In the busy streets of lower Canterlot the hooves of many ponies engrossed in their own lives. They trot along trying to improve their social status, and make money, but inside her own house sleeping in through the morning, a mare lay exhausted from the previous day. A blue coat, a white mane and tail, and a horn prominently displayed atop her head. Her cutie mark was a scroll neatly bound with a silver seal.
She slowly stretched her sore muscles, hugging a pillow. Her mind easing out of pleasant dreams, and into her bedroom. Her eyes slowly drifted open, and she yawned. She lifted her head from a puddle of drool, and laid her pillow over it. Scooting her flank slowly to the edge of the bed, she hung one hind hoof off the bed down to the floor. She rolled off her side, and on to her belly, pulling her other leg from under her placing it on the floor.
With her flank in the air, and hind hooves on the ground, she walked backwards, literally dragging herself out of bed. As her fore-hooves clacked onto the wooden floor she lifted her head up and fixed her mane. Unaware she was still moving, she backed into a window. She had been suddenly jolted awake, not so much because she hit the glass, as it was the glass was cold.
She hopped forward, nearly falling onto her bedside table, but narrowly avoided it. Instead she only fell on her face. Flustered and annoyed, she dragged herself into her kitchen. She got over her mishap quickly as she got herself a hot cup of coffee, and breakfast. Her horn would glow silver as her coffee came to her lips. She slowly beat her long lashes as she drank, and levitated her utensils around the room.
She contently ate, until a knock came to her door. It was a slow knock, one that felt like the one behind it was tired and weary. The mare cantered over to the door and with her bright violet eyes peaked through the peephole. On the other side stood her landlord, old Ralph Burly. Ironically, he was a thin pony with no real size to him at all. She smiled, and opened the door, meeting eyes with him.
"Good morning Mr. Burly, good to see you as always." She said greeting him with a smile.
"Good morning to you too Azure." He replied. Azure Mist was her name.
"And to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" She asked, flipping her mane back.
"It's the first of the month, and time to pay the rent." He said, and returned the smile.
"Oh! Right! I forgot. I'm not used to living in an apartment yet." She said, levitating an envelope over to her.
"It's no problem, you just moved here a few weeks ago, it takes time to adjust to a new home." He took the envelope stuffing it into the front pocket of his Hawaiian shirt.
"Have a good day." He said grinning widely.
"You too Mr. Burly. Tell Jack and Janet I said hi." She said before closing the door. She started over to her breakfast, but a tapping at her window caught her attention. She probably didn't notice because of her previous conversation. She cantered over and opened her window. Just thirty feet down she saw a yellow stallion, with red a mane, who was holding a pebble in his hoof.
"Azy!" He exclaimed, tossing the pebble to the side.
"Yes,Tinker. What is it?" She said in a bit of a amused tone.
"Crazy night last night, where were you?" He said, opening his wings and flying up to her.
"I had to work late, it was exhausting." She said leaning on her hoof.
"Bummer, but you're free tonight right?" He raised a brow and grinned.
"No, I will not go out with you." She said with a smirk.
"Why, what ever do you mean? Are you implying that I was making an advance toward you?" He said mocking her tone.
"Very funny. Keep that up and you'll have a marefriend in no time." She flicked his snout.
"Yeah, yeah. Anyways, me and Jack are headed down to The Mare's Pleasure later, you wanna come?" He asked. The Mare's Pleasure was a bar, but it was better known as a place for drunk stallions to ogle pretty mares.
"I think I'll pass, I have errands to run." She said rolling her eyes. "Your loss... If you change your mind you know where we'll be." He said turning and flying off.
Azure closed the window, when she noticed the streets were empty. In Canterlot, even lower Canterlot , that was odd. She decided to check it out. She closed her window, and walked to her front door. As she stepped outside, she noticed the muggy air, and the fog running through the streets. The people in control of the weather didn't schedule this, which she thought was odd, but paid it no heed.
She walked onto the balcony looking around, and seeing ponies frantically scrambling indoors. One mare was banging on a door trying desperately to get in, but for whatever reason was denied.
"Hey! Up here!" Azure waved to her, and the pony galloped across the street and up the steps.
"Oh, thank you! Celestia bless you!" The mare said running inside. Azure closed the door behind her, and turned to the frightened pony.
"What's going on out there?" Azure asked, pouring the girl a cup of coffee.
"It's him." The mare said pointing to the window. Azure looked out and saw a pony walking through the street His hooves were dark green, and faded white as you move up his body. As you come to the top of his neck he was wholly white, but his head was masked, and had no tail.
"Who is he?" Azure asked, turning to the mare.
"No one knows. We call him Fallout Trance." She said walking up beside her.
"Fallout Trance?" Azure said questioningly. "Yeah, Fallout because he goes around in a gas mask. Trance because of the way he stares at you." She said, and Azure looked back out the window. He had stopped in the middle of the street. His masked face turned slowly toward them.
The other mare ducked away, but Azure was frozen in fear. He just stared at her, unmoving, if you didn't know better you'd think he was a statue. Eventually he turned his head back, and kept walking. Azure could finally breath. She pulled away from the window, and leaned against the door.
"Does anyone know anything about him?" Azure asked the mare who was now drinking the coffee and shivering.
"Well he comes at random, never going past lower Canterlot. He always comes when the weather is bad, like it's raining, or like now, fog." The mare said, recalling things she heard.
"Also he has a black rectangle on his torso... Oh, and his cutie mark is a weird symbol. I don't know what it means." She said before taking another sip.
"Anything else?" Azure asked, wondering just what he might want.
"Oh he's got these things over his ears, like headphones, but they're weird... like with an odd shape. " The mare said. "That's all I know... but..." she trailed of, looking past Azure.
