Promised Land

by Obselescence

Chapter 1

Twilight Sparkle was dying. It was no surprise, really. He could hear it with every breath he took, gulping down air in great, greedy gasps. He could see it in his once-proud carapace, so shiny and black in his hatchling days, but now a dull, scratchy gray. And, of course he could feel it—deep down, in that achy, bottomless void eating him slowly from the inside. He was dying, yes, but he knew that, and always had.

It had never been a secret to him that, in the end, he would starve.

Still, he marched on. The shadow of death had chased him long through the wastes, but it would not catch him before he reached his destination. He could see it now, standing tall and strong amidst the blackened sands: the mountain. It was so near, so close, and it grew nearer with each step he took. He could not stop now. Not here. A death on the mountain would be a death in a holy place, and Twilight could ask no more from his life. His pilgrimage would, at long last, be complete.

So he walked, and walked, and walked. Every step was an effort, a careful expenditure of what precious energy he had left, solely to push him that final few miles forward. He didn’t mind, so long as it meant that his existence would not be in vain, that the gods—if they were still watching—would take note of his faith and smile upon him. They had not done that for his kind in a very long time, but then, none of the hive had ever been quite so faithful as Twilight Sparkle.

If they had, they would have been there with him.

He stopped to rest just a small ways off from the mountain’s base, so close to his goal he could see it. It seemed somehow improper for him to feed on holy ground, and he had reached the end of his supplies anyway, so he decided that he would stop and finish them here. His one last meal before he climbed the mountain, after which he would eat no more forever.

From the pocket of his cloak he drew the last of his seeds, and from his other pocket he drew the mouse. It was a small, scrawny thing, with matted gray fur and a twitching pink nose. It had grown thin as of late, along with its owner. Tiny ribs poked out from the skin stretched over its sides, expanding and contracting with every breath. It sniffed frantically at the air, staring intently at the seeds he held in his other hoof. It was hungry. Well—so was he.

He gave the mouse a few sunflower seeds, dropping them one by one into its waiting paws. It accepted them gratefully, nibbling at them as fast as it could. When all the seeds were gone, it nuzzled up to his hoof and sighed, somewhat appeased, if not completely full. And then, at last, he could feel it: that familiar, mouth-watering warmth. Love. A dim love, but love nonetheless.

Silently, Twilight prayed. He had been told once that all love, even that of a lowly mouse, had ultimately come from the gods, and so he gave thanks for his last meal. He drank in all that the mouse had to give him, and then when it had nothing left, kept drinking. It shrieked and spasmed as he did so, but soon enough stopped moving, and that was that. It was not nearly enough to fill his aching stomach, but it was more than nothing, and he was grateful for that too.

“Go well from this world,” he told the mouse, digging a small hole for it out of the black wasteland sands. “Perhaps, if you are lucky, the gods will smile upon you in the next.” He buried the body gently, patted the dirt down with his hoof, and nodded. It was more than a mouse deserved, in all honesty, but it took him no time and he bore for it some small affection. It had traveled this far with him across the wasteland, staying faithfully by his side since the day he had set off on his journey—which was no small feat. He could not say the same for any of the hive, so perhaps it had earned its burial after all.

He set off again at a half-run, energized by the love the mouse had given him. The mountain was close enough now to loom over him, and he could not help but feel awed by its majesty. A tingle ran through his carapace as he stepped into its shadow. A spark of power seemed to hang in the air; holy ground. He could feel it. Twilight had, for the first time in his short life, set hoof in the gods’ own land, and with any luck, his short life would end before he would ever have to set hoof outside it.

Statues to the gods greeted him as he traveled further into the holy land. They stuck out of the sands, half-buried but whole, and he could almost feel their eyes watching him as he walked past. Twilight could not help but wonder if there had been more here, long ago. Surely there had been more than statues here in the holy land. Entire temples and shrines, perhaps, built to the gods’ everlasting glory. Marbled paths and golden fountains overflowing with love.

