"But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt… 'There is no peace,' says my God, 'to the wicked.'"
The story I am about to regale to you concerns an ill-tempered, vitriolic being. We will call him Wither.
Now, Wither's story doesn't start in the world of equines and magic. No, it starts in a faraway place, a place much darker than any realm you may be familiar with.
But the story you are about to read, this particular chapter in the long and winding tale of Wither, does indeed start in Ponyville. Late one stormy autumn evening, to be precise…
I am dead. It is ended. This grand farce has come to a halt.
This was the first thing he could think of as he rested in the warm blanket of near-unconsciousness. The harrowing ether-ride had come to a stop and the violent flashes of light had dissipated to leave a landscape of pure black. He was gone; absolutely, positively, thoroughly gone. He no longer existed, he was dead; and that fact gave him peace.
It took a moment before realization dawned on him.
If he really didn't exist anymore, then he wouldn't be able to think.
He was still, in some sense of the word, alive.
With the knowledge that he was still alive came a slow, numb feeling, akin to a foot or arm having had its circulation cut off. Sensory input trickled in slowly. He had a body, he had limbs. He was resting on something soft. His mouth was dry and he could taste something metallic. Through his closed eyelids he could see a flash of light and promptly heard a peal of thunder thereafter. He even had, to his astonishment, a sense of smell, something he had gone without for years. Although he had trouble remembering what things smelled like he was exceedingly sure he was somewhere that had an abundance of parchment.
He took a deep breath, in and out. That, too, was something he would have to get used to. He had been without the need to draw breath just about as long as he had gone without the ability to smell.
Muttering his displeasure, he willed his muscles to action, flexing his fingers and arms.
Except he couldn't feel his fingers. At all. Not a single digit from pinky to thumb on either hand. Come to think of it, he didn't even have hands. All he could feel were… well, arms. He tested his legs as well, and to his irritation he could feel that he had neither toes nor feet. What he could feel that did have, to his horror, was a tail. Deciding to see what sort of hideous body he had been forced into, he flicked his eyes open.
His "fur", because that's what he assumed it to be, was a rather unsightly, pale tan color. The tail, for it was indeed a tail, was grayish-white and frayed. His legs were relatively bulky and the tan fur gave way to hard black hooves on the ends. He was undeniably some sort of horse but not any kind he'd seen. Mentally growling a few obscenities he turned his gaze from his body and to the room.
It was warm, relatively comfortable, most certainly a library. There was a haphazard mat of blankets beneath him and what looked like a research table off to his left. Rows upon rows of scrolls and books lined the walls. The more he looked at the room, the more sure he was that it was built into a tree. Taking note of the front door and the stairs his eye snapped to what appeared to be a large, quite out-of-place mirror. Deciding to get a better view, he growled and heaved himself onto all fours.
And promptly fell on his face. With much muttering and cursing he rose once more, this time keeping his balance on the stumps. Unsteadily, he slowly crossed the room and to the mirror, clumsily turning it so that it faced him. There was another flash of lightning and another peal of thunder from the outside storm before he could get a good look at himself.
Same unappealing fur color, same grayish looking tail. His 'mane' matched the tail in coloration; long and limp, it hung about his neck in thin, frayed strands. He turned his attention to his face; gaunt and angular, his skin and fur stretched thin and taut over his skull. His cheeks were hollow and his eye sockets were somewhat sunken. The eyes themselves didn't quite match the unhealthy, pallid appearance of his face. They were a shockingly vivid shade of blue so bright they seemed to practically glow. He turned his head this way and that, his ever-so-slightly-tapered ears twitching. He noticed that it wasn't just his face that looked sickly; it was the rest of him. His skin was stretched a bit too tightly over his bones and heavy musculature with almost no fat on his frame, giving him the look of someone either beginning to starve, becoming dehydrated, or in the early stages of a wasting disease. All in all, he utterly despised his current body and appearance; but the very quiet voice of his inner optimist supposed that it could be far, far worse.
There was another flash of lightning as he turned from the mirror to peer at the rows and rows of books and scrolls that adorned the Library's walls. Glancing over them, he found that he was capable of comprehending the text as if it were his native language. Many of them had odd titles, relating to equines; constant references were made to something called "Equestria". He attempted to pull several out so as to read them, but the utter lack of hands foiled his efforts.
