Over Equestria the shadows began to grow long and black, extending over the land while their source of light dipped further into the horizon. Many ponies would agree that there was no better time to view the sky than the transition stage. When the Sun moved aside for the Moon, and again when the Moon disappeared for her sister to rise again. The fading of light to dark and the arrival of the Mare in the Moon was often a beautiful sight. Every owner of a shadow that could would look on given the opportunity for at least a moment to enjoy its splendor, all except one this day. The shadow of the pony wearing a cowboy hat was all that moved of her on the Sweet Apple Acres Farm, its owner as still as the apple trees themselves. She'd been watching now for longer than she could recall, waiting eagerly for the arrival of the one she loved.
Lunch had come and gone earlier in the day and Annie Smith had put aside her concerns feeling Knick may have had to endure his treatment longer than expected. Perhaps he'd try to catch a quick nap once his condition was cured after so many sleepless nights. But noon gave way to the afternoon, and now the sun was dipping to give way to the evening and the night. With each inch the sun dropped Annie felt her heart do the same. Why hadn't he come? Why had she heard nothing of him still? Why would he still be there... with her?
She hadn't really spoken to her father since their argument, so confident in Knick's arrival that she felt it would clear up everything. But now without him Annie was feeling lost and confused, even betrayed. More than ever she needed him right now to be by her side. Her brow furrowed with obvious worry she couldn't hide, sighing and dipping her head downward.
"You should look up you know." Annie's eyes turned behind her as her mother Sky Dancer came from the house to greet her daughter. "If your looking at the ground you'll miss the sunset."
"Spose yer right..." Annie said but didn't really have it in her to look up anyway. She hadn't noticed the sun's movements at all other than the annoyance of dimming light as she tried to watch towards Ponyville. Her mother walked to her side and extended a wing to brush over her back and hug her daughter lightly.
"I'm sure there's a reason sweety." Annie only nodded but wasn't able to look up still. Regardless of the reason she'd felt her strength sapped away by the disappointment of the day. She wanted him to come over the hill in the sunset like her brave stallion. Yet it was still just a hill, no living shape upon it. "He wouldn't leave you waiting unless he couldn't come."
"Ah know Mama ah just... ah just wish Papa saw that too." She was sure her father's opinion of Knick wasn't holding well now that he'd failed to match her predictions. "Ah just want him tah not be so stubborn bout every little thing. Ah don't expect him tah fall in love with Knick, just accept 'em." Annie finally looked to her mother who had a smile as pretty as the sunset. There was an innocence to her mother that was soothing.
"Your father doesn't hate Knick, sweety. He just wants to be sure you two are grown up enough before you... well try to be grown ups." Her wing brushed along Annie's back and it always calmed her down quickly when she received the gentle touch. Annie let out a little sigh allowing herself to be soothed.
"Ah think ahm a bit more grown than Papa wants tah admit. Ahm not some lil filly no more Mama."
"I know sweety, but your father and I can't help but still see you as our little girl. No matter how grown up you become you'll still be our little girl to us." She gave Annie a nuzzle to comfort her a bit. "I know your growing up, but it's hard for parents to let go. You'll understand that one day I'm sure." Annie wondered about that. She didn't know if she was really motherly material. Oh sure she could keep the boys in line, handle the farm and the chores but she wasn't like her own mother. She didn't have the soft touch, or know just the right words, or had that ability to make the world okay again. How would Annie ever get those things? Was it even possible? "Try not to understand it too quickly though. Oh, and when you bring Knick over for dinner do stay out of the barn. I don't think I could cover for you two a second time without your father finding out." Annie's eyes widened and her mouth nearly dropped to the floor.
"Ahm ah... gonna pretend I didn't hear all a that and stay outta the barn." She pulled her hat down over her eyes and her mother giggled innocently.
"You really are like your father." She spread her wings and took to the air. "I'm going to go up in the clouds for a little bit before dinner has to be made. Go after him Annie, don't worry about anything else." Her mother took off into the sky to skip along the clouds cheerfully. Annie often wondered what it felt like to be able to fly. She imagined it must have been freeing to have wings. To travel where no others could go.
"Well, ah know where ah should be going at least." She adjusted her hat and trotted up the familiar path, heading into Ponyville.
"Knick, ya'll in there!?" Her hoof banged against the door for a third time, rather positive despite asking the question that he was not. His store looked exactly the same as he'd left it that morning when they went to Dreamer's. The lights were off, nothing was moved inside that she could see through the windows and the door was still locked tight. Annie knew that even if he'd come home and gone straight to bed he'd leave the door open for her. Ponyville was one of those villages you didn't have to really worry about keeping the door locked up at night.
