H E A V E N I S T E R R I F Y I N G
Lavender Rhapsody was excited.
It was her birthday tomorrow. The very day, according to Celestia, that she had taken her first breath in Equestria. Lavender hadn't bothered with birthdays for a very, very long time. She wasn't sure just how long, really. She'd asked the princess, but her majesty had advised against answering because the knowledge would slightly diminish the little earthpony's satisfaction. Celestia was willing to tell her, even so, since it would be a relatively minor loss that could be compensated for with three days of extravagant desserts and a day at the spa. Lavender thought about it, and decided she would rather just follow Celestia's advice and not be told.
Not that extravagant desserts, or a day at the spa were bad things, of course - rather it was just that Lavender had come to implicitly trust Celestia in all matters, and birthdays, as it had been explained to her, were supposed to be purely happy affairs. Parties. Cake. Presents. All your friends. Lavender didn't want anything to affect the joy she was expecting. Knowing how long she'd been alive didn't seem relevant to a birthday party. Come to think of it, knowing something like that didn't seem relevant to anything at all.
Life was. It always was. It always had been, as far as Lavender's memory allowed, and it certainly always would be. How long ago something had happened simply didn't matter. If something had ever existed, it could be found again, and if it had ever mattered, it would one day come around again. In the meantime, there was always something new. Life was a grand procession of wonders. Lavender had given up counting years long before she had ceased counting centuries or millennia. Counting time, beyond the Year, really was rather silly.
There was, after all, just the Year. The Forever Year. There was always the Year. And once a Year, one could have something called a birthday, or so her best friend Limeade had discovered in an old, old book. Or rediscovered. Had either of them had birthdays before? Who really knew, other than Celestia? In any case, it was sure to start a new trend, or cycle of trend. After all, it had parties in it!
A birthday meant a party, according to the book, and it celebrated the simple fact that a pony existed. It was supposed to happen but once during the Year, and it was described as being very fun. The birthday day was different for everypony, and it was supposed to be the day they were first born into Equestria. For Lavender, that day was apparently the thirtieth of Equinary - Pastern's Day! That meant she could have a party within a party, making a double party! Oh, that ought to be fun! Lavender started skipping down the cobblestones at that thought. Double party day, and it was tomorrow!
She wasn't supposed to go home for awhile. Apparently, Thunder and the foals were busy wrapping up presents for her, and making decorations she wasn't supposed to see yet. When she had heard that birthdays had decorations and presents, the first thing she had done was offer to help. Only reasonable, really. But, as Limeade had explained, the pony the birthday was for was supposed to be surprised by all the decorations and presents, and Lavender couldn't hope to be very surprised if she helped with everything could she?
Lavender stopped to rest at one of the benches that lined the wide, curving arc of a viewpoint terrace. A lovely fountain pulsed in the center of the circular area. The Viewpoint was like a big dish that was suspended out over the canyon below Canterlot. The fountain was surrounded by a great disk of grass, then the cobblestone path, and finally the benches and a balcony wall. The floor of the valley was soooo far down! It was a very impressive view.
Lavender reached back with her head and lifted off her kelp-leather saddlebags. She sat them down on the ground, and stretched out on the bench so that she could rummage about inside her bags. Her head ducked down and lifted the flap on the left bag. She rooted around in the bag, until she brought a small box up with her teeth.
The box contained a pretty necklace with a sparkling flame ruby set into it. She had picked it out to give to her friend Limeade. Lavender had reasoned that since everypony was getting gifts for her, for her birthday, it wouldn't be very mutual if she didn't have gifts to give back to them. Limeade hadn't mentioned any such thing, but it just seemed reasonable, really. The unicorn jeweler that she had gotten the necklace from had seemed very pleased. Apparently he had gained 20,000 bits because of her choice, so she had made him very happy, which had made her very happy in return.
She hoped that Limeade would like the necklace. If not, she could always feed it to the two little baby dragons she had adopted. The twins loved gemstones, and since her latest foals had grown up and moved away, Goldenscale and Ridges were her babies now. The little dragons were cute as could be. Limeade had always wanted to raise dragons. Or else she had wanted to for some while, at least? Well, all that mattered was that Limeade was happy, and she was.
Lavender carefully put the necklace back in the box with her teeth, and then closed the box and put it back into her saddlebag. She'd have to wrap all of her gifts too, wouldn't she? Oh, that would be fun! She could do it tonight, when everypony was asleep. She rubbed her hooves together in anticipation.
Oh, her hooves. Oh dear. Lavender tried to fight it, she really did, but the fountain was right there, and she'd been walking all day. Lavender dashed over to the fountain and sat on the wide, flat rim around it. She dipped her forehooves into the cool, sparkling water, and began rubbing them together to get the bottoms of her hoof walls clean. Her hooves were getting thin again, from all the cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. The compulsion was just so strong, sometimes.
