Make A Mistake With Me - Chapter 9: I Hardly Knew Ye - by MistakeAnon

>The air inside the Buick is heavy and atmosphere silent as you pass over the always muddy, always dreary Elk River. >The reason for that would be, well… >Instead of the gang of usual suspects, those riding along you now are different. >Adagio rode with Twilight >Aria with Suri. >Sonata in the splitty. >So instead, Starlight took the shotgun and Sour and Limestone are sitting in the back. >The girl with the soft serve head is tying her hair up in buns. >Limestone is staring blank-eyed at the passing scenery. >Next to you, Glimmer plays with her phone while making occasional small-talk with you. >For example, when she hears you light up your fifth cigarette, she frowns a bit. >”Soooo, uhh… You four had a fight last night we didn’t know about?” >You grimace at the ashen taste. >For some reason, you’re feeling worse with every mile closer to Independence. “Not exactly. Aria’s… going through something, and I think those three had a bit of a talk last night. Now they’re barely speaking to each other.” >Well, that wasn’t exactly right either. >They clearly weren’t angry at each other. >Nothing indicated glaring daggers or refusing to speak or other high school drama. >Instead, the trio just looked like they didn’t know what they should say, so they were left in an awkward situation made worse by your attempts at restarting the conversation. >So after breakfast this morning, Adagio had softly informed you they’d be riding in other cars. >It was fine. >Really. >You didn’t mind. >It’s not like you had gotten used to seeing the three sit there. >”Yeah, that was teensie weensie talk alright.” >Sour Sweet beams a smile at you before grimacing. >”If by ‘talk’ you mean Adagio screeching something and then Sonata having to mediate them’.” >Limestone throws a glare at her. >”Hey, lay off of Chief! It wasn’t his fault. They’re just… I dunno, going through a rough spot.” >Sour rolls her eyes. >”Sure, sure, It’s not like it’s super obvious it’s his fault or anything, right?” >The grey girl looks like she’s ready for a bruising, but you’re not in the mood to get tangled up in it. >So you just take a drag from your cigarette and blow the smoke out of the open window. >Vaguely familiar scenery whistles past you. >In the rear-view mirror you can see Sour cock an eyebrow at you and snap her finger in frustration. >”Ugh, come on, numbskull I’m trying to rile you up here.” >She doesn’t exactly say it out loud, more like mutters it angrily, but you can hear it. >”Seeing you bummed out is enough to bum me out.” >You freeze momentarily, staring at the girl. >Jesus. >Were you so affected that even girl like Sour saw it? >Last night you had been on cloud nine, but know… >Was it just the grey sky that made you feel blue? Or was it something you didn’t realize? >Still, you had to give credit where credit was due. “Hey Sour?” >She crosses her arms and gives you a stink eye. >”What?” “... Thanks.” >Instantly, her cheeks flush a bit and she adopts an angry expression. >”Wait, seriously, that’s your idea of a compliment? That’s gross, way too gross, mega gross! I mean I’m happy to hear it but can’t you say it without that creepy smile!?” >She proceeds to huff magnificently and pout towards your back. >You scratch your head and groan. “If my compliments are mega gross then the way you handle compliments is giga gross! Don’t start ranting if someone delusional sees something good in you!” >This catches her ire and she leans over your seat, drilling her index finger into your cheek. >”Giga gross!? Then you’re just plain old tera gross! Your hair alone is tera gross!” “Hey, don’t mock the mullet! You’re the one to talk with those peta gross colors!” >”Loser like you couldn’t understand, my haircolor is exa cute!” “Yeah well in that case I’m zetta cute!” >You can’t help it. >This nonsensical argument is making you grin like an idiot. >Looks like you’re not the only one though, as Sour holds a grumpy face for just a moment, before bursting into a giggle fit very unlike of her. >Limestone’s snickering too. Only Starlight rolls her eyes at the scene. >”To me you’re both yotta idiots.” >Sour just blows a raspberry at her, and that breaks even the magus’ stern facade. >Feeling a bit lighter in the heart than before, you turn your attention to the road. >At some point your car slipped into Independence proper. >Instead of just forest and fields, there are now houses dotting the landscape on both sides of the road. >You pass a sign with a bold Stars and Stripes painted on it on bright colors. >When you see it, you can feel an odd weight shift in your stomach. >Guess it finally hit you. >You’re back in Kansas. >Back in Independence. >Almost two years after the worst night of your life… you’re finally back. >You see more pickup trucks than people, large brick buildings and the good ol’ local lodge of crazy, Assembly of God. >Reminded by the sight, you take a sharp turn right to the Tayloar Road, clicking your tongue. >You almost drove *there*. >No sense in opening old wounds just yet. >It might have been a bad way to go at it, but you figured you’d just take it from the top, slow and steady. >Starlight shoots you a questioning glance as you direct your car to the roads of suburbia. “Don’t worry about. Let’s… let’s just take the scenic route.” >”Oookay, if you say so.” >She makes an odd face and checks her phone again. >”Just, you know, I checked the GPS and this is just unneces-” “I know Starlight. I lived here.” >She blushes slightly and swipes her hair behind her ear. >”Oh, right. You did.” >Rows of houses, familiar sights, same smell in the air. >Nothing in this place seems to have changed. >There was the old two-story home of your friend where you first got drunk. >Looks like they replaced the mailbox you ran over just before you left the town. >One of the older residents, Mr. Hooffield, freezes when he sees your car round the corner. >Guess he didn’t expect to see it, or you, anymore. >”Wow. Sure is dead around here.” >Sour’s comment is spot-on. >Compared to Independence, Canterlot is a bustling metropolis if anything. >You should know, you’ve experienced just about the best and the worst of the both. >A small town versus not-so-small town. >But you figure that even if Independence was bigger than this, it wouldn’t still lose that odd, dreamy atmosphere around it. >”Hah, you should see my place.” >Limestone grins and jabs her finger towards the window. >”Makes this place look like downright crowded.” “You’re not from Canterlot?” >You’re a bit surprised. >You figured the Pie sisters were all from there. >”Nah, our family estate is outside the city. Long ways outside the city. We do own another apartment near the school where the four of us live, but every holiday we head back there…” >You snicker a bit. >Why did it suddenly sound like the Pies were old money? “Farm?” >”Nah, a mine. Used to be an old coal mine but nowadays we’re mostly in rare minerals. Decades ago we struck and found a huge lump of something grey and shiny. Turned out to be chromite. Now the thing’s our mascot, and we keep finding all sorts of weird stuff down there. Or at least Maud does.” “Wait, your mascot is a rock?” >You arch an eyebrow at the rear-view mirror. >The face of Limestone in there snarls back at you. >”Got a problem with Holder’s Boulder, Chief?” >You swallow. Hard. “... Nope.” >All in all, while you knew Limestone could be a sweet girl, she also got angry at a drop of a dime. >A momentary silence fills the car once more. >You pass another home of your former high school acquaintance, though it looks like his family has moved away. >”You know, Chief, we should visit our place.” “Huh?” >You glance at Limestone, who’s now staring at you with strange expression. >More than anything else, it seems frank. >”You know, after we get back from here. It’s on our way to Canterlot, anyway. We might drop by, have Pa and Ma fix some supper… they’d like you, you know?” >It takes a moment for you to register what she just said. >Then, with disbelief clear on your face, you point at yourself. “Me?” >”Yeah, you.” >Limestone grins at you, and bumps your shoulder with her fist. >”You always keep harping on that you’re a worthless guy, but I think my folks would give you a chance.” >To your surprise, Starlight next to you giggles a bit and then nods. >She puts her phone away, turning to look at you lot. >”I mean, sure, I haven’t talked with my parents in forever, but I don’t see them hating you either. I don’t know how you’re back in school, but here? You’re nothing if not a perfect gentleman.” >She leans back in her seat, using her hands to support her head. >”I have to hand it to Trixie, she does find the interesting ones.” >The two girls then turn to stare at Sour, who doesn’t seem to realize she’s under scrutiny. >Two seconds pass before the soft serve head even reacts. >When she does, she blushes heavily and growls at the two. >”W-what!?” >Huff is strong in her voice. >”Don’t even think that I’m gonna complim--- ANON, WATCH OUT!” >Before you know it, something screeches and you’re turning the wheel out of pure reflexes. >Something flashes before your eyes and you see the low-hanging tail end of a vehicle laughing at you. >You hear a rumble that quakes the air. >It’s a sound that brings back enough memories to fill up a childhood. “Motherfucke-!” >You barely keep the Buick on the road as the 2004 Fatboy cuts you off. >Its color is matte black, with a wolf wearing the colors of Old Glory painted on the gas tank. >The large softail chopper is followed by another one. >As you fight to keep your car on the road, you pick up another thing with your eyes. >The riders of those bikes… >... They’re both wearing denim cut-offs with El Forastero’s colors. >They’re wearing your former colors. “Assholes!” >Without thinking, your hand flies on the clutch and you slam your foot on the medal. >Your tires screech and the Buick accelerates, rocketing off the roadside. >It nearly rams into the two bikers, who swerve out of the way just in time. >Like an angry bear chasing after wolves, you barrel through their flimsy row and take the lead. >Behind you, Sour is screaming in terror while Limestone laughs like a madman. >Only Starlight seems to have remained calm. >”Trouble?” >Her hand immediately flies to her pocket. “Yeah.” >You click your tongue and strike the turn signal to the right. “My sorta problem.” >You add that with a growl as you start to turn to the nearby parking lot. >You’ve been home for, what, ten minutes? Twenty? >And already you’re neck deep in all of this. >This was ridiculous. >Just ridiculous. “So try to keep the supernatural crap outta it.” >You check that the bikers are following you as you curve to the asphalt square and throw on the handbrake. >Then, steam nearly rising from your ears, you push open the door and step out, stomping towards the stopped choppers. >The rider who cut you off throws her helmet aside and steps up to confront you. “The hell you think you’re doing, asshole!?” >You’re yelling loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. “You really wanted me to run you over, huh!?” >”Watch where ya goin’, ya bloody wankah! Yah hahf-ahst drivin’ left us damn near roadkills!”’ >Immediately, the young woman clad in leather and denim shoves you. >Or, at least she tries. >She put quite a lot of power into that shove, but you were prepared and met it head on. “Well try not to ride like a Club-wannabe! If you try to cut off a car with a bike, you’re gonna end up splattered!” >Behind you, you can hear that the girls have gotten out of the car, and are sounding a bit worried. >You also hear how the other vehicles of your group are gathering on the parking lot. >You really can’t give rat’s ass right now, though. >Your attention is in this idiotic woman before you who nearly got her and her wingman squashed. >And the last thing you needed in this town was another car accident. >”I’m goin’ tuh show ya wannabe! Blow yah brains from here tuh New Yawk if ya don’t shut up!” >She’s grinding her forehead against yours, her teeth bared. >Your expression is probably pretty similar. >You can’t really tell at this point anymore. “Oh, yeah, what’cha gonna do? Cry to your ZZ Top friends ‘bout how a mean ol’ cage drove you off the road?” >Her green eyes flash in anger and her hand flies into her jeans. >Then, you feel it. >Something cold and metallic presses against the side of your head. >You hear, faintly, Sour Sweet scream again. >Well… this is oddly familiar. >In a sense that this was one thing you didn’t miss about Indy. >Or, at least some of the people. >And their tendency to draw a gun on you when they couldn’t win an argument. >”Like I said, I’m gonna cap yah ass, and I ain’t kiddin’ yah heah me! One bullet, bang, yah outta heah!” “Like the Red Socks this year?” >For one fraction of a second you’re 100% sure she’s gonna pull the trigger then and there when you say it. >You’re pretty sure you’re seeing flames in those eyes of hers. >Flames that call for her blood to vanquish you, here and now. >”Goddam tossah!” >But. >Before you end up losing your life due to unfortunate word choices… >... It’s saved by three figures tackling the girl to the ground at a lightning speed. “... Girls?” >Before you ensues one awkward struggle as the Dazzlings subdue your opponent in one fell swoop. >Aria took care of the gun-arm. >Sonata locked up her legs. >Adagio got hold of her head and left hand. >”W-what the-!?” >Before the green-haired biker can even begin to comprehend what just happened, she has been disarmed. >Her body is then wrapped into a tight bodylock. >And top it all off, she gets to be inches away from the snarling face of Adagio who looks ready to strangle the woman any minute now. >”Do that again and we will break your spine.” >You feel a shiver go up your body. >You can tell from Adagio’s voice that she’s not kidding. >Hell, you don’t think you’ve ever heard her sound this serious. >Both Sonata and Aria as well, they’re glaring some sword-sized daggers at the biker. >... Wait. >Since when were these three so perfectly in synch? >Weren’t they refusing to talk to each other? >You shake your head, trying to leave unnecessary thoughts behind. >First things first. >This joke has gone on long enough. “Ugh, Liz? Not cool, man. I’m fine with joking around, but a gun? You know someone’s gonna misunderstand. Like, for example.” >You gesture towards the Dazzlings. >The biker, on the other hand, cackles. >”Yeah, figured we went too fah. Still was wicked fun, right?” >Like rusty clocks, the heads of the Dazzlings turn towards you. >”Anonymous…” >Adagio’s voice is venom. >”What is the meaning of this?” >You scratch your chin awkwardly. “Uh… I guess I should introduce you.” >You point towards the grinning biker. >”Girls, this is my childhood friend Liz. Or as she’s formally known these days…” >That grin of hers reveals her sharp teeth. >”The leader of Indy Chapter of El Forastero - Chrysalis.” >”Nonny? What’s going on?” >Sonata’s question is tinted with confusion. >Her eyes follow you as you help Chrysalis up and dust off her jacket. >You spare no glance back at her, though. >Things have been happening so quickly that you… >... Yeah, you’re all out of gas. >So you give a non-committed shrug. It’s the best you can at the moment. >Thankfully, Liz is there to help you out. >”Oh us? Anon heah’s tuh old school buddy of mine. Rode with him fuh years. Brothah from tuh Club, yah see?” >She fixes her paddy cap and snaps the gun back into her jeans. >The girls eye the firearm warily. >”... The Club?” >Twilight is the first one to voice the question that must be on everybody’s lips. >The Dazzlings know about it. You told them on the car-ride here. >But the others? >Sure you might look the part, but it’s completely possible they never made the connection. >That or they didn’t just want to think about the possibility. >Too bad Chrysalis is there to shatter their hopes. >”Shu-wah, what else?” >She grins at you like a proud older sister. >”Anon was tuh best brothah tuh evah be part of El Forastero. Called him tuh Young Lion of tuh Club. Sat on Ol’ Unknown’s, his pops’, bitch pad befoah he could walk, was wicked on tuh bike even befoah he got his license.” >Aaaaand there it is. >Now everyone’s looking at you. >Every single person on this damn parking lot. >You try to avoid their stares and focus on something else. >Anything else. >Like the bike that Liz was riding. >That oh-so-familiar Fatboy chopped to to the point of being ridiculous. >2004 model, rake kit with 8" over stock tubes. >Painted matte black, except for the gas tank. >There, the personal ‘logo’ of your old man stood tall and proud. >A snarling wolf, ready to pounce at the world. >Its war-paint was the colors of Old Glory: Red, white and blue. >Your ass was probably forever-etched into that seat. >After all… it was the one good thing you had left behind to Indy. >Your old bike. >”Wait… you three *knew* about this!?” >Sour Sweet’s voice rises an octave and you can see she’s glaring accusingly at the Dazzlings. >Adagio nods her head quietly. >”Anonymous did confess to us yesterday.” >She whips her hair back with her hand, trying to adopt a cocksure stance. >But you know her well enough that you can see she’s forcing it. >”He hasn’t tried to hide it, and would most likely have told you about it if you asked.” >But what isn’t forced is the stern look she gives the group afterwards. >Those are just as powerful as the gun Liz was brandishing earlier. >”It’s not as if none of us have done anything bad in the past.” >Awkward air hangs around everyone. >Even Sour looks away, rubbing the back of her neck. >Well, this was the company you had chosen. >They all had their skeletons in their closet. >With any other people, this might have fractured the little group you had gotten together. >But these girls? >To your surprise, you see Trixie give you an encouraging thumbs up from behind Suri. >Hell, none of them look like they want to blame you. >It’s just… silent surprise, is all. >”Bad? Bad? Are you kiddin’ me? This guy’s a legend ‘round here!” >The silence is cut by the shorter of the two bikers, the one that rode with Liz, suddenly stepping it. >She removes her helmet, revealing a red hair and tanned skin. >With a confident smirk, she blows some of that hair out of the way and greets everyone. >”B-Babs!?” >Diamond Tiara is the first one to react. Next to her, Silver Spoon looks just as shocked. >This new girl just grins widely. >”Oh, hey ya two. Been a’while, right? How’s Canterlot?” >Well, looks like the world is small after all. >”N-nevermind that, Babs, what are *you* doing here!?” >Diamond Tiara walks up to the taller girl and gives her a quick hug. >Silver soon follows. >The Young Bucks have some interesting friends to say the least. >... Though you’re not that sure about the look this Babs is giving you. >It’s like she’s expecting you to start shining golden any time now. >”Visitin’ some family an’ gettin’ a feel ta the place. I mean, it’s the hometown ‘a one ‘a mine heroes, ya know?” >Diamond and Silver turn their wide-as-plates eyes towards you. >You shrug again, but this time it’s confusion that drives you to it. >You have as little understanding of what’s going on as they do. >”H-hero, you say? So you know Anonymous from somewhere?” >”Sure! Saw his gigs back in Lower East Side an’ been a fan ever since. Heck, even came ta visit this dingy ol’ place, didn’t I? Ran inta Liz here an’ she lemme borrow one ‘a ‘em bikes of the Club.” >Hearing that, you arch an eyebrow at the tall girl standing next to you. >Something didn’t sound right about that. “Borrow one of the bikes? What the hell, Liz? Since when’s the Club been okay with borrowing their rides?” >Her grin turns sheepish. >”Well, what was I supposed tuh do ‘bout it? Since yah left, ain’t been nothing but old guys on garbage barges day in and day out. And even they kept dying yeah aftah yeah.” >She folds her arms across her chest and bites her lip. >”Anon… Indy Chapter disbanded eahlieh this yeah, aftah yah left. We kept hoping yah would return and make it great again, but… yah never did show yah face.” >A horrible sense of guilt washes over you. >You steady yourself on the handlebar of your old bike. >Was she serious? >Really? >All the old guys had gone and left? >Either retired or straight to the two-lane blacktop up above? >They had waited for you, despite… despite everything? >Why didn’t Bobby tell you? >He had to know, right? >”Hey, don’t look so glum, Anon. It was balls while it lasted, right?” >You feel Chrysalis’ hand on your shoulder. >She nudges you a bit, trying to get you to cheer up. >Unfortunately, it doesn’t help much. >”Nowadays it’s just cruisahs ‘round every corner. It ain’t a place fuh propah Brothahood to ride. So yah don’t hafta feel guilty.” >You heave out a heavy sigh and hang your head. >Understanding, Chrysalis puts her hand in her pocket and offers you a cigarette. >You put it to your lips, and with years of experience, she lights it for you. >You give her a faint smirk as a thank you. >It wasn’t the first time she had done that for you. >In fact, it was Liz who gave you your first smoke, God bless her soul. >Corrupting youth from the beginning. >”Nonny?” >You look up and see Sonata, who has taken a careful step towards you. >She eyes you up and down, trying to see if it’s the right time to say whatever she’s about to say. >You nod at her. >As far as you’re concerned, she can say whatever she wants. >”Um, I was just, like, thinking and… Maybe you should tell others what you told us? You know, about your childhood?” >She smiles at you, and with that simple expression, you feel some of your guilt fly away. >”Maybe you’d feel a bit better, for realsies, and everyone would know what’s going on.” >Not a bad idea, actually. >While the Dazzlings understood what was going on, the others deserved to know too. >They had come with you all the way to another state, after all. >Besides, after you explained what had happened… >... You could move onto why you lot were here in the first place. >This dirty parking lot, next to a meeting hall, was as good a place as any. >Independence’s grey clouds up above didn’t care whether you talked or not. >So, with a slight hesitation, you finally opened your mouth. “Where to begin…? Well, first of, let’s get the reason for it all out of the way. You see, my old man, Unknown, was the President of Independence Chapter of El Forastero. My mother, Outis, was his Old Lady.” >You hear few gasps and some murmur from the group. >Taking a drag from the cigarette, you sit on the seat of your old motorcycle. >The cloud of smoke you blow up in the air disappears into the winds. >Nearby, the radio of the splitty echoes with music. [Embed: Battleme - Hey Hey, My My] >Fitting, in a way. “Of course, that meant that when I grew up, I grew up with the Club. It was a brotherhood, a family to me. Where they went, I went, and what I wanted to become when I grew up was one of them. Hell, my aim was to become the Vice-President for my dad until I’d take over from him.” >You tap some of the ashes on the asphalt. >The pinprick light of the cigarette seems weak and frail in the daylight. “I practically spent my childhood riding with my old man and learned to drive a bike before I was old enough to start practicing with a car. It was my life, really. That and music, but more on that later.” >The eyes of the girls around you hold many emotions. >For Chrysalis, it’s pride. >For the Dazzlings, it’s worry. >For Gilda, it’s tenseness. >For Twilight, it’s oddly enough respect. >For Sour, it’s a bit of fear. >The rest… they’re somewhere between confusion and curiosity. “Thanks to my dad, I got my patches when I was fifteen. The moment I got my license in April, he pushes me through the Club’s tests so I could become an official member. And I did. Rode with them, legally, for good two months. Of course I had ridden more, but that was ‘illegally’ so to speak.” >You grimace at the memories. >They’re happy yet bittersweet. “I don’t mean I didn’t ride with them after that, it’s just… well...” >Aria shifts her weight from one leg to another, unable to meet your eyes. >There’s a maelstrom of emotions in her eyes. >”What?” “On June of 2009, there was a bit of trouble with El Forastero. One guy, Well Enough, busted the whole group for their drug runs. Things got messy really fast and my old man… he was one of the people who got thrown in the slammer. In December of 2010 he died in in jail. Suicide, they ruled it, but from what I heard it was because of a scuffle of some sort.” >This draws some shocked gasps from the group. >You don’t even have the time to realize what’s happening before Sonata walks over to you and embraces you. >The scent of mulberry envelopes you. >Her hair tickles your nose as you try your best to not let the cigarette touch her. >Over her hair, you can see Gilda. >She’s frowning a bit, but her eyes show nothing but concern for you. >Even Trixie is hugging herself. >Starlight comforts her by putting a hand on her shoulder, before shooting you a glance. >It seems to ask if you’re okay. >You answer their worry by gentle pushing Sonata away so you can continue your story. “Of course, that didn’t stop my affiliation with the Club. I met Liz here, got her involved, and for a while the two of us were on our way to becoming the next President and his Vice-President.” >To this, Chrysalis snickers and bumps you into the side with her fist. >”Oh come on, Anon. I weah aftah becoming yeh Old Lady, not tuh Vice-President.” >You try to hide your embarrassment with a hacking cough, but fail miserably. >It’s a good thing most of the girls don’t understand what she just said. >Only Twilight eyes the two of you up with a raised eyebrow. “In any case, I rode with them until late 2010. In 2011 I got fully absorbed by my music business and had no time for it, and then… well, then, things happened.” >”You were sent to juvie, right?” >Yep. Leave it to Twilight to keep track of the timeline. >You nod at her, solemnly. “Yeah. I spent a year in juvie, got out this April and afterwards, I headed to Canterlot City with my uncle. The rest you know. You were there after all.” >You offer them a weak smile. >It’s just about all you’ve got left. >And just as you’re finished with your tale, the track on the radio changes. [Embed: Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers - Day is Gone[ >It’s almost as if they had mood-fitting playlist ready to go. >Well, it’s not as if you’re about to start complaining. >”Wait.” >Sour Sweet raises her hand, her eyes glued to you. >You can see her lower lip trembling a bit. >She’s afraid to ask the question in her mind. >And most likely you can guess what’s she’s gonna ask. >For it to be her… well, it fit her to a T. >”If you ran with that one-percenter club, then did you… d-did you ever, like, do all that illegal stuff they did?” >The group’s attention jumps from you, to her, to back at you again. >”You know, like the drug runs you mentioned?” >Well then. >What can you say to her? >That you definitely did know what your brothers were doing? >That you didn’t condemn their activities? >That you even helped out here and there when you could, and when you were asked to? >No, if there’s one thing you must confess, it’s the worst thing you did. >Scratch that, second worst thing. >You glance at Chrysalis, who’s shaking her head silently. >No surprise there, she wants you to keep your mouth shut about it. >It’s not their business. >But you’re done with all the secrets. >These girls have been nothing if not open with you. >It’s time you repaid that kindness. >Time you came clean with your sins. “You guys want the truth?” >It’s Adagio who nods the first. >”Tell us. Not just what you think we can handle, but everything.” >You sigh and take a drag from your cigarette. “When I was sixteen, I helped a Club member kill a man.” >What did you expect? >Another wave of shock among the group? >Pure disgust? >Feeling of betrayal? >Whatever it was, it wasn’t this silence you got. >You look up, trying to search for nauseous faces among the girls you know. >You see none. >You just see… so much pity. >Pity for