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There was something so calming about traversing nature, whether it be the lush beauty of nature or the mercurial sea. She found that it let her mind wander without inducing anxiety, aimless thoughts drifting to the surface of her mind just to dissipate moments later.

 

It was perhaps an unusual detail that she was not laden down with an excessive entourage of magical chemicals and reagents, the bags lightly bouncing against her hips sagging with releif. "So I made some modifications to those socks," she said as they walked, peeking through the illuminates gaps in the verdant canopy above. 

 

"It took some tinkering, but I think I found a workaround to prevent unnecessary discharge."

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Twilight's mind was on a thousand and five tasks at any given time. They were matters heady and not but that didn't mean she couldn't spare time for a new friend in her life, especially one with so much interest as this Rose Compass. She was an interesting dynamic. Twilight knew far more than what Rose had revealed but not enough to make a full reading of her. On the same hoof, she felt comfortable enough to keep her close, and her talents closer. And today they were going for a walk in a park. It was done open a day the park was supposed to be closed, allowing them the run of the place beyond guards and some other VIPs. That and Twilight had opened it to the public. If she were to enjoy the park, why not others?

 

"Fantastic. Improving the device will certainly go a way towards making it more viable for experimentation," she said off-hoofedly. She was interested in the device of course, but it didn't truly rate as one of her primary concerns. She had greater concerns and questions percolating in her mind and in the fullness of the park she had the ability to ask them without intruding on her relationship. Speaking of that unexpected but delightful development, she had to dig more. How could she not be wholly invested in that train of gossip! "I am also sure that Aloe is equally excited. How are you two doing? I am sure it has been rather nice getting to know her better. She is a wonderful mare."

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She said it. "Indeed." She nodded. "We actually went out on the lake nearby not long ago. Saddle Lake, I believe it is called." It was both a wholesome and wholly amusing experience; watching a pony who had never so much as dipped their hoof in water suddenly find themselves submerged in it, and then transmuted into a seapony, certainly brings out something new and exciting in a mare. It was like she was a filly again, a splash of color added to the world around them. 

 

Snorting a chuckle, her eyes returned to the path ahead, an easy smile on her face. "I think she believes me a seapony now."

 

And then she directed her attention to her new acquaintance. "Tell me, have you ever turned yourself and another into one of those marine miracles? Allow me to inform you that some very exciting shenanigans will ensue. I can't say she was a natural, but the energy with which she moved and breathed in her new environment with almost foal-like wonder was eye-opening. I never would have thought a simple species change could have such a profound impact on a mare."

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It was good to hear that the relationship was transitioning into exciting territory. Sun knows that the transition could be rough, and with Rose not being entirely forthcoming there were bound to be future problems. But in time, Twilight was confident that if the care they shared was as true to form as Rose was true to her goal, that all the cards would be revealed and the truth would set them free and true. "Indeed, I have become a seapony. When the hippogriffs were in hiding from the Storm King under their ancestral homeland, I...visited them," she said with a blush, remembering all her mistakes that day. She had nearly sunk- excuse the pun- their chances with her single-mindedness. "Well, that is one way of saying it. Regardless, I was transformed into a seapony. It came as a shock. It has happened to me other times as well, though the follow up events have been with my knowledge. And the fate of a nation didn't rest in my hooves. Errr, or flippers, I guess," she smiled wistfully. "It has always been an enjoyable experience. Living as another creature can give you perspective on the sanctity and wonderous nature of life."

 

Of course, she wasn't sure that being a seapony would have been her first leap, especially with the growing numbers of Changelings in Equestria. But Aloe was Aloe and while she was smart, nopony could be right all the time. Nopony knew that better than Twilight. "She thinks that you may be a seapony? I suppose that makes sense," she smirked, imagining Aloe's fantasies about an underseas adventure with her newfound flame, never to be snuffed out by the watery depths. Still, Twilight had to ask. "Have you told her who you truly are, though?" She asked as her pace slowed. For everything that Rose had discussed openly she had not discussed who she really was or her past. Twilight knew much, but she still wanted Rose to be the one to say it. To reveal it, and be comfortable in that knowledge.

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That last comment earned her a sidelong look, the 'young' alchemist slowing to match her gait as she pursed her lips. She meant well- Rose knee this- but she was still getting too close for comfort with these inquiries of hers. It was quite vexing, really, but she didn't show it. 