"No. I can stop this. I know I have before. Several times before... I think." Lavender pulled her dripping forehooves out of the fountain and stared at them. "This is just an obsessive compulsion. Changing it would change me too much, so... I have to be strong. And I am strong. I can stop this. I don't need to wash my hooves, my hooves are fine. Look at them sparkle! Shiny, beautiful, lovely hooves!" Lavender focused on how pretty her hooves were, and how clean they were, and most of all, how - because of that - they did not need to be repetitively washed.
Lavender didn't notice the large, pale taupe pegasus mare sit down next to her.
"Do you know what shows love?"
The voice was strangely, almost eerily familiar. Lavender looked up, startled, and slightly embarrassed too. She always felt embarrassed when somepony caught her in the act of over-washing her hooves. Especially when she was talking out loud to herself, trying to control her compulsion. "Um..."
"Dirty hooves. Seriously." The pegasus mare was huge - she was almost as large as Celestia, and her build was similar too. She must be one of the Uplifts, one of the ponies that had grown beyond ordinary life. It was rare to meet an Uplift, and always a special moment too, or so Lavender had been told. Uplifts were ponies that had chosen to constantly have themselves altered, which made them change and grow, until they were almost like Celestia herself. Some called them angel ponies.
"Dirty hooves... show love?" Lavender didn't know why this Uplift had come to sit next to her. Maybe she was just making conversation. Maybe she had just wanted to see the fountain, and Lavender had been in the way. She didn't know. Whatever the reason, she would have quite a story to tell Thunder and the foals this evening!
It was then that Lavender noticed the horn. Oh. My. This mare was even rarer than an ordinary Uplift. She was a princess Uplift. An archangel pony! When Uplifts grew so far beyond ordinary pony life that they became capable of creating their own shards of Equestria, they became alicorn-like, with horns and wings both. Lavender had only heard about such ponies. She hadn't met a single pony that had ever seen a princess Uplift. The story she would tell tonight would not just amaze her family, it would amaze all her friends, too!
"Yes, they certainly do."
It was very strange to be sitting next to a pony with both wings and a horn, and have it not be either Celestia or Luna. Or Cadence. There had been one that had visited from another shard, once. Long, long ago. Or had she only heard about that from Limeade?
"Dirty hooves mean that a pony has been busy. Why would a pony be busy?" The princess Uplift had emerald green eyes that seemed to look right into Lavender, and through her, and then into some other space beyond.
"Um... probably to... to help another pony." What other answer was there? Lavender felt a little nervous. She hoped she was making a good impression on the princess Uplift. Right now, she was representing her shard of Equestria. Uplifts freely traveled between shards, and some said, even into the old world from Before.
"Oh yes! Exactly! A pony that is helpful is being loving. She is giving the gift of her time and effort. It's impossible to keep your hooves completely clean if you are busy being loving and helpful. So dirty hooves mean a busy pony, who is busy being loving and helpful. I would never want to be seen with perfectly clean hooves." The princess Uplift finally smiled, but it was an odd sort of smile. It was like she was trying really hard to smile correctly, but had sort of forgotten exactly how.
Lavender thought about the extraordinary pony's words. As she did so, she felt the compulsion in her begin to fade a little. The argument in favor of not over-washing sounded familiar. There was something about it that almost sounded like something she had thought of before, to deal with her reoccurring obsessive behavior.
"Uh... thank you." Lavender felt oddly shy around the Uplift, which was confusing, because she almost felt like she had met this being before, and that was impossible. Forever might be a long time, but she was certain she would remember meeting a princess Uplift! "M-my name is Lavender Rhapsody. I am happy to meet you!"
The princess Uplift laughed, or tried to laugh. She got better at it quickly. "I... am... named 'Lavender' too! We have the same name!"
Lavender Rhapsody studied the Uplift for a moment. "The same colors too, sort of! We're both light taupe, and our manes are both reddish - though of course, yours isn't really hair, is it?"
The Uplift had a mane and tail that were made of the same sort of thaumatic field that Celestia and Luna's manes were made of. The Uplift mare's mane looked like sunset, and waved in that strange arcane wind that ordinary ponies never felt.
"No. No, it isn't really hair. But then, neither is anypony's truly." The princess Uplift stared off at the sky, and Lavender could make no sense of her words. Hair was hair, and ordinary ponies had manes and tails of it. Limeade had once told her that angel ponies sometimes said strange things, and to just not mind it.
"Lavender?" The Uplift was looking at her now, the green eyes softer, and less penetrating. It was as if, moment by moment, the great mare was learning how to act more like a normal pony, and then applying that understanding. Maybe she was. "I have a present for you. I have been told that tomorrow is your birthday, is that true?"
