EDIT (Made as of 11/27/2011): This is taking longer than I thought. I’ve posted the revised version of this story. I will officially announce its revision when the sequels are posted, which should happen within the next two months (hopefully). If you are reading this message, you are in luck, as you will not have to re-read anything when the actual update comes along. There are a lot of grammatical errors/unfinished sentences floating around, but I will deal with them soon enough.
Five hundred ninety was the number on the top-right corner of the page. She allowed herself that glimpse before returning to the paragraphs below. All of her attention was going to the book in front of her, and the fact that she was two pages away from finishing only made her want to keep reading.
Reaching the bottom of the page, she flipped over to the next one. Out of impulse, she looked up at the top-left corner, where the page number was now located. Five hundred ninety-one. Although she had started the book last night, she had already read through nearly all of it. It was more than some ponies would read in months, but she didn’t mind. The time she spent was well worth it, since each chapter was engaging, interesting and informative.
She reached the end of the page again, and went ahead. Five hundred ninety-two. This page was different, though. It only went a quarter of the way down. The closing comment was brief, and almost abrupt. That’s it? she thought after skimming through it. She flipped to the remaining pages. Sadly, the only sections left were a glossary, an index, and a section for acknowledgements; none of which she wanted to read through.
After closing the book’s cover, the violet unicorn finally looked up at her surroundings. She was sitting in the library, with piles upon piles of books accompanying her. She held back a yawn, and blinked. Her eyes felt a little tired from all the reading she had done in one sitting.
To help her focus on reality, she gazed out of the nearby window. She squinted at first, adjusting her vision to the bright scenery. The landscape was alive with daylight colors, the birds were chirping happily, and the hustle and bustle of the town of Ponyville was at its daily peak. It was the beginning of the afternoon. But even this harmonious day wasn’t enough to drag her away from a good book.
Even though she had taken less than a day to finish the book, the unicorn did not completely dedicate her time to studying. She would usually take opportunities to spend time her friends, and in a little while, she would go do just that.
But an abrupt slam behind her pierced the silence of the library. Wondering what the cause of the noise was, she looked over to the library entrance. Standing under the open doorway was her assistant.
“Twilight!” gasped the baby dragon. His breathing was frequent and heavy, meaning that he may have been sprinting. “Listen...” But before her assistant could go on, she interrupted him.
“Spike? I thought you were coming home later. What are you doing back so early?”
“The nurses...” he began, “need your help with-”
“Great... now the nurses need me, too? I can’t keep helping out everypony, Spike.” In the past few months, several ponies had approached her with different questions. At first she would assist without much protest, but as time dragged on, she started to get irritated. Most of the questions she received were basic or self-explanatory, and solving them would be a waste of her time.
“But... Twilight...” said Spike, “this is really importan-”
“Important? What’s so important this time? Apples ‘mysteriously’ dropping? Pinkie Pie’s bottomless stomach? All of those were emphasized as important, Spike, so this better be-”
“There’s somepony hurt, Twilight!” yelled the baby dragon, finally cutting her off.
Twilight raised an eyelash. “Hurt? Normally ponies get injured, Spike,” she said, thinking of her rainbow-maned daredevil friend. “Can’t the nurses handle it? They do a pretty good job each time Rainbow Dash crashes into something.”
“I don’t know, Twilight. They said somepony needed help, and that they really needed you. I don’t think you should keep Nurse Redheart waiting any longer.”
Sighing, Twilight looked at the calender hanging from the nearby wall. She already had something planned, which had been pushed back before. This was the tenth interruption in this month alone, and it was annoying to deal them all the time. Even though somepony was hurt, she was certain that it wasn’t anything too serious.
“Alright, Spike, fine.” She smiled. “I’ll go check to see what the problem is. Whatever it is, I should be able to handle it. In the mean time...” she said, glancing at the books that littered the floor. She heard her assistant let out a groan, knowing full well what she was going to say next. “Sort my books back onto their shelves alphabetically, and according to topic. I shouldn’t be long.”
In response, the young dragon groaned louder than before. But after casting his head down in defeat, he sighed, and began walking around to pick up the many books scattered across the floor.
“Thanks, Spike. Tell you what... if you can get everything cleaned up by the time I get back, I’ll get you some gemstones from Rarity.” Hearing “gemstones” and “Rarity”, the dragon stood up straight. Without saying anything more, he dashed across the library floor, attempting to pick up as many books as possible. She giggled after seeing her assistant act so enthusiastically.
“See you later,” she said, closing the door behind her. Taking a moment to breath in the fresh summer air, she began walking through the streets of Ponyville towards the hospital.
Twilight was in no rush to get to her destination. Although she was definitely trotting faster than her usual pace, she was more focused on her disrupted schedule than the situation at hoof. Once the problem was solved, she would have to go back and re-design her timetable for the probably the fifth time.
Well... at least I finished my book before this happened, she thought. Besides, there’s no way Spike can clean all that up within the hour.
As she neared the street where the hospital building was, a voice called out to her. It was coming from a familiar earth pony standing outside the hospital building. At this point, Twilight broke into a run to make it seem like she got there as fast as she could. She stopped when she reached the pony, who had a large, red cross as her cutie mark.
“Thank goodness you’re here, Miss Sparkle. I-”
“You can just call me Twilight, Nurse Redheart.”
The nurse paused to look at Twilight, but started the story over. “Thank goodness you’re here, Twilight... I sent your dragon companion when I saw him over by Carousel Boutique...”
Of course, Spike, she thought, holding back a grin. At this point, Spike’s completely obvious crush was a funny topic for her and every other pony.
“So, what did you need me for?” she asked.
“Right! Of course. Now... let’s see... where should I start...
“There was an expedition team sent out to the Everfree forest today. They were only sent to scout out a tiny part of it for some later expansion... but they ended up finding something.... strange.” Twilight knew that “Everfree forest” and “strange” went together all the time, but the way the nurse said them made the situation seem stranger than normal.
“They came across a cave...” she continued, “and they weren’t going to bother with mapping it out... until they one of them thought he heard noises coming from it. So... they worked up the nerve to go inside...” Hearing that part, Twilight felt surprised. Ponyville ponies normally had trouble stepping in the direction of the Everfree forest, yet these explorers were daring enough to go down into a creepy, suspicious cave within the forest itself?
“You wouldn’t believe what they found. They saw a pony on the ground, lying in total darkness. He was crawling... but he just stopped when they got close. He was breathing very slowly, but he wasn’t showing any other signs of life. The explorers thought it would be best to rush him back here for medical assistance. We’ve done everything possible, but it didn’t help. Now we’re not sure what to do.”
“What about Nurse Magenta?” asked Twilight. “She’s the best unicorn doctor in Ponyville, right?” Nurse Redheart shook her head, however.
“No... she’s out visiting family in Fillydelphia. We thought you would be the next best pony to contact...”
Understanding that the story was over, Twilight felt her interest in the situation kick up a few notches. “So this pony... is he who you wanted me to see so urgently? How is he right now?”
The nurse shook her head again. “We don’t know. He’s really cold, but he isn’t shivering. He’s still breathing, though. We agreed he needed heat, so we put him out in the garden for some sunlight and warmth. We figured Celestia might be able to gradually warm him up...” Redheart then casted a hopeless, defeated gaze towards the ground.
“Don’t worry,” said Twilight, attempting to comfort the distressed nurse. “You’ve done the best you could. I’m here now, so I’ll see what I can do.”
After entering the building, Twilight began climbing up the flights of steps. Although the building was large enough to be considered a hospital, it started as a simple two-room doctor’s office. Even after various expansions were made, everypony around town still called it that. Reaching the topmost floor, she walked over to, and opened, the door labeled: “Rooftop Garden”. This particular part of the hospital had been installed for patients who wanted to have a walk around, but were too sick to go outside.
Inside the room was a medium amount of greenery, and a fountain. The temperature was just as high as, if not higher than, the outside. The glass ceiling acted as a sun-roof, and served two purposes: to give sunlight to the indoor plants, and to prevent sick or injured pegasi from flying out of the hospital.
Gazing around the room, Twilight immediately noticed the pony in question. There was a single hospital bed in the room with what looked like a pony on top. His coat was green, and his mane was black. She couldn’t see anything else, though, because the rest of his body was covered by a blanket. Twilight had been in Ponyville for nearly a year, but she couldn’t recall anypony with those features. He probably wasn’t even a Ponyville resident to begin with.
While approaching the side of the colt’s bed, she heard his slow breathing. She lifted a hoof to the side of his body, and felt the “ice-cold” sensation that was mentioned by the nurse. Twilight was no expert on medical magic, but she knew it was a bad sign if the pony’s entire body was cold. He could have been suffering from hypothermia... or worse. She quickly sifted through her memory, attempting to recall a spell that would let her sense temperature. It was a good thing that she read so many books on magic. Without hesitation, she closed her eyes, focusing on the pony in front of her. With her magic, she could sense that only a few parts of his body exhibited any sort of heat. This fact did not alleviate her worry; in fact, it did the opposite.
Warmth spell... warmth spell... she thought, digging through her memory again. She could not think of one, however, causing panic to gripped her. Just when she needed a certain spell, she didn’t know a proper one. Maybe she did read about it once... but it was taking too long to recall. I need to improvise...
Immediately, she remembered the heat present in the room. Aha! She quickly closed her eyes again, and collected the magic of the warm air around her. Then she steadily applied the heat around the pony, enveloping him in a dome of energy. The heat also entered his slightly agape mouth to warm the inside of his body. She was careful to regulate the flow of energy, since something told her that being baked wasn’t any better than freezing.
Finally, she ended the current, letting the energy scatter into the room again. Double-checking her work, she raised a hoof to the side of his body. She didn’t have to be an expert to know that the colt both looked and felt warmer than before.
Well... that was easy enough, she thought, sighing.
Yet her relief was short-lived. Before she could look away, the green colt’s eyes sprang open.
Surprised by the subtle, almost unnoticeable movement, she stumbled away from the pony. His head was stationary, but his eyes were moving, glancing around at various things.
Feeling slightly paranoid, she looked back to the garden doorway. If she could inch herself towards the door, she could leave to find a nurse. They would properly handle the situation. But before she could put her plan into action, the stranger’s wandering gaze landed on her. Although his eyes were half-closed, his gold eye color wasn’t completely obscured.
Twilight quickly thought of her next action. Should she find the nurse like she was planning before? Should she speak to him? Both of the options were reasonable, but she didn’t want to take the risks, for the tiniest movement could startle the now-awake pony.
The colt started to blink repeatedly, most likely adjusting his focus. Once he stopped, he gazed around the room, and then looked back to her. His facial expressions changed several times in those moments. Was he... confused? Fearful? Why would he look at her like that? Did she have something on her face? Well, she wouldn’t find out by standing there and not saying anything. Feeling the uneasiness building up, she made the decision to end the silence.
“Hello, sir, my name is Twilight Sparkle. You’ve been... literally... out cold for a while now. I had to cast a-”
She stopped herself when the colt started moving his limbs around, kicking off the blanket that was on top of him. If he had a broken leg, he would be injuring himself like that. Without thinking into it, she approached and placed her hoof on the side of his body. The sensation of her hoof must have startled the colt, but instead of freaking out like she feared, he slowed his motions to a halt.
“Sir...” she began, “I wouldn’t recommend moving around yet. Do you think you could just sit up for now?”
The pony nodded, meaning that her friendly tone paid off. He manipulated his limbs again, yet this time slowly, and more carefully. Although awkward in his movements, he managed to roll his body, and bring his head up. He was staring at something, though. Out of curiosity, she followed his gaze down to part of his body, where her hoof was still resting. She blushed, and quickly pulled her hoof off his coat, and onto the ground.
Now that he seemed comfortable, Twilight opened her mouth to start a legitimate conversation. However, the stranger beat her to it.
“...Where am I?” he asked. “...Miss Sparkle.” Twilight found the relaxed tone of his voice rather odd, considering his condition only minutes ago. Unlike the voices of other colts around town, which were usually gruff or deep, his voice had a sort of friendly ring to it.
“You’re in Ponyville hospital,” she replied, “or the doctor’s office... as every other pony likes to call it around here.”
“Uh... In Equestria, of course. You’re in the town of Ponyville. We’re pretty much next to Canterlot.”
Now it was Twilight’s turn to be confused. It was like her responses were just bringing more questions.
“Are you feeling okay? Don’t you remember where you’re from?”
Instead of responding, he looked down. It was a simple question, so Twilight couldn’t fathom why he was taking so long to reply.
“I... don’t know...”
“Okay... um...” She took some time to think of something else. “Do you remember your friends or family?” Once again, the colt looked away, closing his eyes and shaking his head.
She knew there was a problem if the colt couldn’t answer such basic questions, and it didn’t take her long to realize what that problem was. Memory-loss? she thought. Does he have... amnesia?
The idea of amnesia was very new to her, and although she read about it in books, this was the very first time she had met somepony who possessed it. While the topic was rather strange, it greatly intrigued her.
Was he really an amnesiac? Or was he just having trouble remembering? Although he just woke up, he looked healthy enough to move. If he were physically injured, he would have been in pain from his movements before.
“Maybe you need to clear your head. Do you think a walk could help?” she asked. Then it occurred to her that, if she was going to help the pony, it would push her schedule for the day back even further. She didn’t mind, though, because now she wanted to help the stranger. And as she had hoped, the pony nodded.
“Alright...” she continued, “let’s try that. Can you stand up?”
“Well...” he said, moving one of his forelegs, “I think so.”
Watching the pony as he slowly scooted off the bed, Twilight pitied him. Even though he looked to be around her age, she couldn’t imagine forgetting her life. In a way, she empathized with him. It also didn’t help that his expression made him look so... helpless. It only increased her desire to aid him.
Struggling to move himself out of the bed, he eventually stood up. Although his legs were straight, his hooves were unevenly spaced out. Twilight wasn’t surprised as she saw him lose his balance. Luckily, the bed was nearby to stop him from falling all the way, and give him something to lean on. The stranger recovered his balance, and stood up again. This time his hooves were evenly spaced, and his legs weren’t wobbling.
I guess he really does need to stretch, she thought, smiling towards him before turning around to face the doorway. Yet before she began walking, she thought of something else.
“I’m sorry...” she said, looking back to him, “I should have asked for your name before. Would you like to tell me?”
Unfortunately, the colt looked down. If he couldn’t even remember his name, then this was going to be a difficult case to solve. To her surprise, however, the colt didn’t take as long to respond. In fact, he brought his head up faster than before.
“Sigmund...” he said silently. “My name is Sigmund, Miss Sparkle.”
While walking down the hospital staircase, Twilight reflected on the events that led her to the situation. In the beginning, she dismissed the case as an over-exaggerated injury. She took her time to get to where she was needed, since most of her concern was with her studies and her plan for the day. The pony who was “injured”, though, changed her concerns completely. The story she received from the nurse first made her intrigued, and to top it off, the colt, or Sigmund, had memory loss. There was a large amount of perplexity in the situation, and her attention had been effectively grabbed.
Sigmund was slowly walking behind her. What took her less than five minutes for her to traverse took him over ten minutes. It also didn’t help that some of the nurses were following them, asking questions that related to his health. Some of the nurses also questioned Twilight if it was okay for him to be up and walking, but she assured them it was fine. Sigmund, on the other hoof, seemed nervous when answering the nurses’ questions, yet Twilight could understand that. She, too, wasn’t particularly fond of having ponies mob around her with daily questions.
She sighed as the seconds passed, and began planning a trip to the Carousel Boutique to get Spike those gems she promised. It was obvious that this would take far longer than anticipated.
After escaping the hospital’s overbearing staff, they went into the streets of Ponyville. Now Sigmund was staring at the multiple sights of Ponyville, and at other ponies. To Twilight’s comfort, he stopped giving her weird glances. However, to her dismay, he was staring at other ponies a little more than he should be. Above of them, some of the pegasi were busy pushing clouds to different parts of the town. His eyes trailed behind each of the ponies as they darted across the sky.
“How... how are they flying?” he asked. If it wasn’t for the colt’s memory loss, Twilight probably would have been speechless, but understanding that fact, she decided to politely answer his question.
“They have wings on their backs that allow them to fly. Because of those wings, they are called pegasi. The singular form is ‘pegasus’. They’re still ponies like us, though. I guess you’re wondering about the horn on my head, too, right?” she asked, gesturing to her forehead. Sigmund looked where she pointed, and quickly nodded.
“I’m a unicorn. My horn allows me to cast all kinds of spells. Do you want me to show you an example?” she asked. The colt responded with another small, unsure nod.
Surveying the area, she spotted a box nearby that no pony was paying attention to. Using a basic levitation spell, she lifted the box about a hoof off the ground, and then dropped it. She saw Sigmund’s eyes widen in what seemed like amazement and curiosity.
He looked at the side of his body, and rubbed his forehead. “So... I don’t have wings, or a horn. What does that make me?”
“You’re an earth pony. You can’t fly or use magic.” She stopped in her explanation, though, noticing his disappointed expression. “I mean... don’t think of it as a bad thing. Earth ponies have plenty of things they excel in; they’re stronger, braver, and more in-tune with nature than unicorns and pegasi.” Her friend Applejack was a great example of all of these traits.
Sigmund’s face did light up a little at the thought of an earth pony’s skills. He gave a quick nod to show his understanding, and they moved on.
As time passed in the duration of their walk, Twilight occasionally popped a question or two to see how Sigmund’s memory was doing. Unfortunately, she did not receive a response other than variations of: “I can’t remember.”
How long, exactly, would it take him to remember? Twilight knew from her studies that some amnesiacs reacquired their memories within a day, while others took years. She didn’t know which category Sigmund was in, but she could only hope that he would be a fast one.
On the walk, he showed a lot of interest in everything in Ponyville, commenting on and asking questions about various things. Twilight would smile as he talked. Only two hours ago, he appeared lost, but now he looked like he was enjoying himself.
“Miss Sparkle, what’s that smell?”
“You can just call me Twilight, Sigmund.” She paused to sniff the air, and detected the sweet scent of frosting, and baked goods. “...That smells like cupcakes... It’s probably coming over from that bakery over there.” She then realized that it had been hours since he was found in the morning. For all she knew, the colt was starving. She asked, “Do you want to get something to eat?”
“Uh...” Before he could properly answer, his stomach growled.
“I’m guessing that’s a yes,” she said, smiling. His face reddened in slight embarrassment.
As they walked over to the bakery, Twilight began to make its features. The roof was covered in what appeared to be frosting, with a large cupcake to top it off. This seems familiar... she thought, looking over the details again. She halted, though, realizing where they were heading.
Oh no... I don’t think he’s ready yet, she thought, trotting faster to catch up to Sigmund. She was too late, though. He had already walked in.
“HI, TWILIGHT!” yelled a preppy pony standing behind the bakery’s counter.
Great... this isn’t going to be good... she thought as the same pony bounced towards them.
“Twilight! Where were you? You were suppose to be here about thirty minutes ago to help me organize the super-duper-est party ever and I was gonna have streamers candy balloons slathered all over the bakery and-” The pink pony ended her bouncing, and looked off to the entrance. She must have noticed the newcomer standing there.
“Ohhhhhhh... Who’s this, Twilight?” She dashed to where Sigmund was, causing him to back away slowly. “Are you new to Ponyville? I mean I would know since I know everypony in Ponyville! Where’d you come from? Are you single? Are you dating Twili-”
“Pinkie!” said Twilight, quickly shoving her hoof into her friend’s mouth to silence her. A few awkward seconds passed, and Sigmund glanced between both of them peculiarly. Twilight blushed again, and pulled her hoof away.
“Sooooo...” said Pinkie, “it’s not like that? Aw... too bad. He is kind of cute, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if-” To prevent her from going on, Twilight shot her a glare. Now that her hyperactive friend had been tamed, she cleared her throat, and went about the introductions formally.
“*Ahem*... Sigmund, Pinkie Pie. Pinkie Pie, Sigmund.” Smiling, Pinkie held out her hoof. Sigmund, although still a little confused, must have understood the gesture, and touched his front hoof with Pinkie’s. He was quickly shocked, though, by something, which turned out to be her hidden joy buzzer.
“HAHAHA! Yeah, you’re totally new to Ponyville. Everypony in town knows I’m quite the prankster, and that’s the oldest trick in the book!” Although she was laughing, Sigmund uneasily glanced at her as he rubbed the hoof that had been shocked. “Something wrong, Sigmund?” asked the prankster pony. “Normally ponies laugh when I do that. Oh lighten up, you colt...”
Face-hoofing once, Twilight dragged Pinkie to the side before she could do anything else. Over the course of twenty seconds, Twilight explained the events of that day starting from when she arrived at the hospital. Pinkie Pie gasped, hearing the part about “memory-loss,” and guiltily glanced back to Sigmund, who was standing meters away. When Twilight was finished, they both went back to him.
“I’m super-sorry, Sigmund,” said Pinkie Pie. “I didn’t know...” Yet before he could respond in kind, she gasped. “Oh oh oh! I got it! We were gonna throw a party anyway, Twilight. Let’s do it for poor Sigmund here. Hopefully fun times will get those memories a comin’! I can invite everypony in Ponyville and he can get some friends and...”
At that point, she started babbling on about the details at almost a fast enough speed that even Twilight couldn’t understand. Once she started bouncing, Twilight decided to interrupt her, ending her excitement.
“That sounds fine Pinkie, but... not tonight. I think he needs to rest more than party right now.”
“Awwww... boo, that’s no fun... but I guess it makes sense.” Pinkie shrugged. “Oh, right! I guess you wanted something to eat, Sigmund?” Although still a bit frightened, Sigmund nodded.
“Alright! Be back in a jiffy!” she said before quickly vanishing into the room behind the counter. She emerged with two pastries within moments. “Here you go! Two famous Sugarcube Corner pastries on the house! Take it as a ‘Sorry I frightened you before’ gift.”
Still wary, Sigmund carefully picked one of the pastries up with one hoof, nearly dropping it in the process, and took a bite. Pinkie Pie stared at him, intent on hearing his response. He uneasily swallowed it, and, soon afterwards, smiled. It was the first smile that Twilight had seen out of him all day.
“Wow... this is really good,” he said. Pinkie Pie jumped with joy, and gave the other pastry to Twilight. The unicorn didn’t even take a bite of her pastry before Sigmund already finished his. “Thank you Mis-” He stopped, though, guessing that she wasn’t one for formalities. “Thank you Pinkie Pie, that was... delicious.”
“I’m glad you thought so.” She paused, hearing her name being called from the kitchen. “Aww... looks like I have to go. Oh, and Twilight, if you run into the others, tell them about Sigmund’s welcoming party! I’ll see you both later!” She then darted back into the kitchen in a puff of smoke.
“She seems a little... enthusiastic,” said Sigmund, “but she’s definitely nice.”
Twilight rolled her eyes a little. “You’ve barely scratched the surface, Sigmund.”
They didn’t have to go very far from the bakery before Twilight heard somebody calling out to her again. This time, the voice was coming from above them. Looking up, they saw a blue pegasus with a rainbow mane lying on an idle cloud.
“Hey, Twilight. Where are you going? Who’s the colt?” She rolled off the cloud, swiftly drop[ed, and landed only a couple meters away from where Twilight and Sigmund were standing.
“Oh... We’re just on a walk, Rainbow Dash.”
Sigmund looked like he was fascinated by her wings, which were in the air as usual because of the pony’s show-off personality. Of course, the pegasus noticed him staring.
“What’s with you?” she asked.
The question caught him off-guard. Unsure of what to say, he looked down.
“Not the talkative type, are you?”
Twilight sighed again. Before her friend could further intimidate the newcomer, she quickly dragged her to the side. Over the course of a few seconds, she explained the situation. Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened a little at the mention of “memory loss”.
When they went back to Sigmund, Rainbow Dash leaned in close to him with stern eyes, examining him. The colt could only avert his eyes, and nervously shuffle his hooves in the dirt.
“Hmm,” she said. “You know, I used to have amnesia, too.”
“You did?” asked Twilight. “You never told me that before.”
“Well, I hit my head preeeetttyyy hard back then.”
Implying that you don’t hit your head hard enough now, thought Twilight, rolling her eyes discretely.
“I forgot a whole bunch of things, but the doctors said it would come back to me over time. And then, like an hour later, I started flying around and doing stunts and tricks and going fast. Then all my memories came back in a sudden burst.” Rainbow suddenly wrapped one foreleg around him and looked towards the sky. “All you need is a little adrenaline, and I’m sure you’ll remember! Hey... how about we start now? Two hundred push-ups is a good place to begin, and-”
“Dash,” Twilight interrupted, “he just got out of the hospital. I think he needs to relax right now. Maybe some other time.” She casually winked to Sigmund. Judging on his expression, he looked relieved.
“Alright alright, fine, I get that.” She looked back at Sigmund, and gave him a smirk, causing his expression to look more panicked. “I’ll see you around, Sigmund. Don’t you think Twilight here can hold me back forever!” She flapped her wings a few times, and took off into the air. Before she shot off in a random direction, she called out to them again. “Oh yeah! One more thing. I’m making a guess Pinkie is already throwing a party right?” Twilight nodded. “Got it. I’ll spread the news to AJ and the others.” Then she flew off.
When she was out of view, Sigmund spoke up. “I... have a feeling that, if I go along with what she has planned, she’ll be the death of me.”
Twilight laughed a little. “I don’t doubt your feeling at all.”
“Before we go anywhere else, I need to stop by one of my friend’s places,” said Twilight, walking with Sigmund towards a tall, tent-like building.
“Wait, are you talking about the hyper earth pony, or the crazy pegasus?”
“No, the nit-picking fashion designer unicorn. You haven’t met her yet, but she’s always delighted to meet newcomers.” As they approached the boutique’s entrance, Twilight told Sigmund one tiny detail to better prepare him. “One more thing... She’ll probably want you to try on a hundred different outfits. It’ll be time-consuming, but just go along with it. She knows what she’s doing.”
Before they could touch the doorknob, the door flung open. Standing by the door frame was a unicorn with a white coat, and a curly, purple mane.
“Oh hello, darling,” she said, “I was wondering when you would come by today. Oh yes, and let us not forget about your new friend...” she said, winking at her. “Rainbow Dash already flew by and told me... Why, I didn’t know what he looked like, so I got all my gentlecolt apparel out, just in case...”
“Thank you, Rarity, but...” Twilight would have gone on, but she stopped upon understanding the meaning of the wink. Glaring at her friend, she said, “We’re just here for-”
Rarity trotted past her, interrupting her mid-sentence. She went up to Sigmund. “Oh my, what a handsome gentlecolt. Please! Please! Come in! I simply must know what size you are. Green isn’t a common color among colts, so I may have to improvise...” she said while forcibly pulling Sigmund into the building.
Once again, Twilight sighed, and followed them inside.
After an hour, Sigmund had finally gone through all the clothes Rarity had prepared for him. While the entire thing was going on, Twilight dozed off during the procedure, since she had seen it happen far too many times before. He was bored, but a little flustered after receiving the hundreds of positive remarks from the white unicorn.
“Ah yes, that vest went so well with your coat, Sigmund. You have such an exquisite name, by the way. Remember to come back some other time! I will likely have something done by then.” She smiled.
“Uh.... thank you, Miss Rarity,” he said. Twilight wasn’t fully awake, so Sigmund lightly tapped her.
“Huh? Oh... right,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Rarity, do you have any gemstones? I promised Spike I would get him some.”
