while. “I don’t know.”

“Would you keep going home? That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know… I don’t think I could.” The mare’s voice was strained, as every fibre of her being told her to abort the conversation.

“Then… then what would you do?” the small pony asked.

“I would like to be with you,” the mare whispered. She closed her eyes, trusting herself not to walk into anything for the next few steps.

“But Mama, you are with me,” said the filly.

“I know,” the mare whispered. “I know I am.”

“But then why…”

“It’s not important. I am with you now, and that’s the important thing.” The mare smiled softly at her daughter, who smiled hesitantly back.

“You’ll always be with me, Mama.”

The mare smiled sadly. “I hope so.”

That night the two ponies camped in the ruin of an old windmill, the emptied stone carcass the only remaining structure for as far as the eye could see. The outside of the north wall was charcoal-black, the very stones themselves having cracked and shattered under an immense heat.

While it was still open to the elements, the old, crumbling stone walls provided a useful shelter. It also helped to minimise the light exposure, and when coupled with the again thickening fog, the mare lit the lantern so the filly could read.

She poured over the mares of harmony book, her mouth silently moving as she read each word over and over. The small pony spent minutes staring at the vivid images on each page, lost in the tale of adventure, danger and friendship.

“I want to be like her,” the small pony said, pointing to a purple unicorn.

“Then you can,” the mare answered softly.

“But I can’t use magic, and I’m not brave and smart like she was.” The filly sounded despondent.

“You’re very brave and smart,” the mare offered. “And I don’t think that’s the kind of magic which is important in that book.”

“Oh…” the filly said, looking confused. Suddenly, her ears perked up and she looked at her mother in hushed excitement. “But do you really think I’m brave and smart?!”

The mare smiled. “Yes, I do.”

Beaming, the filly returned her attention to the story book. The mare couldn’t help but notice how rare it was that she got to see her daughter smile like that. Even still, the mare couldn’t help but smile herself.

The city is… alive. The mare cannot believe the sheer level of energy in air. In Canterlot, life is much quieter. Here it is positively electric with droves of well dressed ponies packing the streets, all talking quickly or looking like they have somewhere important to be.

The mare is in the middle of Manehatten, surrounded on all sides by colourful multi-storied buildings with black wire balconies and adornments on their roofs that reach up into the sky. Their fronts are all a mixture of brick and glass set in predictable patterns. On the street, windows display a huge range of wares from services to groceries. Cafés and restaurants are on almost every street corner, their elaborate and sophisticated exteriors gilded by an excess of gold lettering.

The skyline is filled with towering structures of glass. The sky-scrapers reach out into the sky, trying to touch the heavens themselves.

Beside the mare stands her husband. He too is staring at the city around them, a little overwhelmed. Behind the two ponies, the Manehatten metro-city train station’s main entrance falls down a set of stairs and into the bowels of the earth, hidden from the most part from the sun. It was a new addition to the city, miles upon miles of snaking tunnels reaching out to all corners of the city. It was the first of its kind in Equestria.

“It’s a little different from Canterlot,” the mare says slowly.

“Just a bit,” the stallion beside her agrees.

“Well then… what are we waiting for?”

“Nothing… I’m waiting for you…”

The two ponies stand there awkwardly for a moment longer, neither of them moving.

“Whose idea was it to go to Manehatten for a holiday?” the mare grumbles.


“Oh yeah... still…”

The stallion shakes his head quickly, almost as if he’s clearing it. “Come on,” he says. “Were in an exciting new place for the first time, let’s make the most of it!”

“Are we going to drop are bags off at the hotel first?”

The stallion sighs. “Fine, that first and then we go and make the most of it.”

As hard as the mare found it to believe, the day was actually enjoyable. They meandered their way through the city streets, soaking in all of the sights that Manehatten had on offer. The mare took particular enjoyment in seeing the massive hoof-ball stadium in the distance, its gleaming white surface stretching up into the sky.

At lunch they stopped at one of the cafés. They weren’t quite as posh as the ones back home, but were just as ‘modern’, if that was the proper term. There they enjoyed the pleasant day, while all around them ponies moved, bustling as one large, never-ending crowd.

As dusk begins to fall, the two ponies make their way to the marina. Around them, as always, are throngs of ponies. There are couples on romantic walks, families with their children, groups of friends, and ponies who work on the docks. The marina stretches around the small bay of the city, the concrete walkways roped off before they fell into the glistening water. Small vendors selling refreshments or souvenirs to tourists had set up shop on the outside of the traffic thoroughfares.

In the harbour itself, behind the gigantic concrete flood-walls, small boats glide effortlessly across the water, their gleaming white sails catching the soft breeze that dances lightly across the land.

However, the centre point of the bay is the gigantic metal statue that stands proudly in the marina’s entrance, a light held in an outstretched hoof that reaches out into the sky, and a crown resting gently on her brow. She is a pale green colour, the effect of several hundred years exposed to the elements. It is the statue of harmony and one of the jewels of the Equestrian nation. Tall and impressive, the statue stands watch over the marina, a symbol of pride for everypony.

The mare breathes a sigh of contentment. “Today has been fun.”

“Yeah it was. It’s a shame we are only here for a few days.”

“I’m sure we can always come back one day,” says the mare, staring dreamily out onto the sparkling water.

“Yeah, one day,” the stallion agrees.

The two ponies stand side-by-side gazing out over the water way. On the horizon, the sun is beginning its final descent, alighting the sky with a wash of glorious oranges and reds. The mare can’t help but gasp at the beauty of Celestia’s magnificent sun as it bids the earth farewell in one last show of splendour.

“It’s beautiful…” the mare whispers, ignoring the cliché.

“It sure is,” her husband replies, equally awed. “We sure don’t have an ocean in Canterlot.”

The mare smiles gently when she feels her tail being intertwined with his, the couple enjoying the peace of the moment. She leans against him, using his frame for support.

“No,” she says after a while, a contented smile on her face. “We certainly don’t.”

They could see the city a long time before they reached it. It was about mid-morning, and the fog was almost entirely gone, leaving cold, stale air in its place. The city stretched out as a brown and grey network of buildings set out into grids of expanding size. A cluster of crumbling sky-scrapers was just visible on the horizon, obscured by a light haze of ash and other pollutants. Beyond those, the mare thought she could see the sea, but she wasn’t certain.

“It’s so big,” the filly said slowly.

“It is,” the mare replied. “It was the largest city in Equestria.”

“But that was a long time ago, right, Mama?”

“Yes… it was.”

It did not take long for the two ponies to reach the outskirts of the sprawling metropolis. The empty fields of ash soon gave way to the organised destruction and despair of row after row of suburbs. Through it all, the river flowed ever onwards, directed now into a concrete channel.

The city outskirts were mainly residential and were thus smaller buildings, only one or two stories. They were made of mainly red, yellow or brown bricks, though now they all appeared grey or black. Their shingled roofs were all angled slightly. Some had small gardens which were now just patches of ash. A few even had the burnt skeletons of trees.

Most of the buildings had clearly suffered some kind of structural damage, the most obvious being fire. Almost every building had suffered extensive harm from the flames; their windows shattered, revealing charcoaled interiors beyond. Some, however, had been the clear subjects of earth tremors or earthquakes, their walls cracked or collapsed, their roofs caved in.

The streets were empty, wasted and ashen. Occasionally, a piece of ancient rubbish, whose survival was nothing short of a miracle, would dance across the street, the wind giving life to its inanimate form. The mare saw a traffic wagon, its burnt and broken body lying up against a street lamp.

Every now and then the two ponies would see shopping districts. They were large complexes, their walls stained and burned, and their parking lots forever empty. The mare knew they had to go looking through some of these later, but wanted to get closer to the city centre before nightfall.

As the two ponies made their way deeper and deeper into the city, the buildings began to grow taller and taller, slowly turning into the Celestian style towers that had never appeared to go out of fashion in this once cosmopolitan metropolis.

It was here, in the shadow of these tall structures of brick and glass, that the mare saw the first of the dead.

It was the skeleton of a unicorn, its bones broken and burned. It was lying alone on the side of the street, untouched by everything but time over the years.

“Don’t look,” the mare said to the filly.

You always say that,” the small pony answered, not taking her eyes off of the dead pony.

“Then maybe you should listen,” she replied sadly.

It’s nothing I haven’t seen,” she said quietly.

The mare couldn’t argue with that, even if it did break her heart to hear her say it out loud.

The mare is young and on her way to school. It’s still her first year, but she feels quite settled into the routine. A pair of saddlebags filled with books, crayons and pencils rest on her back and jingle quietly as she runs. She is so excited! She can’t wait to see all of her friends again!

Her mother is just behind her. She is smiling down at the mare knowingly, not saying a word, as the small pony skips down the street. The mare hums a tune to herself. It’s no song in particular, but it sounds good, and it makes her smile. Her mother is smiling too, so she doesn’t stop.

The street is lined with large, leafy-green trees that cast a cool shadow over the road. The school the filly attended was a nice one, and around here all of the houses are big and expensive.

She contemplates what they might learn about today. Science perhaps? Or maybe history! As long as it’s not math the small pony will be happy, though. Numbers make her head hurt.

A small shape lying in the middle of the road causes the mare to stop suddenly. Unable to make out what it is, she slowly trots over to it. Her mother hasn’t seen it yet, still a pace or two behind her.

“Is that a bird…?” she speaks out loud. Why isn’t it moving…?

Her mother stops. The mare hears her sigh gently. “Yes, it’s a bird,” she says. Her voice is quiet.

The mare turns, staring at her mother quizzically. “Why isn’t it moving? Is it sleeping?”

The older pony smiles for a brief moment. The mare frowns as her mother smiles. It isn’t a happy smile. “No, Darling. It’s not sleeping. It’s dead.”

“Dead…?” The mare shakes her head. “But when will it wake up?”

“It won’t ever wake up. You don’t wake up when you die.”

Won’t ever wake up…? Can we fix it?” She is getting agitated now. Maybe if they fix it, it won’t be dead anymore and it can wake up! She keeps looking backwards and forwards from her mother to the sleeping bird.

“I’m sorry, Darling. It doesn’t work that way. When something is dead, it can’t be fixed. It can’t ever wake up again.”

“But… but… can’t we take it to a doctor?”

Her mother just shakes her head.

“But…” Her mother walks over and hugs her tightly. The mare’s eyes are warm and prickly and her stomach feels cold.

“I’m sorry. I really am. But this is just how things are. This is how life works. Everything dies one day.”

The mare looks at the bird. But if the bird won’t wake up, is it dreaming now? Or can’t it dream ever again? She pauses. “What if I fall asleep and never wake up!”

“That... that won’t happen,” her mother says. “You will wake up, don’t worry.”

“Is the bird dreaming?”

Her mother looks at her carefully. “No, Darling. It isn’t.”

The mare pauses. Never dream? But if it doesn’t dream and can never wake up... She struggles to wrap her head around the concept. Does that mean that the bird can’t ever fly again? Can it never fly to all of the trees and see the sun and see all the ponies and the other birds? Maybe it had a mom and a dad, and now it can never see them again...

It would never wake up.

“But... but...” the mare stammers, her eyes suddenly burning. “That’s... that’s not fair!”

“I know it’s not fair, Darling. It’s just the way things are.” Her voice is understanding, and she runs a hoof through her daughter’s mane. I’m sorry.”

“Why, Mom? Why does it have to die?” Her voice cracks a little.

“Because it’s a part of life,” she says delicately. “It’s just the way things are.”

It’s just the way things are.

Even though that afternoon her mother had picked her up from school with a chocolate muffin in a paper bag for her, it didn’t quite brighten the tone of the day. It always would be the first of a long list of tragedies, great or small, that chip away at a pony’s innocence. But even now, despite everything that had happened since, it didn’t make this memory any less tragic. Because that’s just the way things are.

They were nearing the city centre now, and the sky-scrapers stood overhead as pillars of destruction and decay. The mare could see the extensive damage that had been wreaked upon them over the years. Every single panel of glass had been shattered, and the metal support frames were burnt and melted. Entire chunks of the structures were missing, and like the innards of a terrible beast, the charcoaled offices were visible inside.

The buildings stood tall and narrow. The lower floors were usually reserved for businesses while the top floors were offices or even occasionally residential spaces. On almost every street corner sat the burnt and collapsed carcasses of the vendors of old, their stock having long since been lost to the flames.

Apart from the wind, it was utterly silent within the city.

But that did not mean that the two travellers didn’t see anypony else. All around them and with alarming frequency were the bodies of the dead, some fresher than others. In front of the old Manehatten Library, lying along the steps leading up to its great, stone-pillared entrance, they found the bodies of almost twenty ponies, each looking no more than a month old. The mare shuddered slightly when she saw the exact same markings and wooden effigies around many of the deceased’s necks that she had seen on the Discord cult members. Weapons of varying condition and original purposes lay strewn around the dead in rivers of dried blood.

The mare made sure to avoid the area around the library after that. Still, it forced her to ask the question: who were they fighting? And where were they? She had thought that there were a large number of rooms back within the caves that looked recently emptied, not abandoned for years like the ones in the higher floors. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

The mare knew she had to be careful. Whoever was fighting could still be around. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from all of the broken windows on either side of her. They were watching her.

Along the same wide-open boulevard as the library, lined on both sides by the charcoaled skeletons of trees, the mare saw the Manehatten royal offices building. The titanic structure was supported on all sides by large, circular pillars. The eaves of the marble roof were engraved with murals depicting the ponies of old striving toward a better future. In front of the building was a shallow, rectangular lake, the water having long since evaporated away. Dead trees surrounded on all sides by stained concrete lined both sides of the lake. There would be nothing worth anything anymore in those halls, so the mare walked on, not bothering to get closer. Well, nothing but the memories of a different time.

The mare made a point to avoid the train stations. Shed had enough of dark places hidden under the earth. The rumbling of the collapsing tunnel still played through her head. Nopony deserves to die… Oh Celestia, nopony deserves to die…

The mare wasn’t sure why, well maybe she was, but they were heading toward the sea. Over the tops of the buildings she could just make out the very tip of the statue of harmony’s outstretched torch and was using that as a guide.

At one point they found the street they were on blocked - a gigantic horseshoe constructed from a hollow metal frame had collapsed from the top of one of the sky-scrapers. It had crushed the buildings below it, sending huge piles of rubble onto the street. The horseshoe itself was bent and twisted, groaning occasionally under its own weight.

The two ponies cut their way through a small alleyway, carefully avoiding the small puddles of moisture that smelled downright dangerous along the walls. On the other side, they merely continued on their journey to the sea.

As they grew closer and closer to the ocean, the mare noticed the increase in the number of shops and stores around them. Many were restaurants or private businesses selling clothes or other speciality items. All of their store-fronts were shattered, the contents having been stolen or destroyed a very long time ago.

They could smell the sea a long time before they saw it. It filled the air with a deathly odour that reminded the mare of rotting flesh. The filly wrinkled her nose, and the mare frowned. That did not bode well for what was waiting for them.

As they came closer and closer, the smell became worse and worse. Eventually the two ponies lifted the loose collars around their necks to cover their noses. The dirty fabric provided some relief but not much. They hadn’t had to use their face masks like this in a long time.

The mare and her daughter eventually rounded a corner, past the ash filled gutters, and the old marina suddenly opened itself in front of them. The concrete walkways were now tainted, their once gleaming surfaces marked with scorch marks and copper-coloured stains. All of the safety ropes preventing ponies from falling into the water had vanished, either rotted away or scavenged. The support poles were now standing alone by themselves, their bodies rusted and rotting. The few more permanent vendors could still be seen but they were all broken and collapsed; only shells of the bright and colourful shops they had once been.

The ocean itself was a dark-grey, almost like during a storm. Now it was laced with thin trails of a sickly milky colour, the pollutants swirling visibly within the murky water. The mare couldn’t help but notice the walls of the marina that touched the ocean were pitted and eroded - the water itself was acidic, literally eating away at the concrete. There was hardly any movement within the water, other than the pollution flowing inside, driven by unseen currents.

In the entrance to the bay were the concrete and steel flood-walls. They stood crumbling and eroding, fighting to hold back the ocean.

Above the two ponies, hidden as always below its sullen prison of cloud, the sun was just beginning to make its way down toward the horizon.

The mare did not look upon these things for long, though. Her eyes were drawn naturally to the enormous statue that still stood watch over the marina. The metal was now discoloured, only the more sheltered regions retaining any green. The more exposed places were now an orangey-red, the heat visibly warping the structure. The south-facing side, however, or the statue’s left-hoof side as far as the mare was concerned, was a deep, dark black, the metal twisted, melted and bubbled. The overall appearance made the statue a multi-coloured monstrosity, half melted and burnt, the other a warped pattern of greens and oranges. The mare could see the spikes on the crown on the left hoof side droop toward the statue’s mane, having melted in the heat.

“It’s…” the filly said, staring horrified at the monstrous statue.

“It’s still standing,” the mare replied softly, a smile on her lips.

“But… what was it?”

“It’s the statue of harmony,” the mare said.

“The statue of harmony?” the filly repeated, confused. “Like the mares of harmony?”

“Kind of… but not quite. This was built before the mares of harmony.”

“But why?”

“To show the world what ponies could do,” the mare said, smiling as she did. “To show everypony what we could achieve with hard work and when we work together.”

“Oh…” the filly said slowly. “It looks all burnt and broken now.”

“Maybe,” the mare replied, “but it’s still here.”

The small pony looked at her mother, but the mare didn’t explain any further. She instead stared up the twisted statue that was still, despite everything, standing in the mouth of the Manehatten marina, watching over the city with a firm, but powerful gaze.  

With nothing more to see, the two ponies turned and walked back towards the city centre.

“Come on,” the mare said. “It will be dark soon. We need to find someplace to sleep.”

The filly nodded her head and fell back into place next to her mother, casting her eyes back down to the ashen streets.

The two ponies wandered around, looking for a place to sleep, but not sure exactly what would be appropriate... or safe. The mare vaguely pictured a building much like the hotel she had stayed at on her last trip, but was unsure that such a building would even exist anymore.

Walking through the deserted streets, the mare made a conscious effort to stop at one of the shopping malls in the district. They needed gas for their stove. She approached the empty parking lot cautiously. The white parking lines painted onto the ground were fading and dirty. The building itself was constructed from several cubes all appearing to be interlocked in a modernist style of contemporary pony architecture - a craze that had just been picking up before the end. While they would have once been colourful and vibrant, the cubes were now filthy with soot, the occasional entire panel missing from its roof, revealing black holes beyond. Any windows were broken, staring hungrily out into the destroyed city.

The two wide, glass doors that would have automatically opened when a pony approached were broken, one jammed forever closed, the over forever open. Both were devoid of glass, the remnants of which were lying in shards around the frames. The mare and the filly entered with careful hoof-steps, making sure to avoid the broken glass.

Inside was a long corridor of shops that ran horizontally in front of the two ponies. The mall was made up of five levels with a narrow oval-shaped hole cut in the middle that soared straight up to the roof, leaving the higher floors fashioned like an elongated doughnut. Metal poles acted as guard railing, the glass that would have filled their frames lying broken on the bottom floor.

The mare noted in disappointment that every store was empty. Judging by the dust, the shelves had been stripped bare a long time ago.

“There’s… there’s nothing here, Mama,” the small pony said softly.

“I… I know.”

“We should go.”

“I know,” the mare replied wearily. But she stayed there a moment longer, taking one last looked at the stripped mall, the hallways empty and deserted just like the rest of the city.

As the afternoon dragged on, the mare became more and more nervous. They had begun to pick their way through individual houses now, looking out nervously for a place to sleep. However, almost every apartment building they entered was in ruins inside, the flames having destroyed the flammable interiors. Many of the floors had collapsed, leaving the rubble dumped in the foyers at the bottom, making entrance impossible.

The mare threw an anxious glance at the rapidly retreating sun as they made their way down what felt like the thousandth barren and wasted street, the towers of brick squashed together tightly on either side.

To make matters worse, there were a few dead ponies in the area, their corpses left forever in the elements, rotting away into dust on the street. She didn’t bother asking the filly to look away anymore.

The two ponies entered a small square, the centre of which featured an elevated platform, a small flight of stairs leading up to it on all sides. In the middle, and surrounded by empty garden beds, rested a statue of a pony. It was a unicorn, staring hopefully up into the sky. The finely crafted marble was blackened and burned. The mare could make out graffiti scribbled on it in a red marker screaming, ‘Where are the Princesses now you -?’ She didn’t read the rest.

Frowning slightly, the mare led the small pony down one of the adjacent streets. The sun was inching itself lower in the sky, and the shadows were lengthening considerably.

“I’m tired, Mama.”

“I know. Me too,” the mare replied, pushing their way further down the road.

Breaking off the side on the street they were on was a narrow alley, not unlike many the mare had seen earlier that day. The mare, as she normally did, stuck her head down the dark and damp passageway, trying to gauge whether or not there was anything worthwhile. In this one, she paused. She could see a small door, hidden away from the wasted and destroyed streets. As far as the pony could tell, the door led to a house that did not share a wall with one of the main streets. Suddenly, the mare was intrigued. If the house was tucked away like that, it might have avoided desolation.

Picking her way through the piles of broken furniture and rusted rubbish bins, the mare slowly made her way over to the door. The filly was close behind her, both of them staring up at the tall buildings leering down on either side.

The door was relatively intact, sporting only a little weather damage. The mare tested it gently and to her surprise, found that it swung open without a fight. Before the pony entered, she took out the lamp and placed a candle inside. She lit it before slipping the lantern around her neck.

With a faint source of light, the two ponies entered the house slowly, watching out for anything out of the ordinary. The entrance hall was faded, but intact. Light-purple wallpaper was still visible on the dusty walls. Branching off the hallway, the mare found several rooms: a sitting room, a study and a kitchen. All appeared untouched, the furniture sitting neatly, albeit dusty, inside the rooms. Even the bookshelves were still filled with stacks of books, organised in a seemingly methodical fashion.

Slightly awed by this perfectly preserved time capsule, the mare walked into the kitchen. Inside, she found a small refrigerator, an oven, a pantry, and an assortment of benches, cupboards and drawers.

The mare approached the pantry slowly and subconsciously inhaled, equally apprehensive and hopeful. With a gentle hoof, she swung the door open and gave a gasp of pure, unadulterated joy.

The pantry was filled with food, literally filled. Cans, boxes, packets and jars were stacked on every single self, all untouched, all collecting dust within the darkened cupboard. The mare couldn’t believe it. It was incredible. In fact, it was beautiful.

“Mama, what is it…?” the filly asked tentatively.

The mare simply stared into the pantry, still at loss for words. Curious, the small pony approached, looking past her mother and into the cupboard. The mare was barely aware of her small squeak of surprise and happiness.

“Mama!” she said excitedly. “Mama! It’s filled with food!”

Finally, the mare broke her silence, a huge smile growing across her face. “I know it is, little one. I know it is.”

The small pony just gazed lovingly into the stacks and stacks of food, feasting her eyes on a sight she had never seen before and probably never would again.

While most of the food was rotted or long past its use-by date, the mare was still able to scavenge numerous tins, cans and jars worth of vegetables, biscuits and other long-lasting food sources. It was biggest stash of food she had found in years, and she wasn’t about to let it go to waste.

After raiding the pantry for all it was worth, the two ponies headed up the stairs with bulging saddlebags and smiles on their faces. The staircase was narrow and twisting, turning sharply as it rose through the building. The mare was surprised to find that the house only had two floors. The height from the street made it look like it was a lot taller.

On the second floor, the mare found herself within a hallway similar to the one they had first entered. Picture frames caked in dust clung to the walls, their fixtures causing a spider web of cracks to spring forth and run along the joins between the roof and floor. However, unlike the entrance, there were only three rooms coming off of this passageway.

The mare walked down the dusty corridor as the light from the lantern cast playful shadows out into the darkness. The first two rooms on the left were bedrooms, their interiors destroyed by the broken windows that looked out over the alleyway. The final room, the only one on the right, was another bedroom.

The mare couldn’t help but gasp again when she entered this one, and a single phrase escaped her lips, “Oh thank the Princesses.”

This bedroom was perfectly intact, even down to the dusty mattress and quilt on the princess-sized bed. On the walls sat a single bookcase, a dresser with a mirror on top and a wardrobe. They were all untouched, all undamaged. The mare could not believe it.

“Mama… that’s… a bed,” the filly said, her voice coloured by disbelief.

“Yes… it is,” the mare replied, similarly shocked. More importantly, it was a bed with a mattress.

“Am I… am I going to be able to sleep in a bed again?” Her voice was rising in excitement now, and her eyes were wide.

The mare laughed. “Yes, little one. I think you are.”

“Yay!” The small pony squealed with joy.

The mare smiled warmly at her daughter who was practically bouncing with delight. The small pony was filled with glee at the prospect of sleeping somewhere besides the cold, hard, ashen ground for a change. For once, their luck appeared to have swung in their favour. She had to admit, she was thrilled herself.

It was the little things like this that made life after the end worth living.

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so please let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for chapter 5!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 5: What the Rain Leaves Behind

The mare is floating. It takes a moment to realise the disconnect, but there is no denying that she is floating. Through what, however, she has no idea. Around her is a darkness as black as tar.

The mare attempts to regain some control of her limbs, but instead they end up flailing uselessly within the inky shadow. She tries to stabilise her breathing, attempting to remain calm. She doesn’t quite succeed.

As she endeavours to rationalise what is happening to her, the mare feels her body begin to move, dragged by some unseen force toward a nameless and invisible destination. As the pony finds herself moving, she begins to hear sounds. Voices. Laughter. Whispering.

Like wraiths dancing around the edge of her subconscious, the noises remain always there, but incoherent, just too far away to make them out with any clarity.

“Who’s there?” the mare cries out into the darkness.

The whispering increases in volume and speed, taunting, laughing and jeering at the pony.

“Show yourself!” It is a weak cry, one that fades away quickly into silence.

Suddenly, the darkness starts to move, twisting and coiling all around the mare, rearranging itself into… something. The mare watches as the shadow writhes and winds itself up into complex patterns that refuse to stay still. She’s not sure how she can see the darkness against a backdrop of nothing but shadow, but the mare begins to spot shapes in the void. At first there is a tree, its ebony-coloured leaves dancing lightly with an unseen wind. After that there is a heart, throbbing with a dark pulse. Next is the outline of two ponies, the larger a male, the smaller female. They approach the mare together, their eyes filled with a murky darkness that refuses to stay focused.

The two ponies stop when they reach the mare, and simply stare. There is no emotion. There is no expression.

“Who… who are you?” she says weakly. She doesn’t know why she said it; she knows exactly who they are.

The two ponies don’t answer and continue to stand still, watching silently, their expressions unfathomable. Behind them, the darkness resumes its shape-shifting, now forming the outline of the sun, burning with black fire. The dark flames roar up into the void, visible yet emitting no light. The mare shrinks away from the heat she can feel emanating from the flames of shadow.

The two ponies in front of her are impossibly illuminated by the lightless sun. Suddenly, they speak.

“Run,” they whisper in unison. “Run.”

“What?” the mare asks, confused.

“Run,” they hiss. Now.”

Behind the ponies, the sun starts to grow larger and larger, growing and burning, filling up the void with its dark fire. The heat becomes stronger and stronger, and the mare is forced to look away.

The two ponies whisper urgently, “It’s burning. Everything is burning. Run.”

The sun continues to expand, its surface bubbling, overflowing, a great force growing within it, trying to break out. The roar of the flames engulfs the mare’s hearing, and she feels her coat begin to singe in the darkness.

Suddenly, the two ponies in front of her begin to grow panicked. “Run!” they shout. “Please run!”

The mare tries to follow their instructions, but she can’t. The void isn’t giving her any traction to move.

“I’m trying!” she yells, flailing helplessly in the darkness. “I’m trying!”

The sun burns larger and more ferociously. Suddenly, it explodes, sending out an unstoppable wave of flames that wash over the void, engulfing everything in a deluge of destruction. The wall of fire rushes toward the mare, the shockwave sending her flying backwards. The two ponies built from shadow have not moved, and just before they are consumed, they yell out once more.


Tears streaming down her face, the mare tries desperately to move, but cannot. She screams out in pain once as the flames reach her, and then there is nothing. Nothing moves in the irreplaceable darkness. It is a place where there is nothing at all.

The mare woke, sweat dripping down her face. She tried to suck in a deep breath in an attempt to slow her pounding heart. Next to her, her form partly obscured by a filthy blanket, the filly was still sleeping peacefully on the bed, a small smile on her face.

There was barely any light in the room, and the furniture was difficult to make out. The lines of the chest of drawers and the wardrobe seem to almost blur into each other, their existence unclear in the shadow.

“Just a dream,” she whispered. “Oh Celestia it was just a dr-”

The mare froze, her ears picking up in terror.

The cry seeped its way into the room from somewhere outside. “Chaos!”

Oh Celestia no. Not them. Not them.

The sound was coming from a distance – roughly in the direction of the courtyard. It was followed by the jumbled yells and screams of various other ponies, as well as the ominous metal clanging that rang out jarringly into the morning air.

The mare launched herself out of the bed, waking the filly in the process. She raced over and started to pack their saddlebags. They had to leave. Now.

“What is it, Mama?” the filly asked tiredly. She froze when she heard the sound of fighting and her eyes went wide.

“Don’t worry,” the mare said hurriedly. “They don’t know we’re here, but we have to leave now before they find us.”

The filly got out of bed and helped her mother pack up their meagre belongings. The food that they had found the night before proved to be harder to pack than the mare anticipated. Outside the cries and shouts grew louder, coming closer and closer to the house.

As soon as they were done, the two ponies sprinted down the stairs and through the hallway to the front door. Reaching the exit, the mare skidded to a halt, suddenly much more cautious. She turned to the filly and rose a hoof up to cover her lips. The filly nodded, shaking slightly as she did.

Slowly, the two ponies exited the house and stepped out into the alleyway, casting furtive glances to see whether or not they were alone. Down on the street the yelling was louder, and so was the sickening sound of metal hitting metal - or flesh - that resonated within the air. The mare could always tell when a cry was to be a pony’s last.

Cursing the dead end on their right, the two ponies headed left out onto the road, making sure to keep as quiet as they could. Metallic shrieks and cries echoed loudly down the street from the courtyard. The mare watched as a mass of ponies tore into each other, using their hooves, weapons or magic. Screams punctured the air as one by one more limp bodies hit the ground, refusing to get up. The mare could clearly see that there were two sides; one group looked like bandits, the other the Discord cult. The members of the cult appeared to be losing and badly. Already, the ground was littered with the dead.

The mare and the filly had just begun to trot quickly in the other direction, trying to stay unnoticed in the shadows, when a cry rose out above all of the intangible ones.

“Hey! You!”

The mare turned, a spike of ice running the length of her spine. Standing just inside the street and a little way away from the fighting was a Discord pony, a wound across his face and side, coating him in his own blood. He was levitating an axe next to him, its surface dripping and glistening within the magic.

“Get th-” the cult member began to yell before he was struck in the side by a spear flung by magic, the force of the blow knocking him onto the ground where he refused to get up, the spear quivering slightly in his side.

The moment broken, the mare started to run, the filly close behind her. She just had to get away. No matter what, they just had to get away. Fortunately, nopony else saw them, too caught up in the cruel dance of death to notice a mother and her child flee the violence, heads held low to the ground in fear.

As the mare and the filly fled, they became aware of just how widespread the violence was. Small fights had broken up all over the city, seemingly overnight. The mare had absolutely no idea where they had all come from. The city had been empty the day before. Wherever they went, though, the Discord cults always seemed to be losing, their dead being the most numerous.

The ponies ran further and further away from the city centre and deeper and deeper into the suburbs. Here there wasn’t any fighting, the sounds of death only just reaching the mare’s ears, carried faintly by the soft breeze that was moving over the land, heading south.

Behind them, several pillars of smoke coiled their way up into the sky, soon lost in amongst the blanket of grey clouds. The large number of smoke towers and their widespread range showed the mare just how many groups were fighting. Literally the whole city was up in arms, none of whom had been present the day before, or at least, as far as the mare could have told.

The two ponies pushed further into the suburbs, leaving the death of the city behind them. Here there was only decay, barely anypony having walked these streets since the end. As the day wore on, the Celestian style towers slowly transformed into individual houses, and the streets became wider. In the distance, the mare was certain she could see the rolling hills of the Manehatten plains.

Another few plumes of smoke joined the rest back in the city centre. The mare could swear she could even see one of the sky-scrapers on fire, the small, bright flames dancing out of the destroyed tower, releasing huge amounts of ash into the air. The mare was surprised there was anything left to burn in those buildings.

At about mid-afternoon, the travellers reached the furthest outskirts of the city, the countryside definitely visible beyond the organised decay of the suburbs. Here the buildings looked like they had suffered serious earthquake damage, as many had collapsed roofs or walls. A few were gone all together, remaining just as piles of rubble in a small plot of land.

“We’re going south again, aren’t we, Mama?” the small pony asked as they walked down the abandoned streets.

“Yes, we are,” the mare confirmed.

“Are we still… are we still going home?”

“Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t we?”

“Oh. I don’t know…” The filly trailed off, letting the conversation fall by the ashen gutters.

They were leaving the city behind them now, and the open fields and gently rolling hills of the Manehatten plains again disappeared in front of them. The mare stood on the crest of one of the first hills and stared out into the ashen landscape, déjà vu hitting her from all sides.

“I know this place,” she muttered to herself.

“What, Mama?” the filly asked.

“I… I used to live near here.”

The filly looked at her mother, confusion clear in her expression. “You used to live near here? But I thought you said your home was on a mountain?”

“Yes… that’s my home. This is where I used to live before I lived there. Back when I was only a baby.”

“So… is that your home too?”

“No,” the mare explained. “Or maybe it was one day, but not anymore.”

“You can change your home like that?”

“Yes you can,” the mare replied. “Home is wherever you call it.”

“Oh…” the filly said. “We’re going to go there now, aren’t we?”

“I just want to look,” the mare said softly, not quite meeting her daughter’s gaze.

“Ok then. We can go and look and your old home.” The small pony said the words firmly, nodding her head once.

The mare smiled and began to walk down the barren hill, the next one calling her forward.

As the afternoon wore on, the mare struck out a path that headed southeast. It was a small detour, but one that she was comfortable in making. She wanted to see what had become of the house where she was born. Her curiosity had been piqued. It seemed almost oddly prophetic, to visit her old home, but in a way that filled the mare with a sense of dread.

The land stayed consistent for the rest of the day, the monotonous barren hills with barely a dead tree on them stretching out for almost as far as they could see. However, in the distance, the mare noticed the ground breaking up into sharper rises, coloured by the familiar smudges of dead trees. She knew her house lay in that direction, on the outskirts of a small hamlet along one of the trading roads.

As dusk began to fall, the mare and the filly set up camp in one of the steeper hills, using one of the few trees to dot the landscape as shelter. It wasn’t much  in fact it was more of a gesture than anything else, but it had to do.  A few small stones sat about, lodged deep within the blanket of ash.

After a dinner that comprised of sharing a tin of beans as well as a mouthful of water each, the two ponies settled down for the night. The mare refused to have a light in a shelter that was so open, especially since she could still see the burning Manehatten skyline.

The sky-scraper she had seen ablaze earlier was now literally engulfed in fire. The gigantic tower was now a pillar of flames, visible for miles and miles - especially in the pitch-black that was the Equestrian night.

The filly curled up into her familiar ball, facing away from the burning sky, and fell quickly asleep. The mare stayed awake a lot longer, unable to look away from the burning tower.

The mare cannot begin to contain her excitement. She is literally bouncing up and down on the spot, and the small basket hanging around her neck is swaying to-and-fro aimlessly in front of her. She is wearing a costume that has the white outlines of bones painted on it, giving her the appearance of being a walking x-ray. If anypony asks, though, she’s a skeleton.

Tonight is Nightmare Night, and the mare has been waiting for this day for weeks, and now that it is finally here, the small pony is about to explode with happiness.

“Easy now,” her father says. “You don’t want to wear yourself out!”

“I don’t think that will be a problem, dear,” her mother replies, smiling amusedly.

“Do you think Spades will be here soon?” the mare asks.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure he will be here any minute now.”

Sure enough, just as her mother finishes speaking, the mare catches sight of the small colt running through the small crowds of ponies out in the streets. He is wearing a zombie costume, one that looks quite comical considering the googly eyes that are protruding from springs on the top of his head.

“It’s alright,” he says, gasping. “I’m here.”

“Spades!” the mare exclaims. “Nice costume!”

“Thanks! Yours is pretty cool too!”

The mare’s mother chuckles quietly. “Alright you two, have fun tonight and remember to be in the park in time for the bonfire, ok?”

“Yes, Mom,” the mare says in a sing-song voice before turning to her friend. “Come on! Let’s go get some candy!”

The small colt’s face lights up at that. “We should try Miss Chalk’s place first. She always gives us chocolate.”

And with that the two ponies were off hunting candy like trained professionals. As the night wore on, their buckets started to fill up considerably with a huge collection of multi-coloured sweets and chocolate bars. The two children loved all of the decorations, and the other pony’s costumes. There were pirates, princesses, fairies and ghouls. They even spotted a few of their friends from school dressed up like scarecrows.

All around town the motif of the eye sits on every street corner, its single purple iris staring down at everypony, causing an exciting chill to run down the mare’s spine whenever she sees it. This is complimented by the decorations and stalls that ponies everywhere have set up. There are games and places to buy food, all furnished by hanging spiders or bats.

The mare loves every second of Nightmare Night.

As the moon begins to creep toward its apex, the two friends make their way toward the park. In the trees there are more bats and spiders that hang from almost invisible wires, swaying gently despite the lack of any wind.

In the middle of the park, in the centre of a large clearing, there is a huge pile of logs and branches gathered from the dead wood of the trees around Canterlot. The mare knew that the wood is to be the annual Nightmare Night bonfire. She doesn’t care that some adults say that it ‘isn’t tradition’ – to her it’s exciting.

Off to the side of clearing sits a small stage supporting a few musicians. They are filling the air with soft background music, something light and airy to keep spirits high.

The mare watches as a small crowd gathers around the bonfire, all waiting expectantly. A unicorn with a single flame for a cutie mark walks up to the pyre, his horn glowing orange in the night. With a bright flash and small pop, the centre of the pyre begins to burn brightly and everypony assembled cheers. The mare smiles widely, watching as the fire begins to overwhelm the piles of wood, licking greedily along their length.

As the fire grows, it starts to send up sparks and shoots of flame. The mare knows that they always place small fireworks into its depth, but it still makes her jump every time.

“It’s so pretty,” the mare whispers, staring into the flames.

“Uh… yeah?” Spades says.

“I love Nightmare Night,” the mare suddenly concludes, breaking her own trance.

“Yeah, me too,” the colt agrees, glad he can finally find some common ground. “Candy is awesome.”

The mare giggles and nods her head before casting her gaze back to the fire. Down in the clearing, the flames continue to grow, bathing everypony in a flickering red light.

The next morning, the two ponies continued through the barren wastes. They were heading decidedly southeast now, toward the more broken terrain of eastern Equestria. As they walked they spoke little, instead letting their near-silent hoof-steps do all the conversing for them.

Overhead, the light moved steadily through the clouds, illuminating the world for all that it was worth. To their left, though the mare couldn’t be sure, she thought that she could see the barest outlines of great mountains. If she was correct, then somewhere in amongst those dark shadows on the horizon was her home.

“Mama?” the filly suddenly asked.


“Did… did you have many friends?”

The mare paused. “I... yes. I did. I had friends.”

“I know you had friends, but did you have a lot?”

The older pony looked at her daughter, unsure at what the question was truly asking.

“I had a few friends that were all very close to me,” she said after awhile.

The small pony fell silent for a brief spell. “But not anymore?”

“No, not anymore,” the mare admitted reluctantly. “Except for you,” she added with a small smile.

“I don’t have any friends,” the filly said sadly.

“What about me?”

“You’re my mom, but I guess that means we can still be friends.” She didn’t say the words unkindly, but they still hurt.

“I’d like that,” the mare said softly.

“All of your friends,” the filly began again, “they’re all dead aren’t they?”

The mare’s face fell ever so slightly. “Yes… they are.”

“I’m sorry,” the filly said.

“Don’t be,” the mare responded. “There is nothing we can do to change it.”

“I guess…” the filly said. “Maybe they’re in a better place?”


For the rest of the day neither of them spoke another word.

The mare soon became frustrated at the seemingly slow pace they were making. She knew that they weren’t actually moving slowly  it was just an illusion created by the huge expanse of nothing in front of her. That did not change the fact that it was annoying her.

They were utterly alone in the vastness of the Manehatten plains. There was barely a speck of anything larger than the remains of a bush as far as the ponies could see, the general enormity only serving to make them feel even smaller. They were unfathomable spots of life meandering over an ashen waste far larger than they could possibly visualise, lone grains of sand on a desert of death and decay.

In the distance behind them, Manehatten rapidly became a faint smudge. The pillars of smoke blended into the haze of the horizon, indiscernible from the ever-present cloud up above. The mare wondered whether or not the tower was still burning, though it probably was, considering the smoke.

Far too soon for the mare’s liking, twilight began to fall, sucking the visibility from the world. They were far closer to their goal now and would easily reach it tomorrow. The mare’s stomach twisted at the though of it, though. She shook her head, trying to clear the feeling. She didn’t quite succeed.

After dinner, the two ponies curled up to sleep, the mare again refusing to create any light in the wide open plains. The filly soon fell asleep, though the mare took considerably longer to do just that. Her mind would not stay still; it jumped at every sound, debated every thought and questioned every emotion. Sleep was a hard-won battle.

The two ponies headed out, guided by the cold light of the morning and the wooded gullies in front of them. Overhead, the mare noted with concern the growing concentration of dark clouds, their bulging bodies visibly growing even as she stared at them. A wind was blowing now too. It was cold and swept along the land with a slowly increasing pace, whipping the ash up into ferocious swirls. There was a storm coming.

By mid-morning they had left the barren plains behind them and had now entered the wooded region of Equestria’s heartland. Here the ground had been too uneven to grow crops, so had been left to act as forest reserves, havens for wildlife. The only settlements here were the ones built along the main trading roads. These roads cut a straight line through the earth, regardless of any obstacles. They had once been the arteries of commerce and production.

The mare knew exactly where her house was. Off in the distance a single hill rose up a little higher than the others, its peak crested with grey boulders. It was in the shadow of this hill, a little way away from the town itself, hidden from the world.

