Chapter 2: “Disappear”
Dusk was getting angry.
It was a bright, sunny day just outside the window of his hospital room. The birds were constantly singing in just the right way to clash with the awful, repetitive beeping of the monitors at his bedside. His foreleg hurt, though he didn’t know how bad it was because of all the bandages, and the IV in his other foreleg was getting itchy. He didn’t really know how long he had been in this bed, but he knew he was sick of it. The doctor, however, had been adamant that he not get up.
The worst part of it all, by far, was the fact that Dusk couldn’t find any good reason why he was angry. He knew himself fairly well, and he wasn’t the type of pony to get irritated so easily. He had answered a few of the doctor’s questions about how he was feeling, and then almost bitten his head off when he was asked how he had been hurt. He completely ignored the nurses who came in every so often. It was as if just seeing other ponies was enough to set him on edge today.
Dusk stared at the ceiling. I don’t want to be an angry pony, he thought.
- - - - -
Twilight thanked the receptionist pony for the directions and headed down the hall where towards the patient rooms. She counted off the room numbers as she passed door after door, and just before she reached her destination, a tan unicorn wearing a doctor’s coat noticed her and quickly trotted over.
“Excuse me, I’m Doctor Stable. Are you here to see Dusk Chaser?” he asked her.
“Um, I don’t know. Is he the pony who came in a few days ago? The pegasus? I never actually got his name.”
The doctor nodded. “Yes, that’s the one.” He hesitated. “I’m guessing you’re not family, then?”
She shook her head. “No. I just helped get him here to the hospital, and I wanted to see if he was doing any better. As far as I can tell no pony in Ponyville has seen him before. Not even Pinkie Pie knew about him, and she knows everyone.”
The doctor sighed thoughtfully. “I was afraid of that. There are… issues with Dusk.”
“What kind of issues?” Twilight asked, worried.
He hesitated. “Mental ones, I should think.”
“Like… he’s not very smart, or he’s got something like Derpy does with her eyes?”
Doctor Stable coughed into his hoof. “I should really rephrase that. His mind is perfectly fine, but he seems to have suffered a trauma of some kind. It’s very difficult to speak to him. I’ve been unable to get any answers out of him about where he’s from, how he was wounded— anything, really. And he becomes almost violent if he thinks I’m going to use magic anywhere near him. It’s made treating him a real challenge.”
Twilight put a hoof to her chin in consideration. “I did notice something like that when I found him in the storm. He seemed afraid of my horn. He certainly didn’t want me to lift him with magic.”
The doctor nodded and made a few quick notes on a chart. “Well, that does seem to line up. I have no idea what happened, but he’s been very irritable. He’s not allowed the nurses to take very good care of him, and he’s not eaten since he woke up yesterday. The IV drip he’s been on has kept him stable, but I’m worried about what he’s not telling me.”
Twilight nodded sadly. “Aside from that, how is he?”
“Oh, he’ll be just fine,” the doctor replied, flipping through the chart. “He got ten stitches to close the gash in his leg, and we’ve got him on antibiotics for the infection in his wound. Shouldn’t be any complications there. He’s come up negative for concussion symptoms, though he does have a bit of a knock on the head. Aside from those, he was suffering from exposure, dehydration, and exhaustion. Taken all at once, he could have had it pretty bad, but luckily you were able to get him here. He should be able to recover now.”
The younger unicorn kept nodding, not sure if she felt more happy for his recovery or sad for his current state. Doctor Stable put a hoof lightly on her shoulder. “It’s my professional opinion,” he said, giving her a smile, “that what he needs most right now is a friend.”
- - - - -
There were voices outside his room, but Dusk couldn’t make out any words. He pressed his head harder into the pillow, trying to make his ears sink into the fabric so the droning would go away.
Not that it would help much, he thought sarcastically. That infernal beeping will probably be in my head for the rest of my life.
After a few moments, he heard a soft tapping of a hoof on the door frame. He didn’t bother turning to see who it was. Those nurses never left him alone for long. The unfamiliar, timid clearing of a throat did get his attention, though.
He glanced over towards the door to see a unicorn standing there, hoof still raised to the frame. His eyes widened slightly, but his face remained otherwise impassive. He wasn’t sure why he felt as if this pony was bad news, but something was dampening that feeling. This pony had the most nervous smile he had ever seen.
