Special Guest Alternate Chapter Ten by PeachClover      

Δ Ten: Their Last Wishes
The following is an alternative chapter ten to The Taste of Grass which completely omits chapter thirty.

Windfeather was nervous.  When the guard pointed through the back doors of the palace toward the garden with the statues he began to sweat diamonds, but when the guard said the princesses were waiting for him behind the garden maze the hope that keeps all creatures from believing it could be that bad kept him from believing it was... well, that bad.

As Windfeather walked out into the garden his path was subconsciously and expertly calculated to keep him just far enough away from the statues that adorned the entrance to the maze as he could without going out of the way for a direct path to the edge of the maze. The whispers were that those statues were not statues at all, but once living ponies that were turned to stone for some great atrocity.  The fact that the legend of absolute chaos, Discord, had been confirmed to have burst forth from a statue of his likeness in this garden had made those tales greatly more disturbing than they would have been otherwise.

Not that he had committed any atrocity, but being called to meet with the Princesses in the place that held these statues after taking an administrative action such that he had was unsettling.  Maybe she wanted him to be unsettled.  That's what she wanted, and he wasn't going to give in so easily just on a matter of foalish fear.  He stopped a moment and took a few breaths willing away the parasprites in his stomach before continuing his trot.  

Windfeather was nervous, that is, he was nervous until they came into view.  Princess Celestia and Princess Luna sat gracefully and disarmingly at a small table with one extra seat for him.  Celestia was in the middle of a sip as she casually looked up to see him.

“Please have a seat, Windfeather.” Celestia's words showed no anger, no disdain at all.  That actually shocked Windfeather as he caught himself and made sure to bow respectfully which caused his glasses to slide down his nose.  Moving a bit automatically he had already taken his seat at the third chair that was pulled out and waiting for him before he could manage to slide his glasses back into place.

Celestia's horn glowed as she lifted the teapot and filled Windfeather's cup.  “As I'm sure you are aware, I have called you here because two thousand of my new little ponies are missing.  This was discovered upon an inquiry for the unbalanced distribution of supply crates to the number of newfoals assigned to the Welcome Town where you work.”

Windfeather took a sip of his tea.  Here it was; he hoped this day wouldn't come, but he had prepared for the possibility.  “The newfoals are not missing your highness.  They were placed in locations farther away from the borders of Equestria so as to protect our values and culture from corruption that the newfoals would bring - even if unknowingly - from their twisted evil world.”  Haha! His speech was so perfectly selected there just wasn't anything that could be said in defense of those monsters.  Maybe he thought, he should try becoming an ambassador.

Celestia took a sip of tea and levitated her cup back down silent for a moment before saying, “Is that really how you see it?”

Windfeather was caught off guard and stammered for a moment.  He was expecting an argument, or maybe if he was lucky, for the princess to agree without further debate, but he was not expecting whatever the muffin you call her response. “W- well, yes your highness, and I acted in the best interest of all of us.”

Oh Ponyfeathers!  That statement sounded weak and defensive.  Maybe he was not yet ready to be an ambassador.

Celestia gave the slightest hum, a pause, sipped again at her tea, and remained silent for a while looking, for all that Windfeather could see, directly at the center of the table with the slightest hint of sadness on her muzzle.  Time seemed to crawl.  Despite the fact that her gestures seemed to indicate that he had won, Windfeather sat there as still as possible; any movement that he made before she did would be seen as disrespect to her and that would surely mean he would lose...  As the moments crept by his careful attention to detail had Windfeather thinking that maybe he wasn't ambassador material, but perhaps he should pursue playing chess.  

Celestia lifted her head and smiled softly and sadly at Windfeather.  “Windfeather, I had decided before you came here that your actions were completely wrong.  I wanted to hear your reasons though, but before you are punished, let me promise you that even though there are many more newfoals than there are native ponies, it is not their problems that will spread to us, but our love and kindness that will blossom in their hearts.  I am sad that you were not an example of that compassion toward them.”