 

"'And 'who' do you think I am, Twilight Sparkle?" She asked in a calm and measured tone. No need to abandon civility, after all, and she still wanted Twilight as a close acquaintance. She found a kindred spirit in this mare, somebody who understood her. "Aloe knows enough. She doesn't need to hear about my... Past mistakes."

 

"That's why I'm here, after all." She went on to explain as she faced ahead once more, although her attention wasn't on the path anymore, but something much further away. "To free myself from those selfsame misfortunes. To start again, but this time better."

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Twilight could sense that Rose was not necessarily pleased. More importantly, a little defensive of Aloe. That was good. Nonetheless, she needed to understand why the secrecy when she was searching for something of such grandeur, when she could simply speak with twilight with greater honesty. "Selfsame misfortunes and past mistakes aren't memories to be shunned or forgotten, but rather parts of your past to grow from. And you certainly love the concept of growth, don't you?" She said as she ducked under a lower tree branch. Alicorns often got lost in thought and more than one time she walked out of a park with a bloody nose. Not today. 

 

"Many of us do. Starlight Glimmer is one of the most powerful and capable ponies in history, and that is mostly because her past has helped her become whole. Mistakes and misfortunes create character and growth. And the Andalusian changeling broodlings of Queen Moor have great capacity for misfortune and mistakes, but also for greatness," she said with empathy, trying to reveal a portion of what she knew and hopefully give Rose the necessary space to speak more on her own.  "Even those who were not born the same way. You are not an experiment, nor are you simply a clone. You are more than either," she said as they entered a clearing. "Oh, here we go. I think you'll enjoy this," she said as she cantered to a pond in the middle of the park.

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"..." She didn't follow her into the clearing, not immidiately anyway. Stopping right at the treeline, she watched her with this... Haunted look in her eyes, almost pale. She hadn't expected Twilight- a pony- to discover the truth so fast. She thought she had contengencies in place for just such prying, a way to repel attempts to discover what lied underneath. Instead, this happened.

 

But it was no matter, she told herself, as she forced herself to follow the lavender mare one stiff hoofsteps at a time. She would adapt, as she had always done. And besides, she's in the company of a friend, as difficult a concept that is for the cloned queen to grasp. 

 

"Queen Moor was not a gyne," she said weakly, still formulating a response to the other assertations as she indulged in her own curiosity. A lake? It wasn't Saddle Lake, she knew that for sure, and had become more than adequately familiar with it. Perhaps she intends for them to both go for a swim? That would be amusing, to take their conversation under the water. Can she change at-will, though? 

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Twilight assumed that the Queen was not a breeder, but no doubt if she got information wrong she could at least extract more truth from her friend. Correction breeds and ferments honesty if little else, and she was willing to take the brunt of appearing misinformed as long as it gave Rose the chance to correct her. "I see. I'll have to update the records on that tidbit. What else can you tell me?" Twilight said in a conversational tone. She wasn't going to interrogate her friend. She just wanted Rose to speak on her own. She approached the lake and dipped her hooves in it, twirling it with her hoof.

 

"This lake is one of several in Equestria that I have found and marked. They have special properties. To most creatures, the water here is little different from highly enriched mineral water. A little rich tasting for water, but otherwise not abnormal. However, that is not the case," she submerged all four legs in it, smiling. It felt warm, warmer than warm even. "This pool has water that is actually not water at all, but liquified aether, or aether in liquid form. Highly unusual and impossible to reproduce artificially. It is a wonder of our planet and nature alike," she went deeper in and looked at Rose. "Care to take a dip?"

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Rose watched the lavender mare wade into the shallows of the aether pool, and she felt... She didn't have a word for it. Confusion factored into it. Suspicion that Twilight was attempting to coax information out of her. Mild frustration for reasons she couldn't quite pin down, and... Relief.

 

Relief

 

As she approached her, she thought about what she said: 'it is a wonder if our planet and nature alike,' yet it's artificial... Like her. Is she trying to say that she's a wonder of nature? A miracle? Is she really just like this impossible phenomena, a lucky mistake? 

 

She sighed as her hooves made contact with the water, easing into the watery domain as if she were born in it. And she was. Looking down into the clear fluid surrounding her, she could feel the subtle flow, as if empowered by embracing her amphibious nature.