“Why of course you may have some, darling. I still have plenty leftover from when Sapphire Shores ordered her outfits. Take as many as you like.” Rarity showed her to the jewel chest, which was about half-full. Twilight levitated seven of the colorful, assorted gems, holding them in the air with magic.
“These will do. Thanks, Rarity.”
“No, thank you, Twilight Sparkle, for showing me your handsome new friend...” She gazed towards Sigmund again. He must have heard her comment, since he was blushing slightly. “Ta-ta for now. I expect to see you both again soon.” The white unicorn winked again. She was implying the same thing from before, which Twilight understood easily. She shot her a quick, friendly glare as she exited the boutique with the green colt.
Their walk was suffering from an awkward silence. Twilight had run out of questions to ask the colt, so she could only act as if she was inspecting the gemstones levitating beside her.
“I think Luna’s moon will be rising soon...” It was a poor attempt at small talk, but she figured that it was better than nothing.
In response, Sigmund asked, “Luna? Who is Luna?”
Great, she thought, another question. She was growing tired of answering so many about basic pony knowledge. “I have a bunch of history books and newspapers lying around where I live. I think you should read them when you can...”
“Okay. I guess doing that will help me jog my memory.” Sigmund then looked ahead, his gaze fixated on the large, branched structure coming into view.
“I see you’ve noticed Ponyville’s library,” she said. “That’s where I live. It’s pretty spacious, and filled with all kinds of books.” As they got closer, they began to make out the details of the library’s exterior, such as the windows and the balconies.
“By the way...” she continued, remembering one more thing, “you can stay in the library with me while we get this entire memory thing sorted out. I have a spare room and bed if you want to use those.”
“Sure, that sounds great,” he replied, “...as long as it doesn’t trouble you so much.”
“It doesn’t bother me, really. You’re going to meet Spike now.”
“Ah, okay. Is he a unicorn, a pegasus, or an earth pony?”
“None of the above. He’s a baby dragon. He tends to grumble a whole lot, but he’s a very loyal assistant... and a great friend.”
She opened the front door, revealing the completely clean and sorted library inside; its current appearance was the opposite of how she left it earlier. She was glad that she told Spike to clean up, for it would have been embarrassing if her guest saw the mess from hours ago.
They silently walked up the steps to her room. The second floor was also completely tidied up. Her assistant was already asleep in his basket, a blanket covering everything besides his head from view. “There he is. I wouldn’t wake him now for conversation, or else he’ll be cranky. You can probably talk to him tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll have a lot of questions.”
“Questions that I won’t have the answer for,” he said. It took Twilight a moment to register his joking tone, since it was the first time she heard it that day. She giggled while levitating the gems, placing them by the baby dragon’s basket.
“What does he do with the gemstones?” asked Sigmund.
“He eats them.”
“Yep, but only dragons have the durable teeth and strong-enough bite required to chew them. Even though he’s a baby dragon, Spike has both.”
They watched him doze in his sleep for some moments, before they left her room and went downstairs. Shortly after being there, Sigmund let out a yawn. Even though it was just after nightfall, he was already sleepy.
“Are you tired?” she asked, stating the obvious. ”If that’s the case, you should probably go to sleep now.”
“Yeah... I guess that would be a good idea,” he said, using his foreleg to rub his eyes. “Which room am I sleeping in?”
She pointed down a nearby hallway. “Second room on the right.”
“Okay.” He walked towards the door, and awkwardly used his front hooves to twist the doorknob. When he succeeded in opening the door, he turned back to the unicorn. “Miss... I mean... Twilight?”
“...Thank you... for what you’ve done for me so far. I really appreciate it.”
Twilight smiled. “It’s no problem, Sigmund. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night,” he said before shutting the door behind him.
It was no where near Twilight’s normal bed time, so she stayed up. She decided to spend the leftover time locating another book to read. Yet while looking through the shelves, a thought occurred to her. Going back to the table, she took out a quill, levitated a piece of parchment over, and began writing to her mentor. Normally she would only write to her mentor when she learned something new about the magic of friendship, but this was something she felt her mentor needed to know about.
Dear Princess Celestia,
This isn’t one of my normal reports, but rather something I would like to tell you. I think it’s stranger than the Pinkie Pie bottomless-stomach incident I may have mentioned to you before...
She retold what she knew for the third time that day.
...I’m not sure what to make of all of this. Even though I just met Sigmund, I’m hoping he remembers his past prior to today. I’m sure that he will remember eventually, but it’s taking longer than I thought. Do you, by any chance, know of a faster way?
Your faithful student,
Rolling it up, Twilight went upstairs and briefly woke Spike up to send the message out. The baby dragon grumbled a little, but sent the scroll, and quickly passed out. He was use to being woken up like this, anyway.
Seeing the dragon sleep so cozily, Twilight started to feel tired, but she went back downstairs to check on her guest. She pushed the room door open slowly, and walked into the dark. He was already fast asleep. It looked like he already made himself comfortable, judging on how he was snoring normally. Happy that he was doing fine, she turned to leave. But before she could take his eyes off of him completely, she noticed his cutie mark, which was lying exposed from a tossed sheet.
She must have glanced over his cutie mark several times throughout the day, yet she wasn’t concerned about it at those times. It looked sort of like candle holder. She had seen a few candle-related cutie marks, but they were usually colorful. It probably wasn’t even a candle holder to begin with. It was more like... a symbol of some kind. What did it mean? Did the symbol represent his special talent? Each question tempted the unicorn to wake up the colt to ask. She held back her urge to, though, since it would be rude to wake up the exhausted pony.
The night was getting the better of her, so she quietly left the room, and went upstairs to sleep. She would have to ask Sigmund about the symbol tomorrow.
A bright light went through the window’s curtains, and cascaded down onto the sleeping pony, waking him up. The pony’s eyes opened slowly, but promptly shut after being exposed to the light.
Bringing his head up, Sigmund looked around the guest bedroom. Now that the room was well-lit, he could see the rest of its furnishings. Aside from the bed he was laying on, there was a window, a desk and a wardrobe. All of the storage units were empty, since he did not have anything to fill in the space provided.
The curtains were drawn across the window, but that did not prevent all of the sunlight from coming through. It made him feel curious as to what was going on outside. After waiting for his muscles to feel less sluggish, he worked up the energy to get up. He slowly flicked the blanket off his body, and rolled off the bed. He made sure this time that he was prepared to support his full weight, unlike yesterday, when he nearly fell over.
He was only doing awkward movements because his limbs felt... different in some way. Then again, he couldn’t remember much of anything prior to when he woke up in the hospital. Perhaps he just lost his coordination as well.
After standing up, he walked over to the window curtains, and pushed them to the side. A strong light immediately flooded into the room. When his eyes adjusted, he looked out there to see the town’s inhabitants walking about and enjoying their day. He unlocked the latch with a lift of his muzzle, and pushed the window open, allowing him to hear the noises outside.
Before he turned to face the door, he noticed his untidy sheets on the bed. Wanting to leave the room clean and organized, he walked back to the bed and adjusted the covers with his mouth. He doubted that he could have done it precisely with his hooves. Besides, several ponies were picking up things with their mouths the day before, so it was probably okay to do so.
When the blanket was neatly folded, he glimpsed around to make sure everything was in order, and left the room.
Closing the door behind him, Sigmund walked through the small corridor and into the main part of the library. The pony he was looking for, the violet mare from yesterday, was sitting at one of the tables, reading a textbook titled, The History of the Ancient Pony Sisters.
She looked up at him, and smiled. “Good morning. You must have been pretty tired. You’ve been out the entire morning.”
“Morning,” he replied. “Uh... sorry about that.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s almost noon. In fact-”
“Whoa... is that him?” asked something nearby. Sigmund looked towards the source of the voice, and noticed a purple-scaled baby dragon on top of a stepladder. The dragon jumped down, and rushed over to him. He halted just a meter away, inspecting Sigmund in close detail.
“Hmmm...” he said finally, “green? That’s new.” The dragon brought a claw up to his head. “Heh, sort of like my spikes.” He then held his claw outward. “I’m Spike, by the way. It’s nice to see that you’re doing fine.”
Learning his lesson from yesterday, Sigmund carefully looked at the young dragon’s claw to make sure there was no joy buzzer on it. There was nothing there, so he held out a hoof to shake the claw. “I’m Sigmund. It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” he said. “Well, more of a pleasure when you’re awake, that is.”
Spike laughed slightly, but stopped. His mouth snapped shut, his cheeks puffed up, and his eyes slightly bulged outward.
“Are you okay, Spike?” he asked.
In response, Spike opened his mouth, releasing a loud belch. A greenish gas went into the air as well. Sigmund recoiled back a little bit, attempting to avoid the sparkling dust. However, shortly after the gas left the dragon’s mouth, it quickly materialized into something. Once the glow died down, Sigmund could see that the ‘something’ was a scroll.
“Oh, a letter from the Princess?” said Twilight, catching the scroll in the air with magic and levitating it to the table.
“What Princess?” asked Sigmund, recovering from the surprise. He promptly received a stare of disbelief from the dragon beside him.
“Spike... remember what I told you?” reminded Twilight. As if he had been scolded, Spike looked away to avoid Twilight’s gaze. “Princess Celestia is the ruler of Equestria, or the land of ponies. She watches over all of Equestria from Canterlot,” she said, gesturing out a window. From where he was standing, Sigmund could spot a large structure protruding from mountainside. “She’s also my teacher. We communicate through scrolls, which Spike here helps me with.”
“Oh... I see. Aren’t you going to read her message, then? It must be important.”
Twilight looked again at the scroll on the tabletop, but shook her head. “I have a feeling it’s something private, so I’ll read it a little later... Besides, two of my other friends are coming here. They wanted to meet you.”
Their conversation was interrupted by three knocks coming from the door.
“...And that must be them right now. That’s some great timing on their part. Oh, and don’t worry. They aren’t as loony as the others,” she said, smiling. He knew she was joking, but he still tried to hide his relief.
The door had opened without them getting near it. The movement intrigued him for a moment, but he noticed that Twilight’s horn was glowing, meaning that she had opened the door with magic. Standing on the doorstep was an orange pony. She lacked wings, and a horn, meaning that she was an earth pony. “Howdy, Twilight!” she said enthusiastically with a strange accent. The stetson-wearing pony wandered in. “Ah see ya spruced the place up a bit.” Her smile vanished, though, after noticing him.
“So,” she said, walking closer, “this is him, ain’t it? Hmm...” She stared at him from top to bottom, inspecting him in the same way Spike had before. “You said ‘memory loss’? My, he don’t look any different from the average pony.”
Before he could respond, the earth pony grabbed his hoof, and shook it vigorously. “Mah name’s Applejack,” she said, still shaking his hoof. “Ah work on the farm just on the outskirts of town. Sweet Apple Acres, where the juiciest of apples are grown. It’s nice to meet ya.”
“Hello to you, too, Miss Applejack...” he said, managing to gently pull his hoof away. “I’m Sigmund.”
“Now, now, you don’t have to call me Miss, Sigmund. Applejack works A-okay.”
“Okay then... Applejack,” he said with a smile. “Twilight, didn’t you say two friends? Where’s the other one?” Taking another look around, he saw Applejack’s tail trembling. It was strange, since no other pony’s tails would do that.
The earth pony groaned. “Aw shucks, Fluttershy, that’s no way to greet a new fella. Be nice and say hi!”
She stepped to the side, revealing a yellow pegasus with a long, pink mane. The unfamiliar pony looked up from her cowering pose into Sigmund’s eyes. He was expecting a reply of some sort, but all that came out of her mouth was a squeaking noise. Twilight and Applejack sighed quietly. Although he was confused, Sigmund could grasp that the pegasus was merely frightened.
“Hello Miss... Fluttershy. My name is Sigmund, if you didn’t catch it before,” he said in the friendliest tone he could muster. “There’s no need for you to be like that, I’m just like anypony here. I won’t hurt you.” He put on a friendly smile to go along with the tone of his voice. The yellow pegasus looked up at him again, but this time slowly stood up.
“I-I’m sorry...” she stammered softly. “I’m not the best at meeting new ponies. It was a little scary that you were found in the Everfree F-forest.” Finally, she stopped averting her gaze, and looked directly at him. “But you seem... nice...”
Sigmund remained silent, expecting her to say more, but she didn’t. A short, awkward silence followed. “Oh... and... I take care of the tiny creatures around town...” she said, probably feeling as though she should say more. There was a tiny smile on her lips.
“That sounds like a wonderful way to spend your time,” he complimented, causing Fluttershy to blush a little. He looked back at Applejack. “The same goes to you, Applejack.”
The town bell rang, and all of them looked out the nearby window. It rang twelve times, signifying noon.
“That reminds me...” said Applejack. “It’s about time for lunch, so ah brought over somethin’ to eat.” She took a red, shiny apple out of her saddlebag. “Do’ya want one?” she asked, holding the apple out to him.
“Sure, that sounds good,” he said, taking it. At first, he held it awkwardly, but he soon got the hang of his hoof’s ability to slightly bend, giving him a better hold on objects. He could tell how crunchy the apple was with the first bite alone. It was incredibly juicy, like Applejack promoted, and more filling than the pastry from the day before.
“Slow eater, eh?” commented Applejack. “Ah usually just jam one in my mouth and bite down hard, but whatever works, ah suppose.”
“Applejack, we aren’t part of the Apple family,” said Twilight. “Only your family has the jaw strength.”
“Eh, anypony could do it with enough practice,” Applejack replied. “Oh yeah, ah almost forgot. Pinkie wanted us to meet her at Sugarcube Corner, and to bring Sigmund along as well. You know what that means, right?”
“A party?” he asked. He had guessed that, since she had already promised him that she would throw him one.
“A’yup,” said Applejack with a smile. “Better hope you have room down there, Sigmund... cause yall gonna need room for desert... plenty and plenty of desert...”
The others laughed a little, and he couldn’t help but join in, since there was such a friendly atmosphere to the ponies. Then they all left the library, heading towards the bakery from yesterday.
When they got to Sugarcube Corner, they saw that Pinkie Pie was still setting the place up with balloons and streamers. Even if the party was being thrown for him, he gladly aided the others in putting everything together. He used that time to start some conversations to get to know them all better. Of course, the topic would always wander back to his amnesia, but he would usually turn it around, since there wasn’t much to be said about his problem.
He was surprised over how many ponies could fit into one building. It was like the entire town was there. They all gave him friendly shoves, hoof shakes and smiles, as if he was one of the family. It felt good to see that he was accepted, even with the strange stories circulating about his arrival.
During the party, Pinkie Pie was even more hyper than the day before, which Sigmund found unbelievable. Applejack and Rainbow dash were lost in the crowd, and Rarity seemed to be unintentionally charming some of the nearby colts and stallions. Sigmund didn’t really want to get caught up in it, so he just sat off to the side, accompanying Twilight and Fluttershy.
The party lasted for several hours, but it suddenly ended after the sugar-high wore off, and the other ponies started feeling sick. Mostly everypony left, but Sigmund stayed with Twilight and some of her friends to help clean up. He overheard Pinkie Pie say, “Dang, I hope the next one in a few days is just as bouncy!” Maybe it was just him, but he couldn’t imagine partying that way so much.
Right now, he was walking with Twilight to the library. He felt an ache in his stomach from the large amount of sweets he ate. All of the treats were delicious, but he hadn’t expected them to make him feel sick later.
After that was done, Twilight’s friends all parted ways, and made went back to their homes. All of them said goodbye to him as well, mentioning that they would like to hang out again. It was nice knowing he had ponies he could talk to, or spend time with.
“You know... Sigmund...” said Twilight, interrupting his thoughts. Spike was on her back, for he had passed out after eating too many sweets. “You see that mark on your flank?” Sigmund did not have to look to see it. He saw it earlier, and was slightly confused over its presence, though he disregarded it.
“I’ve seen it already.”
“Ah... Well, do you recognize the mark?”
“No,” he answered. He then looked at Twilight’s mark. “You have a mark as well... Now that you mention it, I’ve noticed them on all ponies. Each mark is different from the other. What are they, exactly?”
“They’re called cutie marks,” she said. “Normally we get them when we’re younger; after we discover our special talent, that is. The image relates to what our special skill is.” She looked at her cutie mark. “Like mine here. I got it when Princess Celestia took me under her wing as her student. It symbolizes great magical power.”
“...And Applejack’s cutie mark shows that her talent relates to apples? And Fluttershy’s shows that she’s good at taking care of little creatures?”
“Yep. You get it now.” said Twilight. “Most cutie marks are easy to interpret... but... I don’t understand yours. I was hoping that you knew what it meant.”
“I’m sorry, Twilight, but I just don’t remember. I’m sure it’ll come back to me. But...” he said, turning his head to look at it, “if it relates to whatever my special talent was, then it should be important.”
“It’s okay, Sigmund. I thought that maybe the knowledge of what your special talent is will help you.”
“I think it would,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to look into it.”
A silence followed, but Twilight’s eyes lit up. “You know, there’s still time left in the night. How about we check through some books in the library? Maybe we can find the meaning of your cutie mark by doing that.”
Sigmund looked to the sky. It was darker than when he went to bed the previous night, but he didn’t feel tired yet. It was understandable, since he only woke up a few minutes before noon. There were a few hours left, and he best put every minute in each to good use.
Looking back at Twilight, he said, “That sounds like a good idea.”
After putting Spike in his basket, Twilight came back downstairs, and immediately levitated some books over to Sigmund. At first he would skim through the pages, looking for any sort of special symbol. When he spotted a peculiar symbol or picture, he would stop, and compare his cutie mark to them. If that didn’t work, he would read through the books, seeing if the text could spark a memory. Twilight could only help look for a similar image, but she couldn’t help him read through them; she could not be the one to unlock his memories for him.
Nothing was helping, though. He quietly groaned every time he was finished with a book. He put the book on the stack to his right, grabbed another book off of the stack to his left, and started skimming through. Yet the more books that piled to his right, the more aggravated he grew. It had been two days, and he still could not remember anything. None of the dozens of books had a symbol similar to the one on his flank.
His aggravation halted when he felt a hoof on his shoulder. He turned around to see Twilight, smiling at him. His eyes darted to a nearby clock, and he saw that it was nearly midnight. He calmed down slightly, but he realized something at the sight of the unicorn and her magical horn, which was capable of doing spectacular things.
“Hey, Twilight... can’t you just use magic to help me remember?” he asked. Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner? Twilight shook her head, though, causing his brightened expression to quickly disappear.
“Sorry, Sigmund... but magic can’t help with this sort of stuff. Magic relates more to physical things. I mean... I kind of know and illusion spell, and that already eats up more magic than I can manage. We can mainly move and change objects... but as far as all my books tell me, there’s no way to go do that stuff within a mind. Believe me, Sigmund, I would have done a spell like that in the beginning, but there’s simply no such thing.”
Hearing that, he looked down in defeat. If magic couldn’t help him, what could? He felt like there was no chance of success, and no chance to remember who he really was.
“Listen, Sigmund...” said Twilight, “just let it go for now. I’m not expecting your memories to come back immediately, so you shouldn’t either. You have plenty of time.”
The unicorn’s calm words removed his aggravation. Perhaps he was jumping to conclusions too quickly. He nodded, and the unicorn smiled.
“Good. I can tell you that nothing positive ever comes out of too much stress. It’s getting a bit late, so I think you better rest. I can help you again tomorrow, if you still want to go through the collection.”
Although silent, he nodded once again. “Thanks, Twilight.” He got up, and went back down the hallway to the guest room. Opening the door, he said, “Good night.”
“Pleasant dreams,” she said before the door shut.
Twilight yawned. It was about time for her to go to bed as well. She had plans tomorrow, and she didn’t want to sleep in and miss them. But as she passed by the table, she saw a scroll laying on it. It was still furled and tied, with the royal seal placed on the ribbon. She stopped dead in her tracks, remembering that the scroll was the message she received in the morning. The Princess could have been waiting for a response the entire day, and Twilight may have unintentionally ignored her. Panic nearly overcame her, but she calmed down, levitated the scroll closer and opened it.
My Prized Pupil Twilight Sparkle,
The story you have described to me is rather strange. Amnesia may be a rare case, but I hear about it much more than the average pony. I tend to receive letters from these amnesiac ponies. In these letters, they have asked for my assistance, which I gladly give to them. They usually share the same cause for the memory loss, but I find the story of this pony quite different. I will help him regardless, though.
Unfortunately, I am thoroughly busy over the next few weeks, leaving me no chance to leave Canterlot, or make a brief trip to Ponyville. I am not sure when I will be free, but when I get the chance, I will come as soon as possible.
In the mean time, you should continue with your normal routine in Ponyville. If you learn a new lesson about the magic of friendship, then you may send me your report. But if Sigmund remembers something that seems important, you should send me another letter so that I am well-informed upon my arrival. I may have a trick or two in my knowledge to jog his memory, if nothing else works.
Finishing the letter, Twilight felt relieved for two reasons: the Princess wasn’t expecting a response, and she had offered to help. In a few weeks from now, the greatest spellcaster in all of Equestria would arrive. If there was somepony who knew a spell that Twilight wasn’t aware of, it was the Princess.
With that in mind, she happily re-rolled the Princess’ letter, tied on the ribbon and levitated the scroll with her as she walked upstairs. She was comforted, believing that the entire situation would be solved without a problem.
Three weeks had passed since Sigmund first jolted awake in the hospital. In those three weeks, he had remembered some bits of his past. Each memory related to some small, trivial thing. It was like trying to solve a puzzle set where he was only given one piece out of thousands a day. When he tried to pair the information together, it did not make enough sense to find anything else. The picture of the puzzle couldn’t be seen with the few pieces he had.
Yet all the pieces of information were... unimportant. Nothing pertained to the “cave” he supposedly found in. Nothing related to the strange symbol on his flank, either. He could only recall small, useless things, such as his favorite color. Because he couldn’t remember anything crucial, he began considering possibilities rather than actual, memory-based facts.
Maybe when Twilight, the first pony he saw upon waking up, casted her warmth spell on him, she could have affected his mind in a negative way. Maybe he was some sort of intrepid explorer, who conked his head against something in the cave. It was also possible that he was going insane.
These explanations did not make the process any faster. Twilight suggested reading to obtain information which would relate to his past, and trigger something. The library had a vast database, holding topics and subjects from all across Equestria, but none of it could “trigger” his memory. Since there wasn’t much else to do, he continued reading to gain some basic knowledge, so that he wouldn’t be so clueless about everyday topics. In his own study sessions, he learned a lot about Equestrian history, such as the time of the Ancient Pony Sisters, the Early Years of Equestria, and territorial expansions in the previous century.
Out of all the books, the texts relating to magic were the most interesting to read. The many uses for magic astounded him; it allowed ponies to walk on clouds, breath underwater and float in the air. It was too bad that he didn’t have a horn. He would have loved to give some of the spells a shot. In a way, he was a little jealous of Twilight, because she was such an adept spellcaster.
Speaking of the unicorn, Sigmund remembered finding something a little awkward that may have belonged to her. While sifting through the library collection a few days before, he came across a small box placed behind an encyclopedia collection. It was filled to the brim with what looked like cheesy romance novels. He didn’t want to approach Twilight about it, and risk making her feel embarrassed, so he placed the box back where he found it. He never would have guessed that Twilight to be that type of pony. He could only imagine Rarity to be into that sort of stuff.
Shaking himself out of his train of thought, he looked around the library. There was no pony in the room with him, but that did not surprise him. In all of the weeks he had been there, he only saw Twilight and her friends inside.
Now thinking of the other ponies, Sigmund rested his head against the table surface, feeling slightly depressed. Although none of the others seemed to mind, he felt like he relying on them too much. Each of them helped in some way. Twilight gave him a place to sleep. Applejack and Pinkie tended to give him food whenever he saw them. Rarity gave him a nice jacket that, according to her, “fashionably” went with his naturally green coat. Rainbow Dash attempted to help him with some memory-jogging techniques. And Fluttershy... well... Fluttershy was generally nice to him.
He hadn’t known the ponies for a day three weeks ago, and even then they aided him in whatever way they could. Perhaps they pitied him because of the situation he was in, or maybe they were just naturally compassionate. Either way, he felt like it wouldn’t go on like this forever. They were all waiting on him to remember his past, and if that didn’t happen soon, they may stop helping him.
That wasn’t what bothered him the most, though. Here he was in an incomprehensible situation, without any sort of guidance, and they were being nice to him. Even if they remained nice to him in the future, he felt guilty. He didn’t want to mooch off of his friends. Sure, it had only been a few weeks, but why else were they being so nice? Pity can’t be the only thing to drive such selfless action.
One idea had been in his mind for a few days now, and it was showing itself to be a reasonable solution: a job. To become less dependent on others, he needed money to pay for his own needs. Getting one would also show that he did not require help, removing any stress that he may have been unintentionally placing on them.
With that plan in mind, he gazed around the quiet library, sighed and closed the book in front of him. He carried his books back one by one to their respective spots on the shelves. While he organized, somebody called him from the steps to Twilight’s room.
“Hey, Sigmund,” said the baby dragon, “you’re done reading?”
“Yeah, Spike. I’m done for today.”
“I see.” He watched as Sigmund slid each book back on the shelves where it belonged. “Wow. I’m sorry, but after being Twilight’s assistant, I can’t imagine a pony cleaning up without me.”
Sigmund chuckled, understanding that Spike was the assistant to the unicorn who would spend hours studying on a near-daily basis.
“Nah, I’m just not in a hurry is all,” he replied. Putting the last book away, he began moving towards the front door.
“Where are you heading?” asked Spike.
“Nowhere in particular. I’m just going for a walk.”
“Really? I thought you said you would... Nevermind, it’s fine.”
Just then, Sigmund recalled a promise he made to the baby dragon. He didn’t want to go back on it, but he had other important things on his mind, which sort of took priority. “Don’t worry, Spike,” he said, “we’ll play your dungeons game sometime later.”
“It’s not ‘my dungeons game’, it’s Dungeons and Drag-” Spike stopped, and sighed. “Ugh... I hate how everypony keeps forgetting the name. Is it really that hard to remember? Fine, I’ll catch you later, Sigmund.”
“Later,” he said, chuckling again as he left through the front door.
While trotting through the streets of Ponyville, Sigmund began contemplating on where to find a job. Once again, he thought of his friends.
Pinkie Pie works in the only bakery in town... but then I’d be working with her during the day... He thought into that option a little bit more. I’ll pass...
It was not that he disliked Pinkie Pie. In the end, he just couldn’t imagine dealing with her hyperactivity and talkativeness for several hours each day.
How about the Carousel Boutique? No... Rarity likes to handle designs on her own... plus I don’t have much of a fashion sense...
Rainbow Dash is a weather pony, right? Except I don’t have wings... What about Fluttershy? Oh wait, she’s naturally good with animals, so there probably isn’t much I could help with.
Hang on... what was that one place that Applejack talked about? Sour Apple Land? Juicy Apple Farm? I know it had “Apple” in it.
Just then, he walked into the market section of town, and found the answer to his question. There was one apple stand titled: “Sweet Apple Acre’s Apples”. It seemed like business was slow, so the stand manager was packing up. His coat was a crimson red, and his cutie mark was a green, sliced apple. The pony was also large, which probably made him a worker at the farm. Although slightly intimidated by the pony’s great size, Sigmund went closer to engage him in conversation.
“Hello, sir,” he greeted, “do you sell these apples?” Hearing his own question, Sigmund was tempted to slap himself for pointing out the obvious, but thankfully, the large stallion turned to him anyway. He wore a large horse collar around his neck, which seemed to have a fair amount of weight. A piece of wheat hung from his mouth, somehow staying in place as he talked.