"What? But what?" Azure turned around and saw him, looking in her window. He just stood gazing at them, or by the looks of it through them. He tilted his head to the side as the two mares looked in horror at him. He raised his head back, raised a hoof to the glass, and tapped three times. The mares stood frozen. He tapped thrice again. Again they stood. Again he tapped. Finally Azure crept slowly toward the window.
"What are you doing?!" Whispered the other mare. Azure really didn't know herself, but something was better than nothing... or she hoped. She came up to the glass and looked him eye to eye. He placed his hoof on the glass, and so did she. She looked closely, and tried to see through the glass of his mask and see his eyes, but she saw only blackness.
He tapped the glass thrice again. Azure thought for a moment and tapped thrice in return. Then he tapped a tune on the glass. Azure echoed the tune back. He raised a second hoof, and with one he tapped a tempo, and the other he tapped the tune. Azure smiles and echoes him, playing each note back after he does.
He suddenly stops, pulling his hooves down and walks off to the side, toward her door. He tapped three times on the door, and a note slid under. Azure walked over, picked up the note and unfolded it. It read:
Through all the pain and the sorrows.
Hush now dear fillies, it must be this way
Weary of life and deceptions"
Azure folded the note and put it in her pocket. Then she looked out the peephole, and saw nopony. The other mare walked up beside her.
"What did it say?" She asked, fear prominent in her voice.
"Here." Azure levitated it to her. "It looks like a creepy poem." Said Azure, looking out the window. He must have left while she was reading.
"Why did he leave it?" Asked the other mare.
"I don't know. It says follow. I assume it means follow him." Azure said, and the other mare shook her head.
"You aren't thinking of going... are you?" She asked, still frightened by the thought.
"No, but... I have so many questions, and so few answers." Azure shook her head.
"Umm speaking of questions... Do you mind if I stay here for a while? I'm afraid to leave." Said the mare, a light blush on her face.
"Absolutely, my name is Azure Mist by the way." She said, extending a hoof.
"Fauna." She replied, shaking her hoof. Azure and Fauna spent the day in her apartment together. Come sundown, the mist had left, and Fauna soon after. Azure said goodbye, and after today she was ready to go to bed. She trotted off toward her bedroom when she heard...
The unmistakable sound of hoof on glass. She turned to the door, but she couldn't see anyone.
Tap... Tap... Tap...
Then she realized the sound was coming from behind her. She stepped into her room slowly, when she saw him. With his hoof on the glass, three stories up, without wings or horn. Azures eyes were wider than they've ever been. As he stood there, he waved to her. Azure walked over to the window, and he placed his hoof against the glass. Azure slowly, and shakily mirrored him.
"H-h-hello?" She said, awaiting an answer. The window started to fog up, slowly from the edges in. Then written in the fog, came the word... "Hello" and it faded seconds later, back into fog.
"W-w-who are you?" She asked, in a quivering voice. Written on the glass now was "I don't know".
"What do you want?" She continued to ask. "Silence." He replied.
"You want quiet?" She asked, her hoof still on the glass. "Yes" he replied.
"Why?" She asked, bringing her face closer to the glass. "I must go" He wrote, and as it faded he added "He's coming". Suddenly the fog dissipated quickly, and he was gone.
"Wait! Who's coming?" Azure pleaded for him to return, but in doing so her window cracked. She yelped and tread backwards into her bed. As she did she felt something hit her back. She quickly turned her head ,and rubbed her back, as a trickle of blood ran down it. She saw a box, a small wooden box. It had been placed perfectly in the center of her bed.
Celestia knows how it got there, but she pulled it in front of her. She wondered whether or not to open it, debating with herself to no end, but eventually her curiosity was too much, and she lifted the lid. Inside was a key, and a note wrapped around it. She unwrapped the note, and held it out, written out in red ink was two words.
"Follow me." Azure's heart sunk into her stomach.
"How did he get in my house?! When did he?!" Her thoughts raced to all possibilities. Whatever the answer she was not sleeping tonight.
Her hooves were curled around her pillow, jumping at every little sound. She had never realized how creaky her apartment was until now. Eventually she decided to get up and make herself something to eat. She had all the lights in the house on anyways. She walked into her kitchen and made herself a snack, turning around every half second or so to see if somepony was there. There never was.
She sat at her table, and tried to think of ways to pass the time, to distract her. Nothing really came to mind, but then she'd remembered she hadn't gotten any work done today. She walked over to her desk and pulled out some paper, and a pen. She levitated over a pen, and started writing.
You see, she was a scroll-keep. She documented, and categorized things that could be improved. Like a professional critique. Her special talent was just that, she had an eye for things that could be improved, and was good with words, so the job was perfect... but now she couldn't really focus well.
She looked around the room, and noticed something was... off. Then as she looked down to the paper she was writing on, her eyes widened. There was a scribble that made her squirm in her seat. Why? Because she didn't write it. This little red scribble was the words "Follow me".
She kicked the paper away from her, to no real success, and backed away. She looked up at the window next to her door, and the sun had come up, some time ago as it seemed, but she didn't remember any of that time. A knock on her door made her jump. It was a steady paced knock, one you hear all the time.
"Who is it?" Azure asked in her quivering voice.
"It's me Tinker. Open up!" He said impatiently. Azure let out a sigh of relief, and galloped to the door. She flung it open and immediately wrapped her arms around him.
"Whoa, I thought you said no to that date." He laughed.
"Oh shut up you!" She said holding tighter.
"Is something wrong Azy? You don't usually like touching me, much less hugging." He said, and patted her back.
"Oh, yes well... I had a really rough night is all." She said, stepping back, and dusting herself off.
"I can see that." He said motioning to her door. She turned and saw the mess that was made, some of it was hers, but some hadn't been there seconds ago. She closed the door, and turned back to him.
"I think I'll take you up on that offer you made yesterday." She said, with an uneasy smile.
"Alright, I'll just call jack and-" He started.
"No, let's just go now." She said pulling him forward by his hoof.
