Introduction

Closure

I am at peace . . .

It's that feeling deep inside my heart that tells me that I can finally rest. Lie down, and just rest. Is it wrong to want that so much?

A long time ago, there was something missing inside of me. I now know that has changed.

I am at peace . . .

Things aren't how I imagined them to be but still, I am happy. Life has a funny way of revealing its meanings: it puts a blindfold on your eyes, spins you around and then lets you decide where to go. It never takes it off, though.

For some, it's easier just to keep that blindfold on and crawl until their life is over. They then look back and are happy about what they see: a mere image of their ordinary existence, an idea projected on the back of the blindfold they always had on. They don't care about what lies beyond, they are happy.

My blindfold was taken off, but not by me. An infinite amount of possibilities have been revealed, blinding me with their intricacy. I was scared. Deep inside, I wanted that blindfold back. But the light was magnificent, the colors, aweing.

And that's when I saw it. I didn't know what it was back then, but I knew I wanted to reach it, to climb it, to ascent, all the higher.

I am at peace . . .

I think I'm there right now. What I'm about to do is just another step on that stairway, a new beginning with new possibilities. But I know that I am ready, I'm not scared anymore.

I want to tell you all how I found that stairway. How my first steps on it were with my shaky legs. How I tumbled down a couple of times or when I stopped and looked behind, silent, at what was and never to be.

I want to tell you how I found the Stairway to Equestria.

But first, you probably need to know how I lost my blindfold.

Part I

The First Step

Prologue

An Empty Shell

A loud banging from the hallway woke me up.

"Those Germans," I whispered to myself, "why don't they sleep like normal people?"

I sat up in my bed, slowly remembering last night. It was an all-nighter spent in front of the computer; another night wasted playing online games with other no-lifers out there.

"I should stop doing that," I said, groggily.

I grabbed my phone and checked the time: It was 3 PM. My German flatmates were not crazy after all, it was I who was the awkward one in the bunch.

Becoming an international student in the UK was probably the best thing that had ever happened to me. I was starting my second term at a games programming course and since I arrived in the UK, I felt that my life was somewhat better. I discovered an awesome military-like sport, made friends of all kinds and also found out about a cartoon show that I never imagined would play such a big role in my life.

There was more yelling and other noisy sounds echoing in the hallway. They were not hounding at my door, for a change; being the only Romanian between four Germans kept me in my room most of the time. I would usually just ignore them and they would pass by, talking with each other in German at all times, only throwing an occasional 'hey' when they saw me.

My eyes were wandering across the small dorm, from my lion poster to another one that had a scene from an action video game. A full set of military gear was thrown into a corner of the room, an AK-47 airsoft replica resting on a small shelf near the window. The computer's desktop background was shuffling every few minutes, most of the pictures being fan art from that particular show that depicted colorful ponies on their adventures in the magical lands of Equestria. I still found weird the combination of things I loved and I chuckled lightly at my own silliness. It was probably just a phase; a weird one, but a phase nonetheless.

I suddenly remembered I had planned a trip to London with a bunch of friends for the next day. They wanted me to get out of my room, so a couple of days spent in the mighty capital of England seemed like a good excuse and I knew they were in for the fun as well. We had already booked a couple of cheap hotel rooms and train tickets online, eager to have a blast at the end of a busy week.

The rest of the day went on like any normal Saturday: it was completely wasted, playing games or browsing different sites, while trying to think about finding a new part time job. I went to bed at a more decent hour that time (around 1 AM), my thoughts drifting off to their usual pattern of finding the meaning of life or thinking about the future. I never found out much about those two subjects, but at least they made me fall asleep fast.


The next day I woke up early in the morning. I was packing some spare clothes in my backpack when my eyes fell on an airsoft pistol that lay on the desk.

"It could come in handy on the streets during the night," I thought, being paranoid about those sorts of things.

Admittedly, it was more for intimidating rather than wounding potential aggressors, since those weapons, although looking 100% realistic, couldn't even puncture the flesh with their small plastic BBs. I decided it wasn't worth it since I would have to spend several hours at a police station providing details and paperwork for it in case I got searched by an officer for God-knows-what reasons.