But that must have been a very long time ago, Twilight supposed. If ever the holy land had been beautiful, it had fared no better than the rest of the world when the gods had left and taken their love with them. A great tragedy, to be sure, but Twilight did not dwell too much on it. Everything happened because the gods willed it, and so even this must have been part of their great plan.

He stopped to pray before each god’s statue, but did not dare touch the statues themselves, for fear of offending a watching god. Horned gods, winged gods, and earth gods with naught but their own four hooves—he hoped to find favor in all their eyes before he passed on.

“...And may you forgive us for our sins, great though they have been,” he said, finishing his final prayer. It had been given to the earth god, Mayor. Or, at least, he supposed the god’s name was Mayor. That was the name that had been engraved on the statue, though truthfully he had never heard of such a god before. Still, every god deserved worship, and he stopped to kneel at it before continuing on with his journey.

Just beyond the statue of Mayor was the last step in his pilgrimage: the iron road that led up the mountain. It was a strange road, to his eyes: two rails of metal inlaid with tracks, like a staircase of sorts, leading to a higher realm. For what reason the gods had built such a strange path to their holiest place was beyond him, but Twilight supposed it too had been part of their divine plan. He turned back and gave thanks to all the gods before he set hoof on the rusted-red iron. Surely it had been by their grace that he had come this far, and if they could grant him so great a favor as this, then perhaps forgiveness for all his kind was not impossible.

That sort of thought, however, struck him as arrogant, and so Twilight purged it from his mind. He set himself instead about climbing the mountain, following the tracks of the iron road as best he could. It was difficult to walk, for the road had clearly not been made for his hooves and was too old to bear his weight in some places, but he was making slow progress. Here now was the final test of his faith, the only trial left between him and the city. He was close. Closer than any of his kind had ever been before.

Twilight grinned at the thought of that and pushed himself a bit further up the path’s slope. Oh, how the hive had laughed at him. Mocked him. Thought him a fool for thinking he could survive such a pilgrimage. But the gods—they alone had seen his faith, and they alone could reward it. The rest of the hive could think about that, perhaps, as they starved in their dark, damp caves.

He would starve too, yes, but there were worse places to die than the shining white city of the gods.

Higher and higher he climbed up the mountain, up into the empty red sky and ever closer to the gods’ shining city. He had long since used up what love he had taken from the mouse and the gnawing aches of his hunger had returned to haunt him, but still he kept on. Through the thinning air and the steep slopes of the road before him, Twilight’s only thoughts were of reaching the top—of fulfilling his one duty to the gods.

And when at last he stood before the city’s golden gates, he knew the gods had smiled upon him once more. They had been left standing open, as if to welcome him inside, but for a moment Twilight could only gape in awe at the sight of the city itself. Tall white towers that reached into the sky, higher even than the mountain’s own peak, streets paved with solid gray stone instead of grit and coal-black sand. To construct even the merest of the buildings before him would have been beyond all the hive’s crude efforts, and to build an entire city of them could have only been the work of the gods.

“Your humble servant is honored,” he whispered. Twilight fell to his knees and gave thanks again to the gods for bringing one so low as he so far. When he had finished with his prayers, he climbed shakily to his hooves and stepped through the gates. His wings buzzed with joy, spending what little energy he had left, and tears—precious water—fell from his eyes. Twilight did not mind such wastes, though. They no longer mattered. If he died here and now, he would feel his life complete.

But the shadow of death had yet to catch him, and he hadn't yet found a good spot to die, so he decided to wander the city in search of one. He walked the paved-stone streets at his own, leisurely place, drinking in the sights slowly enough to savor them. He felt smaller now than he ever had in his life, surrounded by so many grand and glorious structures, any of which could have been a palace to his people. Still more impressive was how each and every building had been built in its own unique fashion, with obvious love and care. No two were alike, and each building was adorned with its own special arrangements of golden metal and fading colored cloth.