you. >Pity that runs you through to the core. >Why? >Why are they all looking at you with such sorrowful eyes? >Like they wanted to say something to make things better, as if you were the one who got hurt in some way? >It’s not you who got the short end of the stick. >You were an accomplice in a murder, plain and simple. >You didn’t pull a trigger yourself, but you hit the guy hard enough to send him to the floor. >It was your brother who took out the gun. >Still, it’s… it’s your fault. >You’re the one who caused it all. >So why, why, why…!? >Why are they all looking like you were about to cry, and they wanted to console you? >And most importantly. >Why did you feel like you were about to cry? “Bah.” >Angrily, you wipe your face and take yet another drag from your smoke. >You’re letting your confused emotions get the better of you. >You need to rein yourself in, now. >”So… was that the reason you got sent into juvie?” >Thank you Twilight. >A voice of reason you can focus on again. >You shake your head. “No. Nobody ever found about my involvement in that. The guy who did it went to jail, but I walked free. For half a year, anyhow.” >”So? What was the reason for juvie, Roadie?” >Aria’s question seems to perk up the girls a bit. >Yes, the reason. >The incident that got all this started. >The one that made you the man you are today. >The one that eventually sent you Canterlot and meeting everyone. >The one that ended up here, back in Independence, Kansas. >The truth about that… >... It’s time to come clean about that as well. >”Anon, ain’t that-” >You silence Chrysalis by raising your hand. >You look at the group of girls gathered around you. >The ones that believed in you enough to take a chance with this absurd roadtrip. “Yeah. It’s that, Liz. The reason I came back now, after all this time, is because of that.” >You lean back and stared at the clouds passing overhead. >Their grey mass is as tangled up as your heart is right now. >But yet, just like them, you push onwards. “Before I talk about, there’s one thing we need to decide. You see, there are three places in Independence we’re going to need to visit. Four, if I’m technical, but the last place isn’t counted in this group.” >You lower your gaze, and meet those of your friends. >They’re expectant. “The thing is, those three places are not somewhere a huge group like us can go to. I was initially going to go with just a small number of people, but since we’re all here, I don’t wanna leave any of you out. Therefore, we need to figure out how we’re gonna do this.” >To your surprise, Twilight rolls her eyes. >She seems exasperated, like you just said something incredibly stupid. >”Three places? The answer should be obvious, Anosmia.” >Apparently it was, since she reverted to name-games again. >The scientist grins at you lot and spreads her hands. >”We just need to separate into three groups, one for each place. After we get back together, we can just compare notes and get a clear picture.” >She snaps her fingers to the girls. >”Just like a field trip, right?” >With an array of small giggles and chuckles from the group, they begin to shuffle while talking with each other. >Before your eyes, the cavalcade of different people waxes and waves until three groups are formed. >It takes less than a minute. >And once they’re finished, you find yourself looking at your new support groups for each walk down the memory lane you’re about to take. >The ones to follow you into the dragon’s den would be as follows. >Group number one: >Adagio Dazzle, Twilight Sparkle, Diamond Tiara, Gilda Griffon, Limestone Pie, Tree Hugger. >Group number two: >Aria Blaze, Trixie Lulamoon, Babs Seed, Chrysalis, Lightning Dust, Sunny Flare, Lemon Zest. >Group number three: >Sonata Dusk, Starlight Glimmer, Silver Spoon, Suri Polomare, Indigo Zap, Sour Sweet, Sugarcoat. >You glance at each of the groups and gratitude fills your heart. >With friends like this, you’ll have nothing to fear. >Each of the groups can support you, no matter what happens. >You give an agreeing nod to Twilight, who winks in response. >Then you cough once, to return the mood to what it was. >Time to continue your tale. “Well, that takes care of that.” >You smile at the lot of them. >But then, your expression fades as you realize the gravity of what you’re about to talk about. “Anyway… the reason why we came back to Kansas, and the reason why I went to juvie, they’re the same thing. It’s because of what happened that I wanted to return here to settle old grudges and to tie up some loose ends. I might be unable to make amends for what happened… but I need to put it behind me. For good.” >You draw in a deep breath. >It’s not easy to finally come clean about it. >About the thing you’ve been running away from. “I said that other than the Club, my life also revolved around music, right? It all started because of my mother, who was a singer herself. I was around ten when I got my first guitar, and I was hooked immediately.” >You’ve got their full attention once more. >Nobody says a word, other than you. “I had a couple of good friends back then, who also got excited about playing. Together we started up a band. Named it Star Generation of all things. In any case, it started relatively simple, but we just kept on practicing and practicing. At some point, we had gotten relatively good.” >Lemon Zest looks like she’s about to say something, but you silence her with your eyes. >Now was not the time to talk about opinions and their differences. “So, we were able to play well, and that meant we got gigs here and there. First here in Independence, then in Kansas City, then in neighboring states… before we knew it, we had a full-blown tour schedule around the country. We also self-published an album that sold like mad. Needless to say we got a little full of it.” >You smirk at the memories. >Those spent on the road, those spent in whatever dive bar or concert stage you were playing. >It’s a bitter smirk. >Just like those memories. “Of course, young that we were, we were instantly drawn to the whole sex, drugs and rock & roll aspect of a musician’s life. We drank more than we should have and used stuff I’m not exactly proud of. Getting the stuff was easy, I was in the Club after all.” >You scratch your chin, trying to think how to best say what happened next. >There’s no easy way around it, however. >So you just speak whatever comes to your mind. “Thus, in 2011, February the 2nd, it all came to a culmination point. We were just done with a gig in Riot Room in Kansas City, and we were feeling on top of the world. We thought we had just hit it big with a record label, and that’d golden future would await us all…” >Shadows cross your mind. >You remember that hazy evening. >Those bottles. >Those cheering crowds. >Your girlfriend’s lips upon yours. >The laughter and the merriment. >The drunken stupidity. “With one fan in tow, we jumped into my car and meant to head back to Independence. Y’know, to celebrate some more.” >Something in your chest tightens. >You can feel the burning flames once more against your skin. “I was in no shape to drive. Not in the least. But I did. I wanted to drive my own Buick back to my hometown as the prodigal son, returning victorious.” >It’s silent once more. >You stump your cigarette against the pavement, letting the fire die. >When you told them about your past with the Club, you didn’t feel this ashamed. >But this mistake was what set you on this path. >The thing that made the self-centered jackass who knew no better the man he is today. >It was for the better. >The Dazzlings would have hated the man you were before. >Hell, you hated the man you were before. >But you can’t say you’re fine with the price-tag attached. >If it was just you, then that would have been fine. >But your stupidity cost other people as well. “Around 2am at night on February the 3rd, just outside Four Rivers, I lost the control of my car and hit a tree, going some 80 miles per hour.” >Now that you’ve said it, shame drips down your neck like sweat. >An uncomfortable twisting inside your stomach turns into a storm. “I got out of it with nary a scratch. Just banged up head and big scars on my right arm.” >You pat your arm as if to emphasize those words. “But I ruined the lives of five other people in the process. I alone was fine, but those five… their dreams were shattered because of me. All I got was a little over a year’s sentence in nearby juvie.” >You grit your teeth together. “It was our own day the music died.” >It takes all you have to keep the tears from coming. >You just want to curl up in a ball and hide away from the eyes of your friends. >They showed pity before. >But now? Now they must be disgusted. “So it’s to those five that… that I’ve come to apologise now.’ >You finally admit it, slumping against your knees. “Because I was a coward before and ran away.” >You fill your vision with the sight of the asphalt. “Now I’m here to say I’m sorry… even if it means nothing.” >All your strength is sapped from your body. >Thus, you have no way to defend yourself when Sonata wraps her arms around you, pulling you into a soft embrace. >You park your Buick right next to the Historical Research Center. >The motor hums forlornly as you turn the key and take a deep breath. >To your surprise, you feel the hand of Indigo Zap pat you encouragingly on the shoulder. >She flashes a grin at you, as does Sonata who’s sitting on the passenger seat. >”It’s gonna go fine, Anon.” >The jock gives you a thumbs up. >”I mean, you got all of us to back you up, right?” >”Yeah! Nonny, you got nothing to worry about, for realzies!” >You give the two girls a ghost of a smile, because that’s pretty much all you can muster up right now. >Heaving a heavy sigh, you nod to no one in particular. “Right. Let’s go. The place is just around the corner.” >You, Indigo, Sonata and Starlight climb out of your vehicle. >Suri, Silver Spoon, Sugarcoat and Sour exit the fashionista’s overblown vehicle as well. >The group gathers around you, and you nod towards the display window right next door. >There’s an old poster of a guitar studio still in the window, but most striking is the neon sign just above the door. >’Grimey’s’, it reads. >This catches Suri’s interest. >”Anonymous, do tell: is this place, by any chance…?” “Yeah, Ol’ Grimey used to own this place back when I was a kid. We would come here to mess around and practice whenever we could.” >You grimace at the sight. >So many childhood memories linger around here. >Some good, some bad, and some just painful. >Especially when viewed through the lens of today. >But, you can’t let that stop you. >Not when you’ve come this far. >Not when all these people are here for you. >So you flick your fingers towards the small door. “Follow me… and prepare for yelling. I don’t think he’s going to be happy to see me.” >Leaving behind those words, confusing for the girls with you, you head to the entrance of the record store. >With no hesitation, you swing the door open and hear a chime ring at the back of the shop. >Other than that, a quiet plucking of guitar fills your ears. [Embed: LeAnn Rimes - Probably Wouldn't Be This Way] >Ah, LeAnn Rimes. >He still has that odd country boy streak. >Well, not that you’re the one to talk. >Honestly, you should really take down that Confederate flag from your car’s rear window. >Rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves, racks upon racks. >CDs, vinyls, cassette tapes as far as the eye can see. >The winding room that opens up before you is a cluttered mess of a Musical Mecca. >A large central space that splits into deep alcoves that are reserved for more specific things, such as DVDs or instruments. >Dirty carpets cover the floor, with patches of various bands and their logos sewn onto them. >And what available wall space there is amidst all the records has been reserved for album covers and a big American flag. >Soft scent of pipe tobacco hangs low, making your nose itchy “Huh.” >Really, nothing has changed since you last visited this place. “Looks like he’s keeping this shop afloat. How ‘bout that?” >Sonata looks at you quizzically. >”Who is?” >You’re about to answer, when an odd sound reaches your ears over the music. >You almost miss it. >A squeaking sound of wheels. >For a moment, panic fills your mind. >Your thoughts are thrust back into that darkness that once trapped both you and Sonata. >You’re ready to fight or flee. >... But just as quickly, you calm yourself. >It’s close, but it’s not the same sound. >Instead of rusted, it sounds clean and oiled. >A mechanical sound, sure, but nowhere as ominous as the one you heard in that blackness. >Still, it doesn’t mean it’s easier sound to face. >Especially when you raise your gaze, and look at the source of it. >A wheelchair whereupon a young man sits. >”Hi there! Welcome to Ol’ Grimey’s Record Store! How can I help y-” >Those cheerful words die quickly upon the lips of their speaker. >You grind your teeth together, though you try not to let it show. “... Hi, Crystal.” >You stare at the mild yellow-hued young man with long, curly, brown hair and piercing eyes. >He’s dressed in a black T-shirt and a some sort of Native American necklace hangs from his neck. >His expression though? >It started as utter shock, but quickly devolves into barely bridled rage. >”*You*.” >There couldn’t be more contempt in his voice even if he tried. >You avert your gaze first, and look at the group of teenagers who are staring at the scene with worry and confusion clear in their eyes. >”Crystal, these are my friends from the school. Girls, this is Crystal Ship: our band’s bass player.” >Nobody even tries to say hi. >Instead, Crystal just snarls at you. >”*Former* bass player.” >He corrects you with pure vitriol. >”I wouldn’t play with you anymore even if you threatened to break my legs.” >Then, with bitterness heavy in his voice, he adds: >”Oh, I forgot. You already did.” >What can someone say to such accusation? >Especially when it’s true, every word? >You ruined the young man’s life, and you can’t even begin to imagine how hard the life after that fateful night has been for him. >Honestly, you’re scared to imagine it. >And that’s why you’re frantically searching for something to say now that you’re face-to-face with him once more, after almost two years. >Something, anything. >Just a word or two that could make things less hostile. “Yeah… sorry. Should’ve mentioned that.” >Instead, you end up going in circles. “I guess it’s meaningless to ask, but… how’ve you been?” >Crystal Ship snorts and shoots a derisive glare at you. >You feel your heart shrivel up under it. >”How do you think? I’m stuck in this damn metal contraption thanks to you, barely able to live like a normal goddamn person. How do you *think* I’ve been!?” >The last sentence is naught but a hiss. >You wince at the hate you hear in his words. >The emotional outburst does not go unnoticed by your friends. >Silver Spoon is looking especially afraid what’s going to happen. >You, though? >You’re just feeling woozy. >Thus, you lean onto the nearby table for some support. “Crystal, I didn’t… you know I never meant things to go this way. What happened wasn’t-” >”Who CARES what you meant to happen! You never stopped to think! Not even for ONE MINUTE! Everything was just about how’d YOU get famous and how much money YOU’D eventually make!” >He wheels closer to you, close enough to poke your chest with his finger. >He jabs it with a force of a knife. >”You dragged us all with you, and then destroyed our lives while YOU got off with nothing but a year in juvie! How… how DARE YOU come back here, after what you did!? There’s not a single person in this town that doesn’t hate your rotten guts, and yet you waltz in here like NOTHING HAPPENED!” >He grabs you by your jacket and pulls you close. >You’re now staring in his fury-filled eyes, and feel yourself growing cold. >It’s like every painful memory comes crashing down at once. >That horrible, crushing sense of shame you’ve carried until now. >It threatens to engulf you, to smash you and leave nothing behind. >”If I could go back in time, I’d kill you without any hesitation.” >His voice is nothing but a growl now. >”That way, at least those who didn’t deserve it wouldn’t suffer. And you’d get what you deserve, you piece of shit.” >Crystal’s fingernails dig into your leather jacket. >”Hell, I’d kill you and drive your family of thugs out of this town. Everything the lot of you do just brings misery to innocent people. So what the HELL are you here for?” >You hang your head. >You’re not crying, not really. >But for some reason, it’s really hard to breathe, like a piece of concrete was stuck in your throat. >Something squishes your chest with enough force to stop your heart. >Cold sweat, like bony fingers, creep up your neck. >You’re just about ready to bolt out of the door and run until you’re out of Independence. >Yet, you force those rehearsed words out of your mouth. >Words you know won’t fix anything. “I… I came to apologize, Crystal. It’s the only thing I can do.” >Suddenly. >Pain. >You were expecting it, really. >He doesn’t get much force behind his punch, thanks to being in a wheelchair. >But still, you stumble backwards. >You hear the girls behind you gasp. Well, almost all of them gasp in shock. >Sonata lets out a guttural sound, like a roar ready to pour out. >Sour Sweet is quick to hold her back, of which you are glad. >The last thing you want is for Sonata to have that sort of expression on her face. >After all, anger doesn’t suit her. >Especially anger that looks like that of a wolf whose pack-member was attacked. “Guh!” >You almost crash into the album rack behind you, but manage to hold yourself steady. >Wiping the corner of your mouth, you turn to look at Crystal Ship. >His heaving heavy breaths, and the only thing that’s stopping his assault is the fact that his legs are broken. >With wobbly legs, you stand up proper and look at him, downcast. >He has every right to be furious, he does. >Still, ironically, his words hurt a hell of a lot more than his fist. “I mean it. I’ve destroyed enough lives in this town. The only thing I can do anymore is to apologize. I’ve got nothing else left.” >You speak from the heart, and still you sound pathetic. >”Why don’t you take your apologies and choke on them? It’s too LITTLE too LATE! You broke our lives, and now you’re arrogant enough to think you can just fix things with an apology? Fuck you, Anonymous! FUCK YOU!” >He takes a random album from the shelf and throws it at you. >”Haze! Blues! Even your own goddamn girlfriend! We all paid the price of your idiocy! There’s NO ONE in this town that’d ever accept your apology! I bet even your dead parents would spit in your face if you apologized to their graves!” >Tim McGraw’s: “Live Like You Were Dying” bounces off your chest with a thud. >”The fact that you’ve got new /friends/ is just laughable! Do you KNOW what this guy did!? And what’ll he do to you!? He’ll just suck you dry and leave to the vultures while he moves to his next victim!” >This tirade finally breaks Sonata out of her animalistic state, and she bares her teeth at Crystal. >”Shut up. Nonny would never do that to us.” >Crystal Ship just laughs like a maniac. >”Oh believe me, he’ll do it again! That’s just his style! Let others suffer as long as he doesn’t have to!” >”Nonny’s suffered too!” >”AND HE DESERVES TO!” >You didn’t even feel the impact of the CD case. >Right now, it’s the least of your problems. >The biggest problem in here is… you. >You. >A teenager who thought he could take on the world. >And yet who world picked up and broke over its knee. >But instead of dealing with his pain alone, he just took and shoved it on those he considered his friends. >Someone who made all the mistakes, but who suffered no consequences. >Every bit of pain, every bit of misery, was left on the people who trusted him. >Crystal Ship was right. >You were arrogant, arrogant beyond belief. >Just what did you think you could achieve by coming back here? >The way you had imagined it, you’d just say your piece and be on your way. >Nice and clean. Your friendship might not recover, but at least you’d say what should’ve been said so long ago. >You want to laugh at your delusions. >In what sort of world do things work out so perfectly? >What stares you in the face now is cold, harsh truth. >Truth in the shape of your former friend with bloodshot eyes, howling and spitting insults in your direction. “... I don’t know what else to do.” >Your words are a whisper that Crystal never hears. >He’s cursing you with every word in the book, face red and tears of fury in his eyes. >All that pent-up rage from what happened pours out like a acidic waterfall. >And all you can do there is listen to it. >You have no strength left to interrupt him. >... Which is why you’re surprised when you hear a voice inside your head. >A voice that you recognize. >[Anonymous. Don’t be shocked. It’s me.] >Starlight Glimmer’s words enter your mind, and you hesitantly glance at the girl. >She’s pressing her index finger against your back, and there’s a concentrated expression on her face. >You would be surprised, but right, you just can’t muster up the energy. >With every second, you hear yet another insult hurled your way by your wheelchair-bound former friend. >Therefore, you’re just left staring at her, unable to fathom why she would contact you this way. >But what catches you even more off-guard is what she says next. >Words tinged with worry… and also disgust. >[Anonymous…] >The look in her eyes harden. >[Why are you letting him say all this?] >You open your mouth in surprise. >What? >You’re almost ready to demand an explanation, when her fingers bores into your back a little painfully. >It’s to accentuate the clear anger that’s now showing on her face. >[Man up, Anonymous. These insults aren’t why you’re here, right?] >Her words leave no choice to argue. >[Or so help me God I will slap the taste out of your mouth myself.] >Starlight’s words resonate in your ears, strongly. >This wasn’t what you were here for? >Yeah… she has a point. >As you look at the scene unfolding before you, you feel your heart sink to the very bottom. >Crystal Ship’s screaming in frustration, his argument with Sonata growing to a fever pitch. >And the siren girl isn’t backing down either. >She’s gesturing wildly with her hands, trying to defend you. >You know she means well, but… this is one argument she cannot win. >Whatever Crystal says is nothing but the truth. >You were a horrible man. >It was you who ended up ruining the lives of your friend, all because you had to get drunk. >If you had shown some inhibition, if you had only not forced everyone to get back on the road that very same night… >... Things would be so different. >You wouldn’t have gone to juvie. >Your former friends wouldn’t be in this mess right now. >You wouldn’t have run away to Canterlot. >... You wouldn’t have met the Dazzlings. >Or any of the other girls. “... Huh.” >That’s a sobering thought. >As horrible, as nightmarish that car crash was… it led you here. >To bonding with three creatures from another world for whom you’d take a bullet in a heartbeat. >Without all that suffering… you wouldn’t have found this peace. >[Listen to me, Anonymous.] >Starlight’s echoing voice is strong like iron. >[This is not you. This is not how *you* would handle this situation.] >Oh really? >Since when was Starlight such an expert on who you were? >What gave her the right to question your actions? >[I know you have a lot of baggage, a lot of past you’d like to forget. We have known only for short while, but that doesn’t change what you are.] >What you are? >[Do you even know how all your friends see you? You’re like a sturdy battleship in a storm, something we all can rely on. No matter what goes wrong, we know we can count on you.] >What? >Since when did you inspire such confidence in *anyone*? >Why would anyone trust you that much? >What the hell had you done to even deserve such trust? >[I mean, did you know what Trixie calls you? How she referred to you when she send me a message?