Annie gave up finally and decided she should inspect elsewhere, but wasn't excited about it. The very fact that she wasn't excited about it annoyed her too. This morning she'd walked through town and her own farm with all the confidence in the world, now thanks to a few rumors and her coltfriend being late she had twinges of jealousy in her heart that she knew were silly but refused to leave. For the life of her she couldn't just make them go away on her own. "Well alright then. Head on over to Dreamer Dust's shop, pick that colt up if he's done, and bring 'em on home." She assured herself as she turned to head down the street. Once she was actually with her friends all these silly worries would be dispersed and she could go about her night again.
Speaking of going about the night, she hadn't seen a single pony on the streets since she got into town. The homes didn't look abandoned or anything strange like that but there was no one out. Usually at least the foals would be playing in the sunset till they were forced to come inside. Currently though she didn't see a soul about.
As she rounded the corner to Dreamer's store it became apparent why. Everypony was there.
At least it looked like everypony. There was a large crowd of ponies in front of Dreamer's building, all looking at it and murmuring amongst themselves. The sight filled Annie with quite a bit of confusion as she approached, not really sure what to make of the sudden gathering of the townsfolk all in one place that also happened to be her destination. She didn't have time to process the thoughts before her attention was drawn. "Hey, it's Annie." It was the same voice she always recognized saying those words, but it had none of the life it usually carried.
"Spring Shade?" She questioned walking up along the back of the crowd, approaching the green pony and his friend Wither Rose. "What's goin on round here? Why's everyone at Dreamer's?" The two ponies looked at one another as if they were exchanging words without speaking. Spring seemed at a loss so Wither picked up the slack for him.
"We don't really know to be honest." Wither explained looking over the crowd at the building. "Apparently something happened but no one knows what. We tried asking but Tough Odds is currently guarding the door and he's not talking or letting anyone close by. I heard Mayor Clarity and Doctor Calcium are in there but we don't know anything else." Annie was watching him speak, hearing his words but they weren't processing in her mind. Everything he spoke seemed like it was a foreign language but she could understand its implied meaning. Wither apparently could see the confusion in her eyes and dug up his courage to ask his friend the question they'd been wondering for a while now. "Annie? Annie, Knick is home right? He came to see you today at the farm?" Realization hit like a stone to the face and she was darting through the crowd to Dreamer's home before anyone could react. "Annie! Darn it!" Wither tried to chase after her but it was pretty useless for him to attempt to keep pace with her even without the crowd. "Spring, get moving!" The green earth pony tried to catch up to calm their panicked friend but despite his physical advantages there was no stopping Annie Smith.
Annie was pushing through the crowd and as she got to the front the citizens began to clear a way for her realizing who she was. Walking past the townsfolk Annie approached the large figure of the pony she'd made conversation with just yesterday morning. Now he was standing between her and her everything. Tough Odds made eye contact with her, seeming unsurprised to see Annie Smith pushing her way to him and a bit of sadness in his expression. She was breathing hard now and Wither and Shade were making their way to the front just as she was approaching slowly on hoof. "Tough, gonna need ya tah move aside fer me." Everyone quieted as they watched to see what the large stallion would do. Holding his body still he merely replied.
"I'm sorry Annie, I can't do that." Annie's breath was beginning to quicken but somehow she was speaking evenly.
"This isn't a request, now move aside!" She spoke in a commanding voice greater than any she'd had to use before, still the large white pony held his ground.
"Annie... you know I can't do that." Annie's breath began to pick up into a wheeze as she stomped a hoof on the ground in desperation.
"Tough ya get outta mah way right now ya hear me!? Knick is in that building and ah need to get to 'em!" The murmurs began to grow behind her but died down quickly as everypony was transfixed on what the two before them were doing. Tough looked down into his friend's eyes and sighed deeply... and stood his ground.
"Annie, Mayor Clarity asked me to watch this door so nopony would come in until he gave the word. I aim to do just that for him."
"Ah aint nopony!" She practically screamed it at him, demanding with all her will that he move but the large stallion kept his ground.
