Well, after many months, I finally managed to write this little bugger. It was a struggle and I didn't have a whole lot of motivation to push me forward, but I did it, and that's all that matters. Expect more chapters soon.
This story features adult themes and other such things that may not be suitable for everyone. Read at your own risk.
Begin Chapter 31
Getting your hopes up is always a dangerous thing to do. It can lead to crushing depression if your expectation have not been quite met. For example, coming into camp after our glorious victory over the Lunars should have been a happy occasion. People should have been jumping for joy, singing from the tops of the ramshackled and destroyed homes that once belonged to the ponies that inhabited this harmonious town. But like most things, it wasn’t to be. We hurried back to our camp, worried about what Bluelighting might of done. She may have destroyed our supplies so completely that even though we won the war, the survivors would starve. Rebuilding a town with no food would be a disaster. Without food, ponies might result to...drastic means. I cannot bear the thought of ponies growing desperate enough to result to barbaric means.
We rush back to town, practically dragging the distraught Princess Celestia behind us. She has been sobbing uncontrollably the entire jaunt back to camp. I do not blame her for this behavior, she had to slay her own sister after all, but I wish that she managed to keep her grief locked up until we returned to camp. He unwillingness to walk slows us down considerably, and I know we don’t have too much time to waste. We finally reach our camp on the hill, our army a shadow of its former might. So many ponies have died, a wave of grief ripples through the entire group. How many husbands and wives will have no one to sleep next to them tonight? How many children will have to tuck themselves in, rather than their parents? Celestia is right, we may have won, but at what cost? Did we even truly win? No, no we did not, both sides lose. The loss of life is the reason there are no true victors in war.
I trot into the camp. Immediately, I make a beeline for the storage tent. I peer in, and, surprised, I find that supplies have been left unscathed. The smallest basket of apples is still perfectly intact. I back out of the tent, letting out a sigh of relief. Maybe Prodigy managed to fend off Bluelighting. Even in his injured state he must have still been quite a force to reckon with in battle. I call out his name, trying to bring him forth. I wish to congratulate him on keeping the camp safe, and fending off the menace that is Bluelighting. After I send the sound of his name into the early evening air twice, and receive no response, I begin to worry. I trot around the camp, continuing my vocalizing of his name. I reach the edge of our camp, and I grow even more flustered. Maybe Bluelighting truly did kill him, and is hiding in the camp, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. These thoughts plague my mind until I finally see the blue form of Prodigy hunched over, sitting in front of a small wooden cross. I canter over to him, and am about to ask him where he’s been and whose grave he is sitting in front of, when I see the name carved into the plank of wood nailed to the two tied-together sticks. “Here lies Snowdrop: May she see all in the sky.”
I let out a small gasp. Snowdrop? She was killed!? I cannot come to believe that anypony would do something so hideously terrible. Wait...actually I can. Bluelighting must be responsible for this crime. I’m about to ask Prodigy a question, but he speaks first. “I should have stopped her. I should have gotten her away from that bush.” He looks at me, his eyes are tinged red from tears. “I failed, Grovyle. I couldn’t keep her safe. Blue killed her before I could even react. I held her as she bled out, her blood draining from the severed vessel in her neck. I failed!” I raise a hoof, a gesture to silence Prodigy. “You’ve failed? No Prodigy, you have not failed. I doubt there had been anything you could have done.” Prodigy lets out a wail of anguish. “Of course there had been! I should have ran and stopped her. I should have drawn my knives and attacked Blue. I should have done something!”
He draws the knife in his right sheath. Thinking he’s going to attack me in his delirious fit, my magical aura drips the hilt of my broadsword. Instead of attempting to stab me, Prodigy thrusts the blade hilt deep in the mud. He sits there, looking at the ground, his back hunched. The way he carries himself, it makes him look decades older than he actually is. I walk up and put a hoof on his shoulder. “Prodigy, don’t be too hard on yourself. Things like this happen. What did John Lyle say about war in his famous work? Come on, you were always into old literature…”
Prodigy doesn’t move, but he answers my question. “He said: “All is fair in love and war.” He lies, nothing is fair in either. Ask Helen of Troy, ask Romeo, ask anyone that has love and lost. As a matter of fact, why don’t you ask me? I can tell you just how false that statement truly is. What Blue did was sick, and had nothing to do with the war. She just did it to rattle me…”
I ponder this. “Did she succeed?” Prodigy looks up at me, his expression puzzled. “What do you mean?”