“Eeeeeyup, Ah sell apple an’ apple accessories here. Ah was just packin’ up fer today, since the lunch rush looks about over,” he said slowly, in a deep, familiar accent. “Do ya want some? Just grab some apples and pay ya bits is all.”
Bits of what? thought Sigmund. Confused, he kept silent, but then recalled that “bits” were the currency of Equestria. “Well, no... that’s not what I’m here for.”
The red stallion finished packing his sack of leftover apples. With a single heave, he swung the large sack of apples onto the cart. “Then what are ya here fer?” he said, slowly pulling the cart of apples down the road.
“Well...” said Sigmund, walking beside him, “maybe I started this off the wrong way. My name is Sigmund. I’m new to Ponyville, and-”
“Mah name is Big Macintosh, Sigmund. Everypony calls me Big Mac or Mac, though, so ah guess ya can do the same. Oh, ah think ah remember ya name now. Mah sister told me about yer predicament a couple weeks ago.”
Sigmund then pieced together the familiar accent to know who he was talking about. “Oh! So Applejack is your sister?”
“Indeed she be. She sometimes shakes off her duties to the farm’ whenever a problem arises, but she got a mighty big heart. She said something of... memory-loss, was it? Must be quite the annoyance. Might’ve you remembered anythin’ yet?”
“Just bits and pieces, really. And yes, it is... quite the annoyance.” Remembering that he was not there for a casual conversation, Sigmund changed the subject. “Anyway, I guess you’re wondering why I’ve come to talk to you.”
“Eh... a little.”
“I’ve been in town for a while... and your sister and her friends have been very nice to me. They’ve given me food, clothes, and a place to stay... and I can’t help but feel like I’m becoming a burden.”
“Aw shucks, ya shouldn’t think that. My sis’ does think you’re a nice colt in this town, an’ from what ah can tell, ya mean well.”
“But that could change sometime soon if I don’t make any progress with this entire memory thing. I was thinking of doing something in the meantime to preoccupy myself, and show them that I’m not helpless.”
“Ah see... so ah’m guessin’ you’re lookin’ fer a job?”
“Yes! I mean... I am. Would you happen to be looking for an extra worker?”
“Well... Sweet Apple Acres is a family business, really...” said Big Mac with a shrug. However, before Sigmund could look down in disappointment, Big Mac continued, “But we do let some ponies help out every now and again. In fact, ah’m gettin’ mighty tired of doing all the work by mahself when AJ ain’t around to help. So ah think we have a slot open fer work. You’d probably want to see AJ before doing anythin’, though.”
“Sure, can we go now?”
Once again, the large stallion replied with a simple “Eeeyup”.
The walk from Ponyville to Sweet Apple Acres lasted about twenty-five minutes. Accompanying Big Macintosh was kind of awkward at first, since the stallion didn’t talk much, but over time, Sigmund found a good topic of conversation for them both.
Walking in through the front gate, Sigmund saw dozens, possibly hundreds, of apples trees, and several acres of farmland. As they walked toward the barn, Big Mac explained to him the purpose of each section. Besides apples, other crops were grown and harvested in different seasons of the year. When they finally reached the barn, Sigmund noticed a familiar orange mare standing outside.
“Oh, hiya there, sugarcube,” said Applejack, approaching them. “What’re ya doin’ followin’ Macintosh around?”
“He’s here fer work, sis’,” said Big Mac, answering for him.
“Is that so?” she asked, looking at Sigmund again. “I didn’t take ya as the workin’ type. But shouldn’t you be memory-searchin’? Ah don’t see how farmin’ will help much...”
“Well, Applejack,” he said, planning on telling the truth, “I feel tha-”
“He just wants some bits to use is all, AJ,” said Mac, interrupting him mid-sentence. “Plus he already told me that it was takin’ a while.”
Although taken aback, Sigmund continued off of what Mac said. “Uh... yeah. I figured I might as well do something useful in the meantime.”
Applejack brought her hoof to her chin, thinking into it, and nodded. “Alrighty then, sugarcube. Ah understand. Libraries are pretty borin’, anyway. An’ ah guess my big brother could use a little help,” she said, giving Big Mac a light and friendly shove. “Ah reckon’ yall can start now if ya want.”
“Sure, I can do that. How much would get for working today?”
“Ah suppose twenty bits for five hours a day is a fair place to start. Maybe if you work hard enough, we’ll bump it up. You can take weekends off if ya want. Now, ah’ve got to get goin’. Some of the others are expectin’ me, so ah’ll talk to yall later.” With a wave of her foreleg, she trotted away, heading for the farm entrance.
“Later, sis,” said Big Mac. He then turned to Sigmund. “Sorry about interruptin’ ya before, but ya didn’t need to tell her that you felt that way about her kindness. Mares don’t like bein’ criticized... even a mare as strong-hearted as AJ.”
“Yeah... you have a point.”
“Indeed ah do. Now, let me show ya how ta work the plow...”
Five hours and four aching limbs later, Sigmund finished with his work on the farm. In those five hours, he had bucked dozens of apple trees, carried containers filled with apples, and much more. The sun had set more than an hour ago, and he was walking on the path back to Ponyville.
That plow... he thought, feeling his aching body. That thing weighed a ton. I guess that’s why Big Mac is so muscular.
With each step of his hooves, pain erupted up his leg, and across his body. It was all the result of the physical labor he endured. Although Mac had to show him how to plow and buck properly about a dozen times, the stallion wasn’t annoyed. Big Mac probably accepted that Sigmund was new to it all. In a way, since they had good conversations for most of the workday, Mac had become his friend.
With each step, he heard the jingling of his day-earned bits in his new saddlebag, which Macintosh had given to him for free. They didn’t sound like much, but it was bound to accumulate if he kept working.
Thankful that the library was only a few steps away, Sigmund sighed in relief. He went in, and saw Twilight reading through a scroll by a nearby table. She looked up and asked, “How was working at Sweet Apple Acres?”
“Oh, I guess Applejack already told you?” The unicorn nodded. “It was... an interesting experience. I’m exhausted... so maybe I’ll go to bed early tonight.”
“That would be a good idea, but... you need to stay up for a little while longer.”
“For what?” he asked, masking his dismay. His limbs continued to ache. All he wanted to do was lie down and pass out. But before he could properly protest, three loud, distinct knocks came from the wooden door behind him.
Twilight opened the door from a distance with her magic, revealing the figure standing outside. The very first thing Sigmund noticed about the pony was her height. She was even taller than Big Macintosh. Her coat was white, and she had the picture of a sun on her flank. She wore a gold necklace with a purple gem, a jeweled crown, and shiny, gold shoes on each of her hooves. He recognized the tall, regal pony as Princess Celestia, the ruler of Equestria.
Knowing the proper formality, Sigmund bowed. Twilight, now beside him, did the same. The Princess looked down with kind, benevolent eyes. Her long, multi-colored mane flowed at the slightest breeze. Not only did she have wings, but a horn as well; it was five, maybe six times longer than Twilight’s.
“Hello, my prized pupil,” she greeted Twilight in an ethereal voice. She lowered her head, and nuzzled Twilight affectionately. “It’s been close to a month since I’ve last seen you. I must say... your smile has improved since then.” Twilight grinned even more.
“I’m sorry I could not announce my visit earlier, but this was meant to be private. I would not want to trouble the residents of Ponyville like that time when they spent days readying for one of my quick visits.”
Sigmund still looked at her in awe. When she finally turned to look at him, he felt like he was being thoroughly judged.
“You are Sigmund, correct?” asked the Princess. He was a little lost for words, so he nodded. “I’ve heard quite a lot about your situation from my student here. How are you doing?”
“F-Fine, your majesty...” he said, managing to speak. “I only wish you would come at a later time, so that I could at least have taken a bath...”
“Don’t worry, Sigmund. I do not detect any foul odor of any sort. Only the faint smell of apples... but it is no problem. Now... I believe you’ve been in Ponyville for about three weeks now?”
“Yes, your highness.”
“How has your memory been... do you remember anything prior to your arrival at the hospital?”
“Only little details, Princess. They aren’t important, and I can’t really use them to uncover more.”
“I see...” The alicorn finally took his eyes off him. “Twilight, how about we have some tea? Sigmund looks like he needs something to drink.” Twilight nodded, and walked away.
Just as soon as the unicorn was gone, Celestia glanced at him again. He attempted to avert his eyes from her all-knowing gaze. Yet he heard her laugh slightly, meaning that his poor attempt was fairly obvious.
“Now, Sigmund,” said Celestia while they were seated at the table. She, along with Twilight, used magic to drink from their tea cups, while Sigmund used his hooves. “I have received news about amnesia in the past, and normally those who have it sort it out eventually... but your case seems peculiar.” The Princess sipped her tea while Twilight and Sigmund looked at her. “Does it seem difficult... in your attempts to jog your memory?”
While sipping from his tea cup, he briefly attempted to think of a good way to explain his difficulties. He settled what he compared the struggle to earlier that day.
“Princess... my amnesia is like solving a thousand-piece puzzle set. I’m only given a piece a day, if I’m lucky, and that’s not enough. Because I have so few pieces, I can’t make sense of what the big picture is.”
“Interesting simile, Sigmund.” said Celestia, levitating her cup back down to the table. “I understand what you are saying. Losing one’s memory has always been a complicated matter. However, I believe that I can help you, for I know a spell that should prove useful in reacquiring what you have lost.”
“Really?” Sigmund’s eyes widened. In all the time he spent reading through books about magic, he did not find any sort of spell that could help him. “All you have to do is cast it on me?”
Celestia shook her head. “It isn’t something I cast on you, Sigmund. It is nothing like my pupil’s spells. She herself is not quite ready to perform it.” Twilight was silent, yet her expression made it appear like she had numerous questions.
“So...” said Celestia, looking back at him. “Are you comfortable with me using the spell so that you can find your elusive memories?”
The question was one he was not expecting that day. He paused for a moment, evaluating his choices. Right in front of him was a free ticket to get the memories that had been avoiding him for three weeks. He really would be insane to pass on the offer. She was being vague about the spell, but there seemed to be no other way. Besides, she was the beloved Princess of Equestria. There was no way she could be lying about anything. He had to trust her. Knowing his decision, he brought his head up, and gazed at the alicorn across the table.
“I am comfortable, your majesty.”
“Splendid,” said the Princess. “Twilight, may you switch the light off? This spell requires my full concentration.” The unicorn nodded, and flicked the light switch from afar.
The three figures sat in the dimmed room. Twilight remained at the side of the table, looking between the Princess and him, unsure of what was occurring. Tension filled the air, but Celestia’s eyes made Sigmund calmer in a mysterious way.
Glancing to his right, Sigmund noticed Twilight’s movements were slowing, and it wasn’t long before the darkness enveloped her. Now he could only see himself, Celestia, and the dancing flame in between them. He payed more attention to Celestia, noticing that her horn was faintly glowing. The flame of the candle lay perfectly still, as if the breeze in the room was non-existent. As much he wanted to glance around to examine the strange shift, he could not move his eyes away from hers.
Shadows enveloped the candle’s flame. He didn’t look at them, though. All he could focus on was the alicorn, her white coat and flowing mane seeming to be the only source of light.
The glow coming from the alicorn’s horn became brighter. Her presence was overwhelming him, and the shadows that crept upon his body. A ghostly light shifted from her, its aura overcoming the darkness and launching towards him. His thoughts were suddenly halted, and the aura reached into him, piercing his consciousness.
And with that, Princess Celestia entered his mind.
Celestia felt as though the pressures of the world were lifted off of her shoulders. It was like gravity had been shut off, leaving her to simply float without any movement on her part. It was hard to describe the feeling, but it made her she feel safe, pacified and comfortable. After a few seconds, or maybe minutes, of feeling this sensation, she opened her eyes, and saw a variety of colors around her.
All of the colors of the rainbow, and numerous others, were present in every single direction. She peered off to the area ahead, and failed see an end to the bending shapes and flashing lights. It all seemed so randomized, but at the same time, the shapes and colors all seemed to collectively work in harmony. The pigments swirled into vortexes, dispersed, went into formations, exploded, and created new shapes and colors. The environment did things that were simply not possible in the outside world, even with magic.
She was suddenly, but gently, pushed aside by what seemed like letters. They idly passed her by, going off in different directions. Thoughts, Celestia presumed. She read a group of letters nearby.
Royalty here? I didn’t think this could be such a big deal
I wonder how strong Macintosh is. He’s pulling that plow like it weighs nothing.
Another party? Don’t the ponies ever get tired of partying with Pinkie?
Rarity really knows how to seduce gentlecolts. I’m making a guess, though, that attracting Spike was unintentional.
Trottingham the Wise? Wizard: +15 intelligence? I don’t understand this game, but I’ll play along since Spike wants me to.
She noticed that, with the phrases, the colors tended to morph together to produce images. Familiar ponies were in the images, and Celestia recognized them as Twilight’s friends.
It was all the confirmation she needed to understand that the spell had worked. All magical spells were usually within in the physical range. There had been some attempts to make a mental spell, but most could only make alluring illusions. Yet, after years of research and practice, Celestia created a spell that allowed her to enter the mind of another. Although it was a breakthrough of sorts, she didn’t tell anypony about it. The sheer amount of concentration and magic it took to cast the spell made it useless to even the most skilled unicorn. She, along with her sister, were probably the only ponies in the world with enough magical skill to cast the spell.
It was time to begin searching. With a gentle flap of her wings, she propelled herself into a randomly chosen direction. As she drifted through the mind, she was met with more unique colors and thoughts. She could make out images of her student and her student’s friends, but not Sigmund. The images were all captured from his perspective.
Two-hundred push-ups? She doesn’t even look like she can do that much.
I should have asked for ten of those pastries to go.
My name?... I can’t... no... wait... that’s right. It’s... Sigmund.
...I guess I should do what she says...
Celestia was abruptly halted in the air, and pushed in the opposite direction. Upon placing her hooves on the transparent surface front of her, she realized that she had collided with an invisible wall. Colors existed on the other side of the invisible wall, but no thoughts or words were there. Looking around, Celestia saw a collection of words heading in the direction of the barrier, only to be repelled.
She recalled the words and images she just passed, and realized that they must have been past thoughts. There were no thoughts past the wall, which meant Sigmund really couldn’t remember anything prior to waking up in the hospital.
Now... where else is there to go? she thought while backtracking. She passed more phrases and images along the way.
How... how can Pinkie Pie eat so much cake? Am I the only one here who’s weirded out by it? Or has everypony just stopped caring?
That symbol... none of these books have it. It has to mean something, since it’s related to what my special talent is...
Twilight’s right... I should definitely get some rest. Maybe I’ll find something tomorrow.
Ugh, I dropped something again. Now I have to pick it up in the least awkward way possible.
I don’t want to be a burden to them... They’ve been so nice to me. I guess a job would work.
Even though she had gone back, Celestia found herself lost in the endless storm of colors, thoughts and images. She doubted that left or right would yield anything different, so she chose a different direction. With another directional flap of her wings, she propelled herself downward.
After a few minutes of gliding, she was taken aback when the multitude of colors vanished. The feeling of weightlessness changed to the feeling of plummeting. Instinctively, she placed her legs directly below her, bracing for an impact.
Without emitting a sound at all, she landed comfortably, and painlessly, on the blank floor. Everything to the left, right, front and back of her was white. The only part that showed any sort of color was the ceiling, which appeared to be made out of a rainbow of pigments. She was unfamiliar with this part of the mind. Celestia never encountered entire blank areas like this when she performed the spell on other ponies.
Looking around, she noticed a tiny dot in the distance on the horizon line. Not knowing where else to go, she began to walk over to it. She couldn’t fly there, but she wasn’t in any hurry. The spell would give her as much time as she needed.
As Celestia walked, the dot grew in size. It went from being a little hole in the distance, to what seemed like a massive structure. As she approached, she began to make out the details of the structure. With its great size, she was certain that it was not a door, but a vault instead. It was made out of a shiny, gray metal. There was no wall along the side of the vault door, and its side length looked to be at least five times her height.
She briefly glanced in all directions around her, and saw nothing more noticeable as the vault door. There seemed to be no other place where Sigmund’s memories could be locked away.
However, upon closer speculation, there was something else within her vision. It was possibly stranger than the vault door, and the great secrets that probably lay within. A figure was in front of the door, sitting by a large desk, facing her. As she trotted closer, she could make out the figure’s color, which appeared to be green. It looked like a pony, with a pencil in his mouth, writing down something on the desk.
She stopped dead in her tracks. “Sigmund... Is that you?”
The figure looked up in response. Greatly confused, Celestia waited. She was not expecting anything like this. In all the cases she had used the spell, she had never seen a representation of something a pony’s mind. It appeared, though, that Sigmund’s mind was special, judging on how such a large part of it was blank.
The pony on the chair sighed, got up, and then trotted in her direction. Unlike the Princess, the pony’s hoofsteps made sounds against the floor. As he came closer, Celestia saw the desk behind him fade away.
“So it is you, Sigmund...” She rubbed her eyes with her hoof to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating. Sigmund was still there, keeping an emotionless stare at her.
“I am not Sigmund, Princess Celestia,” said the green pony. His voice was the same as Sigmund’s, but less nervous, and more confident. “I am only using the image of him right now for simplicity’s sake... and because I know it will be easier to confront you this way.”
“If you’re not Sigmund, then who are you?”
“I am a part of Sigmund that he does not know about; a part of his mind that he cannot access. He is not ready for me yet. You may call me whatever you wish, yet I like to think of myself as a Gatekeeper.” He looked up briefly at the colorful ceiling, and back down to the Princess.
Celestia, due to her confusion, remained silent for a few seconds. She said finally, “So... Gatekeeper... you are a piece of Sigmund? Are you his lost memories?”
“No, that wouldn’t be me.” He gestured towards vault door with a nudge of his head. “They are all in there. Sigmund cannot access them as well. The door is completely invisible to his thought process.” He looked up at the endless colorful ceiling that seemed miles above them.
“If you’re a part of Sigmund, and you know where his memories are... then why don’t you open the door and return them to him?” she asked.
“He’s not ready,” he said simply, shaking his head. “He’s not ready to fully absorb the truth of his past. He will first need his prowess returned to him. Timing is crucial in that aspect.”
Celestia felt confused. “What? So you refuse to let your own memories go... are you insane?”
“Sigmund is not insane,” said the Gatekeeper sharply. “Just today even, he considered the possibility that he was insane. I can assure you, however, that he is not. To everypony, he is a colt who lost his memories, although there is more to him than what appears to be.”
“Okay... so if you aren’t insane... why are you keeping his memories away from him?”
“I have many reasons,” he said. He began to slowly pace, keeping his eyes on Celestia the entire time.
“If he acquires his memories in such a way that they are laid out for him, then he will never re-develop his mentality. If he acquires the important memories first before acquiring the tiny ‘insignificant’ ones, then his general mindset will not be re-established, and he will use the knowledge haphazardly. If he acquires all his memories in one burst in his current state...” The Gatekeeper paused to gaze up at the colorful ceiling again. “...He will be lost, and the information will be too much for him to process for good use.” He continued his slow pacing. “It is for the best that his memories not be released in such ill-thought-out manners.”
Celestia had trouble understanding what the Gatekeeper was saying. “So... you won’t let the memories go? If you won’t let him find them... how will he remember?”
“Sigmund won’t find his memories. I will release them one by one, and then he will obtain them. He will first need to set a basis of his morals and values from his outside interactions in Ponyville. I will control what memories are released into the thought process, and when. The tiny ones will influence his choices, and how he interacts with other ponies. I will only release important ones if I feel that he is mentally prepared to take them and accept them as truth. His past-mentality is something he will have to progressively gain back through his own rational thought.”
“So you’re saying.... to just leave him alone? That I cannot help?”
“Yes, you must not interfere. He needs to re-develop his mentality on his own. I will aid him by sending his ‘lost’ memories, but other than that, he will be doing most of the work by himself.”
The finality of the Gatekeeper’s tone shocked Celestia. She could not believe what was happening at all. Sigmund was originally eager to gain his memories back, yet in here, he was the opposite. She just about had enough.
“I don’t understand what the problem is. His memories should not pose any threat to him.” She was displaying anger, something that she rarely showed anybody in the outside world. There was something about the all-knowing tone of the Gatekeeper that just got under her coat.
“Although it would not threaten him to release all his memories now... I find it better to... say... sculpt his mind back into its ideal shape.” He stopped pacing, yet still gazed at her. “You just met Sigmund. How could you understand what could threaten him? You do not fully understand the fragility of his mind, even with what you found out by browsing of his past thoughts.”
“You’d be doing him... no... you’d be doing yourself a favor by opening that vault, and letting his memories go. That way he can answer all the questions he’s had since three weeks ago!” Celestia lost her cool. She was angry at this part of Sigmund for being so... ignorant.
The Gatekeeper sighed, and shook his head in the same manner as before. “That would be easier, and a lot of less work I would have to do, but you have failed to listen. The desired outcome of his situation will be reached if, and only if, I release his memories gradually and at the right times, allowing him to recreate his original mentality. I find it beneficial for his original self to be retained, and then some.”
“I have been patient with your words long enough, Gatekeeper. I don’t know what this ‘desired result’ is, but I must know the truth behind Sigmund. If you are here, then there is something much more complex than I originally believed. I will release his memories... and I won’t let you... or him... stop me from doing that.”
Without warning, Celestia broke into a run, dashing towards the vault door, quickly passing the Gatekeeper. She glanced around to see that he wasn’t pursuing her. Was it really that easy? All she had to do was turn the handle on the door...
The door suddenly shifted backward a couple hundred meters. Surprised and disoriented by the shift, Celestia halted in her sprint. The Gatekeeper appeared in front of the vault again. He blinked, and in that short instance, something changed. Celestia was now standing on a platform above a black abyss. There were several platforms towards the door, yet they were all in constant motion. She quickly jumped on each platform, carefully timing her jumps to avoid falling into the abyss. With another jump, she landed on the solid, unmoving floor. She stood straight again, looking at the Gatekeeper, expecting for him to try something else.
He blinked again, and, almost instantaneously, the set-up of the room changed again. There was no longer a bottomless pit behind her, but now two walls to her left and to her right. Even though they lacked colors, Celestia could tell that they were moving closer to each other. She immediately sprinted toward the vault door. While galloping, she felt the walls pressing against her, but in a leap of faith, she jumped out as the walls sealed together. The Gatekeeper remained standing where he was, looking down on her with emotionless eyes.
This time, she attempted to run past him again. However, a glass wall appeared, separating her from the vault and the Gatekeeper. It extended endlessly in every direction. Celestia closed her eyes and began to concentrate on her horn. A simple spell could vaporize the wall. Yet despite all her focus, she felt no energy rush to her horn. Looking at the tip of her horn, she saw that it wasn’t glowing.
“You forget that you are no longer in Equestria,” said the Gatekeeper. “In this place, the rules of the outside do not apply. You may be a powerful being out there, but that equates to nothing in here.” Celestia pounded her hooves against the glass, hoping that it would break so that she could go on.
“Try as you might, Princess Celestia, but this is a ‘battle’ that you cannot, and must not win.” Looking in all directions, Celestia saw glass walls appearing around her. She was now in a glass cube, cutting her off from the rest of the area. She could still, however, project her voice to the entity on the outside.
“Even if I fail to release his memories... I can still tell Sigmund where they are... and who is preventing him from finding them.” She could, though. There was nothing stopping her from doing that in the real world.
“Alas,” responded the Gatekeeper without hesitation, “you should know the cause of that action. Sigmund will antagonize his mind, and will never be able to trust himself again. Whatever memories I release, he will either ignore or view as false. He will not feel safe with his own personal thoughts, so he will refuse to make any sort of mental progression.” The green colt then directly gazed into Celestia’s eyes with the same all-knowing stare.
“You have displayed quite the large amount of interest in obtaining his memories. You seem like you have an idea of his past... and you want to confirm it, which means you will not do anything to Sigmund outside of here. But... in case you consider any sort of harmful action...” The Gatekeeper then went up to the glass cube Celestia was in, and leaned up close to it, to the point where his muzzle was millimeters from touching the glass. This made Celestia feel an emotion that she hadn’t felt in years: fear.
“If you try to intervene in his time in Ponyville, or Equestria for that matter, whether it would be telling others about what you have experienced here, or physically harming him in some way, I will know, and I will keep his memories inside the vault forever.” Celestia froze, hearing that, and watching him back away.
She realized, in that moment, that the Gatekeeper held all the bargaining chips. She had no way of fighting back. She, the powerful, benevolent ruler of Equestria, had no power against part of this mysterious pony’s mind.
“For the benefit of the doubt, though,” he said, “I will release one memory before you leave the library. Do not worry, for it is an important one. Sigmund seems mentally ready to handle the information, anyway, and you can make a basis for your assumptions when you hear it.”
The Gatekeeper glanced towards the colors above him again, and so did Celestia soon after. The ever-changing shapes and colors were now still, making it all look like a regular, unmoving ceiling.
“Enough of this,” he said. “You have outstayed your welcome here.” The ceiling turned black, including everything to the left, right, and back of Celestia. The only piece still illuminated was the area around the vault door.
The Gatekeeper then raised his hoof towards her, just enough to lightly tap the front of the glass cube.
“BEGONE.” His voice boomed, echoing across the walls of the cube. Celestia instinctively knelt down and raised her front hooves to her ears, trying to block out the echoing voice. She opened her eyes shortly after the voice ceased, and saw herself being flung away from the vault into the darkness behind her.
The glass cube shattered just as she entered an overwhelming light. Yet before was flung out of Sigmund’s mind, she could still make out the vault door in the distance, with the green figure of unimaginable power in front of it.
Sigmund slowly opened his eyes. He felt groggy, as if he had been asleep for hours. The lights were back on. Twilight was still on the side of the table, staring at them both.
He then looked up at the Princess, who had just opened her eyes as well. She stared down at him, with a look that was not the same benevolent stare she had before. It looked like she had fear in her eyes, along with anger. Although it soon turned back into a kind, benevolent stare, it made an impression on him.
“What happened?” asked Twilight, breaking the silence. “It’s only been a few minutes... is the spell over now?”
Even though Sigmund wasn’t sure what was going on, he was certain the spell lasted much longer than that. More time passed... somehow. Out of curiosity, he closed his eyes, expecting for a memory to emerge. Nothing came to him, though. He could only remember the events of the past three weeks. With a sense of loss, he looked up at Celestia, who met his gaze.
“I am sorry, Sigmund,” said Celestia. “The spell did not work.” Twilight’s jaw dropped upon hearing her, but Sigmund’s didn’t, since he could already tell.
“Didn’t... work?!” asked Twilight. “But Princess... I’m not sure what the details of that spell were, but you seemed to know what you were doing...”
Celestia shook her head. “Forgive me, my student, but the spell itself can not work at times. It is... untrustworthy. It has happened before when I used it on some willing volunteers.” Her voice still had its sincerity, but what she said contradicted her initial attitude to the ‘trick’ she was going to perform on him.
Sigmund was still puzzled at her loss of sureness, but he dismissed his doubt. She must have tried her best, I suppose, he thought. He gazed down in disappointment, with Twilight soon following.