Obviously, standing around and trying to pick at books wasn't going to get him anywhere. And he certainly was not keen on being there when the owner of the library-house-tree returned. So, setting his jaw, he turned around and shakily made his way towards the front door. Halfway there, though, something else caught his attention; a length of parchment, half-hidden beneath a table and conspicuously out of place. Tilting his head, he dragged it out into the open with one of his legs and, with difficulty, flipped it over to read it.
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
He paused at this, snorting loudly at the sheer absurdity of the name before going on.
I apologize for having awoken you at such a late hour, but there is an urgent matter to which I regretfully require you to attend. Within the next few minutes, you will find upon your threshold somepony, or something, from a place very far away. I will come in the morning to speak with him.
With a tilt of the head and a scoff, he pushed the paper aside. At least he now had a clear set of goals.
First, leave the library. Second, speak with the so-called "princess", or better yet, the king or queen. And third, find a way to leave this dimension that he already loathed or, if not possible, locate a cliff that he might throw himself off of and obtain the dirt-nap that he had been denied. He couldn't help but wonder, though.
What sort of ridiculous, alcohol-induced name was "Twilight Sparkle?"
As if on cue, something descended from upstairs at a break-neck speed, skidding to a halt.
There stood a purple horse. Everything was purple. Purple skin, purple mane, purple eyes. Purple horn, as well, because to his confusion the horse did indeed have a horn. He vaguely recalled the term "unicorn" being heard once in his past to describe such a thing. The purple unicorn was a good head shorter than he was; if he had to hazard a guess he would suppose it was a female.
The purple unicorn's eyes widened, and his assumption that it was female was proven correct as it spoke. "Oh! You're awake! I expected you to still be asleep! Are you feeling alright?"
He opened his mouth, coughing once before speaking. "Fine. I feel fine."
His voice was much as he had expected it to be; a deep, hoarse growl with a tendency towards irritated monotone. The other horse, unicorn, didn't look terribly convinced.
"Are you sure you're alright? You were out cold when I dragged you in, and you don't look too good." She waved a limb towards his gaunt appearance.
"I feel fine," he grunted in response; which wasn't untrue, he felt as if he were in perfect health. He dragged out the letter again, pushing it forward. "Assuming that you are… Twilight, Sparkle."
He had to make an effort not to scoff at the very sound of it. The unicorn perked up. "Yes, the one and the same! What's your name?"
He blinked. The fact that he would have to come up with a name had not quite occurred to him. He certainly had one, although seeing as it was of a different language entirely, didn't follow this world's naming conventions, and somewhat on the morbid side he supposed it wouldn't do. His neurons fired off as he tried to come up with a moniker that might fit; he spoke up after a moment's delay with—
Twilight blinked. "Wither?"
Really, he couldn't blame the unicorn for sounding puzzled. The more he said the name over to himself in his head the more asinine it sounded. It was too late now, though, he had to stick with it. His eyes narrowed, taking the opportunity to fake offense. "Yes, Wither. Didn't get to choose my name; I for one think it is fitting."
"No, no!" said the unicorn with a shake of her head, "It's, um, a nice name!"
"Wither" gave an affirmative grunt. There was a moment of awkward silence between the two equines, interrupted by another flash of lightning. With a foreleg, Wither tapped the letter.
"This 'Princess'—"he began.
"—Right, she can't come any sooner?"
"I don't think so, or else she would have," she responded, stepping forward, horn glowing. The parchment levitated upward, rolling up. "She mentioned you were from someplace far away; where from?"
Wither snapped his attention to the glowing horn. "Don't want to know. Why are you glowing?"
"Magic," she replied simply, as if telling someone the color of the sky.
Twilight paused, blinking. "You really are from far away."
Wither lazily waved a foreleg around. "You don't know the half of it. Where am I?"
Twilight stepped around and began to replace the books that Wither had attempted (and failed) to read back onto the shelves. "Ponyville Library, in the land of Equestria, of course!"
Ponyv… what gods exist, this is absurd, thought Wither as he smacked a leg-stump-hoof-thing against his face. Luckily, with her back turned and attention focused on the books, Twilight didn't catch it.