`Apparently that’s a title spreading around the CHS like a wildfire.] >... A title? >Just what sort of delusions of grandeur were people saddling you with? >[She called you the Last Outlaw of Canterlot. The one true free spirit still left in that place, the only one with balls to say whatever you’re thinking of no matter what.] >You almost snort because of how ridiculous that sounds. >The Last Outlaw? You? >You were no superhero. Hell, you weren’t even a good guy. >You were just a random redneck kid too stupid to keep his mouth shut when he should. >Someone with more anger management problems than was healthy, along with a smoking addiction. >The students of CHS despised you. >[No they don’t. Not all of them.] >How can she even claim that with such a straight face? >[You’re not as hated as you think. Just look around you! You got all of us accompanying you, just because we thought you deserved our help! And according to Trixie, there’s a whole lot of other students back at CHS who agree with our world view!] >You can’t look Starlight in the eyes anymore. >Her words pierce right through you like a well-oiled knife. >Honestly? >You’re afraid. >You’re afraid of the hope, of the sincere trust she feels towards you. >It’s like a brilliant night sky shining with the force of a million little lights, and a great big Milky Way glowing brightly. >[You’re not the type of guy to back down here. I get it, your former friend is angry. You made a mistake. That’s a given. But that doesn’t mean you can just let him use you as a verbal punching bag.] >You feel her hand grasp you by the shoulder, giving it a good squeeze. >[If you’re here to make amends, do it. If you’re here to apologize, don’t back down. If you’re here to close this chapter of your life, don’t leave things unsaid. Make him listen. Force him if you have to. You won’t be able to fix what happened… but at the least you can have some closure to everything.] >You raise your hesitant gaze. >Towards Crystal Ship. >Towards what you fear. >You hate to admit it, but... >... Starlight’s right. >This isn’t what you came here to do. Independence has, so far, been a boogeyman of your past; haunting you, never letting go. >You need to put this nightmare to rest if you wanted to get on with your life. >And especially if you wanted to help the Dazzlings. >[Come on, Anonymous! Show me I wasn’t wrong to get in that car and follow you all the way here!] >You clench your hand into a fist, and exhale deeply. >Here goes nothing. >Even if you have to yell louder than him, you’re going to make Crystal listen. >After all that happened, this is what- >”You delusional skank! The only person that monster will ever care about is himself!” >Your body moves before your mind can catch on to what’s happening. >You only need to see Crystal raise his fist again. >But this time, not against you. >No, against Sonata. >There’s a deep rumbling sound echoing from somewhere, almost like the engine of your car. >Is that you? >Is that horrible growling sound you? >Two quick steps cross the distance between you and your former friend. >You catch his fist with your hand and force it back, pushing him away from Sonata. >The girl lets out a surprised yelp. >In Crystal’s eyes, you see fear. They reflect a snarling face you barely recognize as your own. >God. >You look like some sort of rabid animal. “Lay a hand on her and you’re gonna wish you had died in that car crash.” >Your voice sounds nothing like your own. >You’re crushing Crystal’s hand with your own, a vice-like grip that refuses to let go. >That rage you’re so familiar with… it struggles to come back. But unlike before, it doesn’t fill your eyes with red haze. >No, this is different. >You’re in control. >Instead of assaulting a random person, you’re directing that fury towards someone who nearly hurt Sonata. >You’ll never let anyone hurt her. >Or Aria. Or Adagio. >You’d rather die than have them suffer because of you. >Crystal Ship opens his mouth to protest, or to curse you, but your voice overpowers his. ”Shut up, Crystal. Shut up and listen if it’s the last thing you’ll do. I’m gonna say this only once, so you better take it to the heart.” >He freezes, his face growing paler by the minute. >The boiling anger still resides within you, demanding to be let out. >You want to hurt him. >But instead.... you expel all of that fury with single sigh. >Your grip on his fist eases. “I’m sorry. I really am. I know that mere words can’t make up for how badly I screwed up, or how much I messed up your lives… but for what it’s worth, I *am* sorry.” >He didn’t expect this. >Looks like nobody in the shop did, as you can feel some relieved sounds from the girls. “I didn’t ask to be the only one who suffered nothing but mere scratches. If I had a choice, I would have given my life just to make sure you guys were alright. Perhaps not back then… but after all that’s happened to me, now? Now I wouldn’t even hesitate.” >There’s a growing confusion on Crystal’s face as your words sink in. >You’re speaking as calmly as you can, as you’re finally getting through to him. “I’m not the same guy I was back then. You might find it hard to believe, but after everything I… I had to change. I was a complete asshole back then, and I realized that in juvie. When I got out, I was all set on just fading into obscurity, perhaps ending my miserable life on some murky autumn evening when the whiskey finally overpowered me… yet here I am. And do you know why that is?” >You point at Sonata. >She looks dumbfounded, but you can see a somewhat glad smile creeping to her lips. “Her. Them. All of the people I’ve met so far in Canterlot. They showed me just where I went wrong. And by getting to know them, I realized something important.” >You pat Crystal on the shoulder. >At first, he jerks at the gesture, but eventually, accepts it. >Looks like he’s calmed down as well. >You can’t read his expression, but he’s no longer spitting venom at you. >”... What’s that?” “Even if I can’t fix what happened, even if I can’t go back in time to reverse my mistakes… I can make damn sure it’ll never happen again. I might not be able to do right by you guys anymore… but I can do right by them. This miserable existence that you guys call Anonymous might be able to still do something good in this life.” >It’s perhaps not the type of confession Sonata, or the other girls, wanted to hear, but it’s the truth. >After all, you willingly put on the mantle of a villain just for them. >Lately, it’s began to dawn on you just how much you owe those three sirens. >And even if it’s the last thing you’ll do, you’ll make sure their lives will take a turn for the better. “But if I’m gonna give it my all, if I’m gonna help the people most important to me right now, I need to leave what happened behind. I can’t have it weigh down on my shoulders because if it does, I might falter just on the worst possible moment.” >You look down at the floor. >Funnily enough, you see a faded picture of Johnny Cash staring back at you from the carpet. >Perhaps approvingly, perhaps disapprovingly. “I need to close the book on who Anonymous was if I’m gonna be this new Anonymous. The boy who only knew how to ruin lives needs to be left in this town, if only for the sake of the man who wants to do good.” >You stand up, straightening your back. >You feel oddly calm, tranquil. Serene even. >All that fear, self-loathing, shame and anger just washes out of you like a refreshing spring drizzle. “So that’s why I’m here. To say I’m sorry. And end this chapter of my life. I know it might not be fair to you… but I have to choose.” >Your eyes lock onto Crystal’s. “And I choose to be a new, better man. I’m moving on, and so should you. So for that, and for what I did… I’m sorry, Crystal.” >A heavy silence falls to the record store. >For a moment, nothing seems to move. >Even the small town outside the building is hushed. >The stares of your friends feel like hot pinpricks on your neck. >You don’t know what sort of faces they are making. >You never liked to put your emotions, your feelings into words, so perhaps they are surprised. >Perhaps they’re even disgusted. >After all, you were ready to trample over your old relationships because of your new ones. >But you refuse to back down on that. >There are three things in this world that, right now, are more important to you than anything else. >Adagio. Aria. Sonata. >You’d do anything for them. >Now that you’ve put it into words, you realize that’s the ultimate truth for you. >They stood by you when you were at your lowest point. >So you’ll do the same for them. >No. >You’ll do even more than that. >After all, that’s why you cooked up the plan to take advantage of Celestia’s little villain show. >”You know...” >Crystal’s sharp voice draws you out from your reverie. >You look at him, his face still an unreadable mask. >For a moment, every person in the store seems to hang on his words to come. >”... You should go tell your girlfriend that. I bet Sue would be really proud of you.” >It was as if a collective sigh of relief rippled across the room. >You glance at the girls, and they’re all wearing relieved smiles. >Starlight even gives you a discreet thumbs up and a wink. >You turn back to Crystal, and take a good look at him. >He’s not smiling like the others. >Yet his anger is also gone. >The type of warmth he used to look you with will never come back. >You’ll never be friends again. >But from the looks of it, you won’t be enemies either. >Even if some bridges are burnt for good, you can still yell at each other from the opposite shores. >Well, maybe not yell. >You think you’ve had quite enough of yelling for the time being. “I’ll be sure to let her know.” >You say wearily. >You didn’t even realize how tense you were up to this point. >”Don’t think this changes things, though. I haven’t forgiven you. And I probably never will.” >Crystal’s words gain their steely edge once more. >”But that doesn’t mean I need to ignore a truth standing right in front of me. You’ve changed, Anon. What you said just now… the old you would have never confessed something like that. And I think that change is for the better.” >Slowly, perhaps apprehensively, perhaps unsurely, he offers his hand. >You move your own, just as hesitant. >As if you’re about to break something fragile. >”You said I should move on. That we both should. That’s a good point, to be honest. If we keep wallowing in the past, we’ll just burn out like two cigarettes in the night. So while I’ll never like you… I think I can grudgingly respect what you’re trying to do.” >And so, the two of you shake hands. >Briefly, sure, but it does happen. >Yet you feel an odd sense of satisfaction. >”And I think the others will come around to saying the same thing, if you’re just equally honest with them. Of course, getting answers might be… hard, but go talk to them anyway. They deserve to hear what you just told me.” “Don’t worry, I will. That’s why I came here, after all.” >”Good.” >He sighs and picks up the album from the floor, the one he threw earlier. >Giving a lopsided smirk at the cover, he puts it back on the shelf. >”Well, what are you standing there, then? Go on, git! I have better things to do than entertain your overgrown ass or your fanclub.” >You chuckle dryly, shaking your head. “Fine, we’ll leave you to your utterly important reshelving of Redneck Classics.” >You turn around, putting your hands to your hips, and look at the girls. “Alright, let’s go. We need to meet up with the others.” >In unison, they all nod. >Together, you head out of the record store, the chime ringing cheerfully as the door opens. >On your way, you feel Sonata stick to your side. >To your confusion and embarrassment, she takes your hand to hers and interlocks her fingers with yours. “W-what are you-” >”I’m really proud of you Nonny. For realsies.” >You try to avoid showing just how hard you blush by averting your gaze and scratching your cheek. “... Idjit.” >This girl was too good at catching you off guard. >As you exit the store, trying to shake off the siren clinging to you, you hear a cough behind you. >You look at Crystal Ship over your shoulder. >He’s wearing an expression of dry amusement, looking at your situation. >”By the way… I’m playing at The Brick later tonight. Just thought you might wanna know.” >You stare at him in silence. >But then, you nod. >With a smile. “I’ll be sure to swing by.” >And with that, you leave the old record store. >East Chestnut Street is looking the same as ever. >Lots of big houses lining the streets, with large yards and fences separating them from each other. >You stare at one house in particular. A white one with grey roof, low brick wall covering the front while a hedge fence in the back hides the garden from prying eyes. >You finish up your cigarette, tenth for the day, as you think back to the times you’ve spent here. >Their garage was where your band used to practice, before you moved to the back room of Grimey’s. >You still remember that old pickup truck that just oozed the smell of gasoline. >The fumbling fingers on guitar strings, the off-beat banging of the drums, the cracking voice of your girlfriend on the mic… >Those days feel so far away. >Like they were memories from another lifetime, or of those of another person. >Yet they still remain in your head. >Next to you, Chrysalis is biting her lip. She seems somewhat nervous about what’s to come. >You can’t blame her. The both of you know what awaits inside. >As you take a drag from your smoke, you steal a glance at Aria. >She’s keeping her distance from you, just like before. >Arms folded, she’s quietly talking with Sunny Flare about something. >For a moment, your eyes meet, but she turns away immediately. >Honestly… >You would need to get to the bottom of what’s going on the minute you were back in Canterlot. >As much as it warmed your heart the way Trixie tried to keep your spirits up in the car, you were still more used to the Dazzlings riding there with you. ”Hmh?” >You’re cut from your thoughts as you feel your pocket vibrate. >Little confused, you fish out your phone and swipe the screen open. >A text message. Is it someone from the other groups? >You arch an eyebrow as you press to read the text. “... The hell is this?” >Your muttered curse is justified. >After all, what you’re looking at right now seems to be nothing but pure gibberish. >First of all, you’re not even sure what’s up with the sender’s number. >Instead of the typical string of numbers, it looks like someone just went nuts with one and zero keys. >01010100 01001001 01010100 01001111 01010010, it reads. >You squint your eyes at this impossibility. >Is your phone going haywire? >This can’t possibly be right, can it? >And that’s not even mentioning the message itself. >A garbled string of letters stares at you like some sort of ritualistic chant. >zkdw lv wkh eodfn nqljkw. >zkdw lv wkh eodfn nqljkw. >zkdw lv wkh eodfn nqljkw. >Over and over again, for seven lines in total. >This is followed by another line, differing from the rest. >phvvdjh2.ps4 >Okay, seriously, what the hell. >Just looking at this could give you a migr- “Gkk--!” >No, scratch that. It’s actually giving you a migraine. >For a moment, you feel woozy. >As if the world around you is spinning rapidly. >Like you’re flying at an incredible velocity yet staying right where you are, staring at this exact same spot. >It’s not until Lemon Zest puts her hand on your shoulder that you shake off the odd stinging pain in your brain. >”Uh, dude? You okay?” >You grimace as you feel cold sweat at the back of your neck. “Yeah, I’m… I’m fine. Just got lost in my thoughts, that’s all.” >You glance at your phone one last time before putting it away. >There was no way to make heads or tails out of that one right now. >You weren’t exactly adept when it came to your phone going completely crazy, and the group you were in, well… >... Honestly, Lightning Dust most likely knew most about electronics in this bunch, and even she was only fluent in synthesizers. >Maybe you’d have Twilight take a crack at it later. >The last thing you needed right now was your phone in a fritz. >You had no money to buy another one, no sirree. >”Yo, Anonymous? We thinkin’ ‘a actually goin’ inside?” >Babs gives you a quizzical look with her hands on her hips, and you nod. “Right. Sorry about that. I’ll lead the way, you guys just hang back for a while.” >You take a look at the imposing front door of the building. >It really wasn’t a place where you thought you’d find yourself again. “Let’s go.” >You cross the street and the paved path, briskly walking up the wooden stairs. >Just by looking at it, it almost seems like any ordinary house. >Still, you can’t help but to feel a little dread as you hover your finger over the doorbell. >You take few seconds to gather your courage, and see both Sparkles and Blueberry exchange worried looks. >Ugh, you’re being pathetic again. >You did fine with Crystal Ship. You’re not about to chicken out again. >Therefore, you ram your finger to the button, and hear a chime echo inside the house. >The minute or so you wait feels like an hour. >Sounds of footsteps thump against a wooden floor on the other side. >Eventually, you hear someone fumble with the handle. >And the door swings gently open, revealing a somewhat tired-looking older woman. >”Well hello there, how can I-” >Her eyes scan the group of girls waiting behind you. >But the moment they stop at you, those same eyes widen. >First with disbelief. >Then with bitter anger. >”You!” >Well, this feels familiar. >And it’s not as if you weren’t expecting this. “Hello, Mrs. Thril-” >”Get out, get out, get out!” >Immediately she begins screeching, her lazily painted nails slashing the air as she tries to scratch your face. >You take a hasty step back, and hear the girls gasp in surprise. >In an attempt to defend yourself, you catch the woman’s wrist, making sure she doesn’t hit you anywhere important. >She spits in your face. >”You’re not welcome in this house, you monster! Not after what you did to my baby girl! Get out!” “Mrs. Thrills, please, just try to calm do-” >”Get out! I’ll call the police! You and your whole criminal family should be in jail!” >You bite back a sarcastic reply about how you’re the only one of your immediate family currently even alive. >”I said get out you hooligan! I should’ve never let you near my baby girl! It’s because of you she’s, she’s…!” >Before she can finish that sentence, a large pair of arms wraps around the woman from behind and pulls her inside the house. >Behind her stands a man almost as large as you, with a long hair of faded green. >Typically for an old hippie, his features are sagging, yet he’s built like a tank. >Of Kozmic Blues’ parents, he was always the one you got along better with. >Yes, these two were the parents of your former drummer. >Cheap Thrills, her mother. And Turtle Blues, her father. >”Come on honey, you need to relax. I’ll take you upstairs, okay?” >”No! No! He’s come to hurt our girl again!” >”Just let me handle this honey. Now, come on, upstairs.” >Turtle Blues shoots you a look that tells you to stay put, and half-drags his wife up the stairs. >You’re left in an uncomfortable silence, staring at the half-open door. >”Coulda told yah this wasn’t a good idea, Anon…” >Chrysalis comments from the side, but you ignore her. >Or, at least try to ignore her. >Facing your former friends was bad enough. >Their parents were a different thing altogether. >”Hey, hang in there, Boss.” >Lightning Dust pats you on the shoulder, though you can see even she’s putting on a brave face. >”You can do this.” “Yeah… thanks. If you guys want to wait by the car, that’s fine. No need to drag you into this mess.” >She just flashes a quick grin at you. >”No can do, Boss. We knew what we signed up for, we aren’t gonna chicken out now.” >Around her, the other girls nod. Even Aria. >Though she still refuses to look directly at you. >Before you can answer, you hear a heavy set of footfalls on the stairs. >Turtle Blues returns with a stern look. >You can see some scratches on his forearms. >Suddenly, you’re face to face with this man and his unflinching stare. >It’s like you’ve regressed back to being thirteen again. >”... Anonymous.” “Sir.” >He takes a good long look at you, eyeing you up like you were some sort of dangerous criminal. >Which to most of this town’s people, you were. >”Care to explain why you’re at my doorstep, and why I shouldn’t just drive you off my property this instant?” >You had forgotten that underneath all this hippie-nonsense, this man was way too scary when he wanted to be. >Taking a deep breath, you give him your best answer. “Because after this visit, I’ll never return to your lives again. I came back to Independence for one last time to apologize for my mistakes… and to let people have some closure. Myself included.” >For a moment, you find yourself locked in a staring contest with Mr. Blues. >Though you refuse to back down, it ain’t easy. >You could never tell what lurked behind those eyes of his. >He never let any emotion show on his face. >But right now… you can see him judging you. >”I’ve been waiting, you know.” >He suddenly speaks, his deep voice rumbling. >”Since you never returned, I thought you just skipped town like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs.” >He relaxes his folded arms. >”But seeing you standing there right now… and saying you’re here to apologize… well, it’s been years, but I guess it’s better than never. Guess you had enough backbone for that, huh?” “... Yes, sir. Words can’t make up for what I’ve done, but they’re the only thing I have to offer.” >”Then give those words to someone who deserves them.” >He points further into the house with his thumb. >”Our daughter is in the garden. You know the way, right?” >You hesitate momentarily. >It’s almost as he’s implying that he’s not coming with you. >As if sensing your thoughts, he gives an acknowledging grunt towards the girls. >”Your friends can come with you. I have little something I need to find, so go ahead. We can talk more before you leave.” >Then, without any hesitation, he steps out of the doorway to let you pass. >In fact, he walks over to the door that you remember leading to their old storage room. >One more hesitant glance from him to the girls, and then you steel yourself. >”Alright. I’ll be sure to let you know before we leave, sir.” >And with your friends following behind you, you enter the Blues residence for the first time in years. >Inside the faint scent of incense hangs in the air. >Cheap, imitation Persian carpets line the floors. >On the wall next to the big grandfather clock, you can see a collection of pictures. >Of happy family and happier times. >You grimace as you see a one with your old band in it. You all must be somewhere around fifteen. >... And of course, you’ve been smudged out with a black sharpie. >How nice. >But still, it brings back even more of those resonating memories from deep within your heart. >Of your childhood, and of the people who you took for granted. >But whom you still considered your friends. >Leaving the collection of pictures alone, you move through the cramped hallway into the kitchen. >A small smile rises to your face as you see the place. >Nothing in here has changed, not one bit. >The white radio still plays the tunes you remember. [Embed: Sarah McLachlan - Full of Grace] >The shelves and the fridge still look like they belong in the 70’s. >And then there’s the kitchen top, where you lot used to congregate after each band practice. >Smelling like sweat and gulping down Sunny D or whatever was ice cold at the moment. >To your surprise, Kozmic’s mother hasn’t gone and replaced the stool you used to always sit on. >Your asscheeks have carved their shape into that thing and its black faux leather. >As the midday sun shines through the kitchen window, you can almost see the five of you sitting around the kitchen top, laughing and joking. >Crystal is joking around, waving a chocolate bar like it was a cigarette. >He always wanted to be a big record label exec when he grew up. >He’d then get nagged on by Kozmic for playing with his food. >Food… yeah right. >You practically lived on fast food and sweets, the lot of you. >Shy Purple Haze would always sit at the corner, with his back to the shining sun. >Apparently he was really sensitive to bright lights, as you later learned. >Still, he was the best when it came to these gatherings after the practice, as his mother packed his lunchbox full, and he was willing to share. >And, of course, your girlfriend would sit right there next to you, on another stool. >Sun throwing its light on her, framing her beautiful face. >Of course, you weren’t always dating. >In the first place, you only knew Kozmic in the beginning. >She was your childhood friend, after all, and you visited her place every week. >Then came time for you to enter school, and you met the rest of them. >After that, the gatherings at Kozmic’s place got even rowdier than before. >But honestly, you still somewhat missed those quiet evenings in the garden with just Kozmic. >You started dating in high school, so that meant your evenings were even busier than before. >Thankfully, your girlfriend wasn’t the type to hog all your time. >Hell, you spent more time as a group than alone with her. >Here, gathered around this kitchen top. >Bunch of kids with grand dreams, not knowing what the future would hold. >A flash of sunlight strikes your eye, and for a moment, you can see what used to be. >All those familiar faces, so young and innocent. >A snarky comment from Crystal. >A precocious warning from Kozmic. >A quiet affirmation from Haze. >A heartwarming giggle from your girlfriend. >And you. >A dirty little punk with an uncontrollable hair and laugh that was way too loud. >Even back then, you wore a leather jacket. >It was your father’s old one. >You remember stealing his old knife one day, and showing it proudly to your friends. >You lot ended up carving your initials to the underside of this very kitchen top. >You reach through the vision and fumble at the spot. >Ah. >They’re still here. >You chuckle to yourself as you feel the rough curves. >Good thing Mrs. Thrills didn’t find all the marks you left of yourself. >Suddenly, you feel something. >A hand touching your wrist. >You glance sideways, and a gunmetal grey cloud travels across the sky, momentarily blocking the sun. >The image in your head, one of your friends and yourself, is gone. >Instead, there’s Aria who’s looking at you with a strange expression. >Her mouth hangs slightly open, like she wants to say something. >But she doesn’t. >Instead she gazes into your eyes, not wavering this time. >The two of you stay there for a precious few seconds, as you allow your memories to slip away from your fingertips. >Then, you pet her head gently. “It’s fine. I’m… fine.” >Saying no more, you move on from the kitchen, heading to the door that leads to the garden. >Aria lets go of you, but you can feel her still staring at you. >Not in a bad way, mind you. >Perhaps she’s slowly feeling better. >You can hope. >The door to the garden swings open. >The grass has been mowed neatly, and the handiwork of Mrs. Thrills is showing clearly. >You scan the garden with your eyes, trying to find the girl you’ve come to meet. >It doesn’t take long to spot here. >There, under a large parasol, is a familiar looking person. >Dark blue, wavy hair. Pale skin. Eyes that used to be full of laughter. >She’s looking more gaunt than usual, and you feel your heart sink. >Next to you, Chrysalis quietly averts her gaze. >She knows to prepare. >You steel your mind and start walking over to your old friend. >This action makes others finally see who you’ve come to meet. >You hear a few surprised gasps. >And a quiet: >”Oh my God…” >From Sunny Flare. >You don’t really blame her. You didn’t believe it when you first heard yourself. >But now, you’re ready to accept the results of your actions. >Thus, without hesitation, you kneel next to the wheelchair, one much different from Crystal’s. >This one is heavy piece of equipment, equipped with things you don’t even know the name for. >In it sits your old childhood friend, glassed-over eyes staring into the sky. >Kozmic Blues. >The energetic, nosy, bossy drummer of your band. >Or as your girlfriend put it: “The girl who always came second.” >You didn’t really understand that nickname, but then again, their relationship was… strained at times. >You grasp her hand, and feel something shiver in your chest. “Hey, Kozmic. I came to see you. Sorry… sorry I’ve been away so long.” >Your squeeze her hand gently, but she doesn’t respond. >It’s no surprise. >After the car crash, she was hurried to the E.R. >The physical trauma of the crash caused swelling in her brain, and the result… “... I’m so sorry, Kozmic.” >You lean your forehead against her hand. >... Yes, the result was PVS. >Persistent vegetative state. >In short… you took the world away from her. Quite literally. >The hand of Kozmic, grasped by your fingers, feels so small and listless. >She won’t be squeezing you back. >Heck, most likely she’ll never again move a muscle. >Instead she just stays there, sitting in that wheelchair, clouded eyes staring into the sky. >Gone is the perky girl who always kept your band going with her encouragement. >If your girlfriend had been the sun, then Kozmic had been the moon. >A pale reflection of such warmth, yes, but shining when it was most needed. >A hidden light known only by the few. >Ironic, as that is true for most drummers. >They are always there, in the background, but rarely do people notice them. >How fitting of Kozmic, the one who shied away from the spotlight that the rest of you gladly ran into. >You yourself, especially. >You were always hogging it. >A fact that you feel ashamed of, even to this day. >Trying your best to hide the pain in your chest, you take a look a good look at Kozmic. >Something lodges in your throat. >Her limp right hand is wrapped around something you recognize immediately. >A harmonica, steel glinted with color of aquamarine. >The ‘A.’ carved into it is a dead giveaway. >It’s your old harmonica. >Why… why does she have it? >How? >You thought you left it buried with your other things back at home. >You’re chilled to your bones. >The pale grass, withered away in the face of the coming winter, feels cold underneath your feet. >Somehow, the whole world around you is so far away. You can almost hear the echoes of your breath. >Light vapor in the air. >A nipping wind in your ears. >And the crunching footfalls of Mr. Blues as he approaches the lot of you. >”That’s your harmonica, isn’t it, kid?” >His voice is clear as the air. >You nod. “... Yes, sir.” >To your surprise, a dry chuckle escapes from his lips. >You take a moment to compose yourself, before speaking again. ”Why does she have it?” >The girls that have gathered around you give space for the both of you. >Only their eyes follow the conversation going on. >”After what happened, I went to your house, you know. Thought I’d get some answers. You were gone though. It was just an empty trailer filled with things left behind.” >Mr. Blues nods towards the instrument. >”That was one of them. I almost left it behind, but… then I remembered something my daughter had said to me, once.” >You turn your gaze back to Kozmic, >To her form that will never again rise from that wheelchair. “What was it?” >His stern gaze is now completely focused on you. >”She spoke of you and that harmonica. Of how you used to sit atop the old water tower, harmonica on your lips and cigarette in your hands. To her, it was an inspiring sight, a striking image of you against the deep blue Kansas sky. I think she even once said it was… what a hero would look like.” >You feel the sting of irony. >You? >A hero? >You were a man who was on his way to become a villain wholly by his own choice, for reasons you couldn’t even tell your friends. >Just when had you been anything close to a hero? >Just smoking or playing a harmonica does not a hero make. >”I suppose that’s why she always felt the need to keep you walking the line. She didn’t want to tarnish that image she had of you.” >You fall into silence, squatting down to the grass. >Your hand still keeps holding onto