Twilight could hardly imagine how the gods had managed so many elaborate constructions, nor why they had needed so many in the first place. Some of them could have been temples, he supposed. Others, perhaps, could have been palaces for the gods themselves. But surely there weren’t that many gods. It seemed vaguely possible to Twilight that some of the smallest buildings could have been home to his ancestors. Places to house worshippers of the gods’ splendor—from long before the Fall, of course. Before the gods had forsaken his kind and abandoned the world to waste.

If he’d dared to look inside one, he might have known more, but every door was closed shut, and Twilight knew better than to enter a dwelling the gods had forbidden from him. He contented himself instead with what he could see from the streets, where there were still many treasures for the eyes. There were no half-buried or broken statues in the city, he noted, as there had been at the mountain’s base. These gods’ statues all stood proudly upon their pedestals, their perfection marred only by their obvious age.

And these gods he recognized. The winged god, Fluttershy. The earth god, Pinkie Pie. Powerful gods indeed. He had worn their forms often before, in the hive’s reenactments of their legends, but such imitations now seemed crude before the likenesses carved by the gods themselves. It was humbling, in a way—not that Twilight had ever aspired to arrogance. No living, breathing changeling had ever seemed half as magnificent and confident as the stone Rainbow Dash that stood atop a dried fountain.

He gave his prayers to Rainbow Dash and moved on as quickly as his hooves would take him, his face burning with shame. He had always thought the forms he had worn—that everyone in the hive had worn—were very faithful. It had never quite occurred to him that, even in worship, his kind must have seemed as lowly and dim to the gods as the mouse had to him.

Eventually his wandering brought him to the greatest and grandest building of all: the castle. Even in the city of the gods, it was clear that this structure had been something special once. Home to the greatest gods of all, Twilight supposed. What else could it have been, when it towered over a city of towers? The gods too knew to show their betters respect.

Curiously enough, the castle was the only place that hadn’t been barred to him. Its drawbridge had been left open, stretching over the empty moat to provide a path inside. It seemed… welcoming, almost, just as the gates had. Was this where the gods wished to guide him, then?

“I am honored,” Twilight whispered, half to himself and half to any listening gods. He stepped onto the drawbridge, shuddering for a moment as that tingle ran again through his carapace. The air around him almost seemed to crackle with energy. There was power here, yes. If the rest of the land was holy, then this castle was holiest by far. “I do not deserve this…”

Whether or not he deserved it, though, he could only step forth and accept the honor the gods had decided to bestow upon him. Twilight half-expected to be greeted by one of the gods themselves when he stepped off the drawbridge and into the castle—but, of course, that was a foolish hope. There were no more gods in this world, and never would be again.

Still, entry into the castle was more than enough. No tunnel the hive had ever dug was half as massive as the hall into which he’d entered. Everywhere he looked there was some new display of opulence. Glittering crystals that hung from the ceilings, banners of every sort hanging from the walls, and windows made of some strange, colored glass. Twilight could have stayed there forever, lost in that single enormous hall, enjoying every sight it had to offer him until he—


Twilight jumped, his wings buzzing in agitation. A noise? Where? Here? Or elsewhere?

He took a deep, calming breath and steadied himself. No, the noise hadn’t been in this hall. It had come from another room, further on. Another breath. Calm. No threat here. He’d grown so accustomed to the empty silence… What could have caused such a noise? Surely not an animal. There was no love from the gods here to sustain one, and none of his kind to feed it more earthly food instead. Not an animal, surely.


Cautiously, Twilight moved toward the source of the noise, following it up the staircase and to the right, into the hallway…


Just around the corner. That’s where the sound was coming from. He stepped forth as lightly as he could, straining his wings to keep them from buzzing. Only a precaution, he told himself silently. There was likely no danger here, in the gods’ most sacred dwelling. He would look around the corner and see some fallen banners, probably, their fastenings having failed them with age.

That would be it.