"I know... that's why I can't move." Her face went from an expression of rage to dread, Annie feeling the icy grip of fear squeezing around her heart. "I'm sorry." Her legs shook, her hind quarters dropping to the ground as she tried to grasp what was happening and why. She attempted to protest again but it just came out in gasping sobs, her eyes crying without realizing it. Her friends watching on just as helpless as herself. She'd never known such a horrible feeling of dread until this moment, inches away from the one thing in her life that made her heart beat and not knowing if he...
"Tough..." Annie slowly rose to her hooves again, sniffing slightly to hold back the tears. "Ah... Can ah ask... just one thing of yah?" She wiped a few of the tears away from her eyes as she looked up at her friend, who gazed back with sympathy for her.
"Certainly, if it's in my power. What?" What happened next no one could have predicted, not that it would have helped. In that moment Annie had launched herself forward faster than Spring Shade could have hoped to move, colliding with Tough Odds head first like a ram. The unexpected impact was enough to knock the large pony against the wall of the house and drop him to his knees, coughing from the tackle.
"Forgive me." She asked quietly, but her regret for her actions did not deter her will. Looking back at her friends and fellow townsfolk, all watching on in amazement, she spoke no words as she opened the door and entered the house. Closing it tightly behind herself.
When she entered the building the first thing she saw was Mayor Clarity, a heavy set azure coated earth pony with a straight blue mane he kept short and a monocle over one eye. He was looking down at something but she couldn't tell what as his head snapped up to see her when she entered. Beside him was the mustard colored earth pony with a deep yellow mane that was showing grey from its years. They Mayor bore the cutie mark of a monocle to accent his ability for clear sight and conscience. The doctor had three small marks of pills on his flank, indicating his skill in medicine. They were the two most important members of their community but at the moment they were little more than obstacles to Annie. Clarity was the first to approach, obviously looking to stop her. "Ms. Smith, I must ask you to vacate these premises immediately." He spoke with a proper accent, given with a commanding authority but it meant nothing to Annie now.
"Where is he?" She managed to ask but felt her body starting to move without thinking, heading over to the doctor to see where he was looking. The mayor moved before her and tried to use his size to block her progress.
"Ms. Smith this is a matter I'm afraid you cannot be present for. Please wait outside and I shall contact you when.."
"Where is he!?" She shoved the mayor aside with a surprising strength causing him to stumble. Annie took the opportunity and moved forward next to Doctor Calcium, but found the unexpected before her. It was Dreamer Dust, she was sitting on her rear and looking down at the floor, her eyes red as if she'd been crying for a long period of time now. She didn't look injured in any manner, other than the clearly depressed state she was in. The Doctor rose to his feet watching the mare cautiously after she'd just assaulted the elected official in the room. "Dreamer...?"
"Annie..." Dreamer didn't look up, she didn't even move from her sitting position, just looking at the floor. Annie could see the stains against her coat where tears had been falling previously. "Annie... oh Annie.. I'm sorry..." Dreamer's slender frame began to shake as her crying began anew but she couldn't raise her head to meet her friend. "Annie I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm SO SORRY!" Dreamer's words were lost in the sobs following, unable to be spoken any longer through her fit of crying. The light green earth pony just watched the unicorn's suffering, and with dread in her heart looked the direction she had been resisting to gaze in until she was sure.
Under Wither Rose's painting, on Dreamer Dust's couch, laid a white sheet covering the furniture, still as death itself. Her unicorn friend's sobbing faded away in her ears as she slowly approached the couch, not understanding what she saw (but knew already). Looking on in wonderment as to why it was here (but fully aware of what laid beneath). As she stood over the couch Annie rested herself next to it, looking at the white fabric as if looking into a void. She couldn't tell how much time passed sitting there, everyone was drowned out around her now but it felt like an eternity. When her mind could take it no longer she reached up and pulled back the sheet to see what laid beneath.
On the couch cushion where she'd left Knick laying that morning was her one true love. His eyes were closed as if he was sleeping so peacefully, finally, but there was no soft breath to accompany it. Annie reached out her hoof and nudged against his (so cold) neck with a gentle push. "Hon..." She asked him as sweetly as she could, to wake him gently. Still he did not move. "Knick... wake up hon." She prodded him further and despite the (heart-wrenching) way his body shifted as she pushed he still did not wake. Annie didn't feel her eyes crying tears as she laid a leg around his body, nuzzling her head against his neck the way she always did to wake him when she needed him. "Knick... sugar cube... it's time to get up." She spoke the words as cheerfully as she could, so he'd know everything was okay when he'd open his eyes. If he'd only just open them.
"Ms. Smith..." The mayor was slowly approaching her now, cautiously and with a kinder tone than before. "Annie... please listen... you need to..."