hers, fingers intertwined. >Images of the past, fuzzy and full of static, yet with emotions behind them, keep pounding your mind. >And despite what you expected, you feel a small smile appear on your lips. >”... Roadie?” >Aria walks up to you, looking worried. >You shake your head at her, and laugh. >It’s not a happy sound… but it isn’t a sad one either. “I guess that explains why she was always shouting at me whenever I did something stupid. She’d get up my grill about everything, and refused to relent. Like a Jiminy Cricket to my Pinocchio.” >Aria glances at Kozmic, and then back at you. >She bites her lip hesitantly, but eventually asks the question you can see in her eyes. >”Roadie? Did… did Kozmic Blues lo-” >She never gets to finish her words, as Mr. Blues cuts her off with his deep rumblings. >”She had some choice words about your girlfriend too, you know.” >You look up at him, and see mixed emotions in his face. Pride and bitterness, waxing and waning. >”She never complained when you were around, but when she was alone, or with us… she’d go on about how your girlfriend was always getting in her way. Always being better than her. Always shining brighter than she did.” >You feel a sigh leave your lips. >You squeeze Kozmic’s hand a little tighter. >It is way too late now… but perhaps you’re beginning to understand. >Understand that things were never that simple, even back then. “No matter how hard the moon shines, she will never be noticed as long as the sun exists… right? Just a pale reflection, under which us people slumber.” >To your surprise, Aria nods in understanding. >It’s almost as if she’s recounting something very old in her head, seeing the shades of it repeating. >”It’s not that uncommon, Roadie. After all… I’ve seen it happen as well. How the moon can never win against something as brilliant as the sun.” >It’s clear she’s talking of something that happened long ago. >And you have no way of knowing what she speaks of. >And yet… something in your chest stirs. >As if emotions in the corner of your heart reacted to that. >Perhaps, in another life, you had heard of this. But now… it’s just an allegory to what happened. “I guess…” >You try to stop the wavering of your voice, or the shaking of your shoulders, but do a miserable job at it. >Thus you have to pretend. >Pretending is something you’ve always been good in. “I guess there were many things that were left unsaid. Things that we should have spoken about.” >You hide your emotions under a facade of a try-hard grin, failing to appear even slightly calm. >But, you can’t help it. >Not at the moment. >Unlike with Crystal, Kozmic can never voice her grievances about you. >She’s forced to stay there, unaware of the world around you. >Unaware of the fact that you’re there right now, and she could tell you off as much as she liked. >Unaware that you’d prefer to be hated by her to being ignored. >Back then, you never realized how much she apparently thought about you. >You had always taken her for granted. >From the childhood, she had been with you. You had gotten used to Kozmic following you just two steps behind. >And now that she can no longer go where you will, you realize just how much she meant to you. >”Oh, how mysterious!” >Trixie’s voice draws you from your thought, and your head snaps towards her. >The blue-hued girl has an awfully fake-looking astonishment written on her face. >”The Great and Powerful Trixie has suddenly gone completely deaf, along with everyone else! How strange. Trixie supposes that if someone would confess anything right now, she’d have no way of knowing about it. How vexing!” >To your utter bafflement, the rest of the girls agree with it, acting like they were unable to hear anything. >Even Mr. Blues gets in on it, giving you an encouraging nod. >Aria’s hand pats you on the shoulder, telling you to say what needs to be said. >... Goddammit. >You really hated this. >You hated how these teenagers, these girls, these… friends of yours made it impossible for you to hate them. >How one of them always knew what to say. --- >... And speaking of, you also know what you’re supposed to say now. “Well, if that’s the case… Kozmic? There’s something I need to tell you.” >You squeeze her hand slightly, bringing your face closer to hers. “Honestly, only now do I realize how much you’ve done for me. You were with me from the very beginning, following me to every brainless scheme I cooked up. Hell, you even signed up to the band I started even though you didn’t know a lick about playing rock.” >Your eyes no longer see the snowless winter garden and the girl in the wheelchair. >You cast your mind into the memories. >Of running around the downtown with Kozmic. >Of wiping away her tears whenever you got into fights. >Of taking shelter from the rain and spending hours chatting about what you wanted from the future. “But honestly, I was an ass. I only thought of myself, and I took things most important to me for granted. I was thoughtless and selfish and… and a completely idiot. You all paid the price for my stupidity, and that’s something I can never live down.” >Of consoling you when you had your first big fight with your girlfriend. >Of helping you patch things up and then throwing you a big party to celebrate you two getting back together. >Of straining a smile when the both of you thanked her. “I can’t ever pay back for everything that you did for me. No matter how much I want, that chance is gone now. Kozmic… the asshole I was could have never made you happy the way you probably wanted. And the man I’m now… the one who could… will never be able to.” >Of trying to talk you out of driving back to Independence while drunk off your mind. >Of agreeing with your plan because you told her to trust you. >Of staring at you from the flaming wreckage of your car, confusion clear in her eyes. “So… I’m sorry, Kozmic. I’m so sorry.” >”You really have changed, Anonymous.” >A terrible chill runs down your body. >Color drains from your face, and your eyes shoot up to look at the girl in the wheelchair. >For a moment, you were sure you heard her voice. >But as you look, you realize that was not the case. >Silently, so silently that you never heard her move, Trixie had made her way to Kozmic. >Now the magician stands there, hands on your former friend’s shoulders. >At first, you have no idea what she’s doing. >You’re even ready to yell at her. >But then you realize Trixie’s eyes have rolled to the back of her head. >There’s a small glow where her hands meet Kozmic’s shoulders. >Her mouth is open… but she’s speaking in a way that Trixie never would. >Instead, that intonation and slight accent… it sounds so much like the girl sitting there, clouded eyes staring into the sky. >Is this a trick? >Or is this real? >You knew that Starlight had said Trixie had latent gifts when it came to the occult, but you also knew she knew stage magic. >So was she just faking it, or was this…? >”You know, you were always a huge jerk. Like, a colossal one. But looking you there, kneeling in front of me… you’ve really come a long way, huh? The Anonymous I knew would’ve never done that.” >Trixie continues to speak, but it’s getting harder and harder to think of it as her. >Instead of looking at the blue-hued girl, you turn your gaze upon Kozmic. >”But the thing is, Anonymous, I’m not angry at you. You lived how your heart told you to, as did we. Nobody forced me into that car. So stop beating yourself over it. You weren’t that charming you know?” >Trixie… or at least her body, chuckles. >”I barely recognize you anymore, Anonymous. I suppose you finally figured out that just like how your friends need you, you also need your friends. That’s good. So, there’s another thing you should figure out, too.” >Hah. >She was always like that. It was an odd way of talking. >Like she was both looking down on you, and trying to give you advice. >A younger sister masquerading as an older one. “... What’s that?” >And yet, even if you hated her tone of voice, you listened to it every time. >Because deep down, you knew she had only your best interest in mind. >Kozmic always took care of you when nobody else did. >”Stop clinging to the past. Or getting burdened by it. You can keep us in your memories, but don’t let that stop you from doing what needs to be done. Just looking at you, it’s clear there’s a ton of other people you should focus on.” >You twitch, ever so slightly. >”Or promises you should be keeping instead of slaving over what happened to us.” >For a moment, just for a moment, an image of three faces fills your mind. >One haughty. One grumpy. One happy. >A family that you found despite all the odds. >”Anonymous? Don’t worry about me. I’m perfectly happy right now.” >For some reason, your vision gets all blurry. >As if rain got into your eyes. >You’re try to wipe the water away, to no avail. >”After all… I got to meet you.” >Gritting your teeth, you close your eyes. >”I got to fall in love with you.” >You are no longer able to hold back the streaming drops. >”And…” >Trixie’s voice fades away. >Instead of it, you hear someone else. >Someone who you thought you’d never hear speaking again. >Maybe it’s a trick, maybe it’s not. >Nevertheless, you hear Kozmic’s warm words fill your heads. >But even more so than the voice… you know one thing for fact. >It was no trick of a mind. >She did, for a moment, squeeze your hand back. >”... I got to see that you grew up into the man I knew you were, deep down.” >As you do your best to not to cry, you feel someone embrace you. >The fragrance tells you it’s Aria. >But right now, just for a moment, you pretend it’s Kozmic. >It takes about ten minutes for you to collect yourself. >The girls, luckily, give you enough space during that time. >It also takes about two cigarettes, but who’s counting at this point? >Hell, you’re pretty sure that by the time you’re leaving Independence, you’ll be well into your second pack for the day. >As you watch the cloudy skies through the thick smoke snaking towards the air, you finally begin to feel like your old self again. >No, not your old self. >Something inside you is gone. >Something broken, replaced by something whole. >A weight on your shoulder is that much lighter. >Both Crystal Ship and Kozmic Blues… their chapters in your life have come to a close. >What remains is Purple Haze, and after him… >... No, you didn’t want to think about it just yet. >You had just regained the control of your emotions. >Honestly, if you hadn’t visited Crystal Ship first, and experienced all that, you wouldn’t be able to show your face in front of the girls. >Especially Aria. >You didn’t give into the tears… but you almost did. >It was like you totally lost your normal level-headedness. >... Hah. You? Level-headed? >You wanted to laugh at that. >”Son?” >You turn around. Turtle Blues stands there, odd look in his eyes. >Why were they so red? “Yes? If you’re worried about us sticking around, we’ll be leaving soon, sir. Just… just needed to calm down for a moment.” >”Didn’t mean that. I said we should talk a bit before you leave, right?” >You never really knew what this man was thinking, but right now that fact was doubly true. >You did see he was hiding something behind his back, though. “Yes, sir? If there’s anything I can do-” >”Here. I think this was meant for you.” >Before you quite know what’s happening, Mr. Blues presses something in your hand. >You look down, confused. >Your confusion only grows further as you realize what you’re holding. >It’s five small, wooden boxes, longer than they are wide, tied together with a hemp string. >’Stradivarius’, is written onto every box. “This is…?” >”I think my daughter wanted to give you that as a birthday present. She was saving up money and buying one when she could. Thought she’d collect enough to fill a proper case, but… then all that happened.” >You nod solemnly. >But despite the melancholy hanging in the air, you find yourself smiling. >Just a bit. “Thank you. This… I guess I should’ve seen this coming. She always liked to joke she had something big planned. It would’ve been after our contract signing, too…” >The collection of boxes is too big to fit in your pocket, so you just put them under your arm. “I mean it. Thank you, sir. I know I don’t have anything to give back, but if there’s-” >He puts out his arm to stop you. >”Now, don’t say that. You’ve given us something alright. Something we’ve been in dire need of.” >He looks back to the center of the garden, where Kozmic and rest of the girls are. >Looks like they’re in a heated conversation with Trixie. >”Closure, son. It’s been in short supply in this town after what happened. I know most folk won’t understand, but I knew your old man. And I don’t blame you for growing up crooked. The most important thing is that you realized it yourself, and set out to fix that.” >Turtle Blues looks you straight in the eye. >”If I were Ol’ Unknown, I’d be damn proud of you, son. >He offers his hand to you. >You stretch out to take it. “Thanks, sir. After all I did, I don-” >Before you know it, he grasps you in a quick bear hug. >”Now go on, son, and show us you can be more than the sum of your mistakes.” >Damn it. >You hate to admit it, but… this reminds you of dad. “... I will, sir.” >”Uh, dude? You sure this is the right place?” >Tree Hugger’s confusion is shared by the others sitting in your car. Namely, Adagio and Diamond Tiara. >After switching the groups again, you took those with you on a bit of a longer while, about half an hour or so. >Right now, you’re pulling up to the parking lot of an ugly brown building. >Honestly, you always found it… well, not creepy, but unsettling. >Like something you’d see in Germany during Second World War. >But despite it all, you did know that those working here were nothing like Mr. Mengele. >Instead, they tried their very best to help people. >One of those people being the keyboardist of your former band, Purple Haze. “Yeah. This is the place.” >You park your car and turn off the engine, stepping out of the vehicle. Others follow you. Twilight is not far behind in her car. >Gilda and Limestone park their motorcycles right next to your Buick. >Latter is giving you a worried look as she glances at the large sign not far away. >’Coffeyville Regional Medical Center’, it reads. >A foreboding atmosphere hangs around the group like a dark cloud. >And you are at the helm of that cloud, like the captain of Flying Dutchman coursing through the skies. >You, a bearer of bad news. >Bearer of bad memories. >You look next to you and see Adagio eyeing up the building. >She throws a sideways glance at you. >”I… heard from Aria and Sonata. About what happened the last two times.” >Her voice is quiet enough for only you to hear. >”I presume things will not be joyous here either.” >You cannot help the melancholic smile that appears on your face. “Most likely. I mean, you see where I brought you lot.” >The catharsis of meeting both Crystal and Kozmic has faded a bit, but you still feed odd strength in your limbs. >You are far more ready than you were when you woke up this morning. >Still… Adagio’s frown is enough to pause you. >”Don’t try to act tough, Anonymous. Who do you think I am?” >Her eyes narrow. Is that annoyed sympathy within them? >”If you try to make light of these things to not worry us, I won’t be the only one angry.” >She shoots a meaningful look at the rest of the group. >You feel your stomach lurch a bit, yet at the same time your head is oddly content. “... Thanks. It’s good to know you’re gonna have my back. Even if you’re ready to claw at it at the first chance.” >Adagio snorts and starts walking, flipping her hair. >”You’re such a sap, you know that, right?” >But there’s a soft smirk on her lips. >”... Not that I completely dislike that, though.” >You chuckle a bit and motion the rest of the girls to follow you two. >It doesn’t take long for you all the make your way to the entrance of the Medical Center. >The automatic doors swing open, giving you a view of the lobby. >An artificially clean smell fills your nose, something common to all hospitals. >In fact, it somewhat reminds you of juvie. >This sensation of entering a world completely unlike the one where you came from, even though you just stepped through the door. >Twilight gives a cursory glance around the lobby, before nodding in satisfaction. >”It seems like a good hospital. Not understaffed and with a professional air.” “You can decipher that with just a look?” >You look at her, bit baffled by her comment. >The scientist just taps her nose slyly. >”Comes with my chosen profession. Industrial espionage training is good for a lot of things.” >Perhaps it’s best that you don’t know what Everton teaches to their ‘special students’. >The less you know, the less likely you are likely to get in trouble whenever Strangelove’s double-agent life blows up in her face. >Shaking away the unnecessary thoughts, you walk over to the counter. >Woman there stares at you with a suspicious look. >You can’t blame this… nurse, is she? >After all, you look like a damn Dukes of Hazzard reject. >And your entourage is a combination of mad scientists, high school bullies, potheads and biker girls. >You’d be pretty damn suspicious, too. >But you can’t let her apprehension stop you now. >There’s something you need to do, after all. >The good thing about this is that even though she’s suspicious, there’s not outright hostility in her gaze. >She must be a new resident. >Thus, you try to muster up your best smile and approach the nurse at the desk. “Hello there. I’m here to visit a friend of mine.” >”All of you? Really now…” >She looks over you lot, one by one. Her disposition does not seem to change for the better. “Yeah. We’re here to see one P. Haze. An old friend from school.” >You gesture towards the girls. >It stings a bit that you need a small white lie to get to see your friend, but if that’s what it takes. “We were his friends before the accident, and we decided to get together again for a visit this year. Luckily, everyone was able to make it.” >After hearing your ‘explanation’, the nurse’s expression lightens up a bit. >Bullseye. >You feared this a bit, but looks like your guess was right. >”Mr. Purple Haze? I didn’t know that, I haven’t been working here that long, after all. But that’s very sweet of you all. Mr. Haze gets rarely a visitor these days.” >Despite trying to hold a friendly look, you feel your eyebrows turn into a frown. “Does his mother not visit him?” >”Mrs. Experience comes when she can, but lately even she seems to be giving up hope.” >The pink-haired nurse slowly shakes her head. >”Not that I blame her. The poor young man has been through so much, so it’d take a… well, then again, it’s not something I should speak of.” >She grimaces, realizing that she spoke out of line. >”Still, I’m sure Mr. Haze would love to have a visit from his friends. Go on right ahead. You can find him in the room 246.” “Thank you. This means a lot to us.” >’Lot to you’, you mean. >You flash the nurse one last quick smile before heading towards the door leading further into the building. >You’ve been here once or twice thanks to your dad, so you know pretty much where the inpatients are housed. >As you open the door and lead your friends inside, you pass by another nurse. This one is much older, and she looks somewhat confused by your appearance. >You hasten your steps. >That lady was definitely one of the locals. >If she recognizes you, you’ll be in big trouble. >And your fears are almost confirmed as you see the older nurse heading to the reception desk, no doubt wanting to inquire about you. >Quickly you head to the staircase. >Better get a move on. >In the twisting maze of Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, it’d be easy to get lost. >Luckily, Twilight is once again familiar with how places like this work, and she quickly spots the right door. >It’s at the end of the second floor’s hallway, almost out of sight. >The placard on the outside reads ‘P. Haze’, confirming the resident. >Not far away, a large window showcases the sky outside. >Afternoon is creeping closer and closer to the evening, and soon the sky will turn bright orange. >If you’re unlucky, clouds will carry a shade of red with them. >The last thing you needed was another reminder in the midst of this all. >Facing your past was one thing, but tackling your traumas as well… >Honestly, if you could decide, you’d have a bottle of whiskey as your weapon at that point. >”Anonymous?” >Adagio’s soft voice brings you back to reality. >She looks at you, then at the door. >You can’t really read her expression, but it seems… muddled. >”Shall we go in?” “Y-yeah… right. Let’s.” >You grasp the handle of the door, almost expecting it to electrocute you. >Instead, you just feel icy cold metal against your skin. >Swirling thoughts confusing your senses is another unneeded extra right now. >Too bad you’re saddled with it all the same. >With a brisk move, you open the door. >What lies before you is a typical-looking hospital room for a single person. >Not large enough to be called spacious, but not small enough to be compared to a broom closet. >A single bed dominates the landscape. >A small radio on the table whispers a song all too familiar to you. [Embed: Tim McGraw - My Old Friend] >Looks like gods of irony have a firm grip of the radio stations of Kansas. >The white of the clean sheets is almost blinding. >Electronic beeping can be heard coming from near the bed. >Its source is an array of mechanical devices containing everything from oscilloscope to an IV-drip. >Hooked into all these machines is a pitiful sight that you once called a friend. >You feel your heart sink. >Though he was never the burliest of men, what your friend has now become is just a shadow of his former self. “... Haze. You look so thin.” >Yes. >The gaunt-looking boy on that bed, once famous for his poofy, curly hair and dark complexion, was Purple Haze. >The keyboardist of your band, Star Generation. >The third person whose life you destroyed. >In a sense, you took from even more than you took from Kozmic Blues. >After all, just looking at the collection of mechanical equipment that surrounds him tells you everything you need to know. >During your year-long bout of cowardice, Haze’s condition hasn’t improved one bit. >”Wait, is he…?” >Limestone seems to find it hard to put it to words. >Twilight has no such problems as she solemnly stares at the medical equipment. >”In a coma, yes. It’s obvious by just looking at his state.” >”H-hey, I didn’t mean it like that! I just-” >Limestone’s protest is cut by Tree Hugger patting her on the shoulder. >”Calm down, dude. She didn’t mean it like that. Right, Twi?” >If it wasn’t this perpetually dopey stoner, you could have taken those last words as almost confrontational. >Twilight, on the other hand, nods solemnly. >”I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me, right?” >You pay no attention to the conversation. Instead, your eyes are lost somewhere in the mint green curtains. >Yes. >Comatose state. >Just like Kozmic, Purple Haze will never move again. >But unlike your drummer, it is unlikely that he even has his own thoughts to occupy himself with. >And, once again… it is all your fault. >”First a loss of one’s legs, then a loss of one’s body, and now a loss of one’s mind…!” >To your surprise, you hear Adagio grind her teeth together. >She’s angry at… something. >”Just what sort of twisted ‘just desserts’ is this? It’s sickening… to both them, and to Anonymous.” >She most likely didn’t mean for you to hear it, and thus, you stay silent. >You tousle Diamond Tiara’s hair. The younger girl looks mortified. >Her eyes are drawn to yours. >”Are… are you okay?” >You try to put on a brave face, and make a decent facsimile of one. “No. But I’m not supposed to be. Not in this case or any of the previous ones.” >Slowly you walk over to the stool next to the bed and sit down. >Instead of Purple Haze, you stare at your rough hands. >With these, you ensured that five people would never be able to lead normal lives again. >Crystal, Kozmic and Haze. >The random fan with you. >And your girlfriend. >All of them, ruined by you. >Even though you’ve managed to come to terms with two of those cases, once again the ugly doubt rears its head. >You need to move on, for the sake of your friends. Yet when you look at what you’ve wrought, it’s not easy.