I hold my head a tad higher. “I’m asking you if she managed to rattled you.” “I-”
“Because if she did, then maybe I overestimated your willpower and your strength. I have witnessed you killing hundreds in the field of battle! I have watched you look into the dying eyes of your victims, waiting for the last flicker of light to be snuffed out by the cold embrace of death! This should not have rattled you! You experience it every day! You’ve said it yourself, ponies don’t change!”
Prodigy looks up sadly. “I lied…”
“When I said that, I lied...Ponies can always change for the better, and by extent, the worse. Experiences and revelations change ponies everyday. If you want proof, just look around you. We are standing in the ruins of what was a peaceful, harmonious town. Now look at it, it’s been reduced to nothing, stripped of everything that held it together. When the chips were down, and war boiled on the horizon, pony turned on pony, and this entire conflict is the effect of that cause. Thousands, possibly millions dead, because one town couldn’t keep it together...the ponies in this town changed, and they paid the ultimate price for change. Stallions, mares, and foals...all slain. War does not discriminate upon age or gender or walk of life. It is merciless, and we are the bearers of this self-wrought plague. So yes, I lied, ponies do change...and maybe I’ve changed too.”
Prodigy lays down on the cold, damp earth, barely bothered by the chill in the ground. He shivers only slightly, and continues his tirade. “I’m not a warrior anymore, Spearmint.”
I flinch at the use of my actual name, but say nothing. He continues to speak. “I’m just a tired, old, washed-up has-been. I can’t fight through waves of enemies anymore. I cannot step onto the battlefield, weapons raised towards the heavens, and strike fear and doubt into the hearts of my sworn enemies. I can no longer gaze into the pleading eyes of those that have tasted the cold metal of my blades. I cannot stare as their eyes glaze over and they send one last beg for mercy.”
“I cannot stand it, Spearmint, the dead haunt me in my dreams. Every night, I have the same nightmare. I’m chained to some sort of stone wall. My legs have been splayed, allowing my midsection to be exposed. Then, all of those that I have killed begin to appear. Each brandishes a knife, and one by one, they walk up to me and slash a new gash in my abdomen. Each knife tearing through my skin hurts worse than the last. Soon, I won’t be able to take the pain, Spearmint...Snowdrop will join my nocturnal tormentors tonight, brandishing a knife, blaming me for dying so young...She was so young…”
I remain silent. Partly, because I do not know if he will utter more depressing things about his life, and partly because I’ve never been very good with emotions and those that have emotional problems. I finally manage to mumble out what I think is a motivational speech of some sort. “Well, sometimes people have to go through some hard times, but they just have to go through those hard times and keep their chins up. Sometimes, you just have to keep on going through the pain and just...walk through the fire and ignore the pain. So, don’t give up, Silverheart.”
Prodigy looks up at me and he does something that I would never have guessed he would do. He starts to laugh. At first it comes out in soft little chuckles, slightly raspy as if he had not laughed in months. Then, the adulations begin to rise in volume and tone, until Prodigy is rolling on the ground in laughter. He does this for a few minutes, and then finally regains his composure and lets out a gusty sigh. “Wow, Spearmint, where’d you read that piece of inspirational fodder? Scrawled across the wall of a bathroom stall? For God’s sake, that was the most clichéd thing I have ever heard in my life. ‘Keep your head up!’ Wow, I thought you would be better at this Spearmint. I mean...come on!”
He falls into another fit of guffaws. The comments are a bit barbed, but seeing Prodigy laugh unravels the ball of stress that is lodged in my gut, if only a little. At least I managed to help one of my soldiers. If only I could get my troop back together by making them laugh hysterically like I did with Prodigy, but I don’t think a terrible speech can save my army or its morale.
I let Prodigy get himself all covered in mud by rolling on the ground, still in the throes of laughter. I trot away from the mocking stallion and look at the once-pristine white tents that surround me. War has left them shredded and wind torn, ruining the once quiet, reserved beauty that they once held. It frustrates me that such a thing could happen, that such a simple thing could be ruined like this. Such simplistic things ruined by such complex bloodshed and ruin. I wish that it could all just end, that the citizens of this town never had to witness such bloodshed and violence gore their innocent town. I dip my head in shame, knowing full well that I’m partially responsible for this, that I can’t alleviate the blame from myself. I just shake my head and walk away from the self-wrought destruction that we have all caused.