“Um… hi,” she said, taking a hesitant step into the room. “Guess you’re doing a bit better now, huh?”
He simply stared blankly at her. Was she starting to sweat?
“Heh. Well, I guess I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself last time. Sorta busy at the time…” she said, voice dropping to a mutter at the end. “My name is Twilight Sparkle.” Her smile was almost supernaturally steady as her ears started to droop.
Dusk remained quiet, looking her over edgily. “I… don’t think I know you…” he said.
Twilight took a small breath as if to relax. “Oh. Well, I guess you probably wouldn’t remember a whole lot about it. I found you in that storm a couple of nights ago. A few friends helped me get you here to the hospital.”
Dusk thought about that. Something seemed backwards in that description of a unicorn offering him aid. His mind gave a sudden start. Where in Equestria did that come from?
He licked his lips nervously. “Oh. Well, thanks for that, I guess. I’ve been told that you saved my life.” Twilight gave a modest shrug. “Is there something I can do for you?” Dusk asked her.
“Well, I suppose your name would be a good place to start.” She said, her smile getting more genuine by the minute.
Dusk gave her a strange look. “It’s printed on the door,” he said flatly.
“True. Also, the doctor already told me your name, but it would still be considered impolite for me to refer to you by name without a proper introduction.”
He gave an impatient snort. “Okay then, my name’s Dusk Chaser.”
Twilight got halfway to shaking his hoof and noticed how he pulled back from her touch. “Pleased to meet you, Dusk,” she said, unperturbed. “What brings you to Ponyville?”
The shudder that ran through Dusk was barely noticeable. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Okay then,” she replied, thoughtfully. “Where are you from?”
Dusk looked askance at the librarian. “Is this going to be a questionnaire?” He actually felt a little guilty as her face fell.
“Nothing like that. I just… I like meeting new ponies, and I’d like to get to know you a little bit.”
Dusk sighed softly. “Well, I was born in Cloudsdale, but my family moved to Canterlot when I was a kid, so I guess I’d have to say Canterlot.”
Twilight perked up slightly. “Do you still have family there?”
“No,” he replied flatly.
She drooped back down. “Oh. Is there anypony we can contact about you? Maybe someone would like to visit you?”
Dusk’s slate grey ears dropped flat against his head as he gritted his teeth in irritation. “No. No, I don’t think there is.”
Twilight tried not to recoil from his sudden hostility. “I just— I wondered…” she trailed off as he finally met her gaze. “If you don’t have anywhere to go once you leave here, I’d be glad to offer you a place to stay,” she said softly.
Dusk felt a jolt run through him. What, seriously? Why would you offer me that? Who are you, anyway?
The unicorn backed away from the bed a step. “I’ll let you get some rest. You should be healed enough to leave soon. Just think about my offer.” She turned to leave the room. “The doctor told me you’re having some troubles with being here. I understand that you may not like it, but they really are trying to help.
“I’ll see you again soon, Dusk Chaser,” she said as she left.
Dusk lay back again, staring at the ceiling in confusion.
- - - - -
When he finally walked out of the hospital the next morning, Dusk felt awful. His mane was an absolute wreck, his limbs were all incredibly stiff from lying in bed for days, and he smelled like a weird combination of hospital disinfectant and bad food. He had bandages wrapped around his right foreleg, a decent limp, and the fact that the bruise above his eye was visible at all through his dark coat was testament to how bad it was.
Given his condition, he had mixed feelings about seeing Twilight waiting for him on the lawn outside the doors. He stopped a polite distance away, in deference to the peculiar odor he had picked up during his bedrest.
She smiled at him. “Hey, good to see you up and about! How are you feeling?”
“In a word,” he replied, sniffing distastefully at his fur. “Terrible.”
Her laugh caught him a bit off guard. “Well, we might be able to do something about that. I suppose you’d like a chance to get cleaned up a bit?”
“Sure, I suppose.” He fell in step with the unicorn, keeping a good distance between them, eyes swinging this way and that as they walked across town. “So, Ponyville, right?”
“The one and only! We’re a pretty small town, but it’s only about an hour from Canterlot, as the pegasus flies.”
Dusk’s wings gave an involuntary flap, but nothing happened. He didn’t seem to notice.