"Now?" He asked confusedly.
"Right now." She continued pulling. They both headed down to the Mare's Pleasure. The place wasn't extremely well built, but it was sturdy. She had given the place a couple reviews, and they didn't seem to change a thing. It seemed like the only reason to come here was the drinks and the women, and that's apparently all it needed. Azure rolled her eyes at all the looks she got from the drunken stallions who are used to hitting on the waitstaff that a new girl was a welcome sight.
"Ugh, are they ever going to fix this place up?" She asked, eyeing the many holes in the wooden floor, and broken tables from past bar fights.
"Nah, it gives the guys a feeling of being at home. A sense of familiarity, as it were." Tinker said, the second sentence said mockingly. Azure eyed the many dirty flea-bitten stallions around the room.
"Do they really want these ponies to feel more at home?..." She said inciting a laugh from Tinker.
"They're the best customers." He said, sitting down at a free table.
"Well money is money, no matter who spends it I guess." Azure said brushing off her seat with her tail before sitting.
"Anyways, I'm guessing you didn't want to come up here to talk about drunks." He said, smirking smugly.
"More like become one." She said laying her head down with a disgruntled sigh.
"Is there something you want to talk about?" He asked as the waitress stepped over.
"Are you ready to order?" Asked the waitress.
"Two ciders, make mine strong." Said Azure. The waitress nodded and wrote it down.
"I'll be back shortly with you drinks." She said, before waling away. Azure flipped her hair back and looked up to Tinker who looked genuinely concerned.
"You've lived here a while, right?" She asked, straightening back up, and sitting properly.
"Yeah, why?" He answered, confusedly.
"What do you know about Fallout Trance?" She asked, and the whole bar went quiet.
"Why? What happened?!" He said suddenly with a sense of urgency in his voice.
"He came through yesterday, right after you left." Azure said, a bit thrown by the panic.
"That guy is bad news..." One of the other patrons said.
"I heard a few ponies went missing when he started coming." Said another.
"I heard a few ponies were dead." Said the bartender. At that, she thought it would be better to share what had happened.
"Well when he was walking he turned to look at me, and I stopped looking to talk to a friend, and he was by my window." She said, and Tinker's face went pale.
"Oh, and he slipped this under my door." She held out the poem. Tinker looked at the piece of paper for a moment, and handed it back. All the patrons of the bar were silent.
"This hasn't happened before, last he came up to someone's window, he just left. What else happened?" He looked around the bar, in a paranoid fashion.
"Well he put his hoof up to the window and so did I." She replied.
"Why?!" He asked as if it was the dumbest thing you could have done, and it very well could have been.
"I don't know, I just did." She retorted, a little bit of anger escaping her tone. You could almost feel the depth of the darkness in the room. Could one pony really bring this much fear? The sound of rain started tapping gently on the wood of the building.
"Whatever happened, I think it's best if you don't try a stunt like that again." Tinker said, scratching at his head.
"I wonder why he comsh troo town atall." Said one of the further gone stallions.
"It's not like I want to be scared to death you know..." Azure said, just as the waitress came by with their drinks.
"I never said you did, I only meant that-" Tinker started, but was cut off by a familiar sound.
First Azures eyes went wide even with her back to the window, then as everyone else looked with their own horror dawning their faces.
Tinker's usual yellow coat now looked paler than a ghost.
Tap... Tap... Tap...
Azure tuned slowly as her eyes met the black eyes of the mask. He waved to her slowly. Azure gazed on dreading the next moment. He turned and walked to the door. Everyone in the bar started whispering to each other about running, or hiding, but they all sat in their chairs.
Slowly the door crept open, and he stepped in. It was if he had stolen all the air from the room. He stepped slowly toward her, and raised his hoof. It was as if time had slowed down, so she had time to revel in her own nightmare. A cold sweat ran down her spine as she reached up to meet his hoof. They were mere inches from touching when something loud broke her intense focus.
She saw bits of wood flying off into the air, as Trance fell to the ground. Tinker had hit him with his chair. Trance fell to his knees, struggling to keep himself up. Blood trickled down from inside the mask, and onto the floor. Trance slowly got up and shook his head slowly. Azure stood unsure of what even to think. Then Trance turned toward Tinker, his black lenses peering into his soul. Tinker's burst of courage was gone.
He let out a whimper as the masked pony approached him. As he got closer you could feel Tinker 's heart beating across the room. Then as he let him look deep into his eyes, seeing there was nothing past the bottomless pits in his mask... Tinker fainted.
Trance turned back, and reached his hoof out to Azure, who reached back to meet him. His hoof was warm, soft, and not at all like she'd expected. It was a normal pony hoof. He held her hoof and started walking towards the door, she followed despite her better judgement.
He pulled her out of the door and into the rain. She thought for a moment about heeding the calls of the many stallions trying to stop her, but found herself still walking. He walked with her down the street, and into an alleyway. About half way down he stopped at a door. He stood unmoving, as if he expected her to do something.
Azure looked at the old rusted door on the side of the building, and remembered the key. She pulled it out of her pocket, and put it into the lock of the door. It made a very unsatisfying loud click. She turned the knob and the door started to open, it got stuck about halfway. She tried to shove a few times, but it didn't budge. She decided to leave it and walk in. She turned to see Trance wasn't coming.
"You want me to go alone?" She asked. He nodded slowly in response. Azure gulped, and trotted inside. She noticed a lantern on the wall and grabbed it. It wasn't lit, but that could be remedied easily with her magic. As the lantern lit, it illuminated this dark dingy hallway. It had two doors on each side, and one at the end.
She walked forward to see the paint peeling off the walls, like nopony had been here in years. The first room on the right didn't have a door so she went in there first. She took a few steps in and the room was obviously baron. It looked like there had been a fire here. Nothing was distinguishable as even remotely useful.