“You shouldn’t give up hope yet, Sigmund,” said the princess, motivating him to look up. “Even though I could not successfully perform the spell at times, the patients I’ve tried it on in the past did remember their pasts with time. You should try whatever seems to help. and maybe you will find the answers for yourself.” She brought her cup off the table again, and took one final gulp of the tea inside.
Just then, Sigmund felt a pain rise up in his head. It like a headache, yet amplified to something more serious. There was no build up to the spontaneous feeling of pain. He quickly clutched his head, surprising the other two ponies at the table. He suppressed the urge to yelp. While the headache continued, images and words flashed in his mind. It was about one image in particular that he saw before... one that he saw almost every day...
He then opened his eyes, and noticed the bewildered looks he was receiving from Princess Celestia and Twilight. Ignoring their somewhat concerned stares, he turned his head around, looking at one side of his flank.
“I... I think I remember what this symbol means...”
“You mean your cutie mark?” said Twilight, her eyes lighting up with hope. “That means your spell worked... right, Princess?”
Celestia shook her head. “No, I have a feeling that my spell did not cause this...” She fell silent for a moment, yet looked back to him. “What does it mean, Sigmund?”
“It was a symbol that I saw and used a lot... before when I woke up in the hospital. It had many meanings... but it represented... the study of the mind.”
A silence developed in the room. Twilight stared at him with a raised eyelash, but both of Celestia’s eyes widened.
“So...” said Twilight after some time, “your special talent... is the study of the mind?”
“No... not just the mind... behavior, consciousness... the symbol represented the study of all of it... I think there was a specific term for the study... but I can’t remember it...”
Before Sigmund could say anymore, a noise came from outside, followed by the sound of hoofsteps. Celestia looked out of the window a brief moment, and turned back to them both.
“It’s good to see that some of your memories are beginning to show up, Sigmund. It sounds like my royal guards are waiting to take me back to Canterlot. I would have liked to stay longer, but I am still greatly busy.”
She looked towards Twilight. “My faithful student, let this be a temporary assignment to you, alongside your main one. If Sigmund remembers anything else, you should write me a letter to let me know. I would like to hear it.”
A few sharp knocks came from the front door.
“I must leave now, but best of luck to you, Sigmund.” said Celestia with a nod of her head. She turned to Twilight. “And to you as well, my faithful student.”
She opened the door, revealing a carriage led by four white pegasi wearing gold armor. Quickly, she mounted the carriage, and then waved goodbye to Twilight and Sigmund as the carriage quietly picked off the ground, flying out into the night sky.
Sigmund and Twilight were waving goodbye. When Princess Celestia was out of sight, Twilight put her hoof down and turned to him.
“So... the study of the mind? That’s what you were experienced in?” she asked. It must have been a strange skill to be experienced in.
“I guess so. I don’t think my memories lie to me... I just think they’re incredibly vague.”
Twilight giggled. “Come on,” she said, “you must still be tired from your work today.” Hearing her mention ‘work’, Sigmund felt the aches of his body return. Being in the alicorn’s presence, he nearly forgot about the pain.
“Yeah... I’ll head off to bed soon...”
He did, right after taking a shower to wash away the smell of apples.
The ride from Ponyville to Canterlot was a ten to twenty minute ride, yet Princess Celestia was already deep in thought. She could recall everything that happened during the spell, including her encounter with the strange being.
So the Gatekeeper released a memory as he promised. While Sigmund did not think much of it, the simple fact that his special skill was understanding the mind cleared up some of her numerous questions.
Celestia looked down guiltily, recalling what she said to them both when the spell ended. She did not want to lie to her star pupil, but she had no other choice. The truth was that in all the previous times she had performed the spell, she successfully explored minds, and awakened memories with all the patients who needed it. She could not even exchange the details of the spell to either of the ponies. If Sigmund found out, he would believe that something inside his mind prevented her from performing the spell correctly. If the Gatekeeper had bluffed, he had done an amazing job at it, yet she knew he wasn’t bluffing. It would have been far too coincidental. He indeed had full control over the vault containing Sigmund’s memories.
The fact that Sigmund’s special skill in the past was “the study of the mind” explained so much. He must have been mentally adept in the past to the point where he could safeguard his inner thoughts. Although it sounded strange, it provided an explanation for the Gatekeeper’s presence.
Celestia was more focused on what the Gatekeeper said, though.
The desired outcome of his situation will be reached if, and only if, I release his memories gradually and at the right times, allowing him to recreate his original mentality. I find it beneficial for his original self to be retained, and then some.
Celestia had trouble understanding the meaning behind the Gatekeeper’s words. His main plan seemed to be to change Sigmund back to his past-self. What was so beneficial about it, though? What did he mean by “and then some”?
He’s not ready. He’s not ready to fully absorb the truth of his past. He will first need his prowess returned to him.
Prowess of the study of the mind... she thought. So he wants Sigmund to reacquire his ability in the study. To be able to perform feats such as safe-guarding his mind again. To know how minds work, and behave. To use them to his advantage... and then some...
Celestia ended her thoughts on the matter there. She already had enough to believe that Sigmund use to be something great, and could still possibly become something great. He could threaten the land that she spent so much time and effort watching over. Yet, before taking an action she would regret, she needed to find out what exactly made him so different, and the only way to do that would be to follow the Gatekeeper’s plan.
Nevertheless, Princess Celestia made a mental note, and listed Sigmund down as an eventual threat.
“Say, Twilight, have ya noticed Sigmund’s been a little... out of it lately?” asked Applejack as they walked through the streets of Ponyville. Hearing the colt’s name, Twilight stopped, and looked around, hoping that the pony in question wasn’t nearby. She wasn’t very fond of talking behind a pony’s back in public places.
“Well...” she said, glancing back at Applejack, “...I’ve noticed. I think it has something to do with-”
“What kind of special talent is mind-study anyway?” asked Rainbow Dash, barging into the conversation. “I mean... he was found in the Everfree forest, and he couldn’t remember anything. I don’t know about you all, but that just reeked of something awesome. I was expecting, like... lasers or tornadoes or somethin’.” She stopped, noticing some of the ponies were rolling their eyes. “Well... uh... let’s just say I expected something cooler... but not anything cooler than me, or else me and him would have a problem!”
“Cool?” asked Rarity. “It is certainly not in the category of ‘cool’, Rainbow Dash. As a fabulous designer, I am an expert on exterior beauty. Yet what is beauty of the body without beauty of the mind...?” Her voice drifted off for a moment, as if she was in her own fairytale. “Sigmund understands the mind... so, therefore, he knows where true beauty lies in some individuals... I’m certain he is aware of who is truly beautiful here,” she added, nonchalantly gesturing to herself.
“Aw shush with all ya frou-frou... Ah’ve just noticed that whenever ah see him now, he’s not as say... ‘responsive’... as he was a while ago.”
“I totally agree, AJ!” said Pinkie Pie, bouncing up and down energetically. “I mean, I’ve been throwing all these parties lately, and he’s only been to a few of them. A few! He should learn some manners and accept every last one of my invitations!”
“Girls, listen,” said Twilight, “I’m sure he’s had a lot of to think about, which is why he didn’t go to some of your parties.”
“Aw boo,” said Pinkie, stopping Twilight before she could go on, “that’s not a good excuse. He didn’t even go along with my idea to throw him a cutecinéra for finding his special talent...” She sat on the ground, and grumpily crossed her forelegs together.
“Pinkie Pie, darling,” said Rarity, “a cutecinéra is only meant for younger colts and fillies...”
“No pony’s too old for anything!” said Pinkie, happily springing back up.
Twilight sighed. “Anyway,” she said, attempting to bring the conversation back on track, “Sigmund is just trying to make sense of what he can remember. Even though his memories are coming back to him, he has to think deeply into them to get their meaning. That’s probably why he’s been a little out of it lately.”
Thankfully, her friends nodded in agreement rather than carry on with the discussion. But while their conversations drifted off the topic of Sigmund, Twilight’s thoughts were still on the subject.
She felt like she was partially lying to her friends, but she did not know for sure. Sigmund wasn’t always messing with his memory. He did have his sudden headaches, but he would easily piece together whatever he could remember.
She recalled his talent: studying the mind. For the past month, Sigmund had been asking her many questions on her morals, other pony’s morals, hobbies and general viewpoints in Equestria. The questions were a little random, but Twilight would answer him regardless. In a way, she felt like he was doing exactly what his special talent was; he was studying minds, including those of ponies around him.
Twilight found it understandable for him to be doing such a thing. She remembered the months after she got her cutie mark. During that time, she directed a hundred percent of her free time towards bettering her control over her great magical powers. Even though the Princess told her that it would take years, she worked extra-hard. Once she had an idea of what her talent was, she wanted to work with it all the time.
Aside from the out-of-place questions, Sigmund acted the same for the most part. According to Applejack, he was a good worker, and even became friends with her non-talkative older brother. He kept Spike company during some mornings and afternoons. He tidied up after himself when he had mini-study sessions. To be honest, there wasn’t any real problem with him studying their minds. He was still their friend, despite the situation that led them to become friends. Not only did he get involved in whatever crazy things her friends were up to, but he also enjoyed it in the process. That’s part of what they all liked about him.
But to Twilight, there was something more about him that intrigued her. Maybe it had to do with his need to help all of them with the tiniest of things. Maybe it had to do with his warm smiles he gave that she couldn’t help but return. Maybe there was a deep down complexity that he was unintentionally hiding. Twilight just wanted to know him better, with the chance that he would expose his hidden side. It was like-
“Hey, Twilight? Hello? Earth to Twilight! Why are you all dreamy-lookin’?” asked Pinkie Pie, derailing Twilight’s train of thought.
“...Huh? Oh... Uh... I just zoned out was all...”
It was a poor attempt to sound like part of the conversation, which Pinkie would easily see through. Her friend raised her hoof to her chin and stared at her for a few seconds. Before an awkward silence could develop between them, the pink mare smiled.
“Suuuuurrreee, Twilight...” After winking at her, she quickly bounced back to the others. “So where was I with oatmeal? Oh, right!”
Typical Pinkie Pie... she thought. There’s just no telling what’s going on in her head.
Now looking at the others, she realized something was missing. She briefly made a head-count, and quickly found out what that ‘something’ was.
“You know... where’s Fluttershy? I know she tends to be a little late sometimes, but this is unusual. Has anypony seen her?”
The other ponies stopped their conversation, causing a bit of an uneasy silence.
“She didn’t want to come today,” said Rainbow Dash finally. “One of the animals at cottage passed away during the night, and I guess she’s blaming herself. She just needs a little space, and she’ll be fine.”
Hearing that, Twilight grew worried. Fluttershy was affected by some of the smallest things. She loved animals. If an animal so much as got hurt on her watch, she would be upset. But if something worse happened... she could be completely broken.
“So, Mac, do you talk to any of your sister’s friends?” asked Sigmund. They had finished selling a cart full of apples at the market, and were on their way back to Sweet Apple Acres. He was use to the routine, since he had been working for the Apple family for about a month now.
“Eenope, ah’ve got far too much work ta git involved with their group.”
“You don’t like them?”
Big Mac shook his head. “Not that ah don’t like ‘em. They’re not bad or anythin’. It’s just that AJ tends ta be distracted ‘cause of them, and ah’m stuck with all the work. The farm can’t afford to have two workers lolligaggin’ about. At least yer here to help me out.”
They were passing over a bridge built over a river to the farm. With the trees out of the way, Sigmund’s line of sight improved. Gazing around, he noticed a familiar yellow pegasus by the water. “Speaking of your sister’s friends... there’s Fluttershy. I would go talk to her... but she’s... you know... a little shy.”
For some reason, Big Mac slowed his pace to the point where he was barely moving. Sigmund easily took note of the change in speed.
“Hey, Mac, why are we-?” He stopped, seeing Big Mac as he stared in the direction of the pegasus by the water. “Big Mac? Are you paying attention?” he asked, waving his hoof in front of the stallion’s eyes. He was unresponsive. It didn’t take long for Sigmund to figure out what was going on.
“So...” he asked, grinning, “you like Fluttershy?” That must have grabbed the stallion’s attention, judging on how much his face suddenly contorted.
“No, of course ah don’t!” whispered the stallion loudly. His tone was fast and abrupt, unlike his usual slow, resonant way of speaking. They crossed the bridge, and the trees once again blocked their view of the riverside. Big Mac looked in in front of him, attempting to regain his composure. “Ah just said that ah got my work to focus on...”
“Whatever you say, Mac...” Sigmund turned his head to look behind him. “Oh... Hi, Fluttershy, how are you?”
Big Mac suddenly flung himself around, trying to look at whatever was behind him. No pony was there, though, except for Sigmund, who couldn’t help but snicker. Even through Mac’s thick red coat, Sigmund swore he could see him blush. Of course, it wasn’t as noticeable as the stallion’s murderous glare.
“Calm down, Macintosh,” said Sigmund, starting to worry for his own safety. “I was curious. I won’t tell Fluttershy or any of her friends... You have my word on that.”
Big Mac’s glare vanished. He quickly resumed walking down the path, moving much faster than normal. Sigmund had to run to catch up to him.
“So why don’t you tell her? Or, at the very least, spend time with her?” he asked.
“Ah already told ya, Sigmund. Ah need to work on the farm. Plus whenever ah’m around, she’s normally scared of me...” He shrugged. “It may have to do with mah size, ah guess....”
“Nice excuse. Here, follow me.” They took a side road which went along the riverside. The yellow pegasus by the water came into view again. This time, they were much closer, but were still out of her view.
“If you want to get close to her,” said Sigmund, “you should go now.” He kept his voice low, even though they were just out of ear shot.
“No, Ah won’t. She’s probably fine withou’ me anyway.”
“Now that wasn’t a very good excuse. Look at her.” Sigmund pointed towards the pegasus. “She looks like she’s been crying.” As he said this, the pegasus wiped her eyes with a hoof. “Actually, she is crying.
“When somepony like Fluttershy is crying,” he continued, “they would probably be more vulnerable. They’d open up to whoever feels trustworthy, whoever seems to care about their well-being, or whoever can bring them a sense of protection in their ‘vulnerable’ state. You happen to be all of those things. You say that she was scared of you before because of your size, but I’m sure that this time your size will make her feel protected, and your care will make her feel better. Trust me, if there’s any better time for you to confront her, it’s now.”
Macintosh tightened his lips together, staring at the pegasus. He released them and said, “But... what if she runs off?”
“Mac, I doubt that she’s in any sort of condition to run away from you. If you just show her you mean well, I’m sure she won’t do anything.”
“Ah dun know. Ah mean, its happened before when ah’ve asked out a filly an’ she turned out ta be a fooler.”
“I’m not familiar with the term.”
Macintosh sighed. “Mares who like mares and not stallions.”
“Ah...” Understanding the idea, Sigmund thought of a tomboyish blue pegasus, but he let the thought pass. He couldn’t leap to conclusions like that based on personality alone. “Don’t worry,” he assured, “She doesn’t look at her friends in that way. We can rule out that possibility.”
Big Mac looked at Fluttershy again. Without taking his eyes off of her, he said, “Ah still dun know about this... What if it ain’t like that with her...?”
His attempts to reason weren’t working, so he decided to boost Mac’s confidence. “Bic Mac,” he began, “everypony thinks of you as the strongest stallion in town. You’re a great worker, you’re muscular, and you’re pretty cool. And now you’re afraid of messing up? All you have to do is provide a few words of wisdom, and she’ll warm up to you. In every situation, there is a chance of something going wrong, but you have to take risks. Playing it safe is likely to make you safe... but I don’t think it’ll make you happy.”
Sigmund paused, letting his words sink in a little more, giving Macintosh time to think.
“What about the cart?” asked Mac, ending the short silence. It was probably the last bit of doubt in the stallion’s mind.
“I can handle it,” he answered. “After dragging that plow around for a month, I don’t find this heavy at all. Now don’t be such a filly. Be the stallion that you are, and wise up.”
With that last bit of friendly inspiration, Mac’s head rose a little bit higher. Maybe for once in his life, Big Mac felt like he had a friend who had his back. He removed the rope that tied him to the cart. Then he began to quietly trot in the direction of Fluttershy. He stopped about halfway, though, and looked back. Sighing at his friend’s loss of sureness, Sigmund gestured to the pegasus with a nudge of his head, motivating the stallion to continue walking forward.
Sigmund took a moment to secure the rope of the cart around his neck. He was finished, but he stuck around for a minute to see how the situation would play out.
Big Mac approached her. She glanced up at him, but quickly looked away. Sigmund feared that Mac would lose confidence, but instead, he sat beside her, and was saying something. Unfortunately, because he was far away, Sigmund couldn’t hear what they were saying. But from the looks of it, Fluttershy wasn’t running away from Macintosh. In fact, she was looking up at him, wiping her eyes with her hoof.
You owe me, Mac, he thought, grinning slightly.
With the cart in tow, he began trotting back to Sweet Apple Acres, leaving two smiling ponies by the riverside.
The Gatekeeper sat by his desk in the endless expanse of the white room. The vault door was safely behind him. He was not writing on his desk like before, but was instead gazing up at the colors above him.
The once-randomized colors looked like they had become a river, moving in one direction in the thought process. The colors even seemed to unite at one brief point, making a bright light. It only lasted so long before dividing, and becoming randomized again, but the Gatekeeper could see some general flow among small groups.
“Your thought process is becoming more coherent, Sigmund. You are moving faster than I anticipated.”
Taking the unique display as a cue, the Gatekeeper got up, and walked to the vault door behind him. He grabbed the small handle on the side of the vault with his mouth, and opened the door. When he stopped, a small collection of words flowed out, slowly rising into the colorful ceiling above. The Gatekeeper watched as the phrases quickly faded into the never-ending storm of colors.
He then, with a swift kick of his hind legs, slammed the vault door shut.
Sigmund abruptly stopped, and quickly clutched the side of his head, feeling the splitting pain that suddenly attacked. This was not the first time, nor the second time, the feeling had emerged. Each headache would only last a few seconds, but during those few seconds, he would remember something. When the pain subsided again, he put his hoof back down, and gazed all around him.
This time the memory he received was about a place of knowledge, where he honed his special skill. From that information, Sigmund could guess that he use to be a scholar of some sort. He would have to think deeply into the memory later, because it didn’t concern him. However, he was more focused on the topic of how he remembered.
The sudden headaches were very random... almost too random. The important memories that returned to him weren’t even related to what he was doing at the time, so he ruled out that his mind controlled the triggers.
But if he was not the one triggering his memories... and if the Princess had nothing to do it, based off of what she said... then what was causing them to come back to him? Was there something else doing it for him? Although the idea was unlikely, it did seem possible for him, considering the condition he was found in. But why was this ‘something’ triggering his memories?
His train of thought ended, though. It was becoming an unlikely assumption, which was likely the reason why he stopped thinking into it. He was sure other amnesiacs had headaches, so he probably wasn’t a special case.
However, he did not consider the possibility of a force unknown stopping him from delving too deeply into the idea.
After living in the library for three months, Sigmund was accustomed to how it functioned. Since it was so quiet, he could hear the slightest noise made, whether it be the creaking of floorboards, the sounds of hoofsteps in the other room, or the delicate flipping of a page. He found it to be the place where he was guaranteed not to be disturbed frequently. Aside from common noises, he worked without the slightest distraction. But, like anypony, he was always able to tell if a noise was out of place.
Today the ‘distraction’ was the front door flinging open. Sigmund looked up from his book, feeling annoyed at what caused the interruption. His expression changed completely, though. A yellow pegasus was under the open doorway, panting, looking straight at him with helpless eyes. This was the first time in almost a month that he had seen Fluttershy without Big Macintosh around.
Sigmund didn’t even bother to close the book. He immediately rose off his seat, and rushed over to Fluttershy as she partially collapsed, leaning up against the doorframe for support. Twilight, who was upstairs, came down to see what the commotion was about. Her jaw went agape, and she quickly dashed over.
“Fluttershy, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” he asked.
The pegasus took a second to respond. She was breathing heavily. “M-macintosh... the forest... he’s... he’s fighting a...”
“Fighting a what?” asked Twilight.
“A... a manticore!”
Twilight’s expression contorted with fear. “A manticore?! Are you sure? What’s it doing out of the Everfree forest?!” Sigmund remembered reading about manticores, the creatures capable of great physical feats. Why would Macintosh get into a fight with one?
Fluttershy finally regained control over her breathing. “It attacked us... but Macintosh fended it off. I don’t know what’s happened to him. He told me to run and get help!” Even if Sigmund hadn’t caught the part about the manticore, he knew that it was not a light matter if the shy pegasus was raising her voice.
“Okay, listen. Fluttershy, lead the way.” he said. Sigmund looked towards Spike, who had shown up seconds ago. “Spike, go find the others, or anypony you run into. Tell them that a manticore’s left the forest.” Spike immediately nodded, and bolted out the front door. Twilight, however, looked at him in disbelief.
“Sigmund... there’s no need for you to-”
“Yes, there is, Twilight. Macintosh is my friend. If he’s facing off against a manticore, he needs all the help he can get. We don’t have time to argue over this,” he said.
Her response was delayed by a second, but she nodded. With that bit of understanding, they both ran out the door, following Fluttershy out of town.
Sigmund had never sprinted so fast in his memorable life. A couple months ago, he had trouble walking at a normal pace, but now he was galloping down the dirt path at the speed of a pegasus in flight.
Just as they ran up the next hill, two figures came into view; one was smaller than the other. In the distance, Big Macintosh lay on the ground, unmoving. Near to him was a giant creature. Sigmund didn’t have to take a second glance to know that it was the creature Fluttershy spoke of. The manticore had a pair of tiny, bat-like wings, a tale with a stinger, and large paws. One swipe of its massive claws looked like it could take down a pony, even one as strong as Big Macintosh.
From his distance, Sigmund could see the extent of the damage. Macintosh had several cuts on his body. His chest was rising and falling, meaning that he was still breathing, though. Fluttershy may not have noticed, judging on how she was frozen in place out of fear and sorrow.
“Use ‘The Stare’, Fluttershy!” said Twilight.
The pegasus stood there, though, shivering. “N-No...” she stammered, “h-h-he’s too angry... i-i-it didn’t work b-before...” Feeling like they were out of options, Sigmund swore to Celestia. Twilight was desperately thinking, though, trying to find a way to deal with the beast.
“Sigmund, here’s the plan...” said Twilight. He wasn’t paying attention to her, though. He could only focus on the large creature as it maneuvered towards the wounded stallion. There were only a few seconds left, and if he waited any longer, something truly terrible would happen.
“Twilight, we don’t have time!” He sprinted ahead, leaving Twilight with the pegasus. He dashed near to the manticore. He needed to serve as a distraction so the beast would go after him, buying time.
“HEY!!!” he yelled, waving a hoof over his head. “Over here!” The manticore peered towards him, but grunted and returned his attention to the wounded stallion. Before Sigmund could take proper, physical action, a rainbow streak suddenly flashed across the beast. The beast recoiled by a few meters before losing balance and toppling over.
“Never call an earth pony to do a pegasus’ job!” gloated Rainbow Dash. She pranced in the air to celebrate her moment of triumph, but because of that, she failed to notice the manticore recovering from the quick blow.
The beast reached up with his paw, and grabbed the pegasus’ leg, causing her to quickly yelp. She could not fly away, nor shake herself free of the beast’s strong grip. Then the creature simply swung his paw downward, flinging the pegasus towards a tree like a pebble. Her wings were flapping, but she couldn’t readjust herself in time. She collided against the trunk of the tree, yelped in pain, then slowly sagged to the bottom. It was a crash that Sigmund would have stayed down from. Because she was smaller than him, it was probably far worse for her.
“Ay! Ah think yall best apologize, mister!” Sigmund quickly turned to see Applejack, with a lasso attached to her tail. The manticore turned to her, and replied with an angry roar. “Alright, then, so be it.”
With a quick snap of her tail, Applejack flung the loop over the manticore’s head, and onto its neck. She quickly pulled down with all her strength, bringing the creature to his paws. Even though he could see it was working, Sigmund knew that, against such a powerful creature, Applejack wouldn’t be able to hold the beast with just her strength alone.
With a strong push against the ground, the furious creature heaved his head upward, pulling the rope, and the pony at the other end. Applejack was yanked off of her hooves, and flung over all of them. She landed on the side of her body, knocking the wind right out of her lungs.
Seeing that one earth pony was out of the picture, the manticore grunted, and returned his attention to Macintosh, who was still breathing slowly. Sigmund felt a shiver through his spine as he saw the beast’s paw rise into the air. It was about to give the finishing blow.
Before the beast could bring its paw down, a fairly large stone struck it in the back of the head. Confused, Sigmund turned around to see Twilight, who had flung the rock using magic. She had done that to grab the manticore’s attention, and it worked. The manticore growled, and slowly, yet fearsomely, made its way in the direction of the unicorn. She simply stood her ground, though, acting like she had a plan. Something told Sigmund that her plan wouldn’t completely work out the way she intended.
In that split second, Sigmund looked around him. His friends, the ones who unconditionally helped him... who cared about him... were in pain from the manticore. Big Mac was bleeding on the ground. Fluttershy was crying silently. Rainbow Dash was sitting against the tree, clutching her leg. Applejack was dazed, trying to stand back up. Twilight was fine, though, but not for long. The beast was about to kill somepony, and Sigmund couldn’t do anything about it.
The idea of being powerless to help them made him feel... strange. But the feeling of helplessness quickly morphed into anger. He felt angry towards the thing that harmed his friends. With his rage building up, he jolted himself to action.
“HEY,” he yelled, grabbing the manticore’s attention. The beast turned away from Twilight, peering at him. “Yeah I’m talking to you, you bastard!” All eyes were now upon him, like he had suddenly become something out of the ordinary. He felt his hooves trembling; not from fear, but from pure rage. The other ponies, including Rainbow Dash and a now-conscious Big Mac, were staring at him with wide eyes. Rarity and Pinkie Pie had arrived, and were looking towards him peculiarly.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? ANY IDEA?!” The manticore stepped back, as if he could feel Sigmund’s anger. He was not trying to be rational. He was letting the rage do the work for him.
“I will make you regret everything you’ve done here... I will make you regret every wrong you’ve ever performed... I will make you regret... your entire existence!”
He wasn’t sure what he was saying, but from what he could tell, every word had its own powerful effect against the manticore. However, words weren’t enough for him. He needed to do more... much more...
He felt empowered... not just from his rage... but from a strange feeling... a different feeling. All his thoughts were focused on this monster, anger and hatred growing within him by the moment. He did not care about the reasons behind the manticore’s outburst. He only wanted to see the beast suffer.
With that plan in mind, he looked directly into its eyes. He would use his immense hatred to destroy the beast through whatever means necessary.
What happened next can only be best described from the manticore’s perspective.
He was a fearsome creature. Incredibly strong, balanced, fast and versatile. Because of those basic characteristics alone, he was one of the deadliest predators of the Everfree forest; a mighty force that no creature would dare reckon with.
His current emotional make-up was that of mainly anger and blood-lust, which were both strong enough to allow him to leave the sacred boundaries of the Everfree forest without fear of harm. The only things that incited such spontaneous anger in him were two ponies who got close to his territory during mating season, a time when tension was already high.
Yet there was a change in his emotional make-up. It wasn’t a large shift, but it was still a noticeable one for those who could read emotions. The unnatural anger of the green pony before him caused fear to enter the fray. With this fear, his mind became vulnerable, creating an entry point. A strange presence went straight through it, and soon afterwards a resonating anger was felt throughout all of the beast’s mind.