The mare pushed on towards her destination, curiosity burning inside of her. She didn’t know what she expected to find. For all she knew it was probably destroyed, the walls having faded away into the ash around it. What she did know, however, was that she wanted to find out for certain.

At around what the mare guessed to be midday, they stopped. They were so close now, the mare knew. The shadow of the hill loomed up in front of them, covered by dead trees and loose boulders. Her house was less than a mile away, tucked around the side of the hill.

“We’re almost there,” the mare said.

“To your home?”

“Y-… yes, my home.”

The filly nodded her head understandingly.

After consuming a mouthful of water each, the two ponies continued on, trepidation burning in the mare’s heart.

They rounded the hill slowly, listening out to anything out of the ordinary. Above them the hill rose up sharply and all around them the trees watched with burned, dead eyes. The trees here grew thin and far apart, leaving plenty of room to walk amongst them. There wasn’t any undergrowth, having long since died away.

The two ponies stepped around the edge of a boulder jutting out from the hill, and the mare froze. In front of her, about one hundred feet away in a small depression in the earth, was the small cottage where she was born. It was a small, mostly wooden affair with a simply furnished roof. The house had small walls, each featuring a few broken windows, their frames empty and dark. The front door was broken, somepony having bucked it down.

Around the house lay the ashen remains of a small garden, the once-white picket fence surrounding the flower patch now dirty and broken. The most remarkable thing about it, however, was the overall lack of damage. There was barely a scorch mark on the building, seemingly having been mostly protected by the hill.

The mare approached the house carefully, but it simply sat silently and abandoned, watching the mare come closer. The filly walked beside her mother, noiselessly offering support.

The garden is filled with flowers. Dozens of them, each one of the gems flowing gently with the wind, brushing against each other soundlessly. The mare watches them move while her mother digs gently into the ground nearby, humming to herself.

In each corner of the yard, an oak sapling is growing contently, its fledgling leaves a brilliant green. The mare is resting in the shade of one of these trees, keeping her mother company while she works. Beneath her the grass is soft and smells sweet, spongy and springy beneath her body.

Neither of them say much, however. The peace and quiet is comforting. Watching her mother garden is one of the few times the mare stays still for any length of time. She likes watching the flowers go from seeds to the brilliant jewels that lighten up the world when they are grown.

It’s spring, winter having been wrapped up only a few weeks before. It’s the perfect time to plant new seeds and the mare’s mother is taking full advantage of the glorious weather.

The mare watches the orchids that were planted only last year from their first flowers. She smiles softly.

“I like those ones, Mommy,” she says, her voice soft and innocent.

“They are pretty,” her mother replies, smiling at the small pony as she does.

“Can we plant more, please?”

“Not this year. We have to plant new things every year. That way everything gets a chance to grow. Every flower gets a chance to live.”


“But don’t worry,” her mother adds, “we will still plant a few more.”

The mare smiles.

They moved past the desolate garden and approached the broken front door. The door was lying on the ground, its twisted hinges having been bucked right from the frame, splintering the wood in the process.

Neither hearing nor seeing anything out of the ordinary to suggest that they weren’t alone, the two ponies entered the house.

They were welcomed into a dimly lit sitting room. Bare wooden walls stripped of even the panelling seemed to draw close around the ponies, leaning in on them. The room itself was almost empty, featuring only a broken sofa with mouldy stuffing spread around like the intestines of some horrific murder victim and an empty fireplace, the stone black from use.

The mare could see nails protruding from the walls were pictures would have once hung, but now they were bare, having been removed a long time ago.

There were two doors that led off from this room, and the mare chose the one on the right, the one that headed to the kitchen. Leaving the empty sitting room behind them, the two ponies walked into a narrow corridor, more empty picture frames on the wall. Here the wooden panelling had been removed to about leg height on the ponies, giving the impression that the corridor had been almost cut in half.

The mare took the first door on the right and stepped slowly into the kitchen. Her eyes narrowed slightly when she saw the damage that had been wrought upon this room. Everything had been destroyed. Cupboards lay smashed on the ground, drawers splintered next to them, their homes empty and dark. The oven had been kicked in, glass lying on the floor in jagged chunks. The fridge door stood open. Its grimy interior was sparse except for a few wire racks. Somepony had clearly ransacked this room thoroughly, taking everything, not just items of use.

“What are you making, Mommy?” the tiny pony asks in a sing-song voice, her eyes shining.

Her mother smiles at her patiently. “I’m making a cake. Would you like to help?”

“Yes, please!” the mare exclaims, bouncing as she does.

“Excellent. Can you please get me the flour from the pantry?”

The mare rushes over to the door, eager to help. She pushes it open and gets up onto the bucket placed strategically so she can access the shelves. The pony stands up on her two back hooves, her balance unsteady. She grabs the white sack of flour with her mouth and begins the journey down. She doesn’t, however, take into consideration the weight of her quarry.

With a short cry and a large ‘thump’, the mare comes crashing down to the floor, the bag of flour landing on her face with a soft ‘thwack’.

“Ow…” the small pony says, trying to hold back tears. She doesn’t want to cry, she can’t let Mommy down.

“Oh goodness!” her mother fusses, rushing over to her side and removing the flour from her face. “Are you ok? Are you hurt?”

Rolling over, the mare sniffs once. “I’m… I’m ok…” She stares down at the ground, not wanting to meet her mother’s gaze.

“Little one,” her mother begins, lifting her face up with a hoof. “You need to be more careful.”

“I… I know…” she whispers, trying to bite back the tears. She can’t cry, she just can’t.

Her mother smiles at her gently. “Now, we have a cake to make, and I need my number one assistant on board. What do you say? Do you think you can help me beat the mixture?”

The mare nods her head quickly, a small smile breaking on her lips. She can beat the mixture! And then maybe she will get to lick the spoon afterwards! The tears are already disappearing.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” the older pony asks, a mischievous grin on her face.

The mare jumps up, ready, willing and able to help, her previous mistake already forgotten. It was time to make a cake!

The mare and her daughter left the kitchen, re-entering the wooden hallway. The door at the end of the corridor was the one on the left, and it led to the study. This room had always acted as a place of solace between the two sections of the house. The living areas of the kitchen and lounge room formed one side and then the bedrooms were on the other.

The old wooden desk that had sat in the middle of the room was gone, the musty carpet now bare and empty. There used to be bookshelves on these walls, but all but one are gone now, the lone remainder lying splintered on the floor. The window on the far wall was broken. The rotting curtains clung onto their rusting supports.

Walking through the room, the two ponies left the study. In front of them was another corridor, identical to its counterpart on the other side of the study.

Four doors branched off this hallway, two on the left, and two on the right. Both of the ones on the right were bedrooms, while the two on the left were the bathroom and sitting room, respectively.

The mare paused to briefly examine the first bedroom, the one that had been her parents. The only piece of furniture left in it was the empty bed frame, the springs rusting and covered in grime. The walls were bare, and the ground was filthy, soiled rags lying discarded next to gruesome stains on the carpet. There was a foul smell in the air. The mare closed the door quickly.

The bathroom door was open, partly revealing a grimy interior. The tiles’ current condition was a stark contrast to the glistening white that her mother had always kept them in. The mirror on the wall was shattered, shards of glass lying, un-reflective, on the dirty floor. The medicine cabinet beside it was broken, the doors hanging on limply, the shelves empty.

Outside, the wind whistled through the broken windows. It had picked up considerably in strength since they had entered.

Filled with apprehension, the mare approached the last room of the house cautiously. This was her room. It was where she had lived. It was her rock of stability in a world where growing up is never easy, never straightforward. A long time ago this was her home, and this room was the centrepiece to that idea, the cornerstone of her identity. It was her bedroom.

Inhaling slowly, the mare paused in front of the door while the filly watched on silently. Lifting her hoof up off the wooden floor, the mare pushed open the door to reveal

The mare is colouring in a picture she just finished herself. The picture is of herself and her parents. All three ponies are smiling under the shade of a big tree while above the sun smiles, literally, down on the family. Around them are flowers, some of them red, some blue, some white. On the top of the page reads the crudely scribbled title: ‘Me and my family’.

The memory shifts. A doll sits across from the mare, and she is serving it tea. She lifts the tea-pot as carefully as she can, trying to make sure it doesn’t shake.

“Mwor tee?” the mare mumbles through a clenched jaw.

The doll stares back at her in silent and constant agreement. Tilting her head slowly, the mare pours out some of the invisible liquid into an empty cup before placing the tea-pot back in the middle of the table. She sighs; this feels kind of silly.

Another memory. Now she is lying in her warm and cosy bed, the covers pulled up to her chin. Her eyes feel so tired, almost as if something is physically weighing them down. Outside, the trees are illuminated by the light of the moon, their leaves now appearing almost silver in the night air.

Her mother walks into the room, smiling as she always does.

“Bed time, little one,” she coos affectionately. “You have a brand new day waiting for you tomorrow.”

The mare yawns, her ears popping slightly as she does. She smacks her mouth open and closed twice to clear them.

“I love you, Mommy,” she says sleepily, rapidly loosing the fight to stay awake.

“I love you too, little one,” her mother replies. “I love you too.” Her voice echoes slightly as the mare falls into a deep sleep, soon lost in a world of dreams and peace.

“I love you too.”

- nothing. Absolutely nothing. The mare froze, staring into the empty room. It was completely empty; every piece of defining furniture had been removed. The panelling on the walls was gone, leaving the insulation peeking through into the dimness. Even the curtains were missing, their empty supports sticking out of wall, framing the top of the window.

There was literally nothing inside, nothing except for two ponies, their shoulders low to the ground, their mouths closed.

Suddenly, the mare turned to leave. The filly jumped back slightly, taken aback by the abruptness of her mother’s movement.

“What’s wrong, Mama?” the filly asked.

“We shouldn’t have come here,” the mare said simply, walking out of the room.

“Why not?” the small pony pressed, almost tripping over her hooves to catch up.

“Because there was nothing here. There was nothing left.” Nothing except the memories.


“Let’s just go,” the mare interrupted. “We need to find someplace to camp. There will be a storm soon.”

The filly fell silent at that, letting her body fall into a natural rhythm next to her mother’s. They left the house, stepping over the broken front door, and left it behind them. Not once did the mare look back. Not once.

While the two ponies had been inside the house, the weather had gotten progressively worse. Now the wind whipped around them ferociously, tugging at their clothing with sharp, cruel talons. Ash swirled through the air in lines, racing across the earth like the runners of old. The clouds were almost black now, their bodies huge and bulging, just waiting to explode onto the earth in a torrent of rage.

The mare pressed on through the trees, keeping head down low against the wind. The filly walked close behind her, trying to use her body as some sort of slip-stream.

Heading southeast, the mare saw what she was looking for, or at least the indication of it. The land became much more broken in the south, falling into steep gullies and ravines. The mare knew from her time as a child here that there were several caves in these gorges – perfect shelter from storms.

Pushing themselves onward, the two ponies drew nearer to the jagged scars in the earth. They were like the claw marks of some gigantic monster. The trees stood evenly, their branches creaking in the wind.

Upon reaching the first canyon, the mare looked down the length of the gully to find that the walls were too short to hold any caves. Frustrated, she began to pick her way down the steep slope to get to the other side. The walls of these ravines were covered in scree, now even more slippery because of the ash. Placing her hooves carefully to make sure she didn’t slip, the mare climbed down to the bottom of the valley.

It was quieter down in the gully, the wind struggling to puncture its depth. The shelter provided by the shallow walls allowed the trees in the bottom of the ravine to grow a little taller. They were almost the same height of the ones sitting on top the cliffs.

The mare wasted little time in finding a route back up on the other side, one with small boulders that provided a more stable footing. Making sure that the filly was still behind her, the mare began to climb.

When they were near the top, they sky began to break. Large, fat raindrops plummeted to the ground, striking the ash with a soft pfft or the rocks with a loud slap. There were only one or two now, but soon there would be countless numbers. The mare turned to the small pony behind her.

“Hurry. We have to hurry.”

“I… know…” the filly gasped out, making the mare realise how fast she was pressing them.

“It’s not much further,” she said more gently.

The filly just kept on climbing.

At the top of the ravine, the mare raced over to the next miniature canyon. There was only a distance of about twenty metres between the scars in the earth, and so the mare covered that distance in no time at all.

“Come quick!” she called back excitedly. “I think I’ve found one!”

The filly quickly closed the distance between them, trying to catch her breath as she did. Down in the gully she could see that her mother was right. A black opening gaped at them from about eighty feet away from their position.

Eager to get under shelter as soon as they could, the mare began racing down the wall of the ravine, slipping and sliding as she did. Around them, the raindrops started to fall more often, their cold bodies hitting against the ponies’.

At the bottom of the gully, the mare started to race up to the cave, making sure that the filly was behind her. The cave was framed by a ring of rock, its surface weathered and beaten. The mare slowed when she drew near to the entrance. It was silent inside. The only audible sounds were the ones from the fledgling storm. Taking the lantern out of their saddlebags, the mare lit it and let the light pour into the cave, illuminating it with a flickering orange light.

The cave itself was small and empty, only about twenty feet deep. The walls formed a rough cylindrical tube. Small piles of rubble lay scattered around on the ground. It wasn’t much, but it was warm and it was dry, two facts the mare breathed a sigh of relief for. She didn’t want to risk infection in the cold and rain.

Behind the mare, the filly also entered the cave, staring blankly at her new surroundings. She shook herself to clear most of the water from her mane, and then sniffed once. The mare undid the buckles on their bags and let them fall to the ground in a rough heap, clanking as they did.

Outside there was a flash, followed closely by the resounding boom of thunder. The filly jumped slightly at the loud noise as the earth shook slightly. A second later, it began to rain, only this time, truly, properly rain. The mare watched as the ash soon became soaked into a mushy slush as the sky continued to deposit torrents of water onto the ground.

The mare’s stomach suddenly grumbled loudly, and she stared at it, frustrated. Then again, it probably was time to eat. She wasn’t sure if it was just the storm, but it was very dark outside. The pony sat down and tiredly withdrew some tins of beans and their stove. She stared at the filly expectantly, who joined her on the cave floor.

“We don’t know how long the storm will be,” the mare said. “So let’s try and get some rest, ok?”

The filly nodded her head, waiting patiently for her food. When it finally arrived, she gobbled it up greedily, licking the plate clean of any scraps of sauce that may have been left. The mare did the same, savouring every last morsel. To finish up the meal, the mare passed the water bottle to the small pony, watching as she drank from the old metal canteen. When she had finished, the mare took a mouthful herself, letting the poorly cleaned water, tainted with a faint metallic taste, wash down her dinner.

The two ponies settled down after that, resting as outside the rain continued to pummel the ground. There was so much water that the mouth of the cave had formed into a miniature waterfall, the rain rushing down into the valley below. Occasionally the world would be illuminated by a great flash before it shook with the reverberating explosion of thunder that followed shortly after.

Later that evening, the filly perked up quietly, obviously coming to the end of a long internal discussion.

“Mama?” she began slowly.


“Where are we going now?” Her voice was hesitant, unsure.

 “Home,” she said. “We’re still going home.”

The small pony frowned slightly. “But… but what happens if we get there and there is nothing left, just like at your old home today?”

The mare was silent for a long time, staring past the filly and out into the rain, watching as it fell with a vengeance, soaking the earth till it overflowed.

“I’m still going,” she said finally.

“But why, Mama?” she pressed almost pleadingly.

“Because I have to see where I lived, just one last time, no matter what’s waiting for me when I get there.” She spoke the words more to herself than her daughter.

“I… don’t understand,” the filly admitted.

“I know,” the mare said, suddenly apologetic. “And I’m sorry.”

“Will we be ok, Mama?” the filly suddenly asked.


“Yes we will, don’t worry. I promise to look after you.”

“But will you be ok as well?”

“Of course I will be. If you’re ok, then so am I,” the mare said matter-of-factly.

“Ok…” the filly said, but she didn’t look convinced.

“Look, try to get some rest ok?” the mare suggested gently.

The filly nodded once before laying her head back down on her makeshift pillow. She wrapped her tail around herself tightly and turned her head away from the mare.

Frowning, the mare followed suit, preparing herself for sleep. She pulled the blankets around her tired and battered form tightly before she reached over and blew out the light, extinguishing all visibility, leaving nothing but the sound of the wind and the rain as they fought against the earth.

The mare knows the shadows this time. She watches them writhe with a certain air of familiarity, waiting for them to take shape into something recognizable.

Almost as if it recognises her complacency, the shadows seem to hiss and move faster, pressing down on the pony with an intangible weight. She grimaces slightly in discomfort.

Suddenly, they subside slightly, cooling off as they move. The mare watches as they rearrange themselves, forming walls, a roof and a floor.

Before long, the mare finds herself in a cave, identical to the one she should be sleeping in right now. Beside her stands a figure, wrapped in the darkness, its eyes glistening like obsidian. The pony-shaped shadow approaches the mare, watching her with its lidless gaze.

“Mama?” it asks quietly, unsure, testing.

“Yes, little one?” she finds herself replying out of habit. Though she’s not sure she could have said anything else whether she had tried or not.

“Why is the world burning, Mama?” the shadow-filly asks.

“It’s not burn-” the mare begins, but stops, her mouth open in horror.

Outside the mouth of the cave, there is a sickening orange glow, casting a horrific light onto the forms of shadow inside. The mare watches as the orange glow reveals itself to be fire, the flames licking along unseen fuel as it roars into an unstoppable inferno. She gasps as she sees the rain, the long shafts of fire shooting down from the sky, engorging the destruction on the ground.

“I… I don’t know,” the mare says, her voice shaky.

“But it is burning, Mama,” the shadow-filly replies. “It’s burning everything. Look, even the rain is on fire, Mama.”


“How can we escape now? How can we get out if everything is burning, Mama?” Her voice is flat, neutral and apathetic.

“We… can’t,” the mare admits, her heart sinking.

“Well, there is always one option,” the shadow whispers before turning and walking towards the entrance of the cave.

The mare looks up, horrified. “Wait! Where are you going?!”

“Going? Where am I going?” the shadow says, stopping just in front of the entrance, her entire body seemingly illuminated from within by the fire. “I’m going someplace nice, Mama. There is something there that I have to see one last time.”

She is begging, her voice cracking as she tries to get her shadow-daughter to stop. “Please don’t leave me! Please, please don’t leave me!”

The shadow-filly looks at her.

“Please, please don’t leave me!” The mare is crying now, the hot tears streaming down her face. “Please!”

“It’s too late now, Mama. I’m already leaving.” She starts to walk toward the entrance.

“But where?! Please don’t leave!”

The shadow stops, one hoof reaching out toward the fire. She turns her head slowly, her face blank. “Home. I’m going home, Mama.”

The shadow steps out into the fire. The flames roar eagerly to engulf her entire body, utterly consuming it in a wall of fury.

“No!” the mare screams. “NO!”

The mare jolted upright, her whole body shaking. Outside, it was barely raining anymore, the thunderous downpour replaced by the soft sounds of water dripping from branches or rocks. The wind also almost gone as well, leaving just the ghost of a breeze in its place.

The fact that the mare could see anything at all told her it’s already dawn. Her whole body was drenched in sweat, so the mare rolled over onto her front so she could stand up.

Throwing her gaze around her, her eyes fell on the shape of her daughter, whose wide eyes stared up at her in fear.

“Are you ok, Mama?” the filly whispered.

“Y-yes,” the mare replied. “I’m ok. It was just a dream.”

“I had a bad dream,” the small pony said almost wistfully.

“Do you want to talk about it?”


“Are you sure?”

The filly was silent for a moment, gazing outside of the gaze, watching as the occasional drip of rain fell from the roof. “It’s stopped raining, Mama.”

“But…” She stopped. “Yes, it has.”

“Will we be leaving today?” the filly asked

“Yes. We should probably keep moving,” the mare replied.


The mare walked over to the mouth of the cave and peered out into the gloom. The earth was still very dark, and the clouds were thicker than normal, turning the air into a dark, bruised colour. Along the walls of the gully, the mare could see the remnants of the storm-water rushing down in several impromptu rivers to join a six feet wide stream down in the bottom. The storm had been ferocious, and several trees had been uprooted, lying in the mud, their bodies shattered and broken.

Turning back inside, the mare opened the saddle bags and prepared a meagre breakfast of some savoury biscuits she had found in the Manehatten house. They were rock hard and stale, but they were food. The filly still devoured it all without complaint.

The mare knew that they were not desperate for food - thanks to their find in Manehatten. But she didn’t want to waste anything, especially considering she had no idea when they would be able to find food next. She did note, however, the disturbing lack of fuel for their small stove. She should have looked harder in Manehatten. Gas was even harder to come by. She didn’t really use the stove much now, but the old notions of trade were hard to remove. Gas used to be worth a lot to the right pony. Used to.

After breakfast, the mare readied herself for travelling, strapping on their saddlebags with a routine as worn as the bags themselves. The filly stood waiting by the mouth of the cave. She looked down at the ground, muddied and covered in an ashen slush from the storm.

“We will have to go slowly,” the mare said. “So be careful, ok?”

The small pony nodded her head once to show her understanding. Together, they stepped out of the cave and resumed their journey south. The ground proved difficult to walk on; the mud sucked on their hooves greedily, squelching with each step.

They made their way to the top of the ravine and started to head southeast along the rest of the scars. It soon became apparent to the mare that they couldn’t keep climbing down and up each one, and so instead they moved along the top of the ridges. She would wait till the canyons were shallower before attempting to scale them.

In each ravine the mare could see the damage inflicted by the storm. Huge paths of earth had been cut out by the rain, the erosion causing small landslides along many of the steeper cliffs. Entire trees had been brought down by these landslides, now lying in the rivers at the bottom.

At about midday, the mare stopped in front of the largest canyon they had encountered all day. This one broke the pattern they had found and was running from the northeast to the southwest rather than the northwest to the southeast. The sides of the gully were almost sheer drops. Trees and boulders jutted out of the walls at regular intervals.

The mare looked down both ends of the valley, and saw that it seemed to stretch on for as far as they could see, almost in a dead straight line. Down to the south, visible in the distance, the land was broken by several more gullies that appeared to connect to large one in front of them. Rather than climb these, the mare went northeast, hoping that it would end soon so they could get back on track.

They followed the ridge, surrounded on their left by a thicket of dead trees. The wooden corpses grew close together. It gave them the appearance of huddling together for warmth, their branches all leaning southwards with the wind.

On their right, the ground fell away sharply to a distance of about sixty feet. The two ponies kept away from the ridge, choosing to walk along the edge of the thicket. They kept the ravine in their sights at all times.

The mare focused on placing each hoof onto the ground, watching as each step sent flecks of mud flying up onto her clothing. She was covered in splatters of mud – just like what she had seen on the butchers of this new world. She quickly looked away, choosing the sky instead. There she was met with the tumultuous clouds. They were still so angry, rolling within each other, charged with a pent up rage.

Crack. The mare froze, her ears snapping to attention. Beside her, the filly stopped mid-stride, one of her front hooves still raised off of the ground. The two ponies waited, listening intently.

They were met by silence. Cautiously, the mare took a step or two toward the trees where she had heard the sound. She peered between their cracked and burned bodies, her vision quickly running into an accumulative wall of trees. Inside, nothing was moving. A soft swirl of ash circled around a branch that had fallen to the ground. The forest was dead, and it was falling apart. There was nothing there. There was nothi-

Suddenly, a soft striking sound caused the two ponies to snap toward the other side. It had sounded like two rocks, or hooves, hitting against each other, and it had originated from inside the canyon.

The mare’s ears pricked up. There it was again, a soft, sharp clipping sound, repeating again and again. Then it was silent, the emptiness resonating in the air.

Her heart pounding, the mare undid the saddlebags and handed them over to the filly. She made sure to stick the knife into a loop of fabric on her front leg before she passed the saddlebags.

“What are you doing, Mama?” the small pony whispered urgently, her voice filled with fear.

“I’m going to have a look,” she replied. “Go hide in the trees, ok? There is a boulder inside, wait there.” She didn’t want her daughter with her in case she had to run away. The small pony wasn’t as fast as her; the cave had shown her that. It was better she hide.

“No, Mama!” the filly whimpered. “Don’t go!”

“I’m just having a look. Please go and hide.” Her voice was quiet, but blunt. She wouldn’t risk being ambushed again, and she was certain the forest was clear.


“Now,” the mare pressed, placing the saddle bags over the filly’s back as she did. “I won’t be far. I promise.”

The filly stared at her briefly for a moment, her eyes both terrified and sad. She opened her mouth but then closed it before turning and walking toward the boulder. The mare watched her go for a moment, her figure disappearing between the trees. She felt a stab of guilt spike through her gut, but ignored it. She was being proactive now; she wasn’t going to fall in to another trap.

The mare made her way slowly over to the ravine, keeping her body low to the ground to minimise the sound her hooves made. She winced every time they made a wet noise in the mud.

The mare crept closer to the edge of the gully. She stuck her head out over the edge and peered downwards. Sweeping away from her, the walls of the valley fell down into a collection of trees and boulders. At the bottom, she could see the white-water of a raging stream, engorged by the storm.

A sudden flash of movement caused her head to jerk to the side. She stared intently down the ravine, watching for the shadow that she could have sworn had just danced behind a tree. She waited, but there was nothing, just the faint sound of water moving a long way below.

The mare began to move, walking down the edge of the ravine, keeping her eyes fixed on the offending tree. She had moved about eighty feet down the gully when her eyes locked onto more movement – a shadow, dancing lightly down the gully just a little bit further down. The trees blocked her view, so she couldn’t be sure.

She stopped a little way further and glanced back. She had come further than she had meant to, the thicket of trees blurring in the distance. Her brow furrowed, she had come all this way and found nothing. Absolutely nothing. She lightly kicked a small stone off the edge of the ravine and watched it dance down to the bottom. Just the like the shadows before…

She groaned. How could she have been so stupid? How-

A small scream cut its way through the afternoon air, a piercing cry that turned the mare’s heart to ice. It came from the trees.

“No…” she whispered. Her daughter.

Panicking, the mare spun on her hooves, preparing herself to sprint toward her daughter. Suddenly, the world slipped, disappearing beneath her  The mare watched as the world corkscrewed on itself as she fell. Her body hit the slightly sloping gully wall, and she began to roll uncontrollably, carried by a wall of mud and stones, all loosened by the rain.

The mare felt several stabbing pains as she rolled, her world blurred and incoherent as around her the trees passed by as shadows. Then without warning, she came to an abrupt stop, hitting a bank of ash hard.

Coughing, her whole body aching and sore, the mare tried to clear her head. The remains of the landslide ran up the steep wall in front of her. Around the pony, it continued to deposit trickles of loose earth.

She groaned, which sent a stabbing pain through her side. Shaking her head slightly, the mare tried to stand. Her muscles ached and there were several shallow cuts and scrapes that burned as she moved, but otherwise everything seemed to be in one piece. The mare sent a silent thank you to the heavens that she had missed all of the trees or boulders on the way down.

She froze. The filly! She was still up on top! Her eyes widening in panic, the mare desperately looked around. On both sides the walls were too steep to climb, and the ground would have been too loose anyway.

Realising that she only had one other option, the mare began to sprint along the gully, searching for a place where she could climb up. As she ran, her whole body groaned in protest. Gritting her teeth, the mare forced herself onwards.

After what felt like an hour, the mare finally found a slope gentle enough to climb. She pushed her aching legs up, cursing her hooves as they slipped in the mud.

Gasping for breath, her lungs feeling like they were on fire, the mare crested the top of the ravine. A cold wind was blowing, chilling the sweat clinging to the mare’s coat and clothing. In the distance on her right, the mare could just make out what she hoped was the thicket of trees. Steeling herself, the mare kept running. She had to keep running.

She breathed a small sigh of relief when she realised that this was the thicket where she had left the filly. Her whole body began to tense now, fearing an ambush. Trying to stay quiet, yet move as fast as she could, the mare made her way into the trees, listening for anything other than what sound she herself was making.

Up overhead, the light edged its way toward the west, rapidly slipping away from the mare. The trees stared at her accusingly, watching the pony move desperately toward the boulder. Her heart froze inside her chest when she saw her quarry, the rough stone standing in amongst the lengthening shadows. There was nothing nearby. There was absolutely nothing. No filly and no packs.

There was nothing.

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so please let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for chapter 6!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 6: What You Are

She was alone. She was completely alone. Her daughter was gone. Their supplies were gone. The land was empty. There was nothing…

“No…” she whispered, running around the rock, searching in vain for her daughter. “No! No! NO!” She screamed into the air, not caring whether or not anypony heard.

“No! Oh please, Celestia no!” The mare stopped her running and fell to the ground, shivering. “No!”

The first few tears slipped from her eyes, unsullied drops reflecting the despair writhing inside her stomach. She hung her head low to the ground. The cold ash sent shivers racing down her spine.

“No…” she whimpered once more.

The silence of the Equestrian badlands echoed back at her. She looked up, staring at the ash around her, broken and imprinted by several circular indentations.

She froze. Those were hoofprints. Two sets of them, leading away from the boulder and deeper into the trees.

The mare inhaled sharply...

Jumping to her hooves, the mare began to follow the ashen hoof-prints. She could clearly see that one set was larger than the other.

...And dared to hope.

Overhead, the light continued to disappear from the world. Night was coming, and it was coming quickly.

The world was quickly losing all form and structure. The mare quickened her pace. Before long, she had left the trees behind and was now heading southward toward the end of the gullies. Here the terrain rolled gently, wild and unsettled.

The daylight fell away, and the mare became more and more panicked. She hadn’t found them yet! She had to find them! Up ahead the hills slipped into darkness, the trees on them lost to the void of night.

No, no, no!

The mare stopped. The darkness pressed down on her like a physical burden. Her head darted left and right, her fear rising.

No! Oh Luna no!

But then, utterly impossible, she saw it – a gentle glow, flickering weakly in the distance. It burned on the edge of the world, seemingly an eternity away. The mare watched it intently. It was a tiny beacon in the world of shadow.

She couldn’t believe it. Nopony would light a fire someplace so open. But still, there it was, burning against all belief.

The mare was blind. She literally couldn’t see a thing in the night, but yet if she moved slow enough, making sure to keep a hoof out to prevent walking in to trees… Maybe, just maybe…

Driven forward by the thought of her daughter, and with nothing to lose, the mare began to walk through the impenetrable shadow toward the light burning on the horizon.

One hoof, then another, then another. Inching forward, step by step, always heading toward the light. The world was still lost to the all-consuming shadow of the night and the mare couldn’t even see her own hooves as they moved slowly along the ground. Except for the light  she could still see the light.

It had grown dimmer and dimmer as the night had progressed, now little more than a smouldering glow barely visible amongst the shadows. But there mare knew exactly where it was. Even when she had dipped down into smaller valleys and temporarily lost sight of it, she had forced herself to breathe calmly. Keep going straight, move slowly, but keep moving.

She had run into more than a few obstacles over the course of the night. Trees had often sprouted themselves in front of her, their low-hanging branches snagging on her ragged clothing. Boulders had stood resolute in her path, their cold surfaces uncaring and unyielding. For these, the mare had cared little. She merely walked around or broke herself free. She just needed to follow the light.

It had crept up on the mare slowly at first, but before she was aware of its presence it was already there. Dawn slipped up over the horizon, blessing Equestria with the faintest hints of visible form and structure. In response, the mare picked up the pace. She didn’t say a word to the sky, her mouth instead set in a grim line. The light was so near now, it was just over the edge of this slight rise, nestled on the side of a gully. She was almost there.

 She walked slowly over the edge of the valley, her battered and exhausted body standing triumphant, silhouetted by the infant light.

Down in the valley, set in a small clearing of trees, the mare could see the light, or at least what was left of it. It was the remains of a small campfire, the wood now little more than a small pile of smouldering embers. Resting around the fire were two vague outlines. Looking at their manes, the mare could tell one was larger and male, and that the other was smaller and female. The mare felt her teeth set on edge. That was her daughter. She would recognize her sleeping form anywhere.

She snorted quietly, suppressing the fire that was building inside of her. That pony had stolen her daughter. He had stolen her from the mare. He had stolen her, and she was taking her back.

Creeping down the wall of earth, the mare kept her body low to the ground to muffle her approach. Around her, the trees stood a silent watch, scrutinising the pony and her movements. A light breeze rustled the ash on the ground. Other than that, it was deathly silent, save for the mare’s trembling breaths.

She approached the larger of the sleeping forms carefully, using the trees as cover to hide her advance. With cold determination, she pulled the knife out of its temporary sheath on her leg, biting the handle hard. The mare’s eyes glinted as she crept up on the pony. Next to him were her saddlebags, their contents clearly pilfered.

When she was about ten feet away – the sleeping ponies still oblivious to her approach – the mare paused. She took a deep breath, ignoring the whispering in her conscience. She needed her daughter back and this pony had taken her from her.

Purposefully, the mare stepped out from behind the trees. She took two quick steps, spun on her front hooves and then bucked the sleeping form for all she was worth. The knife was tucked back in her clothing, but she didn’t remember putting it away.

With a choked cry, the sleeping stallion woke as he was skidded across the ash. He tried to rise to his hooves, wheezing for breath, but the mare pounced on him again, kicking him in the side and shoulder. With another short cry he slammed into a tree and fell crumpled to the floor, spitting blood into the ash. The mare had felt his ribs crack.

“Mama! NO!” the filly screamed, waking from the commotion.

“Quiet!” the mare hissed, head low to the ground, her stance wide and waiting.

“No, Mama! He-”

“I said quiet!”

The mare watched as the stallion slowly got to his hooves, leaning against the tree for support. He watched the mare desperately, wary of another attack.

“Please, don’t… don’t!” he spluttered.

“You stole my daughter,” the mare hissed. “You stole my daughter and you stole my supplies.”

“I… didn’t… I didn’t know…”

“You stole them from me.”

“I…” he tried to say, but the mare was already moving, heading toward her daughter and pulling the filly behind her for protection.

“Take it off,” she said simply to the stallion.

“Wha… what?”

“Your clothes, take them off. I can repair ours with them.”

“But… But…”


Shuddering as he began to weep, the stallion did as he was told, slowly removing his meagre clothing. The mare watched as each piece fell away, revealing his naked body beneath. His coat grew in uneven tufts, and his ribs showed clearly through the battered and starved flesh.

“Mama,” the filly whispered, now crying herself. “Please, Mama…”

“Quiet,” she shot back. “Now,” she said to the stallion, “pass them here. Do it slowly. No fast movements.”

Wincing as he lowered his body to the ground, the stallion picked up his clothes in his mouth and weakly flicked his head, tossing them to the mare. Not letting her gaze off the pony, the mare walked over to the saddlebags and deposited them inside. She noticed there were some new odds and ends inside now – just a few personal effects of the pony now at her mercy.

She gestured to the filly to bring over the sleeping blankets, and she did, her eyes not once leaving the ground. The mare placed the blankets inside, filling the bags to bursting point.

Closing the saddlebags, the mare slung them over her back, noticing their familiar weight. With both the stallion and the filly weeping softly, the mare approached him slowly. Her whole body was tensed, ready to react to anything.

“Mama… he’s a good pony… Please, Mama!”

The mare ignored her this time. “Now I want you walk,” she said bluntly to the stallion. He stared at her, not comprehending.


“That way,” she replied, pointing with a hoof up north.

“B-but… I can’t!”

“Yes. You will.”

“No… I can’t! I’ll die! Winter is coming and without food…” He gazed at the mare helplessly, his eyes wide and pleading. “I’m sick! I-I am sick! Please no, I’ll die!” His lower lip began to tremble, and his voice was thick with tears.

“Walk. Now,” the mare said evenly. “I am giving you the chance to leave. Do so.”

“No!” the stallion and the filly cried out simultaneously.

“Now!” the mare yelled. “Leave!”

“I…” the stallion cried. “Please,” he whispered. “Please…”

The mare’s head danced toward the knife, her patience wearing thin. Seeing this, the stallion panicked. He turned and began to limp as fast as he could toward the north. The mare watched him go.

“Do not stop moving till sundown… and pray that I never see you again.”

Sobbing, the stallion soon disappeared amongst the ashen wastes, his form lost to the grey. The trees creaked ominously, and the breeze was stronger now.

“Come on,” the mare said. “We have to go.”

“He… he was a good pony…” the filly choked out.

“We have to go now,” the mare said again. She turned and walked quickly back up the slight rise, the filly trailing behind her. On the top of the hill, the mare set a course that sent them southeast. She couldn’t see them yet, but she was heading toward more mountains. It would only be a matter of time.

Around the ponies, the land fell back to the familiar flatness of the plains. The mare soon became aware of just how tired she was. Her eyes felt like leaden weights and her limbs were slowly becoming unresponsive. But she forced her aching muscles onward. She couldn’t stop yet. She had to get as far away from the stallion as possible.

The filly walked silently, occasionally breaking the silence with a small sniff. The mare didn’t bother speaking to her. She was too tired anyway. She hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours.

The trees stood nearby, their dead branches moving angrily in the breeze. There was an acute sense of dread in the air. It was silly, but the mare couldn’t shake it off. The feeling hung in atmosphere, in the ash and in the trees. She tried to ignore it, shaking her head, telling herself she was just tired. Just tired…

But something wasn’t right.

Later that morning, after the filly had finally stopped crying, the small pony looked up at her mother. “He helped me…” she whispered.

“Helped you?” the mare responded wearily.

“He found me, Mama. He helped me… I… I…”

“I what?”

“I thought you were dead, Mama. I thought you were dead…” she whispered, unable to look her mother in the eyes.

The mare froze, stopping in the ash, her face twisted in horror. “You…” she said softly. “I wasn’t dead… he… he stole you…”

“He gave me food, made sure I was warm. He was a good pony, Mama! He was a good pony!” Her voice rose as she spoke, her eyes mad. “He was a good pony and you promised!”

“I… promised?”

“We’re not like them, Mama. We can never be like them!” The filly was crying again now, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“We’re… I’m not!” the mare said, her stomach feeling like there was a shard of ice lodged deep inside it.

“You promised, Mama… you lied,” the filly said simply, quieting down almost as quickly as she got angry.

“I…” the mare pleaded. “I just wanted to protect you!”  The mare collapsed to the ground, simply too tired to stand any longer. She tried to lift her head off the ash but failed. The packs were too heavy. She couldn’t move.

The filly sat down across from the mare, her eyes red and raw. She looked at her mother sadly before turning and looking toward the north – her back to her mother.

Her mind unable to focus, the mare felt herself fall into unconsciousness, the world slipping away from her vision. She tried to fight it, but failed, the first tears escaping as her eyes slid shut.

“Come on, Spades!” the mare yells down to her labouring friend. “We’re almost at the top!”

“I’m coming…” the pony gasps out.

The mare giggles softly before turning her attention back to the task at hoof. She is climbing a tree but not just any tree, though. The tree she is in is something of local legend with the foals at her school. Over the years, small ladders had been crudely nailed into the trunk by generations of schoolkids, winding their way precariously to the top. It was shoddy work at best, and every single parent had forbidden their children from climbing the tree. The mare wondered why they didn’t just take the ladder down, but she didn’t really get grownups most of the time anyway.

The ladder stopped near the end, and the mare was just past that. This was the most difficult part, and something she would be considered a playground celebrity for if she pulled it off - climb the last little bit, the section without the ladders. It was near impossible, and it was stupidly dangerous, but the mare didn’t really mind.

Carefully balancing on the narrow branch beneath her hooves, she reaches up and grasps a bow sitting a little higher up. Then, with a small push from her back hooves, she pulls herself up, wriggling a bit to get comfortable. The branch is too narrow to stand on, so she stays lying down, wrapping her legs around the wood for safety. She was fighting her own anatomy to make it work, but she was going to do it anyway.

“Look, Spades! I am as high in the tree as anypony can get! I did it!”

“You’re very high…” Spades mutters, far below the mare, struggling up the ladder spanning between two boughs.

“Well duh,” the mare calls down. “It wouldn’t be very impressive if it wasn’t the highest tree in the park!”

“Well… I guess…”

The mare shakes her head and scoots a little further down the branch. It wasn’t her fault Spades doesn’t like climbing trees. She had to get all whiny to get him to come in the first place. Something about heights, though it doesn’t really matter.

 In front of her, emerald-green leaves shift softly in the wind, rustling quietly as they do. The light is green underneath the canopy, the leaves filtering the sun’s orange glow. At the edge of the branch, the mare sneaks a look down, and immediately wishes she hadn’t. She isn’t scared, after all; she just did the impossible and climb the last little bit without ladders, but the ground is still an awful long way down. She can make out Spades slowly struggling up the ladders, puffing and muttering to himself.

Returning her attention to herself, the mare tentatively pokes her head through the curtain of leaves. She closes her eyes to do this and suddenly feels the warmth of the sun hit her face. She smiles and then opens her eyes, allowing herself a small gasp.

Stretching out before and beneath her, almost as far as she can see, is the royal city of Canterlot. On her left, fading into the distance, the mare can make out the towers of the royal castle, sitting as always on the edge of the city itself. All around her, though, is the more residential part of the city. Blocks and blocks of streets, suburbs and shopping districts constructed on sloping, ascending levels. Most of the buildings were a glossy white colour, decorated with gold or purple. The mare could see the sky-scrapers on her right. They were huge towers of glass and steel, stretching up into the sky, far higher than the castle. It was a shame they were tucked around the other side of the mountain where nopony could see them.

“Come up here, Spades!” the mare yells down. “The view is amazing!”

“I’m trying,” the small colt shouts back.

“Hey! I think I can see my house!”

“Yeah, yeah…”

The mare smiles widely to herself. A gentle breeze caresses her face, catching loose strands in her mane.  This is fun, like… really fun. She should go climbing trees more often. Maybe there is an even bigger one someplace else in the city…

A sharp crack snaps the mare back to the present. She scoots back on the branch, retreating back behind the leaves. Looking down, the mare gasps in horror to see Spades, now about halfway up the tree, clinging impossibly by his two front legs to one of the steps. She heard the soft thump as the one he was standing on just before hit the ground.

“H-help me!” Spades yells out, his voice high-pitched with fear.

“Wh-what happened?” the mare cries out, staring helplessly at her friend.

“The ladder broke!”

“I can see-”

There is another crack as the step Spades was holding on to starts to fold under his weight.

“Please!” Spades shouts. “I can’t pull myself up!”