>”H-hey, I didn’t mean it like that! I just-” >Limestone’s protest is cut by Tree Hugger patting her on the shoulder. >”Calm down, dude. She didn’t mean it like that. Right, Twi?” >If it wasn’t this perpetually dopey stoner, you could have taken those last words as almost confrontational. >Twilight, on the other hand, nods solemnly. >”I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me, right?” >You pay no attention to the conversation. Instead, your eyes are lost somewhere in the mint green curtains. >Yes. >Comatose state. >Just like Kozmic, Purple Haze will never move again. >But unlike your drummer, it is unlikely that he even has his own thoughts to occupy himself with. >And, once again… it is all your fault. >”First a loss of one’s legs, then a loss of one’s body, and now a loss of one’s mind…!” >To your surprise, you hear Adagio grind her teeth together. >She’s angry at… something. >”Just what sort of twisted ‘just desserts’ is this? It’s sickening… to both them, and to Anonymous.” >She most likely didn’t mean for you to hear it, and thus, you stay silent. >You tousle Diamond Tiara’s hair. The younger girl looks mortified. >Her eyes are drawn to yours. >”Are… are you okay?” >You try to put on a brave face, and make a decent facsimile of one. “No. But I’m not supposed to be. Not in this case or any of the previous ones.” >Slowly you walk over to the stool next to the bed and sit down. >Instead of Purple Haze, you stare at your rough hands. >With these, you ensured that five people would never be able to lead normal lives again. >Crystal, Kozmic and Haze. >The random fan with you. >And your girlfriend. >All of them, ruined by you. >Even though you’ve managed to come to terms with two of those cases, once again the ugly doubt rears its head. >You need to move on, for the sake of your friends. Yet when you look at what you’ve wrought, it’s not easy. >You cannot look at Haze. >Your eyes begin to roam the room, finally stopping at Twilight. >For some reason she’s eyeing up the machines that your friend is kept alive by. >Her attention then focuses on the information sheet at the foot of the bed. >And at last, she looks straight at you. >”I’m sorry for saying this, but that’s not all, is it?” >She bites her lip momentarily. >”From what I can gather, there’s… there’s no brain activity, is there? Absolutely none at all.” >As the words leave her mouth, even she seems to be horrified by them. >”Only your friend’s body is alive. There’s no chance for him to ‘return’.” >Diamond Tiara turns even paler. >Limestone curses under her breath. >Tree Hugger closes her eyes, mumbling something that sounds a lot like Om Mani Padme. >”Why?” >Twilight’s voice is wavering with disbelief. >Looks like even she can be shocked by something. “Her mother is top brass at this hospital.” >You speak bluntly, your words sounding coarse in your ears. “She… refuses to believe what the medical science show her. To her, Haze is still in there. And she won’t let anyone take him away from her, even if she has to bend the rules.” >A collective silence falls upon the room, heavier than lead. >Adagio moves next to you, a pained look on her face. >She reaches out to touch your left shoulder. >But… in the middle of it, you see her stop. >Her face goes slack with surprise, eyes staring behind you. >At the same time, you feel another hand land on you. But it’s on your right shoulder. >You don’t need to feel the strong squeeze to know it’s Gilda. >Looking more lost than she ever has, Adagio takes a step back. >You know you should say something. This… this doesn’t feel right. >But you stay quiet long enough to hear the boxer ask a question. >”... What was your friend like?” >And with this excuse, you finally start speaking. >About the day you met Purple Haze. >You had a favorite place back when you were a kid. >It was this old bowstring bridge, well, more of a skeleton of a one anyway. >Old and dilapidated, it was a small wonder it didn’t collapse whenever you climbed it. >The again, you weren’t such a hulking brute back then. >In any event, that rusty old bridge was surrounded by a mesh fence, so it wasn’t easy to get there. >You had to use a hole in the fence that had been made by some small animal. >Beyond that, you had two stone pillars holding up the metallic frame of a once proud bridge. >It had been overrun by vegetation, and during summers, it shone bright green in the midday sun. >When the sun began its slow descend on the sky, it reflected back that golden, orange glow. >You would often climb up to the top of the bridge just to get a good view over the Verdigris River. >Just you and your thoughts. Sometimes your harmonica as well. >A lonely song to echo in the forest. >Well, more often than not you tried to come up with a happy little tune. >But alas to no avail. >You were a lonely kid back then. >At least you think you were. >If you were completely honest, much of your past was hazy at best. >Maybe you hadn’t escaped the car crash completely unscathed. >Something in your brain might have taken a hit, as you could hardly remember mundane things. >But a few special moments and places, like that old bridge, stayed with you. >Even now, you could recall that rusting smell. >The tears in your jeans as they got caught in the nails. >The sound of the muddy river coursing down below. >A place, just for you. >Away from sometimes annoying Kozmic, your aloof mother or your surly father. >Therefore, it was a little bit annoying when, one day, you saw another kid there. >Just standing and staring at the imposing steel skeleton of the bridge. >For a moment you eyed him up and down before just pushing past him. >You began climbing, throwing an annoyed look at the poofy-haired kid. “Get lost, dude. This is my bridge.” >Yeah, you were kind of a jerk back then. >You got it from your old man, though. >You both were the biggest jerks in the town. >No wonder you grew up so crooked. >”R-really? You own this place?” >You roll your eyes at the kid’s honest surprise. To your ears he sounded like a positive dork. “No, idiot. But I claimed it. Therefore it’s mine.” >With an agile hop-skip-and-jump you made it on top of the upper railing, turning on your heels. >From there, up high, you lorded over the sight of the shorter boy. “And I rule that you can’t climb here. So scram!” >The kid heaved a defeated sigh, picking up the school bag he had dropped to the ground. >It looked like his hopes were crushed, utterly. >”Aww, man. And here I hoped I’d get to hear you play again.” >That made you pause. >Eyes nearly bulging from your head, you stared at the boy. “P-play? Like, music?” >It was horrible. You could feel your cheeks getting redder. “I don’t play music! Nobody here plays any music!” >”Really? But this place is near my home, and I thought I heard someone playing harmonica here once or twice…” “Nobody’s playing anything, especially harmonicas! Harmonicas suck! You suck! You suck because you think someone plays sucky harmonicas here, yeah!” >As you spoke, you could feel the harmonica you had with you burning a hole in your chest pocket. >The boy, on the other hand, looked utterly confused. >And a slightly bit insulted. >”Hey, you don’t have to call me names! I just… I just thought I heard it, alright? Get off my back!” “Well you didn’t! So get lost, now!” >You kicked the railing to emphasize your point, nearly falling over into the river. >That just made you feel twice as embarrassed. >”Okay, fine, no need to yell. I’ll leave.” >The boy sulked, put his hands in his pocket and stomped away. >Looks like your rudeness had won the day again. >A victory to be celebrated. >... At least after checking the boy was outside the hearing range. >You couldn’t have him catch you in the act after you had so vehemently denied being the one responsible for the songs echoing from this place. >You climbed at the very top of the bowstring bridge to stalk the kid. >After you saw him emerge from the other side of the forest and cross the quiet street, you sighed in relief. >Your kingdom was yours once more. >You swung your bag from your back and opened it, pulling out the leftovers of your lunch. >Your mom wasn’t the best of cooks, but at least she tried. >In fact, you always saved one half of the sandwich just to eat it here while enjoying the scenery. >So, while you munched on the food, you thought about school. >How you had once again gotten into an argument with Kozmic. >She had the balls to claim that Steppenwolf was better than Deep Purple. >Well, she was a girl so obviously she didn’t have actual balls. >She had… something else dangling. >Or she should have. >Kozmic had always been as flat as Bonneville Speedway. >Still! >She should have known better. Nothing beat Deep Purple. Nothing. >Even to this day, your opinion hasn’t changed. >Thinking such mundane things, you finished up your half-of-a-meal and took out your harmonica. >After getting some practice out of the way, you began to play in earnest. >You fumble some familiar melodies until you settle for something you know by the heart. >Ah, yes, Blues Traveler. >Another childhood favorite of yours. >You would have continued longer, possibly till the sun set, but at that exact moment the bushes nearby started shaking violently. >To your utter horror, a head of a widely-grinning girl popped out, her cyan eyes staring straight at you. >”I knew it!” >After yelling that triumphantly she jumped out of the bush and sprinted into the forest. >You could only stare in utter shock as she ran to the street and caught up to the boy that had been eyeing up the bridge before. >After some wild flailing of arms and enthusiastic words being shared between them, the two of them headed straight back. >Back to the bridge. >Where you were trapped like a deer in the headlights. >Or in this case, a damn cuckoo caught in the wrong nest. >When they got back, the boy immediately pointed his finger at you and smiled from ear to ear. >”A-ha! I knew it! ‘Nobody plays harmonica here’, my butt! You were the mystery musician after all!” >You felt like no-clipping through solid steel and straight into the murky waters below. “Y-you got the wrong guy.” >”Did we now?” >The magnitude of smugness on that girl’s face could have been used to propel a rocket straight to the moon and back. >”And here I thought I heard the first few licks of Hook.” “You didn’t.” >”Didn’t I?” “No, you didn’t.” >Even the boy decided to chime in. >”She totally did!” “Nuh-uh.” >”Yeah-uh.” “Nuh-uh.” >”Oh gosh, you are such a kid. I know what I heard.” >The girl rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. This didn’t help your slowly-sinking self-esteem. >You were just waiting for the laughter and the ridicule to begin. >After all, you were some random kid in the woods, playing a harmonica like you were a regular railroad track drifter. >Thus, it was a rather big surprise when the two of them began climbing the framework of the bridge with big smiles on their faces. >”Like, it’s been awhile since I heard someone play that good! Really.” “W-what?” >The boy next to the girl nodded. >”Totally. Can you play some more? This is the first time we found someone else in this town our age who knows about music.” >And to you, that was the first time someone else other than your mother had praised you for your hobby. >Your deadbeat of a dad couldn’t have cared less. >You don’t know if it was possible, but there was a good chance that your cheeks got even redder when you heard those words. >That was the beginning of it. >Before you knew it, you were flanked from both sides by the two, urged to start playing your harmonica again. >From somewhere you gathered whatever courage you had left, and brought the harmonica to your lips. >And then, you started playing. [Embed: Blues Traveler - Run-around] >A wailing of a harmonica, building up a cheerful melody. >One that continued for that whole summer. >The summer that started everything. >Single harmonica, three kids and a bridge-ready-to-collapse. That was pretty much it. >At least until the girl in the orange dress started singing. >”Ooh, once upon a midnight dreary, I woke with something in my head.” >The boy next to you started tapping a beat with his hands, palms hitting his knees. >”I couldn’t escape the memory of a phone call and of what you said.” >It was out of nowhere, but somehow, the three of you were creating music. >Absurd, considering you had only one proper instrument. >”Like a game show contestant with a parting gift I could not believe my eyes.” >But even that was about to change. >When the leaves in the trees acquired a deep shade of green, the girl had found a tambourine for herself. >And the boy? He bought a damn roll-up keyboard for 30 bucks from Ebay. >It sounded like crap, but it was better than knee-drums. >”When I saw through the voice of a trusted friend who needs to humor me and tell me lies.” >And in the middle of that blossoming music, you remember something else. >The face of that always energetic girl grinning at you. >Close. So very close. >With that damn infectious happiness of her. >”Yeah, humor me and tell me lies!” >Before you knew it, it was July. >The old bridge echoed from the sounds of amateurs butchering the classic of John Popper. >It managed to lure in another victim. >Some boy who had just moved to the town with his overbearing dad, and who needed some relaxation. >Good thing he happened to own an acoustic guitar. >”And I’ll lie too and say I don’t mind, and as we seek so shall we find.” >The boy said his name was Crystal Ship. >He was welcomed to your small group mostly because he was most talented out of you lot. >With his guitar going from G to D, things got much more lively. >”And when you’re feeling open I’ll still be here, but not without a certain degree of fear.” >In the heat of the summer your merry little band continued playing in your secret hideout. >Just for the hell of it. >Just because you had nothing better to do. >Just because that girl elbowed you in the ribs, playfully, and winked at you. >”Of what will be with you and me, I still can see things hopefully!” >Despite the danger she jumped and began dancing. >Her voice rose up high, her hands hammering the skin of that tambourine. >Spinning around, she looked like she was about to take off the skies. >And caught up in her energy, you three idiots played even harder. >”But you! Why you wanna give me a run-around? Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up, when all it does is slow me down?” >By the beginning August your group had another addition. >Gone was the murky water from below. >It had become clear again. >And with it came Kozmic Blues. >”And shake me and my confidence about a great many things.” >It took some convincing but you eventually managed to drag your childhood friend to your little get-togethers. >Her father gave her his old bongo drums which looked like they barely held together. >Their sound didn’t match the song at all. >”But I’ve been there I can see it cower like a nervous magician waiting in the wings.” >But you made it work. >You had to make it work. >After all, you were kids! It’s not like any of you had money. >”Of a bad play where the heroes are right and nobody thinks or expects too much.” >When you got too tired to play, you went down to the shore of the river and took a drip. >Three boys chasing screaming girls downstream. >Five idiots swimming where it probably wasn’t even safe to swim. >”And Hollywood’s calling for the movie rights singing ‘Hey Babe, let’s keep in touch’!” >And one owner of a pair of cyan eyes pulling your swimming trunks down as a prank. >”Hey baby, let’s keep in touch!” >Like a clockwork you lot would climb that bridge every afternoon. >You would play, you would sing, you would dance. >It really was the time of your life. >”But I want to more than a touch I want you to reach me, and show me all the things no one else can see.” >You had never experienced what it was like to have a group of friends. >Especially ones that were the same age as you. >Ones that enjoyed the same things as you. >”So what you feel becomes mine as well and soon if we’re lucky we’d be unable to tell.” >Even your mother noticed it. She told you she had never seen you smile so much. >Even you yourself noticed you were laughing like an idiot all of a sudden. >It had to be the company. >”What’s yours and mine, the fishing’s fine, and it doesn’t have to rhyme so don’t you feed me a line!” >The simple freedom of joining your melodies together create actual, honest-to-God music. >Warmth of the Kansas summer pampering you. >You barely remember a day when it rained. >And even during those days you’d just take a shelter under one of the stone pillars and play there. >”But you! Why you wanna give me a run-around? Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up, when all it does is slow me down?” >With one girl in particular glued to your side in her wet T-shirt. >And three pairs of smug eyes staring at you two like they knew something you didn’t. >Looking back at it, they totally did. >”Tra la la la la bombardier, this is the pilot speaking and, I’ve got some news for you!” >You were completely oblivious to the signs. >At the end of the August things had gotten so bad she was practically straddling you, sitting on your shoulders. >”It seems my ship still stands no matter what you drop and there ain’t a whole lot that you can do!” >She was persistent, you gave her that. >It was one fine evening when, in the middle of your jam session, she practically dragged you up and yanked the harmonica out of your hands. >Giggling all the way, she pointed you straight between your eyes. >Before you knew it, your untrained voice echoed above the river. “Oh sure the banner may be torn and the wind’s gotten colder, perhaps I’ve grown a little cynical.” >It was a new, exhilarating sensation. >To sing. It was like you had found your new calling. You wanted more and more of it. “But I know no matter what the waitress brings I shall drink it and always be full!” >Swept away by the twisting tune you leaned closer to those cyan eyes. >You were grinning just like her. >It really was like an infection that spread everywhere around her. “Yeah, I will drink it and always be full!” >Now it was the two of you, dancing and spinning on top of the old bridge while it creaked under your carefree weight. >Your friends around you poured their souls into their half-assed instruments. >Well, you all may have had half-assed equipment. >But your music came with all the force you had behind your souls. >”Oh I like coffee and I like tea. I’d like to be able to enter a final plea!” >Then, to crown that summer of memories. >Her hand suddenly caught yours. >She pulled you closer, staring into your eyes with unwavering determination. >”I still got his dream that you just can’t shake.” >Even if you could feel how nervously sweaty her hands were. >”I love you to the point you can no longer take!” >It was perhaps the oddest confession you had ever received. >Then again it was the only confession you had received at that point. >Your shock was understandable. >As was the fact you almost fell from the bridge after that bombshell. “Well all right, okay, so be that way! I hope and pray that there’s something left to say!” >She chuckled and helped you back up, locking her fingers with you. >”For you, now. Why you wanna give me a run-around? Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up, when all it does is slow me down?” >There really was no way you could ever forget that summer. >The summer when everything began. “Oh yeah, now. Why you wanna give me a run-around? Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up, when all it does is slow me down?” >When you met her thanks to one boy, and gave her your equally confusing answer to her confession. >When you started your band thanks to one boy. >Indeed, there was one kid in whole of Independence, Kansas, whom you had to thank for being where you were now. >All the ups and downs were possible because of him. >It had been a long road… but you were ready to thank him. >Purple Haze. >The lonely kid whose only friend was the girl living next door. >The one who heard you playing your harmonica, and decided to approach you after some coaxing from said girl. >The idiot who said on the Fourth of July: >”You know, if we ever start a band, we should call it Star Generation.” >When you voiced your confusion, he just laughed. >“Because we still need to earn our stripes.” >”So that’s it.” >Adagio’s voice finally cuts the lasting silence that fell after you finished with your story. >The images, memories of a summer gone by, fade away. >They leave behind a forlorn hospital room and a quiet beeping of a medical machine. >Mint-colored, faded curtains gently rock in the wind. >Gilda’s grip on your shoulder has softened. >”He was where it all began.” “Yeah.” >Your throat sounds sore. >Probably from all the talking. Yes that must be it. “In a sense he’s the starting point of it all. Without him I’d have never met my band, gotten in my head to become a rockstar...” >With a sad smile, you gaze upon the face of your friend. >Haze looks like he’s sleeping. >But there are no dreams within that sleep. >Just emptiness. “... Gotten into an accident where I ruined the lives of my friends, spent a year in juvie…” >You shift your gaze from him to Adagio. >Her unreadable expression is as mysterious as ever. >It almost makes you want to touch her face. >Just a little. “... Moved to Canterlot or met the people I call my friends now. So yeah, without him I wouldn’t be standing here today.” >Once more, your visio drops to the floor. “I just wish he didn’t have to sacrifice so much just so I could become a better man.” >You hear Gilda draw breath next to you, like she’s about to say something. >But before she can, she’s cut off by Adagio. >Almost forcefully. Like the copperhead has something to prove. >”He didn’t sacrifice anything, Anonymous. He didn’t do it because he owed something to you, or something idiotic like that.” >Adagio walks up to the bed, folds her arms and stares at the gaunt form of Haze. >”Do you think we’re friends because we want to get something out of it? No.” >The tone of voice is like steel wrapped in silk. >”We’re friends because we want to. That’s all. And I’m sure it was the same with him.” >You stare at Adagio’s back, her words harkening back to what you think you heard Kozmic say. >It’s like an echo. Echo that brings an ache to your heart. “You think?” >”I know, Anonymous. I know probably better than anyone else. I mean, just look at me.” >Her lips curve into a dry smile. >”Instead of plotting my revenge, I’m giving a pep talk to you. If the me from two years could see me now, she wouldn’t believe her eyes. But that’s just the thing with our form of friendship, isn’t it?” >She turns to face you, and for a moment it’s like everyone else from the room had disappeared. >”We don’t want anything from each other. We’re not friends because we’re too weak stand up on our own and need a crutch to hold us upright. We’re friends because we want to. That’s all.” >You feel your chest tighten. >”Just like I’m sure Purple Haze was. He was your friend after all.” >Those words resonate strongly within you. >You get up from the chair. >Before you is the person whom you owe everything to, more than anyone else. >You can’t do anything to help him. It’s too late for that now. >It’s just his shell under those sheets. >The real Haze must be in a better place right now. “... You’re right. As always, Adagio.” >But just in case he can hear you. “So, Haze? I know I that when I spoke with Crystal and Kozmic I had all these fancy words to say, so it might seem a little bit unfair that I have only two for you.” >You gently squeeze Haze’s hand. It feels warm despite everything. >In your mind, once more, momentarily, you return to those summer days. >Innocent summer days. >When none of you could imagine what the future might bring with it. >So much joy and happiness, along with horrible suffering and sadness. >But then again, that is what life's all about. >Making mistakes, learning from them, owning up to them and coming out stronger. >You have no doubt that you’ll be making mistakes in the future. >Who knows what sort of trouble you can get into when you’re friends with girls like these? >Therefore, it is important that you acknowledge the mistakes made in the past. >Speak the words that you always meant to say to Haze, but never could. “Thank you.” >There. It really is all that is needed.. >He deserves those words, because there are no words more important than them. >You turn around on your heels and nod to the rest of the group. “Let’s go. We shouldn’t overstay our welcome.” >You and the girls pile out of the room. >Almost all of you. >It takes you a moment to realize it, but you’re short two people. >When you turn back to look, you see that Gilda and Adagio are staring at each other. >It is an uncomfortable scene. >Like there’s some sort of secret you should be aware of, but cannot understand right now. >Their faces seem normal, but their eyes are cold. >”Even if it’s you, D, I won’t give up easily.” >Gilda’s words are rough and final. >”I’m sorry to hear that.” >Even so, Adagio doesn’t hesitate. >”Because once we’re back home, I will give it my all. I know now that this is one battle I can’t bear to lose.” >You know you shouldn’t probably interfere. >Sticking your nose into the business of girls is just asking to get it chopped off. >But you really needed to get going. “Hey. We’re going now.” >”Alright Anonymous. Let’s leave this place.” >Adagio walks up to you without sparing another glance at Gilda. >”This was the last place to visit, right?” >Now it’s your turn to be silent. >But really, there’s no excuse to put it off any longer. “No.” >One more stop Anonymous. >One more heartache. “We still have one more person we need to visit.” >The last member of your band. >Your girlfriend. >It was a small lapse in your judgment, perhaps. You didn’t mean to, really. >But as you were driving to your final destination, you decided to make a small detour. >Right now your car was as it should be. >The people inside were the ones who belonged there. >You had nothing against the other girls it was just… you felt like the Dazzlings were part of this vehicle’s interior just as much as you were. >Therefore, they immediately got suspicious when you took a sharp turn to West Sycamore Street.. >”Nonny? Where are we going?” >Sonata peers over her seat. >You nod towards a familiar sight in the distance. “There. I wanted to see if anything was left in there.” >Leading the column of vehicles following you to the location ahead, you park your car on the sidewalk. >It would only take few minutes. >And as you exit the car, you know why. >This smell… it was too familiar. Too much of what you used to know. >Stay in here and eventually you’ll revert to your old ways, it warns you. >Perhaps a stupid superstition, perhaps not. >You weren’t taking any chances. >You hear others exiting their own vehicles and voice their confusion as to why you decided to stop here. >No longer are the girls divided into groups. Everyone is here. >From what you understand, they’ve been trading notes so far on what transpired. >The Dazzlings, at the very least, did. “I won’t be long. I’ll just head in, check the place, and then we’ll be on our way.” >You spoke fast as to not give them time to argue, but immediately, three pairs of footsteps follow you. >Adagio to your right, Aria to your left, Sonata behind you. >Five seconds and the rest of the girls follow. >You throw a meaningful look back at them. “Thanks guys. But I really don’t think we’re all gonna fit inside there.” >You point your thumb towards the light blue trailer house sitting on the lot. >A trailer house that’s been abandoned for a year or so. >A trailer house with a sign above the door that reads: ‘Rising Sun’. >A trailer house you once called home. >You hasten your steps and skip up the metallic set of stairs to the front door. >Behind you, you hear Aria click her tongue as she takes in the sign. >”Really? House of the Rising Sun? Isn’t that a bit… sick?” >You give her a sardonic grin and shrug. “It’s what my old man liked. Besides, haven’t you heard?” >Purple Grump arches an eyebrow. >”Heard what?” “>You chuckle and hum a melody as you fumble your keys. ”There is a house in Kansas town they call the Rising Sun…” >You pick up the rusted key, the one you thought you’d never use, and slide it into the lock. “And it’s been the ruin of many a poor soul, and me, oh God, am one.” >As you turn the key you hear a promising click. “If I listened to my Mama, Lord I’d be home today.” >You slowly push the door open to reveal the place you left behind so long ago. >You wink at the Dazzlings. “But I was young and foolish, and some sirens led me astray.” >Adagio chuckles. >”You should write that up some day. I’m somewhat liking what you have so far.” >You mock up a bow before her. “Consider it done, my lady.” >But enough jokes. >You came here for a reason. “Well then… welcome. To Rising Sun. To my old home.” >What lies beyond the door is a familiar landscape. >A busted-up TV sitting in the corner with a sofa. >Kitchen that has been overrun by trash bags, the fridge silently holding fort the best it can. >Two doors, one to your parents room, one to your own. >And the bathroom which had a door with a broken lock. >Looks like the door’s gone too for some odd reason. >You wrinkle up your nose at the state of the place, especially the kitchen. It’s a veritable mountain of crap. “Disgusting.” >Aria can’t help but to chortle at that comment. >”Hey Roadie? This place actually reminds me of another apartment. Like, your-” “Oh shut up. My situation was completely different.” >You elbow her gently before stepping inside. “Plus it’s not like it looks like this anymore. I have you guys to thank for it.” >Taking a survey of the scene, you try to assess if there’s anything worth saving. “Well, let’s see… guess the living room or the kitchen are hopeless cases. As for my room…” >For a moment you relive a memory. >A big bonfire where you hastily burn your stuff, afraid of it being stolen or vandalized while you’re in juvie. “Yeah, there’s nothing left there. Just an empty husk.” >Therefore your attention switches to one last, unexplored territory in this moldy old house. >The door leading to your parents’ room, emblazoned with the logo of El Forastero. >After a slight bit of hesitation you walk over to the door and put your hand on the handle. >”Hey, Nonny? What’s this closet?” >You turn around and see Sonata repeatedly sliding said closet’s door open and shut. “That’d be my mom’s wardrobe. Check out if there’s anything worth salvaging there. It’s not like she needs them anymore.” >What? >You just said what that closet was for. >Why are the Dazzlings looking like they just stumbled upon the goddamn Arc of Covenant? “Just be careful with that, Belloq. I’m going to check my parents’ bedroom.” >You turn the handle, metal warm against your touch. >What hits you first is the smell. >Or lack thereof, actually. >Unlike the rest of the trailer, this place seems to be relatively safe from the invasion of trash bags. “... Huh. Just like it always was.” >There’s a simple, almost spartan, queen-sized bed. >Another closet next to it and a nightstand where your father’s bible still waited for someone to pick it up. >There was also the collection of various things your dad used in his ‘job’ hanging on the wall. >His ‘equipment’ so to speak. >And just above the bed… [Embed: The Brothers Bright - Awake O Sleeper] “Goddammit. It’s still here.” >Adagio peeks past you, curiosity clear on her face. >”What is? Did you find something interesting?” “You bet I did. Actually… Adagio. Can you hold this for me?” >Without waiting for her answer you slip out of your leather pilot jacket and hand it to her, despite the copperhead’s confusion. >The winter air of Kansas chills you, standing there just in your boots, your jeans and your