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    Face to face, he saw her only once.

    In his dreams, however, he’d seen her nearly every other night; in dreams where his hindlegs still worked, still moved, where he was not crippled for life.

    He was a painter by trade. Or had been, at least. He was more accurately a fool; a fool who’d embarked on an ill-fated journey to trap the world in paintings and now found himself trapped in the unforgiving claws of the forest.

    He’d lost his supplies, lost his way, and he feared his very own life would soon follow. He’d scavenged whatever food he could find, whatever might feed him, and had been too blinded by hunger to realize he’d eaten a too generous hoof-full of poisonous duskshade berries.

    The hallucinations, like nighttime, had descended upon him some time ago, but now he could barely walk, barely move as he pushed through the poison and deeper into the woods. Would he die alone?

    He thought of his wife. He thought of his daughter, and his grandfoals.

    The sound of a cascading, raging waterfall filled the dry air, intermingling with his ragged breaths. He reached a clearing and found before him a lake and waterfall larger than mountains themselves. He tried to make sense of it, tried to figure out where he could be, but the poison seeped into his mind and clouded his thoughts.

    “He-Help…” he called out, to the night, to the stars, to whoever might listen. “He…Help! Please! Some…” He collapsed to the ground. “Somepony…”

    Little one…

    He opened his eyes and looked up, a gentle voice whispering to him. Oh, he was hardly a foal, but he could not think to argue with a voice as motherly as that one. Was he dying? Had his mother come fetch him from beyond the stars and the earth?

    …I am here, Little one…


    His voice drifted off, his eyes drawn towards the waterfall crashing down. He could see it; beyond the lake, there was a light. It called him, beckoned him, and his eyes widened when a faint golden magic enveloped the waterfall. He watched as it parted in two and revealed the entrance to a cave.

    With whatever energy he could muster, he forced his body off the ground and walked towards the river. The water was as cold as the night air and yet, the more he stared at the light, the closer he swam towards it, the more a strange sort of warmth took over.

    The more, it seemed, his pain faded away.

    Perhaps he truly was dying.

    Eventually, he reached the cave, climbing out from the river and into solid ground.

    In the distance, where the light was, he saw the outline of a creature. He walked towards it—towards her. As he approached her, he could see the outline of a horn, and whatever spell she was casting was bright enough he could see her perfectly when standing before her.

    He fell to his haunches and wondered if he was still hallucinating.

    An alicorn sat before him.

    An alicorn, tall and goddess-like and still as a statue. Her closed eyes betrayed no emotion, no sign of life, and her wings were firmly pressed against her body, nearly hiding the sun-shaped cutie mark she bore.

    And her horn.

    Her horn, he noticed with horror, was cracked, but it still glowed brightly enough he could see the tears rolling down her cheeks.

    The beautiful creature was crying.

    He stepped back, and a ripping sound on the floor caught his attention. Several dozen or more scrolls lay scattered all around, all of them in various stages of decay. He grabbed one and tried to decipher the faded out words, but it was hard. He was tired, and dying, and they were all written in big scrawling, desperate letters.

    Pri c ss, it’s me, Sp ke,

    wh re are you??? ??

    i c n’ find Twil g t, can t f nd prin ess Luna, Shin ng Ar or is g ne

    plea e help us pl ase ple se pri ces wh re are y u

    ple se an wer

    “Is it commonplace now to read somepony else’s mail?”

    Startled, he looked up towards the mare, and she looked exactly as she did before, save for the smile on her lips.

    “Yo-Your horn,” he said, the only thing he could think to say. “It…”

    “I am not in pain,” she replied in an almost heavenly voice, light and carefree and gentle. “Or, if I am, I’ve grown used to it.”

    A sharp jolt of pain shot through his body, and he groaned.

    “Are you dying?” he asked, when he managed to collect himself. He couldn’t rightly tell if it was meant for her or for him. Probably both.

    “Am I dying? No, I no longer can,” she replied with shocking nonchalance. “In other circumstances, I would be able to, but it would take quite some time. My sister and I are ageless alicorns.” She paused, frowning. “My niece and my student aren’t, however. I sometimes envied them for it.” She smiled. “It’s all in the past now, isn’t it? But now… time, life, and death are inconsequential for one in my current position.”

    “Can you move?” he asked, even as his body began to fail him. “Can you heal?”

    “I will never move again,” she replied. “But if I move and stop casting my spell, I could heal myself.”

    “You…you must,” he said, suddenly clinging to the health of the alicorn. She needed to live, for he feared he would not, but if she survived death, maybe he too would be pulled from the brink. “Please… you need help…”

    He collapsed onto the ground, the pain ripping him apart, and his vision blurring. He struggled to keep it focused on her.