Azure turned around and decided to try the room across the hall. She went to grab the knob when she noticed it was on the floor. That option was out, so she walked further down the hall. She grabbed the knob to the door on the right, and it opened quite easily.
The room seemed untouched, whoever did live here, did a good job of keeping it clean. Unfortunately after all this time, dust has piled up, and covered everything. Azure walked inside to get a better view with her lantern. There was a bed, bedside table, a cupboard, and a chest with a padlock. She walked over to the bedside table, and on it was a journal.
She opened it to see the yellowed pages and old ink. The cover felt odd, soft but stiff, some type of leather. She read a few entries, they were scribbled down like someone who was panicking. Each page seemed different though. Some minded spelling and punctuation, others didn't. Each page also had a number but they started at twelve, like some were missing.
Day 13 I was wrong hes here waiting I cant sleep I cant eat Hes always there
Day 14 Today he came inside the cabin. He sat at the foot of my bed staring at me. I don't think he'll hurt me, but I don't know what he wants.
Day 16 I woke up today, and I didn't see him at all yesterday. I'm starting to think he might be leaving.
Day 17 He hasn't been back, except once. I saw him walk by my window, ad he left a note by my door. It said I wasn't his favorite toy anymore. It went on to call me broken and boring.
Day 18 All my food seems to have disappeared, but still I haven't seen him. I think he might have took it but why?
Day 19 Celestia help me! I woke up this morning to find my tail had gone! How did it happen? How didn't I feel it?
Day 24 I have lost a hoof and a hind leg I woke up in the Everfree forest and had to wander aimlesly until waking up back in the cabin
Day 25 He took an eye fro me and he's started to come back This morning he sewed my mouth shut wile I was awake I was paralized somehow but it wore off
Day 26 Now he follows me everywhere never leaving my side and I fear my life may be reaching its end Theres no hope for me left but if anyone else finds this journal know he is beyond fighting beyond hiding all you can do is run
The last page not having a number or description, only said the one word covering the whole page. It was disturbing to read. Azure wished she could take it with her, but she had nowhere to put it, so there it stayed. She walked over to the cupboard, and opened it as she did a rush of stagnant moldy air burst out, forcing a cough to her throat. She opened her eyes to see nothing but clothes, shoes, and... a piece of something covered with mold.
She closed the doors and turned to the chest. It had a lock on it, and a strong one. If she wanted it off she needed a key. She looked under the bed, under the mattress, under the table, and the cupboard, but no key. It seems she'd have to go on without knowing what the chest holds.
She left into the hall again and opened the door across from it Everything so far started to make her heart beat a little faster. She stepped in holding out her lantern. It was a child's room, adorned with teddy bears, dolls, whimsical wallpaper, a crib and a rocking chair. She walked inside, looking around finding nothing to investigate other than the crib. She stepped closer and a gasp escaped her lips as she saw blood soaking the sheets at the bottom of the crib. She backed away in terror, covering her mouth with her hoof.
She didn't want to stay in this room, but there was still one more room left. Azure quickly stepped out and looked down the hall. Trance still stood watching from the entrance. Fear gripped her insides, twisting her stomach into knots.
She turned to the final door walking slowly toward it. After seeing the previous rooms, she was dreading this one. She opened the door slowly, levitating the lantern forward. The door creaked ominously as it moved from in front of her. This room was unlike the others, it's walls were metal, and so were the floor and ceiling.
Rust covered them in patches. The large room had three tables. She walked in and saw a strange mass on the floor in front of her. She stepped closer to investigate, but as she did her lantern died out. She quickly re-lit the lantern only to see the mass had moved, it was now upright. Her fist instinct was to run, but she couldn't, she saw herself walking forward. The light slowly illuminated the dark figure, it was a mannequin.
Azure's thoughts began to jump around her head, and she walked over toward the table on the right. here wasn't much to see, just bits and scraps of black fabric, and some sewing equipment. She walked to the next table, and it was the same, but with white fabric. She trotted over to the table at the back and saw significantly less fabric, but it was red. She turned back around and saw the mannequin now clothed in a black suit and red tie, but oddly the sleeves were far to long.
Azure's fear became far too great, and decided to calmly but quickly get the Tartarus out of there. She cantered quickly down the hall where Trance was now gone, only making her more scared. Once she got to the alley she'd gone into a full gallop down the street. She then noticed it wasn't raining, and it was morning again. It should have been about noon by now.
The further away she was, the more she slowed and the more she calmed. Eventually coming to a stop as the busy residents of Canterlot passed her by. Her mind was far from ease, but she felt no immediate danger. She decided to take the day off, and just enjoy herself, she'd earned it. She was wanting to go on vacation, maybe head over to Manehatten and see that show 'Trixie and the Scoundrel' everyone's been talking about.
"Hey! Azy! Azy!" She hears a familiar voice. She turns and sees Tinker, who is flying toward her madly.
"Tinker? Where's the fire?" She said as he flew up an put his hooves on her shoulders.
"Where have you been?! Everyone was out looking for you!" He said it as if they'd formed a search party. Knowing how she was last seen that was probably likely.
"Look I'm fine. He didn't hurt me, he didn't even touch me, he just took me for a walk." She said trying to calm him down.
"That's quite some walk you took, where could you possibly have gone?!" He face hoofed.
"I was just a few blocks away, It's not like I took a trip around Equestria..." She said with a smirk.
"It took you a week to walk one block and back?" He returned the smirk.
"What are you talking about? I haven't been gone an hour tops." She furrowed her brow.
"What are you talking about? You went with me to the Mare's pleasure a week ago..." Tinker said, and confusion racked both their brains.
This is a story I really look forward to seeing a response from. It has quite a few elements of reference to other works in it.
"That's... not possible..." Said Azure, a bead of sweat running down the side of her face. Something was missing, she never went to sleep, or stopped to rest, there was no time she didn't remember. Then it came to her, when she stepped in that last room, she couldn't hear the rain. It was as if it just stopped.