His mind was frozen. He did not know how to react to the strange feeling. He couldn’t think, as if the ability was suddenly taken away from it. He knew, however, that his own anger was being expunged until nothing was left. For a very brief moment, he felt tranquil.
Yet the foreign presence was not finished. It started to attack all the other emotions nearby. The manticore could not do a single thing to stop its rampage. The force seemed to eat away at whatever emotions he was capable of feeling. It gave mental blows which caused excruciating pain.
He no longer felt fear, as it was wiped. He no longer felt happiness, as it was gone. He forgot what they felt like... and what emotions were like altogether. The foreign presence destroyed the entire emotional part of his mind.
Yet that was not enough. The strange force was still vengeful. It moved onto the memories, finding everything there that belonged to the beast, and wiped them clean. As a result, the manticore forgot his cub days, the lessons he had learned, and the other beasts he had fought. He even forgot why he left the forest to begin with. After a few moments, all of his basic or treasured memories were destroyed.
The foreign presence wasn’t done, though. It quickly darted to the manticore’s thought process, and, like an infection, turned whatever colorful thoughts were there into nothing.
The mind slowly became a black abyss. There was no color, no words, no images, nothing. Now completely satisfied, the presence shifted out of the mind, and back to its source: the green colt.
With no emotions, no memories, and no consciousness, the creature was unable to do a single thing. He could not remember how to see, hear, move, or stand. He had lost most of his basic functionality. The mighty beast of the Everfree forest collapsed on the ground.
Over the course of a few seconds, or hours of agony in the mental spectrum, the manticore went from being a fearsome creature, to becoming a brain-dead vegetable.
Sigmund regained control over his thoughts after the beast collapsed on the ground. In that moment, his expression went from that of pure hate, to that of indescribable fear. There on the ground before him was a beast four times his size that he had taken down; a beast that he did not have to lay a hoof on.
Slowly, the other ponies, both shocked and frightened by what they had witnessed, moved closer to the manticore. A pony could assume that the beast was asleep, or knocked out... until they looked at its face. It was the face that Sigmund dared not to look away from.
The beast wasn’t moving. Its tongue hung out of its mouth, resting on the ground, and its unmoving eyes rested solely on Sigmund. The only sign of life that could be made out was its very faint breathing. He felt a humongous wave of emotions grow inside of him. The most noticeable emotion he felt was guilt, even though he could not begin to grasp what had truly happened.
He stopped gazing at the manticore to briefly glance at the other ponies, who had slowly trotted and limped over to the creature’s body. They were horrified at the sight, judging on their expressions. Rainbow Dash, however, looked surprised, her jaw falling agape as the seconds passed. She was in a position where she could not see the face.
And one by one, they gazed towards him. He only looked each pony in the eye for a brief moment, but he could tell already see the fear. Even Pinkie wasn’t giggling at what they all found scary. Fluttershy was giving him the greatest look of terror out of them all. Big Macintosh noticed this, and limped over to the pegasus to comfort her. Even the calm stallion was giving him apprehensive glances.
Suddenly, somepony broke the silence.
“WHOA, SIGMUND! DANG,” said Rainbow Dash.” I thought you were bluffing for a moment... but you multiplied Fluttershy’s stare by like... a hundred fold!” Half of the other ponies shot Rainbow an angry glare, yet Sigmund did not bother to look up. “Hey? What’s the problem? C’mon... that was totally awesome! You’re cooler than I thought, Sigmund!”
“...Shut up,” he whispered. Rainbow Dash didn’t hear him, though.
“You gotta show me whatever you did there, Sig-”
“I SAID SHUT UP.” He stared directly at Rainbow Dash, using the glare he had on the manticore. She stepped away out of fright, stumbling a little from what seemed like a broken leg. Now she had joined the others in giving him a look of terror.
To calm his nerves, he took a few deep breaths. He was trying to think logically, but it wasn’t enough to end his racing thoughts. He knew, though, that he couldn’t be around them, or anypony. He glanced again at the beast, and then bolted away from his friends.
By destroying the monster, he had become one in the eyes of those around him.
It was only after Sigmund ran off did Rainbow Dash see the manticore’s face. She realized, then, that there was a good reason why every other pony was so silent.
“What in Ponyville is going on here?” asked somepony behind them. The mayor had arrived along with some large stallions and nurses. “What is this I hear about a manticore outside the forest?” Instead of replying, Twilight simply moved to the side, allowing the elderly mare to see for herself.
Her jaw dropped. “Goodness... What... what happened here, Twilight...?” she asked.
“We... we...” said Twilight, looking to the other ponies. None of them showed any signs of responding. She wanted to explain what she had seen, but she bit her tongue. “We... don’t know.”
The mayor had a confused expression, but that changed after she glanced at the other ponies. “Nurses,” the elderly mare said, “some of these ponies are injured, and need medical attention. The rest of us will find out what we should do with this creature... when it wakes up...”
Twilight felt doubtful, hearing the mayor, because the manticore’s empty stare made it seem like there was no recovery. A couple minutes ago, it was on a rampage, but then it suddenly fell apart. She dared not to even mention Sigmund, or else rumors would spread, and everypony would connect the dots. The residents of Ponyville would be afraid of him, thinking that he took down a manticore by just staring at it.
The nurses pulled Big Mac to the side to treat his wounds. He did not want to leave Fluttershy by herself, so he carefully tugged at her hoof, snapping her out of her motionless state. Tears were still running down her cheeks, but she followed them to a short distance away, where they had prepared a spot to apply bandages.
Normally Rainbow Dash would run off to avoid treatment, but she did exactly what the nurses wanted her to do this time; she got onto the stretcher, and was lifted back to town. The others then split up. Rarity and Pinkie Pie walked back down the path leading to town, and Applejack went over to where Big Mac was being treated to join Fluttershy. Twilight indecisively remained there, but then also turned to trot away.
While walking back to the library, she thought about the event, and the turn it took towards the end. She had seen a side of Sigmund that was very frightening, and intimidating. Even the manticore had taken a step back as the colt’s voice boomed. Then, in the seconds of silence that followed, the beast collapsed. It only made sense to connect that back to...
No... There was no way Sigmund could done something so unbelievable. She suspected that there was more to him than met the eye, but this was beyond her expectations.
The Gatekeeper sat back on his chair. Once again, he stared up towards the ceiling. He was taking frequent, heavy breaths, but he still paid attention to the expanse of colors. They were no longer flowing like they had been hours ago. Instead, the colors were scrambling and exploding at a much faster rate. Sigmund’s multiple emotions were derailing his train of thought.
The Gatekeeper spoke, knowing that Sigmund could not hear him.
“I am sorry, but there was no other choice. I would have risked your sanity and mentality forever had I sat by and let one of your precious friends be killed. I knew that your anger would mask my control over you, but I did not expect for it to take over during the conversion. It does show me, though, that when your mind is completely focused, it can even override me.”
The Gatekeeper had a look of remorse in his eyes for a few seconds, but his disposition quickly returned to normal.
“You must... you will... work your way past this unfortunate event. You will come up with answers for yourself, and when you do, you will be ready.”
He turned to look at the vault door behind him.
“You will finally be ready to know the truth, and put it to use.”
Twilight peeked her head up, hearing the nine chimes of the town bell as they penetrated the darkness outside. It was the final set of chimes for the night. Knowing what time it was, she sighed, and began paying more attention to the doorway. The library was empty, as always, and Spike was already fast asleep in his basket. Normally there would be one pony in the library with her, but he was nowhere to be seen. He hadn’t been there for the past week.
The manticore incident was the talk of the town for about two days, and during that time, everypony accepted the idea that the manticore... randomly shut down. How else could anypony explain its unresponsive state? The creature must have simply forgot everything. Even Twilight and her friends, who were there at the time, accepted what happened as a coincidence. Soon enough, the residents of Ponyville began concerning themselves with other, more important things, ending any rumors relating to the event.
Attempts to treat the manticore failed, so the nurse ponies gave up. In a small discussion, the mayor of Ponyville resolved to put the creature back into the forest, leaving it in its own environment. The consensus was that, when placed in its familiar surroundings, it would function again, and act normally. Twilight knew, however, that it was in no condition to go back into such a harsh, unforgiving place, but considering what it did, she stayed silent after hearing the decision.
Since then, she and her friends moved past what happened. Fluttershy continued to take care of her animals, and spent even more time with Big Macintosh since his injuries prevented him from working. Applejack had to do most of the work on the farm by herself. Rainbow Dash would procrastinate on weather control, her broken leg giving her a semi-good excuse. Rarity had accepted large dress orders, and spent a hoof-full of nights sewing the dress line. Pinkie Pie even stayed up to date on her normal party schedule. And Twilight, of course, resumed her ‘small’ study sessions. The event was practically forgotten by everypony... yet she knew one pony who was still focused on it: Sigmund.
For Twilight, it had been an awkward week in the library. Her guest hadn’t spoken to her at all in that time. During the daytime, he would vanish without a trace. No pony was sure where he would go, and no pony really found a way to ask. Twilight knew, though, that sometime after nine at night, he would silently walk in through the front door of the library, soundlessly head to his room and shut the door, locking it behind him. She would always try to say something as he walked in... but she found herself hesitating. In those few seconds as he went went through the library, Twilight could see the sorrow in his eyes. He was enduring some sort of pain, and she wanted to comfort him somehow.
Because there wasn’t much to be done, they all sort of phased him out of their routine, leaving him to do whatever he wanted. Applejack and Big Macintosh weren’t complaining about him not showing up for work. Rarity stopped asking for him to try on clothes. Pinkie Pie didn’t even send him invites for her parties. Yet it wasn’t because they were afraid of him. Twilight already knew that most of them were viewing it as sheer coincidence. It was only because Sigmund ignored everypony, making it awkward to talk to him.
However, she already decided to confront him over the problem. She saw no reason for him to beat himself up over what happened. Throughout the day, while doing other things, she had built up the courage to talk to him.
The front door opened, releasing a quiet, creaking noise. The green pony entered, and then shut the door. Twilight only stared at him, wondering if he would stare back; but he didn’t. He only trotted silently across the library to his room.
After hearing a few of Sigmund’s hoofsteps, Twilight spoke up. “Hey, Sigmund...”
He did not stop, nor did he look at her. He only continued walking with his head down.
“Can you come here?” she asked. By that point, he was already in the hallway. Twilight did not get up to intercept him, since it was already taken care of. He attempted to turn the doorknob, but it held firmly in place. The door wouldn’t budge. Twilight’s horn glowed, and the door was wrapped in another layer of magic, holding it in place.
“Please, come here, Sigmund,” she said loudly, almost with a demanding tone. She wanted to come off as friendly, but she didn’t like it when ponies purposely ignored her like this.
The green colt stood in front of the sealed door, gazing down. He sighed, and slowly walked to her. She saw him glance over towards the entrance, but that was also covered in a purplish glow. She didn’t want him to run off, so she sealed the other exits as well. Once he was next to her, she stopped focusing on the two doors, letting the magic partially fade away.
“Sigmund...” she began, knowing that he wouldn’t be the first pony to speak, “it’s been a week since what happened. You shouldn’t think that you caused the manticore to...” The next few words were hard for her to force out, even though she had rehearsed them in her mind. He remained silent, still looking down at the floor.
“Can you please talk to me?” she asked. “You’re not to blame, Sigmund...”
“Twilight, you saw what I did,” he said finally. It was the first time she had heard him speak since a week ago, when he yelled at Rainbow Dash. His tone was serious, unlike what it was before the incident.
She said, “There’s no reason for you to think you harmed the manticore. Everypony believes that it was just a chance encounter, so why don’t you see it that way?”
“Because none of you were in my position. You and the others saw what happened, but I felt it. In those few moments, I felt myself... extend towards what was in front of me.”
“Extend? But... you were in the same spot.”
“I could feel things that couldn’t be seen. I knew... somehow... that those ‘things’ belonged to the manticore, so I destroyed them... expunged them... ripped them apart. I didn’t care, because I despised the beast. When I was finally done... I came back to my senses. And... you know the rest.”
“What were these... things that you felt?”
“Don’t you get it, Twilight? I felt parts of its mind. I obliterated them all, and as a result, it could barely function. It could only fall the ground, and...”
“But...” she began. Now she was beginning to question her own logic. She didn’t know whether to trust the views of everypony, or to trust Sigmund, who had first-hoof experience. “Let’s say you actually did cause-”
“Which I did,” he interrupted.
“Because you felt it? What you felt could have been caused by stress... or anger.”
“I would like to think so... but there’s just too much evidence pointing to me.”
He quietly sighed. “My special talent is studying the mind. I was the only pony there with that sort of talent. You should assume it was me by that idea alone. But... there’s also my cutie mark, a symbol that no pony recognizes. Weeks ago, I found out about other ponies who had talents relating to minds. Their cutie marks were something that I could easily interpret. My symbol is unfamiliar, so it has to represent something else... something that no other pony with mind-related talents can do. I believe that this symbol represents an ability... which would let me destroy minds.”
“But... magic can’t-”
“It wasn’t magic. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t that. Did you sense any magic being used?” She shook her head slowly. “Then it is likely that I was the cause of it, based off of my feelings, my talent, and my symbol. I am responsible for the manticore’s death.” He suddenly stopped, his head lowering somewhat.
Neither of them spoke for nearly a minute. Twilight’s idea of what happened being a coincidence had been shattered, and she was trying to rethink it through. She wasn’t afraid of the colt, though.
“Well,” she said, “I can imagine that one of us could have been really hurt had you not done anything...”
“Twilight... it was one thing to stop him... but I went beyond stopping him... and now...”
His voice drifted off, leaving her to fill in the blanks. Just by looking at his expression, Twilight could see that he could accurately recall the events of that day. But looking into his eyes, she realized that, throughout their conversation, Sigmund refused to make eye contact.
“Sigmund... can you look at me?” she asked. He slowly shook his head.
“Before I destroyed the manticore’s mind, I looked into its eyes. I know what happened because of it, and I’m not going to make that mistake again. You shouldn’t look into the eyes of a monster, anyway.”
The term he used stunned her. Now she felt more annoyed, and it wasn’t because he was being stubborn. No matter what he said, or what he did, Sigmund wasn’t what he thought he was. Even if there was a risk, she had to resolve this before it could go on any longer.
“You aren’t a monster. I don’t think you are one, and neither do any of the others. You only did what you could to keep us from getting hurt. Please... just look at me.”
He turned his head away, though, shutting his eyelids tightly. “No. I will never forgive myself if I hurt you... or anything else in the same way.”
“It won’t happen... please...” She placed her hoof on his shoulder. “I believe that you can control it.”
She was hoping that he would give in, and put aside his fears. Yet as the seconds passed, that hope diminished. However, his eyes opened, once again revealing his golden irises. He was obviously second guessing himself, but he managed to turn his head back to her. His irises were still off to the side, but they slowly came to the center, locking their gazes.
Seconds passed, and Twilight blinked a few times. Part of her was expecting something strange, but nothing really happened. She grinned, feeling a little relieved, and happy that she disproved her friend’s notion. “See, Sigmund... was that so hard?”
He was quietly looking at her. “You’re not a monster,” she continued. “I... we still care about you... and we don’t like seeing our friend like this.”
Shortly after she smiled again, she noticed a shiny trail that went from his eyes to the bottom of the cheeks, and it didn’t take long for her to figure out why it was there. He was, or had been, crying. Twilight kept a friendly smile, though, and carefully wrapped her forelegs around him, lightly hugging him. He didn’t return the hug, but he didn’t fight it, either. She could hear what sounded like sniffling. She was just glad, after all this time, he had finally opened up to her.
After a minute or two, the sniffling ceased. Twilight took that as her cue to move back, letting him wipe the edges of his eyes and cheeks with his hoof.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I am...” he said, looking up at her again. “Better than how I felt for the past week. I guess... I really needed to do that.”
She smiled. “We’re friends, so we look out for each another.” She looked up at the clock again, and yawned. “Speaking of friends, do you think... you can talk to the others tomorrow?”
“Sure...” he said, casting his gaze down, “if they don’t mind.”
“They won’t.” She yawned. “Sorry... I was up late last night.”
“You should go to bed, then.”
“Right... I’ll see you tomorrow.” She smiled once more, and then walked up the steps to her room. Recalling one more thing, she stopped, and turned around. “Oh, uh... Sigmund?”
“Yes?” he asked, looking back at her.
“About what you told me... what you experienced... Let’s just keep that between us, okay?”
“I know, Twilight,” he said. “I told you because... you’re the most reasonable friend I have. I didn’t want anypony leaping to conclusions about me, and I’m really glad that you didn’t.”
She blushed at his unintentional compliment. “Thanks... well... Good night, then...” She silently went up the steps, leaving Sigmund in the room by himself.
After turning off all the lights, Sigmund went to the guest room. The magic that had sealed it was no longer there, meaning that he could twist the doorknob. He shut the door silently. Now that he was in peace, Sigmund began to reflect.
He had cried for many reasons. One of the reasons could be his built-up emotions over the past week. Another reason could be that he took a risk and nearly hurt his good friend Twilight. He knew the real reason he cried, though: he did not belong there. He was endangering them, because of the strange ability he possessed. He could control the power if he was calm... but he wasn’t sure when he would slip up, and become enraged, activating it in the same manner as before. He needed his memories to find a proper solution; until then, he would have to wait, and possibly make amends with everypony.
Lying on his bed, he shut his tired eyes, and fell into a deep slumber.
He opened his eyes again, but he was no longer in the guest bedroom. He was in a completely white environment that was devoid of any colors. There was absolutely nothing, and part of him wondered over what he was doing in such a strange place. He was certainly dreaming... but what kind of dream was this?
Surveying the area again, he noticed another pony appear out of thin air. This pony had a green coat, golden irises, black mane... and a cutie mark much like his own. It was like a mirror-image.
“Hello, Sigmund,” said the pony in an identical voice. Startled, Sigmund stepped back. The duplicate, though, showed no signs of hostility, so he quickly stood normally again.
“Hello to you, too,” he replied, wanting to be polite. Even if it was a reflection, he didn’t want to disrespecting a pony that looked exactly like him.
Walking closer, the other Sigmund said, “Just to let you know, I am not a reflection.” It could read his thoughts? “Nor am I something you should fear. I only wish to talk to you, and help you.”
He dared to ask, “Am I... dreaming right now?”
“You are... though I wouldn’t use the term ‘dream’ to describe it. Instead of letting you have a spontaneous dream, I’ve led you into my part of the mind.”
“Part of the mind...” he mumbled, his voice drifting off. “What do you mean by that?”
“We share the same mental space, Sigmund, except that you possess a much greater portion of it.”
“I think I would notice a piece missing. How come that isn’t the case?”
“You have only known your part of the mind. I have kept myself carefully hidden, for I have concerned with a different task, which required you to not know about me.”
It didn’t take him long to realize what the ‘different task’ was. He opened his mouth to say something, yet the duplicate cut him off.
“I can read your thoughts, Sigmund. I know it would make more sense to explain myself rather than you piece it together, but... I would like to see your reasoning in action.”
“Okay, then. I see no problem in telling you. By the way... since you aren’t me, what may I call you?”
“Well, Gatekeeper, the best way to show you my reasoning would be to start where it all began.
“A few months ago, I woke up in Ponyville hospital. I couldn’t remember a single bit of my past. According to Twilight, I wasn’t exactly a unique case. It seemed like I was just a normal pony who forgot a lot of things. It would take weeks, or months, to reacquire what I lost. My problem was simple enough... yet it became a little more complicated after the Princess made an unexpected visit.
“She gave me hope that, by using a spell, she could solve the problem that I had for weeks. She practically guaranteed me she would be able to. Yet when it was over, I still couldn’t remember. I was disappointed, but I trusted her when she said that it did have a chance of failing. Days later, however, I realized through experiences with my friends that even the most benevolent ponies would have to lie, or at least partially lie, when put in a difficult situation. The princess may have lied to me, making me believe that the spell had a chance of failing, when in actuality, it would always work.
“Yet what could make me a special case? How could Princess Celestia, a superior spellcaster, fail? To answer this, I recalled a feeling I had before the spell took place. It was the feeling of my mind being pierced, and the fact that I was not conscious during the spell. It’s not right to use feelings instead of reason or fact, but in this case, I went with it. I guessed that she used a spell that would allow her to enter my mind, and release my memories on the inside. She even told me it was something she couldn’t cast, so a mind-entering spell sounded like a reasonable explanation.
“Even then, she couldn’t do it. What could possibly stop her inside my mind? I did not personally experience what she may have done. I wanted my memories to be returned, so even if I was there, I wouldn’t have stopped her.
“And that was when I thought into the possibility of an extra presence; a different force that stopped Princess Celestia. I didn’t think much of the possibility, because it was all based off of the assumption that she was lying to me. It’s not safe to act on assumption, but now that you have shown up, I guess my assumption is true.
“I did not let the possibility bother me at first, since I figured it was happening for a good reason. That changed a week ago. I viewed myself as a monster because of what I did, and thought nothing good could come from my memories. For the past week, I’ve gone into the forest, where no pony would bother me, attempting to reason my way to answers. But all I have are guesses, and no facts.
“Gatekeeper... I believe it is your duty now to clear up the remainder of my confusion, and fill in the blanks in my deduction. If you’re showing yourself to me now, it must be for a good reason...”
That was his ‘reasoning’ in its entirety, so he stopped. But now that there was nothing but silence, he realized that his voice did not falter during his deduction. It remained strong, and continuous.
In a form of applause, the Gatekeeper slowly clopped his hooves against the ground. “Bravo, Sigmund, bravo. I, of course, knew that you were considering these ideas, but I viewed them as more of a mental progression rather than a threat to our well-beings. I did have to swerve your thoughts at some points, since I did not want you to start thinking into the idea of a ‘force unknown’ too early. You went in-depth with your guesses, meaning that you have obtained, or almost reacquired, your mentality again.
“You are right, though. I was the one who prevented Princess Celestia from releasing your memories. I am not an omnipotent being for doing so, because she was not able to use her own powers during the spell. I attempted to persuade her, but she showed interest in your past, and ignored my words. I was forced to intimidate her through trials and threats. When her presence was beginning to have a negative effect, I removed her from your mind.”
“My memories must have been important if you had to go against the Princess like that.”
“They are to your mind, Sigmund. It has been a long time. In your past, according to your cutie mark, you were very proficient in mind-related activity, whether it be thought, reason, intuition or logic. You lost most of that ability when you ‘woke up’. If I gave you your memories back instantly, you would not have known what to do with them. I believed it was beneficial for you to redevelop your mind first.”
“Beneficial?” The word struck him. “And what was so ‘beneficial’ about what I did to the manticore? Were you the reason why I-”
“Yes and no. I temporarily took control of you. If one of your friends had died, you would have been mentally scarred, impeding your progress for an indefinite length of time. Your deep anger towards the manticore masked my brief control. I planned on shifting the beast’s emotions so that it could lose its blood-lust, and return to the forest. However, I did not expect for your anger to amplify the effects during the process, causing me to lose control. What happened next... was the result of your anger.”
“Then I guess I can’t blame you for it...”
The Gatekeeper shrugged. “A tragic event, I must say. However, I found that you made a great amount of mental progress in the days following. The only true internal problem was your emotional state, which prevented you from putting your progress to use”
“And what about the ability? Is that where my ‘progress’ needs to be put to use?”
“You will find that out on your own, Sigmund.”
“Well what if I... destroy the mind of something again?”
“As your mind improves, so will your control over the power. With time and practice, you will be able to wield the power to levels that even I cannot perform now. It is not something I can provide scientific data over. It is a power that I only have an understanding of, and you will gain an understanding of as well.”
“So... why, of all times, have you decided to reveal all this to me?”
“You are no longer emotionally compromised, and you have made a large amount of mental progress over the course of the week. Is it not obvious why I am here? You are ready.”
The Gatekeeper’s eyes flashed, and the floor rumbled. In the distance, a large, black object rose from the ground. The hinges and the handle made it looked very much like the hatch to a safe.
“For my memories, you mean?” asked Sigmund, “Have I achieved the ‘desired’ mental status?”
“Not quite. You still have some progress left to make, but you are definitely ready to handle the information.”
Keeping silent, the Gatekeeper trotted towards the door. Yet before he grabbed the small handle on the side, he stopped. Without looking back, he said, “Sigmund, when I open this door, you will be on your own. You will no longer have a ‘guardian’, but you will have full access to your mind. In a way, that will be enough to replace me. What you wish to do, once you remember everything, will be entirely your choice. Are you prepared?”
Sigmund looked towards the ground, thinking of his response. He said, “I have one more question.” The Gatekeeper did not respond, so Sigmund continued. “What are you getting out of this?”
Suddenly, the Gatekeeper swung around, staring at him. It was as if the question triggered something it wasn’t meant to. Even though his face lacked any expression, his voice was intimidatingly powerful.
“I am guessing you are under the impression that my plan will somehow benefit me, Sigmund. I will let you know that this is not about me, nor you alone. It is about the greater good. I went through with my plan... so that you could fully recover your prowess. Why recover your prowess? Because you need it. You need it to make the right choice. You need it to see the logical option in the most conflicting of scenarios. To ask not how a choice benefits you, but how it benefits the world around you; to understand the course of the future with that decision. There will, and I repeat that there will, come a time when your decisions will bring either salvation or destruction. And because of my efforts, along with your experiences and your ability, you will make the right choices.”
The Gatekeeper’s words were engraved into Sigmund’s part of the mind. Sigmund nearly stepped back out of fear of the mysterious entity in front of him; the being who guarded his memories, and had done so much... all for him.
“Now...” said the Gatekeeper, calmly turning back to the vault, “I repeat: are you prepared?”
Sigmund, still sinking in the Gatekeeper’s words, thought into his answer. If the Gatekeeper, a part of his mind, believed that he was ready... he had to be. There was only one response he could choose from, and after months of playing guessing games, it was only reasonable to choose that response.
“I am,” he answered.
As soon as the words left Sigmund’s lips, the Gatekeeper yanked the handle with one swing of his head. The large door flung open completely, revealing what was behind it. There was nothing, though. Before Sigmund could make any comment, the Gatekeeper walked in front of the open door.
A swarm of colors and words rocketed out of the once-empty vault. Sigmund shifted back in surprise, fearfully gazing at the sudden torrent that was unleashed into the area around him. In the split second before they condensed and spiraled towards him, he glanced ahead, and saw that the Gatekeeper was no longer standing where he once was. The torrent had consumed him.
As the colors enveloped him, he saw images and words quickly flash and zip past his vision. Yet he saw all of it with his mind’s eye, and processed every detail, every bit of his past. He saw what would have been unbelievable to some, but he knew all of it to be true.
When the dream finally shattered, Sigmund woke up. He panted, trying to recover from the most painful headache he ever had. He felt a few beads of sweat on his muzzle, which he quickly wiped off. Everything in the guest room remained in its place. He quickly closed his eyes, and searched his mind to check to see if the dream was for real. Much to his disdain, the dream, and everything that occurred in it, truly happened.
His eyes darted around the room, feeling as if somepony was surveying him. Now that the Gatekeeper was gone, he realized that there was nothing holding Celestia back from confronting him. He no longer held any bargaining chips to keep her away. It was only a matter of time before she would make her move.
He would have to lie to his friends, and act as though he did not remember his past, just to give him more time to think everything through. At some point, he would have to speak to them, along with Celestia. The confrontation would have to be planned in such a way that they would see, hear, and believe his story.