Punished?!  Windfeather felt a rush of white fear overcome him.  His body told him to run, but he couldn't move already knowing he could not get away by either running or flying; they would be ready and just catch him in their magical fields.  Stoned, statued, that WAS why she brought him here.  Why didn't he just have the sense to flee when he received that summons?  I'm going to die, and there won't even be a grave just a gravestone that was once Windfeather.  For the briefest of moments Windfeather imagined himself as a statue holding his own gravestone - funny how he could think of humor at a time like this.  No, this isn't funny; this is actually happening!  Oh Princess save me, but the Princess is going to turn me to stone!  Luna's blessed moon Help!

At that last thought Windfeather's head jerked and stared pleadingly mouth agape in the direction of Princess Luna who just sat there sipping her tea as silent as the grave.

“Stand up, please, and come over here.” Celestia had already stood and moved a small distance from the table.  

Windfeather slowly stood knees shaking and stood in position.  Maybe it wouldn't hurt if he just complied.

“Stand here and lock your knees.” Celestia's horn began to glow.

“W- why?” It was all that came to his mind; none of the other statues stood with knees locked.  The idea that maybe just by locking his knees he was about to receive a punishment worse than being turned to stone made the pegasus's stomach knot up.

“Because there is a good chance you will collapse after this otherwise.”

It was too good to think at this point he would not be getting turned to stone, but if the other stories were true then, as Celestia just indicated, when he was turned back into a pony he didn't want to be thought of as the most pathetic looking statue that ever stood here.  Windfeather straightened up, locked his knees, closed his eyes, and summoned all his courage to try to make a decent looking statue.  Maybe this last act would get him freed early.

Celestia bent her head and lightly touched her horn to his forehead.  Windfeather's eyes shot open as he gasped.  

* * * * *

Windfeather was a child; no not a foal, but a human child.  And he was... no she was... lonely.  Oh princess she was lonely!  Her parents were working somewhere.  They locked down the holo so that she wouldn't be tempted to use it while they were away.  Something about “only barely scraping by.”  Wait a minute.  Windfeather understood money she was just, no he, was just unsure of why he was now a human child.  That was gross... er disgusting, and... lonely.  He didn't know how long it continued like that.  They talked in the morning and at night after the ten hour wait of doing nothing, but Ashley and her parents, no Windfeather and his, er those parents didn't have much time together.  She couldn't go outside because it was dangerous, she could only eat when they ate, and - HE was lonely and in the dark all day.  The only outside world he saw was on the holo when they would watch it together.  

Windfeather's fight against the vision was difficult and he lost touch of how long it had continued, but he was used to the dull and empty feelings by now.  

Then it happened - the night she would never forget.  Ashley saw on the holo a free and required program where some beautiful horsie spoke about taking them away, taking them away to a wonderful place.  A feeling windfeather had forgotten welled in her chest.  No more living in a dark and small house because it wasn't dangerous there?  No more cancer, as mommy called the thing that made it hard to see out of her left eye?  And they all get to be there as the horsies she saw on the screen.  Windfeather cried as she hugged her parent, which ever one was sitting close to her; she kinda forgot while thinking about the impossible miracle that was their future.

Ashley and her family went to the conversion bureau as soon as they could.  Neither parent bothered to quit their job, something that seemed bad, and they had to hurry that day.  Ashley was the first of their family to be ponified so that her parents could help her where she didn't know how to do things as a pony.  She was a yellow pegasus with a purple mane.  It was so exciting to think that when she grows a little stronger and after some classes, where she gets to meet other pegasi, she'll be flying in the sky free from the cages that were called buildings, and maybe if mommy and daddy were pegasi too they could all live in the clouds.