"You mean you don't remember anything?" Tinker asked, as they both started walking to her apartment. She needed answers, and maybe she could find some there.
"Not a thing. I took a walk down the block, and walked back. That's it." She said, it was true, but she wasn't about to tell him about the whole event that took place in that horrible corridor.
"How is that even possible?" He asked knowing she had to be keeping something from him.
"I haven't the slightest." She answered, brushing against a passerby.
"Well there has to be some re-" He started, but started sniffing bid sentence. "Do you smell smoke?" Asked Tinker. Azure stopped and sniffed the air, there was the thick smell of smoke. They both look up to see a pillar of smoke coming from down the street.
"That's in the direction of..." Tinker started. "My apartment!" Azure exclaimed galloping down the street. Tinker flew shortly after her. She was met with the sight of a crowd around a burning building. The fire was obviously coming from her apartment, but what did it mean?
She watched as months of work was lost, along with all of her personal possessions. She looked closer, and what was astonishment, became terror. Somepony was standing in the fire. It wasn't distinguishable, but there was definitely the shape of a pony in the center of the blaze. A twinge of fear shot up through her as her blood ran cold. The figure walked away after the flames started to die down.
Once the fireponies said it was safe she walked up to investigate. The, for lack of a better word, corpse of the apartment was barren. You wouldn't think anyone had lived there. She investigated the rooms one by one, not seeing anything noteworthy. Most everything she owned was ashes, and what wasn't ash might as well be. She came to her room, with only a bed frame left, and the box... the wooden box... the flammable wooden box... perfectly fine on the floor.
"How...?" She asked herself, almost not even surprised by this point. She trotted closer, and saw the box was resealed. A silver light emanated from her horn, and opened it. Inside was another note, and another key. Unfolding the note, she read it aloud.
"I'm sorry." She read, and pocketed the key. Her concentration was interrupted by the sound of hoofsteps behind her. As jumpy as she was, she was afraid to turn around. This was followed by a dreadful silence. Azure couldn't hold back a whimper, as she anticipated what stood behind her. She felt a hoof creep onto her flank, and nearly jumped out of her fur. She hopped on the bed frame, and turned to see... Tinker laughing his cutie mark off.
"You! You-you..." She trotted in place out of frustration.
"Handsome devil?" He finished, shining his hoof on his coat. Azure huffed at him, and shortly after remembered...
"You touched my flank!" Her face was glowing red from anger and embarrassment.
"Whoa, calm your hooves." He shook his head.
"I will not! You aren't a pony, you're a pig!" She turned and whipped her tail in his face.
"You really need to loosen up... Why are you so on edge?" He asked, sitting down in the middle of the room.
"I'm on edge because I expect to see a pair of lenses around every corner." She said stepping of the bed and over to the window.
"You're being paranoid." He shook his head looking her over.
"Rightly paranoid." She stated, looking out into the clear evening through her broken window.
"Sure... whatever you say." He said in disbelief.
"You believe whatever you want, but I'm really scared." She turned around toward him, and brushed her hair from her face. Tinker humored her.
"Alright, even if somepony were out to get you, I'm here. Between the both of us we could take him." He said flexing a fore-leg.
"Because that worked out so well last time..." She rolled her eyes.
"Last time I was... startled. This time I'm ready." He said, his snout pointed high. Azure shook her head, and disregarded his comments.
Tap... Tap... Tap...
"Ha ha. very funny." Azure said sarcastically. Tinker raised an eyebrow, siting and lifting his hooves.
Azure filled with fear again as she tried to pinpoint the noise.
The tapping was coming from the the window by the front door. She ran out of her room, and into the living room. There was nopony there.
"But..." She started, and leaning into view of the window from the side was Trance. When he leaned in, her hair stood on end. He waved to her, and Tinker.
"He's back." Azure stated, a chill crawling through her skin. Trance disappeared from view again, and seconds later the door started to open. Now both her and Tinker were shivering. Trance was walking in with a slight limp, and the trickle of blood from when he was hit with a chair had dried, and still lay on his fur. He came to a stop a few feet in front of them both, and held up a hoof.
"I think he wants you to come this time too." Azure said, and Trance nodded.
"Are you kidding me...? Me go with... him?" He let out a huff of refusal. At that Trance turned back to Azure, and held out the hoof. Azure, knowing the terror she felt, still wanted answers. She felt like she wanted to discover more. She held his hoof.
"You can't be serious...!" Tinker shook his head, and reluctantly stepped forward.
"Look I can't let you go alone. I'll come this time." He said gulping loudly. Trance turned and started walking with Azure and Tinker following after. They walked out in the opposite direction of the corridor, towards the gates of lower Canterlot. Trance's limp wasn't hindering the speed of his walk, but instead seemed to actually walk faster because of it.
"Why are we doing this?" Asked Tinker, he was more than a little uneasy.
"Because, we might find some answers." Azure said, unsure herself as to just why she needed to follow.
"So we're following a strange, possibly dangerous, and absolutely terrifying pony out of the city... on a hunch?" Tinker was right, it just screamed cheap horror movie logic... but there was just something about him. There had to be more to him than that mask.
"It sounds crazy, but trust me." Azure said, glancing over to him, then back to Trance.
"Trust you? Yeah, I trust you, but about now, I'm starting to wonder why." Tinker was more fidgety than Azure, which is odd knowing what she'd seen last time she followed him. As she walked, the cold air was causing the scratch on her back to sting, and she shouldn't be in a good mood at all, but was still oddly content. They left the city, and headed down a dirt road out into a lightly wooded area. They were walking out off the main road, when she remembered something.
The Journal from the corridor mentioned a cabin outside of Canterlot. Could that be where they were headed? Azure became gradually more anxious as they walked further out into the woods. Then she saw just barely in her view, obscured by trees was the cabin. Just as she thought.