He was still unsure over some bits of his past, but if there was one thing he was certain about, it was what lay ahead for him. He now knew what he had to do... what he must do... for everypony’s safety, and for the sake of his past.
In the following days after the conversation he had with Twilight, Sigmund spoke to each of his friends. It was awkward going up to them to talk, but he managed to go through with it. As Twilight had told him, many of them had already passed off what happened as sheer coincidence. He also gave apologies for ignoring them for so long; he gave one especially to Rainbow Dash, since he had yelled at her.
Out of all the ponies, Fluttershy was the most difficult to talk to. He was expecting it to be the case, which is why he saved visiting her for last. But even when Twilight tagged along with him to Fluttershy’s cottage, the pegasus wouldn’t speak. She would only look the other way, responding to him with either a nod or a shake of her head. Before it could get any worse, he apologized for the disruption and left. When he went the next day, Big Macintosh was there. The stallion used his relationship with Fluttershy to get her talking, giving Sigmund the chance to speak to her properly. If it wasn’t for Macintosh, then it would have been much harder to sort things out.
Sigmund’s life wasn’t the only one slowly returning to normal. Big Macintosh had made a full recovery from the injuries he received from the manticore. Believing that he had a lot of work to catch up on, he put aside Fluttershy’s concern to help his sister on the farm. Rainbow Dash’s leg was healed as well, taking away her excuse to procrastinate on work.
Right now, Sigmund was heading back to the library with Twilight after helping with some decorations at Sugarcube Corner. They had plenty of other things to talk about, but he chose to bring up a topic that had been on his mind for a week.
“Twilight... I have an idea on how to solve my memory problem once and for all.” It was a strange thing to bring up at that moment, but he knew Twilight would take interest.
“You do?” she asked eagerly. “What is it?”
“Well... a few months ago, I was found in Everfree Forest in some sort of cave,” he said. “I plan on finding this cave tomorrow.”
Twilight’s jaw dropped, meaning that her eagerness had vanished. “That’s... not a very safe idea.”
He knew that already. After all, the manticore came from the Everfree Forest, and it was only one out of many predators. “That’s true... but... I’m thinking that if I find this cave, then maybe I can remember something. To me, whatever there is to be uncovered would be worth the risks.”
Twilight looked unconvinced. “The Everfree forest is huge... not to mention it isn’t quite mapped out yet. You’d be wasting your time looking for it.”
“Like I haven’t been wasting time here researching. I mean, I enjoy studying with you, Twilight, but let’s face it; reading through those books isn’t helping. One of the explorers who originally found me should know the directions, so I’ll ask him.”
“But that doesn’t rule out the fact that the forest is dangerous.”
“By myself... it would be, but with another pony with me, it would be safer.”
Before Twilight could open her mouth to respond, somepony interrupted her. “You’re heading into the Everfree forest?” Looking up, he saw Rainbow Dash standing on a nearby cloud, eavesdropping on their conversation. “It’s been pretty boring around here lately. Mind if I tag along?”
“Uh... It’s not necessary, Rainbow,” he said.
“Nah, I’m up for some adventure. Heck... maybe the others would like to come. I’ll spread the word.” Sigmund was about to speak up again, but Rainbow Dash had already flown off, vanishing from his sight.
“Well...” said Twilight, “I’ll come along. Plus, I’ve been in the forest plenty of times now already, so I could definitely help you.”
He smiled. “Thanks, Twilight. I’ll get the directions, then.”
“And I’ll go back to the library to prepare. See you later!”
With that, she ran off down the road, leaving him in the middle of town. Watching her go, he felt guilty. He didn’t want to lie, but it was necessary. The truth was something that had to be told at the right time. If he could tell Twilight, then that would be enough. He hoped that his plan would not end badly for any of the ponies going with him.
There was a thick amount of greenery in front of him, which was undoubtedly part of the Everfree forest. He was familiar enough with the forest’s edge, having gone into it during his week-long isolation from Ponyville. It didn’t seem so menacing, but it was the place that everypony stayed away from. With that knowledge, he wondered why he was not feared by the townsfolk when he first showed up, since he had been found in the very depths of the woods.
Sigmund turned to the other six ponies. They each had their own saddlebag, yet they were of varying shapes and sizes. Some of the bags, such as Rarity’s, were over-packed. Looking at each of the ponies, he felt surprised. He really couldn’t believe that all of them were there to aid him, even after what happened two weeks ago. However, this only made him feel more guilty, rather than relieved or happy.
“I guess Spike isn’t coming along?” he asked Twilight, dismissing the emotion.
She shook her head. “No, he had to go to Canterlot today for official business.”
“What about Big Macintosh?”
Sigmund expected Applejack to answer, but Fluttershy spoke up instead. “He’s just busy with work... and he said he would run some errands for my cottage while I’m gone...” She put on a small, yet noticeable blush.
“Oh, Fluttershy!” said Pinkie, pushing her head into the pegasus’ vision. “That reminds me! When you two finally get married, can I plan the after-party? Huh? Huh?” Fluttershy quickly flushed, and knelt down into an invisible shell.
“Pinkie Pie, it’s too early to bring something like that up...” said Rarity. “But... since the topic’s in the air now... you will be using one of my wedding gowns for it, right, darling?” The pegasus’ entire face reddened.
“Oh come now, girls, leave ‘er be. They’re just friends is all.” She glanced towards Fluttershy and gave her a wink, increasing the level of Fluttershy’s heavy blush rather than diminish it.
“Uh... did you all forget what we’re here for?” said Twilight, attempting to get them back on track.
“Yeah, enough with all the lovey-dovey stuff...” added Rainbow Dash. “It’s making boring even more boring... if that’s even possible...” She looked at Sigmund. “Please tell me we’re about to get going.”
“If everypony is ready, then we’ll go.” They nodded, including the yellow pegasus, who was too embarrassed to speak. “Okay, then.” He peered off down the rugged path of the forest.
Knowing what he had to find, he walked forward, with the others following behind him.
As they went deeper into the forest, Sigmund could understand why the residents of Ponyville tried their best to stay away. Besides the rumored creatures that lurked about, the forest as a whole had a creepy aura to it. Birds chimed in a strange, uncoordinated manner, unlike the ones in Ponyville. At times, random fog clouds descended upon them. There was also the eerie feeling of being watched. Apparently most ponies felt the same thing, but they felt they were being observed by the creatures of the forest. Sigmund knew that, if he was being watched, there was one pony doing it. He could only hope, though, that he was wrong.
He also noticed the tree branches above them were becoming thicker and more clustered, blocking out most of the sunlight. It explained why Rainbow Dash was on the ground with them instead of flying overhead to get a bird’s eye view. They had apparently gone into the forest numerous times, but they still looked edgy.
While he pondered over this, he was careful to not let his thoughts phase him out of reality, since he needed to focus on the directions the explorer gave him before. There were key features of the forest he needed to look out for that were part of the directions.
After an hour of walking around, talking, thinking and laughing, they all settled down in one spot to rest.
On their break, Twilight sat on the grass in a sun-lit spot, and removed a book from her saddlebag which she had brought along with her. But despite her efforts to read the words on the page, she would occasionally glance at the colt sitting a short distance away.
Throughout the entire walk, Sigmund was mostly quiet. His normal disposition was different from all the other times. Whenever she or the others involved him in conversation, he would only say a few words, and then look ahead. He was focused on other things.
For some reason, she thought back to months ago, when she first saw him lying on a hospital bed. He seemed confused, strange and helpless back then. But as time progressed, he made friends, remembered bits of his past, and changed the way he acted. In only a few months, he had gained a demeanor of confidence, determination and knowledge. It was impressive to see such a gradual change in her friend. Seeing him act like this, she couldn’t help but smile.
In contrast to Sigmund’s attitude, however, her friends were treating the trip as a get-together. This only made it harder for her to focus on the book.
“Oh, dear, my mane! Ugh... look at all this dirt.”
“Rarity... we’re in the Everfree forest. Whadya’ expect? A salon?”
“Well... no... but... now that you mention it, that sounds like a marvelous idea. I can imagine dozens of weary travelers lining up in the only salon for miles...”
“Oh oh!” said Pinkie Pie, joining in the conversation. “How about a bakery as well? That way I can throw creepy Nightmare Night parties!”
“I-I don’t think I would go to them... it would too scary...” said Fluttershy quietly.
“Oh, don’t worry, Fluttershy. I’m sure your big, strong boyfriend would protect you!” said Rainbow Dash, laughing. Fluttershy blushed in the same manner as before as some of the others joined in.
Like before, Twilight glanced back to where Sigmund was sitting only to see that he was no longer there. Looking around, she saw him walking through a few bushes, and disappearing among them. The others were facing away, though, so they hadn’t noticed. She gave into curiosity, and, after putting her book away, got up to follow him.
It didn’t take her long to see Sigmund again. His back was turned to her as he overlooked what appeared to be a ditch. She approached quietly, but not as silently as she thought. Sigmund abruptly turned his head back to her, his eyes widening.
“Twilight, don’t come any closer,” he said quickly.
“Why not?” she asked, doing the opposite. This allowed her to see what was inside the small ditch.
It was a large creature with yellow fur, a red mane, and a pair of wings. Massive overall. She recognized the beast as the same one from two weeks ago: the manticore. With just a glance alone, she would have assumed that the creature was sleeping, and would have quickly fled to avoid waking it. Yet she had longer than a brief glance, allowing her to find out more.
Her stomach turned when she saw that it wasn’t sleeping, nor was it breathing.
“Oh, dear Celestia...” she said silently. She felt something tug her away, which grew in force. It turned out to be Sigmund’s foreleg, pulling her to look away from the ditch. “Was that..?”
“Yes. That was the same manticore,” he said plainly.
“But... it’s... how...”
“You told me the nurses released him back into the forest, right?”
“Well... yeah... but he wasn’t...”
“Three weeks ago, he lost his mind... literally. I’m guessing he couldn’t feed himself, so... he starved, or died of thirst.”
“But...” She looked down, wondering what to think and what to say.
“Twilight...” he said, “We aren’t going this way, so let’s not mention it to the others. They’ve forgotten all about what happened, and seeing... that... would only remind them. I don’t want to lose their trust in me. Now, of all times, I need for them to trust me.” Her head was still down, though. He brought one hoof up to her chin, and carefully raised her head, letting her look him in the eye. “Please, don’t tell the others.”
Even though she was confused, she found some sort of comfort in his eyes. There was something about them that was different from when she first met him. She could see, though, that he was counting on her.
After a few silent moments of looking into his golden irises, she said, “...I won’t...”
He smiled, bringing his hoof back down to the ground. “Thanks, Twilight. Come on, it’s time we keep moving. We should be close to the cave.”
He started walking back, yet stopped, noticing that Twilight wasn’t moving. Seeing him peer at her curiously, she snapped back to reality and followed him, moving away from the ditch that contained the creature. Sigmund did not seem bothered by what they both saw, so she did her best to not let it bother her as well
When they first started their trip into the forest, Sigmund hoped that he wouldn’t run into anymore creatures. But he had wandered off for a moment, and came across a ditch; and in that ditch, out of all possible creatures and things, was the manticore from two weeks ago. During the first moments when he saw its lifeless body, he was speechless, his fear rising as the seconds passed. But after noticing Twilight react, he regained his composure, and resolved to calm the unicorn down. Thankfully, his attempt worked, judging on how the unicorn was interacting normally with the others.
Walking as a group again, they reached an open, tree-less space at the bottom of a cliff. Recognizing it from the directions he was given, he stopped. The others did so, too, but glanced up at the tall rock wall away.
“Uh... are you sure this is the right way, Sigmund? This seems a little too steep for us to climb.”
“Heh, no problem,” said Rainbow Dash, extending her wings out, “I’ll just fly up and take a look.”
“There’s no need, Rainbow,” he said before she could take off. “According to the directions, we’re already here.”
Puzzled, the others glanced around, seeing nothing of interest.
“Are you sure?” asked Twilight.
Sigmund nodded. “The explorer told me that there was an entrance they nearly missed here.” He carefully gazed around the cliff, soon noticing a small, curved mark dug into the side of a rock.
“There,” he said, pointing towards the mark. “He made that mark near the entrance when they first saw it, so they could investigate it later.”
Approaching the mark, they saw a small opening that they originally couldn’t see from their position. The light only went Sigmund reached into his saddlebag with his mouth, and pulled out a lantern. But even after it was lit, the cave remained mostly dark.
“Twilight, Rarity, you both know a spell of illumination, right?”
“Yep. It’s pretty simple,” answered Twilight.
“Yet so elegant when used properly...” added Rarity. Applejack and Rainbow Dash rolled their eyes slightly.
“I’m sure it is, Rarity,” he replied, “but we don’t really need elegance right now... sorry.” He gazed back to the darkness of the cave. “It looks like this part of the cave is large enough for us to walk in a two column formation. I’ll be in the front, and you both should spread yourselves out so that we can all see where we’re stepping.” The other ponies glanced around, likely finding it strange that he was suddenly giving them directions, but they got into the designated formation without a problem.
“Let’s go in, shall we?” He held onto his lantern with his mouth, and walked in. Twilight and Rarity casted their light spell, their horns visibly glowing in the daylight. Nodding to each other, the ponies quickly trotted after him.
The passage grew wider, and her friends were already losing formation because of it. Sigmund didn’t mind, though, probably because he could still see them in the light. The others talked silently, not wanting to raise their voices. Whenever somepony did, an unsettling echo would bounce across the cave walls.
Fluttershy was glancing down in both directions, chattering her teeth together out of fright. The dark still frightened her, even with six other ponies around her.
“Oh, come on, Fluttershy,” whispered Rainbow Dash, “it’s not that bad. No monster is gonna come out of nowhere.”
Just then, a quiet growl came from behind them. Rainbow Dash yelped, and flung herself away from where the noise came from. She turned around quickly, expecting some gruesome monster, but only saw her bright pink friend giggling in the place of where the monster should have been. The others also giggled, including Fluttershy.
“Pinkie Pie!” said Rainbow angrily, her face reddening from embarrassment.
“Shhh...” said Sigmund, getting their attention. “Here... I think this is the spot where they found me.”
The others poked their heads over him, examining the spot he pointed at. It was like every other part of the cave.
“Alrighty, then... so we found it,” said Applejack. “Does it ring any bells?”
He shook his head. “It’s not the exact spot that I’m looking for. They said I was crawling when they first saw me. I had to be crawling from somewhere, which means we have to go down a little more.”
He walked a little bit forward, his lantern illuminating three different passages.
“Should we split up?” asked Twilight. Hearing the idea, Fluttershy squeaked out of fear.
“That sounds like a bad idea. Besides... there’s no need to. I already know where to go.” He gestured down one path, where a thick impression was left in the dirt. “That must be the track that I left while crawling. I couldn’t have crawled for a long distance, so it must be close,” he said, looking down the tunnel with determined eyes.
“Pardon me, Sigmund...” said Twilight, “but what must be close?”
He was already trotting down the pathway, though, so he hadn’t heard her. Confused, she glanced at her friends, who only shrugged, and followed him down. But as Twilight walked with them, she felt bothered by Sigmund’s choice of words. Maybe it was an accident, but what exactly did he mean by “it”?
Using her horn, Twilight illuminated what was in front of her. Only the floor and the walls beside her were visible. She could easily brighten her horn to remove most of the darkness, but doing so could blind somepony. After only a minute, something else made itself visible to them. There was another wall, signifying the end of the path.
“Uh... sugarcube... if ah’m not mistaken... this here sure looks like a dead end.”
“We may have gone down the wrong one,” said Twilight. “Let’s go back, Sigmund.”
All of them waited for Sigmund to say something, but he didn’t so much as look at them. He trotted closer to the end, the lantern in his mouth illuminating its surface. Upon closer examination, the wall wasn’t curvy or dark gray like the rest of the cave. It appeared to be completely flat, despite a few small indentations. He then reached out with his front hoof, and gently tapped the flat wall a few times, causing a strange, panging noise to echo past them.
“Okay... that seems out of the ordinary...” said Twilight. “What are you doing now?”
Everypony watched as he put his lantern down, placed both hooves against the wall, and pushed forward. The wall did not budge at first, but slowly slid back, creaking loudly. It opened up, revealing another pitch black section of the cave.
“Ooooh!” said Pinkie, breaking the silence. “I think we found a dungeon! I call dibs on armor!” Confused, everypony, including Sigmund, glanced at the party pony. “What? I’ve played with Spike before.”
Disregarding the strange comment, Sigmund picked up his lantern, and then went ahead. His hoofsteps were now making panging sounds, rather than the silent, clopping noise they made the surface. Intrigued, the other ponies followed him inside. There were now seven sets of hooves creating the noise.
Now the cave was wider, giving them more space to spread out. Although the new section was mostly dark, it had a very unnatural feel. The walls were nearly perpendicular to the ground, rather than curvy. While the other ponies were looking around, Sigmund continued to gaze ahead. Judging on his expression, he wasn’t phased by any of what they could see.
After deciding that enough was enough, Twilight trotted a little faster to catch up to him.
“Why aren’t you interested in this, Sigmund?” she whispered. The other ponies were still a few steps behind them. Twilight didn’t want them overhearing, which was why she kept her voice low.
“What makes you say that?” he asked just as quietly.
“Well... If this is where you came from... I would think that you would be really surprised by everything. Do you know what this place is?” Twilight waited for an answer, but he wasn’t even glancing at her. “Sigmund... did you hear me?”
Before the unicorn could say anything more on the issue, an arched, doorway-like hole was illuminated. Sigmund halted abruptly, and so did every other pony.
“Listen...” he said, turning to face them all, “I need to go on ahead. Can you all stay here for now?”
“What?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Oh c’mon, Sigmund. This place is so... spooky. This totally calls for some exploration.”
“You can do that later, Rainbow. I’ll be back soon enough.” Rainbow crossed her forelegs together grumpily.
Twilight felt like speaking up, but she fell silent when Sigmund looked her way. He was still very calm, and that calmness made her second-guess her choice on confronting him. Picking up the lantern, he went through the open part of the wall, leaving them in the strange part of the cave by themselves.
“Oh my... dusty, dusty, dusty...” commented Rarity, running her hoof against the floor. Twilight walked alongside the walls of the room, her hoof nudging aside any of the objects on the floor, releasing pangs across the room. “Twilight, darling... don’t do that. You’re kicking the dust into the air. I’ll have wash my mane for hours!”
Twilight ignored her friend’s complaining, and continued inspecting the walls. Now that she was up close to them, she could spot details that she couldn’t make out from afar. Some of it was shiny, while other parts were rusted. She could make out several cracks, and a part of the ceiling that bulged inward. She recognized that that part belonged to the cavern walls they were already familiar with.
“Say Twilight... what are ya doin’ exactly?” asked Applejack.
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m checking around here. I want to find out what this place is.”
“I don’t know, Twilight...” said Fluttershy. “This place seems creepy enough... I think we should just leave it all to Sigmund. I mean... he looks like he has it under control... and the sooner we’re out of here the better, right?”
“Fluttershy, that’s the thing. He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t even care about the architecture of this part of the cave, or any of the other stuff we’ve passed. It’s like he’s been... expecting it all.”
“Maybe he’s throwing a surprise party for us!” said Pinkie loudly. Up until Pinkie spoke, all of the ponies were keeping their voices low. Once the echoes of her friend’s voice ceased, Twilight quickly glared at her friend, signalling for her to stop talking.
Twilight quietly levitated a broken, shiny object off the ground to examine it. Just as soon as she did so, it broke into a few dozen pieces. Even with the light touch of her magic, it fell apart.
“Meh... I just wish he brought us along,” said Rainbow, leaning against the wall. “It’s boring in here. I can’t even fly around since the ceiling’s so low.” Without much care, Rainbow kicked what she was leaning against, causing a loud pang to echo through the room.
“Rainbow!” whispered Twilight loudly. She feared Sigmund would hear it, and would come back suspecting something. “Wait... wait... do any of you hear that?”
Their voices fell to a hush, and they listened to their surroundings. At first, there sounded completely quiet, but they could hear something. Like Twilight had heard, there was a consistent, humming noise. “Uh...” said Fluttershy, “I think... the noise is coming from where Rainbow Dash kicked.”
“Huh?” Rainbow held her ear up to the wall which she was leaning on. “Hey, you’re right. Should I kick it again?”
“No... no...” said Twilight, trying to avoid any more loud noises. “Let me see it first.”
She approached the large, sound-producing object. Upon her approach, something lit up. While most of her friends gasped, Fluttershy squeaked and shrank back. They slowly stepped forward, gazing at the dimmed light.
They all stared at the small, lit part of the wall, which wasn’t too bright. Twilight squinted to look at what the glow was displaying. Dirt was in the way, though, obscuring some of the light.
The legible parts read:
NAME: Harrison, Sigmund...
GENDER: M BIRTH...
ADDITIONAL NOTES: Major: Psych...
“S-I-G-M-U-N-D,” said Pinkie, running her hoof under the part of the light. “That’s how ya spell his name, right?”
“Yeah,” said Applejack. “Quite the find, if ya ask me. He’d probably take an interest in... whatever this contraption is. Do’ya think we should go fetch him, Twilight?”
“No... not yet,” said Twilight, still gazing at the light. In any other situation, she would have been busy analyzing the strange machine down to its tiniest detail, but something else caught her eye, taking her attention away from anything else. Another small part of the wall flickered on, revealing an image of some sort. “Look.” She pointed to the other part of the screen. “It has something else on it.”
Everypony glimpsed at where her hoof was pointing. The light was slowly dimming, and she couldn’t make out any details. She could all see a blackened figure, standing up in an strange way. Sort of like... an upright dog, except it wasn’t slouching like one. The heightened ears were not present. She could tell, without a doubt in her mind, that the creature portrayed was not a pony, nor any other creature she knew of.
“What kind of animal is that?” asked Fluttershy. “I mean... I haven’t seen anything shaped like it before...”
“Uh... Twi’,” said Applejack, pointing to below the picture, “any idea why Sigmund’s name is under it?”
Twilight didn’t hear her friend’s question. She was trying to piece together everything, yet she did not know how to make sense of it all. “I don’t know,” was the only response she could manage. “I think that... maybe...” Theories were popping into her head, but none of them made any sense. Still, all the other ponies were waiting on her to say something. “Maybe...”
“Maybe what, Twilight?” asked something behind them.
Each of them jumped at the familiar voice. Almost guiltily, they all turned simultaneously to face the shadows.
“Well... go on,” said Sigmund, emerging from the darkness. “What were you going to say?”
The others glanced to Twilight. Seeing him, she felt like she was in trouble, although his face showed no signs of anger or resentment. “We saw your name on this... thing,” she said, biting her lip slightly. Now that Sigmund was here, she didn’t want to go spouting out any theories.
“Really?” he asked, his eyes widening. “Let me see.” The others stepped out of his way as he calmly walked over to it. But before he could get a good look, a loud, crackling noise replaced the humming noise. It quickly ceased, and the glowing image dimmed to nothing. Now silence hung in the strange room, and no pony dared to break it. Sigmund did, though.
“Huh... too bad,” he said. The simple three words struck a chord somewhere in Twilight.
“Too bad?” muttered Twilight. Out of all the things he could possibly say, he said that? She was expecting a negative reaction, and yet he was still acting so... uncaring. In front of him was a contraption which could have given him a clue to his past, and he didn’t give it much attention at all.
“Too bad?!” she said loudly, causing all of her friends to look towards her. “That’s all you have to say?!” She did not care that she was raising her voice, now that he was between them all.
“It’s all that needs to be said, Twilight,” he said, still looking at the wall that was once lit. He was acting very reserved, but this time, that side of him was unwelcome.
“All that needs to be said? There’s more to it than that, Sigmund. You’re lying to us.” She felt angry now. An hour ago, the green colt had trusted her to keep silent about the manticore, but he didn’t trust her enough to tell her the truth.
Then it dawned on her. She could think of only one explanation for why Sigmund was being so... different. He had been expecting it all because he knew it would be there. And there was only one way that he could have known.
“You...” she began, “remember everything, don’t you.”
And just like that, everypony’s stares shifted to Sigmund. All of their expressions, besides Twilight’s, were puzzled. He did not reply, though, as he looked down.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. Twilight knew that if he was apologizing, she was definitely right. He remembered his past... and he had lied to them. But she wasn’t expecting an apology, and hearing one made her feel completely different. Her anger faded away, since something had changed in the colt. He wasn’t acting calm like before, nor was he acting emotionless. His eyes casted down, and his expression changed to that of sadness. Part of her feared that she shouldn’t have raised her voice.
“I didn’t mean to make you angry, Twilight,” he said, looking at her directly. “I only did what I thought was necessary. Now... ” He gazed around at them. “I owe you all an explanation.”
“An explanation of what, Sigmund?” The voice echoed through the room. Everypony glanced at each other, wondering who had said it. Each pair of eyes surveyed the room before stopping on the entrance, the source of the familiar voice.
Although they could not see past the darkness of the entrance, they heard the sound of hoofsteps echo in after the voice. The walking figure was slowly illuminated. The tall figure had a white coat, and a long, wavy, multi-colored mane. There was no doubt in anypony’s mind who was standing by the entrance.
Each pony stood in their place. Although Twilight and her friends bowed by instinct, Sigmund remained standing as Princess Celestia walked towards them.
The alicorn took a long gaze around the room. She tapped her hoof against the nearest wall, releasing a small pang across the room. “Well... this is interesting...” Her gaze wandered their surroundings, scrutinizing every shiny object and rusted, metallic piece. Then, her horn glowed, and four orbs of light appeared, scattering across the room to the corners, illuminating every inch of surface. The orbs themselves weren’t blinding to look at, but they still could light up the entire room.
“Princess...” said Twilight, “what are you doing here?”
“I will be truthful, my faithful student. I followed you all here to speak to Sigmund. For the past week... I have been waiting for an opportunity to do so while no other pony was around, but that chance hasn’t come. Then I heard he was going into the Everfree forest with you all. I must say, though, that I was not expecting him to bring you to this place.”
“But...” said Twilight, glancing back at Sigmund. Moments ago, she was angry at the colt, but now that feeling was gone. “Why do you want to talk to him?”
“For several reasons, my faithful student,” replied Celestia. The finality in her tone made Twilight shrink back, not wanting to ask anything else. One pony spoke up, though.
“Your highness,” said Sigmund, “because this involves me... might I ask what those reasons are? I think everypony would like to know them at this point.”
Celestia glanced at the other ponies. She seemed almost... unwilling to divulge more, but she sighed slightly, and looked back to him.
“When I first heard about your amnesia, Sigmund, I did not give it much thought. There were many other things I had to focus on... so my interest was elsewhere. But your case concerned my faithful student, which is why I decided to help you. You were found in the Everfree Forest, unconscious and without memories, but that does not seem completely out of the ordinary.
“What happened to spark my interest in you was your cutie mark. You see... Twilight Sparkle sent me an illustration of your mark once... and, upon first glance, I could not recall anything like it before. I first investigated by checking a book of Equestrian symbols, yet your symbol was not in it. I was puzzled... and I found myself looking into other kinds of books. They were from other kingdoms, and contained many other special symbols, yet your cutie mark wasn’t among them, either.
“You were a mystery... and I became more intrigued in the mystery that I couldn’t solve. As my intrigue grew, the more I looked forward to visiting you. I doubted that you could have answered the questions... so I decided to find the answers myself. Utilizing a powerful spell, I entered your mind to release your memories. Not only would you understand your past, but I would also understand what your symbol truly meant.