 

Wading a little further in, she cast her gaze up to the evening sun. 'heh. This would feel more appropriate with the moon out.' 

 

And then she thought about the first thing that Twilight had asked, her request to know more. There was a teaching her original self hammered into her broodlings, and one she subconsciously held onto herself: to never say more than is needed. A secretive creed that kept her and hers alive in an inhospitable region, but this isn't the same land where the Andalusian Royal Navy was hunting them down, or where Pirate Lords had put bounties on their heads.

 

Letting her head drop down, she sighed out these toxic thoughts, gazing into her reflection.

 

It didn't even look like her. Not who she felt she was inside. But, then, who really was she, if not a copy?

 

"..."

 

In a brilliant burst of turquoise light, Rose Compass was consumed and out emerged a new entity. Tall, graceful, carnivorous

 

She smiled down at Twilight, massive fins folding on top of her head as her forelegs tucked in, her massive tail balancing her scaly bulk in the water as her musical voice pronounced her first few syllables. "Queen Moor was not a changeling, Twilight Sparkle. She was just a queen, and nothing more."

 

Could she get away with this? Changing herself? Or, maybe... This was just the form she chose for this talk. She was still Rose Compass, but now without the veil. She revealed her nature. A shapeshifter... and that was okay.

 

 

///Basically she became a siren version of herself, because it fits the mood///

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So she chose a Siren? How interesting. Changelings could pick any shape they wanted to. Their choices were reflections, mirrors into their mind that told others around them more than words ever could. Most of the time when discovered, a Changeling would revert back to their base form. Rose did not do this. She chose a Siren. That infinitely rare species was known primarily as troublemakers, evildoers, but that was not inherent in their nature. What was inherent in their nature was predation. Whether it was physical flesh or magic, they were predators. And imposing. In the past, Twilight would have had some serious cause for alarm being this close to a Siren. Knowing who it was however certainly helped, as well as the fact she just found Sirens far more fascinating than she did endangering nowadays.

 

"Interesting choice," Twilight said as she leaned back on the edge of the pond. She levitated her crown off and allowed her mane to settle on her in a messy fashion as she sunk lower, stretching her long legs out as she got comfortable. "Why a siren? You could choose to be anything, so you choose to attempt an intimidating form. There is no need, not here. We are friends, and we are together," she said with no less an air of curiosity than the choice deserved. "Especially when the siren is too big for this pond..." she said as her horn lit up. As she did so, the dimensions of the pond changed. It grew deeper, it grew wider, until the siren did not look nearly as out of place. "There. That seems to fit you better. Are you more comfortable?"

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The kelp-colored creature snorted, wading back a few feet to really immerse herself in the aetheric fluid. "It is not to intimidate you, little pony." At least, not consciously.

 

Shifting her tail to coil underneath herself, she sunk deeper into the water, feeling previously tense muscles relax, if only a little. She could feel Twilight's eyes on her, far more keenly than before she decided to transform. 

 

Lifting her head up, she cast her gaze off into the sky, as if searching for the answer to that question herself. "It is because we are alike. As changelings feed on the love so plentiful of ponykind, so to do sirens feed on the hate and malice of those who fear them."

 

"It's ironic, really; the monsters that scuttle in the shadows and lurk in the deep are nourished by love rather than hate, and the creatures of infinite grace and beauty must settle for the latter rather than the former."

 

Her large fins droop down the side of her neck as she says this, sighing down into the anomalous waters. 

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Twilight's tail swished along lazily as she allowed herself to soak in the waters. It was rare she was given leave to enjoy this amplified, purified magical water without cause and she had every intention of indulging in it. After a little bit she even allowed herself to float away from the side, closing her eyes as she felt most of her barrel sink beneath the water.
"Siren feeding and Changeling feeding are very different in one very important manner, however. One can sustain, another one self-immolates. There is a reason sirens are exceptionally rare. And despite what they may think, it isn't because their fierceness means they can't share territory. I've seen firsthoof that in multiple dimensions they can work well together," she said as she collected her thoughts, "no, it is because they are an evolutionary dud. Their feeding mechanism is unfit for most environments as they can easily drive their prey apart. They starve and die, and by all accounts in a century's time they may go extinct. Well, except for the sub-branch that is evolving to find other sources of food. That is why Changelings are a superior breed, a superior feeder. They can feed in naturally occurring sources of food that are in great abundance," she said before looking over at Rose. "Plus, I don't think Changelings look like monsters. What makes a monster anyway?"
 