“I…” Trying to keep herself from panicking, the mare tries to lower herself down, but her hooves have no traction on the wood and she almost slips. She clings desperately to her branch, unwilling to move. “I… can’t!”

“Please!” Spades pleads. The mare can see his eyes; they are wide and terrified. The mare is almost certain she can see him shaking.

Her mind racing, cracking, panicking, the mare began to breathe heavily. “I… I am trying!” she yells down. Gritting her teeth, the mare tries to go back down. She eases her body gently onto the branch below her, gripping it with her two back legs. Then, she follows suit with the rest if her body, carefully lowering it onto the bow. She made it!

“I… can’t… I can’t hold on!”

“No, Spades! No! I’ll get down! Just wait! I’m coming!”

With a short cry, the pony let go, falling quickly through the tree’s limbs. The mare watches as the whites of his eyes disappear. He hits the ground with a soft thud, and doesn’t move.

“Spades!” she yells, screaming at his body on the ground so far below. “Are you ok? Spades!”

The mare tries to climb down, but after almost slipping off herself, is forced to slow down.


The mare watches as suddenly, the body of the small colt rolls over. His head sways dangerously, and he appears to be coughing, though the mare can’t hear it.

“Spades! You’re ok!”

Spades looks up at the mare, his expression unfathomable at this distance. The mare smiles hopefully, relief washing through her body. The small colt appears to shake his head before getting up and slowly limping away from the tree.

“Spades! Where are you going?! Spades! Spades, wait! Please wait!”

Yet Spades ignores her, and the mare watches in dismay as the pony disappears from her sight.

“I… Spades?” she whispers softly to the ground. “Where are you going? Spades… I… I tried…

The mare woke to a cold and silent world. It was not dark yet, but the sun was low to the ground, casting long shadows over the land. She yawned gently, feeling her joints crack as she did. It was cold on the ground, and she was still lying in the same position she had been when she had fallen.

Across from her, the filly was lying on her stomach, her head resting on her hooves. The mare watched her body rise and fall gently with each breath. She frowned and looked away and up to the sky. Overhead, the clouds seemed to be skating past, carried by winds that the ponies of the earth couldn’t feel. They could see its power, though; the clouds were soaring violently over the world, stretching and breaking.

The mare rolled over onto her front, straining slightly as the saddlebags tried to hold her in place. It was still easier than before. Her muscles ached as she moved, still exhausted from her efforts. Recovery did not come easily with their diet.

“You’re awake,” the filly said simply, not bothering to turn around.

“I- I am,” the mare replied. “Are… are you ready to head out? We can cover some more ground before night falls.”

The filly shrugged, but stood up regardless. The mare followed suit, feeling the saddlebags fall prey to gravity a lot stronger than she remembered. The filly waited, staring at the mare with a blank expression, expecting for her to move. Sighing slightly, the mare did, resuming their passage southeast.

She wasn’t sure how she missed it before, maybe she was too exhausted, but now the mare could definitely make out cold shapes on the horizon. They were the mountains of Equestria, their peaks far more conical and picturesque than the mountains up north. These mountains, even though they were so much further south, were already capped in grey snow, visible even from this distance.

They were drawing close. Home was in those mountains. Albeit on the other side and much further east, but still, it was a landmark. There was a pass in between these teeth of the world, and that’s where they were headed. It would put them straight into the fertile Canterlot Valley and right beneath home.

As the afternoon sped towards its inevitable conclusion, the two ponies kept up a steady pace through the ashen plains. The ground rose gently, and small pockets of dead trees lay scattered throughout the terrain. Apart from that, the land was empty. Once upon a time, all of this was rich farming land, second only to the Canterlot Valley itself. There was little evidence of that left, though. One time the mare thought she saw a farmhouse in the distance surrounded by some trees, but she wasn’t sure.

The mare attempted to draw the filly into conversation several times, but was met with stoic silence at each attempt.

“Are you ok?”

The filly stared pointedly at the ground.

“I… are you tired?”

The small pony shook her head slightly and picked up the pace, leaving the mare trotting slightly to keep up. It did not take long before she gave up, leaving the conversation amongst the ash.

As the last of the light began to fade away, the mare finally relented and set up camp in a small thicket of trees. She cared little for their skeletal branches, as the wind whispered to her through them. The whispering in her head was loud enough.

She swiftly prepared their meagre dinner, allowing the filly eat her half of the tin of beans before letting herself indulge in any kind of sustenance. To wash it down, she took a conservative gulp of water and let the filly do the same. Wincing slightly as the water sloshed all too audibly in the bottom of the canteen, the mare packed it away in the saddlebags.

She paused, her muzzle still firmly within the rough depths of their bags. Still inside were the stallion’s personal effects. Slowly, the mare pulled them out one by one, lining them up on the ash in front of her. First came a jewellery box. Inside rested a single golden loop, designed to be worn around a pony’s hoof. The mare examined the jewellery closely, noting the recent signs of polish as it glistened under their meagre light. Placing the band back within the velvet box, she closed it and put it back on the ground.

Next was a small scrap of paper, its contents almost illegible after the damage of time and whatever had stained it with those colourless blotches. It had been folded along well-worn creases into a small square. The mare opened it slowly, making a conscious effort not to rip it. The writing was small and loopy, the letters wrapping around themselves hurriedly in agitated strokes. The mare guessed that it was the writing of a unicorn. It was a letter, addressed to a pony whose name was now nothing but an unreadable smudge.

‘I am writing to you to tell you that I am not coming back. I know that this is not how you would appreciate finding out, and for that I am truly sorry. When I think about it, it is cruel, but right now, I can’t accept anything less than easy. And know that this, my love, is easy.

I’m done. I can’t take the fear and the pain of watching everything we love burn and disappear as ponies turn on themselves. I know the food is running out, even though you keep saying otherwise. I know that we are running out of options and running out of time.

I am a coward, I know. I hate myself for it, but then, I feel that it might be that hatred that only further drives me to this decision. I just can’t take the fear. I can’t take the fire, and I can’t take the ash. It is only a matter of time, anyway. Why are we still here? You still haven’t answered me that. We have no Princesses, no harmony, no friends, and no hope. There is nothing but fire, and it took me a time to realise that, but I have now.

I know what you are thinking. And yes, I am taking our little Poppy with me. It is for this I am the most sorry. I know that you would say that she deserves to choose for herself, but she’s too young. She just doesn’t understand. And neither, I feel, do you. So I am taking her somewhere where she never has to worry, never has to worry about the fire, never has to worry about the fear. Maybe we will see you there one day. Maybe.

I am so sorry for everything. Just know that I did, as Celestia and Luna were my witnesses, love you with all my heart. Goodbye and sweet dreams. Hopefully I shall see you on the other side – in a world where everything is beautiful. Just like before.

In your heart forever,


The mare looked up from the letter, folding it back into its little square. Silent tears dampened her cheeks and she refused to look up from the ash. She just couldn’t do it.

The last item she had found was a small, crumpled photograph, folded twice along the middle. With trembling hooves, the mare flattened it out.

The photo was traditional black-and-white Heath’s Warming shot, taken in front of a cliché fireplace that was roaring happily in the background. Standing in front of it were three ponies, the stallion and two females: an older unicorn with a star for a cutie mark and a small filly, her smile glorious and her flank blank as an artist’s canvas before the first brushstroke. All three ponies were staring at the invisible camera, joy plastered over their faces. They stood close together, happy in each other’s presence. On the back, scribbled black pen dated the photo to the year before the end.

 The mare folded the photo back up and put it and the other keepsakes back in the pack. She then reached over and blew out the lone candle burning inside the lantern. The pony let the darkness rush over the campsite with relief, letting the shadow obscure the tears that were streaming down her face and onto the ash on the ground.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, barely audible to herself.

Fight the fear. Fight the dark. Every day it became harder. Every day the snake of fear tightened slowly. Sleep was a long time coming for the mare.

The two ponies left under the watchful gaze of the clouds early the next morning. The light of dawn was rapidly illuminating the shadows of the mountains, jagged ridges and pointed teeth of rock and earth shooting up into the sky, framing the horizon. They stretched from the most eastern line of the horizon to the south, forming a rough semi circle.

Sitting back amongst the trees, the mare left the stallion’s clothes. She couldn’t mutilate them. She couldn’t re-use them. She just couldn’t.

There was still a long way to go before they reached the peaks of Equestria. The plains stretched out in all directions, broken by gentle rises and small hills, populated by dead trees.

Upon cresting a small rise, the mare looked down into a small fishbowl-like depression in the earth and saw that they were nearing a small settlement. A rough patchwork of small cottages and shops, their once bright and vibrant paintwork now burnt and grey. A small river meandered through the town, framed on both sides by dead willows, their wispy, skeletal branches dragging along the water. While the mare couldn’t see any kind of activity or any signs of habitation, she chose to give the town a wide berth. They weren’t that desperate for food yet.

The two ponies walked around the edge of the circular valley, broken only by small trenches allowing the river entrance and exit. They were silhouetted by the weak light and their shadows fell into the valley. The earth was soft and thick, and their hoof-steps sent small clouds of ash into the air.

On the other side of the valley, the mare paused, peering down the depression. Sitting next to the river, its multi-storied structure crumbling and desolate, was an old farmhouse. Plains of barren ash reached away from it on its left. The building was framed by trees, their branches having long since been stripped away.

The farmhouse itself was constructed in two sections, a three-story, rectangular tower and a smaller entrance block. Each story was furnished by once-ornate woodwork, covered in vine-like patterns which were now burned and barely recognizable amongst the grime and ash coating its exterior. All of the windows were broken and framed dark interiors beyond. In front of the house, a metal sign creaked on rusted chains. Its contents were too blurred to make out from where the two ponies were standing.

The mare watched the house carefully, waiting for any signs of life. None were forthcoming, however, the only movement being the river and the sign moving awkwardly in the breeze.

“Do you think we should go and see what’s inside?” the mare asked quietly, the first words any of them had spoken all day.

“Sure,” the filly replied dismissively.

The mare paused, taken aback. “Are you sure?”


“Aren’t you scared?”

“Not really.”

“Oh,” the mare said slowly. “How come?”

The filly flicked her gaze up to look her mother in the eyes. Her expression was heavy, questioning the mare’s intention. Then, she looked down and walked toward the farmhouse, not saying a word. The mare closed her eyes briefly before continuing, following after her daughter.

A small stone bridge stretched out over the river to the farm. Its cobblestone pathway was coated in ash, and it was covered in small scorch marks, the remains of those that had not been washed away in the rain.

On the other side, the mare walked around the edge of the house, staring up the slowly deteriorating building. Now that she was closer, she could see the turnips painted onto the metal sign, only just visible amongst the damage and peeling paint.

The mare approached the front door cautiously. It was in two pieces, the lower half still connected to its hinges, while the upper was lying in several shards on the floor inside. She pushed what was left of the door open and it swung inward, brushing aside the broken wood as it did. The interior of the house was burnt and destroyed with charred furniture resting on a melted floor. Indistinguishable paintings hung on the walls to this entrance room, some of which had fallen to the floor, leaving rusted nails behind.

Entering the room, the mare caught whiff of the musty smell of charcoal and mould, an inevitable conclusion with the burnt interior being open to the elements. She picked her way through the blistered room, making toward a hallway that led to the main tower. The filly walked a pace or two behind her, casting her gaze over the destruction.

As the mare walked, she became amazed at the structural integrity of the building. The inside had been completely destroyed by fire, and the fact that the walls and roof, damaged as they were, were still standing was probably nothing short of a miracle.

Along the hallway, the mare caught site of various smaller rooms shooting off, their original purposes no longer discernible due to the fire. At the end of the corridor, the mare found herself in a large open room with a staircase that hugged the walls, ascending higher into the tower. This room was in slightly better condition, and the fire damage was limited to places nearby the windows. Empty buckets and pails lay scattered about the floor.

In this room there was a fireplace, the mantle of which contained a row of photos, all showing ponies smiling happily at the camera in various stages of life. The mare stopped briefly to look at these faded mementos, capturing moments in time now as faded and indistinguishable as the photos themselves. Would anypony remember these moments? Or were they just that, photos sitting in a broken home?

The mare felt her face slip and turned away from the photos quickly. Even then, the photo of the stallion and his family, which was now tucked safely inside one of her chest pockets, seemed to grow heavy within her clothes.

Swallowing hard, the mare walked away, heading up the wide wooden staircase. The mare found a collection of sitting rooms and various studies on the second level. All of the shelves within were either broken or burnt, their destroyed contents lying strewn over the floor.

On the third and final floor, the mare found a series of bedrooms, all of them breaking off a wide central corridor.

The mare poked around these carefully, looking upon the destroyed interiors with saddened and weary eyes. All, mercifully, were empty of any ponies, their previous inhabitants having long since disappeared.

The last bedroom the mare entered was also the smallest. It was clearly a child’s room. An empty cot sat in the corner with a small mobile hanging limply above it. A toy chest sat up against one of the walls, covered in wallpaper that had peeled away and fallen to the ashen floor. It was closed with a small brass latch, and it creaked as the mare opened it.

Inside was a small collection of toys, most of them clearly designed for a younger foal. The mare picked through its contents, starting slightly when she found the plush white alicorn princess lying near the bottom, her white coat yellowed and dirty. The mare slowly removed it with her mouth and placed it atop the chest.

The toy was an almost perfect replica of the Princess. At least, she could only assume that’s who it was meant to be portraying. She wasn’t aware they had ever made toys like this. Behind her, the filly made her way to the cot, staring at its empty frame with dispassionate eyes.

“Would… would you like this?” the mare asked, gesturing toward the doll.

The filly turned abruptly and looked quizzically at the toy. “Is… is that Princess Celestia?” she asked tentatively.

“I think so,” the mare replied.

The small pony walked over to the toy and touched it gently with her muzzle. “It’s soft,” she said eventually.

“It’s yours,” said the mare quickly. “You can have it.”

“Wouldn’t that be stealing?” Her voice was blunt.

“N-no. They would want you to take it.”

The mare watched the filly’s expression soften slightly, as she stared intently at the doll. Then, reaching up with a quick hoof, she grabbed the doll and tucked it in amongst her clothes, a small smile now on her lips.

“I’m sorry,” the mare whispered.

The filly’s smile disappeared, and she turned to look at her mother carefully. The mare tried to hold her steady gaze, but couldn’t due to the pain that was racking her insides.

“I know,” the small pony replied softly, causing the mare to look back up. “I know.”

Before the mare could reply, the filly walked out of the room and disappeared down the hallway. The mare stood silently in the room for a moment longer before finally following her daughter out of the destroyed house.

The day dragged on slowly. On the horizon, the mountains crept closer, the mare now able to make out some level of detail on their large hulking forms. Leaving the town and the farmhouse far behind them, the mare and the filly walked along the empty plains, now following a road set into the ash. It was cracked and worn; a stark contrast to the glossy black the bitumen had been before the end. The engineers had been specifically proud of their new roads. They had been a source of national pride. The mare remembered they even had a ceremony of sorts when they opened the first one.

She was reluctant to use roads like this one; they tended to be crawling with patrolling groups of bandits, searching the land for new places to find stronghold after amassing stockpiles of food and resources. And with the large number of ponies who would be falling back south away from the winter, the mare knew that there was an increased likelihood of such an occurrence. Perhaps the fighting in Manehatten would slow down any bandits, but she couldn’t be sure. They themselves had made it through relatively quickly, after all.

The mare paid little attention to their surroundings. She knew she should be listening out, but she just couldn’t find the strength. Instead, her gaze never really left the shattered and melted surface beneath her hooves, and her ears stayed flat against her skull, hidden amongst her tangled mane. At least the wind wasn’t strong enough to warrant wearing the hood up.

The filly walked a pace or two behind the mare, also paying little attention to the world around them. The day was unusually still and quiet and it filled the air with a sense of uneasy complacency. Even the breeze had died down in the afternoon, leaving the ash sulking on the ground.

As the sun finally began to slip behind toward the horizon in the east, the mare decided to make camp. She directed their direction toward a small depression in the earth and chose a small clump of trees nestled up against the small rise that hid them from the road. Still, she knew that there would be no using any light tonight, not with the road so close and the plains so empty.

After dinner, with the little light remaining, the filly played quietly with her new doll, mumbling softly as she did. She didn’t say anything to the mare, though, so the mare let the silence rest between them. She was too tired to even lift her head to watch the pony play, and sleep soon found her willing and eager.

The mare is standing on a shadowed room, the walls refusing to stay still. They are more solid than her dreams of late, but she can still see the shifting darkness moving just below the surface.

In the room with her is a small bed, the jet-coloured sheets that seem to melt into the pitch-black frame. A small dresser sits near the bed with a mirror that reflects nothing but inky darkness. A cupboard stands nearby, its doors closed and locked tight. On the dresser is a small photo, the same one the stallion was carrying. It is the only thing in the room that is not made of darkness.

The mare thinks she is alone in the room until a soft voice calls out from behind her. “Mama?”

She turns and sees the stallion, covered completely in the living shadow, standing in the doorway. His eyes are completely white, coloured with small black iris which are filled with swirling pearlescent patterns. He looks at the mare sadly who takes a small step back.

“Mama?” she repeats, not understanding his words.

“Yes,” he says. “Mama.”


The dream shifts suddenly, and the room abruptly disappears. The mare gasps as the world spins around her, and she loses sight of the stallion in the void.

Suddenly, her vision rights itself, and the mare finds herself standing in the middle of a clearing of trees. The plants here look almost healthy constructed by the shadow, their empty branches suddenly filled with obsidian leaves.

A small campfire is in the middle of the clearing, and it’s burning with small tongues of shadow, its light becoming lost in the world around it.

“Mama?” the voice asks again, this time much more gently.

“I…” the mare says, turning around. She gasps. In front of her is the stallion, but now he is a small colt, his tiny body covered in shadow that appears to be alive. It dances and flickers off his body like fire, small wisps of it disappearing into the shapeless void beyond the trees like embers. He is no older than the filly.

“Yes, Mama,” the colt says. “You left me, Mama. Why did you do that? Did you want me to die? Did you want to leave me alone in the cold and the dark?”

“No!” the mare shouts. “No, I never wanted that!”

“Then why, Mama? Why did you leave me like that? Don’t you love me any more, Mama?”

“I… I… I am sorry! I am sorry! Please, I am sorry!”

“But I’m still dead, Mama,” the colt replies evenly. “Im still dead. Apologies and words won’t fix that, Mama. You of all ponies should know that.”

“I didn’t… I didn’t mean for that,” the mare whimpers, her eyes wide and her whole body trembling.

“I guess it doesn’t matter any more, Mama. I’m still dead, aren’t I? But know this, Mama. I still love you. After everything, I still love you. How does that make you feel, Mama? I love you.”

“No…” the mare cries. “No! I am sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Goodbye, Mama,” the colt responds, his body already beginning to blur as an unseen and unfelt wind picks it apart from the seams, literally unravelling it in front of the mare.

“Wait!” the mare yells. “Wait!”

“Goodbye, Mama,” the colt says again, his voice fading away into nothing. “Goodbye and sweet dreams. Maybe one day I will see you again. Maybe one day…”

The mare crumples to the ground as the shadow world starts to collapse upon itself, huge chunks of darkness now raining down from the sky.


The next morning, they headed off after a meagre breakfast consisting of some oats they still had left from Manehatten. The mare had to scrape some mould off, but they were edible enough.

The mountains were decidedly closer now, almost as if they had crept up on the ponies in the night, silently stalking them like the timber wolves or manticores in the old pony-tales.

The mare shivered slightly as she got up. It was bitterly cold, the warmth having been sucked out of the world from the day previous. There was little activity in the clouds, though, so at least it wasn’t snowing. Yet.

Beside the mare, the filly got up shakily. Her eyes were half-closed and her mouth drooped slightly. That struck the mare as odd; after all, they had plenty of time to rest the night before, so she shouldn’t be tired. She didn’t say anything, however.

They headed out southeast again, angling toward the mountains. The mare tied a blanket around her and the filly’s necks to try and add another layer. The air was icy.

The two ponies walked over the gently sloping earth, which was now beginning to break into steeper hills and gullies. It wouldn’t be long before they entered the foothills of the mountains. The trees became more frequent, the condensed thickets joined together by trails of stragglers, their branches all bare and burned.

Occasionally, the filly would cough, shattering the familiar silence of travel. The mare looked over to her daughter, who looked away, her expression explaining that she was fine. Frowning, the mare let the issue go. She didn’t want to press her, considering everything.

Their hooves sunk into the ash beneath them, sending up soft swirls as they stepped up. The loose ash blurred the world around their bodies, obscuring their legs, creating the impression of some sort of ethereal movement. The mare soon pulled up the face mask constructed out of an old scarf to cover her mouth and nose. The ash did terrible things to a pony’s lungs.

As they walked the mare tried to think of something to say to the filly. Last night’s dream still lingered within her mind, and she often found herself flinching as she remembered how the colt had spoken. However, she could think of nothing to say that would make it better, and was forced to walk in silence.

The day passed by quickly, and before long, the sun was already beginning its rapid descent toward the west, lost behind a haze of cloud and ash, transforming them into a bloodstained horizon. That afternoon, with the shadows lengthening around them, the two ponies crested a small rise and stopped.

Resting inside the gully was a house, both too small and surrounded by too many trees to be a farmhouse. It was damaged and part of the roof had been eaten by fire, but otherwise appeared relatively intact.

The mare approached the house with caution. She watched the empty windows as they sat gaping in the side of the building, revealing nothing of the darkened interiors beyond. To the mare, that was always a good sign. Boarded up windows showed that somepony had tried to live there since the end.

The front of the house was furnished by a small wooden porch. The colour had faded from what the mare guessed would have been cream to a now muddy shade of decay. A rocking chair covered in ash rested next to the door. The filly went straight up to the chair and lightly pressed her weight onto it, testing its integrity. When the chair held, she sat down properly. The mare watched her carefully.

“Don’t you want to come inside?”

“No… I’ll sit here.”

The mare raised an eyebrow and the filly looked away. Her eyes appeared tired and bloodshot. There was even a small trail of mucus hanging from her nose.

“Are you ok?” the mare asked again.

“I’m fine,” the filly replied. “I just don’t want to go inside.”

“How come?”

“Because I don’t want to, ok?” the small pony said forcefully. Her brow crunched up in small wrinkles.

The mare decided not to press the issue any further and so entered the house alone. “Call out if you need anything, ok?” she said, opening the door.

“Ok,” the filly replied, watching her mother walk through the doorway.

The mare found herself inside a large and spacious circular living room. The wooden panelling was curved in a natural fashion, reminiscent of the inside of a tree. Several sofas and recliners sat arranged in a homely style around an ornate coffee table. Pictures hung on all of the walls, all of them displaying some sort of landscape from all around Equestria. Everything in this room was covered in ash and dust. The spaces near the windows had suffered from weather damage and now the carpet was mouldy and rotting.

Picking her way through the room, watching the dust and ash compact under her hooves, the mare headed towards the door. It led to a hallway running deeper into the house, lined on both sides by pictures spaced evenly between doors. Every photo featured the same two ponies: a male and female earth pony. The mare caught herself wondering who they were. Did they have names? What did they do for a living? Did they have family that loved and cared for them? The mare shook her head to clear those thoughts. If they did, there was no use dwelling on it. That’s what the end did anyway. It stripped ponies of their identities. It literally burned away any trace of a pony besides what others could remember. And of those, there were few left to remember anypony at this point.

The first door on the right led to the kitchen. The shelves here all stood open, revealing bare interiors. The mare rummaged through the draws and pantry anyway but found nothing but dust. She even tapped around the walls, but she knew it was useless. They were made out of solid wood and were unfit for any kind of compartments.

Leaving the kitchen, the mare poked around a few of the other rooms. There was a bathroom, a study, and another living space. She took a moment to browse lightly over all of the shelves, and picked a few books that looked interesting off of the floor. Their pages had all been damaged beyond readability, though.

In one of the sitting rooms, she had stared at the glass decanters resting on a silver tray. They were still filled with an amber liquid. Torn between taking it and not, the mare finally opened it and was met with a foul, sour odour. Wrinkling her nose, she closed it with a soft clink.

The last room was the bedroom. She pushed the wooden door with a hoof and it swung inwards gently. Lying on the bed, covered by musty sheets were the skeletons of two ponies. Scraps of blackened flesh clung to their frames as their skulls rested gently on the pillow, facing toward each other. Blinking twice, the mare entered, trying not to look at the dead.

A dresser with a broken mirror sat on the wall directly opposite the bed. Resting on it were several pictures, their frames cracked, revealing the yellowing images inside. The mare looked at these for a moment before turning sharply away, her eyes dull and lifeless. It was then that she noticed the small table in the corner of the room.

The mare approached the table slowly. On it sat a record player. It was one of the wind-up ones that had been introduced before the end, kind of like a music box. The old wooden frame was cracked but otherwise appeared to be in a decent condition. Curious, the mare reached out with a hoof and began to slowly wind up the handle. She listened as the springs inside tightened excruciatingly, protesting loudly at the use after so long.

After she had wound it up for about a minute, the mare placed the needle onto the black record and waited. It took a moment, but eventually, the record began to spin. Unevenly, yes, but spinning nonetheless. The mare listened closely as a soft sound began to fill the room. It took her a moment to realise that it was piano. She was listening to the sound of a piano.

Before long, more background instruments started up, their gentle tones fighting against the static of the record that popped and hissed as it spun. It was a peaceful song, but it filled the mare with a sense of longing for something she couldn’t quite name. Then suddenly, the vocals hit.

“Do you remember what I said?

What it meant to be me,

To drift along through the open plains,

And walk along the straight lines…”

It was a female’s voice, and the mare couldn’t help but close her eyes as she felt the velvety singing wash over her, calming, soothing, relaxing… reminding.

“But who am I when the sun starts to set,

And the moon refuses to shine in the sky?

Who am I when I walk this road,

Through the shadows of every lie?”

The mare felt her lip tremble as the music washed over her. She tried not to listen to the lyrics, but she couldn’t. She was trapped, completely under the spell of the vocalist.

“As the moonlight breaks on the water,

And the mirror lies broken on the floor,

Who is that reflection I see,

That broken pony staring back at me?

So I sing one last time,

Hoping that you will hear,

Hoping that you will see,

What it’s like, to be me

Do you remember who I am now?

After all I have said,

Do you know who I am now?

Even after all I have done…

Even after… even after…

All I have said… all I have done…”

With a soft hiss, the record stopped spinning, leaving nothing but the sound of the mare’s sobbing as she cried into the silence.

“I’m sorry,” the mare whispered as she fell to her knees. “I tried… I really did try…

“I’m sorry…”

The mare is standing in a dark room. The walls are bare and the lone window is boarded up with sheets of metal drilled into the wall. A series of tables in one corner of the room are piled high with cans, tins, jars and containers of water. There is about half as much than there was when they first came into the room.

A bathtub sits in one corner of the room. It is filled with water which ripples slightly as the building shakes gently. Next to the bathtub are piles of clothes and equipment, unsorted and cluttered.

Outside, a fierce wind strikes the building relentlessly, causing a high pitched whistle to fill the air as it forces its way through the tiny cracks in the window. The mare is trying very hard to ignore this. Instead, she is staring at the floor, unable to speak. They’d had this argument before, so why does it scare her so much now?

Her husband is pacing near the door, clearly lost in thought. Next to the door are a set of packed saddlebags, filled with supplies. The filly, still only a baby, is crying softly in a corner, wrapped in blankets.

“Well,” the mare says finally, breaking the silence that had fallen with a tortured voice. “What are you going to do?”

“You know what I have to do,” the stallion shoots back.

“No! I don’t!” the mare yells, suddenly desperate. “I have no idea why you have to! You know what they do, so why are you going?”

“Because I can’t stay here,” her husband replies. “And they’re just rumours.”

“We have seen it! We have seen what they leave behind! You saw them kill River! You saw them!”

“I… They were different.” He seems momentarily subdued.

“They’re not! That’s how it all starts! They do one bad thing and that leads to another. There is no stopping!”

“Yes there is! Come with me! We can keep them from doing those things! We can save other ponies like River!”

“You know I would never go with them. I would never abandon everything we used to live for!”

“Used to live for?” the stallion yells, halting his pacing. “What did we used to live for? Harmony? Peace? Those things don’t exist anymore! You have seen what ponies are now! You have seen what the world is like! There is nothing like that left!”

“There’s nothing left because ponies like you have given up!” the mare retorts. The filly is crying louder now, her cries almost drowning out the sound of the wind outside. “You have forgotten what made life good! You have forgotten what made ponies good”

Her husband is silent for a beat, his head lowered. “I haven’t forgotten,” he says quietly. “I remember just as well as you do. Heck, I go over those memories just as much as you! But I know something that you don’t… they’re just memories! Those days are never coming back! The fire burned any chance of that. There is nothing left! Nothing!”

“Then why are you doing this?” the mare pleads. “Why would you do this?”

“Because we have to survive. If I join them, then I might survive. If you come with me, I can protect you. I can keep you safe. We can survive together.”

“But you’re running… you’re running from me. You’re leaving me and the baby here in the darkness to die while you join those murderers…”

“I am trying to survive. We won’t live much longer here. Food is running out, and where do we get more? Manehatten and we’ll be killed. Las Pegasus and we’ll be killed. Out to the frontier towns and we’ll be killed. Out to Trottingham and we’ll be killed! Every place around here has been picked clean a long time ago! There is nothing left!”

“I…” the mare says, watching as her hope falls around her. “Just… please don’t leave! This is not who you are! I know you! I know and I love you, and this is not who you are! Don’t leave me!”

“Know me? We’re nopony now. There is no identity. We just survive or we die.”

“But I know you! I know who you are! You wouldn’t do this! You are nothing like them! This is not who you are!”

“I am nothing anymore,” her husband says softly, unable to look her in the eyes.

“Please don’t go… don’t leave me… please,” she whispers softly, her eyes filled with tears. “Please… don’t leave me…”

“I’m sorry,” he responds. “But I’m going.”

The mare sits down heavily, as her husband puts on his saddlebags. He opens the door, revealing an empty corridor beyond. He steps out into it and turns to look at his wife one last time. His eyes are distant, un-focused.

“Please…” the mare whispers one last time.

“I’m sorry,” he replies softly. “I truly am. Goodbye, my love. Maybe I’ll see you again. Maybe not. Just know that… I really did love you.”

And with that, he closes the door behind him, leaving nothing but the sound of the filly’s cries, the wind and the mare’s gentle sobs as she curls into a ball to escape the pain.

Dawn was still a long way away.

It took the mare some time before she was finally able to head out of the bedroom. She closed the door behind her with a resounding click, and walked away from the room, leaving the dead and the record player behind.

Drying the moisture left on her face with a foreleg, the mare re-entered the entrance room. She could hear the sounds of the rocking chair outside, creaking slowly as it moved, unseen by the mare. She heard a faint cough, easily recognizable as the filly’s.

The mare pushed open the front door and stepped outside onto the porch. The filly was right where she had left her, still on the rocking chair. However, she was lying down now, her head twisted awkwardly up against the back of the chair. Her eyes were closed but flickered underneath her eyelids. Her mouth danced open and closed as well, silently whispering nothings into the air.

Her heart aching, the mare walked straight up to her daughter and nuzzled her closely, enjoying the warmth radiating off her face onto her own. She was very warm, actually.

“M-mama?” came a weak voice, croaking slightly.

“I love you,” the mare said desperately, hugging the filly close with a leg.

The filly shifted slightly in position to return the hug, wrapping both of her front legs around the mare’s neck. She held on tightly, burying her face in the older pony’s shoulder.

“I love you too, Mama,” the filly whispered.

The filly was hot against her face and neck, and she could feel the sweat clinging between their two coats. She paused.

“Are… you feeling ok?” she asked, breaking the hug.

The filly looked down, abashed. “I… I don’t feel so good, Mama…”

The mare froze, her expression locking in to one of quiet horror. “What do you mean you don’t feel so good? In what way?”

“I… feel so tired, Mama… And I feel so hot. Like I am burning up like a fire.”

The mare quickly threw her mind back, trying to remember anything in the last few days that could have caused the filly to get sick. She had treated any water they encountered and the food had never been anything worse than usual, and besides, she had eaten everything that the filly had eaten as well.

Suddenly, she froze. The words of the stallion echoed back to her, “I’m sick! I-I am sick! Please no, I’ll die!”

Sick. He was sick. Oh Celestia no. Not sick, not now, not here.

“Mama?” the filly asked, her voice shaking, weak, and frail.

“I… we have to go,” the mare said suddenly.

“Why? Where are we going?”

“We have to get you medicine. Now.”

“Medicine… but…” The filly’s eyes went wide.

The mare didn’t respond and instead helped the filly off of the chair and onto the ground. She was a little shaky on her hooves, but she stayed upright.

“Can you walk?” the mare pressed hurriedly.

“I… I think so,” the filly replied.

“Good. We have to go.”

“But where, Mama? Where?”

“There is a town just through the valley between the mountains. It’s where the mares of harmony used to live. That should have a hospital.”

“Ponyville?” the filly asked shakily.

“Yes, that’s it,” the mare responded. “Ponyville.”

“And there will be medicine there?”

“We’ll see,” the mare said. “We’ll see.”

“…Mama, I’m scared,” the filly said, her voice shaking.

The mare hugged her daughter tight. “Don’t be,” she whispered. “I’ll look after you. I promise.”


“Promise,” the mare affirmed.

The filly shook slightly but tried to stand up straighter. She was trying so hard to be brave…

“Come on,” said the mare. “Theres still some daylight. We are going to see where the mares of harmony lived.”

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so please let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for chapter 7!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 7: Broken Harmony

The light struggled so hard. The mare knew this. She saw the clouds, how thick and angry they were. She also saw how the light, despite everything, fought its way through the ashen blanket in the sky to reach the cold earth beyond. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, and so the mare was thankful. She had to be thankful, for what else was there to be thankful for?

It was near midday, and the light was shining weakly onto the mare’s back. Well, it would have, if not for the filly who was clinging to the mare’s neck. She had walked by herself last night when they had left the house, but after a restless night’s sleep, the mare found the small pony unable to walk further than a few hundred metres before having to stop to catch her breath.

The filly’s coat was covered in a light, yet seemingly permanent, sheen of sweat. She trembled on her mother’s back, and her grip was weak. The mare could tell she was trying to hold on, but was barely succeeding. She could feel the heat radiating off of her small body.

It was an extra burden for the mare, but one she wore with grim determination as she focused on each one of her steps forward. She knew what she needed to do, and the fire to complete just that forced her onwards. Even home didn’t seem as important now.

They were walking through the foothills of the Equestrian mountains, heading pointedly east. The land was steep and broken regularly by steep gullies. The mare even had to avoid a few canyons, dotted by dark caves hidden amongst the ashen rock. She knew the valley leading into the Canterlot plain had to be close. After all, she could see the Dragon’s Tooth sticking high into the sky, signalling the eastern border of the pass.

Dragon’s Tooth was one of the taller mountains in this range. It spiralled into the sky, ending in an almost perfect point. The top was covered in grey snow and clouds swirled chaotically around the peak. The mare had heard the stories growing up, that once upon a time a dragon had slept there, covering Equestria in smoke and ash. The mares of harmony had gone up and bravely faced the dragon, and he had left, saving the land. Or so the story went.

On their right, the rest of the mountains reached toward the cloud. They formed a continuous ridge of bulging rock and snow, broken occasionally by spires that soared above the rest, puncturing the ashen blanket above with their sharpened points. Trees ran up the walls of these mountains until the snow started.

“Mama,” the filly murmured weakly from her back.

“Yes, little one?” she replied quickly.

“Are we nearly there?”

“I don’t know. Hopefully yes.”

“Oh. Ok.”

“Why?” the mare pressed, cautious. “Are you ok?”

“Oh… it’s nothing,” the filly whispered, letting her head rest on the mare’s shoulder.

The mare picked up the pace, gritting her teeth slightly. The pass was nearby. It had to be.

It took another hour, a slow, painful and agonizing hour. But eventually, the mountains on their right fell steeply into the ground and did not rise back up for several miles further east. They had reached the pass.

The land within the valley was gently wooded with thin trees whose ashen bark almost looked bleached. A small stream passed through the centre of the depression, its contents having rushed down from the peaks of Dragon’s Tooth. Next to the stream was a road, its black surface cracked and faded. Ponies had once travelled along it frequently. Now there was nopony but the mare and the filly. Small pieces of junk and scrap lay next to the path, discarded by travellers over the years. There was even an upturned cart lying in the stream at one point.

The mare couldn’t see it, but she knew that through this valley was her prize. Ponyville was waiting for her on the other side in the middle of the Canterlot plain. Without hesitation, the mare plunged into the valley, weaving a path through the trees.

The mare followed the stream as it wound its way down to the plain. The water bubbled as it flowed, its contents swirling with pollution. The mare was tempted to stop to refill water bottles, but didn’t. She didn’t have the time to purify the water properly to make it fit for drinking.

On both sides of the mare, the mountain peaks flew up into the sky, framing the horizon with masses of rock and snow. Dragon’s Tooth seemed to watch her as she moved - its spire lost to a sea of cloud. The mare wondered where the dragon would have been, if it had even been real.

As the afternoon dragged on, the mare and the filly pushed their way through the valley. The trees were starting to thin now, growing sparser as the mare neared settled patches of land.

The mare stepped out from behind a small thicket and looked up into the sky. Her heart froze. There it was. She could see it. Home. It was obscured by cloud and ash, but the mare could just make out the gigantic construct hanging onto the mountain like a snail would to a rock. The towers and spires of the castle were almost indistinguishable against the haze, but the mare could still tell they were there. It was home…

In front of the mare, the road suddenly forked into two directions. She stopped, blinking at the sign. The lettering was barely legible against the scorched indicator, but the mare could still read it. To her right was the road that would take her Ponyville. To her left was the path heading towards the city on the mountain. To her left was home.



“Why… why have we stopped?”

“Nothing…” the mare said slowly. “No reason.” The mare felt the filly shift on her back. “Just thinking, that’s all,” she added.

“Thinking about what?” the filly murmured.

“Nothing important,” she replied before turning and heading along the path that went right. She didn’t look back up the mountain, at least not yet.

The mare climbed a small rise, following the path as it began to leave the valley behind them. The limp trees that stood around the two ponies were thinly spaced now. The hill was gentle but steep enough to stop the mare from being able to see beyond it. She made her way up the road, watching the top of the hill with equal parts trepidation and anticipation.

As the mare pushed herself over the edge, the Canterlot plain flew out to the horizon. In front of her, the wide open space of the once-fertile land reached out towards the mountains. A river flowed through the centre, lightly twisting on itself as it flowed away from the city and toward the small town of Ponyville.

The town itself was shrouded by a low-lying haze. It was not wet enough to be mist, and so the mare eyed it carefully. She struggled to make out much detail, but from her vantage point, the collection of buildings placed in a haphazard fashion seemed dead enough. That was until she saw the barricades.

All of the main roads into Ponyville were blocked by checkpoints - collections of metal and wooden junk fashioned into palisades and crude spears that loomed out into the gloom. Old travel carts had been used to strengthen the rough defences, and behind the walls balconies had been attached to the sides of various buildings to act as impromptu lookouts.

While the mare was too far away to see any kind of movement, she finally found the source of the haze. Small pillars of smoke emanated from various points near the town centre, converging to form a singular cloud of ash and debris that sulked near the earth. The mare couldn’t see the flames, which could mean only one thing: the fires were being controlled.

The mare felt her stomach sink to her hooves as she realised just what lay waiting inside the town.

She paused, one hoof off the ground, unsure.

“Mama?” the filly asked. “What’s that?”

“That’s Ponyville,” the mare replied, her stomach turning.

“Oh,” she said, almost more brightly. “And that’s where the medicine is?”


“Good,” the filly said, before falling back into silence. Her grip tightened subtly on the mare’s neck.

The mare took a deep breath. She had to keep going. She had to. Reaching out with a hoof, the mare headed down the hill.

Down the hill, resting on the flats before the town, the mare could see a large farmhouse with a row of small coops standing wearily nearby. She eyed them carefully, watching for any movement. On one side of the house were large open plains, swirling with loose ash. The other side featured acres upon acres of rows of dead trees. They were arranged in sections, appearing to be ordered from a distance. However, on closer inspection, the mare could see that they were planted in rough clumps. All of the trees were dead. Their naked and burned branches reached skyward in a perfect silhouette of the picturesque trees that were drawn in picture books.

It was an orchard of some sort, there was no debating that. What fruit the trees were designed to bear, the mare was less sure.

The old farmhouse appeared to be at least two or possibly three stories high. It seemed to be divided into two sections; a larger portion was designed to act as a barn with wide double doors that had been broken down, revealing a hollow interior beyond. The wall facing the opposite direction from the mare had collapsed, leaving the structural integrity of the building questionable at best. The second half of the building looked like it had been residential with a small alcove breaking off the side sporting another, smaller, broken door. The glass in the windows along the top of the structure was all gone.

In the distance behind this farmhouse sat the ruins of another one. It appeared to have been a tall tower, yet one half had collapsed in on itself, leaving the centre caved in as a pile of rubble. The mare wondered to herself why that one had collapsed, yet the one in front of her still stood. Luck? She didn’t think so. Luck was entirely different from coincidence.

The mare approached the still intact farmhouse cautiously. There wasn’t any sign of habitation, and the fact that it was still a small way away from town meant that there probably wouldn’t be anypony here. It was too close for an opposing side, yet too far away for anypony aligned with the ponies in control of the town.

Drawing closer to the building, the mare could see that it would have been a deep, bright red. Now it was faded, almost beyond recognition. The colour of the building now blurred into the ashen fields surrounding it.

The mare walked along the path to the remains of a small wooden arch that would have once been covered in flowering vines. It was now laced in weed-like black tendrils that had stopped growing a long time ago. Attached to this arch was a dirty picket fence that formed a homely border around the farm. Lying just beyond the arch was a small well and the remains of a chicken coop.

The mare stopped as her hoof hit something hard lying in the ash. She dug around, finding the edges of the object, before she flipped it over, revealing a small wooden sign, two chains hanging off of the top. Carved into the sign was an apple shaped hole. At least now the mare knew what had once grown here.

Walking up the ashen path, the mare eyed the building with curiosity. She had already convinced herself that there wouldn’t be anypony in here, so now she was consumed by the idea that there might be something worthwhile inside. Perhaps even medicine, even as unlikely as that would be. Medicine was not something to be abandoned.