“Yet... there was something that prevented me from doing that. While going through your mind, I confronted a being who locked away your memories. He refused to let me follow through with my plan. When I tried to open it myself... he responded by forcibly removing me from your mind. I could not tell you of what transpired, since the being threatened to keep your memories locked away forever. So I had to lie, which I apologize for, my faithful student.”
“He gave himself a name, your highness,” Sigmund interrupted. “Who is to say you aren’t speaking to the Gatekeeper right now?” While the others shot him another puzzled glance, Celestia shut her mouth. For a very brief moment, her calm and collected demeanor changed completely.
“Don’t worry, Princess,” said Sigmund, “I am not the Gatekeeper. He no longer exists.”
Her expression slowly reverted. “I take it that he has returned your memories, then. I don’t see how else you could know about him. He did state how careful he was about hiding his presence.
“Because ‘the Gatekeeper’ prevented me from releasing your memories,” said Celestia, continuing where she left off, “does not mean I received nothing from it. Shortly after the spell ended, I did find out what your special talent is: your ability to study the mind.
“To me... that piece of information explained far more than you thought it did at the time. In the weeks since that visit... you have been a prime interest to me. I formulated new questions. What could be so important for the Gatekeeper to hide? Why did you have to go through with such a long plan? He stated that you had to be ready... but for what, exactly?
“Then... my questions were answered two weeks ago... after I heard about what happened with the manticore.”
The mention of the beast caused Twilight’s friends to glance at each other. After all the talk about ‘the Gatekeeper’, the manticore incident was the first topic they could understand. “Y-You knew about that?” asked Twilight.
“Certainly, Twilight. Whenever a creature leaves the Everfree Forest... I tend to receive word about it right away. It was different this time... as the mayor of Ponyville had stressed in her letter. I made an unscheduled visit to see what was wrong... and I saw the manticore’s condition. From first glance, the creature no longer had any instincts. I tried to perform my mental spell on it... except, this time, the spell wouldn’t work. There wasn’t any mind to explore, meaning that there was absolutely nothing left.
“I was disturbed, really. I pondered over what I saw for a while... and I eventually drew my conclusions to you, Sigmund. After all, you have shown yourself to be a very different pony. You did the impossible... and forced me from your mind. You also happen to be a pony whose special talent relates to minds. From that information, I deduced that you may have caused the irreversible damage to the manticore.
“I then asked myself: what if your special talent is not only relating to minds... but to something more narrow? Your mental guardian made is clear to me that he wanted you to be ready for something. Would this ‘something’ be... an ability of a sort? Was he preparing you so that you could obtain the power to destroy minds?
“Of course... I do not have any more proof than that, which is why I am confronting you now, Sigmund. I wish to know the truth of the matter.” She looked down at him, and, in a low voice, asked, “Were you the one who killed the manticore?”
Her choice in words shocked the other ponies. Twilight felt herself moving into a shell of a sort, since she already knew what Sigmund had done. This was bad, for she hoped that everypony had forgotten about it all... but now...
Twilight didn’t care that Sigmund lied to her. She chose that moment to intervene. “No!” she said, taking a step forward, attracting the attention of her mentor. “Of course not! Whatever happened has nothing to do with Sigmund.”
“Twilight...” said a voice behind her.
Twilight disregarded it. “I don’t think-”
“Twilight.” This time the voice was stronger and firmer than before, causing her to stop. She felt the light touch of a hoof on her shoulder. “It’s okay...” said Sigmund, “the princess would have found out eventually.” He removed his hoof, and walked past the other ponies into clear view of Celestia.
“I am. Like you said... I did not kill him physically. Unfortunately, there is no other way to put it. In my anger, I destroyed the beast’s mind.” Twilight was confused by the conviction in the colt’s voice. A week ago, Sigmund feared what would happen if somepony else found out... but now he had openly admitted it in front of everypony.
For a moment, Celestia broke eye-contact, looking down. “If that is the truth, Sigmund, then you are what I feared. You are a pony who has a power that can greatly harm Equestria as a whole.”
“That isn’t all, your majesty,” he said. “That can’t be all that is concerning you... now.”
“Yes, you’re right, and it relates to this strange room we are in. This room has architecture unlike anything ponykind can create. I have an explanation on what this place is, and why you such an untraceable cutie mark.” She paused, gazing across the room.
“Your symbol is from long ago. It is from a time that we, and any other civilization, have no record of. You see, I have heard myths of an elder species. They were said to be superior in unimaginable ways. I think this strangely-designed room is part of that era. Your cutie mark... plus the fact that you came from this room, makes me believe that you have connections to them. Legends became myths, myths became rumors, and rumors faded away, but I still remembered them. They were simply referred to as... the Ancients.”
There was another confused silence in the room. Sigmund stood there, though, looking at the Princess.
“Because your memories have been returned, you already know all of this already. Am I right when I say you are connected to that era in some way?” asked Celestia.
“Yes,” he answered. Some of his friends were slowly maneuvering away from him. He continued, though, as if he hadn’t noticed the loss in trust. “A week ago, the Gatekeeper gave me all of my memories, so I know what I am. Now... it’s time to tell you my part of the story.”
“There isn’t much left to tell, Sigmund...” the Princess responded. “I do not wish to encroach on this new subject too much, though. Let us return to the topic of your power.”
“What about it?”
“Well... I believe it would be better that you stay away from Twilight Sparkle and her friends. Every second you spend around them is more of a chance that your power will be used again. I do not wish to see anything else reduced to a similar state as the manticore had been. If you wish to speak your mind... we can carry this out in a safer environment.”
“It’s best that you hear my side of this entire situation, Celestia. Weren’t you interested in my memories to begin with? Why wait longer?”
“Indeed I was. But... I realize that I made a mistake. I took too many risks. You seem keen on elaborating on your past, though, and I will allow you to do so elsewhere.”
Celestia wanted them to be safe, but Sigmund knew what could happen to him if he agreed. “That sounds reasonable... but no, your majesty. My friends needs to hear what I have to say. I don’t want them to be left in the dark... which I have a feeling you’ll do once I tell you.”
“Unfortunately, Sigmund... I wasn’t giving you a choice on the matter.” Her horn glowed, and two bright lights appeared. Two ponies, clad in gold armor, were standing where those bright lights had once been. Just by appearance alone, anypony could tell that the two pegasi belonged to the Equestrian royal guard. Their eyes were wide as they glanced around, but after noticing the Princess, they quickly returned their focus to who was in front of them.
Celestia raised a hoof towards him. “Escort him with us. Use force, if necessary.”
The guards nodded, and made their way towards Sigmund, their hooves clanging heavily in their approach.
As the guards came closer, Sigmund gazed around the room. He saw his friends, sitting by, confused and frightened. He saw Celestia about to carry out a mistake from her assumptions. He saw the guards both coming towards him out of both obedience and confusion.
In any normal case, he would completely powerless to fight back. But now he possessed something that made him different. He had a power that would give him a say in the matter.
He looked at each of the guards, and they both stopped moving. It was as if their bodies froze in place.
“What are you both doing?” asked Celestia. Even when the guards were a meter away, Sigmund kept his calm expression, making no effort to hide his fearlessness. “What is going on, Sigmund?”
“I put them at an imbalance of fear and obedience,” he replied. “Although their obedience is high... fear is gradually overcoming it.” Both of the guards were trembling, and staring at him with widened eyes. Celestia’s jaw partially dropped.
“How about I put it this way. You view me as a pony, correct? Instead of seeing me that way, they perceive me to be a frightening creature. They are too scared to attack the creature in front of them. Even if they are ordered to do so, they will not risk their lives in such a manner. Right now they can recover from such a thing... but if I let this fear carry on, it could negatively affect their minds as a whole.”
He took the opportunity to look directly towards Celestia, who was busy grasping the turn the situation took. Just then, he saw her horn glow brightly, and the room turned slightly darker than before. Sigmund could sense something, though, encroaching into him. Without so much as moving, or thinking into it, he effortlessly expelled the force from his mind. The darkness was reverted, illuminating the entire room. Celestia’s eyes widened at the same time, and the light coming from her horn ceased.
“Was that your mental spell, Princess? I recognize it from last time. If so, it won’t work. My power can do much more, without the requirement of magic.”
Again, she was lost for words. “...What is it that you want,” she said, staring at him. She was intimidating, but Sigmund avoided her stare by not looking directly into her eyes.
“Just let me speak my mind here... and now... and I will stop raising their fears.”
Celestia’s face said it all. She was unsure of what to do. In her speech, Sigmund understood that she did not understand the full range of his abilities. She never expected Sigmund to be able to target individual parts of a mind. While Celestia was busy devising her plan, his friends were giving him a look of intrigue and fear.
“Okay,” she said, looking at her two guards, who were starting to sweat. “Please... remove your grip over them.”
As the words left her lips, the guards collapsed onto the ground. From a distance, they appeared to be no longer moving, yet their quiet snoring showed otherwise.
In that brief moment, Sigmund moved a little bit closer to them, and shut his eyes tightly. He then said, “Now they have forgotten the feeling of fear they had... and this place entirely.” He looked up at Celestia, expecting for her to be in the same way as before. However, she was no longer standing normally. Her hooves were spread apart on the ground, her head was down, and the tip of her horn was pointed in his direction. For a moment, Sigmund felt fear rise within him, but he suppressed it.
A small tingling sensation made its way across his body, followed by a feeling of weightlessness. Some sort of magic was slowly enveloping him, encasing him. He tried to move his legs with all his strength, but each was restrained in the air. He tried to speak up, but he couldn’t even open his jaw.
Against his will, he was floating closer to Celestia, who was already making her own way towards the entrance. In this situation, Sigmund could not fight back, no matter how much he wished to. Instinct told him to use his ability, but he did not want to risk mentally attacking Celestia, a greatly important pony to all of Equestria.
He closed his eyes, attempting to evaluate his options, yet none turned up. Perhaps it was better for him to be taken away. Maybe he was wrong for bringing the other ponies to this place.
“Princess! No! Don’t take him!” The familiar voice ended his thoughts, making him focus back onto reality. Opening his eyes, he saw Twilight had spoken, and leaped into Celestia’s way, blocking the exit.
“Twilight... I understand that he is your friend, but you must step aside...” Celestia said. “His power is beyond what I feared it to be. I need to take him with me now before he uses his power again on any of us... like he did with the manticore... and my guards...”
“But Princess... you’re...” Twilight fell silent, and looked down at the ground. She did not budge, though, and remained standing in front of the entrance. “You’re wrong.”
“I’m wrong?” Reluctantly, Celestia took her eyes off of Sigmund, and towards her student. “About what? He does have mental powers... as we all have witnessed.”
“No... not about his power. You’re wrong about the entire manticore thing. He didn’t... destroy its mind to harm it... He destroyed its mind to protect us!”
“The manticore...” Twilight continued, “it was on a rampage. It first attacked Applejack’s brother... and really hurt him. When we tried to stop it... it went after us, too. Some of us got hurt... and Sigmund only did what he did to prevent it from doing worse.”
“...What?” The princess’ eyes opened fully. Her glowing horn started to diminish in its brightness. At the same time, Sigmund felt the weight of the world slowly return to his body. Celestia looked at the other ponies. “Is this true?” she asked them.
Initially, the rest of the ponies did not respond, but one earth pony stepped forward. “Well... Ah reckon it’s true. That angry critter really did a number on us... an’ my brother too.” said Applejack, glancing back at Sigmund with a smile. “It was only when Sigmund here got mad at it did it stop. Ah can’t really tell’ya what happened exactly... but... heck... I think he might’ve saved some of us by doing that... right, girls?”
“Right!” said Rainbow Dash, the next bravest pony. “I mean... it was kind of a crazy moment... but if Sigmund didn’t do his own version of ‘The Stare’, that manticore probably would have given me waayyy more than a broken leg.”
Soon enough, each of the other ponies crowded around Twilight. Together they recounted their perspectives of the event of that day; all of them were on his side. Celestia speechlessly stood there while her horn’s energy slowly faded away. Sigmund also had a bit of a baffled expression while watching the scene before him. His friends’ support was something he was not expecting in the alicorn’s presence. He still remembered the way they looked at him after the incident... so why were they sticking up for him now? Even after what they just saw and heard, they still trusted him. He wasn’t sure whether it was out of friendship, or confusion.
Ending her friend’s combined voices, Twilight said, “He... he hasn’t done anything wrong. All he wants right now is his voice to be heard.” Twilight looked back at Sigmund. A smile had taken the place of the fearful gaze that was there minutes ago. “Princess... please.”
Celestia gazed down at each of the six faces before looking back to Sigmund. “Can I trust my loyal subjects, Sigmund?”
“You don’t trust us?” asked Twilight. “Even Applejack says it’s true, and she represents the element of honesty.”
“It is not that I do not, Twilight,” she said, looking back at him. “Sigmund... is it possible, with your ability, for you to have manipulated them in some way to make them believe what they’re saying is true? Could this be a distraction you are using to slip away? I am only considering this now since it now seems your ability is more complex than just destroying minds.”
“Princess,” he said before the others could give the idea much thought, “if I really wanted to flee... I would have altered your mind and done so by now. But... I care about my friends. Twilight, Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie, Applejack, Rarity... all of them. I never had the mental ability when I first woke up... and they all became my friends. It would make no sense... not to mention wouldn’t be morally right... to ‘manipulate’ them. After all they’ve done for me... after all that has happened... I think they, of all ponies, deserve a proper explanation.”
The doubt from his friends’ expressions vanished. Most of them were grinning at him. He smiled back, and looked back to Celestia, who was staring at the ground.
“I believe you, Sigmund...” said Celestia, raising her head up to look at him. “And since it means so much to you, you may tell your story here. It seems that you have greater control over your ability than I originally perceived... so you can speak to them without a problem. I expect from your their opinions about you that I will hear nothing but the truth.”
He responded, “I have already agreed with what you deduced about me. At this point, I have no way to lie, and no reason to. What I going to say... is the truth, and at the end of it, I can only trust you to believe me.”
Then Sigmund closed his eyes, thinking of the best way to explain to them. It was, in the end, his only chance to explain his past, and his future.
“Can you all follow me?” he asked them. “I would like to show you all something that’s a little further in.” All the other ponies glanced at each other, possibly wondering what his plan was.
“You can’t carry out with your explanation here?” asked Celestia. “This place does not seem very safe for us to walk through.”
“I went ahead already, your highness. It is stable, as long we don’t touch anything. In the chance that something caves in, you will teleport all of us back to the surface, right?”
“Of course,” she responded. At the same time, she looked down at her guards, who were still asleep. Her horn glowed, and they were enveloped in a whitish glow. Then they vanished out of thin air.
“If you are taking us somewhere,” she said, “they should be up on the surface.” One of the four orbs of light levitated towards the arched doorway. “You may lead on, Sigmund.”
“Okay, then,” he said. He turned around, and walked down the dark corridor he had gone through before. The orb of light illuminated most of the corridor, letting them see the damaged parts around them.
“Start by telling me this,” said Celestia, breaking the silence. “What are you?”
“An ‘Ancient’,” he said, not looking back. “I thought I already admitted to that.”
“Surely your kind wasn’t named that at the time. ‘Ancient’ is a term used to describe something old and forgotten. Why would anything call their civilization old and forgotten? I would like to know what the elder species had called itself... back then.”
“Well... you’re right. I guess it really has to have been a while for a civilization to be given that sort of name by another. But... yes, your majesty. At the time, we didn’t call ourselves the ‘Ancients’. We gave ourselves a more fitting name: humankind.
“Humans were the only form of intelligent life in the world. We didn’t have horns, or wings. In a way, we were all like earth ponies, except that we looked much different from them. Like ponies, humans were capable of thoughts, and emotions. Each human would be different from the other... and this didn’t just apply to the outside. Their personalities were of all different kinds... even though they all grew up in similar conditions.
“I found that idea very interesting as a child. How could we be so different? I wanted to decipher the many riddles that the mind posed. Because of those questions, I ended up choosing to dedicate my life to that study.
“I wanted to become, what was called at the time, a psychologist, or a person who researched subjects relating to the mind, like behavior. ‘The study of the mind’ is only a broad sense of the field, and, according to my cutie mark, I am still proficient in it. Even in my days as a student, I made some notable contributions to the field, and I probably would have made more over time. The ability I have... is just a side talent.
“I’m not sure if any of you would believe the idea of a civilization that covered the entire world. Humankind did, though. We were technologically advanced... if you all can guess by what you are seeing around you.” At this point, he slowed his pace, and the others did so as well.
“But... there were problems. Because of the differences in thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, we disagreed over several things. Sides would be chosen. Sometimes, problems would be resolved before anything bad would happen. Other times... we fought one another. There were even points in history when humankind was pushed to the very brink because of these disagreements. In these great conflicts, we narrowly avoided catastrophe.
“At the time, I knew about the state of civilization. I noted how violence was erupting across the world, and how corruption was putting sides against each other. Over time... I began to think that human society as a whole was going to have another great conflict. Other humans saw it the same way as me, but the remainder were more optimistic. In a way... I was a skeptic... cynic... whatever you would call it. That’s what many optimists viewed me to be when I accidentally stated my personal opinion. It was enough to ruin my career... and my future.
“However, I did not believe that we, as a species, were going to endure an actual catastrophe. Throughout our history, we always found a way to rise back up. Even in cases when diseases would ravage the surface of the world, or when populations were exterminated in wars, we always found a way to recover. That was my reasoning on what was going to happen. There was going to be another time of great conflict, and then society would rebound after a few years into a better age. I wanted to be in that promising future. I wanted a new life that couldn’t be offered at the time; a chance to start over from scratch.”
Then the hallway expanded, revealing a larger, metallic room. It was also rusted, but not quite as much as the previous room. However, the least-rusted object out of all was a large, oval-shaped contraption that stood in the middle. Parts of it were glass, and other parts had various rusted pipes and tubes connected to it. He stopped moving, letting them all glance around.
“And so... I volunteered for an... experiment. It was an experiment that needed only one participant, and would let me leave a time that I didn’t want to be in anymore. It was also something that remained a secret due to controversy.”
He pointed towards the oval object, returning everypony’s focus to it. “At the time, this was a brand new piece of technology, acting as a way to preserve my body and mind through time. I wouldn’t be able to tell if any sort of time has passed. I would simply ‘wake up’ decades later. There were plenty of risks involved... but I disregarded them. I really had nothing left to lose.”
“Nothing?” asked Twilight. “But... Sigmund... didn’t you have family? Friends? Didn’t you care that you leaving them behind?”
Her question brought up some memories in his mind. Silently, he looked away down the floor beneath him. He said, “Twilight... I would have hesitated if I did have ties left. I... no longer had any, so I went through with it.
“It wasn’t just the promise of a better life that made me want to participate, though. I thought it would also be interesting, since I would be the first human to leap through time in such a way. Every human wanted to go down in history for some notable accomplishment... so I thought that this would be mine.
“Because I could not perceive the outside world in the experiment... I had no way of knowing what happened. An entire sentient species just vanished... and I’m what’s left of it.”
“Although you could not tell, might you have an idea on what happened?” asked Celestia.
“Your guess is as good as mine, Princess. Maybe human civilization collapsed for a final time during a conflict. Maybe the world suffered from a great disaster or rampant disease. All I know is that, by being down here, I somehow dodged whatever happened. Because of the experiment itself... I also managed to escape the effects of time.
“During the time I spent in stasis,” he said, moving on with his story, “something... unexpected came up.” He raised a hoof to the side of his head. “While my body lay unmoving, part of my mind remained active. I could still think... in complete isolation. This part of my mind had centuries upon centuries within dream-time, an untold amount of years, to think without disruption. This part became separated from the rest of my ‘asleep’ mind. It became an individual entity... capable of devoting every last bit of mental power to thoughts.” Sigmund brought his gaze to the towering alicorn in the room. “Princess Celestia... this entity referred to itself as the Gatekeeper.
“‘He’ had lifetimes more than the average human to think. Because of this, he had much more time to develop. Yet while this part improved, the remainder of my mind slowly decayed. The Gatekeeper, noticing it, began doing whatever he could to solve it. Even with my mental deterioration... he knew that my mind could return back to its full potential. To do so, I would have to figure things out for myself again. Think of it like learning from your mistakes; there is no lesson to be learned if the meaning is simply told to you.
“To make me figure out who I was, he locked away my memories. That is why, in the beginning, I could not remember a single thing other than the basics. When the machinery finally failed, the Gatekeeper, being more active, assumed control, and used all his willpower to bring me outside this place. Eventually, the rest of my mind ‘woke up’ enough to suppress him, taking him away from the controls. Right when that happened, by chance alone, I was discovered by the ponies of Ponyville. I don’t know what would have happened to me if they hadn’t found me.
“When I became conscious again... the Gatekeeper worked in the back of my mind. Even while I was living a normal life in Ponyville, he kept track of my thoughts. As I began to mentally progress, he released my memories both for my sake, and to act as a drive for my mental progress. He also kept watch of my safety... to make sure that his plan for me would not be interrupted,” he said, looking towards the Princess.
“Which would explain why he went against me when I tried to do otherwise,” said Celestia. “Tell me, Sigmund. I have wondered over the Gatekeeper’s goals. Was he only doing this to give you the ability to alter minds? Or were humans naturally gifted with the ability?”
“Neither. The ability was something the Gatekeeper discovered himself. It was one of the results of his mental development during the stasis. I can assure that humans could not alter other minds. If a human had my abilities, they could have been a grave threat to civilization as a whole.”
“I see. Tell me, what happened to the Gatekeeper?”
“When the Gatekeeper gave me all my memories... he gave me his piece of the mind as well, making it whole. Because of that, my control over the ability is better. He is no longer a separate entity, but now a part of my collective thoughts that I am thankful to. He did all of this to me so that I would be ready to know the truth... and be able to make the right choices when it really mattered.” His voice drifted off as the Gatekeeper’s words resurfaced in his thoughts.
“Now,” he continued, “I am a pony. I’m not sure how it happened, but right now I’m assuming that magic changed me into one over time. Because of my transformation, I have to follow the new laws of nature, like with cutie marks. That is what my logic says, anyway. I do not want to think past that, because I have no way of explaining it. There was no such thing as magic in humankind’s time. The very fact that magic exists now turns half of what humankind knew about the world into nonsense.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Sigmund saw Twilight’s jaw drop. Those last bits of information probably stunned her. She had been living with the benefit of magic all her life, so she probably couldn’t understand a world without it.
“In these path few months, I have experienced a lot in my time here, good and bad. I am glad that, despite whatever could have happened years ago, a new civilization... a new world has risen up from the previous one.
“But...” he said, losing the optimistic tone, “what if somepony, or something, stumbles across a remnant of humankind?”
“A remnant?” asked Celestia. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Celestia, this room is a piece of that time. Even though I am a pony in all physical ways... I cannot say that I am not human. I still have my memories, and because of that fact, I am a living remnant of the past.
“There are some pieces that I remember from humankind’s past... pieces that could greatly harm the world if misused. However... most pieces aren’t as dangerous. But... even if you come across another insignificant piece, like this room, I think it’s best for ponykind not to find and reverse-engineer it. Humans, in their time, were never given shortcuts; their technology was something they improved and developed over centuries. I don’t know what sort of change could happen if pony civilization, or any civilization for that matter, made a sudden leap in progress from a discovery, but I’m certain that it wouldn’t be a good thing. Do you agree with my stance, Princess?”
“I suppose you’re right, Sigmund. I cannot stop ponykind from advancing... but I can see the outcome of its small advancements. I cannot predict the impact that larger shifts in technology could have... and I suppose that is dangerous. Where are these ‘pieces’, though?”
“I’m not so sure about that. I can infer from known facts that there is nothing else in Equestria. Yet I do not know anything about the lands outside of this kingdom. There could be something else out there... and I don’t know where it could lie. Because of that... I plan on leaving Equestria.”
Everypony’s jaws went agape simultaneously. Celestia’s eyes only flickered, but that was enough for him to tell that she was surprised as well.
“L-leave Equestria?” asked Twilight. “But... why?”
“I told you my reason. Although I had good times here, Twilight... I can’t continue it with this new knowledge in my mind. Everyday, I would be thinking about what could happen if I left these pieces to be discovered by others. Everything about Equestria, and perhaps the world, is fine the way it is... and I don’t want that to change.
“To prevent any changes, I am going to set out on a journey to find, and remove, those remnants. I may not have wings, which would make me faster... or a horn, which would let me use magic, but I have my memories... and my ability. Because of those, I have a chance of performing this quest to the end. For the sake of the new world, I will take that chance.
“That is my decision... but I still need to hear yours, Princess Celestia.” At the mention of her name, every other pony turned to face the sole alicorn in the room. “I believe that it is only right for you to decide my fate. For the most part, you know my story. You also understand my goals. In the event that this is the wrong thing to do... I assume that you understand what is right.”
With those words, he moved the spotlight back over to Celestia. Everypony was, once again, silent. Instead of staring at Sigmund, Celestia looked down towards the floor beneath her. Her eyes were half-closed, indicating that she was deep in thought.
Finally, she brought her head up. “Sigmund...” she began, “I would like to say that what you say of another civilization is strange. Throughout my life, I have never heard anything of an ancient civilization other than rumors or myths. Yet, as you said, this strange place is evidence, and you are evidence along with it. But even though you make a point, it is not those pieces that worry me the most right now. I have never heard any nears about any artifacts being dug up, so I believe them to be either nonexistent, or well-hidden. They are, in the end, just a passive threat.”
“In this case, I don’t want to take chances, your majesty,” said Sigmund.
“Right... However, you are a more present threat. You have a strange ability... a new power. A power which allows you to make large, significant changes to a mind without any sort of magical aid. Although it is of a different kind, I possess great power as well. I have expert control over my power, because of more than a thousand years of practice. Even Twilight Sparkle has had many years to tame her great magical potential... but there are still moments when she loses control.
“You, on the other hoof, have only discovered your ability two weeks ago. Despite your small display of your power before, I highly doubt that you are in complete control over it. What you did to the manticore... is the prime example of my belief.
“This leads me to ask the following questions... What if you accidentally use your power on other ponies? What if you do so purposely? What if you leave somepony’s mind beyond repair... like the mind of one of your friends? How will we defend ourselves against such a new sort of attack if it were to happen?” One by one, Celestia’s questions caused Twilight and the others to bring their gazes back to Sigmund. From his distance, he read the emotions given off by their brief, yet similar, facial expressions: apprehension, concern and fear.
Celestia stared at him, waiting for a response. He did not wish to say anything, though. The answers to her questions were already clearly stated.
“I am sure that you understand how much of a danger you pose to all of Equestria.”
“...Then you also know where I am going with this. As long as you stay in Equestria, you are an active threat. I am sure that you are careful with such a power, and that the Gatekeeper gave you better control over it, but I am not willing to take risks in this situation.
“That all being said... I hope that you will understand my decision.”
Celestia closed her eyes, possibly as a way of averting the several hopeful gazes she was receiving from the other ponies.
“As of tomorrow afternoon...” she began, “you will be banished from Equestria.”
His friends’ expressions changed from hope to worry in an instant. Yet Sigmund was unaffected by the verdict.
“What?!” Everypony stared at Twilight, causing her to shrink back. “But... to where?”
Celestia gently shook her head, silencing her student. “I suppose the term ‘banish’ is a bit too narrow. Think of it as more of as... exile.”