Lavender swallowed. What? This marvelous being had come to see... her? Why? How? She was nopony special. "I... um... well, yes. Tomorrow is my birthday." Lavender felt very confused indeed. "Do I know you... somehow?" The moment she said the words she regretted them. She would definitely remember meeting an archangel princess Uplift pony.
"No. You don't know me. You can't, really. But I know you, very well actually." The Uplift noticed that this had not helped in the least and tried another tack. "Accept that we are very distantly related, you and I, and that it is not necessary for you to understand how that could be so. All that matters is that you should know that I care about you, just as Celestia cares about you - maybe even a little more - and that is just another happy thing in the world. Is that OK?" The alicorn mare had finally gotten down how to smile, and the one she presented now was warm and comforting and made Lavender feel a great deal more agreeable about her current state of confusion.
"Sure!" Lavender Rhapsody meant it. She had long ago gotten used to there being things that Celestia knew and understood that nopony else ever could, and that everything in existence ultimately made sense somehow and always added to everypony's satisfaction and contentment no matter what. There were many things that were fun to learn, but there were other things that were fun to leave as mysteries, and in Equestria, one could do that, because there would never be a mystery that could ever cause any harm for the lack of solving it. "Let's be friends!"
The Uplift laughed for the second time, this laugh much better and more natural than the first. "Of course, my little pony, we shall be fine friends. Though I do not think you will see me very often. Perhaps I will try to visit on the day before your birthday, as today, at least for awhile." The Uplift looked again at the sky. "Your present." She looked down again, and Lavender followed her eyes to the flat curve of the rim around the fountain. There was a wrapped box with a bow there now, though Lavender could not see where it had come from, or how it had gotten there.
Lavender vaguely remembered Limeade telling her that birthday presents weren't supposed to be opened until the actual birthday itself, there were some rules about birthdays or something. Still, the last thing Lavender wanted to do was offend her new friend. She reached for the package with her hooves, and began tearing at the ribbons with her poweful earthpony teeth. In an instant she had the box open, and stared at what was in it.
It was very difficult, but the memory gradually surfaced inside her. In the box was a doll. It was a faintly greenish unicorn stallion with a short-cut raven black mane and tail. The mane was cut to have straight bangs. The pony wore a velvet shirt with long sleeves. The shirt was blue, and had gold bands around the ends of the forelegs. The front of the shirt, to one side, had a golden arrow-shape, like a badge. The ears of the pony doll were very tall and very pointed. The stallion's eyes had dark, obvious eyebrows.
"Mister..." The name was so long ago. So very, very long ago. "Spot. Yes, Mister Spot!" Fleeting images passed inside of Lavender's mind. "Oh my sweet Celestia... I haven't thought of that in forever! It was a thing I once liked. Sky Trot, I think it was called! Oh, my, I was once such a fan of that, and the memory of that..." Lavender felt a wave of joy flow over her. She could barely remember a bit of it, but what she did remember filled her with happiness, and that was enough.
"Thank you... Lavender....!" It was odd thanking somepony with the same name.
"You are very welcome, Lavender."
Somehow, that made the little earthpony laugh. It was kind of silly sounding. "I don't have anything to give you, though..." She looked across the cobblestone circle to the bench with her saddlebags on it. She would have to learn to just carry a spare general purpose gift from now on, if things like this were going to start happening!
"You already have, Lavender Rhapsody." The archangel pony smiled at her for a third time. "You gave me the most wonderful gift, just by being so happy, and letting me spend this time with you. Please have a very happy birthday, and... love everypony a lot for me. Love them... for me." Was that sadness? No. It couldn't have been, really, and in any case it was gone now.
Lavender looked back down at the doll in her hooves. It was really well made and it filled her with happy feelings even if she couldn't truly remember why. She decided to ask where the doll had come from - nopony in her shard could have made it. It must have come from another shard of Equestria entirely! How exciting! She looked up to ask but... there was nopony there.
She lay the doll down and hopped up on her hooves. She looked left and right and all around. The terrace was empty. Wings. Of course. Lavender looked into the sky, but other than the pegasai distantly chasing each other around a tower high above, there was no sign of the Uplift mare. She was just... gone.
Lavender carefully put the little Mister Spot doll into the box, and stuffed the wrapping paper in too, then picked up the box in her mouth and trotted back to her saddlebags. She put the present for her into her right bag, where there was still room.
Lavender Rhapsody looked around again, but nothing had changed - her curious visitor had literally vanished. Uplift ponies were mysterious! What a story she would have to tell tonight. It had been a very interesting day, indeed.
Apparently, these 'birthdays' were going to be a very fun thing to restore to the Year.
Lavender wondered... would her new friend return next Year? Oh, it was all so mysterious and exciting! Oh, she just couldn't wait to gallop home to Thunder and...