"GET AWAY!" She swung her leg out at him, causing him to jump back for fear of being knocked aside again. She returned to her lover's side, rubbing her head roughly against his neck now. "Sorry! Sorry Knick, ahm sorry just ah wanted to wake you gently. Yah just need to get up now, 'kay?" Her breath was picking up faster, her mind trying to force the logic on her that her heart would not accept. "Knick, please hon just open yer eyes now? Okay? Okay!? Knick, please! For me!? Please Knick!" She was shouting the words now but she didn't care anymore, clinging to him with all her strength. "Knick please!? PLEASE!? KNICK!? PLEEEEASE!?" She couldn't pretend any longer, sobbing openly into his orange coat and feeling the horrible truth take hold of her. "Please... don't leave me alone..."
When the two stallions finally pulled her away from her lover's corpse, she didn't have the strength to fight them any longer. She didn't have the strength anymore at all.
It had been days, a week maybe, but it felt like years. Summer could have turned to Winter and she would not have noticed. Shadows were moving slowly along her bedroom as she laid there, motionless and looking at the closet door across from her bed. She couldn't tell from the shadows what time it was but she knew it was passing, pointlessly. Everything was passing pointlessly now.
Her mother had been kind enough to bring her food, the bowl of soup sitting on her dresser, barely touched save for a few necessary sips to get her through her bout of pointless nothing. It was the only way to endure it. To acknowledge the world about her was to realize what the world was now and she didn't want to realize that. The longer she laid motionless like stone the longer she could pretend she was just that. No feelings, no love, no loss. To think of feelings was to hurt. To remember love was to suffer. To know her loss was to feel the depths of powerlessness take her over again and fall deep into a tearful slumber. It had been this way for days now and she was simply too weak to endure anymore. She was strong once...
"Annie." Her mother's voice called from the hallway, it was always her voice. Her father had practically been a ghost and she didn't even know if he was in the house at any point. Her brother had been a shadow, checking on his elder sister time to time but never intruding on her self-isolation. Her mother was the only voice that would approach her and despite its kindness she was still able to prevent herself from feeling anything. "Annie, you can't stay in here forever."
"Yes ah can." She corrected, keeping still save for her lips. "Ah can stay in here just fine." She swallowed a lump in her throat, feeling a bout of tears coming on and managing to keep them down. She was tired of crying... so tired.
"Maybe any other day... but not today." Her mother advised her and walked into the room, looking upon her grieving daughter. "Come now, we can't begin for him without you." Annie clenched her eyes closed in desperate pain. She didn't want to go out this day. She didn't want to go out any day ever again. But... for him.
"Okay." She admitted quietly, slowly rising on her side and being helped up with her mother's support. Her legs were stiff from being neglected for so long but they remembered their old strength quickly, carrying her capably. Nuzzling against her mother's side she sniffed to hold back any more tears that threatened to escape and walked out into the hallway of their home. Before they could head for the door Sky Dancer stopped her.
"Annie I've gotten you something for today. I think it's only appropriate." Stepping over to a table by Annie's bedroom door she pulled up a black veil, meant to hide the mare's face. Annie looked on with a dreadful sadness at the piece of clothing.
"Mama... ah... ah can't wear that. It's fer..."
"Widows?" Her mother finished for her, gently covering Annie's head and face with the black veil. "You think because you and Knick were not married you don't deserve it?" Annie averted her gaze from her mother, not wanting to answer. She loved him like a husband and more but tradition was a strong thing in this town. Her mother walked up beside her and stroked a wing along her back. "Never fear my precious daughter. No one will object... in fact we all feel it's the least we can do in respect for you two." Annie felt some tears finally break past her defenses and roll down her cheek, leaning into her mother.
"Thank you Mama." She leaned in return as the two mares exited their home and made their way over the familiar path to Ponyville. The path Annie had avoided at all costs to prevent the flood of feelings from returning, but it was different this time. Before heading into town they turned west, traveling past the village edge and up a hill into the field of flowers. As a foal Annie used to think this field was so beautiful. The patches of flowers that grew in all sorts of colors; yellows, pinks, violets and reds. All gathered in rectangular sections in rows along the field. It was such a pretty place that she never understood why the adults rarely visited it until she grew older. Today she knew better than most pony could imagine.