I walk up to the destroyed entrance to the camp. The last of Solars and the remains of the beaten Lunars stream into the camp. Only one pony is unaccounted for, one single light blue mare. Bluelighting. She’s still out there, plotting against us, I’m sure. I gaze off into the horizon as if to see this nefarious mare, thinking that I can spot her fleeing from the hill. I’m just fooling myself, as I see nothing. I leave the entrance and begin to trot back to the central command tent. Candle will be there to tally the fatalities, and to celebrate our glorious victory. I know the idea is folly, the war hasn’t been won. Candle is just fooling himself, there are still many enemies to slay. I’ve heard that Rarity has garnered a bit of support from others, and could soon become a threat. There is also the non-aligned, whom are still hellbent on destroying everyone and everything. The remnants of the Rebels’ resistance may still remain as well. No, this war is far from over, but it may be reaching its final chapters. Its final, bloodiest chapters. I plod through the mud, reaching the command tent in a few minutes. I look up at its billowing, white canvas. It is one of the few tents in this camp that maintained its pristine white. I noticed this a few days before, and I realized something, something I should have thought of earlier. Why would the command tent remain unscathed, while the smaller, houses of soldiers are ripped to shreds and dirtied. Why would we allow such a thing to happen? I shake my head to clear the dark thoughts. This is no time for dark thoughts and philosophy. I have a job to do. I push open the flaps of the tent to see Candle hunched over the maps in the center, absentmindedly tracing his hoof over battle lines. He doesn’t look up at my entrance. “Candle? Are you all right?”
He still doesn’t remove his gaze from the yellowed maps on the wooden table. I walk up to the table and set my hoof on the map. I nudge him. “Candle?”
This rouses him. He looks me dead in the eye and he is absolutely grim. I’ve never seen him look like this. He looks ten years older, the light snuffed from his eyes. It’s frightening, so different from the confident leader that he was. He speaks up and his voice is cracking. “Ah...Grovyle, just the pony I wanted to see. Please, take a seat.” I look around. There are no chairs, or even a stump, so I remain standing. Candle doesn’t seem to care, as he carries on speaking. “Has Agent Shadow spoken to you recently?”
“Yes, just the other day. He had nothing to report.”
Candle just nods. “Good, maybe we can get a break. We need a chance to regroup and rebuild our might. I know that there are still enemies that we must fight. This war isn’t over until all those that want the Princess killed have surrendered or have been slain themselves.”
I look around. The emptiness of this room is leaving me on edge. The air feels charged with electricity. I dare to ask the question that is strewn across my mind. “Where is UglyTurtle?”
Candle stops his pacing. He then walks over to the corner of the room. He lets out a gusty sigh. “I found him in the river. He appears to have drowned himself.”
His news hits me right in the gut. “Wh-what? What do you mean? Why would he do that?” Candle just shakes his head. “I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories. Hysterical was killed during the siege on the Lunar camp, but that seems to be a bit of a stretch. They were never very friendly. No, I think the reason he drowned himself was guilt. Guilt about this war. Guilt about letting his army slaughter thousands of innocents. It must have weighed down on him so severely, that he could no longer carry on. The death of Snowdrop must have pushed him over the edge. Her death was a direct result of his refusal to end the war in its preliminary weeks. His inability to control his crazed followers. It would have led him to insanity if he had not ended it sooner. He understood that he had to pay for his sins, and as no higher being would punish him, he had to bring the punishment upon himself.” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Candle’s voice is deadpan and shows absolutely no emotion. It’s like he doesn’t even care for Turtle at all. He’s just another stain on the plane of death that this war has caused. Just another bloodsplatter on the crimson canvas. It sickens me. “When are we holding the service for him and the other dead?” Candle looks at me, his expression puzzled. “What do you mean? Prodigy can bury the dead like he always has. I’m sure he’s already started.” I know full well he hasn’t. He was probably think the same thing I was, that there should be a mass ceremony for the fallen. Candle’s refusal leaves me gnashing my teeth together. Candle’s countenance grows even more confused. “Are you feeling all right, Grovyle? You seem a bit...frustrated about something.”
