Part 2. Paratext
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."
-- William Shakespeare
Twilight tried not to think about Zecora at the psychiatric ward. According to a doctor Twilight had talked to, Zecora was just getting worse, she'll just yell incoherently and attempt to hurt herself. Perhaps most worryingly, the doctor had told her about an incident yesterday, where she suddenly and unexpectedly seemed completely normal. Or rather, she seemed unnaturally normal. She asked to be let out politely, like the last few days of screaming and incantations never happened.
"She said to us: 'I was just a bit confused, I feel much better now, would you kindly let me out of here?.", the doctor had told her.
"Without rhymes?" Twilight had asked him.
"Yes, we noticed that too", the doctor had said, "That's why we where reluctant to just let walk out, you understand."
She would continue to plead, in pleasant tone, but with growing irate undertone. And when her pleas went unheard, she started cursing in a weird, harsh language.
"It's hard to describe", the doctor had said, "but it felt like a storm had been unleashed in the hospital, even though nothing seemed to have changed. Like a storm of bad thoughts and images, I don't even want to describe some of the things I saw in my head..."
According to the doctor, Zecora was then restrained and sedated, and as far as Twilight knew, she was still asleep.
It was no use, Twilight just couldn't think locked into her library. She had followed several trails in regards to these strange incidents,but all of them had lead nowhere. And to make matters worse, all of them had lead to some sort of forbidden knowledge he would've been better off not knowing. Spike was getting a bit worried about her late study sessions, and quite frankly, she was getting a bit worried that she was becoming slightly mad herself. She needed something more cheerful, hence why she was maknig her way to Sugarcube Corner for a pastry and a black-bean beverage with sugar and cream. (They had recently refurnished it to work as a cafe as well as a bakery).
The warm smile of mrs. Cup Cake greeted her from behind the counter. It had always been a pleasant place, and they had worked hard to make the place even more pleasant.
"One black bean beverage with sugar and cream and a Cherry Cake coming up", she said, "please sit down"
Twilight did so, she placed herself in the booth beside the window she had staked out as her favorite spot, but she then gave mrs. Cake a puzzled look.
"I haven't ordered anything yet", Twilight said, ".n fact, I haven't really decided yet."
"Oh, you didn't?" Mrs. Cake said, "Well, I was talking to previous customer."
Twilight looked around, except for her and mrs Cake, the bakery was empty. She shrugged it off and produced a number of books from her backpack. All of them had aged covers, rusty metal hinges and yellow dog-eared pages. The line of investigation she was following at the moment centered around the Everfree forest. Most of these where books of old local legends that she had found in a used bookstore when she was just moving in and thought she'd get a better sense of local customs and culture, but had dismissed as too preposterous, even for Ponyville. She opened the page she had marked with red ribbon and she bean reading:
, "In my travels east I met a curious young Pegasus who confined in me an ancient family legend. "you must not tell this to anybody, you understand?", she told me.
"yes, completely", I said, with full intentions to write it down afterward.
I would have kept my promise ever to publish it, however, but it seems silly now in light of what recently transpired. ("This seems to be a reference to either an earlier book by the same author, or a passage that had been cut out for whatever reason," , somebody had scrawled on the margin of Twilight's copy in a tight, controlled handwriting) , This is the story as she told it:
"In the time of legends, there lived a pony called Dorothy Pegasus. Every day she went her rounds to greet every animal of the forest to make sure they felt appreciated. Each day, she would pass by a dark cave, but she didn't think twice about it, since the cave was seemingly empty. One day, however, she heard noises coming from the cave, a huge hissing sound followed by yelps and slightly pained growls. In spite of herself, she went in, because if there where an animal living in the cave, she'd feel bad for having forgotten about it. And by the sound of it, if there where an animal in the cave, it seemed to be in pain. It was hard to navigate, since the cave was like a maze and the echoes seemed to be bouncing all over the place with no rhyme or reason. But eventually she found her way to the middle of the cave,which was a large dome-shaped room that could only have been carved out in some manner. In the middle of the room she found some sort of being with semi-transparent skin and veins lining the floor of the cave, each the size of half a pony. (There was an illustration of it in the book, but it wasn't exactly helpful. In fact, the image resembled a slightly deranged crosshatching exercise more than anything else.) There where sounds coming from somewhere inside the creature. Dorothy was unsure if the thing was even alive in the usual sense of the word, or if it was a plant or an animal. It seemed to be filled with a liquid of some kind, if she looked close, she could see various rocks and twigs float around inside of it. She studied the veins for a moment, when a large object of some kind floated by. It took her a few seconds to decipher what she saw, but when she did, she could not stifle her own screams. It was a pony skull, half-dissolved by whatever liquid was inside the veins. She ran without looking back, all the way back to the village. She told the elders about what she found and by the next day, they had already decided to seal the cave. ("connections" to an older legend?" the tight handwriting in the margins asked nobody in particular).
It remained sealed for close to a hundred years, and then a gang of bratty young ponies, one of which was the son of the mayor, drunk on the stories and folklore surrounding the cave, decided to sneak in. In order to monitor the being, a door had been carved into the sealed cave, but after an unfortunate accident a few decades beforehand, it had been left unused and the key forgotten. They found the key in a box in one of the store-rooms in the basement of the town hall, along with a few other unused keys that seemingly led to nowhere. When they went into the cave, it was with the mad intention to kill the beast. But when they made their way to the middle of the cave, they found nothing but an empty-dome-shaped room and a deep, perfectly circular hole in the middle of the room. ("The Dancing Madness!", a scrawl from the margins informed her. The handwriting was very different from the other notes, the lines where thicker and more sloppy, with the jagged edges more common to Demonspeak.)"
Twilight put the book down and released a soft sigh. This was the third mysterious legend in a row, and none of them had made her any wiser. She felt just about ready for an injection of sugar and caffeine.
"Mrs. Cake, I'd like to order something now", Twilight said, "a black-bean beverage with sugar and cream and a a Cherry Cake".
"Sure thing!" Mrs. Cake said, and she went inside the bakery.
Twilight went trough her stack of books, trying to get a feel of which one she should read next. When she looked up, she found a Cherry Cake sitting on the table beside her. She had not heard mrs. Cake approach her her. Actually, Twilight could still hear her from inside the bakery, singing softly to herself. She looked for a minute towards the counter and when she looked back, a steaming mug was suddenly placed beside the Cherry Cake.
"Oh, it seems I really need some caffeine right about now", she said to herself and picked the cup up with her magic.
The liquid in the mug tasted... strange. Not bad per se, but nothing like it should taste either. Instead of the expected dark, slightly roasted taste, it had a flavor vaguely resembling milk and mooncake. Instinctively she spat the liquid out and reached for the cake to clean out the taste. It was at that moment she noticed that the cake had a symbol written on it in red frosting. It was a symbol she had only glanced in the strangest of magic books, the ones she bought from half-mad unicorns in the bad parts of Canterlot, where everypony was constantly looking over their shoulder. Mrs. Cake had gone back to manning the counter (still no sound of her, Twilight noted) and she was still singing.
"See the candy fairies, sugar-plums, jelly-beans, chocolate bars, dance the minuet. With the candied cherries, lolly-pops, peppermints, candy-canes, as they pirouette", mrs. Cake was humming to herself softly.
"I think I'll go home now",Twilight said to her, as she carefully inched towards the door.
"Alright dear, please come again!", Mrs. Cake said .
Twilight turned around and ran outside as fast as she could.