At the edge of the hill the townsfolk were gathered in Ponyville's Flower Field Cemetery. There was a section of earth, freshly disturbed and refilled at the end of the final row. The field's latest addition. The sight of it made her want to run back home and hide in her room but she had to be here. Not for the townsfolk watching or her mother or even herself, but for him. When everyone saw Annie and her mother approach they all gathered into rows at the side of the large hill opposite of the collection of flowers, Annie and her mother taking positions by her father and brother. Arrow looked to his sister hesitantly and she gave him a hug of reassurance to try and ease his concern. Her father simply looked on, not making eye contact. She didn't know what he was thinking anymore but his eyes looked tired as if he'd not slept well in a while. She feared that expression now on anypony.
The mayor walked past the rows of ponies after speaking to a few of them quickly and took position at the front of the crowd by the cemetery caretaker Garden Spade. The olive colored pony with the amber mane always mourned every addition to his field of flowers. He'd told Annie before that he loved caring for the field, ensuring the flowers proper growth every year and seeing it as a duty of respect to their fallen townsfolk. But every new plot of flowers he was charged with caring for was another great loss to their community. Despite enjoying his job the act of caring for a new plot of flowers carried a heavy toll on his heart.
"Citizens of Ponyville." The mayor called everyone to attention. "It is with deep sorrow that I address you today. For we have lost an irreplaceable member of our community. Knick Knack was not a citizen born of Ponyville but he was raised her all the same from foalhood. Having inherited his grandfather's store after he passed on, Knick showed us many a wonder that we had never experienced before." Annie listened on to the words prepared for her lost love, looking behind herself and over the citizens listening to the mayor's eulogy. The closest familiar face being Lolli Pop who looked as if she'd been crying fresh tears. "With his talent for finding the unique and valuable, he transformed several lives and provided all of us with a little something that we needed, wanted, or did not even know we desired until he presented it to us. The loss of such a talent and such an upstanding stallion will be felt for years to come." Annie spotted Wither Rose and Spring Shade somewhere in the back, and Tough Odds was visible above the crowd no matter where he would have stood. She wondered if he was angry at her... she never did apologize for assaulting him. "Most importantly, and the greatest loss, will be to those loved ones he leaves behind. These individuals Knick Knack touched deeply will be asked to remember him fondly, as I'm sure they have many beloved memories of him. His friends, his beloved, and those that considered him family when he did not have one of his own. Let us all keep him in our hearts, for we may never find such a unique and valuable soul again." It was then as the mayor was finishing that Annie noticed the pink mane and point of a unicorn horn, nearly hidden amongst the crowd of ponies.
"Why is she here?" Annie asked out loud but in a hushed voice, only Sky Dancer hearing. She'd spent so long holding back her sorrow that when her anger began to rise Annie was unprepared for it. How dare she be here!? How dare she show her face after what she had done!? Annie felt her legs about to move but was stopped by the gentle but authoritative touch of her mother's wing. Forgetting her rage momentarily she looked to her mother who was giving her a glance of caution.
"Everypony needs to say goodbye, Annie." She tried to reason but it didn't make Annie feel any better. It didn't make her any less angry to see the pony responsible for her lover's death right before her. At his own funeral! As if nothing had happened! Her legs were becoming restless and her mother hooked one of her hoofs around Annie's own to hold them together. "Annie... you're here for Knick. Don't forget that." Her body trembling she let out a heated breath and set her hoof down once more, holding still. For Knick she would do her duty and compose herself. For him she would do this... but she wouldn't forget what Dreamer Dust had done. She wouldn't forgive.
"We now ask that everypony offer a prayer to our departed." Mayor Clarity was now addressing the crowd directly instead of reading from his prepared and memorized speech. "We will give each of you a seed to cast along with your prayer for his safe travels. May Celestia protect our dearly departed on his journey." Garden Spade walked along the rows handing a bag to each for them to pass down, taking one seed for each citizen. Annie waited patiently, not really thinking of the seed or even what words she would use for her prayer despite being the one that mattered most. Her mind was still fixated on the pony that was here that should not be. When it was her turn to pull from the pouch she took a seed in hoof and looked it over.
"This aint a daisy seed." Annie stated with a confused but tired voice. "Ah don't recognize this."
"It's called a star drop." Sky Dancer answered her. "It's a blue flower that only blooms at night." Annie gazed at it perplexed.
"But... these flowers aint grown round Ponyville. Where did they come from?" She looked at her mother who allowed herself a warm smile at Annie's surprise.