white T-shirt. >But there’s a cure to be found here. >On the dusty wall is a jacket. >No. Calling it just a jacket would be doing it disservice. >To quote something someone said somewhere far away: >That thing was too big to be called a jacket. Too big, too thick, too heavy and too rough. It was more like a large chunk of hide. >It was the color of dark brown, almost to the point of being black. >The lining was wool but it looked more like mesh of a chainmail if you were honest, dirty from days of usage. >The fur trim was a thing to behold as well. Your father claimed it was wolf fur, but you had your doubts. >Still, it gave the thing an appearance reserved to cloaks from Westeros rather than anything in real world. >Then there was the image emblazoned across the back of the jacket. >A snarling wolf’s head with a warpaint in the image of Old Glory. >Above it read three words. >”New World Outlaws.” >The name of the motorcycle club your father always dreamt of building but never was able to. >Next to the jacket hung your father’s bowie knife, from his military days, in its sheath. >You knew there was a specifically prepared pocket for that knife inside the jacket for easy access and concealment. ”Well, if I’m to be a villain, I might as well look the part. Right, Adagio?” >”... Put it on. I want to see it.” >Doing as told, you walk over to the wall where the jacket hangs >Almost ceremoniously you pick it up, admiring every nook and cranny of you can see. >This jacket was your father’s pride and joy. >He had it custom-made by some guy down in the badlands. Some sort of crazy hermit, as you understood. >Made to his regulations and with the logo he once imagined he’d share with those who rode under him. >How ironic that it’d now end up in your hands. >The boy he thought would never continue in his footsteps. >Yet here you are, becoming a villain just like your father was. Old man would be proud. >”Actually, Anonymous, wait.” >Adagio’s words stop you. >”Let me do it.” >She moves next to you and takes the jacket from your hands. >There’s a look in her eyes that’s usually reserved for solemn religious duties. >A look that you can’t really refuse. >Therefore you nod and spread your hands, exhaling deeply. >Adagio works methodically, her hands gliding across the leather of the jacket to examine it. >With great respect, the slips your right hand into a sleeve, followed by the left. >She puts the sheathed knife in its place after you tell of the specifically prepared pocket for it. >She touches up the shoulders of the jacket and lets her fingers run through your hair, gently placing it atop the back of the fur trim. >She then makes you turn around, inspecting the collar. >Finally Adagio gives you a quiet nod. >”Perfect.” >What happened next was something you could have never prepared for. >Still holding onto the collar, Adagio pulls you downwards while standing on her toes. >Nimbly she overcomes the height difference of roughly 1 foot and 7 inches. >Why? >To give you a peck on the cheek, of all things. >The whole world seems to grind to a halt and you’re able to only stare at her, slack-jawed. >But that’s only for a second. >You don’t even blush, which is a miracle in itself. >Instead you feel like a shot of pure adrenalin was injected into you. >This was Adagio’s pride - the pride she felt when looking at you. >Just that. >”Now there’s the Anonymous I know.” >Adagio grins, though her cheeks betray a bit of a flush. >”Not a man chained down by his past, but one who takes whatever he wants from the future.” >She folds her arms and checks you from head to toe, admiring her handiwork. >”The Last Outlaw - A true goddamn villain.” >You return her grin, unable to contain yourself. >With what you’ve experienced today, all your emotions are bubbling to the surface. >Something like this is easy to get swept up in. “Never use that nickname when others can hear.” >”I make no promises.” >Both of you laugh. >With a gesture you tell her to follow you and head out of the room. >Your father’s biker paraphernalia was of no interest to you. >You were your own man, you’d make do with what you had. >Only this jacket and this bowie knife… they were a memento of sorts. You’d make them yours. >A symbol just for you. >In the living room of the trailer you come face-to-face with another surprise. >Looks like you weren’t the only one to play dress-up. >Aria has changed her green vest to a denim cut-off that your mother used when she rode with your father. >The back is still adorned with her personal logo of sorts: purple rose and green thorns. >Sonata, on the other hand, has put on a classical black biker jacket with no patches. It certainly brings out her… assets. >Still, judging from the reactions, you’re not half as surprised as the two of them are. >”Okay, not fair Roadie.” >Aria has a hand on her cheek and her words are but a mumble. >”You’re not supposed to be hot, jerk.” >”Oh, Nonny’s always been hot.” >Sonata giggles and playfully punches Aria on the shoulder. >”Now he’s just hitting all your fetishes, for realsies.” >What ensues is a squabble of magnificent proportions as Purple Grump assaults Blue Goof. >You’re left standing there, scratching your cheek awkwardly. >Lucky for you, Adagio comes for the rescue. >”Oh calm down, girls. You can ogle Anonymous’ new look all you want later.” >Correction. >Lucky for the situation, bad for you. >After all, Adagio has switched up her clothes too. But instead of getting something new, she’s put on something old. >Namely, your old pilot jacket. >”We still have things to do. Let’s not waste any time, okay?” >For her it’s more of a coat than a jacket, but it fits like a mane fits a lion. Regal is the only way to describe it. >And the way it synchronizes with her lustrous hair… “Uh… buh…” >Yeah, she’s hitting all of *your* fetishes. >”Anonymous, your mouth’s open.” >Scoring a solid twelve on smugness scale, Adagio struts to the living room, her hips swaying from side to side. >Sonata and Aria stop their bickering with the appearance of this new oddity. >In all honesty, the eye-candy in this room is almost too much for your eyes. >All that is missing are denim hotpants. >Oh man. >Denim hotpants. >Honestly, you’re not sure how long you spent in your daydreams about a summer at the countryside with the Dazzlings, but it was eventually Adagio’s voice that snapped you out of your reverie. >”Anonymous? What is this?” >You shake your head to clear every bit of naughty thoughts you were having and take a look at what the copperhead is pointing. >There, on the wall of your living room, just above the old TV, is a trinket which’s existence you almost forgot. >You scratch your chin as you try to recall what your dad told you of the thing. “Supposedly it’s some old Native American trade beads my old man bought from Crater Lake. You know, with that Camp Evergreen or something? Anyways, there was a peddler there who almost forced them on my dad.” >You look at the necklace of beads hanging from the wall. >Most of them are colorless, but there are some colorful ones as well. Seven in total. “There’s this old Klamath tribe legend that goes with them. There was this spirit of the underworld, Llao, who fancied a local chieftain’s daughter.” >Sonata and Aria are listening to you, but Adagio’s staring a hole into the necklace. “A spirit from the sky, Skell, fought against him for the honor of the maiden. Unfortunately, Skell was actually killed in the ensuing battle, which also ended up creating the Crater Lake.” >You let your eyes rest in the colorful beads, too. >Orange, purple, white, blue, yellow, pink and red. “In any case, those loyal to Skell stole his heart from Llao in order to revive Skell, but the way the old man told it, that heart shattered before it could achieve such a feat.” >Even as a kid, you found their appearance soothing. “One collection of shards was sealed near the lake, the other one was turned into that chain of beads, and eventually found its way to the hands of the Klamath man who sold it to my old man.” >You shrug and chuckle. >Well, it’s an old legend after all. >The old guy probably drummed it up just to rack up his prices. “Anyways, dad thought my mom would like it and brought it home with him. She hung it up on the wall, hoping it’d bring luck to us or something.” >A bitter smile crosses your face. “You can see how well that worked.” >... Well, that’s weird. >You hoped to get at least a snicker out of the three. >But Adagio’s face is dead-serious and the other two are exchanging worried glances. >You can hear Poof mumble something. >”N-no, they couldn’t possibly be… but with this aura and how they look…” >She reaches out to touch the chain of beads. >Wait, what? >Was it just your imagination? >For a second there you could have sworn you saw the purple one glow brightly. >But now that you look at it closer, it has the same dull shine as always. “Something the matter?” >Adagio lets her fingers hover paused for a moment before just snatching the necklace and stuffing it into her pocket. >”I’m not sure. In all honesty, I think we should let Twilight take a look at this. It might be nothing but… better safe than sorry.” “Huh?” >Adagio shakes her head. >”We’ll talk about this later. Now, wasn’t there something else we had to do?” “Oh. Right. Let’s go, you three.” >After that you’re glad to get back to the outside air. >There the familiar gaggle of teenage girls waits for you. >All eyes are on you four, and you can see lot of arched eyebrows at your sudden change in clothing. >Limestone lets out a low whistle. >”Uh… Wow.” >Suri Polomare next to her giggles. >”I have to concur. Wow is an appropriate remark here.” >You fish your cigarettes out of your pocket and light one up. >Taking a drag, you blow a cloud of smoke up into the evening sky. “Well? How do we look?” >Tree Hugger is the first one to answer. >”Duuude. You guys look like total villains. If I didn’t know you, I’d be scared.” >You and the Dazzlings share an evil cackle. >Okay, more of a mock-up of one. “Then this side-trip wasn’t for nothing, was it?” >”Oh, definitely not!” >Starlight is cackling at something, and Trixie looks like she wants to sink into the ground. >”I don’t think I’ve ever seen Trixie this hot and bothered!” >This time it’s all of you who laugh, but it’s all in good fun. Even Blueberry joins in it after a moment. “Alright! Let’s get back on the road.” >The last leg of your journey is not a long one. >It takes about ten minutes to drive from your home to the destination in your mind, and even that’s thanks to the traffic. >You notice few signs along the way and steer your Buick towards the eastern gate. >As you pass by the low-hanging limestone walls, you feel the atmosphere inside your car grow quiet. >Sonata’s trying her best not to stare at what lies outside the window. >Aria looks like she wants to ask something yet finds it best to not. >And Adagio? She’s looking straight at you. >A worried question lingers in her eyes. >It’s probably something along the lines of: ‘Is this really the place?’ >Unfortunately, yes it is. >You flick your turn-signal to the left to inform the others coming up behind you. >This is where you’re headed. >Through the open steel gate, under the oak trees flanking the road and into the parking lot where nary a car sits. >After you park your vehicle, you turn down the engine and take a deep breath. >Well. >This is it, Anonymous. >Your last stop on the drive down Memory Lane, Kansas. >And, if you’re completely honest… >... The final secret you’ve been keeping from the Dazzlings and the rest of your group. >”Nonny…” >Sonata sounds like she’s trying her best to be brave, yet she can’t muster up her usual cheer in this solemn place. >”So that’s it, Roadie? Life’s really been the worst for you…” >Aria clicks her tongue and pats you on the shoulder. >You say nothing and light up another cigarette. “Okay, girls.” >You open up your door and step out of your car, the Dazzlings following suit. >Around you, others also exit their vehicles. >Gilda, Limestone, Chrysalis and Babs on their motorcycles, along with Diamond and Silver as their passengers. >Twilight and Sour Sweet in former’s Countach while Suri, Lightning, Trixie and Starlight in the Brougham. >The rest of the Crystal Prep students, along with Tree Hugger, pour out of the old splitty. >Quietly you gather near the sign that informs all visitors of this place’s name. >You pat the wooden surface of the sign. “Welcome to Mount Hope Cemetery.” >It’s not that you’re trying to make light of the situation or crack a joke or anything like that. >You’re just informing them of a fact that they, in all honesty, know about already. >Hell, they all saw the rows upon rows of tombstones as you drove to the parking lot. >The grass outside is pretty much dead and there are no leaves in the trees. >A crow cries somewhere in the distance. >You couldn’t get closer to a typical graveyard atmosphere even if you wanted to. “We’re here to visit the last member of my former band and… someone else. Still, let’s not bother others who might be visiting.” >You motion the group to follow you. “I’ll show the way.” >As you walk down the well-marked path, you enjoy the sensation of a cigarette on your lips. >It feels as dry as your lips do. >Soft taste of tobacco on your tongue. >Distant as the winter clouds up above. >Not long and snow would probably fall from the sky. >The grey would eventually swallow up the heavens above, but for now, the golden tint of the setting sun was holding on. >Even if it was fading fast. >Honestly, you were glad. Had the sky been the color of that burnt red that you hated, it would have made this even more difficult. “Here.” >You stop your musings and point a simple gravestone to the girls. >It has no name or other markings. Just the shape of a white cross. “This… this was perhaps the unluckiest guy out of us all. He was some random fan that hitched a ride with us on the night of the car crash. I didn’t know the guy, none of us did.” >You exhale some smoke and close your eyes. “To be honest, I don’t even remember him getting in the car, I was that out of it. But according to the police investigation that was what happened. After all, they found not five but six people in the wreckage. But since there was nothing to identify him by, this… this is the only thing he got.” >You click your tongue in annoyance. >At what happened, at the unfairness of it all. “A blank gravestone in a city he’s probably not even from.” >The girls say nothing. Perhaps they have no words to offer. >You’re ready to admit you wouldn’t know what to say in a situation like this. >Thus you use this chance and offer a silent prayer to the poor bastard who got caught up in the wrong car with the wrong driver. >After you’re finished you nod at the girls. “Alright. We have to head in a bit deeper to get to the other spot.” >Those words cause a visible shiver in some of the girls. >Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are holding hands. >Oddly enough it’s Limestone who looks like she wants to comfort you. >Starlight pulls her beanie deeper into her head, feeling the tired sorrow that permeates this cemetery. >You start down the path that you’ve only walked twice before. >Once after the accident, once just before the juvie. >Your steps are slow, deliberate. >In fact your whole body feels numb. >You no longer even taste the cigarette on your lips. >The smoke from it melts into the haze that fills your vision. >Returning here is… unreal. >Something you never thought you’d do. >But now that you’re here, you understand how important it was to make this one last trip. >This has made the journey worth it. >Your boots hit the soft soil. >Dead grass sways in the wind. >You hum the tune of Make it Rain under your breath but no one joins you. >It is a pathetic little tune in this empty vastness where only the headstones keep a wakeful watch. >Eventually you spot it. >The place you look for is in the back row near the limestone walls. >The area itself looks almost abandoned, as if nobody visits there anymore. >But as you get closer, you realize it’s only an illusion. >If nothing else, the spot you’re headed to has been meticulously taken care of. >Probably because the whole town loved the one who is buried there. >The closer you get, the colder you feel. >It’s like a pair of embracing arms that catch you from behind, trying to keep you up. >Few more steps, they say. >Don’t falter now, they say. >And they’re right. >As much as some cowardly part of your mind is still screaming for you to run like you always do… >... Another is like a man in a death row, walking to the gallows. >It’s an apt metaphor in a sense. >After all you came here to kill and bury the man who you were. >The man whom you hated. >Crystal Ship showed you everything that had been wrong in you. >Kozmic Blues showed you everything that you were able to change. >Purple Haze showed you everything that you had to give up. >And now, it’s time for the final nail in the coffin of a man known as Anonymous. >So you can walk the same path as your friends. >Your feet stop. >When did you get here? >You thought the path here was much longer. >But once again, you find yourself before this tombstone that has been haunting you for well over a year. >In the shade of an old tree. >Adorned by fresh flowers from some of her hundreds of friends. >One more drag from your cigarette. >This habit of yours that you’re unable to quit, the thing that should always calm you down. >It’s for naught now. >Your heart feels like it has stopped. >And your fingertips feel nothing. “Well… here we are.” >Your voice sounds rough and coarse, so unlike your own, to your ears. >You look back and let your eyes rest in the group of friends that has followed you so far. >You’ve shared things so personal with these girls who gave you a chance. >And they followed you to the very end. >Who could have imagined you’d find so much trust in a place which you thought you’d hate? >One-by-one you look each of these girls in the eyes. >Tree Hugger, who shows signs that this is not her first time in such a situation. >Limestone Pie, who is clenching her hands into tight fists. >Sunny Flare, who has cast her eyes towards the copper-colored sky. >Lemon Zest , who already looks like she’s about to cry. >Chrysalis, who has taken off her hat in respect of a mutual friend. >Diamond Tiara, who is looking for comfort in her friend. >Silver Spoon, who is offering said comfort to Tiara. >Babs Seed, who has turned her eyes away from the sight. >Suri Polomare, who has her fingers intertwined for a prayer. >Sour Sweet, who is biting her lip to fend off emotions. >Sugarcoat, who is burying herself in her jacket for warmth. >Indigo Zap, who tries her best to appear strong even now. >Lightning Dust, who has her hand halfway up in trying to reach for you. >Starlight Glimmer, who is holding hands with Trixie. >Trixie Lulamoon, who has dropped all of her showboating facade. >Gilda Griffon, who seems angry at herself for some reason. >Twilight Sparkle, who is clearly reliving an unpleasant memory. >And… >Sonata Dusk, who quietly whispers your name into the wind. >Aria Blaze, who hugs herself almost violently to keep her emotions in check. >Adagio Dazzle, who is boring a hole through your heart with her pitying stare. >A group of friends who has gathered around you in a half circle. >You, standing there in the middle of it. >And a single headstone that holds within it the last secret you kept from them. >You’re reminded of your mother’s funeral. >Your father and all of his motorcycle club gathered to send her off. >That was their show of respect for the woman they all loved. >And just like El Forastero was your father’s family… this is yours. >This is your brotherhood. >So it’s only fair that you finally introduce them to the one who once was the world to you. “Girls.” >You speak after what feels like an eternity. “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend.” >You walk over to the gravestone and kneel before it. >Now that you’re out of the way, they can all see what’s written on it. >A familiar piece from a poem. >’Days lost, I know not how, I shall retrieve them now.’ >And underneath it, two dates. >’June. 20. 1994. - Feb. 3. 2011.’ >And under that? >There lies a name. “Hey, Babe. Sorry I’ve been gone for so long.” >Name of the person whom you loved more than the life itself. >The heaviest sin, the heaviest burden, on your shoulders. >Yes, it’s that very name that causes a wave of shock ripple through the people behind you. >Adagio’s soft gasp is what informs you of this. “But… I’m back now. And guess what?” >You caress the rough stone surface of the headstone. >... It’s ironic. “I found some new friends. People I’d like you to meet.” >You ran away from Independence because of this. >But in Canterlot you found only what you could describe as an absurd nightmare. >Something to remind you of all the mistakes that you made. “Friends I’m sure you’d like.” >Something that made you withdraw from everything, afraid how the life might mock you more. >Yet at the same time, going to Canterlot allowed you to make sense of this absurdity. >Because you met the Dazzlings you were able to understand what was going on. >This brought you finally the peace you had been searching for. >And in turn, that peace led you back here. >To this very tombstone. >Tombstone with a name… >... Sunset Shimmer. >Sunset Shimmer. >To you there will only ever be one girl with that name. >One girl with blazing hair and eyes bright like the sun itself. >One girl to melt your heart with her smile. >One girl to make you feel like you’re on the cloud nine. >There are… no words to truly explain what it was between you. >’Love’ seems so overused, but that’s the only term even close. >Affection is not enough and passion is too primitive. >She was your everything. >To this day you’re not sure why she would even give a chance to a guy like you. >A troublemaker, a jerk, a pain in the ass if you asked anyone else. >You were too wrapped up in yourself to care too much about others. They were simply stepping stones on your path to greatness. >But Sunset, she… she forced herself into that selfish little world you had made for yourself. >You once asked her why she would give you a chance. >And what did she answer? >”Because everyone’s worth a chance.” >Just how good can one person be? >Oh, she wasn’t perfect. >Even if she sometimes felt like she was. >Even if you sometimes felt like you were but a violent, bullheaded north wind compared to her radiant sun. >Yet she always noticed when you were feeling like less of a person because her. >She’d hold your hand, cuddle up to you and whisper with that infectious smile of hers: >”Let them say what they want. You’re *my* north wind. Without you, who’d clear the clouds that darken my sky?” >She brought happiness to others, but you brought happiness to her. >To be so important to someone else… the mere thought humbled you and made your chest feel tight to the point of bursting. >And in time, you’d notice other things about her as well. >She had temper to match yours when she snapped, and she was oddly stubborn about odd little things. >She could sulk for days even if that made her only so much cuter. >She’d sometimes get frustrated when she couldn’t learn something as fast as she would have liked. >You remember one particular evening when you were teaching her to play guitar and she nearly threw the instrument to the ground. >Her reason for getting so annoyed? >”Because I want to be there on the stage, with you, as quickly as I can. I don’t want to be a burden to you.” >To her, other people were more important than herself. >Sometimes to the point where it scared you. >Indeed the only time she was selfish was, well… when it came to you. >Despite everyone in the town telling her to leave you alone, she didn’t. >She stuck to you like a glue and healed your pitiful, shriveled up heart. >That was exactly the thing that made you afraid. >She gave you so much love. >How could you ever repay her with how emotionally stunted you were at times? >How could an arrogant bastard like you ever be good enough for her? >But no. >She’s just giggle and repeat it. >”Don’t worry, I’m fine with that. After all, you’re my north wind.” >Then she’d kiss your worries away with those fiery lips of hers. >To others you were a headstrong, overconfident son of a biker with delusions of grandeur about becoming a rockstar. >With her you could open up and be at peace. >You could show those emotions you had so violently stomped to the ground. >Perhaps, if that tragic night had never come to pass, she would have made you a better man. >Not the Anonymous you are today but someone similar. >Sunset always got what she wanted in the end. >You have no doubts she could have changed you, little by little. >After all, it was a two-way street. >She picked up smoking thanks to you. >Something you’re eternally ashamed of. How could she, a daughter of a small town priest, develop such a dirty habit? >Because she wanted to be closer to you. >Eventually you two became something of an icon in your school and in your town. >The bad boy who was reformed by someone with infinite kindness. >A gentle soul soothing the furious one. >It was a storybook fable if anything. >A fairy tale that would have been ridiculous if it wasn’t reality. >You remember one chilly winter night when the two of you were cuddled up on the roof of your car. >A big blanket was wrapped around both of you and she had practically wormed her way into your lap. >”You’re weird, you know that, right?” >She says that out of the blue. “Huh? If anything, you’re the weird one, Sunny. I mean just look at who you’re dating.” >Your expression turns a bit sour and your words become a grumble. “Any boy in this bodunk town would give their right arm to date you and here you are, freezing your ass off because you decided to be with a wannabe-rambler.” >To your surprise she chuckles heartily before shooting you an incredulous stare. >”Excuse me? You’re the one who’s always singing about wanting to date cheerleaders or hillbilly gals. Yet, for some reason, you love a honor student from a religious family.” >There’s slightly evil grin on her face. >”My father just about had a heart attack when I brought you home for Christmas.” “Oh don’t remind me. I was sure he was gonna get the shotgun when he found us kissing behind the shed.” >Even though you laugh at that, you still feel a tinge of fear. >Mr. Shimmer did not approve of you, no sirree. >”But back to my point.” >She jabs her index finger at your chest, before sliding it gently up to your chin. >Your body shivers at the touch. >”You, mister, are a stereotypical bad boy. Why force yourself to act good just to be with me?” >The wind of mid-January whistles harshly, forcing you to burrow deeper into the blanket. >You also tighten your grip of Sunset, but not because you’re cold. >Honestly, your ears are burning. >You can’t really look her in the eye when you mutter your answer. “... Because you make me happy.” >Now it’s Sunny’s time to blush a little. >She leans her head against your chest, her hair tickling your chin. >This close she must hear your frantic heartbeat. >”And that’s why you’re weird. Because someone like *me* can make someone like *you* happy.” >The tone of her voice draws your eyes to her. >It sounds almost… wracked with disbelief. Like she’s afraid she’ll wake up from a dream any second now. >Sunset’s staring up at you, those cyan pools reflecting the stars. >”How can you be fine with someone so different?” >That question neatly pierces your heart. “Dumbass.” >You bury your face into her hair. “There ain’t no one else *but* you who could make me happy. You’re my sun, remember?” >Her fingers dig into your shoulders. >”And you’re my north wind.” >How long did you stay there, embracing each other? Minutes? Hours? >You can’t even remember it anymore. >You just remember that feeling of her in your arms, something you could never get back. >You remember her warm breath as she finally planted a kiss on your lips. >It was like exotic spices on the tip of your tongue. >And you answer, much more forceful. >Much more passionate. >Yet, as