“Gods give me strength,” Twilight prayed, thinking hard of all the gods whose names he knew, even those he’d only just discovered, such as Mayor. Slowly, inch-by-inch, he peeked his head out past the corner…

It was one of his people. Another just like him. Well, perhaps not just like him—the wings were shorter, the hoof patternings different. From a different hive, most likely. He tensed, unsure of what to expect from another of his own kind. He did not at all like those of his own hive, who had scorned his great faith and laughed at his efforts to make the pilgrimage… What then, would he see from a changeling who was alien to him altogether, without even familiarity to dull his distaste?

It occurred to him, though, that this changeling had reached the city also—he had dared cross the waste and make a pilgrimage of his own. Another of the faithful, then! Twilight could feel excitement welling up in his chest. How should he introduce himself? What should he say? He had never learned how to greet another from a different hive. He wasn’t even sure if this stranger spoke his language, or some far-off foreign tongue. Surely, though, their shared faith would be enough, even so?

He stayed hidden for a few seconds more, observing his fellow pilgrim as he deliberated how to greet them. He watched closely, carefully, as the stranger strode over to the wall, grabbed hold of one of the banners—a banner the gods themselves had hung there—

And pulled.


Stop! Stop!” shouted Twilight, running over to wrestle the banner from the stranger’s hooves. Tired and hungry and weak as he was, though, the stranger easily pulled it away from his grasp. “Do you not know that these belonged to the gods?

“I do,” said the stranger calmly. “Why else should I tear them down?” He threw the banner to the ground and ground his hoof upon it, dirtying it with so much grit, grime, and black wasteland sand. “Well met. I am Applejack, of the northern waste. You?”

Twilight could only splutter in indignation. “I—you—the gods!” he choked out.

“A curious name,” said Applejack thoughtfully. “I have not heard of any such god before. From what sort of strange hive do you hail?”

“I—I am Twilight Sparkle of the east!” Twilight gasped, finding his voice again. The struggle with Applejack had left him short of breath. No surprise, he supposed—he was half-dead already. Even a little extra strain would tax him heavily. “It is—it is the name of a great and powerful god, and you will show it the proper respect.”

“Ah, now that is a name I recognize,” said Applejack. He spat on the banner and grinned. “As you can see, I have no respect to give the gods—but you are not a god, and I can respect you, if not your name. To reach this place is a difficult journey. I am impressed you made it this far.”

Twilight scoffed. He did not like this ‘Applejack,’ who had no respect for his betters. Hardly deserving of such an illustrious name as the earth god Applejack’s. “Empty praise. I have not made it this far. The gods, by their grace, have allowed me a successful journey.”

“I am sure,” said Applejack, grinning even wider. He bowed. “Whichever it is, though, I welcome you to this castle. It is good to have your company.”

“It is not your welcome to give,” said Twilight curtly. “Why have you come to this place, if only to defile it?”

“A good question,” said Applejack, he moved to the end of the hall and beckoned Twilight to follow. “Come, walk with me and I shall answer. It has been a long time since I have seen another of our sort. The animals did not make for good conversation, though they did make for good food—haha!”

Twilight did not want to spend another second speaking with Applejack, but… well, he could not leave such a dangerous changeling to run loose in the castle. He was not sure if he could stop Applejack from defiling anything else, but surely the gods would give him the strength when the time came—wouldn’t they? Twilight was no longer sure of their will. The gods had, after all, allowed Applejack into their most sacred dwelling.

Why, though? Applejack had no respect, no reason, no faith. He was everything the gods despised—a living embodiment of the sins for which the gods had abandoned his kind in the first place. Why had they not struck him down as soon as he’d set hoof on holy ground?

Was Applejack too part of their divine plan? Was it the gods’ will that Twilight follow him?

“I shall, but grudgingly,” said Twilight. He paused to straighten the fallen banner out, brushing off as much of the filth as he could, then moved to follow Applejack. “Since I believe it the gods’ will that I do so.”