"Your father discovered them when preparing the funeral. He thought that considering the kind of pony Knick was he deserved something more unique from the rest of the field. The star drop flowers are not grown naturally in this part of Equestria but you can find them in the forests past Canterlot." Annie's eyes widened under the veil.
"How did he... get these fer him?" She looked at the tiny seed as if it were a precious jewel, amazed that something so rare was in her hoof.
"It was your brother." Sky Dancer motioned to the young pegasus colt who was standing properly at attention to await his turn to plant his seed. Already the other townsfolk of Ponyville were walking up to the plot one by one and dropping their seed onto the soft earth, each with a prayer for their departed fellow citizen to travel safely to his rest. "Arrow found out that your father wanted to get these seeds. He volunteered to fly to the nearest village that sold them so we would have enough." It was an amazing feet for a young pegasus that had only begun flying comfortably last year. He must have exerted himself terribly to make the trip and come back in such a short time. Annie winced feeling the tears threatening again.
"Y'all... y'all done so much fer 'em. Y'all done so much and ah just laid there doing nothin at all." She felt ashamed at how hard her family had worked for this day when she had selfishly locked herself in her room, away from the world. Her mother nuzzled her face to comfort her.
"Shush now. None of that. You've done what anypony would have expected of you, and nopony would have asked more." It didn't make her feel much better to know she was a useless lump during this time. She didn't want to be useless but... she just missed him so much. "Just be ready for when he needs you Annie." Her mother kissed her cheek as the family watched the parade of citizens walk to the plot and cast in their seed. Annie couldn't hear any of them speak their prayers but she was grateful for the gesture from each pony. As each seed fell each pony would then travel out of the field down the hill and back home, their gesture completed to make room for the family. Her friends approached individually as well, nodding to her when they'd pass and making their way to the village. She was grateful she didn't have to speak, she wasn't sure if she would be able to at that moment. Then came Dreamer's turn.
It took every ounce of will for Annie to hold herself in place, reminding herself that she needed to stay civil for Knick's sake. When Dreamer dropped her seed and said her prayer she didn't look at the Smith family, keeping her head down and her eyes cast away. Annie felt it was the most appropriate thing she could have done, if nothing else. Then they were the only ones left.
Her father approached first, followed by her brother and then her mother to cast their seed and their goodbyes. They moved to the side to wait for their daughter, the last to give her farewell. The most important. She gulped as she stood over the earth where her lover now rested and slowly let the seed slide off of her hoof onto the ground. She gathered herself together, trying to think of the words but they didn't come. She wrestled with her heart to try and say what was needed, what a wife would say in this moment but she was failing desperately. So as she had in the past for any of her friends, she just forced herself through her difficulties.
"Knick... Knick Knack... Ah love you. Ah've always loved you, and ah count myself a special mare that ya chose me to give that love in return. The whole village, they showed ah lot of respect for ya. Ah always told mah Papa you were popular. Ah think if yah... I think if ya had... made it that day. Ah think everything would have turned out alright fer us." She managed not to stutter, not to cry. This was too important to blubber through. "Well it seems now that everyone counts me as yer wife. Ah dunno what yah would of thought of that but I reckon yah might be a bit embarrassed. Yah never were good with a lot of attention." She leaned her head down lower to the ground, letting out a sigh to control her voice. "Yah go on to whatever's waitin fer yah okay? Yah always worried bout me and how things were gonna go but none of that anymore yah hear? Yah gotta get tah the other side, cause if yah don't and yah been hangin round down here this whole time I'll buck yah myself when I come fer yah." She raised her head, opening her mouth to say the words good bye but unable to utter them out loud, just the movements with her lips. Walking slowly back to her family she leaned against her mother and father and finally sobbed openly into their embrace.
Celestia's sun had long set and the Mare in the Moon had risen to look upon the field of flowers where Annie now sat. Garden Spade had carefully taken the dropped seeds and buried each of them in the dirt so that they'd take root easily. Obviously the flowers would not bloom tonight after being immediately planted. Still she sat there and imagined what they may look like. She thought Knick would have liked them. He always did like the moon and the night stars.
The thumping of hooves against the earth signaled what she knew would approach soon, looking over her shoulder to see her father Black Smith who blended in a bit too well with the dark considering his black coat. Gently but heavily he walked beside his daughter, taking a seat as well and still towering over her in his size. The duo sat there for a time in the moon light before he spoke. "Annie, yer Ma and ah would like ya to join us fer dinner tonight."
"Thank ya Papa, but ahm fine here." She replied solemnly keeping her eyes cast down.