With the filly still clinging to her back, the mare walked up to the front door. It was broken but still attached to its hinges. As the mare pushed it open gently, it stuck halfway, forcing the mare to have to kick it open. With the door now stuck against the wall, the mare entered a small room devoid of any furniture. The walls were bare as well, the only embellishments being the faint outlines of a single red apple flanked by golden vines on every wall panel. The window on the mare’s left was shattered, leaving glass fragments lying all over the floor. Framing the window were tattered blue curtains, stained from age and pollution.

The mare crossed the room and moved into a large kitchen. A work bench filled the centre of the room, its surface stained and dirty. A sink and other various cooking appliances were on the wall against a window, surrounded by shelves and drawers, all of which were open. Unsurprisingly, they were all empty.

A fridge sat against a wall, and a dark stain seeped out from the slightly open door. The mare chose to avoid the grim container and instead moved into a large living room with a flight of steps rising up against the wall. The room itself was empty except for an old wooden rocking chair and a green rug that was stained and covered with ash. The mare could smell the scent of rot in the air. The staircase itself was narrow, and the wood creaked as the mare placed her weight on each step. Empty and damaged picture frames hung from the walls, now nothing but hollow shells were happy memories once had been.

At the top of the staircase, the mare found herself in a long hallway. Rooms broke off on either side to which she immediately guessed to be bedrooms or bathrooms. A quick inspection proved that she was right. The bedrooms were all simple enough, a single wooden frame carved from solid wood, all featuring the reoccurring motif of an apple. All of the mattresses were gone, leaving empty outlines in their place. A few shelves still rested in these rooms, but anything worth anything had long since been taken.

The mare saved the bathroom for last. Here was where she would most likely find medicine, and a niggling superstition kept her from rushing straight for it.

Leave the best till last, her mother had always said. Somehow, despite everything, that still lingered with her. If she was searching for something in particular, she searched every place else first, that way she would always be more focused on searching, the anticipation acting as a nice incentive. If she waited until after searching the most obvious place and whatever she wanted wasn’t there, then disappointment clouded her judgement. Or at least, that’s how the mare saw it.

The bathroom was dirty and stained, much like every other bathroom in Equestria. Several of the once-white tiles were cracked, the fissures between them caked in a thick layer of grime. The bathtub was cracked and was slowly leaking a brown liquid onto the floor which was seeping into the drain drip by drip. A broken mirror sat over an open cabinet. The shelves were splintered, lying in shards at the bottom. A few empty bottles lay scattered around the floor, their labels long having since faded into nothing.

The mare stood in the middle of this mess staring at the broken cabinet. She closed her eyes briefly.

“Mama?” the filly asked from her back.


“You were looking for medicine here, weren’t you?”

“There’s nothing here,” the mare replied quietly.

The filly was silent for a moment. “I know, but you tried. Don’t worry, yo-” She stopped suddenly, coughing. “Y-you’ll find some.”

The mare didn’t reply and instead turned on the spot, leaving the bathroom behind her.

Walking back down the corridor, the mare looked out one of the windows. Outside, the sun was already touching the horizon. Twilight had crept up on the two ponies while they were indoors. The shadows from the orchard stretched out like long shadowy fingers across the ash, reaching for something that the mare couldn’t see.

“I think we’re going to have to stay here tonight,” the mare said slowly.

“How come?” the filly replied. Her voice was slightly higher pitched than normal.

“It’s about to be dark outside. We won’t be able to see a thing.” She still hadn’t told the filly about the signs of habitation.

“Oh,” the filly said softly. “Ok.”

“Is that ok? Are you feeling alright?”

The mare felt the filly’s head knock against her shoulder weakly several times. She was nodding. Despite her agreement, the fierce inferno that was radiating off her coat said otherwise. She felt the filly shudder slightly.

“Alright,” the mare began as she walked into one of the bedrooms, “get off my back. You need to rest.”

The filly did as she told, landing shakily on her feet. Her eyes appeared unfocused and confused. The mare gently pressed her to sit, and so the filly laid down on the wooden floor, sending up a small puff of ash and dust as she did. The mare then took off their saddlebags and sat them up against the bed. She pulled out all of their blankets and began to build a small nest on the empty bed. It wasn’t much, but it would do.

When she was finished, she called the filly back over. “Come, you have to rest. I’ll cook some dinner while you sleep.”

“But where will you sleep, Mama?” the small pony asked weakly, pausing as she got up.

“Right next to you,” the mare replied. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” She smiled at her daughter reassuringly.

The filly frowned, but soon relented, wearily accepting the mare’s helpful push to get her into the bed. She quickly curled up into a small ball, nestling into the rough patchwork of blankets, wrapping her tail tightly around her body as she did. She yawned quietly before closing her eyes.

“I don’t feel well, Mama,” she said softly, her eyes still closed.

“I know,” the mare replied. “But you will get better, don’t worry.”

“You will find medicine, won’t you?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Promise?” the filly said, opening her eyes slightly to stare pleadingly at her mother. “Promise?” she said again.

The mare watched her daughter silently for a long time. “Promise,” she said eventually.

“Thank you, Mama…” the filly whispered, her eyes closing again.

“You’re welcome,” the mare replied softly, but the filly was already asleep.

The mare walked over to the broken window, making sure to avoid the broken glass on the floor. She looked up at the sky, staring to the west where the top of the light was just visible above the mountains.

She opened her mouth to speak, but paused. On the horizon, the light slipped below the mountains, disappearing altogether, leaving the land covered in an intense shroud of darkness. Lowering her head, the mare walked back into the room.

The mare sits in absolute darkness. She can hear her own heartbeat thud remorselessly in her chest. Soft pieces of fabric drape over her head and shoulders, reminding her of just how small her impromptu hiding spot is. She shudders slightly as she exhales as quietly as she can. She has to be quiet, absolutely silent. If she isn’t, he will find her.

She can hear his muffled hoof-steps as he moves around outside the mare’s hidden location. Occasionally, he would draw near, pause, and then retreat back into obscurity further away. Sometimes, when he gets really close, she can hear his breathing. How long has she stayed here for? She isn’t sure. Fifteen minutes? Maybe even half-an-hour? Not that it matters.

“Where are you?” he whispers. The mare shudders a little at the sound of his voice.

Her movements cause her coat to rustle softly against the small wooden enclosure she is hiding in. She catches her breath in the middle of an inhalation, trying to stay absolutely silent. Outside, his hoof-steps have gone quiet. He has paused.

The mare sits silently, her heart the only sound in the darkness. Did he hear her? Is he coming to get her now?! Her eyes dance lightly in the shadow, desperately trying to think of an escape route.

Suddenly, she can hear hoof-steps again. They are moving toward her. Each step echoes through the air with a loud thud. She can almost feel the ground beneath her shake as he moves closer.

Trying not to hyperventilate, the mare shrinks back into the deepest corner of her sanctuary. She presses her small body up against the back wall, willing her skin to blend into her darkened surroundings. She is going to be found! He is coming! She can’t be found! She can’t lo-

Suddenly, the hoof-steps stop again, the last one echoing directly in front of her. The mare tries desperately not to whimper. She has to be strong. She has to be brave. Outside, the mare can hear his breathing now. It is slow and even – deliberate, almost.

The door starts to creak open and a harsh shaft of light strikes the mare’s face, causing her to blink rapidly against the assault. Trying to see through her eyelids, the mare squints up past the now rapidly opening door. His shadow looms up in front of her, tall and imposing, signalling her imminent demise. She had hid for so long; she knew she was silly to think she could hide forever.

Her face scrunches up in resignation, and the mare sticks her head out of the clothes hanging around her. She stares pointedly at the floor, stubborn in defeat. She takes a deep breath, trying to tell herself that it will be ok.

“Hello Spades,” she whispers, still not looking at the pony.

“Finally!” the small colt exclaims exasperatedly, despite the huge smile on his face. “You are like… the best at hide and seek! It took me ages to find you!”

The mare allows herself a small smile at her friends praise. “Yeah, but you still found me.”

“So? It still took forever,” he replies, stressing the last word.

“Huh. I was in there a long time, wasn’t I?”

The small colt doesn’t reply, his expression already neatly explaining the ‘you think?!’ to the mare. She smiles again, this time more brightly.

“This was really fun,” the mare says. “I love hide and seek!”

“Yeah… if you’re the one doing the hiding, maybe.”

The mare can’t help but think that Spades would be very bored if he had to hide, but she removes the thought. She wants a turn to find him now!

“So, do you wanna turn?” she says excitedly.

“What, a turn to hide?”

“Yeah!” she exclaims. “It’s fair that way. After all, I got a chance to hide and now so should you!”

“Yeah… you’re right!” Spades replies, comprehension dawning on his face.

“And plus,” the mare adds. “It’s really, really scary, and that makes it even more fun!”

“Ok then, you gotta close your eyes and count to one-hundred!”

“Really? One-hundred?!”

“Well, that’s what I counted to…” the colt replies, rubbing the back of his head with a hoof.

“Alright then, one-hundred it is.” Without further complaint, the mare shuts her eyes as tight as she can, and begins to count. “One… two… three…”

She hears Spades splutter slightly before turning on his hooves and running off. The mare smiles to herself as she counts. She can hear his hoof-steps as they pound up the stairs. At least that’s half of the house she doesn’t have to worry about. That leaves the bathroom cabinet, the wardrobes in the grownups room, or the bottom of the grandfather clock. This will be easy… She smiles again.

“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred!” the mare yells. She opens her eyes quickly, a confident smirk on her face. Keeping her body low to the ground to minimise the sound she makes, the mare starts the hunt.

Poor Spades never stood a chance.

It was dawn. Or near-about anyway. As the mare left the abandoned apple farmhouse, she realised that it never really did get as dark here as out in the rest of Equestria. There was a faint, but constant glow coming from Ponyville itself, a mixture of camp and watch fires. There was no denying it now; the town was inhabited.

With the filly’s legs wrapped tightly around her neck, the mare set out. The small pony’s condition hadn’t necessarily diminished over the night, but it had by no means improved; it was still visibly sucking the strength from her small body. The mare had no idea just how much longer the filly could take such punishment. Before the end, such a matter would have been trivial. Now… well now she had to find medicine. And fast.

“Mama?” the filly murmured softly from the mare’s back. Something in her tone put the mare on alert.

“Yes?” she replied.

“The town’s glowing.”

“Yes… it is.”

“There are ponies in there, aren’t there?”

The mare took a moment to reply. “Yes. There are.”

“Will they be nice ponies?” the filly whispered, her voice choked.

“I… probably not,” the mare admitted, remembering the defences she had seen from the day before. She had seen walls like those in the past and each time things had not gone well.

“Oh…” the filly said softly, her voice barely audible. “We… we don’t have to go in… if you don’t want. I will be fine.”

“Hush now,” the mare replied carefully. “Of course we are going in. I promised to make you better, remember?”

“But, Mama… I’m scared.”

The mare was about to say, ‘me too’, but stopped herself. “Don’t be,” she said. “Don’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Because I won’t let anything happen to you. We will be ok. You’ll see.”

“Will we?”

“Yes. Everything will be ok. I promise.”

“Promise?” the filly pressed quietly.

“Promise,” the mare repeated. Saying ‘promise’ was easier than the truth, anyway. There was no security. There were no promises. There was only hope and her own decisions. If they weren’t enough, then there wasn’t any other outcome.

“Thank you, Mama,” the filly whispered.

“I… you’re welcome.” There was no time for guilt. The town was approaching.

The soft light of dawn was breaking out from behind the mountains in the east. It lit up the land before the town with a cold glow, revealing the haphazardness of the town’s layout for the mare to examine again. In the distance, several hills framed the town. They were picturesque bell-curves covered in ash and the stumps of dead trees. It was on one of these that the mare was climbing. She moved around from the shadow of the hill and laid down into the ash, minimising the amount of herself she was exposing to any watch-ponies.


Scooting forward on her stomach, the mare peered out from the edge of the hill and onto the town below her. In the light of the new day, nothing appeared to have changed. The haze still lingered in the air, a little thinner than yesterday but growing thicker as small pillars of smoke coiled out of numerous buildings. The town was still ringed by a series of makeshift walls, the metal and wooden pieces hammered or drilled together in a cruel, ugly fashion.

It was in the morning, however, that the mare saw her first living pony within the town. He was standing on one of the balconies crudely attached to the side of a building on the town’s exterior. The pony was dressed in rags very similar to the mare’s own, but he had strips of barding over his chest and sides as a gesture of protection. Next to him was a small collection of medium-sized wooden spears, the metal points failing to catch the sun’s light.

The mare frowned. From the sentry’s position, any approach from the road would be easily visible. She assumed there would be similar guards on all of the other main entrances as well. However, while that did limit her options, the town was clearly not impregnable. In some places entire sections of wall were missing, lined instead by thick strands of barbed-wire. It was an illusion of protection at best, probably meant to slow down any attackers rather than stop them completely. For a single pony like the mare, sneaking in would be easy.

Of course, that still left the issue of where on earth she was actually headed when she was inside the town. Wishing she hadn’t lost her binoculars back in the north, the mare peered through the gloom, trying to see if there was a building that somewhat resembled a hospital. Her gaze rested on a small tower near the middle of the town, but she soon rejected that idea. That looked more like a town hall or something.

To the mare’s relief, it did not take long to find what she was looking for. On the other side of the town centre to the mare, with its back to the river, cutting it off from access by the short way, was a large rectangular building with a faded cross on its roof. While its colour was no longer discernible, the mare assumed it was a hospital. Very few buildings have crosses on them.

She had her goal. Now she had to get there. She made note of as many locations of the smoke pillars as she could, as well as any signs of significant construction work, and set out.

The mare crept quietly down the hill, watching the guard intently. She knew her clothing would help her to blend into the ashen surroundings, but she couldn’t be too careful. At the bottom of the hill there was a short flat before the first layer of wire. The mare took a deep breath.

“Stay very quiet and hold on to me as tight as you can, ok?” she whispered to her daughter.

“Ok,” she whispered back, squeezing the mare’s neck gently while burying her head into the mare’s shoulder.

“Good,” the mare replied before starting to run. She kept her head low to the ground, wishing her hooves to be silent as they hit the ash in rapid succession. The mare used the trees that dotted the flatlands as cover, dancing into their meagre shadows to break up her body’s form. It wasn’t much, but anything was better than nothing.

The mare made it to the line of barbed wire just as her breath began to tighten. She paused in the shadow of one of the piles of junk that the wire was wrapped around in support to catch her breath. The filly had barely moved throughout the whole sprint.

After her heart rate had begun to return to normal, the mare turned to the wire. The fence was constructed by two strands of rusted metal running parallel to each other about thirty centimetres apart. Every so often cruel barbs broke off, sticking out into the cold air, waiting to snag on a pony’s clothes or flesh. On one spike, the mare was certain she could see a patch of clothing still caught to it, fluttering gently in the breeze.

“Can you reach up with a hoof and push the wire above our heads while I crawl under?”

“Yes,” the filly murmured, shifting her body to press her hoof carefully against the bottom wire.

“Watch out for the spikes.”

The mare felt the filly nod and so she crawled under, inching her body through the ash, keeping as low as possible. On the other side, she stood up quickly and raced over to the shadow of a nearby building. She was inside, so now she had to get through to the hospital.

Making sure she kept to the shadows cast by the eaves of the buildings, the mare crept through the town. Most of the buildings in Ponyville were next to identical: two or three story cubes gilded by natural-looking curves and terraces built into the walls as decoration. The majority of them looked to have been a cream colour, though occasionally some would be a bright pink, yellow or red.

Almost all of the structures had thatched roofing. At least, it had been thatched in the past. Now most of the roofs were gone, burnt or aged away into nothing. Some buildings had wooden planks nailed crudely to the support beams, forming impromptu roofs. All of the windows were broken, and like the roofs, some were boarded up.

It was deathly silent within the town, and so the mare eyed her surroundings suspiciously. Piles of junk and refuse lined the ashen streets, left there by inhabitants when they had outlasted their normal lifetimes.

A muffled scream cut its way through the morning air. The mare couldn’t tell where it came from, but it sounded close enough. She hated this place.

The mare made her way carefully through the empty streets. She watched every window she saw; waiting for the movement she believed to be inevitable. Scattered around her, small pillars of smoke coiled into the sky. If the mare strained her ears hard enough, she could swear she could hear voices travelling on the non-existent wind. They were quiet but harsh. They were the voices of ponies beaten by the world, ponies who had lost themselves.

Like her? The mare winced as the unbidden thought carried itself around her mind. Was that what her voice sounded like? Did her voice sound like that to the stallion? Did other ponies’ stomachs freeze in fear when they heard her words hang in the air, barely audible, but definitely near?

“Are you ok?” she whispered, peering out along the corner, looking for any sign of movement along the long street.

“I’m ok,” the small pony whispered back after a pregnant pause. “We should be quiet,” she added in a weak tone.

“I know,” the mare replied. “I just wanted to make sure.”

The filly didn’t reply this time, letting her weight rest heavily on her mother’s back. She did, however, tighten her grip on the older pony’s neck, giving it a gentle squeeze.

The mare dashed out from behind the corner and made her way up the street. She walked right in front of the buildings, pausing for a moment when she reached a side street. As always, her eyes darted in every direction and her ears strained in an attempt to hear any sound at all. Her heart shuddered violently in her chest.

A soft crash in a house nearby caused the mare to freeze. A string of curses floated out from the cracks of a boarded up window to her right, causing the mare to duck down a side street on the left. She hid behind a pile of rubbish, trying to ignore the smell. The filly’s breaths came in quickly on her back, and the mare could feel the small pony’s heart beat, even through both of their clothes.

Scum!” shouted a voice. It was male, hard and rough. It grated against the mare’s eardrums.

A small cry called out into the cold morning air, followed soon after by another crash.

“You’re not worth the food’ I waste on you!” the voice yelled again.

“Please!” shouted another voice, this one female, weak and shaking. There was fear laced into the one word, and the mare tensed at the sound of it.

“Please! I’m sorry! Ple-” The voice fell silent. The mare stayed frozen, listening to the sound of silence.

Suddenly, a dark shape was flung out of one of the windows on the second floor. It fell quickly to the ground, hitting with a soft thwack. The mare winced as the body of the pony did not move, a dark puddle quickly forming around her head. The pony was dressed in rags, almost identical to the ones she had seen on the ponies being driven southward before the mountains. This was a slave.

The mare wanted to cry.

Instead, she turned and ran down the alleyway, choosing to go the long way round this street.

“I’m not like them,” she whispered as she ran, tears forming in her burning eyes. “I’m not like them.”

She paused at the end of the alley, casting her gaze left and right. The street was empty, and all of the buildings were safely un-boarded. The mare shuddered slightly and the filly hugged her weakly.

Raising her head to the sky, the mare looked up through the haze of smoke to the ashen clouds beyond.

“I’m not like them,” she whispered skyward. “That’s not who I am.”

“I know that, Mama,” said a small voice from her back. The mare tried to look around at the pony who spoke. “You’re a good pony, Mama. You’re not like them.”

“I am?” the mare whispered.

“Yes,” the filly said with as much strength as she could muster.



The mare took a deep breath. She had to keep moving. She was losing the initiative of the morning. She needed to be strong. For her.

For her.

She had been moving through one of the more open spaces in the town when she had heard them. Their voices echoed down the empty streets, and their hoof-steps thumped loudly on the grey roads.

There was nowhere where the mare could hide except for a large tree that had been converted into a house. The tree itself was dead, the wood burnt, the ashen bark bleached and bare. Graffiti was scrawled across the trunk, illegible scribbles by the frustrated and the angry. The door was already open, ushering the mare into its gloomy entrance room as she sprinted in.

She could hear the ponies enter the clearing around the tree. She pushed herself up against a wall in the corner of what felt like a series of shelves. Silent, she was silence. Silent except for her and the filly’s short, yet sharp breaths.

“-again yesterday.” The mare heard the voice speak in mid-sentence as the group of bandits moved closer.

“How many?”


There was a spitting sound.

“It’s not all bad,” said the original voice. “Rasher said he got him one. Nothing serious, but it caused him to sprint away with his tail between his legs.”

“It’s still five,” the other pony replied, his voice hissing with menace. “And how many was it last time? And how many the time before that?”

The other pony mumbled something incoherently. They were moving away from the tree now, towards the edge of town.

“We have to le…” was all the mare heard before his voice also faded into nothing.

And then there was silence. Silence except for three sets of ragged breathing.

The mare froze. There was a third set of breathing in the room.

As her stomach turned to ice and adrenalin coursed through her veins, the mare spun around in the gloom, desperately trying to locate the sound of the breathing.

The room was dark and unbelievably messy. As to how the mare didn’t hit anything on the way in, she had no idea. On every inch of wall space bookshelves reached high up to the ceiling. A flight of stairs broke the walls of shelves briefly before it curled its way along the wall to a higher alcove.

The floor was covered in debris and refuse. Loose scraps of paper, books and indistinguishable objects lay scattered on the floor. Sitting to one side, near a door that the mare believed lead to the kitchen, were several cages. The bars of their metal ribcages stood over a metre from the ground, and the bases were solid. It was hard to tell in the perpetual gloom, but the mare thought that they were all empty.

That was until a bundle of rags lying cramped up in the middle of one of the cages near the corner moved.

“W… who are you?” whispered a voice, faint as death itself. The pony from which it came was almost invisible in the shadow. She couldn’t even tell if it was male or female.

The mare froze. The voice was scared. Even heavy with sorrow, defeat and resignation, the mare could hear the fear. It was just like the voice of the slave earlier. Just like the voice before it, the mare could hear the understanding and terror that came when faced with an inevitable fate.

The filly nudged her gently from her back. “Mama…” she began, trailing off expectantly.

“We’re… we’re friends,” the mare finally said.

“Friends?” the voice croaked back, its voice thick with disbelief.

“Yes. We’re friends. Can we help you?” She wasn’t sure what she was asking, or what she could even do, but it felt right to say, so she said it.

The pony chuckled slightly, their voice breaking upon invisible walls of resistance. “You can’t help me.”

“Yes we can. How do we get you out?” the mare asked, already walking over to the trapped pony.

“The cage isn’t locked,” the pony said quietly.

The mare stopped in her tracks. She noticed she had stepped in something wet. “But…”

“My legs,” the voice explained. “They don’t work anymore.”

The mare tried to step closer but stopped when her hoof splashed on the ground. Looking down, the mare’s eyes widened. She was standing in blood. The whole floor was covered in blood that was slowly seeping out from the captive pony’s cage. Judging by smell, blood wasn’t the only fluid in the mix.

“See?” the pony said, macabre amusement colouring its voice. “I can’t move. I can never move.”

“But… we can…”

“No,” the voice said firmly, even if it was faint and growing fainter with every passing moment. “You can’t. You can’t save me.”

“How long have you been here for?”

“In the cage? About a week. Like this? About twenty minutes.”


“Because I messed up, and they can’t afford to feed ponies who mess up. They can’t afford to feed ponies at all, really.”

“I… I am sorry,” was all the mare could say in reply.

“Don’t be,” the other pony replied. “I’m not. Maybe now I can sleep.”

The mare didn’t say anything. Met with silence, the other pony continued, “Peace, you know? Get away from all this ash and this death. Away from all these scum who aren’t fit to call themselves ponies.”

“You… you really want that?” the mare whispered.

“Of course… How can you not…? How… how is any of this better than that?” The pony’s voice was fading now, a dull numbness creeping into its words.

“I… how can you know?”

“I… don’t. I just hope. W… what more can we do?”

The mare was silent. Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. The silence rested heavily in the air. The mare wanted to cry.

“Sleep?” she said eventually.

“The best kind…” the pony replied, the voice almost faded into nothing. The pool of blood was wider now, touching the bookshelves around the cages.

“I bet it’ll be nice.” The mare was crying now. Softly, but crying nonetheless.

“I hope so…” The pony sounded tired. Almost as if they were just drifting off to sleep, after all.

“I bet it will be just like the old days. Just like when everything was bright and colourful. Back when we were happy.”

There was no reply.

“Just like before…”

The silence echoed in the shadow. There was no sound except for the mare’s soft tears. Why? Why, please oh why? Where was the hope in this? Where was the harmony? Where was the beauty in this moment? The mare wanted to scream, but she couldn’t. All she could do was cry.

“Mama…” the filly whispered. “It’s ok, Mama. It will be ok.”

“Will it? Will it be ok?” She had whispered this more to herself than the filly. The words came unbidden, drawn up from deep inside her.

“Of course it will, Mama. It will be ok. Remember, as long as we have each other.” Her voice was strong. It still wavered slightly from exhaustion, but the mare could almost picture the look of determination on her daughter’s face.

The mare’s sobs slowed. As long as we have each other… as long as we have each other… Was that enough? Enough to hold back the flood of death and soul-decaying fear? Was that enough to survive?

“And we’ll always have each other, Mama. Always.”

It has to be. It has to be enough. There was nothing else.

“I love you,” the mare whispered, having finally stopped her tears.

“I love you too, Mama.”

The mare turned and walked towards the door of the tree. She couldn’t bring herself to look back.

In the doorway, just before she checked to make sure the coast was clear, the mare whispered to her daughter one last thing, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” was the gentle reply.

The hospital was so close. The mare could see it, lying in an open field, surrounded on all sides by the buildings she had become familiar with. The single rectangle stood several stories high with multiple boarded up windows. It was so close, but yet so far.

Surrounding the hospital were tents. They were set up in rows, rough pieces of canvas stained and falling to pieces that had been stretched taught over broken support poles. Filling these tents were ponies or what was left of them.

They were the products of abuse, and they lay forlornly on the ground, their naked coats hanging pathetically on frames that poked through their flesh. Chains hung uselessly from their limbs; preventing them from doing something the mare wasn’t sure they could even imagine. None of them moved, and none of them even made even the slightest noise. The mare wasn’t even sure if they were still breathing.

The mess of tents was surrounded by a small fence constructed from a combination of junk and barbed wire. Two checkpoints had been erected in front of the hospital door and on the other side leading into the town. Nopony was stationed there, though. The mare was pretty sure that was because they just didn’t need to. These ponies weren’t going anywhere.

“Mama…” the filly whispered, both equally sad and fearful.

“Shh…” the mare intoned quietly. She was thinking.

The front door of the hospital sat on the other side of this forest of tents. She could go through, but she knew that would be a terrible idea. She couldn’t allow these ponies to see her. Even if they were still… normal… she couldn’t afford the noise. She couldn’t afford the risk of the commotion that they would cause.

The mare winced as a wave of disgust struck her. She would have to go around… avoid these ponies… She couldn’t help them. She couldn’t…

“Mama?” the filly asked again.

“We’re going round,” the mare replied slowly.


The mare winced again.

The mare turned and crept underneath the balcony attached to the building next to which she was standing. A lot of the buildings around here had been boarded up windows, and the mare knew that this meant that the area was probably crawling with bandits. She moved in short bursts, pausing frequently in whatever shadow or cover she could find. While she waited, she would watch the streets and the buildings carefully. Occasionally, she would catch voices in the distance. Some of them were loud and angry, others quieter… normal, even.

The mare made her way slowly around the flank of the hospital. The buildings provided plenty of cover, and she didn’t see a single living thing. The filly clung to her back like a saddlebag. The small pony hadn’t said a word since they had seen the tents for the slaves.  The mare didn’t say anything, either. There was nothing she felt she could say.

When she reached the side of the hospital, the mare peered out from a darkened alleyway onto her prey. The back of the hospital was pressed up a lot closer to the buildings, so to compensate, strong barriers constructed from furniture or old vehicles had been erected in a small perimeter, joining with the barbed wire fence in the front. A single gate gave access, only, like the front, nopony was watching it.

The point where the mare was interested in, however, was where the stronger barriers met with the barbed wire fence. It was here the mare planned to sneak in.

“Are you ready?” the mare asked quietly.

The filly shifted on her back, her response altogether unknown. The mare assumed she had said yes.

After throwing last look around at the buildings around her, the mare covered the distance between her hiding spot and the fence in a short sprint. When she reached the fence, she stopped, quickly dropping to her stomach. Praying that nopony was watching, the mare began to crawl underneath the wire. She pressed her body into the ground to give the filly as much clearance as possible.

On the other side, the mare hid in the shadow of an old sales-cart, letting her pulse slow. The back of the hospital would have once been a nice place. The remains of a garden were still visible despite the piles of junk and ash that littered the old lawns. Several old and wasted trees stood solemnly in a loose rectangle, surrounding what would have once been perhaps a flower bed or a pool of water. It was now covered in scrap and rubbish. A few old campfires dotted the courtyard, the piles of charcoal difficult to make out against the ash.

Having slowed her nerves, the mare picked herself up from the ash and dashed through the courtyard. For the time being, it was utterly silent. The windows of the hospital glared down at the mare, their boarded entrances hiding away terrible and wonderful things.

The mare soon reached the back door to the hospital. The original structure had long since been removed, now replaced by a single sheet of what looked to be plywood, drilled crudely into the frame of the original. It was here where the mare’s plan descended into guesswork. She had absolutely no idea what was waiting for her on the other side.

Whatever it was, though, the heat she could feel radiating off of the filly’s body urged her to continue. She had no idea what kind of time-frame she was running along, but she didn’t want to test their luck. She had to act quickly.

The mare inhaled deeply, letting the air fill her lungs. She fought against the instant gag-reflex that came with inhaling too much in the poor air and managed to keep her reaction to a mere splutter.

Slowly, the mare reached out with a hoof and pushed the door open.

The inside of the hospital was dark. A dirty linoleum floor stretched in front of the mare to all of the walls. Desks ran along one wall, behind which was a small room filled with cabinets. All of the cabinets were open, and loose paper was scattered all throughout the foyer.

The walls were devoid of any pictures other than stark plaques offering directions that were surrounded by suspicious stains. Several doors offered potential locations for exploration, but the mare ignored these. She instead headed straight towards the corridor that ran off a t-junction at the end of the lobby. The plaque on the right stated that in that direction was the nursery and other infant care. The left was for general patients. On both plaques was a small picture of stairs.

The mare chose the corridor heading left. To her, general patients seemed to hold a greater promise of storing any medicine. She made her way down the corridor, poking her head into any rooms they encountered. Most of the rooms were empty save for a few benches, chairs or tables. A few had stains over the floors, and others had soiled medical equipment. None of them had any kind of medicine.

In a few of the more intact rooms, the mare would enter quickly to look behind desks or pry behind cabinets. She was looking for secret or overlooked storage compartments. It was a long shot, but anything was better than nothing. She refrained from knocking on the walls, though. She had to be quiet. She had to be alert.

A soft thump caused the mare to freeze in place. It had come from a floor or so above her, somewhere to her right as well. She strained her ears, listening. There were no more sounds. All was silent again within the hospital.

With her heart pounding ferociously in her chest, the mare left the room she was in, walking further down the corridor.

At the end of the hallway, the path ended with a ninety degree right-hoof turn and a staircase. The mare paused at the foot of the stairs, considering her options. She hadn’t seen anypony down stairs, or any signs of recent activity. Of course, she had only explored one quarter of the back, but she had no reason to assume the rest was any different.

But if there were sounds upstairs, that meant ponies were probably there. And if there were ponies, then there were probably places where they stored any meagre supplies that they would have.

Her mouth set in a grim line, the mare walked up the stairs. At the top of the stairwell, she was met with a very similar layout to the first floor. Only here, the corridors were a lot smaller, and more individual rooms broke off on either side.

Another difference, was that the here, the mare could hear voices. There was what the mare guessed to be four of them, all dipping in and out of audible conversation. The conversation was coming somewhere on the mare’s left now, towards the front of the hospital.

The filly let out a small whimper on her back.

“Hush now,” she whispered quickly. “We have to be completely silent.”

She felt the small pony nod weakly against her shoulder.

The mare followed the corridor, poking her head into any rooms she encountered. The rooms here were a mixture of observation rooms and overnight rooms for patients. Three or four beds would be in a single room, empty curtain frames standing between them. All of the mattresses and pillows had been taken, leaving nothing but the metal frames.

The voices continued to mumble incoherently, echoing down the empty hallways. The mare was beginning to feel sick, a headache combined with an upset stomach. She hoped it was just the nerves or the fear. Those she could live with.

After almost half an hour of silent and fearful searching, the mare had found absolutely nothing of value. The only rooms she was yet to check were the ones immediately surrounding the vicinity of the voices.

Where there were ponies, there were probably storage spaces. It was straightforward enough, but the mare knew that ponies kept everything important to them close at all times. It was a simple mantra of survival and one that she rigorously followed herself. Every time she had ignored that creed, she could visibly remember - or feel - the consequences. She hated to check, but she knew it would be her best bet.

The mare pressed herself low to the floor, and began to shuffle forward toward the voices. They were coming from a room along the front wall, one of the rooms with a window. It would have been an old observation room, and part of the wall facing the corridor was the empty framework of a glass observation panel. Despite the lack of glass, the door was closed, but this didn’t stop their voices carrying out into the hallway.

“But where, Bleach? Where do we go if Manehatten is still in flames?” asked a deep voice filled with anger.

“Then we go back north and follow the coast,” another replied bluntly.

“Back north? You do realise that even going as far north as Manehatten is unbelievably stupid, right? It’s too cold,” a third said. His voice was higher pitched and proud, the kind of accent that the mare had heard the upper-class citizenry use in Canterlot.

“Well then, where else?”

“We can’t go east,” said the first voice. The deep one.

“Why not?” said the high class voice.

“Because there are groups out there that would eat us alive. You have heard the rumours. It’s not safe for ponies like us out there.”

“Go south then? Toward the outlying settlements?” the second voice offered.

“Too far and not enough resources on the way.”

“We’re already leaving the slaves to die… what more do you want?”

The first voice was silent for a moment. “You think it’s bad here? Do you? You think it’s hard to find food here? Out there, there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. And while here it’s frozen, down there, it gets so hot the air itself will boil you alive.”

The high class voice scoffed, and there was a small scuffling sound. The mare was crawling along the floor. To her right was a small room with a window overlooking the town. This window was unique in the sense that it wasn’t boarded up. Cold and dusty sunlight floated through, throwing the empty room into a sharp relief. It was empty except for an upturned metal container and a small table filled with a large number of rusty surgical apparatus. There was even a set of scales.

“Stop.” This voice was harsh. It wasn’t deep, but it wasn’t high pitched, either. It was cold, cold as death itself, cold as the snows in the mountains. The mare had to suppress a shiver. “We cannot go south,” the voice commanded. “We cannot go east. We cannot go far, and no matter what we do, the slaves are already as good as dead. We cannot afford to feed them. You know this. I know this. So do not waste my time repeating yourselves. Think! Where do we go?!”

The mare was almost at their room now, just outside the door. The voices were so close. If any of them decided to even look into the corridor, she would be spotted. She gingerly lifted herself up to the door and stuck her eye up to the broken lock.

Inside, she could just make out the shapes of four ponies, all of them armed and protected by barding, standing around a single table. They were all staring down at it, frowns covering their faces. Perhaps they were looking at a map. If so, that was a treasured document. The mare had lost hers to the elements a long time ago.

Resting up on the right hoof wall was a small collection of weapons - mainly old knives and axes. They all looked to be in reasonable condition, something that the mare was not surprised about. The strongest often fought the least themselves.

But what the mare was really interested in was the old wooden cabinet set against the far wall. On it was a faded red cross, a beacon for the mare’s eyes. A rusty lock connected the doors together, protecting whatever was inside.

The mare’s eyes lit up. There it was: her treasure box, her miracle. It was a medicine cabinet that was yet to be looted, pillaged or destroyed.

She stopped suddenly. She had a problem. Those ponies stood between her and her prize, and she needed them gone. As quietly as she could, the mare crawled along the floor to the room next door - the room with the open window.

As soon as she was inside, the mare picked up the metal container and set it gently by the window. It was thin and thus not too heavy, making it perfect for what the mare needed it for. She then started to move every single solid object she could find in the room and put it inside the container. The mare noted with satisfaction that practically every item she found was made primarily of metal.

The mare winced every time she placed an object inside too hard, causing a faint clink to resonate through the air. However, the conversation next door hadn’t slowed, now focusing on something completely different.

“But the Discord groups and the Manehatten ponies don’t seem to want to let up any time soon,” the high pitched voice said.

“That was only a rumour, mind you,” rebutted the high class voice. “One lone pony half-mad with starvation cannot be taken too seriously… particularly as he was pleading for his life.”

The mare grit her teeth at the tone the pony had spoken that last sentence with. Monsters…

“He did mention something about the Discord cult falling,” the deep voice rumbled. “We shouldn’t complain if that’s true. Maybe those Manehatten ponies are good for something, after all. Princesses know it took them long enough.”

The mare winced. Hearing these… bandits talk about the Princesses seemed wrong to her. So very wrong, like the mere act of them saying the name out loud made it less special. Tainted it.

She had collected everything she could find now. It all sat inside the container, a collection of the dirty, broken and the useless. As quietly as she could, the mare lifted the container with her mouth and let it rest on the window sill. Below her were several piles of scrap metal built around what looked like the bed of a train carriage. It was perfect for what the mare wanted.

Beyond that, though, the mess of the slave pony tents sat pathetically in the cold morning air. The mare could see that one of the stronger looking ponies had gotten up and was now walking slowly around to his comrades, bending down to speak with each one of them.

Where is the harmony? Where is the beauty? It hurt so much. The mare wanted nothing more than to run down and hold that pony, hold him and then help him talk to the slaves. Whisper to them that things would be better soon. That believe it or not, some good ponies still lived.

“We could just kill the slaves now. Put them out of their misery.”

Without a second thought, the mare kicked the container off the ledge, sending it spiralling down to the metal scrap below. It hit with an almighty crash as the metal container filled with smaller metal objects echoed loudly in the air.

The pony in the campsite froze, his gaze fixated on the scrap pile. Next to the mare, the voices had stopped. Briefly.

“What was that?!”

“I don’t know!”

“It came from outside, where the slaves are!”

“The slaves? What are they-”

“Get out there! Go!”

The mare heard the door burst open, and she threw herself up into a corner, praying that they didn’t check inside. Even despite her fear, the mare’s body was trembling. She was furious. She wanted punishment. She wanted retribution for the sins that those ponies had made against themselves. She wanted to make things right in the world. To restore some balance, some harmony.

Those ponies had to pay, yet she didn’t have the means. She couldn’t fight. She could just whimper in the corner until they left so she could commit petty theft - petty theft in a hospital.

The mare could hear their hoof-steps fade into the corridor outside. They were still shouting, urging each other onwards. The mare counted to three, before getting up and sprinting outside and into the other room. It was empty, empty save for a table in the middle with a map spread open on it and the lone medicine cabinet. The mare quickly got the filly to get off her back. The small pony nearly fell off, and as soon as her hooves hit the dirty floor, she sat down. Not missing a beat, the mare spun on her front hooves, and lashed out with her legs. The wooden door of the medicine cabinet splinted with a satisfying crunch. The mare turned, examining her efforts. The door was completely smashed in, swinging limply on one of its hinges, the lock hanging uselessly off it.

Inside was everything the mare could dream of. There were several shelves, though one had been knocked out, throwing bottles all over the floor. The rest of the shelves had a small collection of bottles, all with faded labels.

‘Antibiotics’ read one. ‘Viral Preventatives’ read another. Also inside were several magical antidotes. They were the traditional methods combined with the latest breakthroughs in medical magic. Though still in their early development, they had been incredibly popular before the end. Some ponies even claimed they would remove disease and sickness forever from Equestria. The world didn’t last much longer.

The mare didn’t stop. She pulled off the saddlebags, opening them quickly. First, she grabbed an assortment of bottles. She couldn’t bring all of them; they would’ve been far too bulky. Next, she grabbed some bandages and pre-packaged sanitary wipes. As soon as she was satisfied she had a wide enough selection, the mare ran over to the table and quickly folded up the map. It was old and severely creased along lines of constant use, but it was in one piece. That, too, went into her bags.

Outside, the mare could hear distant cries, shouts and curses. A soft scream punctured the air, too weak to sound properly in pain or fear.

She closed the saddlebags and threw them back onto her back and tightened them as fast as she could.

“Get on,” the mare said, a strap in her mouth. She lowered herself down to the ground as she spoke, making it easier for the filly to climb up.

The filly stood shakily, unsteady on her hooves. Her eyes appeared distant and unfocused.

“Hurry!” the mare urged. “Hurry!”

The filly lurched her way over before throwing herself onto her mother’s back. She wrapped her legs around the mare’s neck, and the mare stood up. She had to leave. Now.

Her hooves hit the cold, sparse floor with a sense of urgency as she pushed her body through the corridors back toward the stairs. The stark walls flew by her, with open doors gaping like hideous scars.

There was another scream, this one louder.

The mare sprinted down the stairs, heedless of anything or anyone coming back up. At the bottom, she ran down the corridor.

She found herself in the same foyer she had entered. Her hooves skidded slightly on the loose paper, and she scrambled to regain her balance. The filly moaned softly at the sudden lurch.

Regaining her balance, the mare sprinted towards the doors. She burst them open, sprinting out into the courtyard. It was empty, and the mare couldn’t see anypony around. She could, however, hear the distant shouts and cries coming from the other side of the hospital. She winced before pushing her thoughts out of her head. She had to get out. She had to…

The mare dug her hooves into the ash to slow her momentum. She had reached the fence. She practically threw her body forward, sliding forward on her stomach.

“The wire,” she pressed. “Lift the wire.”

She felt the filly oblige, albeit slowly. The mare grit her teeth. The cries coming from the front had changed now. They were angry, directive. They were orders. She was running out of time.

As soon as she was out on the other side, the mare got up and ran towards the shelter of the buildings. Both boarded and empty windows leered down at the mare, just waiting to reveal a pony beyond.

The sun was high in the sky, now. The day had passed considerably. That meant there were hardly any shadows, forcing the mare to abandon a stealthy approach in favour of speed. She had to get out of town.

She turned a corner, sprinting down a new street. The buildings were all tall here, looming up into the sky, framed by damaged roofs. The mare threw her gaze around the windows.

A pair of eyes stared back at her.

The mare froze, her muscles locking up. The pony was in the window of a building further down the street. She was peering out of the opening, looking confused. She stared down at the mare, her eyes drawn to the small pony clinging to her back. The mare gazed back, breathing heavily. Neither of them moved, neither of them said a word. The mare watched as the mare in the window moved, almost looking as if she was about to turn around. Her face was resigned, but most importantly, she was silent.