They came closer, and the place looked in terrible condition. It either wasn't maintained or was extremely old. It was completely made of wood, splintering and rotting. The support beams of the porch didn't look like they could hold up a pigeon. The yard was littered with scraps of rusted metal, and the remains of what was once a fence.
They walked through the yard stepping on a stray plank of wood. Tinker stood as close as he could to Azure, and Azure wanted to do the same, but showed little sign of fear. Trance walked up the steps of the old cabin, and stood beside the door, waiting.
Azure figured that, like last time, she had the key to open the door. She stepped up to it, and pulled out the key. The key slid into the lock and as she turned it, it let out an almost sickly clack. She turned the knob, and pushed the door open. It was dark inside, she couldn't see a thing that wasn't in the light of the, now setting, sun.
Azure felt a light tap at her side, and turned to look at Trance. He was holding out a lantern, the same one from the corridor. She took it, feeling sweat build on her brow. Her horn glowed for a moment, igniting the lantern, and she looked back inside. It was old, dusty, dank, and smelled of mildew. There was old furniture, that had all broken down, and fell into all manners of disrepair.
She stepped inside, and the stagnant air filled her lungs, bring a slight cough. She looked back, seeing both Trance, and Tinker following her. It gave her a sense of ease knowing she wasn't alone this time, but it didn't console her from her fear entirely. She walked over to the living room, seeing two chairs, a couch, a table, fireplace, and a window, all broken. On the table was an old yellowed piece of paper, she tried to pick it up, but it was stuck to the table, from what there was no telling. So she leaned down to read it.
There were a few specks of blood spotting the page, and for something written by a dying man, it seemed surprisingly calm. She looked around and saw nothing else of much notice in the room. She walked over to the fireplace, and saw a few old pictures on the mantle. The first picture was of a regal looking bearded stallion, in a poor pony's clothes. The second was a picture of a beautiful mare, her dress was also that of a poor pony. Last was a picture of both of them together swaddling a white faced colt in the woman's hooves.
All the pictures looked as if they had been taken good care of, and the frames had been held together and maintained. Untouched by time as it were. Azure turned and saw two doors and a staircase.
"Azy what's going on here?" Whispered Tinker. Azure didn't respond, but instead walked through the first door. It was a bathroom. She looked in the sink, and saw nothing; the same was true for the bathtub. Nothing was here, not even a bar of soap.
She turned the knob on the sink, and nothing came out; so she turned the other knob, and again, nothing came. She left the bathroom, and headed into what was apparently an old kitchen. There were cupboards, and shelves, counters, cabinets, and a stove, but no refrigerator. She used her magic to open the drawers quickly, finding old spices, and utensils, but no food. There was nothing in the cabinets or shelves either.
"Hello? Azy? What's going on?" Tinker asked a little louder.
"I don't know, I'm trying to find out." She answered, and walked over to the stove.
"You act like you've done this before." He said raising an eyebrow.
"I have, last time I went with him." She said quietly.
"You said you just went for a walk..." He shook his head in confusion.
"I never said where to." She quipped, opening the oven. A stench erupted from it, that of rotting meat and blood. Azure quickly covered her snout with her hoof. She looked inside and saw a slab of meat, charred and forgotten. It looked like at one point it would have been a meal for a griffin. She closed the oven and stepped away.
"What else were you keeping from me?" Tinker asked, in an angry whisper.
"Nothing, that's it." She replied, walking into the dining room. There was only one chair at the table, but all the places were set. There was no food, but all the cutlery was in place. She walked around the room and in the plait in front of the chair there was a locket. She took it, and opened it. Inside was a scratched out picture. She put the locket around her neck, and closed it.
"You're just taking that?" Tinker asked, wrinkling her nose at her.
"It might be important." She said, walking past him back into the living room.
"This is all starting to stink." He said shaking his head. Azure started to trot upstairs, the boards groaning and creaking under each hoofstep. As she reached the top of the stairs, she saw a hall with two doors, and at the end was stairs that head back down.
She opened the door to the first room, and inside was essentially a small library. With a desk in the center, all four walls were lined with fully stocked bookshelves. Given the room as not large, but it was still at least a hundred books. She walked in, and looked over the books; all the were on pony history. One was on the life of Starswirl the bearded, one was on the defeat of Discord, one was on the life of Solemn Oath, another on the founding of Manehatten, and another of all of Equestria, so on and so forth.
She came to the desk, and looked it over. It had a book of recent history, but next to it was a pen and inkwell, and there were lots of segments of the book marked out. Azure looked back through the pages, and segments were marked out only on that one page and onward. She read the page, the date was set at 24 years ago. At one segment that was talking about a celestial event he had marked some out, and wrote "He comes" over it.
Further down it was marking Celestia's appearance to watch the event, but it had more marked out, and over it was written "She finds him". On the next page, it was saying that there was an earthquake, but it's cause was marked out, and replaced with "He's angry". Further down, there was a short paragraph on a strange disease going around, but the name was marked out and replaced with "Getting stronger".
The last segment of note was recording how Celestia had gone on a trip of secret origin and importance, he marked out the official statement, and wrote "They battle, he's captured". Nothing was marked out anywhere else in the book, but on the back cover he wrote "He grew stronger in secret, and is breaking free." It seems to be the account of some creature coming to Equestria, but what, and why are unsaid. What all it means and what it has to do with Celestia was a mystery.
She looked through the desk drawers and inside were dozens of drawing, all of the same thing. A large circle, with a small circle inside. Some had captions, while others did not. They read odd things like, "The eyes are here", "He is watching", "They are fire", and the familiar "Run". She closed the drawer, and walked to the door, it was then she realized the others weren't following her.
"Tinker? Where'd you go?" There was no answer.