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Rose watched the little mare as she simply enjoyed the little anomaly they found themselves in, listening intently. What she said made sense, in hindsight. She couldn't remember meeting more than maybe three sirens in the vast centuries of memories she possessed, and of them, only one stood out as a true survivor. And it was true that love- as opposed to hatred- was a much more potent and naturally occurring emotion, especially amongst ponies.

 

What was she doing?

 

With a deflated sigh, she cast off her guise of intimidation in favor of one she favored herself, that of the infinitely graceful seapony, yet aggressive with her leonine features. She swam over to hug Twilight's side, her fins soft yet firm. "Well, I certainly can't let them go extinct. I owe one of them for saving me once... " , Somewhat misty eyes turned away from her, then. "As for what makes a monster... " She shivered. "Where I come from... changelings aren't as widely accepted as they are here. By and far, they're largely unheard of, but those that do know of them- The Armada and The Royal Navy- hunt us down like wild animals. One of my first memories... the first... " A coldness encroaches on the two as that moisture in her eyes doubles, and she squeezes Twilight tighter, as if she may slip away if she let go for even an instant. Her next words were subdued, haunted by echoes of her past. "I was in a cage, in a strange place, with strange ponies. A colt had fished me out of the waters, and put me up as a product to be sold to the hungry masses. I remember being so scared, and alone... I... "

 

She had to take a moment to collect herself. She had never told this story to anyone, but somehow it felt important to tell someone. Anyone

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Twilight felt and allowed her friend to get close and attach herself to the Princess. It was hard for Twilight sometimes to get fully emotional with others. Even her friends there were places she did not go, or at least places she did not go willingly. Flights of the soul sometimes allowed her to broaden her emotional canvass but she knew who she was. More reserved than others, though not in an alien fashion. She considered herself warm, sociable, kind, and inviting, but she wasn't a therapist. Yet her life's canvass was splashed with the colors of the powerful who had been saved, and those that were seeking their own new forms of it. Perhaps she was a light that attracted them, like a moth to flame- unlike how that ended though, here there would be rebirth.

 

She listened to what she was told. The 'Royal Navy', the 'Armada'. Local terms from outlaws and vagabonds of a bandit kingdom to describe the fishing trawlers and other sailboats. They would not last a breath against even one of the smaller REN ships, but she digressed. Her friend had been caught and ready to be sold, as was the fate of the changelings of that land until recent times. After all, threatening to kill members of a species protected by Equestria was a sure fire way to have real attention brought down on you. It was a terrible place in the badlands and one of many areas where the general good-nature of the continent failed to reach.

 

"It is a harsh land that produces harsh creatures. No doubt you were in grave danger. Yet, here you are. What did you do to survive?" She asked, her tone heavy on anodyne as she tried to keep the reaction even. She had an idea of what happened next, but she would steal these moments of revelation and openness, honesty and truth from Rose. There were few designs more cruel to the self than those concocted of great knowledge firmed up by arrogance and swiftness rather than wisdom and prudence. She sunk into the waters further, submerged entirely.

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It seemed Rose hardly realized they had fully transitioned underwater, so lost in her haze of memories was she. "I adapted, as all my kind must do in dire straights."

 

Pausing, a deep breath left her, and she looked down at the piscene limb wrapped around the Princess' barrel almost whimsically. "Beleive it or not, but the form I currently hold is the result of one of those life or death choices. When Master Chronicle, that old grey colt, purchased me, he brought me back to his manor and explained to me his reasoning. Although mad with grief, he knew something of what I was, and so I would become his departed daughter, and in return I would receive his love and affections..." She didn't feel she needed to say what happened if she didn't accept the deal.

 

"I was raised in that dusty coffin of a home, tended to by servants that hated me, and a father figure that would be rid of me the instant I step out of line... " She trailed off at the end, a bitter taste in her mouth. "It's a cruel irony that his inexorable passing Is what sparked my rage against the dying of the light, the catalyst for my mission."

 

"It just felt so... Unfair." Closing her eyes, she was transported back to that moment, standing over that quilted bed. "This stallion... Although he was harsh and deluded, and had posed a serious threat to my continued existence, had given me all the tools I needed to survive and thrive... But yet, for all of his efforts, he could not beat time. I remember being so confused... And furious."