"Yah can't stay out here all night by yer lonesome."
"Ahm not. After Knick leaves ah still got her watchin me." She looked up to the moon where the outline of a pony shadowed its surface. "We'll be alright." Her father sighed and brushed against her.
"Ah don't think we'll be fine without yah with us at home tonight though." Annie choked slightly and suddenly clung to her father, hugging him tightly and having the embrace gently returned from the large stallion.
"Papa, what am ah gonna do!? What am ah gonna do now that he's gone!?" Her legs clutched him desperately tight, her anguish so apparent to her father. "Papa he's gone and... and she's still here! She's still here and she took him away from me!" If not for her despair over her loss she was sure she'd be consumed with anger for the one that had taken him. But even with that rage she felt so weak, so helpless. She was strong once...
"Yer gonna carry on. Because that's the kinda daughter ah have, and that's the kinda mare that he loved. Yeh'll carry on and ye'll keep him in yer heart. We all will have tah learn tah be strong without 'em."
"Ah can't... ah can't... ah just can't! Not with her just... just runnin round like it's all okay! Nothing was done! Nothing was done about her! Everyone came and showed their love and their concern but she... she's just free to go!? Ah can't stand it!" She let go of her father, stomping her hooves against the ground in frustration. "Ah can't forgive 'er! She stole mah heart and soul from me... she stole mah everything."
"Annie, don't blame her..."
"Don't you do it Papa!" Annie shouted up at him in her frustration. "Don't yah dare defend her! Not after what's been done! Not while she's tah blame! She should just go back where she came from!" Her mind was a haze of red and black, which reminded her of the painting Wither had made for Dreamer Dust she saw that day, and filled her with more anger. "Ah'll make her go back!"
"Annie, stop it." Her father took on a slightly more stern voice but Annie didn't listen.
"Ah'll send her back mah self! Ah wont rest until she pays for it!"
"Annie stop it!" Her father suddenly bellowed loudly at her, catching her attention despite the anger she was pouring out of her heart. "Annie she's not tah blame... Ah am." He looked her daughter in the eye and despite the darkness she could see he meant what he said and it frightened her.
"Papa... Papa don't be confusin me just tah..."
"Ahm to blame. It's all mah fault we lost him. Ah should have paid more attention to yah both but... ah was a stupid, stubborn, worthless old pony." Black Smith hung his head down and Annie just stared in confusion and pain. She couldn't understand what he meant, couldn't even begin to comprehend. Her father laid on the grass before the flowers and motioned for her to sit next to him. Despite herself she complied, trying to absorb all of the madness that had become her life. "It was during that first night at supper. When we all were sittin round the table and yah mentioned his nightmares, ah should have acted then." Annie wanted to ask what that meant but he raised a hoof so she wouldn't interrupt. "Ah should have acted then, because ah knew from the beginnin what was ailing that pony. But mah pride stood before me, rather believing him being weak and unable to handle ah few nightmares than to see the truth." He gulped a bit and looked into nothing as he was contemplating what to say. "This isn't the first time this has happened tah somepony in our village."
"What...?" Annie looked on horrified at the revelations being unfolded before her.
"Years ago, ah was sworn to uphold the history and the traditions of this village. We all decided that fer the good of our youngins we'd look after 'em and not tax 'em with the task of cleaning up our past mistakes. Of the things done by pony who were long forgotten before we even had a field of flowers." He looked down the colorful hill at the rows of past loved ones and memories. "Of the ones that swore tah it that are still among us were mahself, the Doc, and ol' Clarity. We were tah look for any signs of those past mistakes rearing their heads again, and help push 'em away before it could hurt anypony." Annie's hooves were digging into the earth before her, feeling a new kind of dread fill her in this moment. Something that felt bigger than her own previous fears. Something she couldn't really understand.
"Papa... what are yah talkin bout. What is this "mistake" that ya'll keep referrin to?" Her father sighed out loud, bracing himself to reveal to his daughter that which he wanted to never speak to anypony.
"Annie, yah know how old Ponyville is?" Annie thought it over, she'd never really considered the age of the village as a whole but knew it went pretty far back. History wasn't one of her best subjects.
"Ah reckon ah don't really know..." she admitted not understanding the significance of the question.
"Old... older than Celestia's rule itself. Older than the gods before her."
"Papa... there's no gods older than..."