"Trance?... Guys?" Still only silence. She gulped, and opened the door to the second room. She levitated her lantern in to shed light on the room, it showed a bedroom. She walked in and saw a bed, a closet, a nightstand, and a cupboard with a mirror. She walked in and closed the door behind her. The room smelled slightly different than the other rooms, in a way she couldn't put her hoof on.
She walked over to the bed, and sheets were disheveled. She pulled them back, to have her eyes meet with a skeleton. She covers her mouth, and screams into her hooves, falling back on her rump. Her breathing was hyper, and her eyes wouldn't focus. She knew she had to calm down, so she could make sense of the situation.
She slowed her breathing, and stood back up. She looked down at the skull, and saw there was no flesh, or bloodstains anywhere on the sheets, so the skeleton must have been... moved here... recently. Her heart was still racing, but she had to be brave. She looked over the body, and there was nothing special. She then turned her attention toward the closet. She walked over, and opened it up, inside the closet was no clothes, or items, but written on the wall was the circles from before. She shrugged it off and closed the door. The next thing to investigate was the nightstand. She walked over, and on the nightstand, was a key.
"Another key?" She asked nopony. She slipped it away, and went on to investigate the cupboard. She levitated her lantern just behind her, so she could freely search. She opened it, and saw only a music box. She reached down to touch it, but before she did it started playing. She jumped at the sudden sound, and sighed. It was a light tune something one would fall asleep to. She looked up from the cupboard into the mirror, and looked at her face. Her eyes didn't linger there for long though, just behind her she saw another pair of eyes.
Her heart nearly stopped, these eyes were a mix of red yellow and orange, with small contracted pupils. The face connected to these eyes was that of a stallion smiling at her with bladed teeth. She quickly turned around to face him, and his grin grew wider, as her fear showed in her face.
"Hello my dear." He said, his eyes wide, and hers wider. "And what might you be doing out here in the middle of nowhere?" He asked licking his lips. She couldn't utter more than a squeak as he stepped forward. He stepped into her lantern's light, and it showed his light brown fur, with a long black mane. On top of his head was a top hat, black with a red ribbon. This must be what that pony was talking about, "They are fire" the symbol was of his eye.
"Come now, you must have some reason for coming here." He said lifting his hoof. She noticed then that he wasn't pony sized, he was as big as Celestia. She stood in terror for a while, but eventually brought herself to speak.
"I-I followed Trance here." She stuttered, as he sat down in front of her.
"Trance? Oh yes! That's what they've come to call him isn't it? How fun." He chuckled.
"You know who he is?" She asked backing up slightly, and he leaned his head in.
"Know him? He's my favorite toy!" He said, cocking his head.
"Toy?" Azure's breath seemed to quicken.
"Yes, toy. A plaything. Like you." He stepped forward, backing her into the cupboard, and the music box started playing slower.
"What do you-" She started, but was interrupted by his hoof touching her lips.
"I want silence." He hissed. She sat quiet. "Now what to do with you?" He cooed, crossing his front legs, and his back legs floated above the ground. Azure wasn't quite sure what to say.
"Oh! I know! I can make you an offer, and see if you like it." He clapped his front hooves together, and out of the shadows appeared Tinker.
"Tinker?!" She gasped, and started to move. The large stallion grinned widely. Tinker was floating unconscious in front of him.
"Ah, that got a reaction!" He said, and Tinker's mouth started to bleed. Azure felt sweat all over her body grow cold. His pupils seemed to shrink even more, and his grin disappeared.
"If you're just going to think about the people I could hurt, then this could get boring..." He said, and a twinge went down her spine. That was what she was thinking. He knew what she was thinking. He licked his lips again.
"What are you going to do?" She asked, and the grin reappeared.
"What's the fun in telling you?" He laughed internally, as Tinker faded into the dark. "But I think now would be a good idea to run." He said, just as the music stopped. Azure, frozen with fear, put all her effort into moving. She looked toward the door, and made a break for it. She galloped to the door struggling to open it, hearing hoofsteps just behind her. She finally got the door open and rushed down the stairs. half way down she tripped, and fell to the floor. A blinding pain shot through her as she hit the ground. She laid on the floorboards staring at a pair of dark green hooves. It was the last thing she saw before blacking out.
She woke up, and it looked like morning, but where? Her eyes started to adjust, and she saw she was still in the cabin. She was laying in the bed where the skeleton used to be. She sat up, and felt pain run down her left hind-leg. Then something caught her eye, standing by her side at the nightstand was Trance. At first she filled with fear, but then she noticed the medical supplies on the nightstand. She pulled up the sheets, and saw her leg bandaged.
"You... did this?" She looked at him, and he nodded.
"Why?" She asked, knowing he was with that... thing. Trance stood silent.
"Why don't you talk?" She asked, looking into his lenses. He stood for a moment, and then sat down. He reached up with his fore-hooves, and slowly removed the mask. His face was white as a cloud, with bright green eyes. He had no mane, but his face was actually handsome, other than the scar from where the chair hit above his brow. She stood in awe for a moment, as this colt that she and so many others had demonized... smiled at her. Then he opened his mouth, but no sound came out, and his breathing was shallow.
"You can't speak, can you?" She said rather than asked. He shook his head no with a frown.
"You're just a victim here aren't you?" She asked, and he just blinked. He walked over to the cupboard, and pulled out the music box. At first she just watched, but then it started to play. He set it off to the side, and clicked his hooves on the floor to the music. At that moment she recognized the tune; it was the same one he clicked on her window when they first met.
"You like music?" She asked, and he nodded his head, smiling in a way that was almost sheepish. She clicked her hooves against her bed frame in tune with him. He continued clicking his hooves on the floor, bobbing his head to the tune. She readjusted herself to lay on her stomach, clicking her hooves all the while.
She even started to smile with him, but was interrupted by him suddenly coughing and gasping for breath. He fumbled around with his hooves, grabbing the mask, and securing it back onto his face. It slipped on as fast as he could get it, and after a click you could hear his breathing again.