Suddenly, another pony appeared within the window. It was a stallion, his dark-brown coat fading into the gloom behind him. He stared down at the mare for a second, his eyes wide.

“Intruders!” he yelled, his voice echoing into the air. “Intruders!”

The mare’s heart stopped. Behind her, the cries had stopped.

“Ponies! Fresh Ponies!” the stallion screamed, not moving from the window. The mare next to him hadn’t moved either, and her face appeared torn.

The cries from the ponies by the hospital had started up again. They were moving now, the echoes getting closer.

The mare started to run. She pushed her legs as fast as she could, feeling her hooves hit the ash in a panicked rhythm.

“Mama…?” the filly whispered, her voice barely audible above the mare’s heavy breathing.

The mare didn’t reply. She just ran faster. The buildings flashed by on her left and right, barely noticed. She wasn’t at all sure where she was headed. She just had to get away from the voices. She had to get out of this town.

The cries behind the mare were gaining now. There were lots of them. The stallion she had seen was still shouting, though his voice was beginning to fade into the cacophony of cries that filled the air.

Other voices were springing up around the town. They were coming from all sides now, not just behind her. The mare shifted direction, ducking down a side street. She was vaguely aware that she was shifting away from a direction that put her facing home, but at the moment, that was irrelevant.

Escape. Run. Fear. The mare ran.

The first pony she had seen since the ones in the window was just a blur. He was trying to intersect the mare’s path by running down a side alley into the road she was on. She responded by changing direction herself, down another street. The pony was slower than she was, and she quickly heard his hoof-steps fade away.

Another jumped out to meet her, his mouth occupied by a long spear. His body was low to the ground and his legs were bent. He lowered the spear in the mare’s direction. His eyes narrowed into pin-pricks.

Rather than face him, the mare shifted direction again. The buildings were starting to grow smaller now. She was nearing the edge of the town.

The cries were close, so very close. The mare could make out words now.

“Catch them!”


“Spread out!”

Faster. Faster. She had to run faster. Oh Celestia, she had to run faster. She told herself again and again, but her limbs struggled to respond. She was growing tired, her muscles aching against the strain. The filly clung limply to her neck. The small pony’s weight shifted uncomfortably as she sprinted.

The mare burst out onto a wide road. She angled her body, forcing her momentum to change direction, taking herself down this new path. Looking up, she could see it. The exit. The road raced away from the buildings toward a large grey mass. It was a forest. It was an escape.

Blocking her escape were two ponies, a mare and a stallion standing guard at the blockade’s checkpoint. Both were armed and both looked ready to attack. The mare refused to change her direction. She barrelled towards them, her mind racing. The ponies looked at each other, before lowering their stances.

The mare charged forward. About fifty feet out, the stallion broke ranks. He snorted and ran towards the mare, lowering the knife he held within his mouth. The mare with the stallion quickly ran after him, chasing his tail.

As the two ponies closed in, the mare changed direction. She jumped sideways; changing the angle she faced the oncoming pony. He tried to match her shift, but instead threw his balance off, stumbling as he ran. Using her forward momentum, the mare spun and bucked the stallion in the side as hard as she could. There was crack, and the mare felt her hooves sink an inch deeper than they should have. The stallion flew backwards, knocked off his hooves. His body struck the pony behind him, hammering her to the ground like a rag doll.

The mare didn’t lose a beat, lowering herself onto all four hooves before sprinting out the town. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder and saw that the ponies chasing her had almost caught up. They were coming out of the side-streets in ones and twos, all running and yelling wildly.

The mare pushed herself onwards. Her breathing was coming in ragged gasps, but she was so close to the forest. There she would be able to lose them.

“Catch them before she gets into the Everfree!” shouted a voice behind her.

Everfree? That name sounded familiar. The forest was racing up to her, the trees growing impossibly close together. Their branches were so thick and numerous that despite having not a single leaf on their wasted trunks, they formed a solid canopy of thin skeletal limbs.

The mare looked back again. Some of the ponies had stopped, looking unwilling to go any further. Others were slowing, apprehension visible on their faces.

Without warning, the mare was in shadow. She was inside the forest, the bleached trunks ushering her inside. A thick coat of ash on the forest floor seemed to appear from nowhere as soon as soon as her hooves crossed the threshold of trees, muting her hoof-steps.

She looked back once more. Almost all of the ponies had stopped. The last few skidded to a stop as soon as they reached the trees, completely unwilling to go any further. One of the larger ponies, a unicorn, screamed in frustration.

The mare looked back, focusing her attention on the trees. She ducked and weaved between them, watching for gnarled roots that seemed to be desperate to trip her up. A low-lying branch reached out to snag the mare’s clothing, but she moved to the side, hearing the sharp crack as the branch splintered.

The ground began to rise, gently at first, but it steadily became steeper. The mare felt her pace slow. It was utterly silent now except for her gasping breaths and the occasional puff of wind. For how long she had been running, she wasn’t sure. The sun seemed low now, much lower than it had been in Ponyville.

At the top of the hill, the mare looked back. The forest stretched out around her as far as she could see in either direction. In the distance to the north, east and west stood the mountains - the mountains of home. The forest seemed to go on forever, forming a semi-circle from the east to the west, forming a natural wall for Ponyville’s southern entrance.

The trees were all dead. They were all bleached and exhausted, devoid of any foliage. It was a forest of the dead, its only inhabitants their own tombstones and the mare and her daughter – only inhabitants that she could see, that is.

Often breaking the wall of burned and wasted trees were jagged gashes in the earth. Series’ of canyons and gullies lay scattered throughout the forest, becoming more frequent and steeper the closer they were to the mountains. To the mare, they were the perfect places to camp. Taking one last look around, the mare headed down the hill, angling her trajectory so it would take her home.

The filly shifted on her back. “Mama,” she said. “I think I’m hungry.

The mare stopped. She was standing in the base of a small depression in the earth. Small rises flanked both of her sides, the trees blocking her view of the sky. The shadows were long, signalling that night was approaching.

“We’ll camp here,” the mare said softly. “I’ll get you some food.” She lowered her body to the ashen forest floor, and the filly dismounted, quickly lying down.

The mare took off the saddlebags, letting them rest up against a tree. She looked at her daughter. She was shaking. Whether it was the sickness, hunger or fear, the mare didn’t know. But she had to act assuming it was all of them.

She opened the bags, quickly poking her head inside, searching. She pulled out their water bottle and some blankets. She gave both to the filly, letting her get comfortable. She then pulled out her medicine bottles and examined the faded labels carefully, trying to find something that would make her better.

The filly’s condition was too vague for the mare to properly guess what she needed with her limited medical knowledge, so after settling on magically-imbued antivirals and some antibiotics, she unscrewed the bottle and poured two tablets onto a plate. She passed it to the filly.

“Take this,” she said. “Drink it with some water. It will make you feel better.”

The filly eyed the medicine doubtfully, but took it without a word. She reached down and licked the tablets up into her mouth. The mare took the unscrewed water bottle and offered it to the filly who took a mouthful. She swallowed, her face scrunched up in concentration. The small pony coughed loudly as the pills went down. After she had quietened, the mare smiled at her daughter.

“There, that should make you feel better.”


“Yes. You’ll see.”

The filly was silent for a moment before, “Mama?”


The small pony’s stomach rumbled. “I’m hungry.”

The mare laughed. Her muscles ached, her head was pounding, but at the sound of the small pony’s hunger, it all seemed to wash away. “I’ll get dinner,” she said between chuckles.

The filly smiled.

After dinner, the mare read the filly the story of the mares of harmony. The sun was disappearing, so she had to rely on memory more than any ability to see the pages. She thought about lighting the candle, but honestly, she wanted to sleep. She was utterly exhausted.

“And harmony existed throughout all of Equestria, forever and always,” the mare said softly, closing the book.

The filly snuggled into her blankets, her eyes struggling to stay open.

The mare reached down and kissed her daughter softly on the forehead. She wasn’t sure if it was just her imagination, but she could almost have sworn that the filly’s temperature had dropped. It wasn’t much, and it could mean nothing at all, but it gave the mare some hope. “Sweet dreams,” she whispered.

The filly smiled softly, her expression peaceful. “Mama?” she asked.


“Thank you, Mama.”

The mare looked at her daughter carefully. She allowed a smile to bloom on her face, a small one, but a smile nonetheless.

“You’re welcome,” she said after a pause. “You’re welcome.”

It was a small victory, but to the mare, it made all the difference.

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so please let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for chapter 8!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 8: Do You Remember?

Dawn. The light broke its way onto the land with a slow crawl. The mare woke with it, her eyes fluttering open as she tried to take in her surroundings. She went through the motions of the morning, tensing her muscles one by one, testing for any injuries, aches or strains. She was sore, but nothing hurt too badly.

They had made it out of Ponyville. They had made it out alive. She could hear the filly breathing next to her in the cold air.

Suddenly, the mare sat up. She looked over to her daughter, concern painted on her face. She reached out with a tentative hoof, hesitant to close the distance between them. Lightly, she felt the filly’s temperature and breathed a sigh of relief. It was still warm, but there was a noticeable difference from the day before. Perhaps more importantly, her coat was no longer covered in a thin sheen of sweat. She was breathing easily, her chest rising and falling gently underneath her blankets.

The mare retreated a little, drawing back away from the sleeping pony.

A soft scream ran its way through her memory: the slave ponies. The mare shuddered, her stomach twisting into ice. She had saved her daughter, but at what cost? She knew the inevitability of the slave ponies’ fates. She knew she could not have done anymore. She knew this, but it did little to settle her thoughts.

The mare stared up at the sky, watching the clouds hang like rotting curtains in the air. She couldn’t make out the light’s source yet, but the fact she could make out the trees proved that it was there. Somewhere.


“Yes, little one?”

“Just checking.”

The mare looked down at her daughter. “How are you feeling?”

“A little better,” the filly said. She paused, her faced scrunched up in concentration. “A little hungry, actually.”

A small smile broke across the mare’s face. She was successful. She had saved her. “Then let’s get you some food.” She got up, letting the blanket fall off her form and into a small pile on the ground. Her muscles groaned in protest, but she ignored their aches. She was lucky; aching limbs were a cause to thank the Princesses.

She stepped her way through the campsite, watching as the ash swirled gently beneath her hooves. It was dry, loose and even the smallest gust of air caused it to move. It clearly hadn’t rained here for some time. Yet, the mare thought, it was so cold. Her nose was numb, as was any other part of her not protected by her wrappings. As to why it wasn’t snowing, the mare had no idea.

After digging through the saddlebags, the mare returned to the filly with a small bag of seed that they had found in the caves and the bottles of medicine and water. She offered the bag to the filly first. “Eat,” she said softly. “You need to get your strength back.”

This time, the filly didn’t object, and she dug her head into the sack and munched happily on the seeds. The mare watched her carefully, sitting patiently in the ash.

When the filly had her fill, she gave the bag back. “Thank you.”

The mare smiled. “Now you have to take your medicine.”

“But why?” the filly replied. “I already am feeling better. Wouldn’t that just waste it?”

“You have to keep taking medicine to make sure the sickness stays away,” the mare explained.

“Forever?” The filly’s eyes were narrowed now.

“No, not forever. Just until you get better properly.”

Still looking at her mother suspiciously, the filly gave in, gesturing towards the bottles of medicine. The mare passed them and the water bottle to the small pony.

“You want me to do it?”

“It’s good practice.”

The mare watched as the filly struggled with the two caps before finally opening them. She put two pills on the inside of the cap and then swallowed them with a mouthful of water. She coughed a bit, but eventually swallowed the capsules.

“See? You can do it.” The mare smiled at her daughter.

“But why? Why do I have to learn?” the filly asked, passing the medicine and the water bottle back to her mother.

It’s good to know.”

The filly looked at the mare carefully, but the older pony looked away.


The mare sighed. “We should go.”


The mare looked north. She could see the peaks in the distance, their shadows looming on the horizon.


They couldn’t go straight to the north. That would put them back through Ponyville and back towards an entire town of bandits whose yells still echoed in the mare’s thoughts. No. They couldn’t go in a straight line.

Instead, she climbed up to the top of a small hill to get her bearings. The forest stretched in a semi-circle to the south of the town, its eastern edge running almost all the way to the base of the mountains. A low haze prevented the mare from making out any details, but she could tell that going through the trees to the mountains would be the easiest route. Perhaps there would even be a path that ran through the mountains all the way home. A brief check of the map she had acquired in Ponyville only cemented this plan. It was woefully short of detail, but the mare could see that the forest did run all the way up to the mountains.

Her mind made up, the mare began to walk, angling their direction to the north east. The filly tried to walk too, but the mare soon realised that the small pony didn’t have enough of her strength back for that just yet. The filly just clung to the mare’s neck, the older pony’s body aching in familiar places as she walked with the small pony’s weight for the third day in a row.

The shadows were long, and despite the rising sun, they didn’t change in the slightest. This place was unnatural, the mare concluded. But even then, it was just like every other place in Equestria. There was absolutely nothing living amongst the trees. There weren’t any leaves; there weren’t any plants at all. And it was silent, silent except for whatever sound the two ponies were making and the occasional gust of wind.

As they walked, the trees passed them by. They were bigger here than elsewhere in Equestria. Their thick trunks twisted themselves in convoluted patterns, and their branches reached out like long, skeletal fingers, creaking and scratching in the breeze. The mottled-grey branches were all bare, stained with charcoal and weather damage that left the tears of grime streaking across their bodies. The trees grew close together, forming almost impenetrable walls on either side of the remnants of the small game trail the mare was following. If the mare stared for long enough, she could almost picture grotesque faces carved in the bark. She suppressed a shiver.

It wasn’t long before the mare paused for a rest. She needed water, and she needed to let her muscles take a moments respite. They were in a small gully, the trees thinning slightly at the bottom. Running through the bottom of the ravine were a series of small puddles that the mare guessed would have once been connected together as a small stream. Now the mare knew just how cold it was, as several of the smaller puddles had frozen over completely, their murky contents locked in an icy prison.

The mare looked down at the filly after indulging in a small mouthful of water. The small pony was lying on the ash, her head buried in her hooves. The mare could see she was shaking.

“Are you ok?” she asked quickly, panic gripping her like a vice.

“I… I feel fine,” the filly replied, her voice barely louder than a whisper.

“Then what’s the matter?” It wouldn’t have been the first time her daughter had lied about her health. Even if she just didn’t want the mare to worry, the end product of the lie was still the same. She still worried.

The filly looked up gently, her eyes locking onto the mare’s. Whenever her gaze strayed into the trees, the mare noticed she whimpered gently. She was afraid of the-

“The trees,” the filly whispered. “They’re watching me.”

The mare looked around. The trees looked back at her, the twisted and deformed bark forming monstrous faces, the kind ponies only saw in their dreams. At least, that’s where they should only be seen.

“They’re not watching you,” the mare replied. She looked away from the trees. They made her skin crawl.

“They’re looking at me. I can feel it.” The filly’s voice trembled as she failed to hold the mare’s gaze.

The mare walked over and nuzzled her daughter gently. “They’re not looking at you. They’re just trees. Trees can’t watch ponies.”


“And besides, what would they do anyway? Trees can’t hurt you. You know that, you see trees all the time.” The mare nudged the small pony gently and she looked up again. “You’re stronger than a tree, right?”

“I’m stronger…” the filly repeated, her voice picking up slightly.

“See,” the mare said, walking over to one of the trees, “look at this one. It looks kind of silly, almost like it’s not very clever.”

The filly looked at the tree very closely before giving a small giggle.

And this one, look at it, this one looks all sad and droopy!”

The filly chuckled, giggling into a hoof. “You’re right, Mama. These trees do look silly.”

The mare walked back over to the filly, a smile on her face. “See? Nothing to be afraid of at all. You just have to laugh at them and they’ll go away.”

The filly nodded, a soft smile on her lips.

The mare nuzzled her daughter. “Nothing to be afraid of at all…”

Just after midday, the mare came across a canyon. Its walls fell into the earth, the rock covered in stains of ash and charcoal. Several trees had been uprooted around the drop-off, seemingly ripped from the ground. Their rotting trunks lay scattered amongst the trees that were still standing. Great gouges had been torn into the stone like claw marks. They were filled with ash, so the mare knew that they were old.

She approached the canyon carefully, listening out for any sounds. There was nothing. She placed a hoof into one of the gouges. It was literally twice as wide as her hoof and about three feet long. There were three of them in a near vertical pattern, the middle one sticking out a little bit further than the rest. The mare took a step back. These didn’t just look like claw marks; they were the footsteps of some terrible creature.

The wind creaked suddenly through the trees, and the mare had to force her muscles relax. She took a deep breath. There was nothing like that alive now.

The mare walked over to the canyon and peered down. The drop plunged into the innards of the earth, but not so deep that the mare couldn’t make out the bottom. It was covered in a forest of bleached trees, their trunks startlingly white and often curved.

The mare’s eyes narrowed. Those weren’t trees; they were bones. She was looking down on the cemetery of either one very big creature or potentially dozens of smaller ones. Or both. The mare could picture it, hundreds of animals driven in no particular direction, desperately trying to get away from the infernal flames, moving with only the need to survive. They would have ran up to the cliff wall and found nowhere else to go. The heat would have eventually forced them off the edge… or maybe they’d forced each other. Which had been first, the mare couldn’t be sure.

An unbidden thought crossed the mare’s mind, causing her to move back from the cliff. Were ponies any different from those animals? She had seen what happened at Canterlot. She had seen ponies throw themselves and their loved ones off the edge of the city in an attempt to escape. Would their bones still lie at the foot of the city, lying forgotten like a forest of tombstones?

Perhaps in that moment, she had already seen why ponies were the way they were. She had seen the true nature of ponies before they even knew what was happening to them.

The mare couldn’t look any longer. She turned away from the cliff, heading along its length toward the east.

“Mama?” the filly asked.

“It was nothing,” the mare replied quickly. “I just thought I saw something.”

“Like what? Something bad?”

“…No.” The mare sighed.

“Then what?” the filly asked, suspicion still colouring her voice.

“I thought I saw something good,” the mare lied.


The mare noted how the small pony didn’t even bother guessing what it was. Even she couldn’t really come up with anything.

They fell into silence, letting each other stew in their own thoughts.

It is cold. But the mare doesn’t mind, because it’s not too cold and she is far too excited anyway. Plus, she is wearing a brand new scarf. The purple fabric, emblazoned with gold patterns, flutters behind her as she runs. Her mother gave it to her a few days ago for Hearths Warming.

Snow covers the ground around her in thick drifts. As the mare runs through it, her hooves sink deep into the fresh falls. All of the trees’ naked branches are covered in a thin layer of powder.

Her parents should be waiting for her at the lake. That’s where they told her to meet them anyway. She runs through the park towards her parents. She loves the snow.

Her ice skates clink loudly around her neck as she runs. She loves after school during winter as she gets to do all kinds of really fun games. The mare doesn’t really like the cold, but she puts up with it so she can play the games.

She crests a small hill, and the lake appears beneath her. Several ponies are standing around chatting amicably and even more are already speeding around the frozen body of water. A huge smile breaks on the mare’s face and she sprints down the hill towards the pond.

“Mom, Dad!” she cries as she reaches the bottom.

Her parents look up from lacing their own skates onto their hooves. The mare’s not quite sure how they do that; she still needs to get them to help her, after all.

“Hey!” her dad calls back. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Silly! You told me to come!”

Her dad laughs and her mom rolls her eyes. “Are you ready to go skating?” her mother asks.

“I got my skates right here,” she replies. She lowers her head and lets the skates slide off her neck and fall on the ground. She stares at them for a moment before looking back up at her mother.

“Would you like a hoof?” her mother guesses.

“Yes, please…”

“Dear, would you mind?” Her dad nods and moves over to help the mare with her skates.

Before long, she is all buckled up and ready to go. Shakily, she gets up on her hooves, trying to keep her balance on the thin blades. She’s always a bit wobbly, and even more so when she hasn’t skated for a few days.

She looks up to her mother, but the older pony is staring off across the pond.

“Mom!” the mare says. “Mooom? Are you ready?”

“What? Oh! Oh yes, I am ready!”

“What were you looking at?”

“I thought I saw something,” her mother replies slowly.

“Saw something? Like what? Is it something good?”

“You might think it’s something good.” Her mother looks down at her with a small smile on her face, her eyes twinkling.

The mare is confused. “What do you me-?” Her mother interrupts her with a small gesture towards the side. The mare looks over across the lake, searching for what she was hinting at. She gasps. “Spades!” she yells as loud as she can. “Spades!”

The small colt looks up bewildered, still trying to tighten his own skates. He has strap in his mouth and one leg stretched at a very odd angle. The mare lets out a small giggle. “Oh, Spades…”

She walks straight over to the lake and puts a hoof gingerly onto the ice. Her right hoof jerks out a little when it hits the ice, but she steadies it before putting more weight onto it. When she is confident that she isn’t going to slip on the ice, she starts to push herself forward, moving her legs down and out in an alternating rhythm to move. By the time she reaches the other side of the lake, her confidence has doubled and she skids to a stop by the colt who looks up as she arrives.

“Hey.” He pulls on a strap.

“Hey there!” she replies, smiling hugely at her friend. “Are you ready to go skating?” She had no idea that he would be here, but now that he was, she didn’t bother to consider that he might have never shown. He was here now, and that was the important thing.

“Almost.” With a small grunt her tugs on the last strap before flicking the clasp close with a hoof. “There! I reckon that just about does it!”

The mare beams. “Let’s go skating then!”

Spades nods, a smile on his own face. He gets up, wobbling just like the mare did when she first tried about a minute ago.

“Come on…” the mare huffs impatiently, watching the colt struggle. Spades shoots her a look.

Now firmly on his hooves, Spades walks over to the ice. Just like the mare, he tests his weight slowly at first, slipping and sliding on the thin blades.

“Well, let’s go then!” the mare says happily, turning around. She pushes forward eagerly, and her skates grate against the ice with a hiss.

Just as she is building up speed, she throws a brief glance back over her shoulder. Spades is awkwardly  wobbling his way forward. He is stepping more than he is skating.

“Down and out, Spades. Down and out!”

“I know, I know!”

He starts to pick up momentum, and the mare nods appreciatively. Just as she is about to look back around, Spades’ skate strikes a gouge in the ice, sending his skate spinning around, the clasp clearly not done up properly. He yells loudly as his balance is completely thrown, and he tumbles to the icy ground.

The mare quickly skates back over. “Spades! Are you ok?”

“I’m ok! I’m ok!”

The mare tries to stifle a giggle. “Silly.” She helps him get back on his feet – after tightening his clasp up properly.

“I could do it last year…” he says sullenly.

“And you can do it this year,” the mare replies. “Just follow me.”

“Down and out?”

“Down and out,” the mare affirms.

He sighs. “Well… here goes nothing!” He pushes forward, and promptly falls flat on his face again, his legs splaying everywhere.

This time, though, the mare doesn’t bother to hide the laughter.

The river gushed loudly in front of them, sending shockingly cold spray into the air. Thin sheets of ice hugged the banks in the slower moving shallows, reminding the mare just how cold it really was. The water was the same colour as the clouds  grey and polluted looking.

The mare was just packing up her materials after filling up the water bottles. She was never sure just how effective the still was at keeping the poisons out of their drinking water, but so far they were ok. She offered the filly a small mouthful who accepted it silently. The filly had decided that she wanted to walk for a bit by herself, and the mare had obliged. Her back was beginning to really hurt.

After taking her own small mouthful, the mare packed the bottle back inside her saddlebags. She slung them over her back and tightened them, pulling hard on the worn strap until it hurt.

“We have to go over that, don’t we, Mama?”

The mare looked up. The filly was staring at the lone tree trunk spanning the width of the river. The wooden bridge was starting to rot, the process sped along by the constant contact with the water. It wasn’t ideal. In fact, she was tempted to keep walking down the back until she found something… safer. But the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon, and a fog was starting to make itself known in the depressions of the earth. She wanted shelter, and to do that, she had to keep moving forward, or go back.

“Yes. Don’t worry. It’s not very far.”

The filly didn’t reply, staring dubiously at the tree. The mare walked over to it, keeping her hood down despite the spray getting in her mane. She placed a hoof onto the wood and it held. Emboldened, she placed another, and then another. When she was standing completely on their impromptu bridge, she turned back to the filly.

“See? It’s fine.”

The filly’s eyes narrowed, but she followed her mother onto the tree. The mare began to walk, placing each hoof slowly down onto the slimy trunk. She looked back over her shoulder and saw that the filly was doing the same, her face scrunched in concentration.

Beneath the two ponies, the river rushed underneath them hungrily. The bubbling water filled the air with its drone as it flew by. Occasionally, the mare would see flotsam or jetsam caught amongst the rivers fury.

She breathed a sigh of relief when her front hooves hit dry land. “See?” she said, jumping forward. “Nothing to worry about.”

She leaped forward, and to her horror, the tree shifted slightly, groaning under the rapid change in weight. The filly screamed, launching her body towards the beach, knocking into the mare. The mare stumbled, disorientated.

She spun around, only to find the tree in almost exactly the same spot. It had barely moved. She looked down to the filly, who was breathing heavily on the pebbled riverbank.

The small pony looked up, her face torn between annoyance and remorse. “Don’t… do that,” she said slowly.


The filly got to her feet, her legs shaking ever-so-slightly.

“Are you sure you still want to walk?” the mare asked, concerned.

‘Yes. I can walk.”


The filly looked her mother in the eyes, her mouth set in a straight line. “Yes.”

Understanding, the mare nodded. “Ok.”

The filly took a step, but then stopped, looking back to the mare. “Where are we sleeping tonight?”

“We have to find somewhere.”

The filly started to walk, roughly following the direction they had been walking before they stopped. “Ok.”

The castle loomed up into the rapidly darkening sky. The crumbling stone towers were wreathed in a thick fog, the moisture obscuring the fortress’ outline. It stood in the middle of what almost appeared to be an island, separated from the mare by a moat of sorts – a canyon that fell away sharply into an impenetrable abyss.

The mare looked up the mass of stone and masonry. The parapets and spires looked like they had to struggle against time itself to stay upright. The castle was huge, at least two-hundred feet wide, and even in its ruined state, it flew up into the sky, the broken towers revealing winding stone staircases inside.

The fog lent the area a general sense of unnaturalness. It crawled along the forest floor, plunging off the side of the cliff before rising back up again towards the castle, obscuring it from view.

To the mare, the castle was shelter. She just had to get to it.

She walked up to two wooden support poles sticking out of the ground by the canyon’s edge. They were charcoaled with stained metal rings encircling them in several places. The mare could see the loop where the rope would have been tied. This would have been, once upon a time, her bridge across. Now it was gone.

“What was this place, Mama?”

“I don’t know. It looks like a castle.”

“Just like the Princesses had…” the filly said, slightly awed. She had seen pictures of the Canterlot palace in the mares of harmony book. Despite the castle’s condition and the dissimilar decor to the castle in Canterlot, the filly was still clearly impressed.

“I am not sure…” But even the mare couldn’t deny that the architecture of the towers bore a resemblance to those in the royal palace.

“Are we sleeping here?” the filly asked.

“If we can get in,” the mare replied.

“Why don’t we go around?”

The mare paused. The canyon seemed to encircle the castle, but she had to admit, she couldn’t see where it joined. Maybe there was a back way in.

“It’s worth a shot.”

They followed the moat around the edge of the castle, the oppressive wall of trees on their right. As they walked, the fog seemed to grow thicker, coiling itself into thin wisps as it moved. It almost looked alive.

At back end of the castle, the canyon end abruptly. The drop just finished, leaving a narrow land bridge to the castle. Stretching across its length was a crumbling wall with a black portcullis set into its dilapidated structure. It was about ten feet high, the stone was smeared in soot and diseased looking, covered in what looked like mould. The mare knew that it couldn’t be, though. Even mould didn’t survive in the open elements, only in enclosed spaces. The gate in the wall was open, the metal twisted and rusted, leaving a narrow pathway through.

The mare approached the gate slowly, feeling the fog creep around her hooves. The wall cast a long shadow that plunged the two ponies into darkness. Crumbling masonry littered the ground, parapets and furnishing that had fallen off of the defences.

“Do we go in?” the mare asked softly.

“I… I don’t know.”

The mare looked skyward. She couldn’t make out any source of light. Night was approaching and it was approaching fast. She inhaled softly.

“We don’t have a choice. We need someplace to sleep.”

The filly nodded, looking past the mare and towards the ruined fortress.

Together, they walked through the gate, following the faded remains of a path. Their hooves seemed to make no sound as they walked, altogether muffled by the creeping fog. The mare kept throwing her glance around, watching for the slightest signs of movement. Apart from the white haze, there was nothing.

They were moving through what appeared to have once been gardens. The mare could see cracked bricks when the fog shifted, arranged in circular fashions around the bed of ash. Dead trees were set in lines that curved through the castle grounds, two on either side, just how they were with the path the mare was on. These trees were different to the ones in the forest surrounding the castle. These were thinner, the bark less gnarled and twisted. Even though they were burnt and lifeless, they looked neater. More purposeful.

To the mare, they looked like the trees of somepony’s home.

The garden ended abruptly against the castle’s walls. To their left the fortifications had crumbled completely, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble lying amongst the fog. Next to the damage was an enormous empty frame. The mare could still see the great rusted metal hinges clinging to the stone’s edge.

Sharing one last glance with her daughter, the mare crossed the castle’s threshold. She found herself in a huge entrance foyer that seemed to stretch the entire length of the castle. The ceiling soared above her, even further in places were the roof had caved in. The fog seemed reluctant to enter the fortress and so the mare was able to see the marbled floor clearly; it was broken into neat squares, punctuated occasionally by loose cracks that snaked their way in convoluted patterns.

Windows were set evenly on both sides, their gothic frames empty. Small metal struts lay scattered on the floor around them. There wasn’t any glass, though.  

On all of the walls, stone pillars offered structural support and decoration. Most of these had broken, leaving piles of rubble on the floor. The mare could see why parts of the roof had collapsed. Snaking along the walls were thin, black tendrils, the bodies of vines long since deceased.

Walking through the entrance lobby, the mare could see a large number of doors spread out on either side. In two places staircases spiralled up into higher floors or down to lower basements. One of these had collapsed completely, tearing a huge chunk of the wall with it.

The mare could see that the entrance foyer ended with large and bare wall, broken only by a single lone door that had been blasted open, its rotting frame lying in several pieces. The mare paused. She could see a statue of sorts lying in the room beyond, a weird combination of small pillars and pedestals.

Her curiosity piqued, the mare approached the door. Her hoof-steps echoed loudly as she walked, hers and the filly’s the only sounds in the empty castle.

Through the door, the mare found the statue. It was a circle pedestal, with six spoke-like struts coming off the top. A large circle of stone finished the sculpture off, several cracks running through its bulbous body. In front of the monument was a small pile of stone shards.

The mare walked up to the statue, examining it. It was bare, except for some strange symbols etched into the base of the circle. The mare looked a little closer. There were six of them, each one lined up with one of the spokes. A rainbow and a cloud, three butterflies, some balloons, three jewels, three apples, and finally, a star surrounded by what looked like sparkles.

The mare froze. She had seen those symbols before. They were sitting in a book inside her saddlebags right now. She motioned to the filly to come over and look. Curiosity etched on her face, the filly obliged. The mare waited while the small pony scrambled onto the mare’s back to get a better look. She heard the filly gasp.


“I know.”

“The story book was telling the truth!”

The mare smiled. “I know.”

They were real!”

“They were.” The mare grinned again as the filly got down. “They were,” she said again.


The mare was speechless too. This castle looked completely different from the one in the book. Well, not completely, but different enough. The mare looked around. The Nightmare had stood right where she did now, casting terrible spells at Twilight as she defeated her with the magic of friendship.

Defeated her. Twilight Sparkle and the mares of harmony had defeated her. Defeated one of the greatest evils the world had known with friendship. The mare started to laugh. Her whole body shook and her lungs ached as she coughed and spluttered against the waves of mirth that struck her again and again.

The filly looked on, her face a mixture of concern and fear. “Mama…?”

The mare continued to laugh. Her cackles were growing quieter, turning into sobs. She reached up with a hoof; her eyes were burning. Pulling away, her hoof was wet.

“Mama? Why are you crying?”

The mare looked around at the crumbling castle. Despite the poor light, she could see the burned and dead trees in the distance through the broken windows. She could just make out the sky, bruised and brown, choked with ash. She could smell the dust, the charcoal and the decay.

Still crying, the mare looked to her daughter. “No reason. Just tired.”

The filly frowned. But she didn’t say anything, instead coming over and nuzzling her mother. “I’m tired too, Mama.”

“I know.” The mare returned the nuzzle, slowly regaining control of her emotions. There was a bitter taste in her mouth.

“We can be tired together!”

The mare smiled at her daughter, her smile weighted with an aching yearning. “Yes, we c-” She stopped herself. “Let’s find somewhere to sleep.”

The filly nodded helpfully. “Ok!”

Together, they left the room, leaving the statue behind them in the crumbling castle.

They spent what little light they had left searching through the other rooms in the castle. They were all completely empty. The only furniture that was left was made out of stone or metal, and even then it was all cracked or rusted through.

The mare noted that even though there was the occasional scorch mark, the entire fortress seemed to be devoid of any serious fire damage. It was just… old. So unbelievably old. The mare knew that it had been ancient back when the mares of harmony had been alive. Now it was seemingly old as time itself. For all the mare knew, she could be right.

They settled for the night in what looked like had once been a library of sorts. Stone shelves reached as high as the roof, their surfaces completely empty save for dust. There was nothing.

Resting behind a small pile of rubble near a corner, the mare prepared dinner by the lantern’s soft light. The two ponies ate it soundlessly, staring out into nothing. It was silent apart from the occasional clink of a metal spoon or the quiet sounds of chewing. The mare focused very hard on her food.

After dinner, and when the filly had taken her medicine, the mare wrapped her in a blanket before doing the same for herself. She didn’t offer to read the filly the mares of harmony book like she normally did. The filly didn’t ask, either.

The mare lay down on the cold floor, holding the blanket to her body as close as possible. The lantern was out, plunging the castle into an impenetrable darkness. To the mare, it was welcome. In the darkness, she tried not to think. She tried not to think about Scarlet Quill, or the cult members, or the stallion, or the slave ponies back in Ponyville. She just tried to breathe. Slowly, in and slowly out. Breathe.

“Mama?” The filly’s voice sounding out into the oppressive silence like a bell.


The small pony paused, letting silence creep back into the world. Then, “You’re my friend, Mama.”

“I… what?” the mare asked.

“You’re my friend,” the filly repeated, her voice firm but tentative at the same time.

“I… I…” She breathed slowly. “And you’re mine,” the mare said at last.

“Good.” She sounded happy.

The mare wasn’t sure if the small pony remembered their conversation on the plains outside Manehatten. It had been about a week ago. It felt like so much longer now. A lifetime. But that’s what time was now. Every day was a lifetime.

But perhaps she did remember. It wasn’t really important.

“Thank you,” the mare whispered.

“Mama?” the filly whispered back.


“I love you, Mama.”

“I love you, too,” the mare replied. “I love you, too.”

The mare smiled, rolling over to face the filly, invisible in the darkness. That was ok, though. She was still there. She inhaled deeply, letting the air fill her lungs. The mare closed her eyes. Things weren’t right. Things were far from it. But she was smiling.

Breathing considerably easier and still with the faintest hint of a smile on her face, the mare fell asleep.

A thin shaft of light burned the mare’s eyes, forcefully awaking her from her slumber. She rolled over, ignoring her rumbling stomach. Her thoughts wandered, ticking over her senses one by one. She paused. Shaft of light…?

The mare bolted upright, her eyes darting to and fro, searching. Her expression fell. There wasn’t any beam of light. It must have been a dream. There was nothing but visibility, a light with no clear source illuminating the stone walls around her in cold clarity.

Sighing, the mare got up. She walked over to their bags and fished out the water bottle. She indulged herself in the smallest of sips, despite the fact she had filled it only the day before.

Placing the bottle up against the bags, the mare checked her daughter’s temperature. It was lower again now, almost back to normal. By tomorrow, Celestia and Luna willing, she should be back to good health.

The filly woke soon after, completing the next step of their morning ritual. This morning, though, she smiled at her mother. The mare returned it with warmth.

After breakfast, the mare got the filly take her medicine for what the mare hoped would be one of the the last times. She was pretty much better, after all.

The two ponies packed away their things and left the stone library. The filly didn’t ask where they were going. She knew exactly where they were heading. And the mare did too. There was only one place left for them to go now. They were so close. So very close.

The two ponies made their way through the castle, following their memories for the exit. The whole place seemed a little lighter in the morning air. Perhaps it was the lack of fog out of the windows. Either way, it made the mare feel a little more comfortable.

Back in the entrance hall, the mare crossed it quickly, making for the large door. Without the fog covering the ground, she could see its broken form lying on the stone floor. The double doors had been split into multiple pieces, rent apart along the ancient metal supports artistically hammered onto its structure. The wood was a little burnt, but other than being in several pieces, relatively intact.

A soft clicking sound brought the mare crashing back down to reality. She froze, her heart hammering in her chest. The filly had heard it too, standing as still as a statue, not even a breath coming from her lips. The sound disappeared, moving away from them. It had been coming from outside, to the left of the entrance.

The mare motioned for the filly to climb on her back, which she did immediately, carefully avoiding making too much noise. When she was hanging on securely, the mare crept towards the entrance, listening with perked ears.

At the doorway, she paused, inhaling deeply. She could hear somepony, or something moving. It was moving slowly and away from the door.

Adrenalin coursed through her body like lightning, and her her muscles tingled with anticipation. She took a deep breath, letting the strength from the air fill her muscles. The filly squeezed her neck tighter, and the mare jumped out. She landed on the cold ash, her position low and ready, ready to run, lash out or…



“You were quite loud back there,” the pony said. He had his back turned to the mare, staring out across the gardens into the forest beyond. His coat, where it was visible behind reinforced barding, was a golden colour. His matching mane and tail was tangled and filthy. Saddlebags rested on his flanks as did a long tube that the mare couldn’t see properly.

The mare snorted, not raising her guard.

The pony sighed, shaking his head. He turned slowly, his movements designed not to alarm. He turned, and the mare gasped. It was a pegasus.

“My name is Heavens,” he said slowly, calmly.

“You’re a pegasus,” the mare said softly, not quite believing her eyes.

“I was, yes.”

“What do you mean?”

In answer, Heavens spread his wings. But now, they weren’t wings. Not anymore. The flesh was scarred and disfigured, twisted and deformed. It looked burnt, but burnt a long time ago, with the skin never quite healing. There weren’t any feathers, but the mare could swear in places the flesh had melted around some. “I am not a pegasus anymore,” he said softly.

“I…” The mare was speechless. She felt the filly shift on her back.

Heavens took a step toward them. His body shuddered, and he grimaced slightly. The mare tensed, her eyes staring daggers into the other pony. Heavens was armed. That tube was a sword  of griffon make judging from the handle wrapped in dark bands of leather designed to accommodate talons.

“No closer,” she growled.

“Mama…” the filly whispered into her ear. “He’s hurt.”

“What are you doing out here?” the mare asked, ignoring her daughter.


“Hiding? From who?”

“From those monsters in the town.” His voice was harsh.


“They enslave ponies. They force them to build or do… other things. They aren’t ponies anymore, so they’ve forfeited the right to live. They’re monsters.” The pegasus shifted his weight, wincing as he did.

The mare frowned. Forfeited the right to live? “Why are you hiding from them?”

“Because I fight them, and a couple of days ago was a bit rougher than usual.”

“What? You fight by yourself?”

“Yes. By myself. Who else would fight with me?”

The mare didn’t miss a beat. “So where’d you get that sword? That’s a griffon weapon.”

Heavens watched her calmly. “I found it.”

They held each other’s gaze for a moment. “You should go,” the mare said slowly, evenly. She didn’t think she would have to confront him; he seemed ok. But there was blood on his hooves. He was a killer.

Heavens’ face fell a fraction. The filly shifted around again. “Mama,” she pressed, “we need to help him! Please!”

“You don’t have to help me,” Heavens said quickly.

The mare stared at deformed pegasus while he stared back. His expression didn’t move, but the mare could see… something within his eyes.

“Please… not like last time…”

The mare winced, her stomach clenching tightly.

“How injured are you?” she asked quietly, cautiously.

“Not too bad. I just need to clean some of these cuts properly. My leg is already getting better but…”

“I have some antibiotics,” the mare offered.

Heavens’ eyes lit up. “You do? How did you find any?”

“I took them from the Ponyville hospital.”

The pegasus raised an eyebrow. He looked… impressed.

“We have food, too. Lots of it. You could have some,” the filly offered, her voice shaking.

“Quiet!” the mare hissed.

“But, Mama…”

“I have a little food,” Heavens said.

“I…” The mare was at a loss. Her mind screamed at her to force him away. He wouldn’t be fast, she hoped. She could make him go away. But the filly’s words still reverberated around her skull. What would the mares of harmony do? What would they do? “Come inside,” she said eventually. “I’ll look at your cuts.”

She watched him as he started to walk towards the doorway. He paused when she didn’t move as well, but she just stared back. Realisation dawned in his eyes, and he kept walking. He was to be in front at all times.

The mare directed the pegasus towards the room with the plinth. They walked through the empty foyer, their hoof-steps echoing loudly. Neither of them spoke.

Once inside, Heavens deposited his saddlebags and other barding onto the floor. He pointedly stepped away from them, putting the dais between himself and his weapon. The mare nodded, appreciating the move.

“Ok, lie down, please.” Heavens did as he was told, still not saying a word.

The mare set down their saddlebags. She withdrew the bandages, the sanitary wipes and some of the antibiotics. She didn’t want to have to use them, but they were there just in case.

She examined the pegasus’ body closely. It was covered in scars, and not all of them cuts. Blotches of pink flesh where the fur refused to grow back properly covered his entire body like a terrible skin condition. There were numerous shallow and fresh lacerations scattered all over, but none that looked too serious. But one gash on his shoulder was still open, the flesh covered in a dry mat of blood. The mare winced when she saw it and started cleaning there first.