    “You are kind,” she replied, “but you were the one asking for help, weren’t you?”

    Finally, she opened her eyes. She opened her eyes, and they were pitch-black. They were black, and sad, and she continued to cry. He wondered if he ought to be afraid of her, but realized he was afraid for her.

    “Why are you dying?” she asked gently.

    “Duskshade berries,” he said, his speech starting to slur.

    “How long ago?”

    “Time…is inconsequential…isn’t it?” he echoed, and found it in him to smile even through the agony. He thought about his family. “My wife, my daughter…”

    She did not reply. He thought, for a moment, that she was waiting to watch him die. A weeping angel to look after him in his final moments. He thought of his daughter. He thought of his grandfoals.

    “One pony.”

    He looked up, confused by her words, and found her looking away. He realized she was not talking to him, but instead seemed to be talking to herself.

    “One pony,” she said. “He is asking you for help, and you brought him here. One pony.”

    She looked down at him, and the sadness in her eyes vanished. They were hard, and cold, and yet… kind at the same time. She was going to kill him, he thought. And he was too gone to fight it.

    “Please stay completely still,” she instructed.

    She took a breath, and when the spell stopped with a crackle of magic, she gasped in pain and nearly tumbled down. Before he could hope to try and offer help, she steadied herself and her horn glowed anew.

    Except, now it was he who was enveloped in golden magic.

    “Don’t speak,” she replied when he opened his mouth to do so. “We have little time.”

    He did as told, and magic filled him with a burning heat, as though the sun itself pulsed through his veins. Except, though it burned, the other pain he felt began to fade, his limbs began to stir, and his vision clear. He realized that somehow, someway, she was burning the poison away.

    And then, it happened.

    A loud, deafening crack sounded off behind her in the darkness of the cave, and her eyes widened with unrestrained fear.

    And a laugh.

    Deep, raspy, terrifying.

    “…hello, Princess…”

    He saw them.

    Two yellow terrifying eyes behind her.

    “I am sorry, my little pony,” she said quickly, desperately, and before he could ask, she stopped the healing spell. Both she and him hissed in pain, but she quickly unleashed another spell. A barrier surrounded her, and again she sat completely still, her horn glowing and crackling.

    “…oh, my dear, it’s too late now…”

    She gritted her teeth and said nothing.

    “…all this to save him? Threw it all away for a single pony? You really are a fool.”

    The painter tried to speak, but his vision clouded again.

    “I stopped the poison,” she said gently, and she continued to cry. “I stopped it, but I could not undo the damage to your legs. I am sorry. You must go. You…” She swallowed. “You have been here too long.” She smiled kindly. “Thank you. ‘Tis a long, long time since I’ve seen a pony.”

    And before he could say much, before he could ask her name, her horn glowed as brightly as the sun itself, and with a final agonized groan, she cast a third spell.

    When he opened his eyes, he found himself in an entirely different place. A road. He could see a town in the distance, and ponies moving about.

    Exhaustion swept over him, and he tried to remember where he’d been, tried to remember what he’d seen, but the more he tried to do so, the more the details blurred away. By the time he fell asleep, by the time he was found, his memories of the past days had gone, and only her image remained.

    The weeping princess who’d saved his life.

    Her image, her voice, and those yellow eyes would haunt him until death.

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    1. A Deer
      Mar 28, 23 at 12:55 am

      A great way to introduce Celestia. It’s very impactful and shows a lot about her and her situation. Yet it deepens the mystery by not answering the questions it raises. Adds to the world and adds another piece of the puzzle. The whole scene really captured a kind of hazy like mysterious and forelonging mood. Maybe kind of like the dreams the painter has of this encounter.

    2. Zanna Zannolin
      Oct 9, 22 at 10:08 pm

      WHHHHATTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT. WHAAAAT JUST HAPPENED!!! oh my god you have got to stop hitting me with these teases i’m literally going to die. WHY is her horn cracked HOW is her horn cracked (look! another thing for twilight to beat herself senseless with guilt over!!) WHY is she crying WHAT did discord mean WHAT DID HE DO TO HER WHY THE BARRIER WHAT IS HAPPENINNNNNGGGGGG!! my mind is going a million miles a second i am in full conspiracy mode my jaw is on the FLOOR.

      how do you keep DOING THIS?! ohhhh man oh man oh MAN celestia’s first appearance in earnest really is a doozy huh. my god. congrats on building the suspense higher and deepening the mystery further. i cannot believe you managed that. this story is like the world’s most epic jenga tower and when it comes down ohhh things are gonna go to shit i am ever so worried about what discord is up to right now.