A great supernatural threat has forced Celestia and Luna to leave Equestria behind. Now Celestia wanders the universe, encountering its many strange creatures, doing good where she can, and searching for her sister. (This story is a sequel to "Celestia and the Great Old One", but can easily be read on its own.)
It had been some time since Celestia had been exiled from her own world. She had not found Luna, but nor had she run afoul of the being that had threatened her. "Could be worse." she told herself. She was no longer the princess of anything, and had left her royal crown, necklace, and shoes, along with the throne, in the hooves of her faithful student. She had allowed her mane and tail to fade to a uniform dull pink, and to hang like an ordinary pony's hair. She wore a brown cloak, to hold supplies and make her marginally less conspicuous. But her eternally youthful skin failed to hide the weight of millennia in her expression, and she remained very large for a pony.
She felt particularly large right now, in a world she'd never so much as heard of before, where mouse-sized cephalopods scurried about her. Each of the creatures had three or four tentacles, two big round eyes, and a horn at the top of its head, which was telekinetic like a unicorn's. The squid spoke very rapidly, but intelligibly. They politely avoided staring at the gigantic stranger as they went about their business, slithering in and out of buildings that were cunningly carved out of single pieces of wood.
There was just one building with an entrance large enough that Celestia, lying on her belly, could squeeze in her head and front hooves. Experimentally, she did so, and found herself not in a hangar or an important government building, but a tavern. Lots of the horned squid were here, sipping beverages from thimbles or playing billiards with specks of dust. There were also some larger creatures: a ferret hunched up against the bar, carefully drinking from one of the tiny cups, and a dozing beagle that was held to the wall with dozens of threadlike steel chains.
"Nice to see another offworlder." said the ferret to Celestia. "What brings you here?"
"It is good to meet you." said Celestia. "I'm looking for my sister. Have you seen a pony with dark blue fur?"
"Only when I'm really drunk." said the ferret with an immoderate chuckle. "Blue's a strange color for a pony—then again, you seem to have a pink mane."
Celestia smiled. "I come from Equestria. It's a colorful land."
"What can I get you, fair madam foreign visitor, ma'am?" asked the bartender, another fast-talking horned squid. "Of course you can't expect to feel tipsy or inebriated from the amounts of drink we can serve you here, but perhaps you'd like a taste."
Celestia paid a sliver of gold for a droplet of wine, which was pleasant enough. She was immune to alcohol, anyway. "Why is the dog chained up?" she asked the bartender.
"It's not intelligent, graybeard. It's good to have around for our larger and more ambitious construction projects, but we couldn't have it jumping around and destroying things."
"Did you just call me 'graybeard'?" said Celestia, amused. "How old would you guess I am?"
"A year or two, ten years." said the bartender.
Celestia snorted. "I am two thousand, one hundred and forty years old. If you called me 'graybeard' and thought I might be a decade old at—"
"We're all graybeards to them." said the ferret. "They don't live two days."
Wide-eyed, Celestia said to the bartender "So you're…"
"Twenty hours and eighteen minutes old." said the squid, glancing at the clock. "I'm near the end. It's been a good day. There've been lots of interesting folk to talk to today."
"How strange." said Celestia. "And yet you all have a full command of language, social skills, and controlled magic. You must learn very quickly."
"We don't have time to spare 'learning' from elders and books and practice like you offworlders do—we pass it all to our children direct."
"I see." said Celestia.
Celestia mulled over this, looking around the room. Two squid who had been playing billiards seemed to be in an argument over the rules. Soon they were shrieking at each other, and one, with a cry, impaled the other with her cue. The victim's eyes shut and she slumped to the floor. Horrified, Celestia glanced at the other patrons of the bar and saw that while they drew away from the confrontation, they made no move to intervene; in fact, they showed little interest at all.
"Is she not hurt?" said Celestia.
"Oh, I think she's dead." said the bartender carelessly.
Celestia didn't waste any more time. She pulled herself out of the tavern, stood up, and telekinetically brought the tiny squid up to eye level to inspect her. She was indeed grievously injured. Celestia began casting spells to halt the bleeding of the creature's transparent bodily fluid, if only to buy her time while trying to decide how to effectively treat such an alien creature with such a serious wound.