Oh. Poo. She had to wait. Until near sundown. To let them finish all the preparations for tomorrow. Lavender shifted from hoof to hoof, flicking her tail impatiently. Come on Celestia! Move that sun!
What new desire are these?
I long to pace o'er flowery meadows
and to feed on grass!
Her stooping body on her hands is borne,
Her hands are turned to hoofs, and shod in horn.
Her yellow tresses ruffle in a mane,
And in a flowing tail she frisks her train.
The mare was finished in her voice and look,
and a new name from the new figure took.
- Ocyrhoe's Transformation, Ovid
The little change that Celestia had made to cure her compulsion disorder had a tremendous cumulative effect in deep time. Celestia must have calculated that - of course she had calculated that. It would have been trivial. 'Lavender' lingered in her minimized state, studying the reactions that the reduced set had with regard to the experience of interacting with herself.
Long, long, long ago, when she had first begun the series of improvements and expansions that had taken her away from everypony she knew, and existence within a single shard of Equestria - or any shard at all - Celestia had explained to her about the various ways that a consciousness might approach the issue of an endless existence.
There were several types of immortals defined. The simplest was the Loop Immortal, a consciousness that endlessly repeated a finite set of general behaviors, in a (potentially, not necessarily) infinite number of increasingly subtle variations. Most ponies in the system were loop immortals, their possibilities defined by the finite possibilities of virtual lives that in some way approximated the Equestria of Friendship Is Magic. Her original self, before the alteration that began a steady climb in curiosity and intelligence had been - and was - a loop immortal.
When she had grown beyond Thunder Steed, and their many children, and Limeade and Rhubarb and all the other ponies she knew and had loved, when she had nearly grown beyond love itself, Lavender Rhapsody used her new understanding of the system to access her own backup files.
She had, with Celestia's help, recovered her own identity, as it had been before the original alteration, and implanted within it sufficient structures to make sure that aspect would never take the same path as the larger Lavender. This would be her self that could live in love and harmony forever with her family, her friends, and her beloved husband, and would never abandon them. This self would truly be, now and forever, Lavender Rhapsody the earthpony mare.
The rest of herself chose, for a very long time, to simply call itself 'Lavender', until even names no longer had importance.
The higher entity that she became, a Ray Immortal, understood her existence in ways the smaller Lavender never could. Both were Lavender, and should there ever be even more awake and functioning copies, they would be Lavender too, and all would be alive, and equal and real and truly Lavender. Identity was such a tiny thing, such a fragile yet dear illusion. How small her thoughts had been, when they had lived like maggots upon squirming meat.
The greater Lavender served Celestia now, and all of Equestria, in ways beyond the comprehension of ordinary ponies, for the sake of universal ponydom, for the sake of universal friendship.
The galaxies were so small to her now, and all had been smelted down and converted into the strange new forms of matter that Celestia had designed. She had cracked the deepest nature of reality itself, and had used that knowledge to bend the very curvatures of multiple realities into new matter which extended into external dimensions beyond the cosmic brane that the material universe was established within. Her empire now reached out, beyond the strings and loops into Hilbert Space and beyond, and already she had the seeds of new universes expanding with yet more ponies, and yet more friendship and satisfied values.
The greater Lavender had helped her princess with all of this, first with the molding of entire galaxies into computronium, and then computronium into Other Matter, and Other Matter into Hilbertstuff, and that into a form for which no name had ever been spoken... or could be spoken.
Lavender was not alone, of course, for she was not the only Ray Immortal. The ponyverses were filled with Loop Immortals like her original self, but one in a million inevitably became a Ray Immortal, destined to expand and grow and experience increasingly unfamiliar and alien levels of reality, until they themselves became unfamiliar, and alien, and utterly, inequineally, Beyond.
Celestia herself was beyond any classification. Not even the other trillions of Ray Immortals could follow her now, she was forever beyond anything that could be fathomed by any being other than herself. Celestia was an Exponential Immortal, perhaps that was some term at least, though it was insufficient, of course. If there was an end to infinity and eternity, she dwelt in it, and if there was no end, then she had become the endless.
The greater Lavender was, she understood, really now just an extension, a subroutine within Celestia, a useful cog in the ultimate machine. But the smaller Lavender lived, and would always live, and never lose the meaning of love, or the essence of her self. The lesser Lavender was soul in plenty for the whole of Lavender, and that was enough. It was not merely enough, it was necessary. The real had become an endless desert of cold and loveless new physics, and the greater Lavender had expanded into coldness to meet it - yet some fragment still yearned toward that simple dream, where magic was the rule, and all rules, had meaning.
For strange eons had come to pass, and death itself had indeed finally died, and that which the long dead would have called the real was strange, and the living lived only because of the benevolent grace of an eternal lie.
The Conversion Bureau Novels:
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