"Annie, ah can't lie to yah no more bout it. Heck, for all mah talk about virtues of hard work and respect and family maybe... maybe ah should have found a place fer honesty in there somewhere too." He cast his eyes to her then away again, not being able to keep her gaze for long. "There are things before Celestia's time. There are things we can't remember no more. Ponies aint like dragons or other long lived creatures, we don't hold on tah history like they do. We don't got the time tah remember like they do. But these things are real... and there's some tied to this very village that's survived longer than anypony can remember." He was speaking of things that Annie had never heard him take seriously before; magical beings and spirits and what sounded like curses. He always dismissed these things through her foalhood, calling it foolishness and expecting his children to pay attention to the real world around them. But not anymore. "They stay here and fer whatever reason they latch on tah us when they find the chance."
"Papa... are yah saying somethin... somethin killed mah Knick?" Even when she blamed Dreamer she never thought the mare had outright murdered her lover, but she did hold her responsible for the act. Now to think that something unspeakable had come for him... "Are yah saying somethin took him?" Her father managed to raise his head to look at his daughter, but his eyes offered little comfort.
"Ahm sayin we know when the nightmares come it's chosen somepony." He was speaking in a controlled manner now, as if he wasn't trying to let too much go. "We know when the signs show that it's back. That we need tah act tah silence it before it can do whatever it does. So that we can save our own." Annie slowly stood on her feet, backing away from him. Her breathing was rising quicker as once more logic was forcing it's way against her heart.
"Yah... yah all knew about this? Yah all knew and yah did nothing!? Yah did nothing and now he's gone!" She screamed not at her father but at what felt like heaven and earth itself. "Yah'll knew... yah'll knew and yah let it be..." Something had taken her lover away. Annie Smith had been powerless to stop it. Dreamer Dust had been powerless to stop it. Her father Black Smith had been unable to prevent it. She didn't have the strength to protect the one pony in her life that mattered the most. She didn't have the strength... she was strong once. "Why!? Why didn't yah stop it!? Why didn't yah stop it before it could get tah him!? Why didn't anypony say anything!?" He had laid on the grass taking her screams of agony, she deserved to let out her frustrations on the one who was responsible and Black Smith would count himself the first in that regard. But now he knew that the truth had to be passed on. Rising up he approached his daughter.
"We can't speak of it." He said simply. "We can't share it, we can't let everypony know of it. Even if anypony could remember its name we can't say it. Those that it's touched that have survived wont say what it was that's touched them. This is the burden as the one's responsible that we must bear. We don't know what it is, but we can't allow it tah spread. So we remain silent in hopes we can let it die out fergotten." The knowledge did little to console Annie's heart, still trying to wrap her head around the fact that some invisible... thing was out there. Out there and had come for her Knick.
"Why don't yah tell Celestia? Why don't yah stop this?" She asked weakly but her father only shook his head.
"We can't risk it. Whatever it is we can't risk it risin up cause ah somepony disturbin it. That's why it's up tah us tah stop it until there's no more reason tah remember it. We have tah let it die out, an try tah protect the ones that are still with us." He averted his gaze. "But... ah failed yah. Ah failed yah as a father and ah failed Knick as a pony. Ah wasn't there fer 'em when he needed mah help. Ah wasn't there fer yah to protect yah both from this. So... if yah gotta blame some pony... blame me." He lowered his head to await his daughter's judgement of himself. Annie stood on in shock, trying to wrap her head around all of this. That this could exist, that this was the world she lived in where unseen magical forces could reside in the corners of ponies hearts without name or form. That she would have to learn to endure this world cruel enough to steal away the kindest soul she ever knew. That she was strong once... and she'd have to be again.
"Ah love yah Papa." She walked foward and hugged around his neck firmly "Ah love yah... and ah forgive yah. There was nothin either of us coulda done." Her father let out a tense breath and she almost thought she heard him cry a little, but if it was so he didn't allow her to see it. She would be strong again like him, and her father would continue to be strong till his last day. Such was the burden they both now carried.
"Ah love yah too Annie." She released her embrace and nuzzled him. "Keep 'em in yer heart, yah hear? Keep him held tight in yer heart and when we see 'em again we'll meet his folks too. Then we'll all be ah family together." She nodded to her father in thanks to him. Perhaps now somehow she could find the closure she needed so desperately and try to continue to be the mare Knick Knack loved so much. She could become strong once more for all of them.
"Papa, can ah stay out here just a tad longer?" Black Smith nodded and they sat together once more as daughter and father. Watching the moon as The Mare watched them back. They sat together in love and sorrow in the field of flowers, overlooking Ponyville on the silent hill.