“I would not worry so much of that,” Applejack laughed. “The gods have not cared for us in a long time.”

The corridor led on to another massive hall—even larger, somehow, than the one Twilight had seen when he’d first stepped inside the castle. Once again, he found himself in awe at the gods’ grandeur, but his awe quickly gave way to disgust when he saw what must have been Applejack’s work: torn curtains, shredded cloth, and shards of broken pottery. Twilight could only imagine what punishment the gods would have in store for Applejack, when they finally unleashed their wrath upon him. Surely he would be called to repent for his sins soon enough.

“I must first tell you,” said Applejack, “that if you seek love here, you will not find it. There is none. I have looked long and hard for it, but the gods—in their wisdom—have left none for us to find. I am sorry.”

“I did not journey this far to find love,” said Twilight. “Only to find rest in the gods’ own land. It is a matter of faith—one I do not expect you to understand.”

Faith,” spat Applejack. His eyes narrowed and his wings buzzed softly. “Do not misjudge me. Faith is a matter I understand all too well. I, too, had faith once.” He kicked at a piece of pottery, sending it skidding across the floor. “Tell me, Twilight Sparkle: do you believe the gods still watch over us?”

“Of course!” said Twilight automatically. He knew the doctrine by heart. “Even now they guide us, leading us so that we may someday redeem ourselves in their eyes and they may return.”

“Mmm,” said Applejack, kicking another shard across the floor. “The rest of my hive thought this. Perhaps they still do.”

“And you do not?”

Applejack shrugged. “How can I? We are faithful. We are dying. Where are the gods? They give us no love, but we give them worship. My hive cannot eat worship. If the gods are still watching, why do they still let us starve? Where is the reward for our faith?”

“Faith is its own reward,” said Twilight, speaking again from doctrine. And yet, Applejack’s words stung just the tiniest bit, if only for the existence of Applejack himself. Every word he dared speak was an affront to the gods, but where was the punishment for his lack of faith? How could the gods allow him to voice such disrespect? Grant him the same opportunity to die in a holy place as they had granted Twilight?

He shook the thought from his mind. No. The gods would apportion their justice in due time, as fitting their own great plan, not his simple desires. “Faith is its own reward,” he repeated. “Your hive cannot eat blasphemy.”

For a moment, Applejack’s wings buzzed loudly, and he looked as though he were going to strike Twilight. Instead, though, he sighed. “I will tell you a secret,” he said. “It is on my hive’s orders that I have ventured here. They… we believed our salvation could be found in this city. There was faith the gods would not let us all die. If we could only make the pilgrimage, we might find some wayward god to take pity on us, some hoard of love that had been left behind. I was sent out to make the pilgrimage—and you can see here that I made it successfully. I had faith that I would find something to bring back, to save us all from starvation.

“But there is nothing.” He sniffed. “All I have found is that the gods do not care for us, if they ever did. I dare not return to tell my hive so. Their supplies will run out soon enough. They will starve there. I will starve here. We all will die, but they, at least, will not have to know the harsh truths I have learned.” He turned to Twilight suddenly. “I am a coward. Do you not think me a coward?”

“I…” began Twilight. He did not quite know what to say. The only thing he had ever expected from his pilgrimage was the chance to die in the castle. He had never even considered the idea that there might be something inside it to save his hive—that the hive itself, with all its mockery and scorn, would even be worth saving.

Applejack, in his own, twisted way, had come to the city with a cause that seemed almost… noble. And yet, he had expected the wrong things from his faith. Had allowed his belief to break too easily. In the end, Twilight supposed, Applejack was not a sinner so much as one too weak to accept the gods’ judgment.

Perhaps that, then, was why the gods had not punished Applejack yet: they pitied him.

“No,” Twilight said at last. “Not… a coward, no.”

Applejack sighed, as if reassured. “You are very kind,” he said, smiling again. “If only the gods could be as accepting as you, I think the world would be now a much better place and our kind much happier for it.”