"Stupid graybeard." said the squid in a slurred voice. "Let me die in peace. I can't stand the pain."
Celestia took a deep breath. She desperately wanted to save the fragile creature, but realistically, she knew that between her own ignorance of the species and the extent of the injury, her patient's odds were slim. Celestia had no anesthetic, and the squid had been asked to be left alone. Beginning to weep, Celestia gently placed the squid back on the ground. She watched the squid closely. Soon, the squid was dead.
Celestia watched wordlessly as a few squid assembled around the corpse. Some of them began digging a hole right there in the dirt outside the tavern. Another picked up the body and shook it. Two eggs, which were quite large compared to the squid's own body, rolled out. The eggs were brought away into a building that was too small for Celestia to see into, and the body was buried in the freshly dug grave. Then, without so much as a prayer or a grave marker, the squid resumed whatever they'd been doing a few minutes ago.
Celestia sobbed. Then, with little warning, rage boiled and exploded inside her. "How can you be so depraved?" she bellowed at the village of tiny squid. "One of your own was just murdered. Here is the killer." she said, grabbing the other squid and holding her at eye level, high above the village. "She killed this creature, over a game. None of you stopped her. None of you tried to help the victim. You barely so much as noticed! Do you think that because your own lives are so short, that they mean nothing? Are you a people, or a hive of talking beasts?"
The multitudes of squid stared at her. They looked frightened and angry, but not particularly guilty or ashamed. The murderer, using her own horn, feebly struggled against Celestia's magical grasp.
"You don't know anything, ancient one!" a squid shouted up at her. His tone suggested that while "graybeard" might be an affectionate term of abuse for a long-lived offworlder, "ancient one" was an epithet born of deep contempt. "We welcomed you to our country, but we didn't welcome you to meddle in our affairs and defame us. Leave this place and never return!"
"I have a sense of moral duty." said Celestia. "Hence, I will not."
The squid, enraged, attacked. They came in an enormous swarm, a tide, pouring out of the little wooden buildings. Puny as they were individually, that much combined magical force would have overcome an ordinary pony. But Celestia was no ordinary pony. Under her fur, she still bore the centuries-old scars of brawls with dragons fifty times her size. She surrounded herself with a golden bubble shield, and the beams from the squid's horns did no more damage than rain on a greenhouse. Gradually, they seemed to realize what they were dealing with. Their attacks ceased and they relucantly resumed conversation.
With persistent questioning, and an occasional comment from the ferret, Celestia learned more about the squid's biology and worldview. When a squid died, it expelled two gametes, which were taken to an incubation facility to be randomly combined with other, opposite-sex gametes. The child squid, born a few days later, would retain (in Lamarckian fashion) many of the memories and skills of their parents, especially those which had been repeated through many generations. It seemed, Celestia thought, that the squid did not take death seriously because they did not have a concrete sense of personal identity, and they did not have a concrete sense of personal identity because squid persons did not experience discrete death. Personality waxed and waned through generations; and it was hard to say how much of a given deceased individual lived on in the minds of living squid. Even if one had known for sure that the mental trace of an individual was now gone, it would be impossible to say when it had finally disappeared.
"I see that death is not as permanent or distinct for you as for my kind." said Celestia slowly. "I misjudged you, and I'm sorry. I take back my words. But you've grown callous. Comparing what children know, and who they are, to their parents, do you really know for sure what is lost, and how much?"
The great crowd of squid grew quiet. Hesitantly, they murmured among themselves. Celestia had guessed right. They didn't know.
"That's the unknown price you pay every time you allow one of your kind to die prematurely." said Celestia. "By failing to protect yourselves, you are squandering the collected wisdom of your own species. Your lives are short, but you owe it to each other to make the most of them."
"But how?" cried a squid.
"You have contact with the peoples of other worlds." said Celestia. "Learn from them. See how they promote the health of their living and remember their dead. They will have something to learn from you, too. They may be in awe to learn of a robust society where death is an everyday occurrence. As for you…" She brought the squid who had committed the murder down to earth outside her bubble shield. "Don't kill again."