She opened up several of the clean serviettes, tearing through the plastic coatings. They had been the kind they had given at fast food restaurants. Now they were probably the cleanest materials left in the world. They were a commodity, and not to be parted with lightly.

The mare began cleaning away the dried blood around each of the cuts, leaving them pink and raw. She could see that he had clearly attempted to clean these himself, judging by the rough smears of dried blood matted in his coat, but the mare could only guess what with. Whatever it was, it hadn’t done a lasting job.

Heavens sat quietly the entire time, only wincing occasionally when the mare applied a little too much pressure. The filly sat nearby, watching them both silently. When she was done, the mare sighed before passing the bottle of antibiotics over to the pegasus. The gash on his shoulder looked dangerous. It hadn’t gone bad yet, but it might.

“Here, take these.”

Heavens looked at the bottle carefully before opening it. He paused. “There are hardly any left.”

The mare looked at him for a moment before standing back up and walking back over to their bags, putting away her materials.

“Thank you.”

The mare stopped in her tracks. “You’re welcome,” she whispered.

The filly smiled.

The three ponies sat around the stone statue, all of them sharing a single can of beans. The mare watched the pegasus closely, but she was starting to feel slightly more relaxed around him. He hadn’t attacked them. He hadn’t tried to steal anything and run.

It was his can of beans they were eating, too.

He had, however, started to talk. “Where are you headed?”

“Home,” the mare replied. Her voice was a lot gentler now, but she tried to avoid using too many words. Simple. Simple was safe.

“Home?” Heavens raised an eyebrow, but the mare didn’t elaborate. “Where have you come from then?”

“Up north.”

“Up north? With the pilgrimage?”

It had always been a strange word. It was the wrong word. They hadn’t been pilgrims. They had been refugees. “Yes.”

He paused. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the mare replied.

They fell into a silence, neither of them looking at anything in particular. This time, though, it was the mare who broke the quiet. “What about yourself? You always fought the bandits in Ponyville?”

Heavens snorted. “No. This is a new crusade. I have only been going at this for a couple of months now.”

“Why? Why do you do it?”

“Why wouldn’t I? Somepony should. Somepony should make those ponies pay for what they are doing to their slaves.”

“But… how?”

Heavens frowned. “I can’t free them. Theyre too well guarded for that. I can only raid their supply scouting parties and wear them down.”

“Wear them down?”

Heavens held her gaze for a moment, and then looked away. The mare could have sworn his eyes appeared… sad.

“I think you do a good thing,” the filly said suddenly.

Heavens watched her closely, a small, but sad, smile on his face. “You think so?”

“I do,” the filly affirmed, nodding. “You want to help those ponies.”

The mare felt a twinge of jealousy at the filly’s words. Or was that guilt? Perhaps it was both.

Heavens snorted quietly. “I suppose I do.”

They fell quiet again, the silence filling up the world. “How are you still… alive?” the mare asked quietly. “There aren’t any pegasi left…”

“Luck?” He snorted again. “And not good luck, either. I didn’t die because I couldn’t fly. It’s as simple as that. I lived when I stopped being a pegasus.”

“How did you hurt your wings like that, then?”

Heavens was quiet for a moment, staring off into space. “At the beginning, the first day of the end. When Cloudsdale burned.”

“It burned?” The mare had heard rumours. Nopony had seen it, though. Or at least so she had thought.

“Completely. That morning it was hot, and there were clouds everywhere. And then… the roar started, and when it started everything began to shake. We all looked to the sky, and the clouds started to catch on fire. The sky just burned, and all of the clouds disappeared, burning evaporating into steam so hot that it burned us alive. The entire city was just gone in less than an hour. It was gone and everypony… everypony died.”

“But… how?”

He shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“It should…”

“Well, nopony knows. Or anything else I have met, for that matter. It was the end. That’s it.”

The mare looked away. She stared at the pillar where the elements had first been found, or at least the room they had been standing in. Would they have changed anything? Could they have fixed the world and saved everypony? Of course they couldn’t… of course…

“You said that this was a ‘new crusade’. What did you mean?”

This time it was Heavens who looked away. “I try to help ponies,” he said softly.

“Help them how?”

“In whatever way I can.” He looked back up. His eyes were wide, and sad. They almost looked pleading.

“At least somepony is.”

Heavens looked appreciative for a moment before looking away. “So,” he said quietly. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Where did you come from? How are you still alive? Being alive these days is rare.”

The mare nodded slowly. It really was. “I was at Canterlot.”

“I? Not we?”

“She came after.”

“Ah…” He paused. “Canterlot fell away though…”

“Not all of it.”

“Just the part where everypony lived,” he said. It was sarcastic, but there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in his words. They were blunt. Blunt and empty.

“Not everypony,” the mare said softly. “Just most of them.”

The world is shaking. It’s shuddering like a pony trapped within an icy tomb, unable to escape. The entire building is rocking backwards and forwards while the roar gets louder and louder. It’s everywhere, eating away at every other sound in the world.

The door bursts open and her husband sprints inside. He is wearing saddlebags, and they’re bulging with canned food or water. “Come on!” he yells. “We have to go! Now!”

“W-what’s going on?” the mare asks. Her voice is trembling, and it’s not just from the vibrations coming from the earth.

“I don’t know!” her husband shouts back. His eyes are wide and wild. The mare shrinks back from them. “Come on!” he yells. “Now or we’ll die!”

The mare whimpers softly. An orange glow has started to seep in through the closed curtains. Their possessions appear sickly and deformed in the light. The mare can make out the newspaper headline on the coffee table, ‘Princesses Call Emergency Meeting’.

“Please! Please…” The stallion stares at her pleadingly, his entire body trembling. “We have to go.”

“Where?” the mare asks. Her voice is nothing compared to the roar. A resounding boom shakes the earth, sounding just like thunder. It isn’t thunder, though.

The stallion’s face sets. He stares at the mare grimly. “Follow me.” He turns and sprints out the door.

The mare looks around for a second, and then follows him. They sprint down the stairs, and burst out of the house and into the open air.

She freezes, her mouth gaping in terror. The world is painted in shades of red, orange and yellow. The shadows dance in a demonic tandem with the shuddering earth.

“Keep moving!” her husband yells. “Don’t stop! Just follow me!” He takes off through the streets, twisting around the bodies of ponies as they run. Everypony is screaming. Everypony is watching the sky. Nopony is running in the right direction. Except for them.

They make their way through the streets of the city, and the mare becomes more and more lost. Are they heading towards the mountain?

The screams increase in intensity. The mare looks around.


It is falling from the sky as streaks of light, striking the buildings with small explosions. Smaller pieces seem to float down lazily, igniting everything and anything it touches. Some of the houses are on fire, and some aren’t. The mare doesn’t look, she just keeps running.

Huge cracks are opening in the pavement. With ear-shattering groans, the very stone itself starts to tear. The mare sees the first of the buildings crumble in an implosion of dust, masonry and fire. There were more screams.

“We’re almost there!” her husband shouts. He looks out of breath. The mare doesn’t feel a thing. Just the heat. It’s radiating off of everything.

Her husband suddenly changes direction. They are running upwards, slowly ascending the city’s various levels. Ponies are still around them. Some appear to be running towards the royal palace. Some aren’t running at all. Some are lying on the ground, their flesh still sizzling from the flames.

Smoke is filling the air. It is hard to breathe. The mare keeps her head low to the ground and runs. She doesn’t look around, or up, she just runs forward.

The city ends abruptly against the mountain side. Some of the buildings are embedded into the cliff itself, and it’s to one of these that the stallion heads towards. He ducks through the open courtyard of what looks like a complex of inter-locking houses and keeps running towards the mountain. There is a door cut into the cliff-side like a gaping wound.

“The springs,” he gasps. “Where we get the water to fight fires… this way.”

“Where does it lead?”

“Past the underground lake? All the way to the other side of the mountain. We will be safe there.”

The mare pauses to catch her breath, looking back towards the city burning city. They have climbed a long way since starting; the mare can see the city stretched out below them. She can see the cracks. She can see the fires. She can see the ponies. She can also hear the screams. A few pony-shaped black specks are falling from the sky.

An explosion rocks the earth, knocking the mare to the ground. She staggers upright, coughing loudly. A horrendous screech fills the air, the sound of countless tonnes of stone protesting and screaming in pain. Suddenly, the city shifts. The mare can do nothing but watch as an entire section of the city, the better part of the residential bloc, begins to crumble away.

The ponies below are still screaming. The section falls away completely in an explosion of fire and stone. A shock wave ripples through the lower levels, sending buildings and ponies flying.

“We have to go!” the stallion yells. “Now! We have to go!”

The mare stares down at the city in dismay. The air shimmers around the palace, expanding outwards like the ripples on a pond.

“Now!” her husband screams, pulling her along.

The mare takes one last look at the burning, crumbling city, and then turns into the black doorway.

Suddenly, the world goes quiet.

They spent the remainder of the day doing nothing but resting. The mare hadn’t spent a day not on the move in… she couldn’t really remember. The days blurred. Walking, running, crawling. They were always moving, they were always heading towards something. Or away.

The mare dozed in the corner while Heavens spoke with the filly about his experiences in Cloudsdale before the end. Her voice was so excited. The mare felt another pang of jealousy shoot through her body.

“So then they’d race around the course?”

“Yup. They would all take turns to go through all of the obstacles and to see who was the fastest. Of course, they gave you extra points if you made it look good too.”

“Look good? Like what? Fly prettily?”

The pegasus laughed. “Kinda. They used to do tricks. Add in extra loops or cool stunts.”

“Extra loops? That was cool?”

“Well, you have to see it to know that it’s cool.”

“Mama?” the filly asked. “Was it cool?”

The mare looked at the filly carefully. Then, she smiled. “Yes. It was cool.”

The filly smiled back.

“See?” Heavens said defensively. “I told you.”

Before long, the day had slipped away between their hooves. And the mare didn’t care. For once she didn’t feel tired or sore. The dark and the fear weren’t as strong. It was just like a bad memory or a dream now.

As the shadows started to crawl along the castle’s floor, the three ponies retreated back to the library to sleep. The mare cooked up dinner, and they ate it under the warm light of a lit candle. The fog had returned and was creeping along the forest floor like floodwater. It broke against the walls of the castle like waves on an island, flowing around it, but unable to puncture or overwhelm it.

Heavens finished his food far faster than the mare or the filly. He glanced around the library. From afar, he examined very shelf in detail, his eyes lingering over every burned book with an unreadable expression. Eventually, he broke the silence.

“You said you were going home… is that out east?”

The mare paused. “Out east?” she said. “No, it’s not.”

“Oh. Funny, most ponies who I am not hunting are going east. Not that that’s many of them.”

“Why? What’s out east?”

“You haven’t heard?” The mare’s expression seemed to answer his question. “Rumours. Whispers. Some say there is something good out there. Some even say there are small settlements of good ponies – just like before.”

The mare frowned. “I have heard that before.” That’s what drove them north barely a month or so ago. That’s what killed so many.

“Me too, but this time, the ponies aren’t coming back.”

“They didn’t up north, either.”

“You did.”

The mare snorted softly. “Just.”

“Besides, the bandits and slavers aren’t going east, so that’s a plus.”

“I heard them talk about that,” the mare said softly. “They said that there was something bigger than them, that it wasn’t safe for ponies.”

Heavens watched her closely. “Who knows?” he said at last. “Does it matter? It’s the thought that’s the important thing.”

The mare nodded slowly. “I guess you’re right.”

“I think it sounds real.”

Both Heavens and the mare turned to look at the filly. “You do?”

“I do. I think there would be ponies trying to live happily. Just like the mares of harmony.”

“The mares of harmony?” Heavens asked.

“Yes,” the filly answered. “It’s my favourite story book.”

Heavens looked away for a second. “Yeah, I know the one.”

The mare frowned at the pegasus, but he didn’t say anything else. In fact, they all fell silent, watching the shadows in the corners of the room.

An hour later, the filly fell asleep. She curled up within her blankets and wrapped her tail around her small body. The mare reached down and kissed her head, brushing her mane with a gentle hoof.

“Where’s the father?”

The mare looked at the pegasus sharply. It was a stupid question. The mare knew he knew it was a stupid question. He looked away apologetically.


Heavens nodded, conceding. “Im sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the mare said with a soft sigh.

“How do you keep her safe?” he pressed. “How do you keep her alive?”

The mare thought for a long time. “I am not sure. I just have to, so I do it.”

The pegasus’ brow furrowed. “But in all this… how? She’s so innocent. She’s… hopeful.”

The mare smiled a soft smile. “Because she’s everything we lost. That’s why.”

“I…” Heavens looked away. The mare didn’t quite catch his expression. He didn’t look up for a long time. “Perhaps she is,” he finished gently.

“She’s everything. I just pray to Celestia and Luna every day that they let me keep her safe for one more day. I pray that they let me bring her one day closer to a life where she can live like we used to.”

“What? You think the Princesses will help you do that?”

“Who else would?”

“Anypony else. The Princesses are dead. They are dead and burned. We all know that.”

“Do we? Maybe they are somewhere else.”

“Then why leave us to suffer? How can they watch us destroy each other and do nothing? How can any of us – how can anypony watch all of this and do nothing?”

“I don’t know,” the mare whispered.

Heavens snorted. “Thats the end of days. We know nothing. All we know is the destruction of everything we had once loved. For once we are seeing ponies as they truly are – the monsters that they hid away from the sun, that they hid away from Them.”

“Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that this is what ponies really are?” The mare spoke quickly, quietly. She needed to hear. She needed an answer from somepony that wasn’t herself.

He was silent for a long time. “Yes. I do. There are too many of them to think otherwise. I used to give them a choice. I used to tell them they could set the slaves free, or even just leave them alone and live peacefully. But none of them chose that. They all chose to fight. The idea of trying to survive without inflicting misery was so difficult for them, they chose to fight and die. How can I see that and not believe what I believe?”

“You kill them.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t even a condemnation. It was a statement.

Heavens looked away. “Yes.” This time, though, the mare did see his face. His eyes were scrunched shut, and his lips were pulled taut.

The mare wanted to reach out and touch him. Tell him… something. Tell him anything. But there was nothing. Instead, she sat there quietly, not speaking a word. The mare watched the flickering candle. She watched as it cast a small bubble of visibility onto the stone shelves.

Eventually, she broke the silence, “I can’t believe that there isn’t any good in ponies anymore. I can’t believe that. I just can’t. How can I look at my daughter otherwise? How can I look at how she smiles, and how all she wants is for everypony to be happy? How can I look at her want nothing but everypony to be like the mares of harmony and not see the beauty? I look at her and I see beauty. I see everything that we used to have, and I see it come from something born after the end. How can I believe that there isn’t any good in the world? How?”

Heavens was silent, so the mare continued. “I see her and I see the good in ponies. If I see the good in ponies, I pray that They are still watching us. I pray that They are still watching us and They see her and They care for her. I can’t do everything alone. I just can’t. I need Them watching over me… I need Them watching over us.”

Heavens finally looked up. His eyes were pleading. They were begging something from the mare. “But how can you do it? How can you see everything and still be able to believe that?”

“I don’t.” The mare thought back to everything. She thought back to the slaves in Ponyville, to the pony trapped in the cage, to the stallion outside Manehatten, to the cult members in the cave, to the small pony she had threatened. She thought back to every single thing she had done. “That’s why I pray. That’s… why I pray.” She turned her gaze to the filly who was still sleeping soundlessly. Her chest rose and fell with each breath and she sniffled once. The mare smiled.

“She’s just like...” The words were so soft the mare didn’t even think she had heard them. They were the mere ghosts of speech, and they were carrying so much weight.


Heavens didn’t reply, and the mare didn’t ask again. “We should sleep,” she said.

The pegasus nodded once, his expression unfathomable. The mare’s heart ached when she saw it. She had seen that look before.

She laid down next to the filly, pulling a blanket around her body tightly. Heavens did the same on the other side of the candle. He looked away, facing towards the wall. The mare reached out slowly and blew the light out, plunging the world into darkness.

It is dark. The mare can only just make out the massive hedges in front her. They stand tall and imposing, walls of shadow that form complicated patterns of right angles. The mare knows this place; it’s the maze.

The two ponies had made their way through the Canterlot gardens after returning from the theatre. The mare assumes that it is a date. It had been really nice, too.

“And we are here why?” she asks.

Her husband smiles. “Fun.”

The mare looks around at the grounds. The rows of decorative plants line themselves up neatly in clear sections. In the darkness, they look like vague and murky shadows, their colours indiscernible, but the mare can smell the fresh scents in the air. She inhales softly, breathing in the smells of the garden.

“So…? We are just going to run in?”

The stallion takes a couple of steps forward. He looks back and smiles mischievously. “Something like that.” He winks and then runs into the maze of hedges, leaving the mare behind.

The mare sighs softly before taking off after him. She runs through the rows and rows of walls flanking her on either side. Her husband’s tail stays just out of reach, flicking around corners just as she rounds the one before it. If she really wanted, she could catch him, but she doesn’t. She can’t stop smiling.

Their path is lit by a silvery glow emanating from the sky. It casts a mystical light onto the world that turns the various white flowers clinging to the hedge walls luminescent. The mare only looks at these quickly, but her hoof-steps become lighter when she does.

Her husband is starting to slow now. How he knows where he is going, the mare has no idea. Perhaps he doesn’t. She decides it doesn’t matter. He wants this and she wants to make him happy.

The mare rounds a corner and almost runs straight into the stallion. He is standing in the middle of an open pasture. Statues dot the grassy meadow, their forms eternal reminders of heroes and lessons past. A gazebo sits in the middle of the grass, the white wood glowing in the light. It is decorated with organic patterns carved into the eaves of the roof like vines on a wall.

Before she can say anything, the stallion walks towards the structure. The mare follows silently, curious as to what he has planned.

They step up the small set of stairs and walk into the middle of the gazebo. The stallion turns and smiles at the mare. In the shadow, the mare can barely make out his features. His eyes are lost to pits of darkness. But the mare can see him smile warmly.

She opens her mouth to say something, but he stops her with a tender hoof. He beckons her over to the wall of the pavilion, and she walks over with him. Together, they stare out over the field of statues, over the hedges with their glowing flowers, and over the golden city in the distance. He looks up, and the mare follows his gaze.

She gasps. The moon is sitting in the sky silent and ethereal. It bathes the world with light, just enough to reveal the beauty of shadow, just enough to show the mysticism and wonder of darkness. Next to their moon are millions and millions of stars, each one a sparkling beacon set against a velvety back-drop.

The mare cannot tear her eyes away. Not now. Not with him so close, his breathing intermingling gently with her own. Not with the canvas of shadow above her, awash with the barest hint of silver light, the sequins of white shining elegantly against the darkness. They are not the stars tonight, they are their stars.

She feels her tail being intertwined with her husband’s and she smiles. She feels his gentle gaze and she looks down to meet it. In the light, she can see his eyes; they are staring at her emphatically yet with a warmth that sends a flush of happiness spreading through her entire body. He is smiling softly, one corner of his lips higher than the other. She contemplates saying something, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t need to. She just stares back, a smile on her face, sharing the moment.

The mare smiles because in that instant, in that moment of time, nothing, absolutely nothing needed to be said. For in the darkness, and in the shadow highlighted by moonlight, there was beauty.

Perfect. There were not many moments that the mare could call perfect. Was that one of them? Maybe before the end. Maybe before what happened.  So was the memory tainted now? Does his absence make the memory mean less? Is it no longer perfect because of everything that had happened, because of every mistake or choice?

The mare doesn’t know. She just doesn’t know. She tries so hard to know, to understand, but she can’t.

The mare woke. She kept her eyes closed for a moment, listening. She could hear a faint breeze outside. She could hear the steady rhythm of another’s breath. It was quiet, easing in and out of the air. It was too quiet.

The mare flicked her eyes open, casting them around in front of her. There was an empty space. Heavens. Heavens!

She got up, her eyes darting backwards and forwards. He couldn’t have. He wouldn’t have!

He was gone.

She dashed over to their bags, her heart pounding. “No, no, no, no,” she whispered. “Please, no!”

The bag in which she kept their food opened easily, the draw string loosening in one smooth motion. She thrashed at the opening, looking desperately inside.

She saw cans. All of them. Not a single one missing. They were all still there.

The mare sat down heavily. “I…” She breathed a sigh of relief, staring around at the empty room. The filly still slept silently, totally oblivious to the mare’s actions.

The room was empty. Heavens was gone. The mare frowned, casting her eyes downward. He was here, and then he was gone. She smiled sadly at the cold stone floor, ignoring the feeling settling on her like a fog. What was it? Guilt? Jealousy? It gnawed at her insides. She felt…

The mare walked over to the sleeping pony. Inhaling the cold air, trying not to choke on her own shaking breath, she nudged the filly awake.

“Wh- Mama?” the filly asked sleepily, blinking.

The mare didn’t say a word; instead, she leaned down and nuzzled her daughter.

The filly returned the gesture. She rubbed her eyes and looked around. “He’s gone.”

“Yes, he is,” the mare said in a voice she hoped was louder than a whisper.

“He left us.”

The mare nodded.

“Ok.” They sat there for a moment, not saying a word, just being near each other.

Eventually, the mare knew they needed food. They had to keep moving today. They were close now; home was not far away. They had to keep moving.

She walked over to the saddlebags again, intent on something to satisfy the gnawing in her stomach. The bag was already open from where she had left it earlier. She reached in and fished around for a jar, looking for anything simple and dry to eat. She stopped. There was a piece of paper in this pack, its crumpled surface folded neatly into a square. The mare kept all of her paper in the other bag. All of it. She fished it out and smoothed the wrinkled page against the floor so she could read it.

‘Thank you. For everything.


She stared at the message for a long time. The filly didn’t comment. She just watched. The mare read the scrap of paper one last time before folding it and putting it inside a pocket. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t even think about putting it away. She just did.

They left soon after, leaving the castle behind for their memories to enjoy. The forest loomed around them oppressively, the trees reaching out towards the ponies as they walked along yet another game trail. The fire had sealed paths like these for eternity. They would remain until the forests themselves turned to dust, and there weren’t any trees left at all. Then there wouldn’t need to be a path anyway.

They were striking north east again. Following the concave of the forest as it made its way to the foothills of the mountains. From there the mare wasn’t sure. She hoped there would be a mountain trail she could follow that would take them through to home. The map was unhelpful as soon as she entered the forest or looked towards the mountains. She didn’t want to set out along the Canterlot Valley if she could help it. Not after Ponyville.

The day wore on. The light passed overhead, moving from horizon to horizon, locked in a habitual movement that the mare wasn’t sure was intentional. The shadows lengthened with it, first facing west, then east.

They stopped at around midday for a drink. They sat in the ash, resting against the burned trunks of long dead trees. The mare wasn’t hungry, and apparently neither was the filly. They took their luxurious sip of water, and packed it back in the bag, securing the straps back up tight. The mare looked to her daughter, and she stared back. Her eyes… they were colder. Older? They were different.

“Are you ok?” the filly asked.

“Yes, I am fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” The mare paused. “Are you ok?”

The filly gave a small smile. “Yes, Mama. I am fine.”

“Good.” The mare turned and walked towards the looming mountain range. It was closer now. Maybe less than a day’s walk from the foothills.

The mountains speared upwards like the jagged teeth of some dragon, coiled in a wreath of cloud that crawled its way down from the sky. All of them were connected by a large body of gullies and ridges that bulged like overfilled saddlebags, forming the bulk of the peaks. The mare hoped that it was in that slightly lower ground where she would find a path.

They continued on as the afternoon began to tick by. The looming mountains drew closer with each step, becoming larger and larger, framed always by a shroud of grey clouds.

The trees had begun to thin. They were still there, smaller now and growing further apart. The trunks lost their faces, and instead started to look like every other tree in Equestria. The mare almost started to feel like she was home. She laughed bitterly at the thought, and the filly looked at her, but she said nothing to explain.

The mare stopped. The filly halted next to her, staring at the offending obstruction. They could see a road through the trees, the path cutting through the forest like a river. The surface of the road was obscured by piles of ash, but the mare could still see the black tar beneath. A dense thicket of trees bordered the highway, and a ledge jutted up to the right of the mare’s position, running along the length of a hill.

“Where does it lead?” the filly asked.

“Probably to Ponyville.”

“But where else?”

“I am not sure. I could check the map.”

“Don’t worry.”

“Are you sure?”

The filly looked up at her mother for a moment. “Yes, I am sure.”

The mare nodded, looking away. She could see the faint outline of a haze of black and brown on the horizon to the west. That would be Ponyville. She was thankful to see just how small it was. They had come a long way.

She stepped down from the rise and walked down to the road. The ash stirred beneath her hooves, and the wind hissed slightly. The ground descended subtly, running down an embankment to the road. The path was bordered on the either side by a small ditch.

They stepped onto the road and stared down its length. It ran in a perfect straight line from east to west. It was empty, framed on both sides by trees.

The mare sighed and crossed the road. Their destination was still further north. The wind stirred. A branch cracked. A branch… the mare froze. There was a flash, and the mare screamed as fire shot up and down her back leg.

“Get them!”

The bandits spewed out from the thicket of trees opposite the two ponies. They charged up the side of the ditch, brandishing weapons in their mouths or within faint magical auras. The mare could see a unicorn step out of the trees behind them, already readying another spear.

“Run!” the mare screamed. “Run!”

Ignoring the agony gripping her leg and the spike of metal buried deep inside her, the mare tried her best to run down the road. The ditch slowed the bandits, giving them a head start.

The filly slowed down, coming to skidding halt that sent the ash flying, her eyes wide in fear. “Run, Mama! Run!”

The mare limped forward as fast as she could. A hiss shot past her ear as another spear barely missed the filly. The bandits were so close, only twenty feet. They weren’t going to make it.

“Run! Go!” she yelled. “I’ll hold them! Run!”

The filly stared at her for the briefest moment, her eyes frozen in fear and horror. The mare turned to face their attackers. She put as much weight as she could on her back hooves and readied for a kick. She faced the bandit and snarled. His eyes lit up, and he froze. The other ponies all stopped too, their vision locked on something just behind the mare.

The filly screamed, her voice cutting through the sudden silence like a thunderbolt. “Heavens!”

A blur shot past the mare and slammed into the pony directly in front of her. The figure braced its hooves against the bitumen as the other pony went flying backwards. A curved sword glinted in its mouth.


The pegasus charged the fallen pony, swinging his weapon in a sweeping arc. There was a cry, and the bandit slumped.

The other attackers looked at each other… and charged.

“Run!” This time the voice was stronger, louder, male. Heavens flicked his head, neatly sidestepping a clumsy thrust with a spear as he brought his own weapon to bear on his assailant in a neat slice.  She pitched forward, a gash running horizontally across her neck, her eyes shocked and confused.

The mare turned and sprinted as fast as her legs would carry her. A warmth had been spreading from her leg, and each step sent a wave of agony shooting through her entire body. The filly ran beside her, easily keeping up with the limping mare.

There was another scream behind them. Another soft thud.

The mare’s vision was starting to blur. Her leg felt sticky and unresponsive. She stumbled.

“Come on, Mama!” the filly pleaded, shooting backward glances. “Please come on!”

The mare gritted her teeth, the spear shifting inside her leg as she ran. Her vision was going. Going. Going. She collapsed, the darkness seeping in from the corners of the world.

“Mama!” The scream was so loud. There was another one, this one entirely incoherent. The sound was filled with fear. It was a dying scream. There was another.

The darkness was winning, gloating as it held off from its final victory. The mare tried to reach out further down the road with a hoof, but another wave of pain struck her. She slipped and fell off the edge, the shadow embracing her eagerly.

“Heavens!” Was the one of the last things she heard. “Help her please!”

Another scream.


And then darkness.

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so please let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for chapter 9!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 9: Carried On Wings of Redemption

The mare is walking… drifting… moving… She can’t stay still, yet she is in no hurry. Her body drifts its way effortlessly through a garden of darkened plants. Little flowers dot the sides of the path, stretching out as far as she can see. Everything is built out of shadow. Except for the flowers – the flowers are the only things with colour.

Whenever she looks away, the garden changes. First it is poppies. Then it is white roses. Next it is carnations. They are a sea of living lights shining against the shadow. An unseen wind sweeps across the fields, moving the flora in a gentle rhythm.

Suddenly, paths form around the mare. They start at her hooves, springing up from beneath the flowers. They shoot off through the field, creating wide natural hoofpaths. They twist and turn, corkscrewing into dead ends or meeting at right angles. The paths glow softly, trails of light set against a shadowy world. The mare tries to keep track of all of the different directions they head, but she quickly loses sight of where one begins and the others end.

The paths stop growing. They sit there, twinkling in the night, the flowers still moving gently on either side. Before the mare knows it, the garden has changed again. The flowers are pure white now, luminescent like the paths. She stares at the open flowers, their petals sheltering a golden inner glow.

She wants to pick one. She wants to touch it against her hooves. Before the mare can move closer to take a proper look, the garden starts to shift again. Shadows rise from the ground, breaking the sea of flowers. At first they remain indistinguishable shapes of darkness, but they start to shift. They writhe into tall spires, and tendrils creep out into the open air. The mass of shoots solidifies, and small buds appear on all of the branches. Suddenly, they burst open, revealing ebony leaves that seem to glisten in the non-light.

Looking around, the mare finds herself in a forest. As always, the paths lead onwards and backwards, sideways and around. They are still glowing like the flowers. The mare drifts through this new woodland silently, and her eyes drink in her surroundings. She tries to get to the edge of the path to get a flower, but she can’t; she doesn’t have the control over her own body. She just keeps moving along peacefully, infuriatingly. Constantly.

She just wants to touch the flowers. She wants to smell them, to feel them, to know they’re real.

She just wants a flower.

The shadows shift again. Walls of darkness spring up from the ground, engulfing the trees. Flowers are swept upwards with the shadow, taking their places in amongst the walls. Shadows forms itself around the paths, billowing and coiling as clouds of darkness. The walls stretch up into the void like the sides of some prison. They form a maze, twisting and turning with the glowing paths. The flowers dot the walls like lanterns. The mare tries to reach out, but she still cannot touch them.

Her body starts to move along through the maze as the shadow walls settle down and stop moving. She winds her way around corners and twists, never staying still in one place. She is headed somewhere, but nowhere at the same time.

In the corners of the maze, the shadow seems to pool like blood. It glistens as it runs down the walls, coming from an unknown source. The mare avoids these pools, watching them carefully as she drifts past.

She rounds a corner and gasps. A massive clearing stretches out in front of her as far as the eye can see, filled with flowers, all of them glowing. A series of roads run in ever-shrinking circles around the centrepiece of the clearing and the object of the mare’s awe.

A tree of pale light stretches up into the heavens, fighting the shadow as it soars upward. Huge boughs emerge from the great trunk as wide as a stallion is tall. They are surrounded by smaller branches that spread outwards like a gigantic spider web of light and leaves of pure silver and gold sparkle like gems against the dark backdrop behind them.

At the base of the tree is a single flower. Even from a distance the mare can see that this flower is different. This flower is white, true, but its stem is not one of shadow or light. Its stem is green. An organic green. The green of life.

The mare is already moving towards it. A singular path cuts through the circular routes in a dead straight line. She can see the flower drawing closer, nearer. Its small petals are spread widely, and a golden stigma sits inside. A breeze seems to drift across the world, and it shifts slightly, flexing on a lithe stem.

Finally, surely, the mare comes to a stop in front of it. She stares down at the flower, her mouth open in an expression of pure adoration. For a long time, she doesn’t move. She just stands there, ignoring the spectacle around her, and gazes at the flower.

She inhales and then exhales, letting the non-existent air fill her lungs. She smiles softly to herself and sighs. Slowly, carefully, the mare extends a hoof, reaching toward the flower. She watches as she inches closer and closer. Her hoof is shaking; it is so close. With a deep breath and a final push, the mare –

Woke up. Her eyes flickered behind her eyelids chaotically as she struggled to open them. Her entire body felt heavy, weighted down by something she just couldn’t quite name. Her thoughts bounced around her skull as uncontrollable and meaningless streams of information. Unable to concentrate properly, the mare tried to roll over.

She screamed. Or at least she thought she did. There was pain in every part of her, filling her up completely. It shot its way like a wave of fire from a singular spot just above her back leg on her right. The mare finally opened her eyes, blinking away tears as she sobbed into the cold floor.

“Mama!” cried a voice.

She looked around wildly, trying to locate its source. The world was blurry and vague. She was lying somewhere dark, and from the feeling of the ground beneath her, she was lying on stone.

“Mama! You’re awake!”

The mare tipped her head and looked up at the direction of the voice. The blurred outline of a small filly filled her vision. The mare thought she was smiling.

“I… I’m awake…” the mare forced out.

“Heavens, look! She’s awake! You saved her!”

The mare heard a soft chuckle. “Yeah she is, Sport.”

A nickname. The mare’s stomach twisted despite the pain still emanating from her side. He had given her a nickname. He had – the mare froze. “Heavens?” she whispered, unable to turn her head to face him. “Is that you?”

There was a shuffling sound and another shape filled the mare’s vision. This time it was clearer. The dark-golden pegasus smiled at her. “Yeah. It’s me.”

“Wh… Where are we?”

“In a cave in the foothills of the mountains,” the pegasus answered calmly.

“How…? How did we… I escape?”

Heavens held the mare’s gaze for a second before looking away. “We… ran,” she said eventually.

The filly opened her mouth, looking towards the sword lying next to their things. She looked back to the mare, and then closed it. The mare closed her eyes for a moment, sighing.

“Ok.” She paused. “Are you ok, then?” she asked, looking at both the Heavens and her daughter.

The filly nodded and Heavens smiled. “She’s fine,” he said. “I took a hit or two, but this kept the blows from doing anything serious.” As he spoke, he gestured to his barding, poking it with a hoof.

“So I was the only one injured?”

Heavens looked back to her and smiled again for a second. A brief silence fell over the cave.

“Mama…” the filly began, “are you feeling ok?”

The mare took a moment to respond. She felt warm and sticky, but otherwise everything felt… ok. She tried to stretch her limbs out, testing them. She was rewarded with another streak of fire causing her to grit her teeth in pain.

“I am fine,” she said, wincing.

Heavens looked at her closely. “Actually,” he said quietly, “you’re not.” The filly’s eyes widened, and the mare felt her expression harden. Heavens waited for a moment, but when the mare didn’t respond, he continued slowly. “You’re running a temperature, and the wound isn’t healing properly. I cleaned the wound the best I could, and Ive given you the last of the antibiotics, but I’m not sure itll be enough.”

The mare inhaled sharply. “Infection?”

“It’s a possibility. And judging by the condition the spear was in, I would say likely.”

The mare nodded. “Ok.”

Silence fell again. Heavens looked away, his face set in an unreadable expression. He opened and closed his mouth several times before apparently giving up. He walked over to the mouth of the cave and peered out. The filly settled herself next to the mare, leaning against her body as gently as she could.

“What are we going to do now, Mama?”

The mare shifted her head so she could look up at her daughter. The small pony’s eyes were lit up, but her mouth was turned down slightly at the corners. “We’re going home, little one,” she said. “We’re going home.”

The filly looked carefully at her mother. Her eyes flickered for a second, and then she nodded once. “Ok then. We’re still going home.”

The mare heard Heavens sigh. She looked over to him and saw that he was walking back towards them. “Home, huh?”

The mare nodded once.

Heavens searched the mare’s expression, but didn’t seem to find what he was looking for. Or perhaps he did. The mare wasn’t sure. He dropped his gaze, a soft smile curling the edge of his lips. “Fine. There could be medicine there. But we’re not moving today. You need to rest so you can stand, and I need to monitor that wound.”

“Can’t you seal it?” the mare asked.

Heavens shook his head. “No. I don’t want to do that without antibiotics to keep things under control afterwards. Considering the quality of our tools, it’s not worth the risk. We just have to keep it clean and hope for the best.”

“And if it goes bad?”

“Then we hope we find something in the city.”

The mare nodded. “Ok.”

The day moved slowly, and the mare, who was under strict orders not to move, could do little but lie still and stare at the rock walls. The filly stayed by her side constantly, sometimes talking to her, sometimes not saying anything at all. Most of the time, though, she talked with Heavens.

At around midday, the pegasus disappeared, taking his sword with him. When he returned, the mare noticed that he had been recently covered in sweat, the moisture having forged paths through the dirt in his coat. He didn’t answer any of her questions, though, so she fell silent.

As dusk began to fall, the mare’s stomach rumbled. The reminder sent a question into her head. “How long was I gone?”

Heavens turned away from his saddlebags, the supplies for their dinner sitting nearby. “Almost two days.”

“Two days?”

“Yeah. You woke up briefly in the middle, but I would hazard a guess now that you don’t remember it.”

The mare frowned. Blood loss didn’t result in passing out for two days, did it?

Heavens answered her unasked question. “Your body isn’t as strong as it should be. Or at least, that’s the best I can come up with.”

The mare snorted.

After dinner, the filly settled down to sleep. She curled up into her familiar ball, and let her head rest against her small pillow. The mare smiled at her.

“Night, Mama. Night, Heavens,” the small pony said quietly.

“Good night, little one,” the mare replied.

“Night, Sport.”

Before long, the filly was asleep, her gentle breathing filling the small cave. The mare and Heavens sat quietly for a bit, choosing to let a silence rest between them.

Outside, darkness had not yet completely fallen, the last vestiges of light clinging to the land. The mare could make out the faint outlines of hills and a smudge of shadow that she was sure was the forest.

“You’re right, you know,” the pegasus said softly.

The mare looked over. “About what?”

“There is good in your daughter.”

The mare smiled. “I know there is.”

Heavens got up, walking over to the mouth of the cave, his features becoming lost to shadow. He turned his head, angling it back towards the mare. “I look at this, and I see nothing but ponies going crazy and death, but I look at your daughter and I see… I see…” He fell silent.

“What?” the mare pressed. “What do you see?”

“I…” he replied, his voice fading into nothing.

The mare opened her mouth but closed it again soon after. There was something in his voice. A longing. An intense sadness. She knew better than to press areas where she was not welcome. “Come,” she said. “We should sleep.”

The pegasus looked down at her, a flicker of something crossing his face, the shadows making the emotion indeterminable. “Yes…” he replied, trailing off. “We should.” He walked over, and laid down on his blanket opposite the mare.

The two ponies fell silent, both waiting for the inevitability of sleep to embrace them. The mare was restless, shifting uncomfortably, unable to sit still or let her mind relax. She had barely moved all day, and she was not tired.

Suddenly, Heavens’ voice drifted over to her. It was faint and she had to strain to hear it. “Thank you,” he said. “And… good night.”

The mare smiled. “No. Thank you.”

It was not long after that she fell asleep.

The mare fought to stand up. Her body was sluggish and unresponsive, and she felt hot, almost as if her skin was burning beneath her coat. Sweat glistened on her forehead like drops of morning dew.

Heavens stood in the mouth of the cave, watching the mare with obvious concern. The landscape stretched out behind him, a carpet of trees that seemed to go on forever, touching the horizon with its shadow.

“Mama?” the filly asked. “Are you sure you’re ok?”


“We don’t have to walk today. We could wait until tomorrow.”

The mare shook her head, and her vision blurred slightly. The wound had already begun to discharge foul smelling pus – despite Heavens’ attempts to clean it. It was infected. There was no use pretending anything else. “No. We leave today.”

Heavens winced and looked away.

Slowly getting to her hooves, the mare took a shaky step forward. And then another… and then another. She walked out of the cave, stepping past the pegasus and out onto the ash. Gazing out over the sweeping forest of wooden tombstones, she inhaled deeply.

“Ok,” she said, looking back at Heavens. “Where do I go?”

Heavens looked at her strangely for a moment, a flash of confusion crossing his face. “We. We’re going along one of the back trails through the mountains, if you are so insistent on going.”

“You’re… you’re coming with us?”

“Yes, I am.”

The mare heard the filly’s soft intake of breath. She herself offered the stallion a small smile. “So where do we go?”

Heavens started walking. He went slowly, pointedly setting an easy pace. “Follow me.”

And so they walked. The mare knew it wasn’t very far to home, but they were not making much ground. She had to rest frequently, and when she did walk, it was slowly. Neither Heavens nor her daughter said anything. They would silently sit down whenever the mare did, and walk when she stood up again.

To the mare, the world felt off. She felt like she was in a dream. Voices faded around the edges, and the trees and boulders around her blurred slightly. It was almost like she was underwater.

They were climbing steadily, following winding a path as it snaked its way around the peripherals of the spires that were now soaring directly above them. The enormous foundation that formed the bulk of the mountains was punctuated by numerous cliffs, gullies and canyons, but the path stuck diligently to flatter ground, rising ever upwards. Pockets of trees clung to the slopes. The soil was loose, subjected to years of erosion and harsh weather. The mare could see where root systems had been revealed through the ever shifting ash, or even where entire trees had slipped from the ground completely.

“Heavens…” the filly began, seemingly a little unsure.

“Yeah?” the pegasus replied, not unkindly.

“What… what was it like up in the clouds?”

“When? Before?”

“Yeah. Mama says that the clouds used to be white and small. She says they would move around the sky and sometimes pegasus ponies would move them for the weather.”

Heavens was quiet for a moment, his gaze locked up to the sky. The clouds were like every other day: brown and grey shadows intermingling as one diseased blanket. A soft haze seemed to float down from the sky, wrapping itself around the sharp rises and falls of the mountains. “She’s right,” he said eventually. “There were lots of different types of clouds back then. You got small little ones, thin wispy ones, big ones that were super fluffy, and then you had ones like the storm clouds that were grey or black kinda like the ones up there.” He paused, frowning slightly. “Only… those were different.”


“Umm…” His face scrunched up a little as he thought. “They were dark, but they weren’t… dirty. They were just filled with lots of water. The pegasi at the weather factory would fill them up until they couldn’t hold any more and then-”

“Weather factory?!” the small pony interrupted, her eyes wide.

“Yeah, the weather factory. We used to make all of the weather in Cloudsdale for central Equestria. Snow, rain, rainbows, you name it.”

“Rainbows? What’re they?”

Heavens looked at the mare who merely looked back apologetically.

“Oh wait!” the small pony exclaimed. “Are they the colourful things in the mares of harmony book?”

 Heavens smiled. “That’s them. They were magic light.”

“Huh…” the filly said, clearly deep in thought. Suddenly, her eyes lit up again. “What’s it like to fly?”