I give him a murderous gaze. “Am I feeling all right? No! No, I am not feeling all right! What is wrong with you? Those ponies require a proper burial and ceremony, and I will not allow Prodigy to bury thousands of corpses!”
Candle just sits there, his eyes still void of any emotion. He waits a few minutes before replying, obviously seeing the rage in my eyes. “It would be a draw on resources and manpower, something we cannot afford right now. We have a war going on, and tradition and proper funerals must take a backseat to the imminent danger.” “What danger? Every group is too war-exhausted to even muster up a proper army! No one will dare attack us! We are the dominant force in this war. We can afford to do this!”
Candle rises. He begins to walk towards me, and at first I think he’s going to strike me down for questioning his decision. I’m ready for him to make an aggressive move, but he stops halfway to me and then stops. His gaze continues to burn into me. “If you want this mass funeral so badly, you can go out into the rain and mud and help Prodigy dig the graves. Don’t you dare try to recruit another soul to help you, or I will cast you out of this camp myself. That is my final decision, no more debating it.”
Candle then leaves the table and walks out of the tent, leaving me absolutely stunned at my leader’s loss of righteousness and morals. I sit in the tent for a few moments, and then push out of the tent. When I walk out, the shock of freezing rain runs through me. The rain, which had ceased after the battle, has come back with full force. It has turn into a torrential downpour, and within minutes I’m soaked to the bone. I plod through the mud, heading towards the open field that we use as a makeshift cemetery. I look out and see a navy blue shape working in the rain. Candle was right, Prodigy has already started his work, just like he always has. I trudge through the loose earth towards the lone unicorn working stalwartly through these horrendous conditions. I finally reach him, but he doesn’t even notice me. He just carries on scooping mud and water out of the hole he’s digging. I have to yell over the pounding rain to get his attention. He turns his head and looks at me with those piercing blue eyes. He cracks that mischievous smile. “Well, glad someone finally came out to help me. There’s an extra shovel over there, start digging.”
He motions to a mound mud. Wedged in the pile is another shovel. I pick it up and break ground a few feet away from Prodigy. He just chuckles. “So, are you here to feed some more inspirational garbage, or are you actually here to help me?”
“Maybe a little bit of both.”
“Well, maybe you should focus more on the grave you’re digging than the conversation that you’re going to have with me. I think grave digging should be a higher priority.”
“I don’t know, Prodigy,” I scoop out another shovelful. “I heard something a few years ago, long before this war took place, that might hold some truth.”
“And what would that be, oh Sagely One?”
“The saying goes: “Don’t pity the dead, pity the living. And above all, those that have lived without love”. What do you think? Does it fit the situation that we are currently in?”
Prodigy stops shoveling. He remains dead silent for a few moments. When he speaks again, his voice is cracking. “...Without love? Yeah, it does fit the situation well. A little too well.”
I realize that maybe I have struck a nerve that should have stayed untouched. “Oh, I’m sorry, Prodigy. If this is too personal-.”
Prodigy interrupts me, but his voice still sounds frail. “No, no, it’s fine. You can’t exorcise your demons unless you face them. It’s just that...I heard that same saying a while back. When I heard it, I knew that it fit me perfectly. Why pity the dead? Why pity those that no longer have to slog through the pain and misery of life? The only release from the infinite circle of pain and loss is when we let ourselves go for the final time and relent to the infinite blackness that hangs over us in our every waking moment.”
I look down at the hole I’ve dug in the ground. I think about what Prodigy’s just said, the darkness and malice that echoes through the words he speaks. No pony should hold such resentment and anger in his soul. Maybe the death of Snowdrop has jarred him so badly that he may not fully leave behind the past. I say nothing more and he also remains silent
We carry on shoveling, digging graves for the thousands upon thousands that have died today. We dig through the miserable earth, streaked with water. We work on as the angels cry down upon us.
End Chapter 31
This 'fiction is based of the blog Hurt/Heal by Candlekeeper.
Template Creator: MeesterTweester
Thank you to Bluelighting, Guildmaster Grovyle, Candle, UglyTurtle, and Hysterical for letting me use their names in this chapter.