I met up with the rest of my friends in front of the university courtyard and we took a cab to the train station. I was quiet during the journey, thinking about class assignments while the rest of the gang was having fun playing cards and planning where we were going to spend the next couple of nights. We arrived in London after not even two hours and quickly headed to our hotel, which was close to the train station. After we got there, I took the first single room in the hallway, threw my backpack on the floor and climbed into the bed, already feeling tired for some reason. A good explanation might have been that all those sleepless nights finally got to me.

A loud knock on the door broke the silence in my room.

"Alex, come on, we're going in a couple of minutes!" Tom, a fellow classmate, yelled through the door.

Awakening from my nap with about as much grace as a bear waking up from hibernation, I rebutted, "Yeah dude, calm down, I'm coming!"

I took a glance at the clock near the bed and noticed that four hours had passed and it was already getting dark outside. Tom and the rest of my friends wanted to hit up a couple of pubs before trying out some clubs in the center of London. I wasn't much of a drinker, or a clubber for that matter, but I always managed to get some fun times out of our trips.

I changed my shirt, grabbed some cash and left the room, a busy night awaiting us.


We left the club, most of the group experiencing the effects of drinking a little bit too much. We'd been partying for hours, going through pubs and clubs across a busy street in London. I can't remember its name, but I'll be damned if it wasn't just packed with places to party.

"Next one, gents!" Helen almost shouted at the rest of us.

"I think I'm good for the night, guys," I muttered tiredly.

I only drank a beer but all the dancing and the crazy atmosphere wore me out pretty fast. "Think I'll just go back to the hotel. You can keep partying without me," I said to them.

"Dude, you're weak," Tom replied, pointing a finger at me from the hand wrapped around a cute girl he'd been warming up to the whole night. "Well, it's your loss anyway… come on mates, the night's still going!"

I bid them my goodbyes and made my way towards the hotel. It was close to where we had partied, just a couple of blocks away. My eyelids were heavy from a strange weariness and the only thing on my mind was the thought of a hot shower and the hotel bed waiting for me.

As I walked through a narrow alleyway, a sudden noise came from my left. A figure popped out from a dark spot, trying to grab my neck. The mist of comfy thoughts dissipated as my heart stopped and realized what was happening. His arm was clinging on my neck as he whispered, "money or you're it". Surprisingly, I reacted by doing what I thought would be best: grabbing his arm tightly, I shoved my back into him, trying to get him to roll over me. I partially succeeded, making him fall over to my side, his arm still grabbing my shirt. I was panting hard from the shock of the attack, but I felt fury building up inside me quite fast. As he was trying to quickly get off the ground, I violently bashed him with my knee, getting on top of him. I could not risk leaving him able to harm me so I started punching him in a blind attempt to knock him out. That was a big mistake: as I was hitting him, I felt a sudden sharp tingling in my back and another hand grabbed me by the neck, pulling me away from my attacker. I was choking and the tingling sensation slowly morphed into pain.

There were two of them, and I'd just been stabbed in the back. The feeling in my back was getting worse by the second so I shoved myself into the second attacker, knocking him against the wall. The adrenaline rush gave me strength up until then but it was all running out, pain blocking my thoughts. I lost my reflexes and didn't react in time when the first guy got up behind me. My right ear felt like it exploded as he bashed my head with a solid object. "That's it," was the first thought that passed through my hurting head. With my last bit of energy, I attempted to pick myself up but all I could muster was a simple head turn towards the attackers. I collapsed to my knees as one of the muggers shoved his boot into my face. I couldn't feel my upper body anymore and I quickly lost vision, my body collapsing on the cold pavement.

Suddenly, there was darkness.

I tried thinking about something but I could only feel emptiness filling up my mind. The dark void was everything that I could see, smell, feel or think.

A sharp, loud noise made me open my eyes. I couldn't see anything. The scream-like disturbance faded away and then I started hearing distant murmurs. They were overlapping and it felt like thousands of people were whispering into my ears at once. An arctic chill swept through my body to the accompaniment of those voices. Was I dying? Was this what it felt like? I could barely remember why I was there in the first place. I just felt that something bad made me end up there.