Heavens faltered mid-step for a fraction before continuing on, staring straight ahead. The mare saw him close his eyes for a moment, and he shifted his disfigured wings against his side.

“I can’t think of what it would be like to fly,” the filly continued obliviously.

“It’s beautiful,” the pegasus said slowly, barely louder than a whisper.

“It’s what?”

“It’s beautiful,” he repeated slightly louder. The filly looked at him with her head tilted to one side. He sighed gently. “It’s like… it’s like… freedom.”


“Yeah. Freedom. Nothing but blue sky, maybe a few clouds to liven things up… just you and the empty sky, as far as they eye can see. There was nothing to stop you. It was pure freedom.”

“I… That sounds really nice,” the small pony said quietly.

Heavens smiled. “Yeah. It was.”

They fell quiet for a bit, and the mare stopped for another break. They sat in the shadow of a huge boulder that jutted out of the cliff face, obstructing half the mountain ledge they were following. Heavens passed the mare his water bottle. She tried to protest, but he just looked at her until she relented.

A wind had started to pick its way through the winding valleys, kicking the ash up in cloudy swirls. Looking up, the mare could tell it must be stronger up higher; great grey contrails were being blown off the spires, intermingling with the body of cloud lingering around their points. Some of it was settling to the ground below, and an ashen fog was condensing in the low places of the world.

Above them, the tree shook slightly with each gentle puff of wind. The branches scratched against each other loudly – a symphony of skeletons.

The mare’s entire body felt… shaken. All of her limbs were completely spent and struggled to comply with even the simplest of requests. She could almost feel the energy draining away from her body even as she sat in the ash, leaning up against the boulder. She closed her eyes, enjoying the feeble warmth radiating off the stone. Her muscles started to relax, subconsciously unwinding as she-

“Come on,” Heavens said, his voice filled with hidden emotion. “We should keep moving.

The mare snapped her eyes open again. They met Heavens’, and the pegasus looked away. The mare felt her stomach twinge. There was pity in that expression. She was sure of it.

“Yes…” she said softly. “We should.”

It’s midsummer. The mare can feel the gentle heat emanate off of seemingly everything around her. The sky is completely clear, not a single cloud to be seen. Even though summer had been in full swing for a month now, the temperature is still comfortably warm.

The mare is standing in the middle of a forest clearing. Behind her a large tent is standing awkwardly, leaning dangerously to one side. A small fireplace sits a few feet in front of it, a circle of rough and unevenly sized stones containing the little pile of charcoal and ash. A few saddle bags sit near a fold-out table. Her parents are standing over the cheap plastic bench, fussing over lunch.

The mare sighs before flopping onto the grass. She taps her front two hooves together slowly and gets faster and faster, before suddenly decreasing the speed in perfect symmetry. She groans as she comes to a stop, and her head falls forward onto her legs in defeat.

“Mom,” she declares, not bothering to look up. “I’m bored.”

“I can see that, Dear,” her mother replies, also not looking up.

The mare tries again. “Dad… I’m bored.”

“Go for a walk,” he suggests.

“But where?!”

Her father raises an eyebrow. “We went camping for a reason, Dear. We have the whole great outdoors! Go to the river! Or the caves! Or go discover someplace new! We are surrounded by mountains and heaps of other cool things. Go and explore!”

The mare huffs loudly. “Fine! I will go and explore!”

“Glad to hear it,” her father replies, the faintest hint of a smile in his voice.

She gets to her hooves slowly, grumbling slightly under her breath. When this elicits no response, she huffs again and proceeds to walk out of the campsite and into the trees.

“Don’t go too far!” her mother calls out as she disappears.

“Yeah, yeah,” the mare mutters.

As she leaves her parents behind, the mare finds herself picking up the pace. The trees grow tall and thin, their trunks elongating into thin spiderwebs of interconnecting branches about twenty feet above her. The leaves are a brilliant shade of green, and they rustle gently in the warm breeze.

The mare finds herself walking upwards. She’s not completely sure where, but she angles her path up the side of a steep rise, and hopes for the best. After all, didn’t her father tell her to go exploring? What was exploring if not examining random mountain slopes?

As she climbs, the ground grows both steeper, and rockier. The trees slowly give way to stunted little bushes growing up from between cracks in the boulders strewn haphazardly around the slope. The grass has disappeared now; instead, brown-coloured sand fills any space not covered in stone. The mare hops along the tops of the smaller boulders – just for fun, really.

After walking for what feels like forever, the mare throws herself down on one of the boulders to rest. Her muscles are aching, and her coat is covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Her stomach rumbles, and she frowns.

The ground has widened out into a steeply angled shelf of rock. It sweeps its way back down to the wooded valley in which the mare thinks she can make out the clearing in which they are camping. A thin glistening trail makes its way in the middle of the gully, and the mare thinks that it must be the river. It’s a pretty small river – or at least that’s what she thinks.

The mare looks up the rise and groans as she realises that the top of the ledge seems no closer than it was when she first started. She looks back down at the valley. Suddenly, she frowns and stands back up. Letting her face settle into determined stare, the mare turns around and returns to walking up the plateau.

She starts off slowly, keeping the same pace as before. Before long, though, the burn returns to her muscles, and she feels her temperature rising again. She grits her teeth… and starts to run.

Her legs respond sluggishly at first, seemingly confused as to why their owner is pushing them so hard. The mare ignores it and just keeps going. It doesn’t take long before she breaks into an easy rhythm. Her legs hurt, yes, but it’s a good hurt now. A strong hurt that she can use, can manipulate into making her better. Faster. Stronger.

Occasionally, her hooves threaten to slip on the stone, but she simply adjusts her weight and keeps going, never really breaking stride. The edge is close now. She can see less and less earth, and more and more open blue sky.

The summit. The goal. There it is, just in front of her – just a few more feet, just a few more boulders and a few more bushes to run around. She picks up the pace, ignoring the growing tightness in her chest.

The mare can feel a smile growing on her face. The sky dominates her vision, dragging her forward, the great blue expanse reaching out into forever as far as she can see.

Smiling hugely, the mare crests the summit. She runs right up the edge of the cliff before coming to a skidding halt. She gasps, her heart pounding, the exhaustion from the run intermingling with the sudden jolt of adrenalin as she teeters on the edge, fighting her own momentum to stay on the cliff.

The world stretches away into a shimmering vastness. The mountains end abruptly from where the mare is standing, and the earth falls away sharply into an enormous plain that disappears into the horizon. It’s a carpet of green, punctuated by small clumps of darker evergreens and just a few lone farmhouses. The very air glistens with warmth as the sun radiates down onto the landscape. The glow is framed by the azure sky, empty, vast and utterly enormous.

The mare smiles out onto the vista, breathing heavily. She made it. She reached the top. She reached the top, and this is her reward: the whole of Equestria lying out in front of her.

And best of all, she isn’t bored anymore.

“Heavens,” the filly began, her voice breaking into the waning afternoon air, “do you have any family?”

Heavens didn’t break stride, staring straight ahead. “Yes.” He ended the conversation there.

The filly frowned at his tone, but changed tact. “Did… did you have any friends then?”

The pegasus tilted his head, looking back at the small pony.

“I mean,” she pressed, “Mama had friends, but now she only has me. Did you have friends?”

Heavens’ gaze flicked to the mare briefly before responding. “Yeah. I had friends.”

“Lots of them?”

He smiled. “Yeah, I had a few.”

“Do you have any friends now?”

The mare watched as his step faltered a fraction. Turning to face the front, he shook his head before answering, his voice unchanged from his previous tone. “No. Not really.”

“Oh…” The filly frowned, thinking. Then, “Would… would you like to be my friend? If that’s ok…”

“I’d like that, Sport.” The mare saw the ends of his lips curl upwards in the faintest hint of a smile.

“Really?” The filly’s eyes were wide.

“Yeah. I would.”


The mare smiled, ignoring the shaking in her legs.

They camped that night in the shelter of a large, gnarled tree. It stood over thirty feet high, its thin, naked branches twisting into a complex mess of dead wood. The thick trunk stood hobbled and bent, leaning out over the path and towards the slope on the other side. Coiling chaotically, aged and stained roots poked out of the ground like writhing snakes after hibernation. The mare eyed the tree suspiciously as it creaked in the wind, protesting even the slightest movement.

Heavens quickly set about starting a small fire, gathering dead wood scattered around the slope. The mare tried her best not to collapse and didn’t quite succeed. She felt cold now, like she was in the snow. Her entire body was drenched in sweat, yet she couldn’t stop shivering. She tried to undo the buckles attaching the saddlebags to her body, but her lips couldn’t find purchase on the synthetic material.

“Here, Mama. Let me help you.”

The mare looked up, her head swirling, and saw the filly approach her. The small pony leaned down and deftly undid the buckles on both sides and lifted the bags off her mother. She placed them inside one of the coils of roots and sat down next to the mare.

“Thank you.”

The filly pressed her head up against the mares softly. “You’re welcome, Mama,” she said.

They sat there for a while, resting against each other while Heavens constructed a small pyre. The mare sighed and closed her eyes. A soft shiver tore through her, sending a flare of pain shooting from her wound.

“Mama?” the filly asked, feeling the mare’s movement.

“I am fine.” She shivered again, this time wincing as another line of fire was drawn across her flank.

The small pony stared at her, her expression unreadable. “Are you going to be ok, Mama?”

The mare stared back, deep into those inscrutable, wide eyes. Was the small pony sad? Was her daughter angry or upset? She couldn’t tell. She also couldn’t find the strength to answer. Her mouth opened, yet no words left. She watched helplessly as the filly’s expression flickered. Speak! She had to speak! Lie! Lie and forget!


“Yes.” Both the mare and the filly turned to Heavens, their faces questioning. He sat down next to the now crackling fire. “She will be fine,” he continued. “Don’t worry. I will make sure she’s ok.”

“You will?” the filly asked.

“Yeah. I will,” he replied. “I won’t let anything happen to her.”

The filly paused for a moment, before running over and throwing both of her front legs around the pegasus’ neck. He sat there, dumbfounded, for a moment before awkwardly lifting a leg to hug the small pony back.

“Promise?” the filly said.


The small pony hugged him a little tighter. “Thank you, Heavens. You’re a good pony.”

A ghost of a smile flitted its way onto the pegasus’ face. It didn’t reach his eyes though. The mare couldn’t help but notice that his eyes almost seemed to darken at the filly’s words.

After dinner, the three ponies settled down to sleep. The fire burned brightly in the middle of the trio. It formed a small sphere of amber light in the darkness. The mare rested against one of the larger roots, her body covered in two of their thickest blankets. She was sweating again, and shivers still rocked her body on occasion.

The filly was curled in her familiar ball. She wriggled a little to work her way deeper into her blanket. The mare looked over as Heavens sat down next to her daughter. There was something in his mouth.

“How ‘bout a story?” he said tentatively, gesturing to the book he had just placed in front of the filly.

The filly reached out and touched it with a hoof. “That’s the mares of harmony book.”

“It’s my copy.”

“You have a copy too?”

Heavens smiled. “Would you like me to read it to you?”

The small pony nodded her head quickly. “Yes please!”

Heavens moved over a little closer to the filly, opening the book with a hoof.

The mare watched as he began to read. His voice seemed to naturally slip into a story-telling tone as he read the pages with practiced ease. The filly sat silently, listening carefully and staring at the pages faded in different places from their own copy.

The mare smiled and felt her body start to slip into unconsciousness. Sleep was so easy, so peaceful. It was release, a shelter, a safe-haven. It was an escape. The mare forced her eyes open and stared directly into the flames.

No escape. No escape. Fight the darkness, fight the fear.

“And harmony existed throughout all of Equestria, forever and always,” Heavens finished, closing the book with a quiet snap. He looked down and saw that the filly was fast asleep, her tail wrapped around her, her body rising and falling gently under the blanket. With a faint, sad smile, the pegasus reached down and kissed the small pony on the top of her head. “Night, Sport,” he whispered.

“You have a mares of harmony book.”

“I do.”


Heavens didn’t reply straight away, instead staring into the fire. “Shouldn’t everypony?” he said eventually.

“Not enough of them exist anymore.”

“Then I treasure it. Do better. Be better.”

“Be better?”

“Be better. Be like before. Before the fire.”

“And the sword? How is that like before?” She didn’t mean to accuse him. She just wanted to know.

Heavens hung his head. “I try,” he whispered.

The mare was silent for a moment. “That’s better than most.”

He looked up, a flicker of gratitude crossing his face. “That doesn’t forgive it.

“No,” she replied. “That’s up to you.”

“Is it?”

“Who else would it be up to? The bandits? The slavers? The cult members? The monsters outside Equestria? Me?” The mare snorted.

“What about Them?”

“I thought you said They were dead.”

Heavens looked away and back towards the fire. He didn’t say anything more.

The mare stared down at the ash as the silence settled down over the two of them. It was quiet; even the wind seemed to have died down. Eventually, the mare broke the silence, “Why did you say that before?”

“Say what?” the pegasus replied, turning away from the flames.

“That you wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me.”

He smiled. “Because I meant it.”

“But why?” she pressed gently.

Heavens sighed. “Because of you and because of your daughter.” The mare looked at him inquisitively, so he continued. “I wasn’t lying. There is so much good in your daughter. There is everything we lost. And it is in you, as well. Be better, do better – it means I protect that which is better.”

The mare nodded, not able to respond. She offered a faint smile instead. “You’re a good pony, Heavens.” Her voice wavered. She was tired; every one of her muscles was shutting down, and her eyelids fought to stay open.

The pegasus continued as if he didn’t hear her. “And she is just like her.” His voice was barely louder than a whisper. It ached, the same ache that he mare had heard him speak with before.

“Just like who?” the mare asked, gently, kindly. Fight the escape, she told herself. Do not sleep. Unconsciousness was winning.

Heavens looked straight into the mare’s eyes. “That book,” he said. “The mares of harmony one, it was hers.”

“Who?” The escape… it was right there. It was calling to her.

“Dawn,” the pegasus whispered. “She was my daughter.”

“Your daughter?” the mare said, her head resting against her forelegs, slowly giving up the fight.

“My family. My filly. My before the end.”

“I… I am sorry,” she murmured.

“Don’t be,” Heavens said quietly. “Just keep her safe. No matter what, keep her safe.”

And with that, the mare disappeared, slipping under the darkened blanket of sleep. She didn’t fight it at all anymore.

The mare was woken by a rough knocking sensation, like somepony was jostling her side-to-side. Blearily, she tried to force her eyes open. She didn’t succeed. Her whole body felt like lead, heavy and unresponsive. And she was hot again, her flesh seemingly burning from within.

“What?” she murmured, fighting to find the strength to talk against a parched throat.

“Mama!” the filly cried. “You’re awake!”

The mare suddenly realised she was moving; her entire weight was focused on her stomach and her legs draped over something that rose and fell with an urgent rhythm. Gritting her teeth, the mare finally opened her eyes. She was met with the world passing away around her. They were moving again, and she was on Heavens’ back.

“What?” she said again, trying to struggle off. ‘Why are we moving? What’s going on?”

“We’re being chased.”

“We’re… what?”

“The bandits from Ponyville… I don’t know why… I don’t know how, but they came out here and they picked up our track. Theyre chasing us,” he said urgently, subtly picking up the pace as he did.

“How… how far?”

“Not sure. I saw them further down the valley when I went out to get our bearings. I would say they are moving faster than us, though.”

“Are there any places we can hide?”

“Not safely, no.”

“Any other paths?”

“This is the only one ponies can still physically walk on. The rest have been destroyed.”

The mare scrunched her eyes closed. She could barely think straight, and this was bad. She couldn’t give in now. She had to focus.

“What are they after?”

“I don’t know,” Heavens snapped. The mare flinched and the pegasus exhaled loudly. “I don’t know,” he repeated, this time quieter. “Maybe they want me. Maybe they want you. Maybe they just want revenge on the both of us.”

“What are we going to do?” the mare asked.

“We might be able to lose them in the city.Heavens glanced backwards over his shoulder. “If we’re lucky,” he added as an afterthought.

“The city?”

“Home, Mama,” the filly said, her first words since the mare had woken up. “We’re going home.”

The mare’s stomach froze, and she fought the urge to throw up. “Home…?” she whispered. “How far?”

“Depends. We might even get there by evening if we go fast enough. Depends on how soon they catch us.” Heavens spoke bluntly, but the mare could hear the strain lying just beneath.


As the day progressed, the ponies climbed higher and higher. Every now and then the mare would argue and Heavens would allow her to walk by herself. Whenever he felt their pace was too slow though, or if the mare couldn’t keep herself going, he would wordlessly get her onto his back and set off again at a steady trot.

The path they were following curled its way through the mountains, clinging to the edge of many of the spires. The road had been physically cut into the side of the peaks in some places like a hideous gash, a gouge into the flesh of the mountain. It wound its way up, going ever higher, and yet still making its way north.

Whenever they moved along a longer valley, or spent time on an exposed ridge, the mare would stare back the way they came, her mind turning every shadow into ponies with claws and fangs.

On one ridge though, her mind didn’t have to make anything up. She looked back and saw several black pony-shaped specks running single file along the path they had been on over the past hour. The mare counted at least twenty before they dropped down into a small vale and she lost sight of them.

“There are so many,” she said quietly.

“I know,” came Heavens’ reply.

They pushed onwards, making their way around the base of another great mountain. The mare stared up at its looming peak, her neck stretching as she tried to distinguish the rock dusted with a faint coating of snow. The mountain was surrounded by banks of light-grey clouds swirling around it chaotically. The mare could see another path running higher up this mountain, climbing it in ever-closing circles, heading to a location the mare couldn’t make out in the distance.

The mare was walking now, limping slightly each time she put any sort of weight on her back hoof. She wasn’t wearing her saddlebags for Heavens had already donned them before she could protest. The filly stayed close to her side at all times, barely saying a word.

The trio rounded around the edge of the peak, and an incredible vista gradually revealed itself in front of them. A great empty space ran its way in a straight line on their left. It was flanked on both sides by mountains that fell away into a valley with almost vertical walls.

But down at the end of the space, tucked against one of the mountains on the great valley’s left, was a city. Or the remains of one.

The city clung to the mountain like a limpet, the mess of spires and turrets visible despite the distance. The mare knew the capital stretched right around the mountain, and she was only catching a glimpse of part of it through a small gap in the mountains. They were travelling parallel to the main thoroughfares; the railways and highways were just on the other side of the range they were traversing. She knew why this route was never used. They were on the wrong side of the great valley to get to the city.

Heavens seemed to notice the mare’s expression, and answered her unasked question. “It narrows as we go further along. In fact, just before the city, the valley ends in a fissure – just a crack really. There’s a bridge there that we can use to get across. It puts us higher than the city, but nearby.”

The mare nodded, thankful to have the pegasus with them; she would not have had the slightest clue where to go without a detailed map. She inhaled deeply, and they continued, pushing themselves to go faster, to cover more ground. They could see their destination. They could see home. They just had to get there. They just had to stay alive.

The mare is moving, and she is moving fast. The world flashes past her like series of random photographs, connected somehow yet all so different. All she can see are flashes of browns, greens, greys or the brilliant blue of the framing sky. The mare can barely conceal her excitement. She’s nearly home, after all.

The train is winding its way along the mountain trail towards the white, gold and purple metropolis standing regally on the side of the mountain. Whenever the train snakes right the mare can see it in front of her on her left. The marble towers catch the light of the sun like shards of glass, refracting it in brilliant flashes that shine out over the landscape. The mare stares lovingly at the elegant chaos of the towers and spires of the royal castle, topped by gold and purple trappings. She looks at the powerful waterfalls as they overflow from flattened pools and plunge into the valley, forming the Canterlot River far below.

She’s almost home.

The mare turns away from the window, a huge smile plastered across her face. Her husband is sitting next to her, one eyebrow raised in amusement.

“Excited, huh?”

“Look at it!” the mare exclaims, gesturing to the window next to her. “It’s beautiful! To think that we live there!”

“Looks just like normal Canterlot to me.”

“Pfft,” the mare says dismissively. “You would say that.”

The stallion shakes his head, smiling now too. “We have been away for what? Two weeks? And look at you! You are like a filly on Nightmare Night!”

“Two weeks is a long time. You would be surprised at the kind of things that can happen in two weeks.”

“Like what?”

“Like… I dunno… a certain stallion could be told to get out of a certain mare’s house for being such a grouch?” She smiles at him wickedly.

The stallion feigns insult. “Oh! I see how it is. Things change that much, huh? Stay with me while we’re away so you don’t get hopelessly lost and end up starving to death, but as soon as we get back to our comfortable home…” He shakes his head. “Tsk tsk. Where is the loyalty?”

“Gone, disappeared, vanished,” the mare replies, poking her tongue out.

“Pfft,” the stallion replies, his smile now huge. “You would say that.”

The mare opens her mouth, but closes it again, silently admitting defeat. The stallion bursts out laughing. “Im going to be cooking tonight, aren’t I?” the mare says with a sigh.

“You sure are, Darling.” He is still laughing. “You sure are.”

The mare sighs again and returns her gaze back out the window. The city is closer now; she can make out the different levels of the city, each one separated into its own distinct tier. She swears she can even make out dark streams of traffic crowding the thoroughfares around the palace. Suddenly, there is a golden flash. An orange-coloured speck, shaped like a bird, soars out of one of the palace windows, disappearing into the light reflecting off of the walls.

“At least you’re happy to see me, home,” the mare whispers sullenly to the window. She hears the stallion chuckle next to her.

Truth is, she couldn’t stop smiling herself. After all, she was almost home.

They had come to a narrow bend in the path as it wound its way along the side of the valley. Heavens was right; it was becoming narrower. The corner swept to the right, the steepness increasing on a tight angle. At the top where the path flattened out, Heavens stopped.

“Get off now,” he said urgently. “You need to walk for a bit.”

The mare did as she was told, falling awkwardly to her hooves. She had only been resting for a few minutes, it felt. The pegasus quickly took off the saddlebags and gave them to the filly who put them on without complaint or question.

“I know you were only just moving, but here is the perfect spot.”

“The perfect spot for what?” the mare asked.

Heavens took a moment to answer, staring back down the valley, his expression vacant. “They are being drawn out by their own pace. They have essentially split into several small groups. I’m going to wait here and ambush the first one and send them running, hopefully confusing them and buying us some time.”

The mare opened her mouth but closed it when the pegasus turned to look at her, his expression set. There was a coldness in his eyes that frightened her. “Ok,” she said.

She and the filly quickly left, walking as fast as the mare could go. The path was climbing steeply again, so that was not fast at all. Every step sent a wave of exhaustion crashing through her, threatening to knock her off her hooves. She was getting cold again. She could feel her legs shaking as she walked.

“Mama?” the filly asked quietly from beside her.

The mare turned her head and was forced to pause as a wave of light-headedness obliterated her vision and caused her to nearly lose her balance. “Yes?” she forced out, her head held low.

“We have to leave Heavens, don’t we?”

“It’s his choice. He’s doing what he thinks is right.”

“No, I –” The filly was cut off by the sudden eruption of screams and shouts echoing quietly up from beneath them. There were several metallic clashes and another scream.

“We need to keep moving,” the mare said, flattening her ears against the sound.

“Ok,” the filly said quietly. Another scream, this one was long and drawn out, rapidly falling away down into the valley. The mare could swear she heard the thump at the end.

And so they pushed onwards.

About twenty minutes later, Heavens caught back up. He was panting from exertion, his coat covered in sweat. He was splattered in fine droplets of scarlet, and his blade dripped crimson drops onto the ground. The mare looked up, and Heavens looked away. The mare kept walking. Her legs had to be strong now.

The sun was beginning to slip away behind the western horizon. The height of the mountains brought upon this inevitability a lot sooner, plunging the world into darkness. The few trees that clung to the mountain slopes cast wicked shadows onto the path, their limbs stretching like talons, grasping at whatever came near.

The mare could hear them shouting behind her now. Their voices were angry, hungry, cursing. She couldn’t hear words, but she could hear sentiment. She could hear hoof-steps ricochet off the valley walls. Their enemies were close, bearing down on their necks like wolves. And she could do little more than stumble on like a wounded and confused rabbit.

“Come on,” Heavens muttered. “Not much further.”

The mare looked back. The pegasus’ face was… sad. His lips were cast downward, and his head hung slightly lower than it usually did.

“Are you ok?” she asked, trying to stay moving forward.

He looked up and held her gaze for a moment. Their eyes were locked, unmoving. Suddenly, a faint, sad smile broke across his lips. “Yeah,” he said. I am fine.”

The mare smiled weakly back, nodded once, and turned back to the path in front of them. As she did, however, she couldn’t help but notice the steely glint that flashed within his eyes.

They pushed onwards. The mare wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep moving, keep placing each hoof onto solid ground. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t fallen already. The cries were louder now.

“Kill them! Kill them!”

Suddenly, the trio stepped around a boulder and the filly gasped. In front of them, just a little further down the valley at its narrowest point, spanned a rope bridge about fifty feet long. The mare paused; the only way something like this could have survived was if it was created after the end… the thought didn’t have long to live, though, as she was called onwards by the filly. They had to keep moving, Mama. They had to.

“Get them you maggots! Kill them!”

They had to.

The mare stumbled forwards. Heavens moved alongside, offering his body as support. She resisted at first, but soon acquiesced. Almost there. Just a little further. From what? A little voice said. From the bridge? A bridge that the bandits could cross, too?

They were a hundred feet from the crossing when the mare looked back and saw them properly. The first three barrelled their way around the corner, weapons held within their mouths or magical glows. The mare could see one was cut recently across the face. They were chasing hard, and before the mare could react, another group came charging into sight.

The mare exhaled and began to sprint. To the bridge. Get to the bridge. Her legs shook underneath her, and her vision blurred. To the bridge.

The filly, still wearing their saddlebags, reached the crossing first. It was connected by two ropes on either side lashed to the wooden planks at about leg height, but the structural integrity came from two roughly connected beams that reached from the middle of the bridge to either side of the mountain wall. The small pony sprinted across, throwing one fearful glance over her shoulder.

When Heavens reached it, he stopped. “Go!” he yelled through his sword. “Go! I’ll be right behind you!”

The mare did as she was told, hurriedly making her way over the wooden connection. The beams beneath her hooves were rotting, and several cracked underneath her hooves causing her to trip and stumble. Each time she just picked herself up and forced herself forward. Get to the other side. Get across. Get to safety.

What safety? the voice whispered. What safety would there be on the other side of the bridge?

With her lungs feeling like they were about to explode, the mare’s legs gave way just as she was reaching the other side. She tripped one final time, her entire weight pitching forward as she rolled to a stop safely on solid ground. She fumbled in the ash to move around, trying to look back across.

The mare watched as Heavens came to a stop in the middle of the bridge. His gaze seemed to linger on them for a moment – his expression unreadable in the twilight – before he turned and faced the oncoming bandits. He lowered his weight and flicked his sword from side to side, almost as if he was testing it.

“Heavens!” the filly screamed. “Heavens, come on! We have to go!”

“I’m sorry, Sport,” came the slightly muffled reply. “I’m not going.”

The mare’s eyed widened. “No…” she whispered.

“Heavens! Please! We have to go! Come on!”

The pegasus shook his head. “Run. Go home, get to safety. Fix your mother, just like how I told you.”

The filly was crying now. “Please, Heavens! Please! Come on!”

The first of the bandits started to storm the bridge, their faces grinning wickedly at the sight of the lone pegasus standing in front of them and the hopeless mares beyond.

“Take care of your mother, ok?” Heavens called out, seemingly ignoring the bandits. “You be good and help other ponies. Grow up and be nice and strong.”


“Say it!” he screamed. “Say you’ll do that for me!”


“Promise me! Do it!”

“I… I promise!” the filly screamed, her voice cracking.

The pegasus reared up on his rear legs, and he plunged downward, his sword sweeping in a glinting arc as it caught the last of the weak light in the air. It struck the rope support and severed it completely in one savage blow. The bridge shook violently as the suspension started to give. Heavens quickly righted himself before striking down the other rope in a similar fashion. The rotting wood struggled to take the strain of the aggressively released tension, and it cracked, many smaller pieces flying off into the air.

The bandits on the other side skidded to a halt, their cries switching to screams of terror. They tried to backtrack, but more of their comrades had reached the bridge and were clogging up the exit, preventing them from escaping. One of the bandits tried to charge Heavens, but the pegasus merely pitched forward onto his front hooves, spun, and bucked the attacker off the bridge. The others turned and fled, seeing something in the pegasus’ face that the mare couldn’t with his back turned to her.

Freed for the moment, Heavens took his sword, lifting it high in the air, and plunged it down into the wooden support beam beneath his hooves. The mare was surprised at how easily the sword found purchase, but the rotting wood offered some explanation. With the sword still quivering in the wood, buried three quarters of the way up to its hilt, its owner turned to face the mare and her daughter.

“Remember, you promised!” he screamed, his voice shaking. “You keep her safe! And you keep her alive! You keep her safe!” The mare knew he was addressing her. “You keep her alive, and you’ll keep the good!

The mare nodded, unable to speak.

“Heavens!” the filly yelled as loud as she could. “Please!”

The pegasus seemed to take a deep breath. He didn’t seem at all fazed at the fact that the bandits had started to stream off the bridge in panic. He stood there in the middle of the crossing, utterly serene. Suddenly, the first of the spears started to strike near him, thrown wildly from unicorns only now bringing up the rear.

The mare saw what she thought was a smile flick across his face. She saw his lips move. They formed one word; an elegy, a farewell, and an apology.


The pegasus spun, and with all his strength, bucked the handle of the sword. The force twisted the blade, but the rotting wood gave first, and with a splintering crack, the wooden support shattered into fragments.

“HEAVENS!” the filly screamed. “NO!”

The mare could only watch as the bridge collapsed. The beams, unable to hold themselves up with every single means of support gone, imploded in on themselves, plunging into the canyon below. The mare could only watch as they took a golden-coloured pegasus with them, disappearing forever into the shadow.

“NO! NO! Please NO!”

The mare couldn’t believe it. She laid there in complete shock, unable to move a muscle. Her very breath felt slammed out of her lungs.

“No!” the filly sobbed. “No! No! No!” She slammed her hooves on the ground, tears coursing down her cheeks.

A hissing sound filled the air and a black spear seemed to almost materialise itself from an amber glow, striking the ground nearby.

“Kill them!” came the shout from across the canyon. “Kill them!” The mare could swear she heard laughter.

The mare got up. She struggled to her hooves, her legs screaming at her to give up. She couldn’t see properly, but she didn’t need to.

“We have to go,” she said. Or at least that’s what she tried to say. She nudged the filly, and another spear came to a quivering stop nearby. This one was a lot closer. “Now. We have to go now.”

Her face streaked with tears, the filly nodded and stood. The mare helped her up, knowing just how heavy the saddlebags could be.

Together, with the bandits screaming at them, the mare and the filly limped away from the canyon, leaving it behind. The path was falling now, and so the mare found it considerably easier to walk along rather than going up. Before long, even the voices of the bandits faded.

The sun was almost completely gone, and the clouds on the west looked almost orange, illuminated from behind by a powerful source. The weak light reflected faintly off of the rock, giving it a bloodstained appearance.

They were hugging the side of the mountain, the path taking them around. The unmoving trees stood watch over them. Their dead bodies seemed to almost stand tribute.

Neither of them said a word. The mare wasn’t sure she could have if she wanted to. She wasn’t sure how she was still walking either. Her whole body felt completely emptied and wasted.

Suddenly, the two ponies rounded a corner, and there it was. Below them, and to their right, was the city. The tiered capital of Equestria. It protruded off the mountain like the figurehead of an old sailing ship.

The dirtied and stained marble caught the last of the sun’s light, allowing the mare to make out a little precious detail. Almost all of the purple and gold gilding was gone; instead, the few tops of the towers that remained looked like grey and black tumours. The city was bigger than she remembered, but so much smaller than it should have been. At least the chaotic jumble of towers and spires had stayed largely the same, even if some were damaged or missing altogether.

The mare knew she had to stop walking. She took a few weak steps over to an ashen embankment lying just of the path and collapsed down the other side, her body rolling for a few feet before stopping. She heard the filly slide down next to her. They both stopped moving, their breathing filling the otherwise silent air. It was much darker down here, and the mare knew that soon they wouldn’t see a thing.

“Mama?” the filly whispered, her throat raw.

“Yes?” the mare murmured in reply, fighting to stay conscious.

“You did it, Mama.” Her voice was flat, lifeless.

“Did what?”

“You’re home, Mama. You’re home.”

The mare felt her stomach fall away, and she flinched away from the accusation. She kept falling, though. With one last stab of fire shooting through her side and into her heart, the mare finally slipped away into peaceful oblivion.

She was home.

A/N: A massive thank you to Sessalisk for editing, and an equally big thank you to everyone for reading. Questions? Comments? I appreciate feedback of any kind, so please let me know how you are finding it! I shall see you for the final chapter!

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

Chapter 10: Darkest Before Dawn

Like all things, the night ended, and dawn arrived. The mare, lost in a sea of unrelenting shadow, reluctantly woke with it. She forced her eyes open and found her vision blurred and disorientated. The world was silent without the wind. She shivered slightly in the ash despite the relatively warmer air temperature. Her body had nothing inside of it. It was empty, devoid of energy, and useless. She was going to die. She was sure of it.


“I… I’m awake…”

“We should go, Mama.”

The mare finally moved her head in the direction of her daughter’s voice. The small pony was already standing, already wearing the worn-out saddlebags. She examined the mare with a controlled expression.


The filly frowned. “Home, Mama. We are home. Don’t you want to go home?”

The mare tried to roll onto her hooves. Her body shook, and her vision started to fail her, but she did it. She inhaled deeply a couple of times, fighting for breath. “I… Yes. I do.”

“Then we should go. But you need food first.” The filly gestured to a small piece of newspaper on the ash piled high with a pile of seeds. The water bottle sat next to it, the lid already loosened.

The mare crawled over, nudging the ball of newspaper open with her muzzle. She bent down and greedily consumed a mouthful of seeds. They were dry, and got stuck to the inside of her parched mouth, but they were food. After a mouthful of water, the mare found that the empty weakness in her stomach had subsided somewhat.

“Thank you,” she murmured, finishing the last of the seeds.

The filly’s expression softened, and she watched her mother tenderly. “You’re welcome.” The small pony walked over and tucked the water bottle into a pocket on the outside of the bags. “Come on, Mama. We need to go fix you up.”

“Fix me up?” the mare said, struggling to stand.

“Yeah,” the filly replied, moving over to help pull her mother to her hooves. “We’re going to make you better.”

The mare didn’t reply. What could she say?

Leaning heavily against her daughter, the mare and the filly staggered up the ditch and back up the road. They were almost home.

In the light of day, the mare was able to get a proper look at the city. It clung to the sheer rock-face of the mountain behind it like a fungus. It was a sprawling mess of towers, arches, turrets and walls, all held together by a foundation of stained white marble buildings, connected by a maze of wide thoroughfares that wound their way down the metropolis. The mare could only see one side of the city; it stretched around the mountain and out of sight, filled with tiers of residential blocs and suburbs.

The majority of the palace still stood. It was cracked, missing sections, and irreversibly stained, but the walls that held it upright remained. The once majestic structure sat like a shattered toy, abused and neglected by its owner. Just like the Statue of Harmony. Just like in Manehatten.

The waterfall near the palace had broken its way out of its normal path, overflowing the designated course with a deluge of dirty white water. It plunged off the side of the mountain with a roar and poured into the desolate ashen valley below. Huge piles of rubble lay slumped against the bottom of the mountain, and the mare could still make out partly intact buildings trapped within the decay.

Canterlot was in pieces.

The air was utterly still, and the mare stood there, watching the ruined city. The white had been replaced by a wash-over of grey, stained by black streaks around empty window frames. Numerous buildings had crumbled and lay as piles of rubble in the streets below. It was empty. Silent. Dead.

“Are you ok?”

The mare turned to the filly before replying, “I am fine. Are you?”

The filly nodded.

“Do…” The mare paused. She looked away briefly, inhaling as she did. Her eyes burned. “Do you want to talk about it?”

The filly tilted her head gently to one side, her expression unchanging. “Talk about what, Mama?”

Another glance to the sky. Another deep breath. “Do you want to talk about Heavens?”

This time, the filly looked away. “No, Mama. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”


“How come?”

The filly looked back to the mare. Her façade had cracked, and the small pony stared up at the mare with large, pleading eyes. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Ok,” the mare whispered. “Ok.”

A ghost of a grateful smile appeared on the filly’s face before she turned back to the city in front of them. “Come on, Mama. We should keep moving. We’re almost there.”

“Yes we are,” the mare replied softly. “We’re almost home.”

The two ponies wound their way down the mountain toward the city. The buildings grew as they moved closer, the empty windows and stained, crumbling walls becoming all the more menacing. Dead trees stood as sentinels in the streets; some were bleached white, and others were charcoaled and burnt to the point of collapse.

The mare fought to keep her balance. Her body was trembling, and her skin felt hot and feverish. She was empty inside. She stumbled forward, occasionally leaning on the pony beside her for support. Her side felt like it was on fire, and each step sent another knife of pain stabbing into the wound.

Eventually, the dirt path transformed into a cobbled one, and before the mare could look up, they were met by a wall of buildings. They began abruptly, the ones on the right built directly into the mountain side, the walls rising out of the stone.

The city just started without warning. One moment there was nothing, the next there were buildings.

The mare paused directly in front of the buildings. She stood there, willing herself to enter. To step forward. To go home.


The mare exhaled and stepped into the shadow of the houses. She took another step, and then another. The buildings almost seemed to lean over her, swallowing her into their embrace. She looked up to the ornately carved decoration along the window sills. She gazed at the empty door frames, the wooden doors long having since disappeared, leaving dark, open wounds in their place.

She was home.

The streets were clogged with ash. It was everywhere, filling the gutters, resting between the cracks in the street. It seemed to almost hang in the air, despite the lack of any wind.

They walked down the deserted streets, staring around at the world around them. Neither of them spoke, and the mare walked on. She ignored her shaking muscles and just walked. She knew where she wanted to go.

They were making their way around the back of the palace. Apparently the city used to be much smaller than this, and the royal castle was the only substantive thing visible from this side of the mountain. Now the city itself soared above on several different levels crawling up the cliff. The mare and the filly were heading down and across – towards the palace, towards the other side of the mountain.

The remains of shops filled the buildings on other side. Shattered windows revealed darkened interiors crammed with smashed shelving beyond. Occasionally, the floors were littered with broken wares, cutlery, dinnerware, appliances, toys, books. All burned, most unsalvageable. All forgotten.

The street in front of them had been filled completely by a collapsed building. It looked like the top half of the two story building had tipped over, crushing the street below, yet leaving the innards of the lower floor intact. The damage had torn open jagged holes in the walls on either side, providing a way through.

Carefully stepping over the broken masonry, the mare and the filly entered the building. It was completely open to the elements, but the remains of the walls meant it was darker here than out on the street. The room was filled with square tables arranged into rows. Small, dirty plastic benches sat on either side of every table, and a commercial kitchen dominated the back. The counter was covered in a thick layer of grime and dust. The floor was filthy, stained black with a combination of ash and water damage.

The mare paused. There were skeletons in here. Not many, but a few. They were all small, except for one large pegasus skeleton, around whom the smaller bodies were crowded around. The bones were black, chunks of mummified and charcoaled flesh still hanging to them. Plates of completely rotted and destroyed food sat on the tables nearest to the bodies. A few had fallen off, smashing on the floor. A large silver platter sat amongst the plates. The mare looked closer and spotted small pools of faintly-coloured wax sitting amongst the decayed food matter.

The mare looked away, her stomach sinking to the ground. A small pile of boxes was piled on the table next to her. The pink wrapping paper was still visible inside the creases.

The mare stumbled through the building, barely avoiding the tables and chairs. She staggered against the jagged hole in the wall and stepped back out into the street. The air seemed clean. It seemed fresh. She inhaled and exhaled shakily, letting her lungs stretch.


“We should keep moving,” the mare said, trying to hold her voice together. She couldn’t stop shaking.

“I… ok.”

“This is the best birthday ever!”

“Well, I’m glad you liked the present, S-”

A sudden crash breaks out across the crowded kitchen. All of the colts and fillies assembled turn to stare at Spades who has dropped a large platter stacked high with daisy sandwiches cut into triangles. “Oops…”

Everypony stares at him, and the colt shifts awkwardly from side-to-side. “Heh… Heh…”

The mare laughs. Soon, everypony else joins her. They laugh and shake their heads. Tulip, smiling, walks over and helps the colt pick up the platter. Even Spades is laughing now.

It is a birthday, after all.

“Can we have cake now?!” the mare cries out. “I’m hungry!”

“Why don’t you have some daisy sandwiches?” her mother calls back to her from the other room. “I spent an hour on them and Spades should be bringing them in any second now.”

The mare bursts into raucous laughter, and the colt blushes looking down. “Uhh Mom…” the mare says, trying to breathe against the laughter. “I think we are going to need some more food then.”

“What? Why?”

The mare looks to Spades and winks. “I may have accidentally dropped the platter of sandwiches.”

“You what?! I…” The mare can practically hear her mother deflate. “Fine. I’ll see if your father can pick up some hay fries.”

The mare pumps a hoof triumphantly in the air. “Sounds great, Mom. Thanks!”

“You’re welcome,” her mom calls back wearily.

Around the mare, the guests are all starting to talk and laugh normally again. The sandwich fiasco is already a vague blur in their memories. The mare grins as she takes a sip from her drink. Soda. Nothing beats it.


The mare turns. Spades is standing next to her, still looking incredibly awkward. “Oh hey, Spades. What’s up?”

“I… thanks for that.” He half-smiles at the mare.

“You’re-” she begins, boisterously like before, but she stops. “You’re welcome,” she says again, this time softer, kinder. She smiles at him, and he smiles back.

“It’s a great party.”

“Heh. I know, right? I love it.”

The mare takes another drink, and the colt starts shifting awkwardly again.

“Hey listen,” the mare says, suddenly serious.


The mare’s smile changes. “I want to say I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Spades is confused. “What for?”

“For the race. The Running of the Leaves,” the mare explains. “I left you behind. I left you and you got hurt. I should’ve turned around. I should have stayed.” She scrunches her face up in frustration. “Because… because that’s what friends do…”

Spades looks away shyly for a moment, and then he looks back, smiling. “That’s ok. I knew you wanted to win, and I am glad you did. You worked so hard.”