 

Her hold tightened, and a dark note entered her tone as she opened her eyes again. There was a fire in them, now. A fire that could consume the world. "You want to know what I did to survive, Twilight? I stole, I lied, and I killed countless individuals. Anyone who threatened my mission had to be removed from my path, and so that's what I did."

 

"I forged connections in the dark just as in the light, raided merchant vessels for precious alchemical regeants, and fended off the persistent assaults of the Royal Navy's best..."

 

And there they were, her sins laid bare before this pony she knew so very little about. She didn't know if she really felt better after disclosing all the details, but she didn't feel worse. 

 

 

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Family brought with it such a raging torrent of emotions, even in the best of times. Turbulence in familial relationships wasn't uncommon, yet it was always something Twilight was concerned with. So many stories started with it and ended poorly- well not ended, for nothing ever truly ended. But all of that seemed relatively passé when Rose revealed her history. Indeed, she had known that it was likely that Rose had been sold to somecreature who had not used her as food or other, more nefarious means, since she was here. In that vein she was lucky. And truth be told, there were more uncommon ways for a Changeling to be integrated than as a family member. While still very...weird, it was a choice the desperate could easily make. Indeed, there was a small cottage industry for just such an arrangement with the addition of potions to forge memories and discard truths. Certainly something she'd advise against.

 

What was strange was how this font of bitterness sparked also her passion, seemingly in memoriam to the stallion who gave her such powerfully mixed emotions. The crux of the matter finally laid bare. Her march against death, as futile as it was, was sparked here. Not by a fear but by love, as tortured and strange as it was. It was fit for a tragedy. Twilight had studied the matter extensively, even sought answers from...impossible sources. She knew that Rose's quest was doomed to failure unless she changed the parameters of success. It was then that the hold tightened and Rose revealed what she had done to survive.

 

If Twilight were younger she'd be aghast but after Tempest Shadow she would be a hypocrite to be anything else than accepting of the facts presented. And it certainly wasn't countless. The Andalusian populace was rather barren and small in comparison to elsewhere and she had been able to track these deaths once she knew why. It was hard to press judgement on her when it was for survival, and harder still to imagine turning her over to a bandit space with weird delusions. 

"You did what you had to do. That doesn't make it right, but it does mean you have the opportunity to do good with your life because of it," she began. The pair continued to sink until they seemed to fall against some thick membrane at the bottom. Her horn lit up and the membrane became permeable, and the pair slowly fell through it. There was a moment of sharp pain and then nothing before they completed their journey.

 

When they did, they fell. Her wings shot out and she flew down, gliding really, to the ground in complete dark. She shook off the water as best she could before looking at Rose, concern evident in the only light in all of existence- the bright, yet narrow, light of her horn.
"And now I better understand why you have chosen to undertake your...quest, lets call it. Even if it can't be done, I understand your motivation to try. But Rose..." she asked as she looked around, as if seeing things that Rose could not. "Have you ever asked yourself if you should?"

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Rose seemed numb to the world as they passed that strange barrier, focusing instead on her life raft in the sea of chaos that she had made of her emotions. She'd never really asked herself that pertinent question, though. She'd asked herself if she could, and the reality of the matter had proven that, yes, she most definitely could- and had, in another reality. But 'should' was a moral question, something she'd increasingly distanced herself from as time went on.

 

There are many things she could do, and many things she did, but in hindsight there are many things she shouldn't have done as well. Dwelling on the matter only dredged up toxic memories.

 

"Why shouldn't I?" She croaked out, her throat suddenly dry. "I'm protecting life. Why should I let others suffer the pain of loss when there's something I can do about it? Or make the attempt at least."

 

Sniffling, she retracted her forelegs, instead curling them up against Twilight's chest. "You can't tell me you haven't lost someone. That there isn't anyone you want back. Somecreature you wish was still here with you..." Oddly enough, she found her own horn glowing as well, although that was more in response to Twilight's actions. Purple and blue mixing.