"You tried to read some of these books?" asked the unicorn as she turned back to Wither. The sickly-looking pony simply nodded as he made his way back to the makeshift bed.
Twilight nodded. "It's kind of hard to do without magic."
"Hard to do without opposable thumbs, either," growled Wither as he dropped down onto the blankets, laying his head low.
Wither sighed. "Nothing. Never mind."
There was another flash of lightning and a delayed clap of thunder. Wither shut his eyes, feigning tiredness. "Late. Might as well go to sleep, at dawn your 'Princess' will come and I'll be out of your hair… mane, by midday."
Twilight blinked, somewhat put off. "If you say so… Well, good night, then."
Wither didn't answer as she headed off back upstairs. He merely laid there and listened to the rain, consumed by the sinking feeling that his stay in "Ponyville" wasn't going to end at high noon.
"Hey! Wake up!"
Wither was roused from his slumber at the sound of an ostensibly juvenile male voice, coupled with the sensation of being poked in the face repeatedly. Snapping his eyes open, he glared up at whoever woke him.
Expecting to see a horse, he was instead greeted by the sight of what looked like a cartoonish bipedal lizard. Purple scales, green eyes, a full array of digits and opposable thumbs, the latter of which Wither was instantly envious of. Growling, he cracked his neck as before speaking.
"Who are you…? What are you?"
The lizard-thing folded his arms with a scoff. "My name's Spike, and I'm a dragon."
"Sheesh, Twilight said you weren't that friendly; she wasn't kidding."
Wither rose to his full height, stretching; he supposed that he had drifted off to sleep eventually. After having gone without needing to rest for almost a decade, it would take some getting used to. "If that statement wasn't accurate I'd smack you. Where's the purple one, and where's the so-called 'Princess'."
Spike hitched a thumb toward the door. "Outside."
"Good. Time to sort things o—GAH."
Wither had moved toward the door, and promptly fell flat on his face, forgetting exactly how one walked with four legs instead of two. Spike tried, and failed, to suppress a laugh as Wither pushed himself back up.
"Do you need any help?" asked the purple dragon once he'd regained his composure.
"Are you sure?"
"If you say so. Want anything to eat? They're going to be a while out there, they always take forever."
Wither blinked, steadying himself once more. Hunger, he supposed, was what the odd gnawing sensation in his abdomen was. He scowled; he'd have to eat actual food once more, and the thought didn't sit well with him.
"Fine. What is there to eat?"
Spike shrugged. "Hay."
Why am I not surprised.
After devouring the so-called "meal" and weathering a barrage of questions (Where'd you come from? What's your name? How long are you staying?) from the so-called dragon, Wither tilted his head toward the door, which promptly glided open as if on cue.
Striding in through the tight fit was yet another horse. This one, however, was larger even than Wither, had a pure white coat and an odd, flowing, multicolored mane and tail. A long, sharp-looking horn sprung forth from its head and above it rested a golden tiara. A pair of wings was tucked against the equine's sides, and an image of a sun was emblazoned upon its flank.
If he had to pick a word to describe the Princess, it would have been "regal." Of course, "ridiculous" was a close second, though as far as he was concerned that term now applied to himself as well.
So this is—
"Princess Celestia!" exclaimed the dragon, finishing Wither's thought. The tall, white equine gave a gentle nod as Twilight trotted in, speaking up.
"Spike, would you mind going outside with me for a moment? The Princess wanted to talk with, uh, Wither alone."
The purple dragon blinked, looking between the two, and then shrugged. "If you say so."
Wither tilted his head, waiting for the pair to walk and the door to shut. Then, he flicked his azure gaze to the large white mare.
"Right, then. You know who I am. I know who you are. Let's just get this over with."
Celestia simply nodded, her voice firm and even. "Very well."
"You're the one who let me in."
"And the one who put me into…" he waved a leg at himself. "This."
The alicorn shook her head in the negative. "I did not choose your form; I am not entirely sure what did."
"Great. Where are the king and queen, then? The ones who rule this 'Equestria'."
"There is no king, nor queen. My sister and I watch over this land; I raise the sun, she raises the moon."
Oh, joy, I'm conversing with a god, thought Wither. With that little revelation, he was slightly intimidated.
"Why would you think there would be a king or queen?"
"That's how it works, where I come from."