“Yeah… but still…”

The colt reached out and bumped her shoulder lightly with a hoof. “Don’t worry about it. I am glad you won. And plus, we’re still friends. We always will be.”

“Yeah?” she replies, smiling again.

“Yeah. Friends forever.”

“Spades. That’s kinda lame.” The colt opens his mouth, a faint blush spreading over his cheeks. The mare laughs. “But I reckon you’re right,” she continues. “Friends forever.”

The closer they got to the palace, the more dead there were on the streets. Dozens of them laid scattered along the hoofpaths, reaching out towards something long since vanished into the ash. Most of the bodies were just skeletons now, small piles of bones with outstretched legs. Every now and then, the mare saw the shattered remains of pegasi.

A wind started to pick its way through the streets. The mare pulled up her collar in a vain attempt to prevent the wind from chilling her. Looking up, the mare could see that the buildings already protected them from the brunt of the breeze; light clouds tore past, rolling and breaking over and through each other, all racing somewhere only they knew.

They descended a level, the palace now directly on their left. The mare was angling just past it, though, heading towards the residential blocs. The filly was silent. She just watched her mother carefully, reluctant to break the quiet.

The city was lifeless – a cemetery of crumbling masonry, ash, and decay. Streaks of soot running down from the corner of every window looked like tears as they faded into nothing. Even the buildings were crying. Home, the mare thought. Home.

A gigantic mall, built into the side of the foundations of the tier above, stretched out across the road. It used to have been built over the road with a glass overhead, shops lining both sides. The left side was completely collapsed, and the buildings on the right had been gutted by fire. Glass that had once stretched across the road, joining the two sides, was now gone, the spiderweb of metal supports lying twisted and bent on the street below.

The mare walked along the hoofpath, peering into the interior of the mall. Giant, unmoving escalators swept up the middle of the centre to the floor above. The wide open space in the middle was filled with piles of rubble or rubbish. Melted plastic benches sat collapsed in on themselves, and empty storefronts revealed nothing but scorched shelving.

She remembered the bakery that had been on the corner. Or at least, she thought she did. There weren’t any specific details now. Her mother used to take her there after school for treats. They would sit on the chairs and tables outside and the mare would watch all the ponies going past, shopping, talking or laughing. Their usual seats were bare, the plastic only just retaining enough shape for the mare to recognise them beyond twisted blobs.

Treading her way as best she could through the piles of broken steel, the mare continued onwards, not looking back.

They were nearing the edge. The mare was sure of it. As they went, the mare could see the huge levels of structural damage on the buildings around them. Jagged fissures had been torn across the walls, often causing entire sections to collapse, filling the interiors or the street with debris. The streets were cracked and broken. More and more bodies littered the streets, unmoving, unseeing.

A multi-story building that looked like it had once been a bank had slumped forward onto the street, blocking the road. The mare stopped in front of the wreckage, surveying it.

“Go around, Mama.”

The mare turned to the filly, a questioning look in her eyes.

“There,” the small filly said, pointing to the inside of the bank. “We can just go around.”

The mare followed the filly’s direction, stumbling under a piece of fallen rebar. Her hooves clopped loudly against the marble floor, and she stepped her way through to the other side. The ground was strewn with countless bits, the golden-coloured metal now stained and dull. Paper and small, cracked gemstones filled the rest of the floor space. The filly nudged one of these with a hoof, and then walked on, ignoring the rest.

On the other side, the mare followed the street. They were almost there. She knew it. She could hear the wind whistling in front of her.

She stumbled over a loose brick, falling to one knee.

The filly raced over to her. “Mama!”

“I’m fine,” she replied, struggling to her hooves. “I’m fine.”

The small pony stared pleadingly at her mother before looking away. “Ok.”

The mare took another step, and then another. She couldn’t stop her body from shaking. There wasn’t any strength in her limbs. She felt wasted, shattered, broken.

“I’m tired,” the mare murmured.

There was a pause. “I know, Mama. I know.”

The two ponies rounded a corner…

…And the mare stopped. She stared out at the sight in front of her, her chest aching. The expanse threatened to stretch out in front of them forever.

“Mama…” the filly whispered, horrified. “It’s gone… it’s all gone…”

The mare walked towards the edge. The wind ruffled her mane playfully, feeling cool and refreshing against her skin. She inhaled. “I know.”

The small pony took her place next to the mare, unable to tear her eyes away from the vista. “You… you knew, didn’t you?”

The mare nodded once. Slowly.

“Your home is somewhere down there, isn’t it?”

The mare nodded again. She could feel her daughter’s gaze on her, yet she couldn’t face it.

There was a pause. The mare fought the urge to cry out. For forgiveness. For love. For death. For anything.

Suddenly, a warmth wrapped itself around the mare’s neck. She stumbled, but the pressure held her in place.

“Welcome home, Mama,” the filly whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks, holding her mother as close to her as possible. “Welcome home.”

The mare returned the hug as best she could. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, fighting back the tears. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. This is your home, Mama. And you made it. You’re home.”

“I’m home,” the mare cried out, unable to hold back the tears. “I’m home.”

“Yes, Mama,” the filly said, holding the mare tightly. “You’re home.”

The mare is almost literally bouncing up and down on the spot. A huge smile seemingly lights up the room around them, and the stallion can only chuckle next to her.

“Well,” he says, gesturing around to the empty, sunlight room around them. “What do you think?”

“I love it!” the mare shouts in delight. “I love it! I love it! I love it!”

The stallion’s smile threatens the mare’s own. “Well, do you want it?”

“Want it?! I need it! This place is perfect! We can set up the bookshelves over there, the sofas can go here. The bedrooms above will be perfect for our children.” She stops, her heart swelling with joy. “Our children… in our home! This is going to be our home!”

“Yes, yes it will be,” the stallion replies, his voice filled with the delight that is as clear as day on his face.

“We did it…” the mare whispers, sitting down in the middle of the carpeted floor in shock, completely reversing her attitude a mere seconds before. “We got our own home. We actually did it.”

The stallion walks over and sits down next to her. The mare rests against his body, breathing contently. “I… I’m really excited,” the mare admits quietly.

He wraps a leg around her body, holding her close. “Me too. This place is fantastic. Everything is going to be exactly like we said it would. Everything.”

The mare smiles, and closes her eyes, satisfied to rest here a moment. The moment is perfect. She can literally picture the future in front of her, picture the years spent personalising, living in, and enjoying the room around her. She can imagine the memories she is yet to make within this little space. These little rooms with walls, a roof, and a floor.

Home. This is her home.

And it is perfect.

The world fell away directly in front of them. The city just stopped, and an immeasurable void opened up before the two ponies, the world stretching away further than the eye could see. Pipes, rebar and concrete jutted out of the foundations into empty space beneath their hooves. Wires hung limply from the hideous amputation, creaking gently in the wind. Around them, on the edge of the world, buildings had been rent in two, half the structures having slid into the valley, and the other half remaining behind as lopsided ruins.

Far, far below, they could see the bottom of the valley. An enormous pile of wreckage lay against the base of the mountain. The buildings that the landslide had taken with it were demolished beyond recognition, and the structure’s skeletons were fused together in an indistinguishable pile of ruin.

The mare and the filly stood side-by-side, staring out into the abyss. The land seemed to stretch on forever. On their left, the mare could see the grey Canterlot River winding its way towards Ponyville and the Everfree beyond. In front of them lay a few, smaller mountains, but beyond those, there was nothing but an endless expanse of grey. The further the mare looked, the more blurred the world became, losing itself to an indiscriminate haze that threatened to obscure everything from sight.

The clouds almost appeared to be on eye level up here. Or maybe it was just an illusion of standing on the edge the precipice. They were rolling with the wind, stretching and breaking. Down where the two ponies stood, it was much quieter, only the gentle breeze dancing with their manes and tails.

The mare inhaled deeply, ignoring the sudden blurring in her vision. She exhaled, letting all of the air out through her mouth. Standing here, on the edge of everything, she felt numb. Her legs started to shake. Trying to hide it from the filly, the mare turned and walked away. She heard the filly follow her. Neither of them said another word.

The picked her way through the broken and deserted streets. The palace loomed up in front of her, still a mess of towers and arches, seemingly without any order. She focused as hard as she could on keep each hoof stepping over and forward. If she stopped again, she would fall. She had to keep moving.


“I’m fine…” the mare said, her voice barely louder than a whisper now. Step. Step. Ignore the body. Ignore the weakness. Just step.

They walked down a flight of stairs cut into the road. Several dead ponies lay sprawled at the bottom. The mare stumbled past them. The road ran its way up a wide boulevard. She could see the elegant steelwork of the gates in the distance. She could see the shattered oak entrance. It was right there. Just down the street.

A step. Then another. Then another. It was a movement she had done so many times that it had lost all meaning. It was nothing. It was routine, habit, instinctive. And she was failing. Her body was shutting down, exhaustion, fatigue and the sickness all crushing her relentlessly. Just a little further. Just a little further.

The gates were so close. Mostly decomposed bodies lay everywhere around the palace gates. It looked like they had been trying to get in. Yet the gates were wide open, calling everypony towards them. There were more bodies beyond, lying in the small courtyard, watched over by scorched and blasted trees.

The mare stumbled past these, heading towards the entrance. The massive oak doors lay in pieces on the floor, almost as if a great wind had blown them over. There were more bodies, all huddled together now.

Finally, the mare breached the palace. Her hooves sounded out loudly into the dusty air, echoing back in the gloom. A huge hall filled the space in front of her, multiple doors branching off on both sides. Shattered windows were set high above in the walls. Huge pillars, some cracked, some broken altogether, flew up from the floor to the ceiling, the blue stone now looking almost black.

The mare looked around, and collapsed. She was vaguely aware of her legs capitulating under themselves, and even less aware of her body striking the cold floor.

“Mama!” the filly screamed, racing over. “Mama!”

“I… I’m fine,” the mare whispered.

“No you’re not, Mama. No you’re not.” The filly held her close, cradling her head between her hooves, pressing her head against the mare’s.

“I’ll get better. You’ll see.” Even now, here at the end of her journey, she could still lie. Nothing changes.

The filly stopped. The mare tried to look up at her daughter, who was now not even breathing audibly.

Without warning, the filly sprung back up, her body tensed, ready. “Mama! Wait here, ok? I’ll be right back!”

“Wh… what are you doing?”

“I’m saving you, Mama. I’m going to save you. Just stay here.” She had already taken out the last of the biscuits and the canteen of water, tucking them into some of the various pockets on the mare’s clothing.

“You… you’re leaving?”

She watched the small pony soften. The filly walked over and nuzzled the mare gently. “No, Mama. I’m never gone. I’ll be back. And you will be better.” She took a step back, smiling kindly. “Just wait here. I will come back.”


“Promise.” And then, with one last smile, she turned and ran out the palace doors and back into the city.

The mare tried to watch her go, but her vision was already fading. She didn’t fight it. She just relaxed and let whatever it was wash over her, taking into oblivion.

Her eyelids fluttered open. She blinked a few times in an attempt to clear her vision. It worked… to an extent. She was still lying on the cold and dusty stone floor of the palace. Without her saddlebags she felt strangely light.

The mare rolled over onto her stomach, and a soft groan escaped her lips. Her limbs still trembled after every movement. She shivered before raising a foreleg and resting it against her brow. Heat radiated off her body like an open flame, and her coat was saturated at once by the sweat covering her face.

Ignoring the emptiness in her stomach, the mare tried to rise. Her legs shook, and her balance threatened to give out, but she managed. Slowly, she looked left and right. She was still alone.

Since she had been barely conscious before passing out, she had little to compare against as far as the sun’s position was concerned to tell the time. In fact, it almost seemed like not a moment had passed. That couldn’t be true, though, for she was standing now.

The mare took a gentle step forward, testing her legs. They held steady with a faint echo as her hoof struck the aged stone. Satisfied, she took another, and another, slowly making her way down the empty hall.

She stumbled, having tripped on a crack in the floor. She righted herself with effort, gritting her teeth to try and fight the wave of exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm her. She was so weak; her body felt like a boiling, wasted husk. She wanted to lie down again, to let the heat and the fatigue win. She didn’t let it. One leg, then another. Forward, always moving forward.

Several wide corridors branched off this main foyer. They had once been sealed shut by doors, but these were now left open, some having fallen off completely. The mare inspected a few of these, but the barren passageways held nothing of interest.

At the top of the hall sat a large dais. Small flights of steps ran up to the platform on all sides, leading to an empty stage. Perhaps a throne had sat here, but the mare never remembered seeing one before the end. What ever had meant to go here was long gone, the thick coating of dust that her hooves sent upwards in loose spirals with every step attesting to that. This place wasn’t just abandoned… it was forgotten. It had clearly been undisturbed for years. The palace had been the focal point of all of the love and the adoration for the Princesses. It had been the home of the monarchy, and the heart of Equestria. And now it was fading away from memory itself.

The mare just kept walking.

One last doorway led off from the great hall. This one still had one of its doors in place, seemingly jarred shut. The other was completely open, swung as far back as its rusted hinges would allow.

The mare stepped towards it, resting for a moment on a crumbling pillar. She brushed past the closed door, and stepped into the corridor. The passageway reached out in front of her, running a distance of almost a hundred feet. It looked almost identical to the hall behind it; the same bluestone still tiled the roofs and floor, the same pillars still lined both sides of the walk way. Empty window frames still sat in amongst the walls.

Except one.

With cautious, disbelieving hoof-steps, the mare walked down the corridor, her eyes fixed on that singular point. Around her were piles of broken glass, yet she avoided these without thought. It was the last window on the left, seemingly facing an open courtyard beyond. With an open mouth, the mare came to a stop in front of her target, her sickness temporarily forgotten. She couldn’t believe it. There, right in front of her, was a piece of artwork that’s existence should not be possible.

A gigantic stained glass window stretched upwards in front of her. It stood over twenty feet tall, and despite the thin, web-like cracks running through it, it was entirely intact. The mare stared at the faded, murky glass in awe. A central yellow circle featured a stone pedestal, just like the one in the castle in the Everfree. On it sat six gems, five surrounding a single purple diamond. They were all linked by blue encircling and protecting the jewels inside. Outside the gems were another six circles, and in each one was a pony.

“The mares of harmony…” the mare whispered to the silent hallway. She reached out with a hoof toward the glass, utterly spellbound by its presence. Several beams of colour linked all of the ponies together. They were all separate, yet always linked. Always.

The mare stared at the window, not willing to reach out any further with her hoof and not willing to pull it back either.

Eventually, the mare laid down where she stood. As she did, she noticed the door at the end of the corridor. It was a huge stone seal, six gems set into its surface. Even in all its magnificence, the mare paid little attention to it. Her gaze lingered on the skeleton lying in front of it. It was curled into a ball, the bones having collapsed into an indistinguishable mess. The mare couldn’t tell if it was the body of a unicorn, pegasus or earth pony. The remains were just in too poor of a condition. Even the skull was smashed, fragmented beyond recognition in the dust.

A single, gem-encrusted box sat open next to the body. It was empty – the soft, velvet-looking interior filled with nothing but dust. The mare wondered what valuables the box might have held. Did they find what they were looking for? And was it worth dying for? Was it worth trying to protect it? The mare frowned. Did it even matter anymore? Probably not… probably not.

The glass window watched her silently, and she returned its gaze with devotion. What about the glass? Was it worth anything? Did its survival actually mean anything? It was a relic to an age past, a time when things were different. By looking upon it, she remembered. By looking upon it, she saw beauty. She saw an image from a time long since lost to forces the mare held no control over. Yet here this window was, cracked, dirty and fading… but by some miracle, still in place.

Eternal, surviving, resolute, compassionate. If she wished hard enough, maybe it would be true. Maybe… just maybe…

The mare lowered her head toward the cold stone floor. She sniffed once, fighting the warmth building in her eyes. She wanted to sleep, to surrender to the swirling darkness waiting patiently just outside her perception. It was calling to her, and she wanted to run toward it, to escape.

“No, Mama. I’m never gone. I’ll be back. And you will be better. Just wait here. I will come back.”



Forcing her eyes open, the mare fought back. Her daughter promised. She would be back. She had to wait for her. Fight the fear. Fight the dark.

The mare reached down with shaking head toward the water bottle tucked in a pocket on her side. Her grip on the lid slipped as she tried to flip the cap. She tried again, this time loosening it before being forced to stop. She tried a third time, and managed to slip the top off. The mare took a slow and measured mouthful, letting the water run its way into her stomach, soothing her parched throat.

She weakly set the bottle down after loosely screwing the cap back on, resting it next to her. She sighed and closed her eyes.

It started slowly, like she was slowly being emerged into warm water. It spread from her head all the way to her tail, bathing her completely with its delicious warmth. It was soft and gentle, but resolute, pressing down gently onto the mare. She scrunched her eyes in reaction to the feeling, but she could still see it – she could still feel it – through her eyelids. It was pure gold, filtering through the air and embracing the mare with all the love and adoration she remembered.

She opened her eyes and saw the sun.

Shafts of light streamed through the broken windows all throughout the hallway. They poured in from every crack, illuminating a sea of dust motes floating lazily through the air. They were golden specks of inanimate life, dancing and twirling in joy under the sun’s spotlight.

The mare gazed up at the stained-glass window and gasped. Under the gentle support from the light, the whole thing had erupted into a tapestry of colour, the gems all twinkling with their new-found glory. The faded colours were gone, replaced instead by perfect shades from all spectrums of the rainbow. She could almost swear the elements were smiling now.

The warmth was all-encompassing. It washed over the mare with the most beautiful sense of serenity, leaving her muscles relaxed and tranquil. She smiled as she stretched her head out, revelling in the warm touch down the length of her neck. Breathing slowly, the mare closed her eyes and rested her head back down on her forelegs. Subconsciously, she wrapped her tail around her body, trying to trap the warmth within her body.

It felt so good just to lie there, breathing easy, and drifting away into peace. The darkness was starting to creep back now. Even though her eyes were already closed, she could feel it encroaching upon the glow still permeating through her eyelids. She didn’t mind it, though. It felt good. A numbness had started to spread from her centre, creeping through her body, filling out through her extremities. It was peaceful. Easy. She was warm, and she was comfortable. The stone didn’t feel cold anymore. In fact, she couldn’t feel a thing. There was just the warmth, and just the darkness.

“Mama! Mama, please wake up!” The sound was distorted, almost slowed down. The mare tried to stir, but found she couldn’t. She could only lie there, letting the peace seep through her. “Mama! Please! Mama! Wake up, Mama! Please!”

Fight the fear… Fight the dark… Embrace the warmth… Embrace the light…

“Mama! NO!”

The air seems to almost crackle with an unspoken energy. The courtyard is overflowing with ponies, all them fidgeting patiently, bodies pressed together like stacks of firewood. The mare is standing on her father’s back, and her neck is stretched out as far as it can go as she peers at the stage at the head of the plaza.

The fact that she was woken up super early for this didn’t really spoil her mood; to her it almost made it more special. She is sleepy, but filled with a warm and jittery sense of excitement keeping her from staying still.

“Sweetie, could you please not jump on my back for a second?” her dad asks with a level voice.

“Oh… sorry, Dad,” she replies as she stops hopping down on the spot. “I just wanna see the sun already…”

“Patience, my dear,” he says, still a little frustrated but also with a hint of a smile, “is a virtue.”

“A whatue?”

She can practically feel her dad roll his eyes beneath her. She knows it’s best not to press him when he’s like this, so she falls quiet.

The sky is awash with a sea of subdued shades of blue, purple and black. The mare can make out the faint outlines of fluffy clouds as they hang suspended in the pre-dawn sky. She can still see the barest hints of the stars, faded almost completely to a new day.

Suddenly, the stage at the head of the plaza, initially illuminated by several lanterns, falls into shadow. A hush washes over the audience like a wave, silencing the buzzing of the crowd with ease. The stillness that follows sits like a blanket over the ponies assembled. They wait with baited breath, expecting… expecting something.

The mare hears a loud gasp. “The stars!” somepony calls out. “The stars are going out!”

She looks up, and sure enough, one by one, the little diamonds are flickering violently before disappearing into the void beyond. A murmur runs its course through the crowd. Why are the stars going out? the mare wonders.

But then, just as the last light fades out of sight, a new one appears. This one is larger, and it glows brightly, even brighter than a full moon. The crowd whispers excitedly, all pointing towards the glowing star.

And then, it starts to fall.

The light races towards the ground, and the mare notices the darkness falling away with it. A faint glow is building on the horizon. The star streaks overhead, racing towards the mountains framing the city. As it falls, it grows larger and larger, burning ever-brighter.

The mare wonders where the star is falling. Is it going to hit the mountain? Or maybe it will hit the city! The star is so large now; it literally dominates the night sky, sending silvery shadows sprawling out from every standing object. And then, just as the star reaches the city, it vanishes, sucking the light from the world. A few ponies scream in the darkness, unable to see a thing. The mare shrinks down on her father’s back, hugging his neck as tight as she can.

The crowd gets louder and louder, and the mare can feel her dad getting knocked around as ponies around them try to move in the darkness. She can hear her heart thud inside her chest.

“Dad?” she says. “Dad, I’m-”

With an almost literal explosion of colour, the light erupts back into the world. The crowd falls completely silent as wave after wave of light rushes out from a singular ball of pure-white on the horizon, illuminating the world from the darkness. The ball of light starts to rise, becoming larger and more golden as it does.

“It’s the Sun…” the mare whispers. “It’s the Sun!”

As the sun nears its apex above the mountains, the crowd starts to cheer. They scream and stamp their hooves onto the cobbled ground.

“The sun! It’s the sun! Long live the Sun!” somepony screams, one voice barely distinguishable above the rest.

The golden glow finally slows to a stop, bathing the land in a warm caress, framing the few lingering clouds in silver halos. The mare squints up as close to the sun as she can. Suddenly, she sees it: the black dot racing down toward the city, leaving a tail of white, blue and green light behind it. The speck twists and twirls as it flies, leaving a glorious pattern of light lingering in the sky.

The mare looks around and sees a similar shape moving from the opposite direction, this one leaving a shadowy trail that seems to dance like solidified smoke in invisible air currents. The pair of fliers meet directly over the city and begin to twirl downwards, creating a double-helix of magical light in the air behind them.

“The Princesses! It’s the Princesses!”

Sure enough, the two shapes solidify into two majestic alicorns, one pure white, the other as dark as midnight, each one more beautiful and terrible than the other. They land simultaneously on the stage, their wings thrown upwards, their royal finery glinting in the newly created sunlight.

They smile benevolently at the ponies assembled before them, and they bow low, their manes twinkling around their bodies ethereally.

The crowd roars, before sinking into a bow of their own. The mare tries to lower her head like the grownups do, but she can’t tear her eyes away from the Princesses. They are so beautiful… they are so perfect…

“My little ponies,” Celestia begins in her firm, compassionate voice, still smiling down with a gaze filled with nothing short of pure adoration. “Welcome to a new day.”

The filly ran through the broken streets, her gaze dancing over every large structure she could see. She knew exactly what kind of building she was looking for, but yet it did not make it any easier to find it. In a city constructed out of almost everything but small, nondescript buildings, she was completely lost.

She pushed herself down another street, this one filled with various small businesses. The ruin of a fire station sat on her right, several destroyed moveable water tanks with pumps attached laying in the street near it. There were a few bodies, but the filly tried her best to look away from these. The mare couldn’t find the strength to mention the change in her attitude.

As she ran, she tried not to think of her mother. She had to help her, she couldn’t worry. She had to help her. She couldn’t stop.

On the corner of the street, a huge clock tower soared up above the general skyline. One of the sides had a great puncture ripped into its side, revealing a set of decaying steps rising to the top. The filly gazed up at the tower and smiled. She knew exactly what she could do.

“Why are we climbing the hill, Mama?” the filly asks, breathing heavily into her face mask.

“We have to get higher, little one,” her mother replies, her voice muffled by her own mask.

The ash is swirling around them, tearing at the filly with tongues of heat that threaten to slash her clothing away. Her mother always makes sure to tie her clothing around her body really tight so the hot wind couldn’t get inside it.

“But why?”

“Because you can see further the higher you go, and we have to look at the town to see if we can find food.”

“Oh.” Her stomach growls. “Is there a higher hill near here?”

Her mother laughs, a hollow sound, but still a laugh. “No, little one. This is the tallest.”

The filly sighs.

After carefully making her way up the crumbling stone staircase, the filly stood on the edge of the balcony that ringed the tower. The clock face was gone, lying in pieces on the street below, as was a significant chunk of its roof. Despite this, the filly could still stand on the gallery, staring out as far as she could into the abandoned city.

Even with the majority of the city lying in ruins on the bottom of the valley floor, the tiered system of the city still meant that there was plenty of space left. The small pony peered in amongst the wreckage, looking for anything that vaguely reminded her of the hospital back in Ponyville.

After staring at the destroyed city for what felt like ten minutes, she spotted it. A building complex two levels down sprawled out around a central courtyard. The main building had a flat roof, and the filly could still see the faint outline of a gigantic red cross painted on top of it.

Unable to contain her smile, the small pony bolted back down the stairs, making a mental note as best she could of the hospital’s location. She could save Mama. She would save Mama.

Trying to waste as little time as possible, the filly sprinted through the deserted streets yet again. She wove her way towards the flight of stairs at the end of each level as best she could. They were framed on both sides by tall towers, so she just had to head towards those.

She paused once to catch her breath, but beyond that, she didn’t stop.

Once she was on the right level, she took a moment to grab her bearings. The hospital was near a big concert hall, one with a roof that looked like a shell rather than a building.

When she spotted it, she took off towards it, winding her way between piles of rubble strewn over the streets like the playthings of a careless child.

After winding her way through the streets for about another half-hour, the filly finally reached her destination: the hospital. It stood tall and imposing, the wide double doors smashed open in front of her, shards of glass lying haphazardly in the foyer beyond. The rows of windows set into its walls were all empty like vacated eye sockets; they were staring down at her, watching, waiting. The filly suppressed a shiver.

Taking a deep breath, the small pony trotted purposefully into the hospital. Inside, she was greeted by an expanse of grimy linoleum, cluttered by a carpet of rotting paper. The walls were all swollen and stained, having suffered years of neglect and weather damage. A long bench-top hugged the wall on her right, and the filly could make out the word ‘reception’ stamped in red along the wall behind it.

The filly poked her way through the hospital, picking corridors on random. She moved past the signs that said things like ‘maternity’ or ‘x-ray’ without thinking and instead found herself heading into a wing dedicated to surgery. She’d heard Mama use that word before.

Here the floor was broken into series of small rooms, each one filled with tables, chairs, and cabinets, surrounded by tall machines with more wires than the filly could count stretching out like tentacles.

In one room, the filly stopped, her eyes wide with horror. The body of a pony lay on the central table, the flesh almost entirely rotten away. Despite this, the filly could still see the dried flaps of mummified skin cut away from his stomach and the rib cage above. Faint rust-coloured stains splattered the floor around the table in a grisly abstract masterpiece. The filly lingered for a moment, her gaze mixed somewhat between horrified and saddened before moving on.

Mama needed her.

The filly kept moving. She briefly entered a series of laboratories but quickly found that she probably wouldn’t find anything she could use here when she accidentally knocked a vial filled with a strange liquid, and it started smoking when the glass shattered on the floor.

Beyond the laboratories was a collection of rooms labelled ‘general examination’. The floor was separated into a number of cubicles, the ones in the middle constructed by walls of faint-blue curtains, most of which had been destroyed or had fallen from their hooks. The rooms flanking these on both sides of the floor were self-contained units, separated by their own walls. The filly poked her head into these, rifling through containers and drawers. She took some rolls of bandages and stored those within the bags. A few of the storage spaces held bottles of pills, but the labels said things that weren’t what she needed. She needed antibiotics. Just… just like Heavens told her.

The filly entered another of these cubicles and paused. A cupboard stood in the corner of this room, the doors covered in eye charts and ‘brush your teeth!’ propaganda. However, the door was open slightly, and she could see something lying inside.

Slowly, carefully, the small pony approached the cupboard, making sure to keep her hoof-steps as quiet as possible on the dirty floor beneath her. When she reached the door, she extended a tentative hoof… before tearing at the wood in a savage pull, swinging it open in one fluid motion. Her body tensed, but relaxed as soon as she saw what was inside.

The body of a small pony lay curled up in the bottom of the storage space. The filly could see its bones poking through the decaying flesh, and she saw how it didn’t have a horn or wings. It was just like her.

The filly stood there for a few moments, just staring at the body of the dead pony hiding within the cupboard.

She took a deep breath. “I hope you’re somewhere happy now,” she whispered. “I hope there are lots of trees and grass and birds where you are.”

The filly smiled softly, and reached out to touch the foal goodbye. She stopped. She looked just past the body, and there it was. A small pile of bottles, knocked down from the higher shelves. The filly reached in and grabbed these out. The first two were useless, but the next two… She almost cried in excitement when she saw the words ‘magically imbued antibiotics’ printed in bold letters along the labels, underneath the brand name ‘Health Stop’ written in fancy lettering.

She gasped. Mama! She had to get back to Mama!

The filly shot up, trying to stuff the medicine inside the saddlebags. With one last farewell smile at the foal, she took off back through the doors and out into the hospital proper. She wound her way back through the various corridors, remembering her route as best she could.

Finally, she burst back into the entrance foyer, skidding slightly on the stacks of paper covering the floor. Recovering her balance, she ran out the door and back onto the street.

She had to get back to Mama.

The filly ran through the streets of Canterlot as fast as she could, ignoring the steadily growing burn in her muscles. With the medicine, she could fix her. With the medicine she could make her better. She just had to get back to her.

The filly ascended to the next tier and turned right, heading towards the gigantic palace in front of her. She could see the arches and the spires. She could see where Mama was waiting.

The filly turned another corner, breathing heavily. A sudden wind started to grow and the filly looked up. She felt her muscles lock up and she screamed. Almost every sense in her body seemed to explode in one moment; her skin felt warm, her vision was blinded and the whole world suddenly lit up like it was on fire. Keeping her eyes clenched shut, the filly tore into a nearby building. She collapsed onto the floor, breathing heavily as her eyesight slowly returned to normal. She blinked as several small stars refused to leave.

The sky was on fire! The sky was on fire again!

The filly crawled over to the window and looked out. The street was illuminated by a soft gold glow, making the stone walls almost look clean. She poked her head a little closer to the hole and gazed up at the sky. She gasped as she saw… she saw blue. A huge hole had been torn in the clouds, and the filly could see a huge expanse of the most brilliant blue she had ever seen stretching on seemingly forever. Through this hole, shafts of light streamed down onto the land, all originating from a single golden circle that burned her eyes when she looked at it.

The sun.

She could see the sun.

The filly stared at the sky for what seemed like hours, completely unable to close her mouth. It was so empty... So... blue.

Eventually, she plucked up enough courage to step forward and back out onto the street. She closed her eyes and smiled as the warmth from the light hit her again. It hugged the pony completely, warming her whole body through. She sighed, leaning into the light’s embrace.

Her eyes snapped open. Mama. Mama had to have seen the sun too!

And without another thought, the filly continued to sprint, the sun firmly in the back of her mind.

After a few minutes, the filly past through the gigantic wrought-iron gates and went back into the castle grounds. She ran straight past and into the entrance hall.

She skidded to a halt, her eyes searching frantically. She was completely alone in the hall.

Panic rising within her stomach, the filly sprinted on, poking her head into every single one of the hallways branching off to the sides.

“Mama!” she screamed. “Mama, where are you?! Mama!”

The filly dashed past the stage, completely ignoring it. There was only one hallway left.

Sprinting past the half-open wooden door, the filly ran into the corridor, and there she was: her mother, lying bathed in sunlight, in front of a gigantic, colourful window. Her eyes flickered shut, and she rested her head onto her forelegs. The filly watched a tired smile break across her lips.

“Mama! Mama, please wake up!” Her shout didn’t seem to do any good as the mare flinched but did not open her eyes.

“Mama! Please! Mama! Wake up, Mama! Please!”

The filly watched as the older pony exhaled slowly. She watched as her body relaxed, her head slowly falling to the side.


The mare opens her eyes. She is standing on nothing, but yet her hooves are telling her there is something there. She lifts a hoof off the ground and slams it back down, feeling it jar, but hearing no sound.

She looks up and freezes, her pupils shrinking to pin-pricks. She is not alone. “You,” she hisses.

Her husband looks at her sadly, not quite able to hold her gaze. “Me.”

She stares at the stallion. He is not wreathed in shadow like the others she has seen. He is exactly how she remembers him from before he left. His coat was still that powdered light-blue. His mane was still in that rough, wind-swept style. His eyes were still warm. Kind.

“What are you doing here?” she snaps.

The stallion looks at her confusedly for a moment. He shrugs for a second before speaking. “I am here to say sorry.”

The mare blinks. “Sorry?”

“Yes. I… I was wrong.”

“You left me… you left me and the baby alone!”

“I… I know.”

“How can you be sorry?! You made that choice when you left us! You decided to choose yourself over the ponies you loved. You became that monster! You became what you swore you would never be!” The mare starts to yell at the end, shouting at the stallion who merely looks away, the pain easily recognizable in his eyes.

“I… was… wrong.”

The mare stops. “Pardon?”

“I…” He looks up at her pleadingly. “I was wrong.”

Now the mare can’t hold his gaze. She looks down at the nothing beneath her hooves, hating the fact that she can feel the anger slowly ebb from her body. “But… why…? Why did you leave me?”

The stallion takes a deep breath. “Because I was weak.”


“Yes… I… I wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t strong enough.”

“You left me…”

“And I am sorry. Please… please believe me. I am so sorry,” he pleads, his eyes begging for some kind of response from the mare.

“You’re sorry?”

“There is so much pain. So much guilt. How can I be a part of that and not be sorry?”

“What? Your pain? Your guilt?”

He shakes his head gently. “No… mine is there. But yours. Your pain. Your guilt. I started that. We all started that. The second the world burned it started. And I can’t take it back. It’s too late for that. All I can do is say I’m sorry. It’s… all I can do.”

The mare is silent, but she looks up and stares the stallion in the eyes. He holds her gaze, unflinchingly. His eyes glisten, and the mare can’t help but feel her own start to warm.

“Do…” he says, breaking the silence. “Do… you still love me?”

The mare forces her eyes closed. How dare he ask that! How dare he assume that after everything he has done to her that he can still ask that question! How dare he make her want to answer it truthfully… no matter how much it hurt.

How dare she have the answer she does.

The stallion smiles weakly. It is a ghost of a smile, and the mare can still see the uncertainty raging behind his eyes. But it is a smile, and as much as she hates it, she loves his smile. “I am sorry… I truly am. I don’t know if this will ever fix anything… but just know that I will stop at nothing to earn your forgiveness.”

“I… thank you.”

Her husband sighs. “I guess I will be seeing you soon then?”

“You will?”

He smiles. “Perhaps. We shall see.”

“So… this is goodbye?”

“For now.”

“I… goodbye,” she says weakly. The image starts to fade. It’s a warm feeling, and even as the stallion’s outline starts to blur and unravel itself, she doesn’t find herself minding. It’s peaceful. Easy.

“And yes…” the stallion says, “I still love you. I always did.”

The mare allows a small smile. It isn’t much… but it is something.

“Thank you.”

“Goodbye, my love. Rest easy.”

And then the image disappears completely, slipping into easy darkness.

“Mama! Mama! You’re awake, Mama!”

The mare forced her eyes open. The filly stood in front of her, a smile lighting up her eyes. The mare noticed she was not wearing her protective clothing. “I… I’m alive.”

“I saved you, Mama. I saved you.”

“H- how?”

“I got the medicine, Mama. I got the medicine and then I cleaned the wound just like Heavens told me. I lit the fire and heated the knife and cleaned it with water exactly how he told me. All the infection is gone now, Mama. I just have to keep it clean and you have to keep taking the medicine and you’ll get better again!”

“I…” the mare looked down and saw that her side had been wrapped in fresh bandages. It was a crude effort, but it was doing the job. “You did… you saved me.”

The filly smiled. She smiled and the mare wondered if she had ever seen the filly look so happy. She was practically glowing with excitement. The mare smiled back.

“How long was I gone for?”

“About a day and a half,” the filly replied.

The small pony offered the mare the water bottle and the mare took a small sip. The water soothing her suddenly parched throat. She was hungry now, too, but she didn’t want to say anything.

Looking around, the mare realised that she was still inside the corridor with the stained glass window. Every now and then, the hallway would be punctured by multiple shafts of golden light that streamed through every hole or crack it could find in the walls. And then they would disappear, the cloud cover moving back across, only to reappear moments later.

“It’s the sun, Mama,” the filly murmured. The mare sighed as the warmth from the light soaked through her.

“It is.”

“But why, Mama? Why is it here now?”

The mare looked to the filly. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I really don’t know.”

The filly was silent for a moment. “I… I really like it, Mama. It’s warm, and it makes everything so much… cleaner.”

The mare smiled again. “I like it too.”

“Are… are you hungry, Mama?” The mare looked at her daughter questioningly, and the small pony flushed a little. “I am taking care of you,” she explained.

“And you’re doing great.”

The filly smiled. “There… there is one more thing, Mama.”

The mare frowned. “What’s that?”

“I…” The filly turned, showing her side.

The mare gasped. There, sitting on her daughters flank like some great artist’s masterpiece, was an image. Great rolling clouds covered the top of the picture, but from it, streaming forth like rivers of gold were two brilliant shafts of light, illuminating the clouds around them with a warm glow.

The filly looked to the mare with an expectant look, biting her lower lip. The mare looked at her, and back at the image, and then she started to cry.

“Mama?!” the filly yelled, taking a hesitant step towards the mare.

The mare reached forward and pulled her daughter into a hug, holding onto the small pony’s body with all of her strength, feeling the gentle warmth radiate off her, soaking her like the sun. She buried her head in the filly’s mane, sobbing as her heart sang, filled to the brim with joy.

“It’s perfect,” the mare whispered at last. “It’s just perfect.”

The mare had to correct herself with a shaky laugh. Now she wasn’t sure if she had ever seen the filly this happy.

They spent the afternoon lying around in the stone corridor. The mare still couldn’t find the strength to stand let alone move too much, but the sweat had broken, meaning that the fever was hopefully on its way out.

When night fell, the filly made dinner. She cooked a small tin of beans and split it with the mare. They ate hungrily, devouring the food with enthusiasm. When they had finished, the filly cleaned the utensils with a splash of water and some newspaper while the mare watched patiently after taking her dose of medication.

Packing the supplies away, the filly came over and sat next to the mare. She rested her head on the older pony’s shoulder. “Mama?” she asked quietly.


“You… you’re home, Mama. You’re home.”

The mare nodded once.

“So what now, Mama? What do we do now?”

The opened her mouth, but closed it again. She had no idea. She had absolutely no idea. “I… I don’t know.”

“Oh… Ok, then.”

“But as long as I have you,” the mare continued softly.

“You will always have me, Mama,” the filly replied.



That night, the mare fell into an easy, dreamless sleep, while the filly slept next to her, lying together amongst the ruins of the palace.

The next morning, the mare found she could stand. Not well, but she could stand. She took a few exploratory steps around the corridor, and found she could walk. After she got some food in her, she felt even better. She didn’t know how far they’d get, but she knew it was time to leave.

After the filly cleaned the wound to prevent any kind of reinfection, the two ponies headed out of the palace. The mare whispered one last goodbye to the stained glass window, and one last goodbye to the skeleton with the gem encrusted box. Perhaps it had been worth it. It didn’t matter whether it was worth it to her – as long as it was worth something to the skeleton, it was enough.

They stepped out of the castle and retraced their steps back to the edge of Canterlot. If the filly wondered why they were headed back there, she didn’t say anything.

The precipice soon ran up to meet them. They stood on the edge just liked they had done two days previous. The mare looked out to the horizon, staring across the barren fields of the ash, the sparse and blasted mountains, the cemeteries of dead trees. She watched as the cloud cover shattered once more, and shafts of pure, unadulterated light pierced their way down from the heavens, illuminating the valley below. Just like her daughter’s mark. She felt the warmth of the sun bathing her in its embrace, and she smiled. She knew where they had to go.

“So where now, Mama?”

The mare turned to her daughter, still smiling. “Home, little one. We are going to go home.”

The filly looked at her bewilderedly for a moment. “But… but I thought…”

“To a new home,” the mare said. “We need a new home. A home together.”

The filly thought for a moment, but a smile broke across her face. “We’re going east, aren’t we? Heavens said there were good ponies out east.”

“Yes. We’ll go out east. We’ll find a new home. Because that’s what Heavens would have wanted.

The filly smiled again. “I like the sound of that, Mama. I really do.”

“Me too,” the mare replied. “Me too.”

The mare turned away from the edge of the world, now facing east, her smile unbroken across her lips. And so together, the mare and her daughter walked side-by-side, watched kindly by Celestia’s sun.

They were going home.

All Paths Lead Home

by Mystic

The End

Author’s notes:


Well. Here we are. Done and dusted. All 107k words. That’s so insane to me. 107k words. Far out. It feels like just yesterday I wrote my first story ever.


And I’m just getting started.


A big thank you to Paladin3510 for his awesome work on the cover art! He is a real bro, and I recommend checking out his sketches here: Seriously, some of his stuff inspired by Assassin’s Creed or Brent Week’s work is amazing.


A thank you to my BFF, dacaz5: the kind of guy who is always around to bounce ideas off and tell me that I am stupid. Which, if you know me, you’d know that is appropriate more often than not.


Next, and I cannot begin to thank this person enough, a sincere and genuine thank you to Sessalisk, a person who has sacrificed an obscene amount of time fixing up my terrible writing and making this story readable. I owe her everything as an author, for without her I would be nothing. If you see her around, be sure to say thank you!


And finally, a massive thank you to everyone for reading. I cannot begin to describe how much every view, every like, favourite or comment meant to me. You guys made this the experience that it was, and I owe you for that! If you haven’t done so already, be sure to head over to the EqD page and drop us a star rating!


As for the future, if you have seen my blog posts on FimFiction (, you will have seen a glimpse of what’s around the corner. And what’s more, that’s only the beginning. Onwards and upwards, my friends, onwards and upwards.


So, in conclusion, thank you. I hope you enjoyed this little tale of mine, because I know I really enjoyed making it.


 Till next time,


– Mystic