Twilight eyed him closely. He appeared to be trying to watch every pony in town at once. “Where have I heard of this place before?” he asked.
“Well, we’ve sort of had some pretty big events happen here. The return of Nightmare Moon, the defeat of Discord, Princess Luna learning to play Spider Toss…”
“Wait a second. Those were here? This place is where the Elements of Harmony are?” he said, completely distracted from his surveillance.
Twilight shrugged. “Well, the Bearers live here at least. I think the Elements are still kept in the castle.” She trotted ahead, and Dusk noticed that they were getting close to a very large tree with windows and a door set into it. “Here we are. Welcome!”
Dusk gave the door as wide a berth as he could as it glimmered in Twilight’s magic grasp. “This… is a house. Inside a tree.”
Twilight beamed proudly. “Not just a house— the Ponyville Library!”
“This is a library. Inside a tree,” he amended, not missing a beat. “And you live here?”
“I do. It’s the best place to live in the whole of Equestria, if I do say so myself.”
Dusk gaped at the tall shelves of books overhead. “It’s a tree…” he muttered to himself. “It’s an honest-to-Celestia tree.”
The purple-hued pony stopped in the middle of the main room. “There’s not much of a tour,” she explained, pointing out rooms in turn. “The kitchen is through that doorway, the bedroom is upstairs, and there’s a bathroom over there, beneath the stairs. There’s also a spare room down that hallway. It’s full of books and junk right now, but we can get it fixed up into a guest room pretty quickly.”
Dusk started. “Guest room?”
“Well, of course.” Twilight hesitated, kicking the floor awkwardly with her hoof. “I mean, you did say you didn’t really have anywhere to stay, right?”
The pegasus nodded slowly. “Oh yeah, you did offer. Still, that’s a lot of trouble—“
“Oh, not at all,” she said dismissively. “Spike and I will get on it right away. In the meantime, if you want, there’s a shower in the bathroom, and we’ll make sure you get a fresh towel.” She headed off towards the stairs with a pleased smile on her face.
“Wow. Uh, thanks.” Dusk said, softly.
“Here ya go,” said a small, high voice. Dusk looked around but couldn’t see anypony else around. “Uh, down here, chief.”
Dusk glanced down to where the voice came from, and leaped a whole body length backwards. “Gyah! Dragon!” he yelled, eyes wide. “Dragon! Dr— Dragon? Dragon…” he trailed off, caught up in the absurdity of having seen a tiny purple and green dragon holding a fluffy towel up to him expectantly.
Twilight’s head poked over the stair railing. “Oh, there he is. Dusk, meet Spike.”
Spike held out his empty claw. “Hey.”
Dusk extended his hoof very slowly. “…Spike.”
“Yup. I’m Twi’s assistant.” He shook the offered hoof, chest puffed out a bit with pride.
“Spike. Dragon. Lives in a tree.” The pegasus pulled back his hoof and held it to his forehead. “I— I— I th… I think I need that shower first.” He moaned, taking the towel with a nod of thanks and fleeing for the bathroom.
- - - - -
He quietly shut the door behind himself, finally alone with his thoughts. He caught sight of himself in the mirror above the sink and felt a little ill. Sweet Luna, I look like death. It wasn’t just his mane and fur condition; there were heavy bags under his eyes, which were bloodshot from lack of sleep, and he looked much, much thinner than he was used to seeing. Have I really lost that much weight? But I still feel so… heavy. He unfurled his wings, and gently gave an experimental flap, but absolutely nothing happened. He frowned, trying again harder, but he was still rooted to the ground as firmly as any earth pony. His head dropped and his eyes screwed shut in silent anger, which he quickly tried to shake away.
He started the water running and gingerly unwrapped the bandages from his leg, checking out his sutures. The wound in his leg had been closed rather neatly, though the bald patch shaved into his fur around it made the injury seem comically large. He sat on his haunches and carefully touched the stitches in his leg, sighing shakily to release the overwhelming emotions. Dusk swept aside the shower curtain and stepped into the large, tiled shower.