They all left for Equestria soon after.  Ashley was thinking about how nice it was to be outside.  She had met many new friends from her classes at the bureau, even a colt her own age named Ponyboy, a name his parents gave him from some old book because he didn't know what to call himself and didn't like his old human name.  When they crossed the barrier, the sky was amazing.  It never looked like this before.  The air was so fresh, and so many ponies here.  She would never be lonely again!

Ashley was awoken later by something loud it was scary she was huddled into a ring with a whole crowd, and then they were somewhere else.  This place was empty, and something, her parents looked worried; that made her scared.  The blue pony with wings was yelling something at all of them.
"YOU ARE NOT US! YOU MAY WEAR OUR BODIES BUT INSIDE YOU ARE STILL MONSTERS!"  Wait a minute, that was her, er, him!  That was Windfeather yelling out his practiced speech.  It sounded so.... hateful. Windfeather had never used that word before...

Everything was dead.  Ashley was laying on her side under the three boxes that had been stacked to form some sort of shelter the colt beside her in the shade was dead and smelled horrible, but she was told to stay there.  No, she may have been told not to move, but couldn't even if she wanted to.  Her mother... no, her mother was dead, the mother of this colt told her not to move while she went to get water.  She stared at the corpse for a while.  Hey, that was Ponyboy.  The hunger and the heat were so intense. Thoughts didn't stay with her long, maybe that was a good thing for how she felt.  Things hurt inside.  Why did the nice pony say they would be happy here, when everypony was dying.  Just a few days ago her father stopped her crying and said it wasn't the nice pony who said they would be happy here who left them in this bad place, but the blue pony that yelled at them who did.

Ashley saw movement,  it was the colt's mother, but then she fell down.  Ashley knew that she had died like everypony else, and soon she herself would go.  “Mr.Bluepony, why did you do this to us?”  Windfeather felt the words as spoken from his own mouth as well as hers, then she died.

NO!!!  Dear sweet Celestia NO!  

Windfeather only had a moment to contemplate what he was feeling before he found himself as Shawn Alexander, a troubled man walking to the nearest conversion bureau after having just seen the ad on the public kiosk.  Two weeks of real food and a warm bed were a most welcomed dream before the ensuing nightmarish mangling of his body that these types of delusions often brought him.  This time it was called "ponification" and/or "conversion."  He wondered what it was that he would really be eating and where he would really be sleeping while his mind was doing this to him, but after living with the schizophrenia nearly all his life, he just hoped that going along with it would keep a good one lasting.

* * * * *

The visions kept coming and Windfeather was each of his victims, and worse they were each of the ponies from one settlement until they had all died out before seeing those from the next.  He tried to block it out, but it kept coming.  If he was ever counting he was unable to remember.  All of them suffered and died.  Some of them were the monsters he had feared, and his parallel mind told him that they were the ones who should have suffered, and shouldn't be allowed among Equestrians...  At least until they were converted that is, none of them could be that way after they were converted; even until their death there were decent to one another.  

There were two things that remained constant about these lives: the tone of hate in his speech when they were abandoned and their feelings right before they died.  Many of them tried to cover it with anger, but after the uncountable times it had happened, Windfeather knew that it was not hate they felt, but sadness for being deceived, for having the hope of a bright, beautiful, and seemingly perfect world in which each of them did their best to better themselves to be accepted, was shattered.

Windfeather was so frustrated and hurt; he wanted Windfeather to know what he had done to him.

* * * * *

Windfeather opened his eyes and gasped hard then half screamed half bellowed at the top of his lungs and bawled with enough force to convince anyone that he was trying to force his very soul to leave his body, and the truth of the matter is - that's exactly what he was hoping would happen.  His glasses having been violently flung off of his face landed with a clink in the grass.  He felt like he was going to throw up.  He heaved, but no amount of air would stay inside of him without it being blasted immediately out as uncontrollable crying.