“The gods will forgive only when they think us worthy of it,” said Twilight neutrally. Truth be told, he was ready to move on. He had learned every lesson the gods had to teach him by Applejack’s example, and it was clear to him that the gods considered Applejack harmless—or, at any rate, that they considered his desecrations allowable. There was no more to be gained by speaking with Applejack, and what remaining time Twilight had left in his life could be spent in more pious pursuits.

“At any rate,” he said, edging slightly away from Applejack. “Our talk has been… enlightening, but I think now I would like to explore the castle on my own, if you do not mind.”

“Of course,” said Applejack, nodding. “Of course. And—” He hesitated. “And if you should like to speak again, you need only call. I will be here. I did enjoy our conversation.”

“I will remember that,” said Twilight, turning to leave. “I... enjoyed our conversation also.”

And perhaps that wasn’t a complete lie. He looked back at Applejack, who had taken now to pacing aimlessly around the hall. Strange a changeling as he was, Applejack had never resorted to belittling or insulting him. Despite their differences, he had spoken to Twilight with respect, and that—that was rare. Maybe he had enjoyed that, deep down. Just the smallest bit.

But only the gods would ever know for sure.

The hours dragged on without end, and as each of them passed Twilight could feel his soul being enriched and his body wasting away. He had seen much in his short time in the holy land, exploring the castle and deciphering its many secrets. There were still so many places though that he had not explored, and in so massive a dwelling as the castle, he entertained no thoughts that he would see them all before he died.

For he was dying. Now more than ever. The void in his stomach seemed to fill him entirely now, threatening to swallow him whole—what was left of him at least. The simple ache that had always haunted him had finally grown into something far sharper, and this, he imagined, was what it was like to truly be on the brink of death. But if that was so, it could not come quickly enough. Why had he ever thought starvation a glorious way to die? Why did the gods not grant his pleas to end this suffering?

Did they not think him worthy?

An evil thought rose in his mind, spoken as if in the voice of Applejack: the gods are not watching after all. That is why they will not answer. Twilight shook the thought away. No. Blasphemy. He would not succumb. His faith would not break so easily as Applejack’s had. The gods would answer in their own time.

So he believed.

The throne room was not the largest the castle had to offer, but it seemed comfortable enough, and would not be the worst place in which to die. He was not nearly arrogant enough to sit on the golden throne at its center, but perhaps there was a soft bit of carpeting somewhere for him to rest on, until the gods saw fit to grant him something more permanent.

Slowly he trudged up the staircase that led to the throne. At the base of the gods’ own seat of power. Yes, that would be good. Not so bold as to claim the seat for himself, but close enough that the gods could see he’d always been their most devout servant. He patted the lush red carpeting a few times, then slowly eased himself down onto it, ignoring the pains in his joints. Perfect. Twilight could already feel his eyes closing shut, slowly but surely. The last time he would ever have them open, until—

Wait. He stopped as the faintest of glimmers caught his eye. There was something strange there, in the corner, glittering just brightly enough to stand out against the room’s natural dimness. Twilight climbed to his hooves as quickly as his failing body would allow him and shuffled over to investigate.

It was a crystal, like those that hung from the castle’s ceilings, but small enough for him to hold in his hooves. It glowed with a dull purple light, unlike any Twilight had ever seen before, and he wondered how he could have missed such a marvelous thing in his explorations.

Perhaps Applejack—defiler that he was—had placed it there. That was possible, Twilight supposed. He had only seen Applejack once or twice since that first conversation, shuffling past the other changeling with a nod and little else. It was not hard to imagine that Applejack had taken this artifact from its rightful place. Surely it did not belong in the corner, lying on its side as if forgotten. Yes, it must have been Applejack who had moved it.

It would not be an affront to the gods, then, for him to pick it up and put it some place more fitting. He took the crystal up in his mouth and looked for a place to set it. The throne, maybe? That seemed the only place worthy of such an interesting artifact. He shuffled back over to the throne and set the crystal down gently on its seat. Perfect.