The instant the water hit his face, the world around him blinked out to be replaced by a blanket of darkness. He was in an abandoned alleyway and felt the rain drenching him as lightning and thunder crashed inside his mind. He fell to the ground with a cry, clutching his wounded leg as the pain flared, and looked up to stare into an expressionless, mysterious face, unable to distinguish anything aside from the horn protruding from his head. The face grinned evilly at him, as if to say how it was going to enjoy doing horrific things to him, and as a hoof was raised, Dusk snarled and lashed out, his hoof going straight through the specter and contacting the side of a building. The apparition vanished, but he could hear it laughing right behind him. He tried to turn to face his attacker, but his hoof was stuck fast in the wall.
Dusk! Dusk! He could hear a voice calling out to him, a soft voice that sounded familiar and yet so alien. The fear and pain in the voice were palpable, though, and though he knew he was going to die, he had to do something, anything, to get to that voice. He wrenched his hoof free and spun with a yell, hooves outstretched. The specter slapped him across the face and he went to the ground, stunned. There was nothing Dusk could do as the shadow closed in over him.
Can you hear me, Dusk? It grinned down at him, horn glowing, rippling with octarine light. What DO I do…? it mused, speculating on the worst possible way to—
Dusk jerked violently as the world suddenly became light and sound. His eyes burst open to see a violet face right in front of him, and he shrieked and backpedaled hard, slamming into the opposite wall of the shower. He groaned and struggled to get back up before a pair of hooves firmly held his shoulders.
“Dusk, snap out of it!”
The sodden pegasus looked again and saw Twilight standing in the shower, trying to keep him from struggling. He glanced around wildly. He was, in fact, back in the bathroom. The shower had been turned off, and now Twilight was staring at him with frantic worry in her eyes. “Twilight?” he asked, eyes still wide.
“Dusk! Yes, it’s me. Are you okay?”
“I— um, I think…” He took a deep breath. “What happened?”
Twilight stepped back a pace and took a deep breath of her own. “I have no idea. I was outside when I heard a yell and a thud, and you weren’t answering me, so I came in and saw you having some kind of episode or something,” she explained, still mildly freaking out herself. “You tried to—“ She stopped, staring at the far wall of the shower, where the tile had been shattered in the shape of Dusk’s hoof.
“Celestia’s mane…” she breathed. “Dusk, what happened?”
Dusk followed her gaze and saw the damage he had done. He gaped as well. “I’m not entirely sure…” he said quietly, his voice raw.
Twilight was mildly incredulous. “You’re not sure? You tried to attack me, and you’re not sure why?”
“What?!” Dusk looked more shocked than anything. “I tried to do what?”
She turned and walked a few steps back to give him some room. “You tried to take a swing at me. But I don’t think you knew you were doing it!” she added in a hurry. Dusk looked stunned. “You tried to, but you slipped on the tiles and fell. I think you banged your nose. I tried to wake you up, but you were… somewhere else. Spike ran and got some smelling salts for me, and that seemed to get you out of it.”
Dusk sat heavily on his haunches and stared at his front hooves. His stitches had pulled, and his wound was bleeding again. There were drops of blood from his nose on the wet floor of the shower. Dusk’s mind was nothing but white noise.
“I— I’m so sorry…” he whispered, slowly letting his eyes meet Twilight’s. There was no anger in her eyes, only worry.
Twilight walked over, fetched his towel using her hooves, and held it out to him. Dusk began to dry himself off numbly. He didn’t even react when she began to examine his leg.
“We’ll have to reclose these," she sighed. “Dusk, what happened? What did you see?”
Dusk sobbed quietly. “I don’t know. Honestly. It was just feelings and glimpses.” He wrapped the towel around himself. “I remember pain, mostly. And not just from my leg.”
Twilight sat in front of him and put a friendly hoof on his shoulder. “I want to help you, Dusk. Can I help?” The grey pegasus shrugged sadly. “Will you let me try?” He nodded. “Okay,” she said, gently helping him back to a standing position. “For now, let’s worry about getting some food in you and see where we go from there, huh?”
Dusk nodded gratefully. This is weird, he thought. Why am I seriously considering trusting her? She’s gonna try to make me talk to her about... He looked up and saw Twilight standing in the doorway, smiling, waiting for him to join her. He took a deep breath. I can’t be alone forever, and I could do a lot worse. “Thanks, Twilight,” he said, slowly following her out the door. No matter what, I really don’t want to be alone.