 

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Poor creature. 
She was lost in the fantasy of her abilities. In other realities, perhaps. But there were stringent laws of the universe that were in play, at a level that only those connected to Cosmokinesis could fully grasp. Rose's voice, raw with emotion, worked along the lines of desire and possibility, not practicality. Not uncommon among the dreamers, the wanderers, the desperate, the forlorn. It was a struggle against the cosmic inevitability of entropy and stood in opposition to the universal truths of arcanic conservation. In a younger age, Twilight would be excited to just see the efforts. And she knew now there was value in the effort, even if the outcome was known. More than that however she had to get Rose prepared for the pre-destined outcome, lest her quest spiral even further into a dangerous obsession.

 

"Once, yes," Twilight responded with a sigh. Like everycreature else she had lost some of those valuable to her, some of those who were precious to her. "And as an Alicorn, my immortality guarantees I'll experience loss repeatedly, infinitely. Friends, family, I will lose them all except the other Alicorns of this world," she allowed her head to fall down, her horn pitched against Rose. "More than any responsibility, it was this knowledge that made me quake privately. Even Spike, as long living as he is...immortality in a world of mortality is a curse in some ways. At least, that's what I thought," she said with a smile. "But then I realized nothing ever really dies, not really. Not unless we allow it. The death of the body is little more than a transference of form."

 

A pregnant pause.
"Consider," she said, with all the confidence of a mare who had done more than consider it, "that Luna was a much less powerful Alicorn than Celestia in every way, yet she is known as the Dreamwalker. It is no joke; she can and does enter your dreams. But what are dreams, especially knowing what we know now? They are not simply fragments of imagination, but impressions on the aether by one's psyche. They are as real as you imagine them to be. Luna's power in this realm was ultimate, however..." she leaned in, "Luna controlled the moon, yet Celestia controlled everything else, including the stars that Luna painted with. Her power was ultimate in other forms."

Twilight looked around in the darkness and smiled. As she did, the light started to expand.
"So, what else do you think Celestia did? What do you think happened to us, and where do you think we are?"

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Rose found herself relaxing at Twilight's touch, the action oddly... Calming. Motherly, almost. The solemn queen listened quietly as the alicorn spoke, of her fears, and of her seeming philosophy. She'd always viewed death as an ending. A punctuation in the story of somecreature's life. Spirituality, ironically, happened to be a concept that eluded her- in both her current and past life, despite the forces she reckoned with.

 

Rose didn't know much about this 'Luna' character, or Celestia, really, but she'd gleaned enough via osmosis to gather that they were significant figures in this world, with cosmic powers and sovereign duties. Still, she struggled to piece together Twilight's meaning. She'd heard of oneriomancers, and maybe she'd met one or two, but she couldn't quite remember.

 

Was she saying they were in a dream? Had she fallen asleep, and the mare had transported the two of them across the divide? Or were they someplace else, such as the aether, a place of raw magic?

 

Without a saying a word, she lifted her head to gazed out into the distance, extending her own senses. Reaching out for the answer to Twilight's question.

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She would search, but there was still a darkness. After all, when you viewed death as the enemy and an end, what could you see beyond? Twilight smiled. It was an unusual situation that Rose would find herself in. But not an unpleasant one. As long as she kept an open mind. After all, it would require a restructuring of one's arcanic world view. Was Rose capable of seeing the world through magic eyes, or would she balk at a glimpse of true aetherum?


"I'll admit it took me a while to understand what this was and what my new role in its grand design was, though when I did so my respect for Celestia's role grew even greater, if that were even possible. The brilliance of the sun, the organs of the state, the dancing twilight of the stars, all of that was but the mere whisper of her role. Her cutie mark didn't just represent her control over the cosmos. It represented her access to something as fundamental to reality as the sun is to life," she began excitedly before calming herself down. "Dreams access a part of the consciousness beyond the physical," she said as she looked around and started trotting away for a moment more, before apparently  "What is beyond, is far more than just dreams. Just as Luna controlled a speck of sand on the beach in the night sky, she only ever accessed the smallest part of where we are. Of course, where we are is harder to understand than what we are."

 

"And what we are is dead."

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'Dead.' the word rang around in Rose's skull like a funeral bell, seeming to linger in her ears far longer than it should have. She was stunned, rooted in place. Denial waged a war inside of her- denial of the fact that she could ever die. Even as a mere copy of the real thing, she had still been designed with eternity in mind. She couldn't die, it simply wasn't feasible.

 

How did it happen? How could she not notice? She knows they didn't drown- she's amphibious, and Twilight wouldn't let herself die that way. But... Wait, how was she still thinking if she were dead? Was she simply a conciousness now? A mind without a body, adrift in endless space?