Was there ever a time before when everything felt so wrong?  Windfeather remembered Discord's appearance, but Discord had done nothing so horrible on purpose that he had done accidentally.... Accidentally?  Could he honestly say that?  He didn't mean to... kill them did he?  Windfeather wasn't sure of himself.  He wanted to believe that he was not a monster, but as the thoughts and feelings of those lost newfoals flooded his memory, he bawled harder and wished he could have done something to stop himself.

Princess Celestia was right, he would have collapsed flat on his face if he hadn't have locked his knees, it also made crying a little bit easier by not having to support himself.  By the time Windfeather had stopped crying and could see again, the ground was darker.  The sun must be setting.  A towel floated toward him.  He took it with one wobbly hoof and worked his way to the ground so that he could clean his face.  

“Your punishment, Windfeather,” He heard the princess speaking and knew that he deserved whatever she said and wanted it to make amends for what he had done, not that that would be happening in this life, but just as each of those lost newfoals saw beauty in this world and wanted to be beautiful for it so too had he, and only wanted to protect that beauty when he had made that horrible mistake. “is to live with the knowledge of what you have done.  That is all.”

“No,” His words left him as a whimper, “Princess, I've done something unthinkable, please give me a real punishment.  Please let me... walk into the Exponential Lands and die as they did.”

“I think you have died enough before the end of your natural life, and if you did that, the lesson would not sink in.  In the end, what did each one of those newfoals want?”

Windfeather sniffed, the pain came again, not once had he looked up since he come to his senses, “They wanted... to know why I had done that to them, and for me... to know, feel what they were feeling.”

“And if you went and let yourself die, would that be fair to them?  To try to escape what they wanted you to know as a punishment for what you did?”

Windfeather whimpered like a foal, “No.”

“Then live, Windfeather.”

“Can you... Can't you change the past with your magic?”

“No, not really.... You may go now, Windfeather.”

Windfeather wiped his eyes once more laying the towel on his chair and left somber and not once looking up.  The guards wondered what happened to him as he walked slowly out of the castle and just kept walking.  It was only when he had reached Ponyville and was greeted by a rather happy pink mare that he remembered that he had forgotten his glasses at the palace... That was alright, he thought, he needed a new pair as his eyes weren't the same anymore.

* * * * *

Luna comforted her sister.  Tia was wrapped around her drying her own tears with the other cloth from the table.  She was so upset she was using her hoof instead of her magic to hold it.  Windfeather never saw that, but he left as was asked.  Celestia didn't like to look directly at the memories of her ponies because it made life feel like nothing more than a daydream, but she could not give those memories to Windfeather without living them herself.  Celestia asked her sister just to be here and comfort her when she did this.  Soon they were walking back to the castle.

“Was it the right thing to do, sister, not turning the pegasus Windfeather to stone?”

Celestia's response was not rushed, but was given with little pause, “As Nightmare Moon, even in all your rage, you did not mean to kill anypony.  It was only because I could not show you how you were effecting everypony that I had to use the elements against you.  Windfeather is no powerful being, just an ignorant foal.  I love all my little ponies, Luna, even him, and I meant what I said; he should learn this lesson.  Harmony, should not be a delusion held only by those who have not suffered, but the knowledge that wrongs can be forgiven and life eventually returned to peace.”

Celestia stopped by a statue of three foals that seemed to be balanced one on top of the other.  They were once extremely powerful three earth ponies who could fly and cast magic, breaking the understood rules of how ponies work.  They were just too powerful, too young, too dangerous, and that wasn't their fault.  Celestia dealt with them as she had too, and it never brought her joy.  Even though it took a long time, they lived happily now.  It was only their being family and born triplets that made the bizarre thing happen in the first place, and that was all that remained trapped inside of that statue.  They always manage to find each other, no matter what life they have; she even remembered how, not too long ago, all three of them had walked right past this statue and didn't think anything of it.

Celestia remembered why she had this statue moved here all those years ago, and her usual smile returned to her face; all was right in the world, or no, it wasn't really, but it would be, and that was worth smiling about.

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