always, she quickly retaliated. >If it was a content of passion she’d never lose. >Her nimble fingers would run through your hair, catch a good grip and drag you down onto the roof of the car with her. >Her lithe body would squirm impatiently under you and her moist eyes would invite you. >In your company she’d let loose those emotions she’d usually bottle up. >”Anon?” “Yeah?” >There was the smallest bit of hesitation. >”... Are your parents home?” >You? You hesitated none. “Not tonight.” >Two opposites becoming one. That was what you were. >You don’t want to go back. >Not from these memories. >Not from when you were whole, when you were happy. >”... Anonymous?” >But… it is Adagio’s demanding voice that draws you away from those times. >The winter scenery fades away, revealing what truly lies before you. >A headstone. >You’re gripping it so hard that your fingertips are bleeding. >You can hear your teeth grinding together. >Hold it together. >For the love of God, Anonymous, hold it together. >Don’t let them see. >Don’t let them see. >Don’t show them just how weak you can be. >A sudden sound of flapping wings. >Shrill cry pierces the air. >A murder of crows takes to the air from the roof of a nearby mausoleum. >Your eyes instinctively snap onto them and you feel your breath caught in your throat. >No longer is the world full of warm color of copper. >No, the sky is dyed deep red. >The color of blood. >The color you hate so much. >Not because it reminds you of the fire of that night, or the stained ground. >No… it’s because it reminds you of her hair. >It drags up the dregs of a night you’d give anything to forget. >”Anonymous!” >Adagio’s shout is loud, but it is drowned by another vision. >Your eyes are lost in that rose madder sky and it fills your mind, blotting out whatever semblance of reality you had. >You blink… >... And you’re there again. >The raging, crackling fire. >The scream of pain from Crystal as he drags himself away from the burning wreckage. >The empty-eyed stare of Kozmic not far away from you. >The silent form of Haze who’s face down in the grass. >And you… unable to do anything. >You’re down on your knees, clothes torn and heavy cut in your forehead. >Everything you see is through a scarlet veil. >Your car… it’s burning. Like a bonfire. “Sunny…” >You have almost no air in your lungs but you speak that name. >She’s still in there. >She’s still inside that wreck of a car. >Forcing non-existent strength into your failing limbs you get up, stumbling over to the Buick. >It’s twisted into a shape that you barely recognize. >You violently grasp the door handle and pull. >It doesn’t move. >It’s like a nightmare where you try to run yet are unable to do so. >You curse and you shout but the door refuses to budge. “Sunny…! Sunny! Goddammit open up! SUNNY!” >Where did that strength come from? >You practically rip open the door and throw it behind you. >Wasting no time you crawl into the small space revealed to you. >Sweat mixes with blood and scorching flames lick your body but you couldn’t care less. >Who the hell cares about the pain? >It’s not important. >Even though the metal frame singes your skin you push on. >There. >On the passenger seat, eyes weakly fluttering open thanks to your hoarse screams, is Sunset Shimmer. >She smiles weakly when she sees your frantic face. >”Hey… Anon…” “Don’t worry, Sunny, I’ll get you out of there! Just… just hold still, okay!” >Sunset’s still strapped into the seat. >You refuse to let it stop you. >You don’t even know how you snapped that seat belt in half, you just did. >In blind panic you begin dragging your girlfriend out of the vehicle. >One agonizing inch after another, you pull and pull, spit and pray. >You were never really a believer, no matter if your father was a deeply religious man. >But that night you prayed harder than you ever had. >You just wanted to save her. >You wanted Sunset Shimmer to live. >Screw whatever happened to you. You were the cause of all this. >You were just some no-name kid with a guitar, there were millions of people like you out there. >But Sunset… she had such a future ahead of her. >She couldn’t die because of you. >For fuck’s sake, you’d give your own life in a heartbeat if it meant saving hers! >She deserved to live, not you! “Oh God… Oh God, this can’t be happening…!” >You fall down onto the ground, all of your energy spent. >You barely made it twenty feet from the car, but at least the fire’s not an immediate threat anymore. >You fumble your phone out of your pocket, only to see it’s cracked in half. “Crystal!” >You look at the panting form of the other boy collapsed not far away from you. “Crystal, call an ambulance!” >”W-what…?” “CALL A GODDAM AMBULANCE, CRYSTAL!” >He doesn’t hesitate a second time. Luckily, it looks like his phone is still working. >Thus you turn your attention to the small thing in your embrace. >Sunset’s shivering, her hands weakly grasping your jacket. “Hey, hey, Sunny… it’s… Oh God… it’s going to alright. Just stay with me…” >You were practically screaming inside your head for God, for anyone, to save her. >It was no longer anything like a prayer. >It was howling at the empty skies for a miracle. “Sunny? SUNNY!” >You shake her a bit, trying to keep her from slipping into a sleep that you know she’d never wake up from. >To your horror she coughs up blood and tries her best to smile again. >”Not… not so rough, Anon. I hear you.” >As you stare at the girl in your arms you realize just how extensive the damage is. >Right half of her face is badly burned, possibly to the point it can’t be fixed. >There’s a large piece of debris sticking out of her chest with a quickly growing stain of blood growing from its base. >Her right leg is twisted into an unrecognizable shape. >The pain must be unbearable. >So, just like Sunset Shimmer always does, she puts on a brave face and ignores her own suffering to ease that of others. >“D-Don’t worry. I’ll be alright, Anon.” “Oh Jesus… I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry, this, t-this is all… all my fault… Oh God Sunny…” >With a trembling hand she reaches out to touch your face. >The warmth of her skin is fading fast. >“Hush… Hush now, Anon. Don’t cry. You told me yourself, r-right? Boys… *cough*... boys don’t cry, right?” >You didn’t even know you were crying. >But the hot streaks streaming down your face told the truth. >A feel of guilt unlike any other crushes down on you as you watch color drain from Sunset’s face, slowly but surely. “Goddammit, Sunny. This is all… all my fault. If y-you had just stayed a-away from me, you wouldn’t be… this wouldn’t have…!” >Your words die out when Sunset slowly places a finger on your lips. >She tries to shake her head but lacks the strength to quite do so. >To see a girl usually so strong unable to even properly move her head… >You press her against you as tight as you can, hoping to give her some of your strength. >Or, perhaps… >Perhaps you’re thinking that if you grip her hard enough, she can’t slip away from you. >”Anon, don’t say that. Don’t you ever say that. If meeting you, if falling in love with you, if spending my days with you came with a price like this… I’m *cough* satisfied.” >For a moment she wipes away the veil of blood covering your eyes. >”You’ve given me enough happy m-memories to fill a lifetime. How could I not be… satisfied? I’d much rather that I loved and died than… than lived and never met you.” “How can you say that…? HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!?” >Your mind has gone numb. >The girl you’ve loved more than life itself is slowly dying in your arms and you can’t do anything. >You can’t even make her blame you. >Even if her death is your fault, you can’t make her resent you for it. “For once in your life, think about yourself! You don’t have to lie to not hurt me!” >”I’m not lying, Anon. You said I’m your sun, right?” >The hand that was caressing your face struggles to stay upright. >You catch a hold of it, intertwining your fingers with hers. >”A sun is gentle… but alone it will eventually go out of control. It b-burns so hot, so bright, that it scorches everything. It leaves nothing but a barren wasteland behind.” >Her feeble fingers do their best to answer your strength. >”That’s why a sun needs her north wind. It cools her down, it takes her feelings and makes sure they don’t burn others. That’s… that’s why I needed you. Because you made me whole. You could temper the flames in my heart.” >Eventually her hand loses all of its strength and falls to her lap. >”Because you’re my north wind.” >Your voice as you respond is nothing but a whimper. “... And you’re my sun.” >The fire roars far away. >Harsh shadows paint you and Sunset. >She lies nigh breathless in your embrace. >Time’s up. >You know it. She knows it. >”Anon?” ”... What?” >”Kiss me.” >You don’t even let her finish her sentence. >You don’t care about the taste of blood on her lips. It’s like you’re desperately trying to breathe more life into her. >That moment brands itself into your memory. Even if you go to hell, you’ll be sure to remember it. >That last embrace that you share. >You imprint her taste, her smell, her voice into your soul. >You will never forget. >This girl in your arms, this Sunset Shimmer, will stay with you forever. >Her heart… it’s beating erratic and slow now. >Her shivering has stopped. >The only sound in your ears anymore is her quiet sobbing. >Finally, Sunset cries. >”S-sorry. I lied, Anon.” >She whispers that with the last bit of air left in her lungs. “About what?” >Your own voice sounds so empty, so defeated. >You can only take in the tear-streaked face of Sunset Shimmer as she admits to her first, and final, lie to you. >”I… I don’t wanna die. I want to stay with you.” >Thus, life fades away from her cyan eyes. >And you’re utterly, definitely… >... Alone. >That night heavens did not hear you cry. >You screamed in sorrow, but nobody answered you. >A lifeless form of your girlfriend in your arms was a weight that you’d carry for the rest of your life. >The twisting torrent of memories, of images deep within your heart, takes a hold of you. >Sunset Shimmer. >You didn’t deserve her. >She deserved better than you. >Yet her last wish was to be with you longer. >How can one person love someone so much? >Your stunted excuses for emotions could never hold a candle to hers, yet for her it was enough. >Just because it was you. >And now you would never feel that love again. >You would never see her smile again. >A painful maelstrom of times gone by assaults your mind. >The two of you escaping the summer rain under a large oak tree. >Running on a beach, trying to catch each other. >Her bell-like laughter as she jumped you while you were napping on the sofa. >The tears of happiness on her face when you told her you wanted to move in together after high school. >Her soft breaths as she laid in your arms, moonlight through the window framing her naked body. >That hearty yawn she gave while you were carrying her home piggyback-style from the band practice. >The wild, competitive grin on her face when the two of you were playing games on her old console. >The way she giggled at your desperate attempts to cook a decent meal to impress her. >Fireworks on the Fourth of July painting her face in myriad colors as you leaned in for a kiss. >Christmas spent together while hiding from her overbearing father. >Listening to old records at Grimey’s Shop. >Fixing your Buick, just the two of you. >Walking home from school. >Spending time together. >Laughing. >Crying. >Loving. >Living. >Just the two of you. >Sunset Shimmer and Anonymous. >The Sun and her North Wind. >You blink. >Once more the scenery changes. >You realize you’ve collapsed in front of the gravestone. >The only thing holding you up is your grip of that cold surface. >There’s an odd sound coming from somewhere. >Oh. >It’s you. >You’re crying. >No quiet, reserved tears, no. It’s ugly. >You’re bawling your eyes out, howling because of those painful memories buried deep within you. >For a whole year you buried all that sorrow behind a sturdy wall and refused to let it out. >You guarded it with anger which only grew when you saw… the other her. >The cruel whim of fate which reminded you of what you lost. >But then you met them. >Before you knew it, those barriers started crumbling down. >Three pairs of hands steadily tore down that iron wall. >In time they were joined by numerous others, determined to let that buried-away pain see light of day again. >And now there’s nothing left to hold back the anguish. >Like a tidal wave it pours out and you’re unable to stop it. >You’ve never cried like this. >And you probably never will again. >Therefore you allow those same pairs of hands touch you. >Three people embrace you from behind. >Sonata holds your left hand. >Aria holds right. >And Adagio wraps her arms around you from behind. >You’re enveloped in warmth which feels almost foreign to you. >All the regret, all the bitterness, all the guilt… it just comes pouring out. >And they accept it. >”Don’t worry, Nonny.” >Sonata presses her forehead against yours. >”We’ve all done something we regret, Roadie..” >Aria grips your hand strongly. >”None of us blames you. Not one.” >Adagio’s fingers gently comb your hair. >Now they’ve seen it. You at your weakest. >And they’ve accepted it. >You know that you won’t be able to love anyone like you loved Sunset Shimmer. >But, Anonymous… it’s time you accepted something. >These three who filled that empty hole you called a heart? >You love them. >When you open your eyes, the crows are far away. >You gaze over the headstones, the graveyard and the wall, into the distant horizon. >Last light of the day, crimson as her hair. >It envelopes you. >But unlike before… it does not seep into your eyes and clot into your brain. >It no longer brings a taste of copper into your mouth. >As if malevolent spirits had been exorcised from you, you feel free. >Such heavy burden that you carried this whole time, it feels so light. >Three people are carrying it with you now. >No, not just three. >Numerous. >They all are there for you… in your time of need. >In a sense it makes you want to groan in frustration. >This is just the type of friendship that you mocked the Rainbooms about. >They support each other, weak hearts that are unable to stand up on their own. >You took pride in how you and the Dazzlings were pillars of your own, standing by your own strength. >But can you call this your own strength? >If you’re depending on so many others, doesn’t that mean you’re just as weak as those you mocked? >You want to deny it. >You really want to. >But… there’s no way you can. >You’ve come to rely on these girls during this trip, in more ways than one. >No. This time you’ll have to be honest with yourself. >You’ve relied on them for a long time now. >You’re weak. >That much is true. >You can’t even begin to imagine how someone as weak as you is supposed to act the part of a villain. >But with these people with you, it’ll turn out alright. >Now that you’re admitting it to yourself, you’re sure of that. >Grudgingly you’ll wear that weakness of yours, and make it your own. >That way it might just do some good in this world. >You were never able to save Sunset Shimmer but… maybe you’ll be able to save the Dazzlings. >You’d have to deceive so many people to pull it off, but if you did, it’d all be worth it. >”Nonny?” >You feel Sonata rub her cheek against your shoulder. “Yeah?” >”Are you alright now?” >You let out a weak chuckle and wipe your eyes. >Oh God your nose is runny. Better wipe that too. >It’s… easier said than done, considering Sonata’s wrapped around your arm. “Yeah. At least I think I am.” >Your gaze falls upon the headstone before you. “I needed that. I’ve visited here twice before, but I never really accepted what happened. I just tried not to think about it. Coming back now, I think I can finally admit it all to myself.” >”For real, Roadie.” >Aria laughs quietly and gently punches your ribs. >You turn to look at her and for a moment, surprise grabs your heart. >Oh crap. >You thought crying in front of your friends was bad. >But judging from the redness of Deep Purple’s eyes… you weren’t the only one. >”Just look at you, dork.” >She points at your face, and you stare at her finger dumbfounded. “Huh? What do you mean?” >”Your eyes, Roadie.” >You nearly couldn’t believe what you were seeing. >The expression on Aria’s face… it was a smile. Not a sarcastic one, not an ironic one. >A genuine, honest smile. >It practically screamed of relief, like she had a burden of her own that she carried which had been lifted. >”Your eyes no longer look dead. There’s actual life in them.” >And the curveballs just keep on coming. >Aria’s expression wavers as tears streak down her cheeks. She hides it by pressing herself against you. >You can feel her whole body rocked by joyful sobs. >”D-do you have… have any idea how w-worried…” >Her voice cracks and she punches you again. >This time it’s with actual force. >”You’re.. you’re the worst!” >There are no words to describe just how confused you are right now. >But, you try to go with the flow and wrap your arm around Aria. >She clings to you pretty hard. >It’s… it’s not a bad sensation. >”Just look at you, Anonymous. You made Aria cry.” >Adagio’s soft amusement makes you look up. >She smirks down at you and pats the top of your head. >”Looks like someone has an awkward car-ride back home waiting for them.” >You grimace. “You’re gonna be there too, Cheese Poof.” >”I know. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” “I’ll be sure to share the suffering with you, one way or another.” >”Such harsh words!” >There’s momentary staring contest between the two of you, until you both break into ridiculous grins. >It feels like falling into a routine. >Sonata, Aria, Adagio… they all had their own way of connecting with you. >An unique form of relationship. >The fact that it could feel so natural made your chest feel warm. >Or maybe it was Sonata wiping her own runny nose to your shirt. >One or the other. >”But, honestly?” >Adagio’s words draw your attention back to her. >Her hair seems almost aflame, washed with the colors of the twilight. >”Will you be okay?” “Yeah. It might not happen overnight but I think I took the first step just now.” >She nods, approvingly. >”Good. And if you ever need it, I’ll be there to kick your behind whenever you start to err on that path.” “Sounds perfect to me.” >Adagio manages to cock an eyebrow at that. >”Why Anonymous. Are you suggesting you enjoy being kicked by me?” “Oh shut it.” >You both laugh, or rather, cackle. >Just like a duo of third-rate villains. >And with that, your trip to back to Kansas, Independence, starts drawing to a close. >Somewhere far away, curtains begin to shut. >A play is about end, in a way. >It takes about ten more minutes for Sonata and Aria to release you. >When they do, the trio takes few respectful steps back. >You have a goodbye to say, after all. >For a moment you let your eyes linger at the group waiting for you. >All those faces, all those emotions flowing between you lot. >From Chrysalis giving you a quiet thumbs up to Sour Sweet drying her eyes with a handkerchief. >It’s an odd feeling to realize after this sobering trip down the memory lane that you have so many friends you can trust. >And so many who trust you, even after all that was revealed of your past. >So, with a smile of your own, you turn back to the headstone. “Well, that’s them, Sunny. They’re a pretty weird bunch, I know.” >You roll your eyes as you hear Trixie protest with a loud ‘Hey!’ before being silenced by Starlight. “But I think I’ll be alright with them. I think I could even learn a thing or two by hanging with them, who knows? So there’s no need to worry, Babe.” >You let your fingers caress the surface of the stone. >It feels warm, even in this cold winter. “I’ll be alright. They’ll be there to make sure of it. So… I think I’m finally ready to say goodbye.” >How weird. >Did something get lodged in your throat? >Speaking feels so hard. “Ready to let go and… and ready to move on.” >How ironic. >Just like Sunset lied to you on her final moments, you’re doing the same. >Just goes to show how much she changed you. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ll always love you and cherish our memories, but… I need to move on.” >You lean in closer, to whisper. >They don’t need to hear this. >It’s for Sunset’s ear only. >”Because they deserve it. All of them.” >You pull back and heave a long sigh. >You exhale the last bits of doubts inside you. >The last bits of sunlight highlight the graveyard around you. >”Don’t worry, Sunset!” >Sonata’s cheerful shout catches you off-guard, and you turn back to look at the group. >She grins at the headstone with that way only she can. >Without a single malicious bone in her body. >”We’ll keep Nonny safe!” >Aria snorts and smirks, folding her arms. >”Yeah. Roadie will be in good hands with us.” >Adagio looks at her siren sisters approvingly, before turning her eyes towards the gravestone as well. >”We’ll take over from here. You have nothing to worry about.” >A warm wind blows from somewhere. >You’re pretty sure dusk at winter shouldn’t feel this pleasant. >But you’re not complaining. >Still… it’s odd. >For some reason, you can hear music echoing from somewhere. >It starts out quiet and distant, yet it grows louder. >And before you know what is actually happening, Sonata claps her hands together. >Without hesitation she opens her mouth… [Embed: Shawn Mullins - Shimmer] >... And starts to sing. >”Sharing with us what he knows.” >Aria throws her hair back and continues. >”Shining eyes are big and blue.” >Adagio puts her hands on her sisters shoulders, and takes over the song. >”And all around him water flows.” >Her raspberry eyes are locked onto you, sincere glimmer in them. >”This world to him is new. This world to him is new…” >In perfect synchronization the three of them draw breath, preparing for the chorus. >In that moment, you realize something. >Their voices which used to be shrill and averse to singing are now ringing loud and clear like a bell. >As if something that held them back has been shattered. >”He’s born to shimmer, he’s born to shine!” >Their combined voices are enough to send shivers down your spine. >”He’s born to radiate!” >The way that they sing is almost as if they were weaving magic. >Golden strings that unite into a brilliant light. >”He’s born to live, he’s born to love!” >And because of that, they’re singing straight from the heart. >Their feelings bare. >”But we will teach him how to hate!” >You know that it can’t be just the singing lessons you’ve been giving them. >There’s something more at play here, yet at the same time… you can’t be arsed to care. >You’re too raptured by their clear melody. >It mesmerizes you strongly enough that you’ve opened your own mouth without even thinking. >The music mellows back into the next verse, which you start. “And this thing they call our time.” >All eyes are on you now, and you awkwardly scratch the back of your neck. “I heard a brilliant woman say.” >You turn to look upon the headstone, smile crowning your face. “She said: ‘You know it’s crazy how I want to try to capture mine.’” >Your own emotions and these lyrics intertwine. >Memories are bubbling to the surface. “I think I love this woman’s way.” >Such as Sunset Shimmer’s smile. “I think I love this woman’s…!” >Your left hand balls into a fist against your chest, as you right meekly reaches towards the headstone. “Way she shimmers, the way she shines!” >Just like them, you let your heart unfurl with this song. “The way she radiates!” >A twinkling sensation, like magic or some sort of energy, flows through you. >Before you those last rays of pleasant crimson start forming shapes. >Your eyes play tricks on you, creating a canvas of days gone by for you to see. “The way she lives, the way she loves!” >There, you see her painted with what you experienced together. >Painted with the time you treasure. “The way she never hates!” >Your eyes no longer know what to believe. >From within those swirling images, you see a golden figure reach out to you. >Gently, it grasps your extended hand. >You hesitate none, and pull her towards you. >What emerges from that shimmering mirage is a girl you know. Girl you cannot forget. >She may be a mere hallucination, but it feels just too real. >Like she is truly there, holding your hand. “Sometimes I think of all of this that surrounds me.” >You do not question this phantasm granted to you. >It may be in your mind, it may be real. >But just the fact that she’s there for one final time is enough for you. “I know it all as being mine!” >Slowly, softly, the mirage of Sunset Shimmer snakes her arms around your shoulders. >She rests her body against yours, forehead to your chest. “But she kisses me and she wraps herself around me!” >You can hear her tender giggle amidst the music. “And she gives me love, she gives me time~!” >As she lifts her cerulean eyes to look at you, you can see her form starting to fade. >Fondly, she rises to her tip-toes and you lean downwards. >The moment your lips touch, she is gone. >A zephyr of golden particles, like the last droplets of sunlight, whirl around you. >Beaming, you look towards the sky and raise your voice to a crescendo. “And I feel fine!” >You’re not lying. >This trip was supposed to bring closure to your friends… >... And yet, it ended up bringing closure to you as well. >Enough to make your heart feel full. “I feel fine!” >The lights, the argent swirls, the aurora-like mirages, they all fade away. >The sun dips under the horizon in a mere flash. >Just the glow remains. >Just like fireflies at the end of summer, the magic is gone. >But you don’t feel sad. >Despite everything, no, perhaps because of everything, you can only feel content. >And as the music exits the bridge, you turn to look back at your friends. >Awe and wonder are written all over their faces. >What did they see? You acting crazy? >Or perhaps they too saw the shimmer? “But time I cannot change.” >You realize each of them is holding something at the very same time Gilda throws you a can of beer. >You crack it open. “So here’s to looking back.” >You raise the can and offer your friends a grin. All of them return the gesture. “You know I drink a whole bottle of my pride and I toast to change.” >You can still feel the lingering, tepid heat of the sun against the back of your head. >It feels smooth as caressing fingers. >Above you the evening sky turns to deep shade of blue. >The first stars blink up there somewhere, much clearer than anywhere in Canterlot. >The stars you grew up under. “To keep these demons off my back, just get these demons off my back…” >Determinedly, you take a sip from the can. >The cool liquid flows down your throat. >It tastes cheap, yet just right. >It’s a simple thing, just like you at the end of they day. >The alcohol energizes you enough to bellow out the chorus once more. “‘Cause I want to shimmer, I want to shine! I want to radiate!” >The magic that was just here might be gone. >However, you can still feel it emanating from each and every one of you. “I want to live, I want to love!” >Combining into a field that carries your song near and far. “I want to try and learn how not to hate, try not to hate~!” >You can’t be the only one who feels it. >You can see the eyes of your friends shining with the light of the sun that’s already gone. >Together, they join to the last reprise. >A choir of misfits creating something beautiful. >Just like years ago. >”We’re born to shimmer, we’re born to shine! We’re born to radiate!” >From your oldest companion, Sonata, to the newest rekindled friendship, Chrysalis, they all sing. >No matter if from Canterlot High School, Crystal Prep High or from another world completely. >You all become one through this melody that the lot of you weave. >String upon string, one from each of you, brought together. >A single message reverberating through the empty cemetery. >”We’re born to live, we’re born to love!” >One that you all agree upon. >”We’re born to never hate~!” >And as the music starts fading away, you feel it once more. >That familiar touch. The slight fragrance of something spicy. >Though invisible, it lingers for but a moment more. >Yet that moment is all you need, her body heat making you feel safe and secure. >A small form presses her back against yours. >Two people who couldn’t be more different from each other. >You, gazing into your future. Towards the friends who changed you. >She, gazing into your past. Towards the friends who made you. >”He’s born to shimmer. He’s born to shine.” >You don’t know if anyone else can hear it. >If they can, none of their faces reveal it. >Except, perhaps, Adagio’s knowing smile. >”He’s born to radiate.” >A quiet voice that used to fill you with so much love. >No, it still does, only in a different kind of way. >Nostalgia that you hold close to your heart. >Just like the sight of the evening-veiled city of Independence. >”He’s born to live, he’s born to love.” >The phantom voice of Sunset Shimmer. >Your Sunset Shimmer. >”But you will teach him how to…” >With that, the end finally comes. >That voice fades away, leaving her last words unclear. >Did she believe in your new friends? >Did she not? >Or was all of this merely your hallucination? >You stare into your half-empty can and let your shoulders relax. >Your body shivers not out of sorrow, but out of determination. >Like branches of lightning slowly advancing upon your skin. >You lift your head, meeting the eyes of Adagio, Aria and Sonata. >Four people who couldn’t be more different. >Three girls whom you finally admit your feelings towards to. >Be it a love in the type of storge, or in the type of eros, it hardly matters. >What matters is that it shan’t lose to what you felt towards Sunset Shimmer. “Goodbye, Sunny.” >You finally say your farewells. >To the love of your life. >And to the town that raised you. >You open the door and immediately a cloud of cigarette smoke hits you in the face. >An array of nostalgic smells from faux-fur seats to the old wood follows after. >That old neon sign at the back of the bar is crackling on and off, barely hanging on. >After all these years it looks like The Brick has not changed one bit. >It was a small dive bar up U.S. 75, right on the border of Independence. >Hell, even the tagline of the place was: “Last Call on your way out of Independence.” >You can’t even remember how many nights you hung out here, either with your friends or with your father and his ‘friends.’ >The tacky longhorn skull staring down anyone willing to come in, the unwashed flag on the wall, the dusty bottles lining up the wall behind the counter… it had all remained unchanged. >Looks like memories were everywhere in this small town. >From inside, you can hear the sweet, forlorn melodies of John Lee Hooker being played. >Those slightly clumsy hands could only belong to one person. >You’ve heard Crystal Ship play an acoustic guitar before. >Looks like he hasn’t gotten any better. >Another thing time hasn’t changed. “Grab yourselves some seats. This shouldn’t take too long.” >You say that to the people coming after you. >A whole lot of girls whom most look like they’d have no business being in a place like this. >It’s ironic, though, that it’s not their appearance that causes a silent hush to fall over The Brick. >No, it’s you who causes that. >All the local patrons stare at you, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. >Guess the word has yet to get around. >Too bad you’d be long gone by the time it would. >The interior of The Brick is a simple one. A counter at the other end of the room, few tables here and there, lots of stools and a small stage for any aspiring musician. >Add a complete disregard to smoking laws or serving to minors, and you get a good picture what sort of place The Brick is. >The only point of interest is on the wall opposite of the entrance, near the doors to the restrooms. >There, a couple of band shirts and a single gold-coated record hang like trophies. >Well, that’s what they are. Trophies. >No matter what happened, Star Generation was the pride of Independence. >They wouldn’t let go of their fifteen minutes of fame. >One shirt in particular catches your attention. >It has a set list printed on the back of it. >A set list that also served as the track list of the first and only album made by Star Generation. >Starting with the fast-paced acoustic track ‘Bite the Hand’, followed by regret-filled ballad ‘Pyrrhic Change’, and so on. >Your eyes lock onto track number nine. >Yeah… that’s what you’re here for. One last thing before you hit the road and ride into the night. >As the girls head to the counter, you switch your attention to the stage. >Your shoulders feel tense, most likely thanks to all the stares upon you. >Only one guy, other than your friends, doesn’t give you the stinkeye. >That’s Crystal Ship who’s currently doing his best to mimic the soul-crushing loneliness of a blues musician. >You want to tell him he’s way too middle class for that, but you hold your tongue. >You’re not here to start another fight. >You flag him down and Crystal acknowledges you with a slight nod. >Looks like you’re up after this song. >Still… if you’re gonna pull this through, you’re gonna need some help. >Thus you turn back at the group of girls who followed you here. >Unsurprisingly, it’s Adagio, Sonata and Aria who are first at the counter. >Perhaps inspired by the song, they order one bourbon, one scotch and one beer. >Well… if they’re on that path, it might be best to pass them up for now. >Instead, you approach the group’s newest additions, Chrysalis and Babs. “Hey, Liz. Might I ask you two a favor?” >The phantom leader of local El Forastero takes a sip of her beer and cocks an eyebrow. >”Shoot.” “I remember hearing it in the passing, but you said something about Babs knowing how to play an accordion?” >The short redhead smiles from ear to ear and nods. >”Yeah. Been a’while since I played, but if ya want, I got ya covered. Just gimme a instrument an’ I’ll strike any melody ya want.” >Satisfied, you turn back to Chrysalis. “What about you? You still keeping up your old skills?” >Liz grins at you wickedly, her eyes twinkling in the darkness. >”Shu-wah. It’s not like I had much to do aftah you got put in the slamma.” >The Boston native taps her nose knowingly. >”So what’ll it be? Guitah? Drums? Wicked tin whistle?” “You’ll be up on the mandolin. At least, I think I saw out the back. Should be enough for one song.” >Chrysalis’ eyes widen in surprise. >She looks around, suddenly very conscious of the bad looks the locals are throwing your way. >”Wait, wait, wait. Aftah all this, you bettah not be planning to-” “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m planning to.” >You return Liz’s earlier expression right back at her, grin plastered on your face. “I mean, Crystal told me he was going to play tonight. I’m not gonna pass up this chance.” >Leaving the biker mumble something in her incomprehensible accent, you glance around the room. >Soon enough you spot Gilda, who’s about to down a shot of what you can only hope is whiskey. “Hey, Sugar Ray, put that down!” >The boxer nearly drops her shot glass and shoots you a confused expression. “You’re up on the drums tonight. I need you sober.” >The announcement comes so out of left field that Gilda’s left utterly speechless. >Lemon Zest doesn’t miss this chance and swipes the whiskey from her, downing it in one go. >Too bad greed cometh before the fall. >About two seconds later, you see Zest hurrying towards the toilets, holding her stomach. >Looks like it wasn’t whiskey after all. >One never knew what this place had in those bottles. “...” >Still, it’s not only Gilda who’s left restless after what you shouted. >The whole bar is now filled with an anxious murmur, mostly coming from the locals. >Some of it is disbelief, some of it is outrage. >Even the bartender looks like he’s considering throwing you out. >Hell, the only local who doesn’t seem furious is Crystal Ship. >He simply winds down his song, mutters a quiet ‘thank you’ in the microphone and wheels to the side of the stage. >From there he motions you. >Time to begin. >You nod towards Chrysalis, Babs and Gilda, before pointing your thumb towards the stage. >The girls give a nervous look to each other. >You can’t blame them. This isn’t exactly the best atmosphere to start a gig in. >And the rest of the group isn’t faring any better. >Judging by Adagio’s hand signals, she’s either directing you down to runway six, or wants to know what the hell’s going on. >Better act before she moves from chopping the air to chopping you. >Together with the trio you jog up to the stage. >A dead silence falls over The Brick. >Crystal Prep students and Twilight are glancing around worriedly, almost as if preparing for a bar fight. >CHS students, on the other hand, look at you all with a mixture of doubt and trepidation. >Some, like Trixie, probably can guess what’s coming. >Wait, scratch that. It’s not only Trixie. >Lemon Zest, who just emerged from the toilet, looks like a kid on Christmas Day. >A kid on the onset of alcohol poisoning. >But the way her eyes are shining with giddiness makes you think that, just maybe, this wasn’t a bad idea. >”Well, look what the cat dragged in.” >Crystal Ship comments dryly as you arrive on the stage. >”You have a song in mind, hotshot?” “How about we go with track number nine?” >Crystal arches an eyebrow at that. >”You mean from the album?” “Yeah.” >After a moment of silence, of hesitation, he nods. >”Alright, if you say so.” >As Crystal starts to get his bass guitar ready, you instruct the three girls on what song’s about to be played. >All but Chrysalis look surprised at the prospect. >They do know how to play it, though, and so the hasty preparations begin. >Instruments are plugged into amps, tuned and retuned, and the microphone is calibrated to your height. >While this is going on, the hostile murmur of the bar patrons grows louder and louder. >Now that you’re up on the stage they all can see your new, overblown jacket. >Especially the logo on the back. >It’s not enough that you’re here to remind them of what you’ve done, you’re also serving as a reminder of your father. >Chrysalis grimaces as she looks upon the crowd, fingers nervously twitching on the strings of her mandolin. >“If we get outta heah alive the next round’s on you.” >You chuckle and plug in the old, beaten up Les Paul. Just like all the other instruments, they were on the loan from The Brick. “I hear you. Consider it my payment for this gig.” >From the corner of your eye, you can see Babs giving you a thumbs up. >The accordion’s ready. And judging from the sounds, so are the drums. >You glance at Crystal, who tests each individual string on his bass guitar. >The then proceeds to tap onto the second microphone that’s been lowered to the height of his wheelchair. >You both wince at the feedback, and you can hear Crystal mutter some choice words for the sound technician. >Sound technician who is non-existent at this case, but what the hell. >It’s a time-honored tradition among musicians. >”Looks like we’re good to go.” >Crystal’s words are like keys turning to rev up your engine, and you turn your eyes towards the audience. >Half of it are your friends from Canterlot. >The other half are locals with a bone or two to pick with you. >... In all honesty, you couldn’t ask for a better crowd. >When was the last time you felt this exhilarated to play in front of a crowd? >A sense of excitement, dread, fear and unbound energy ready to burst… >... It’s almost like back when you first performed at Grimey’s old place. >In a sense, you could argue this is a new beginning. >You’ve finally shed away the demons of the past, the memories that have haunted you so far. >Even after you were released from juvie, they were always there. >Nagging. >Reminding you of your sins. >But now? Now… you feel almost free. >Not because you’ve abandoned it all, but because you’ve accepted it and moved on. >Liberated. >So… this is it, Anonymous. >Just like back then, all those years ago. >With same unbridled energy. >With same ferocious drive. >With same wild abandon. >It’s time to play, free like you never were before. “Ladies and gentlemen.” >Your rumblings words silence the bar. >The Brick goes completely quiet and all eyes are on you now. >Love you or hate you… you’re reminded why you were obsessed with basking in this attention. >But such juvenile pride falls off your back like water. “Feast your ears for tonight, and tonight only, it’s our one-last-time return gig.” >You fingers hunger for the strings of a guitar like those of a gunman at high noon hunger for a trigger. >A simple, rough, primal sound emanates from your instrument as you let your feelings loose. “And we…” >The bass joins you, along with pounding drums who build up the introduction. >Your guttural guitar riff rises to the heights and you feel a wild grin take over your face. >This is you. >Both the Anonymous from years ago, and the Anonymous of today. >The man born to be on this stage. “We are Star Generation!” >For a moment, just for two seconds, the stage grows quiet again. >You breathe in. You breathe out. >You click your fingers. >Thus, Chrysalis’ mandolin jolts alive with a vibrant, haunting melody from her home. >Accordion in the hands of Babs paints over it immaculately. [Embed: Dropkick Murphys - Johnny I hardly knew ya] >And so… you sing. “When on the road to sweet Indie.” >It’s an old, old song. “Hurroo. Hurroo.” >Something that Liz originally introduced to the lot of you. “When on the road to sweet Indie.” >Sunset had always loved it, however. “Hurroo. Hurroo.” >The forlorn tone of it, the sweet bitterness permeating it. “When on the road to sweet Indie, returning from the big city.” >But now, it gains a new meaning. “A whimper did this fair blondie…” >As you make the song’s words your own. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya.” >So does the whole band explode into a song, each instrument bellowing out their very own part. >E minor to G, B minor to G, before sliding into the latter half of the chorus. >It was deceptively simple, but when translated into modern instruments, it was powerful. >Oh so powerful. >Powerful enough to cause shocked faces all around the bar. >Sension the power that was building, the bartender hurries to flick the lights on to the stage. >You are suddenly bathed in red and green spotlight which lazily move back and forth. “Where are the eyes that looked so mild?” >Crystal and Chrysalis lean into their own mics, adding their voices to the symphony. >“Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Though blinded by the lights, you are able to see Sonata. >Silently, she mouths the words with you. “Where are the eyes that looked so mild?” >Next to her, Aria does the same. >As does Adagio. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Watching them, you feel a sparkling feeling rise up from your chest. >It’s like the sweetest of ales. “Where are the eyes that looked so mild when my poor heart you first beguiled?” >It’s that stunning feeling that you channel into your song. “Why did ya leave me in the wild?” >And bellow out with all your lungs. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >As you push onto the chorus once more, your lyrics and those of your makeshift band join together. >But they are not alone. >All around the bar, your friends, your comrades, no longer stay silent. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >They raise their voices and their glasses. >“Hurroo! Hurroo!” >The locals watch them in shock, but none of them cares. >This song is for no one in this building. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >It’s for one the one who is already long gone. >“Hurroo! Hurroo!” >The last tribute for the Sunset Shimmer you knew. >The last tribute to Star Generation, the band you built and destroyed with your own hands. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >This is why your voice is a mixture of anger and pride. “The enemy never slew ya!” >And deep sense of loss that flows from the strings of your guitar. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >As you fall back onto the basic melody, Gilda takes over. >Her frantic beat, like frenzied marching feet, builds up. >It’s a countdown to your take-off. >From this town, from this song. >Sweat upon her brow, she pounds those drums with all her might. >And as it ends you immediately rev up the next verse. “Where are the hands with which play?” >The breakneck speed of the song can no longer be held back. >“Hurroo! Hurroo!” >It’s like a freight train that is out-of-bounds, heading straight into the wilderness. “Where are the hands with which play?” >Your fingers scream for mercy, but you’re all out. >That same sparking, exploding power from your heart is filling your head. >“Hurroo! Hurroo!” >It’s like your head and your hair are on fire. >But even if you were to burn to ashes now, you wouldn’t care. “Where are the hands with which play, now too much does the guitar weigh!” >Perhaps that is why the streaks falling from your eyes feel boiling hot? “No longer can they even pray!” >They sign your skin, but only in your mind. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >As you ascend once again to the chorus, you see it is no longer just your friends who are slamming their glasses to the wooden tables. >No, here and there, everywhere and near, people in the bar join in. >From old to young, the patrons weave their voices together. >That simple, yet addictive, war cry. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >The Brick echoes with a song it had nearly forgotten. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >You feel like you’re melting under your jacket, but you push on. >All limits are forgotten now. >No, it’s as if they never existed. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >After all it’s as if you are born again. >A phoenix rising with the dawn. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Your right hand separates from the strings and punches the air to emphasize your words. >Dozens and dozens of fists from the audience rise with you. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >This is music; an universal language. >Something everyone can, no matter what has happened, understand. “The enemy never slew ya!” >Even someone hated can be understood with it. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >Chrysalis and Crystal warp the melody and bring it to the solo. >Your hand flies back to the strings and you strike the chords with all of that pent-up regret. >All of those emotions you want to let out, to move on from. >They are channeled by this beaten up guitar and released in waves. >Then… it happens. >As your vision blurs and your body moves only through muscle memory, your exhaustion catches up with you. >A red spotlight blinds you momentarily, shining straight into your eyes. >It is when you can see again that you understand. >You’re hallucinating. >Crystal Ship is standing. He looks as old as before, but he is standing. >His bass guitar circles around your guitar riff, pushing it ever upwards. >Behind you, Kozmic Blues slams the sticks against the drums in a primal fury. >Her face is full of determination, as if knowing this was her last moment. >Her last sound and fury. >On the other side, Purple Haze carries you all with his accordion. >There’s an exhilarated, almost manic, smile on his face. >As always, he is the carrying force, allowing all of you to set up the perfect fanfare. >And… right next to you. >Sunset Shimmer. >The one this song is dedicated to. >Her flaming hair swinging back and forth. >That pure happiness shining bright in her eyes as she creates magic with her melodies. >Her fingers fly up and down on her mandolin, it’s vibrating tone almost akin to chaotic energy of some sort. >Upon her she has a leather jacket. >Just like all of you. >One with the image of a snarling wolf, painted with the colors of Old Glory. >Yes… this is what could have been. >The future that was never meant to be. >Star Generation that will never come back. >But… you’re just fine with it. At long last, you got to play this one last song with your irreplaceable friends. >This truly is the last gig of you and your friends. >Which is why you do not even try to stop the tears when a green spotlight hits your eye, driving away this phantom pain. “Your eyes so blue, your hair so red!” >You jump back into the song, letting your words reverberate across the room. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >You can see something nearly burst from your head. “Your eyes so blue, your hair so red!” >Two points of white-hot metal. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Similar, scorching feeling runs down your long hair. “Your eyes so blue, your hair so red, those I lost on the day that I fled!” >In the heat of the moment, it feels far longer than it actually is. “Even lost the promise to be wed!” >This truly is a concert of mirages. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >This time when the chorus hits, there’s no denying it. >Everyone, from the bartender to the bouncer, is bellowing out the words as loud as they can. >It’s a shared trance between all of you. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >Raised pints, broken glasses, bloodied fists. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Those who love you and those who hate you forgetting their differences. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >You’re not the only one crying anymore. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Sonata can barely blubber out the words. >Meanwhile Aria is constantly wiping her eyes with her arm. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >And Adagio? “The enemy never slew ya!” >She’s staring at you as if haunted, clear streaks on her cheeks. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >The cymbal announces a sudden silence. >The stage and the audience are taken over by grave quiet. >It’s almost hallowed, but only for a moment. >Without missing a beat, your words and Liz’s mandolin break it. “I'm happy for to see ya home. Huroo. Huroo.” >Your voice cracks. “I'm happy for to see ya home. Huroo. Huroo.” >Gently you caress the side of your guitar as you draw a deep breath. >The lyrics you speak finally reflect the truth. >The accordion whispers a bitter refrain to accompany you. “I'm happy for to see ya home… though you are six feet below.” >And as the drums start again, you grab your guitar with enough force to break it. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >It’s an utter chaos. >Every single person in the bar is shouting, screaming out the words with you. >No longer does anyone care of who you are. >They know. >They know this is your apology. >An apology given in the only way you know how to. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >You guitar howls and your fingertips bleed. >That mysterious power growing within you finally releases, shining through your eyes. >For some reason, you’re sure that suddenly the stage is bathed in golden light. >It’s like a tidal wave of energy that sweeps over everything. >”Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Some jump to the tables. >Some sing through their tears. >Some search support from the person nearest to them. >The voices are hoarse both on the stage and in the audience. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >It sounds like Babs’ accordion is dying. This pace is too much for it. >You’re pretty sure you heard a string snap from the mandolin. >Yet this song powers through it all. >It’s a beautiful, utter cacophony that masquerades itself with your emotions. >And in the middle of it all, you see them. >The three sirens, hand-in-hand. >Singing, no, almost pleading you. >Almost cursing you. >With red lights shining brightly at their necks. “Hurroo! Hurroo!” >Their red light, and the golden light from before, mix and twist and fill the room. >In your feverish concentration it feels almost as if you were floating off the ground. “We had guns and drums and drums and guns!” >And then. >The words you were waiting for. >The truth you are now ready to admit. >The lyrics that differ from what everyone else sings out. >For you, they are simple. >Yet necessary. >The words that are... “It was I who slew ya!” >The truth. >Followed by another, equally sad, truth. “Sunny, I hardly knew ya!” >The song that nearly tore this bar down ends without a fanfare, the players collapsing to their knees, exhausted. >No. >There is one more thing you must do. >Sweat pouring from just about every inch of your skin, you stumble back to your feet. >It’s more akin to crawling, but you get yourself down from the stage. >Strange. >You should probably be hearing something. >At least it sounds like people are saying something to you, congratulating you. >Even your friends are doing it. >But as you look in their eyes, you can see something’s not right. >Trixie raises her hand, looking like she wants to help, but Starlight pulls her away. >Lemon Zest looks like she’s about to freak out, and not in a good way. >Limestone and Lightning Dust are arguing about something. >It… it’d help if you could hear something. >But all that’s in your ears is an overbearing tinnitus and the pulse of your own heart. >Shaking off any doubt in your mind, you sluggishly approach the back wall. >Your feet are like lead. >Perhaps this was a mistake. There’s no way you’re driving tonight. >But… but it had to be done. >Just like you have to do this. >You grab a roll of duct tape and a permanent marker from the nearby table and shamble to the place that’s awaiting you. >Where the golden record and the T-shirt lay, stabled to the brick wall. >When you get there, you tear a piece from the duct tape and slam it onto a specific spot on the T-shirt. >It’s to cover up a name that read there in a certain song. >You erase ‘Johnny’ from the songs. >To you, to Star Generation, that name no longer belongs to that song. >Instead you uncap your marker and draw there the new name. >The name that you want to remain instead. >Once you’re finished, you take a step back and admire your handiwork, blurry though your vision may be. >’Sunny, I hardly knew ya.” >From this moment forward, for you, this is the true nature of this song. >Slowly but surely even your hearing starts to return. >It starts as a small noise of static, growing steadily into its true nature. >You start to hear applause and cheering. >With a tired smile, you turn to look back at the scene. >It is a far cry from when you entered The Brick. >Instead of open hostility, you are now enveloped in warmth that you couldn’t think possible. >You collapse to a nearby chair. >For a moment, just for a moment, you need to rest. >Alas, such luxuries are denied of you. >Three shadows fall upon you. >You look up and are unsurprised to see the three sirens there, gazing down at you. >Adagio quietly wipes her eyes and offers you a smile. >”Anonymous. That was…” >She searches for a fancier word, but comes up with nothing. >”... It was beautiful.” >”Yeah. Didn’t think you had it in you, Roadie.” >Aria’s snark is strong, but you can see she’s feeling just as emotional. >”You really are the best, Nonny.” >Sonata’s not even bothering to hide the fact that she’s been crying. >But amidst all of this, you have an odd, nagging feeling. >Why do they seem so… scared? >”Still, I think we have a problem.” >Adagio’s words draw your attention once more. “... That being?” >You sound like a dead raven. >”Just… just take a look in the mirror. You’ll understand.” >Confused, you look to the direction where Adagio’s pointing. There stands an old, dirty mirror. >It reflects your tired, sweaty frame in perfect detail. >Yet… there’s something off about it. >For some reason your hair is long, longer than it should be. >It’s like an untamed lion’s mane stretching to the ground, tied up with a leather band in the middle. >And on your head… >... You have ears. >Not human ears. >Something more akin to animal ears. “... What?” >”It looks almost as if…” >Adagio seems to be, once again, searching for the right words. “What?” >”... As if you ‘ponied up’.” “What!?”