He bent his head down to pray before the crystal. “One last service rendered unto you before I pass on,” he whispered. “Your humble servant hopes he has found favor.”

The crystal seemed to glow brighter as he prayed, brighter and brighter until it seemed almost blinding and Twilight was forced to shield his eyes. When finally the light died and he thought it safe to look once more, he uncovered them—

And found himself facing a god.

Immediately Twilight bowed, hardly caring for the pain in his joints. He could not stand in the presence of any god, and especially not this one. The god shimmered with the same purple glow as the crystal, pulsing with a power he could hardly comprehend. Her wings spread out majestically from her back and the horn atop her head glowed brighter even than the rest of her.

Yes, he knew the god who stood now before him. How could he not when he bore her name: Twilight Sparkle.

“This is a message,” said the god Twilight Sparkle. She looked down at him, but her eyes seemed to stare straight through his body. “If anyone is still here to listen to it: I’m sorry. There were just too many of them. If we’d stayed… I’m sorry.”

“No,” whispered the changeling Twilight Sparkle as humbly as he could. He did not quite understand all of what the god was telling him, but the intent of it seemed clear enough. “No, do not apologize to me, lady Twilight. It is to you that I must apologize, for the sake of all my kind. It is we who have done wrong. Not you.”

“We will return as soon as we’ve regrouped and I can find the rest of my friends,” continued the god, too intent on delivering her message to acknowledge what he had said. “Maybe with the Elements of Harmony… if we can get them all together again... we can do something.”

Twilight looked up in shock. “Are you returning to us, then, my lady? Are all the gods returning? Has your humble servant heard you correctly?”

“Until then: please do your best to hold on. They may have won this battle, but they haven’t won the war yet.” She nodded and smiled a radiant smile. “Just don’t give up hope, and no matter what happens, always remember the power of friendship… End message.”

And just as quickly as she’d appeared, the god Twilight Sparkle left him.

For a long while, Twilight remained bowed, hoping that there would be something more to the message, that the crystal would glow again and another god would appear to bless him with their presence. But no, it seemed that that was all the gods had to tell him for now. Even that, though, was enough. The gods had bestowed upon him a vision—they were watching!—and it was his duty now to spread that message to anyone who could hear it.

Even Applejack.

“Applejack!” he called weakly, racing through the halls as fast as his stumbling hooves could take him. “Applejack!

“How now, what is this noise?” said Applejack, when finally Twilight found him. “What is it, Twilight Sparkle?”

“I have seen a vision!” said Twilight, wheezing for breath. Even the minor effort he’d taken to track down Applejack had been hard on him, but he did not care. The gods’ work was more important than that. “You—you were wrong! The gods have been watching! One spoke to me! They are returning!”

For a moment Applejack simply stood silent, his wings whirring softly. Then, at last, he spoke. “Where did you have this vision?” he asked. “Show me.”

Twilight led Applejack back to the throne room with the greatest of excitement. There would be no more talk that the gods did not care. No more doubt that his faith was in error. His divine namesake had spoken to him, and though Applejack could argue with Twilight the changeling, he could not hope to stand against Twilight the god.

“It is here,” he said, showing Applejack the crystal he had set on the throne. “This is where she spoke to me.”

“Are you quite sure?” asked Applejack. “I feel no love or power here. Would there not be some if a god had been present?”

“I…” Twilight stopped. It was a little odd, now that he thought about it. He had felt power, yes, when the god Twilight had spoken to him, but no love. Not even the smallest hint of affection from her infinite stores. Had she not thought to grant him it, or—? “You will see,” he said. “I will call her now and she herself will dispel your doubt.”

He bent down before the crystal and began to pray, as he had the first time. “Oh great god Twilight Sparkle,” he whispered. “Your humble servant now begs that you appear before him once more, and relay to us your glorious news.”

He looked up, expecting to see the crystal glow brighter once more, but saw nothing. It only sat there on the throne, its light seeming somehow even dimmer than before.