The alicorn looked back to him. “Sigmund, in these recent months since my visit to the library, I have monitored you. I have only been a small onlooker, because the Gatekeeper wouldn’t permit me to be more than that. With what I have gathered, I cannot deny that you have, in many ways, become a true citizen of Ponyville, and, therefore, Equestria.
“Now that I have been given missing bits of information... I can see that you have committed no wrongdoing. The manticore’s fate is something I wouldn’t wish upon anything... but now I believe that your action was justified, since you did it to protect those around you. In this case, using your ability on my guards is also permitted as an act of self-defense from my assumptions about you. Because of these circumstances, banishment is out of the question.
“Yet, because of your power, you are still capable of performing dangerous acts. In the few times that great magic has been unleashed upon Equestria... I, or my faithful subjects, have been able to deal with it. While magic’s changes can be easily reversed by me, any changes made by you would be impossible for me to reverse. I lack your power... and truthfully, I have trouble understanding it to begin with. If you use your ability, there is no way that I, nor any other pony, can undo its possibly harmful effects.”
The alicorn turned her head away from Sigmund for the first time in what seemed like hours. “I will give you one day to prepare for your journey... and say goodbye to your friends. Tomorrow, my two guards will escort you through the Everfree Forest. Once outside, your exile will begin.”
A short silence followed, which Celestia broke. “Now that we have sorted all of this out, Sigmund, isn’t there something else you must do?”
“You’re right, princess...” he said, looking around, “even though my exile begins tomorrow, I will start my quest by dealing with this place. Nothing else is down here... and, as I said, I think it’s best that this old technology remain out of the hooves of the rest of ponykind.”
“How will you destroy it?”
“By sealing the entrance... permanently. I will make this part of the cave collapse, removing whatever structural integrity is left. There are a few weakened bits... which should give way with enough force. And once this section is cut off from the rest of the world, it will continue decaying to nothing.”
He turned to them again. “You should all head up to the surface right now. Don’t worry, I’ll join you when I’m finished here.”
They all gazed at Sigmund, then back to each other. Celestia stepped within their vision, attracting their attention. She smiled at them, and walked down the corridor, motivating them to leave with her. Sigmund assumed that all the ponies would go out at the same time, but Twilight didn’t.
“You really should follow them, Twilight. I’ll be up soon.”
She remained there, looking at him, her silence making him feel a bit uneasy. Maybe she was just awestruck by what she heard, and didn’t know what to say.
“Twilight,” he said, scratching the back of his head, “...about before, when the guards fell asleep and Celestia was about to take me away. Thanks for sticking up for me. I thought that you all would be against me after finding out.”
“Well,” she said finally, ending his uneasiness, “after these past few months, I realized that you have a good reason for everything you do. And... you probably had a better reason for lying to us.”
Hearing that, he remembered the moments before Celestia showed up, and what happened between them. “Twilight...” he said, now feeling guilty again, “I’m sorry for hiding the truth from you, but... I wanted you to trust me. I thought it would have been ridiculous to explain my past without evidence, so I decided to save my explanation until after showing you this place.”
“I know... I can understand why you thought that way. You’re wrong about one part, though.” she said, smiling. “I would have believed your past, regardless of where you told me, because of our friendship.”
He felt a little shocked, now realizing that the unicorn had so much trust in him. His skepticism told him that she was just saying that, but he silenced it. She had sided with him, even in Celestia’s presence, and that proved what she said was true. He smiled, knowing that simple fact.
Without saying anything else, she turned around, and walked down the corridor. But even when she was gone, his smile did not falter.
Twilight joined the others on the surface. To her left, her friends were talking amongst themselves. To her right, Princess Celestia was speaking to her two royal guards, whose eyes were half-closed, meaning that they had probably woken up only moments ago.
A sudden boom came from the cavern behind her. The noise was like a violent crack, which echoed all the way up to the surface. Shortly after the noise ceased, a plume of smoke and dust rose from the entrance. Everypony watched as the smoke filtered through the branches and leaves above.
They stood there for dozens of seconds, wondering what happened. Their expressions grew more worried with each passing moment. Hoofsteps echoed from the cave entrance, causing those expressions to change.
There emerged Sigmund, rising from the plume of smoke. He coughed a few times. His green coat was slightly blackened by dust, but his eyes remained bright. As he trotted up to his friends, he met each gaze with a grin, and they responded in kind. At the same time, Celestia moved forward. Her confused guards remained in there spots, though, eliminating the chance of them overhearing her.
“My guards appear to be fine, Sigmund. I have given my guards the order to escort you out of town tomorrow,” she said, using a very formal tone. “You will have until three o’clock in the afternoon to exit Equestria. If you take any longer than that, my guards will escort you against your will.”
“I understand. That will be all the time I need.”
“I... shall also give you a warning, Sigmund.” Her tone was less formal now. “Because I am the ruler of Equestria, I do not have jurisdiction over the other kingdoms of the world. Politically... you are welcome in their territories. Once in a kingdom, you will be subject to its laws. If I am approached by any leader with information that relates to you, I will deny affiliation. If you so happen to get into trouble, you will be left to deal with the problem by yourself.”
“I will do my best to avoid trouble, then.”
“If so, you will be given plenty of choices out there. You may travel the world, or settle down somewhere. Yet... you have already chosen the first option... correct?”
“...Yes, your majesty.”
In that moment, Celestia smiled. “Then everything has been taken care of. It is time for me to return to Canterlot. My unannounced absences can cause disarray, which I must go and handle. Goodbye, my faithful student, and my loyal subjects.”
The Princess then unfurled her wings; fully-extended, they gave her a majestic and awe-inspiring look. Before she lifted off, Sigmund spoke up.
“Princess...” he said, “I want to let you know something.” Celestia looked at him once again, lowering her wings. “I’m not sure what could happen, but if you ever need my help for anything...”
“Time will only tell, Sigmund,” she said, guessing at what he was on his mind. “I thank you for the offer, and wish you luck on your journey. Yet...” She gazed at the other ponies. “For the good of Equestria, I hope to never see, nor hear of you in the future.”
She then flapped her large, magnificent wings, lifting her off the ground. Soon after she rose a few dozen meters, her horn glowed, releasing a flash that was lessened in brightness by the foliage of the trees. When the light dimmed to nothing, they saw that the Princess was gone.
Sigmund glanced at the ponies around him, and then silently began making his way back to Ponyville. It was mid-afternoon, but he needed to use his time wisely. He only had a hoof-full of hours left in Equestria. One last day before his seemingly impossible journey would begin.
Twilight sat by the wooden table in the library’s main lobby. In all other times she would be there, she would have an open book out in front of her. This time, however, she did not feel like reading. Her mind was preoccupied with a lot of things, so all she could do was sit and wait. In a sense, she didn’t want to be waiting, but she also didn’t want today to come. In a few minutes, her friend Sigmund would leave the library, then Ponyville... and then Equestria.
The day before, Sigmund revealed his past to everypony. Some of what he said was strange, but Twilight believed him, because she trusted him. After he spoke of his plans, Celestia gave her final judgment. Although it made sense... the words really blindsided her: Exile from Equestria.
After the event, they, and the guards, returned to Ponyville. The others said some awkward goodbyes before heading back to their homes. Pinkie Pie, being Pinkie Pie, wanted to plan a huge farewell-party, but Sigmund told her not to. He explained that he didn’t want some other ponies to ask where he was going, and rumors to be spread. Surprisingly, she accepted his request, and said nothing more on the topic. There was not a single doubt in everypony’s mind that what happened would have to remain a secret. Sigmund would be the one to decide who would know, and who wouldn’t.
While each of them went back to their own homes, Twilight and Sigmund walked back to the library. If it weren’t for the two royal guards with them, she would have spoken to him. When they returned, the guards took positions outside the entrance. Spike was there to greet them as they walked in, since he was back from his trip to Canterlot. The three of them sat at the table, and Sigmund took the time to summarize what happened, and what is plans were. The dragon was mainly surprised about Sigmund’s past, but he couldn’t hide the sadness behind his green eyes when Sigmund mentioned Celestia’s verdict.
Later, he tried to leave to find Big Macintosh. Yet the moment he opened the front door, the guards stepped in his way, and explained to him that they were under orders to keep him inside until tomorrow. Twilight could leave, however, so she went out to Fluttershy’s cottage to find Big Mac. Once Macintosh came over, Sigmund elaborated on his past for the third time, and explained why he had to leave. Big Mac mainly kept a straight face the entire time, partially nodding his head in some instances during the conversation. At times, the stallion looked doubtful, but Twilight solved this by vouching for Sigmund’s story, and saying that, if he wanted to, Macintosh could ask his sister about it to see if it was the truth. Once Sigmund was done, Big Mac calmly agreed to keep what he heard a secret, and left after saying goodbye.
The remainder of the day, and the morning after, went by rather quickly. The time when Sigmund was designated to leave was approaching quickly. Twilight looked up at the clock again. It had been more than two hours after noon, meaning there were only a few minutes left. As if on cue, the wooden door in the nearby hallway creaked open. Sigmund came out of the room, and shut the door behind him. On his back was a saddlebag filled with contents unknown.
“Is it almost time?” he asked, trotting up next to her.
“Almost...” she said half-heartily.
“Ah...” He glanced around the library, and then sat down beside her. “Is something bothering you?”
Hearing his question, she shot him a confused glance. “...Do I really have to answer that?”
“Is it because I’m leaving?” Twilight nodded, even though he wasn’t looking at her. “Well... your life will just return to the way it was before. Your routine and schedule should go back to normal. Besides, even if I wasn’t exiled, Twilight, I would have left. You have to understand that.”
“There’s a difference, Sigmund. At least there would be a chance of us meeting in the future if you left by yourself. Now that the princess exiled you... I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again.”
“Twilight... I have to leave because-”
“You have to travel the world,” she said, interrupting him. “You have to make sure that you don’t harm any of us. I know why already.”
“There’s a third reason, you know,” he said.
“A third one?” She felt a little surprised. She had heard the story being told three times, but she hadn’t heard a third reason.
“Well... it’s sort of a small one, which is why I never brought it up before. While traveling... I want to find out what happened to the previous era. I used to be a student like you were, Twilight, and if there’s one thing we share, it’s that we hate being unable to explain things. I want to figure out why the... Ancients... disappeared. There are no explanations here in Equestria, so I think that there are answers elsewhere. If I find those answers, I can make sense of the things my logic can’t fill in.”
His voice sounded strong, making it appear like he was looking forward to the journey. Was he also looking forward to leaving them? Although his attitude completely contrasted with her own, she didn’t feel angry at him. She didn’t want to ruin his good mood by making him feel worse. She wanted to say more, but then the library’s front door opened up, revealing the two tall white pegasi clad in golden armor.
“It is time to go, sir,” said one of the guards. Sigmund then stood up. He gazed around at the library’s surroundings, and at his saddlebag.
“So...” he said, looking at her, “I guess you want to see me off?”
She put on her friendliest smile, but she could not truly disguise her uneasiness. “Of course.”
“What about Spike?”
“I’m here!” yelled the baby dragon, dashing down the staircase. He took a quick breather before standing back up again, grinning.
Sigmund smiled at the baby dragon. “I’m ready,” he said to the guards.
The guards nodded at each other, and held their hooves out to him. On their outstretched hooves was a long, furled-up paper and a compass. “The princess instructed us to give you these. This scroll is a map of Equestria.”
With his mouth, Sigmund delicately grabbed the items, and put them in his saddlebag. “You can thank the Princess for me. I will be needing these where I’m going.”
Puzzled by the Princess’ gift, Twilight said, “I can understand the compass... but why would the Princess give you a map of Equestria?”
“To give me an idea on where Equestria is, so I never set hoof in it again.”
“Ah...” she responded. Without saying anything else, the guards took positions beside Sigmund, and began walking through town. Twilight, with Spike on her back, followed. As the walk continued, her feelings only worsened. The thoughts of never seeing the colt again sank in, and she couldn’t push them aside. After the months of their friendship, part of her admitted that she did not want him to leave.
Sigmund trotted in between the guards, looking back occasionally to see if Twilight and Spike were still following him. The unicorn’s eyes were always focused on the ground. When their gaze met, he gave her a reassuring smile. She would only partially returned it, but she would look down again. Maybe, to her, there wasn’t much to be reassured about.
“Hey, Sigmund,” said Spike shortly after they left town. “What about the others? Don’t you want to say goodbye to them?”
Thinking of his friends, he stared at what was ahead. “I do, but I’m not sure if they want to. It’s their choice to make.”
After climbing over another hill, the side of the Everfree forest came into view, along with six other figures. Though he didn’t show it, Sigmund was, once again, surprised. He was not expecting to see all of them.
As they approached, he saw that each of the ponies were looking at him, smiling. “Ugh... jeez, Sigmund,” said Rainbow Dash, “we’ve been waiting here for like... ever!”
“Rainbow, we’ve been ‘ere for less than ten minutes,” said Applejack. “Do’ya even know what ‘forever’ means?”
“Why didn’t you all just come to the library?” asked Spike.
“Well... we weren’t sure if you’d still be there. Not to mention the uh...” She gestured to the two guards. “We knew for sure that yall be takin’ this route, since it’s the fastest way to get to the Everfree, so we decided to catch up to yall here.”
“I see,” said Sigmund. He looked at one of the guards. “I have time left, so would it be okay if I talk to them for a little?”
The guard was stationary, their stern expressions not changing. For a moment, Sigmund feared that they wouldn’t even grant him a few minutes. Thankfully, the guard nodded, and backed away a few meters. Smiling to show his gratitude, Sigmund looked back to the other ponies.
The first pony to walk up to him was a white-coated, purple-maned unicorn. She had a slight smile on her face, but it disappeared suddenly. “Oh my...” she began, “you’re going on a perilous journey with just that?” She gestured to his saddlebag.
“It won’t be as perilous as you think. This is all I really need out there,” he said.
“Oh, that simply will not do,” she said, lightly scuffing her hoof against the ground. “Take these with you, darling.” Her horn glowed, and her saddlebag opened up, revealing two articles of clothing: a hat and a scarf. He recognized them as something she wanted him to try on once.
“No, it’s okay, Rarity. I don’t need it,” he said, knowing that the nice-looking items would be ruined over time.
“Oh, no, I insist. These will surely be of use to you. Do you think I am only about decor? I mean, of course a colt on a journey must look his best... but I also try for practicality. The scarf will keep you warm, and the fedora will keep the sun out of your eyes when you leave the Everfree forest...”
“Well...” He looked at the two articles of clothing again, reevaluating his decision. He realized, then, that he wasn’t going to win this debate in the end. “That makes sense. Thank you, Rarity.”
“My pleasure, darling.” To please her, he put the hat on his head, and wrapped the scarf around his neck. Rarity examined him from top to bottom. “Oh, you look exquisite... Certainly like a ‘stallion on a mission’ type.”
“If you say so...” he said, taking the hat off and placing it in his saddlebag.
The next pony to step forward was Applejack. “Ah knew ya liked our apples so much... so I got ya a few, in case ya feel hungry. Your bag don’t seem so stuffed, so ah’m sure it’ll fit.”
He examined his saddlebag, which was half-full. “It will, but you didn’t have to pick these for me. There are plenty of other things to eat out there.”
“Excuse me? Yall would rather eat some strange, foreign food than my tender, juicy apples?” she asked, aiming an offended glare at him.
Even with his calm demeanor, Sigmund felt intimidated by the earth pony’s expression. She probably took what he said as an insult to her entire farm. “Uh.... no, of course not... I love your apples. Sweet Apple Acre’s apples are delicious,” he said. Thankfully, the mare’s glare shortly turned into a grin.
“Ah’m glad ya think so.”
He returned the friendly smile, and placed the apples into his saddlebag. Instead of seeing another pony step forward, he heard a confetti blast by his ear. He expected something random from Pinkie Pie, so he wasn’t really shocked by it.
“SURPRISE! Well... sorta... I mean you said not to throw you a party so I decided to give you just a dose of fun and-” Before the party pony could go on, a blue hoof covered her mouth.
“I think he gets the point.” said Rainbow Dash, pushing the party pony aside. “Well... uh... I don’t have much to give... besides the presence of my awesomeness, that is.” The other ponies glared at her. Sigmund didn’t take offense, though, since he was use to her gloating. “What?... oh... right...” With her hoof, she rummaged into her own small saddlebag, and held out a tiny jar filled with multiple colors. “It’s a little bit of rainbow. I thought it would be cool thing to give. Not sure how useful it’ll be.”
“I’m sure it’ll be helpful, Rainbow. Thanks,” he said, carefully placing the glass jar in his saddlebag.
He turned to face the next friend, who turned out to be Spike. “Hey, Spike, you can just ask Twilight to play with you. Maybe she’ll enjoy the game.”
“Yeah yeah...” replied Spike, acting, or at least failing to act, indifferent towards him. Sigmund laughed a little, and brought a hoof up to pet him in a friendly manner. “Hey!”
Next, he felt something poke him, which turned out to be Fluttershy. It was typical of the pegasus, since she would always lightly tap him to get his attention. Big Macintosh stood behind her.
“Oh... uh... Sigmund...” she said, averting his gaze, “about the entire... manticore thing... and when you... I’m just glad that you saved Big Macintosh’s life and...” She shrunk to the floor a little more. It was alright, since Sigmund was used to her doing that. But then, completely out of nowhere, she quickly lifted her head up, and pecked him on the cheek. He blushed from the surprise. “What I’m trying to say is... thanks.”
Cautiously, Sigmund looked at Mac, thinking he would be angry or jealous, but the stallion continued to smile. “You’re thankful, too... right, Big Macintosh?” asked Fluttershy.
“Eeeyup,” the stallion replied. Sigmund chuckled with the others again. If there was one thing he would miss about Big Macintosh, it would be his long, trademarked version of ‘Yes’. The stallion then bent his head down to nuzzle against Fluttershy’s mane.
“Ugh... will you both just get a room?” said Rainbow. Fluttershy and Big Mac blushed as the others giggled.
“Hey Twilight...” said Pinkie Pie, shifting everybody’s focus to the violet unicorn. Twilight looked surprised, as if she was hoping not to speak. “Don’t you have something to say to Sigmund before he heads off into the world on his little virtuous mission? C’mon...” Pinkie Pie bounced behind the unicorn, and pushed her.
Sigmund and Twilight faced each other now, with every other pony, and dragon, surrounding them. “Sigmund... I...” she began. She stopped, though, and her gaze went to the ground. Seeing her act so upset, he felt bad. He spoke, though, hoping to elicit a response from her.
“That’s okay Twilight. You really didn’t need to get me anything. I mean, you’ve done enough for me already. You gave me a place to stay, and aided me with research. You helped me enjoy my time here. I’m really grateful to you...”
His words weren’t enough, though. She was tearing up, still attempting to say something. Feeling as though it were proper, he moved a little bit closer, and wrapped his forelegs around her, hugging her in the same way she had with him more than a week ago. The hug went on for a few seconds, and just as he was about to pull away, he could feel her hug back, causing him to remain there. It felt nice, which is why he didn’t care that some of the others were trying to hide a giggle at the sight.
“Sir, we must leave now,” said a gruff voice, ending any sounds of amusement from the others. Turning his head, Sigmund saw the two guards. They were standing much closer now. With some reluctance, he moved away from the unicorn, who had also let go. Although she was now looking at him straight in the eye, her voice had not yet been found. He broke eye contact to glance at the other ponies. With that all out of the way, there was one thing left to be said.
“When I leave,” he began. “I want you all to move on. Do not let my absence impact your lives, or the lives of those around you. Promise me that.”
That was the only thing he wanted them to do; it was what he wished of them. Each of them replied with a small nod, meaning that they understood his wish.
“Thank you... all of you... for everything...” He smiled again, trying his best to remain slightly optimistic. He only gave himself a few seconds to see their responses. Only half of them managed to smile back. He longed to see more of their replies, like Twilight’s, but he couldn’t. Not wanting to extend the moment any longer, he turned away to face the guards.
The first guard said, “We will escort you through the Everfree forest, and a certain distance away from Equestrian boundaries. From then on, you will be left alone. Her majesty has put a warning out to the towns on the outskirts of Equestria; they are under orders to report to her immediately if they see a pony with a cutie mark such as yours. Do you understand?”
“Follow us, then.” They turned to the entrance of the Everfree Forest, taking up positions beside him. He then trotted into the forest, leaving his eight friends behind to watch him as he vanished among the numerous trees. To keep his emotions at bay, he avoided looking back.
Once the colt could no longer be seen, Twilight let her tears stream down her face.
The other ponies around her gave her concerned, worried glances. The ponies did not exchange any words, though, thinking it would be best to leave her alone. They stood there for several minutes, even though Sigmund and the guards were long out of sight. Yet they gradually left, doing exactly what was requested of them minutes ago.
“Well... this is cutting into my training time...” said Rainbow, “so I’m gonna make up for it! I’ll see you all later.” Rainbow Dash quickly launched into the sky, and flew back to Ponyville.
“Since he didn’t want a party...” said Pinkie shortly after Rainbow left, “I’ll throw a party tonight! It’ll be so amazing that he’ll hear it miles away and he’ll regret not wanting one!” On that note, she quickly bounced away.
“Those two can be so abrupt...” said Rarity. “Sorry, girls, but I must go now. Hoity Toity’s dress order will not finish itself... so I hope you all understand. Ta-ta.” Some of the others waved to her, and she elegantly walked back to town.
Another minute passed in the silence. “I better go back to my cottage,” said Fluttershy, shuffling her hooves in the grass. “The hen-house needs some cleaning... and... um... I’m sorry...”
“Do ya mind if ah walk ya home?” asked the stallion beside her, ending her awkward goodbye. She blushed, hearing Big Macintosh’s resonant voice.
“That would be wonderful,” she said, moving in closer to nuzzle his cheek. Hoof in hoof, they both walked down the trail.
Twilight, Applejack and Spike were the only ones left at the forest’s edge. Spike scuffed his feet against the ground in silence.
“Uh... I left a mess in your room, Twilight...” He paused to see if he would get a response, but the unicorn didn’t even glance back at him. “I’ll just... go do my usual thing. See you back there.” He quickly turned around, and strolled down the path.
Even though minutes had passed, Twilight was still silently crying. Finally, Applejack sighed, walked a bit closer, and placed a hoof on her shoulder.
“Why didn’t ya tell him, Twi’?”
“Tell him what?” asked Twilight in turn, turning her head away from the earth pony.
“Oh come now... Yall were the one who first stuck up for him in that there cave. Yall were the one who was too upset to speak as he was about to leave... Ah saw it, sugarcube. Ya-”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Applejack...” said Twilight, quickly regaining her composure. She wiped her eyes with her hoof. “Yes... I’ll miss him... but he has something that he has to do. I understand that, and I’ll let my life go on normally, like he asked us to.”
Applejack smiled, and wrapped a foreleg around Twilight, pulling her to look away from the forest. “Okay, then, sugarcube... whatever makes ya sleep at night... Now how about ya come fer a snack before Pinkie Pie’s shindig? We have quite an amount of apples left... so we can make the pie you like so darn much!”
Despite her friend’s efforts, Twilight was still gazing into the forest. Yet, eventually, she realized that doing so would not change anything. “Okay... that sounds delicious.” With Applejack beside her, Twilight walked down the path.
Yet after a few dozen hoofsteps, she stopped, and turned to the Everfree forest one more time. At this point, she only wished that her friend could accomplish his mission... so maybe then...
His last words appeared in his mind. Move on. With that thought in mind, she quickly trotted up to Applejack again, who was kind enough to wait for her. The edge of the forest soon disappeared from their line of sight. Twilight didn’t notice, however, for she was not looking back.
They finally exited the forest, and were now walking in an open field. The sun was still up, but Sigmund knew that in about an hour, the first hints of orange were going to appear in the sky. After ten or twenty minutes, the guards halted. “Sir, this is far as we go,” said the first one.
“Okay, then,” said Sigmund, looking out to the flat landscape ahead. “I know where to go from here.”
At that moment, Sigmund expected for the guards to leave him; but instead of doing that or flying away, they stood there. “...Sigmund, was it?” asked the first guard. Although his voice was still deep and gruff, it no longer had the touch of nobility to it. They both glanced uneasily at each other. “We... don’t understand what you’re doing out here. Despite what her highness believes, you would be safer in Equestria... with the rest of your friends.”
Neither of them were aware of what he was capable of, because that segment of their memory had been removed. “You may be right... but their safety is more important than mine.” As he said this, the guards looked at him peculiarly, failing to understand the danger he posed. “Don’t worry, I can handle myself.”
“Whatever you say, buddy,” said the second guard doubtfully. He coughed slightly, returning to his formal tone of voice. “Good luck, wherever you may go.” The guards raised their wings up, indicating that they were about to take off.
“Thank you,” Sigmund replied, “but I don’t think luck will be helping me much.” They turned to each other again, but shrugged. Flapping their wings, they lifted themselves into the air, and circled around to head back the edge of the Everfree.
Sigmund waited for a few seconds, making sure that the guards would vanish. When the two pegasi became dots in the horizon, he turned, and started walking through the field. Now that he was alone, he did not see a need to hold back his tears, so he let them gently roll down his face and muzzle.
He used reason to suppress any kind of emotional desire he had to run back. In the end, he did not belong there. As Celestia said, he was far too dangerous, and being there could bring harm to his friends, and Equestria as a whole. There was something he had to do out here, though, and it took priority over everything else.
As he trotted through the tall, yellow grass, he continued to think about the ponies he left by the forest’s edge. He was sure that, although he told them to move on, they wouldn’t forget about him so quickly. Yet... he was still worried over one pony: the violet unicorn, who was the first to help him.
Before he left, he had a bit of suspicion about the way she was acting towards him. He was not ignorant, so he could make out how sad she was. He had the ability to check her emotions, but it would have been like invading her privacy. His journey would likely take years, or the rest of his life. Even if she did... time would pass and she would move on. They were sure to forget about him, since he did not have a profound impact on any of their lives. As much as he hated to think about it, perhaps he would forget about them as well. Yet, no matter how hard he tried to reason it all out, he still had his mind on the violet unicorn.
There was something about her that made her special compared to the others. His friendship with the unicorn was the closest. He cared for her... and...
Before the thought could progress any further, he quickly suppressed it with reason. He knew exactly where it was leading. He couldn’t have any sort of strong emotional tie, or else it would threaten the effectiveness of his journey.
It was far too late now, anyway. There was one option remaining for him. Ever since he entered Equestria, and discovered his strange abilities, there had been only one logical option left. He took a moment to gaze ahead, into territories unknown. While looking at the incoming landscape, he found himself considering what he would experience in the years ahead.
There were an unknown amount of possibilities. Danger lurked in the mysterious world... and he would encounter a lot of it, because of the scale of his quest. He was heading into unfamiliar lands, filled with strange creatures and animals alike.
There was a feeling within him, however; an indescribable feeling of enlightenment. Although it was not right of a psychologist to act off of feelings... he believed he could handle anything thrown at him. He felt... like the feeling was true, and that he knew that he would be ready for the future. Wiping away whatever tears were left on his face, he trotted faster, his mind filling with confidence now that he had accepted his directive.
Sigmund Harrison the psychologist was gone. Harrison perished long ago. Now he was recreated, in body and mind, and given a second chance. It was a chance that he wanted all along... and he was glad that he had it, for he would use it for the benefit of others, and the place he had ties to.
By taking this quest, he also took a mantle. It was a mantle that was indisputably bestowed upon him, because no pony before him could have taken it. After all, it was a role that only he could perform correctly.
The role of a guardian, a hidden protector of Equestria.