 

She couldn't remember ever going through such a space when she was possessing a creature, nor when she were fatally wounded and pending revival by one of her spells or enchantments. It... It simply couldn't be-

 

Rose felt her chest seize, but then, how could she feel that if she didn't have a physical body? Right, perception... Perception. This is how she was perceiving things, and this, the void, was simply how she saw death... 

 

"We're... Dead." The words barely left her mouth, breathless as she was. She wasn't sure how to process any of this. It was beyond her, and that was a novel experience she wished hadn't been thrusted upon her so suddenly. 

 

"How?"

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Twilight nodded.
"A living being cannot pass the barrier we just passed. The magic behind it is so pure and so overwhelming that contact with it annihilates the body in its entirety instantly. Painlessly, but instantly. We were both de-atomized within a fraction of a moment. We don't exist in any physical sense anymore. For many, it is impossible to reach the bottom of the pool. They are rejected. But those of high ability can sink far. Too far," she said with a chuckle as she trotted back down to her shell-shocked friend. It would all be fine in the end. For an Alicorn, life and death were malleable concepts when certain factors were in play.

 

"At the bottom, behind the barrier, is pure magic. More accurately, mixed magic. Magic of our world, and magic of the cosmos. The magic of the world we know, and the magic of the world Celestia knows. I know," she continued as her horn lit up.
"This magic allows me insight into something wondrous. Come and see," she offered, bending so Rose could touch her horn and be transported.

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Rose hesitated. For once in her life, she didn't know what to do, or what to expect. Every facet of her life was carefully planned and predicted, outcomes rationalized and events compartmentalized. She was especially familiar with magic, even the esoteric kinds.

 

But this was new.

 

She said those of high ability are the only ones that can pass, does that mean that Rose somehow, without concious effort, passed the barrier on her own? Was she wrothy of the secrets it had to share?

 

She decided that then wasn't the time to think of such things. She was there now, and she had been presented with an opportunity to expand her world view. 

 

She touched her horn to Twilight's.

 

She could use a change in perspective.

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The world around them lit up. They were in what could be described as a hallway with many portals, door-shaped entryways into many vistas. Some were beautiful landscapes that mimicked rural Equestria, others bustling cities of beautiful design and filled with even more beautiful creatures. Some were harsh landscapes filled with hardscrabble creatures, and in them all was everything one could imagine in eternity. Families of many generations worked the fields as they did happily in life, while those with creative flair worked with constant inspiration, their designs beyond mortal understanding. Endlessly and infinite were the variations as the hallway moved and shifted around them.

 

"Each one is as real as you and me. Different vistas of eternity, forever connected to the magic of the cosmos, endlessly beautiful in some areas and terribly tragic in others. What is it? Who are they?" She asked rhetorically, her voice a few shades behind a whisper, like wind that was rustling leaves.

"A spiritual pony might call this the afterlife. They might call what we see in them souls, or spirits, and that they are quite literally the continuation of their true selves," she continued. Pear Butter and Bright Mac danced together in fields they had freshly tilled, surrounded by Apples of generations past. No doubt they looked at it as an afterlife.

 

"A scientific mare might call these vista sort of genetic, magical gestalt of our desire to meet loved ones once more. They might call these the afterimage auras of once living creatures, reflections of the self in magic aura," she said as they wandered over to what looked like a school, or laboratory. Multiple unicorns probed the meaning of existence inside their eternal rest, unlocking secrets in death that would evade them in life.

"I do not know which is true. Neither did Celestia. It is, perhaps, unknowable. But there are some things I do know."

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Rose wondered, as she passed by the windows into another 'life', if she'd see any of her crew in there. Or a past iteration of herself... Or John.

 

This place... It dispoved everything she knew about the afterlife- most glaringly of all that she had no hope of ever reaching it and reuniting with her Ill-fated colt. The original Rose would kill herself ten times over to be in this place, in that moment, if it meant she could be with him once more.

 

"What do you know?" It was the only meaningful question she could sum up. "And... Is this just your world, or all of them? Could I meet my mother in this place, and if I could, would I even recognize her?" She'd never met her mother, she didn't know what she looked like, but if she did see her would there be some invisible tug in her heart that told her who she was?

 

 

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