The Princess inclined her head. "Which begs the question, one which I have anticipated an answer to since your rather hasty arrival; where exactly do you come from, and how did you get here?"
Wither pawed (hoofed?) at the floor once. He could dodge the question when approached by horses and so-called dragons, but he didn't think it wise to try and deceive a god. He supposed he could afford to be honest and plain; at least a little bit.
"As asinine as it sounds, I come from another… place. Very, very far away. No talking horses, the only sentient beings are bipeds."
"I see," said the Princess, "And how did you come to arrive here in such a chaotic fashion; I had little choice in the matter of allowing you entry."
Wither stared at the sun goddess for a long moment, still as stone. She stared back, relaxed. Then, with a flick of an ear, the sickly-looking pony gave his answer with a tone of nonchalance.
"You died?" said Celestia with a soft blink.
"I understand that it must be a sensitive subject, but, may I ask how?"
Wither exhaled, slowly, irritably. The incident was painfully fresh and emblazoned in his mind; he wasn't terribly excited to discuss it, least of all with the Princess. "I died, and came here. Doesn't matter how."
The Princess nodded. She wasn't the least bit satisfied, but was not about to push the subject. "Very well. Now, regarding your stay in—"
"Stay?" interrupted Wither, "What do you mean, 'stay?'"
Celestia blinked as Wither pressed on. "I don't think either of us would like for me to pay this place an extended visit. Don't you have some sort of portal magic?"
"I am afraid not."
"You let me in; surely you can let me out."
Celestia shook her head. "I do not know how to send you back, Wither."
"Not back," the gray-maned stallion hissed, "I meant out. I don't want to go back."
"Why would you wish to leave?"
"The last thing I want is to spend another lifetime as a damned horse, and—"
"Pony, is the correct term, Wither," said Celestia, this time with very clear steel in her voice. Wither paused, then clamped his mouth shut, seething.
"As I said before, I do not know how to send you back. However, so long as you mind yourself you are welcome in Equestria, and I will, should I have time, find a way for you to leave."
Wither let out an irritated sigh. "Right. Direct me towards the nearest cave, I'll reside there until you can send me off."
"Cave?" Celestia shook her head with what looked like a little, mischievous smirk. "You are, like it or not, a guest here in Equestria; it would be rude of us to have you sleep within a cave."
"Fine, then. A hut out in the woods."
Celestia tilted her head, as if in thought. Then, to Wither's surprise, she turned toward the door, calling out. "Twilight? Could you come in here for a moment?"
"The purple one?" asked Wither as the pony in question entered with a confused expression.
"Twilight, Wither, as you know, is from a place that is quite far away. And, unfortunately, I have no current way to get him back to his home."
Twilight nodded in affirmation. "So, you'll be taking him to Canterlot, then?"
Celestia shook her head. "I had hoped that he would be able to reside here, until we can return him to his home."
Wither blinked, aghast. There was no way in any hell, equine or bipedal, that she had suggested he stay within close proximity of the natives. "Here? With her? And the dragon?"
"Yes. Would you be able to accommodate him, Twilight?"
The unicorn blinked, not seeming thrilled at the prospect of Wither staying in her home. "Well… I have enough room, I suppose."
"No, really. I'd be fine with a cave."
"I could use always use another hoof around the library."
"Or a large tree."
"And I'm sure the girls could use some help, too, this time of year."
"Or a hole."
"Very well then," Celestia said with a nod. "I will be sure to keep you updated as to the status of the so-called 'portal', Wither."
Wither's eye twitched; every neuron in his brain told him to vehemently decline, but vehemently declining could mean being reduced to his current equine state forever. What was worse (or good, he couldn't decide which), this shell was susceptible to aging. So he didn't have forever.
Celestia wore a satisfied, barely visible smirk as she turned to Twilight, bidding her farewell. The alicorn disappeared through the door, a few stray sparkles from her tail marking her departure. The gaunt pony gritted his teeth; the concept that he was at the mercy of something irked him to no end. He was just glad that his future interaction with the so-called princess would be infrequent.
Twilight interrupted his mental grumbling with a sigh. "Just wait until they hear about this."
Wither growled, an odd sensation on the back of his neck telling him something was about to go horribly wrong. "'They.' Who is 'They'?"
He got his answer as the door exploded.