“I do not think she will answer,” said Applejack softly.

She will!” roared Twilight, loud enough that it hurt his chest. He bent down to pray again. “Please, my lady Twilight. I beseech you. Appear again before us, that you may prove the faithful yet bear some favor in your eyes.”

And still the crystal did not glow.

Please!” Twilight shouted, taking the crystal up on his hooves. “Your humble servant begs you!” He slammed the crystal down again on the throne, so hard that he thought it might shatter, but it refused again to glow brighter for him. It seemed almost as if the light had gone out of it altogether, and the crystal itself had become little more than colored glass. “Please…” he prayed, one last time.

And still no answer came.

He turned to Applejack. “She—she was here!” he pleaded. “The god Twilight Sparkle spoke to me! She told me she was sorry, and that the gods would return someday, and, and…” He sank to his knees. How stupid and silly that all sounded, now that he’d said it out loud. No wonder Applejack did not believe him, preaching of a god who had given no love, had hardly even seemed to notice him. How arrogant it was, to think that he’d been visited by a god, when more likely the only thing he had seen was a hallucination from his own hunger.

“You spoke truth,” he told Applejack sadly. “It seems the gods were not watching after all.”

He expected Applejack to laugh, or to tell him in soft words that of course he had spoken truth. What else could be said when he had been so obviously wrong? So horribly misguided in his faith? But the rebuke did not come. Instead, Twilight felt only a hoof touch lightly upon his shoulder.

“No,” said Applejack. “I believe that you saw a god, and that she spoke to you a message.”

“You do not mean that,” Twilight whispered. He looked up at Applejack, expecting to see some hint of falseness, but there was none. Applejack was speaking truth. He believed.

“I do mean that,” said Applejack. “It is not our task now to ask her for the message again, but to ask ourselves now what it meant.” He held a hoof out to help Twilight up. “In that, I will be happy to help you.”

And in that moment, something sparked. Twilight felt an energy run through his body, more powerful than anything he’d ever felt before in the holy land. It seemed somehow familiar to him, like love but not so, and—

His eyes widened. And he felt no pain. The void in his stomach had been filled, and for the very first time since he had hatched, he was not hungry.

“Do you feel it too?” said Applejack, awestruck. “This energy?”

Twilight nodded, and he realized now what it was. The god Twilight Sparkle had spoken to him of it. “The power of friendship,” he whispered. It must have been. A love that could be created and shared without ever being consumed. With Applejack’s help, he climbed to his hooves, feeling better now than he ever had. “I understand now what the gods were telling me.”

He looked to the crystal on the throne, remembering the form of the god Twilight Sparkle. He closed his eyes, breathed deep, and wore that form now as his own. It did not feel like a cheap imitation or mockery now, but something true. Something natural. This was no disguise, made for retelling stories of the gods: it was what he had become.

“A god before my eyes,” said Applejack, bowing almost by reflex before he caught himself. “Is this what you have been told?”

“The gods are returning,” said Twilight, “but not as they were. They have revealed to us the secrets to becoming gods ourselves, and given us the task of bringing their divinity back into this world.”

For a time Applejack could only stare in awe, but eventually he nodded. He closed his eyes and wore the form of the orange earth god Applejack, and he wore it too with the god’s own grace. “We must share this secret,” he said. “Tell all of our kind who still live of this power.”

Twilight nodded. He bent his head toward the throne, giving silent thanks for all that the gods had bestowed upon him. “And thus shall we carry out the will of the gods.”

Together the two of them drew their plans, to return first to Applejack’s hive, then to Twilight’s, and from there go to every hive and spread the secret of friendship. Twilight had never thought that he would be glad to leave the city, once he’d entered, but as he stepped forth into the wasteland with Applejack at his side, he found he was looking forward to his second journey. He was not walking alone now, with only the gods to keep him company, but with a friend. The very first he’d ever had.

And together, they would live.

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