A flash of light hit my eyes, piercing my irises with its power. Thousands of colors materialized in my mind and immediately started to shift and morph. I started recognizing scenes, as if they were from an old movie long forgotten. Most of them seemed familiar; they were changing so fast but somehow I could recognize each of them and remember:

A small plush toy, simple drawings, a motherly figure, old places, a school class, familiar faces, snow falling, rainy days . . . suddenly the images stopped flashing. I felt myself pulled into the blackness that stood in front of me.

I was near an artificial lake back in a place I once called home. There I was, sitting on its edge, holding something warm in my lap. She turned her face towards mine as I felt a deep pain in my heart, recognizing the moment. "I love you . . ." she whispered. Before I could say anything, the whole scene vanished into darkness.

Another flash, this time ending up in front of a crowded panel. My eyes were automatically searching for my name. I found it, and next to it was something that made my heart jump with joy.

Darkness . . .

A loud voice announcing airport names came with the next scene. I hugged my parents, tears in their eyes, and then a couple of friends that were there for me. I waved at them, seeing their faces for one last time.

I then saw myself traveling through strange lands in a coach train. I was feeling happy and excited. Moments later, a door stood before me. Opening it, I dragged my luggage inside. I laid down in the bed and closed my eyes.

Memories kept flashing in my head, re-living each of them: a night out in the club, lectures at the university, gaming nights, new friends, images of colorful horses; that's when a warm feeling triggered in my heart. The trail of memories stopped at those, as I remembered the strange creatures I loved so much. But, why did those of all things seem to be so important ?

Emptiness left me no time to think. I was not cold anymore and I could only see a light shining in front of me. It felt warm, enticing me to walk towards it.

I could still hear voices in my head.

"Is this… that kind of light?" I asked no one in particular as I was slowly walking.

One of the voices whispering to me stood out from the rest: "Yes," it replied, knowing exactly what I was talking about.

"No, but I can't . . . I don't want to, not now."

"It is your time, young one," the ominous voice told me.

"This shouldn't even be real. I'm an atheist," I slowly said, after a pause.

"We know. But it's not like that, you shall see."

Outside of the darkness looming around me I heard the steady beeping of hospital monitors, and the whispering noises stopped, just for a moment.

"Fifteen minutes . . . failure . . . heart . . . charge to three hundred..." strange voices echoed in my ears.

My vision blurred as my body suddenly jolted with life. The light in front of me faded for a while, but started shining bright after a few moments. Another jolt, this time stronger, made the light dim even more. Cold was embracing me again. I stopped walking, my feet now stuck on the pitch-black ground that was everywhere around me. I wanted to turn away from the fading light, but my muscles would not listen.

"You can't go back now," the voice warned, knowing my intentions.

"I won't go there, either," I quickly responded, looking at the tremoring light.

"You are nothing more than an empty shell back there," the mysterious voice resumed the icy voice rocking my own core, "your soul has partially left the body but it seems it won't let go . . . yet."

"I don't want to let go," I said, as tears started to flow down my face.

"Strange . . . you should not be able to wish for such things here," the voice said after a pause. "Tell me, young one, where would you want to go then?"

"Home . . ." I barely cooed.

"Home is where your heart is . . . where is your heart right now?"

I froze, not being able to come up with an answer. The harsh reality came crashing as I realized that I didn't actually know what I liked so much about the cold world that I left behind. A thought quickly passed through my mind alongside a hint of hope. The reason for which that particular thought crossed my mind first is unknown to me even to this day.

"I see . . ." the voice calmly said. "So be it, then; but remember, you are still trapped, and you are still mine."

A cold hand gripped my own, my eyes closing from the colossal pain that marked my soul forever.

"As Death, I mark you mine . . ."

Those last words made me freeze in shock, all senses triggering at once. An explosion of energy plunged me forward into the dark and I felt as if every bit of me detach from my body, one by one.

For a split second, I was nothing; then, I somehow collapsed on soft ground.

End of Prologue