"Dear Celestia... You need that mask, don't you?" She covered her mouth with a hoof. He nodded in response, looking as emotionless as ever, but she knew better.
"What could have happened to you?" She asked, and leaned forward. He took a step toward her, and ran his hoof gently down the side of her face. He then turned, and limped out of the room. Azure rolled back the covers, pulling herself slowly out of bed, and hobbling over to the cupboard. She looked inside to see if she'd missed anything, and sure enough there was a page inside, it looked like it used to be underneath the box. She picked it up, and looked at the paper.
Day ten... Another one of the pages... "If only I had them all." She said to herself. She lifted her injured leg and walked on the three good ones. It was an awkward walk, but it'll do for now. She walked over to the door, and nudged it open. She walked into the hall, and in the library just across the hall Trance was writing something at the desk. She walked down the hall to the second set of stairs.
She awkwardly set down the stairs into another hall. This one was long and empty, with only one door, at the end. She walked through the veil of darkness, reaching the door in a much longer time than she expected. As she came closer, she used her magic to open the door, as to use as little energy as possible.
On the other side of the door, she saw a large familiar metal room. A room with three tables, and a mannequin. The mannequin however looked slightly different this time. The limbs were much longer, enough to fit the large sleeves, and didn't have a pole to stand on. She walked in, and the door slammed shut behind her. She quickly turned around, but having no light, couldn't even tell which was she was facing. Her mind was buzzing with thoughts that all stopped as she heard the clicking of hooves just behind her. Her heart was beating so loud, you could take her pulse from across the room.
A light appeared, and she was facing the center of the room with her lantern at the mannequin's feet. Her horn glowed as she started to levitate the lantern, when the mannequin lifted it's hoof, and held the lantern in place. Azure, not having the energy to waist screaming any more, turned back to the door. The clicking was getting louder as she fumbled with the handle, scrambling to open it. She finally felt the click of the handle turning, and rushed through, not even looking to see the horror behind.
She slammed it shut, and leaned against it. Her breath was heavy and labored. She looked up, leaning her flank on the door. She was back in the corridor. The same corridor as before. She took a few steps forward looking into the first room, and seeing the bed, desk, and chest. Wait... the chest. The locked chest. She had a key from the owner's house.
She limped slowly in, and sat in front of it. She pulled out the key, and sure enough it let a satisfying click. The lock released, and the lid creaked open. Inside were a couple papers, and a cloth. She didn't have time to read them, so she grabbed the journal from the desk, and the papers, wrapped them in the cloth and carried them out. She walked through the front, seeing she was back in Canterlot.
Azure closed the door behind her, and walked out onto the street. She took the cloth wrapping it around her neck, and continued her three legged canter... but now where will she go? Tinker is who knows where, and her apartment was burned down. Wait, there was still Fauna. Would it be right to ask her for shelter? She doesn't have much of a choice otherwise.
She got a few odd looks as she walked around Canterlot, but didn't so much as acknowledge them. She eventually came to a house four blocks uptown. The address Fauna had given her the night she stayed over. She walked up the steps, and knocked on the door. The door creaked open, and the darkness inside was unsettling.
She took a slow step in, and still saw nothing. Each cautious step inside was followed by the sound of creaking boards under her hooves. Then as she took a last step in, the door slammed behind her, and the room filled with light. The walls were shredded, and the furniture was oddly placed one chair was on the ceiling. Azure turned around, to open the door, only there was no door. She was trapped.
She turned back around, and a door had opened. She walked forward into the open door, seeing a bedroom. It seemed fine, there was nothing out of the ordinary. A bed, nightstand, and a bookshelf. She walked over to the shelf, and pulled out a book. The book was unlabeled, and when she opened it, it was at least five hundred pages... all blank. She put it away and checked the next book, and the next, but they were all the same.
She gave up on the books, and walked over to the nightstand. On it though were some tools that looked out of place, a hammer, a few nails, pliers, a knife, a needle, and thread. All of them recently cleaned. She took a step back stepping in something wet, she looked down, and saw a blackish puddle on the ground. She turned around, and touched it with her hoof. She raised her wet hoof up to examine it, when she noticed it wasn't black, but a deep red.
Her thought was cut off by something hitting her snout. She crossed her eyes, and saw the same deep red liquid on her nose. She looked up to see where it came from, and fear immediately gripped her soul. On the ceiling, suspended with chains, gagged, motionless, and riddled with scars, was Fauna. Her eyes were wide with fear, and her tail was shackled to her neck. The liquid on her hoof, and face was blood.
Azure backed away slowly into the wall. As soon as her flank touched the wall, the sound of whispers filled the air. They were voices coming from nowhere. "Run." "He's coming." "The butcher." "The puppet master." "Shallow Graves." "Shallow Graves." "Shallow Graves." They repeated in her ears, and as her fear rose, she started to hear the sound of drums. Then a voice. The voice of the pony she had seen in the old cabin. He was singing?
It seems he has escaped.
A past you cannot change.
You think he can be saved?
*Azure turns to the door and sees him leering wrathfully down at her*
He need his daddy now.
Coughing up a storm.
Now you have need to fear.
Because he ran away from home.
*She backed away slowly*
The months roll by, he's growing slowly.
It seems the years have come and gone.
I raised young Fallout with the best intentions.
But here's what I will tell you.
He was lost when you came near.
Not a drop of fear was building up inside.
*She is backed into a corner*
Fallout cannot leave.
He is my plaything.
He cannot be saved.
Before you he always behaved.
*He turned his back to her*
The months roll by, he's growing slowly.
It seems the years have come and gone.
I raised young Fallout with the best intentions.
But here's what I will tell you.
He was lost when you came near.
Not a drop of fear was building up inside.
*He turns back to her, his pupils so small, they might as well not be there. His voice grew more demonic with each word*
I'm the master.
I'm the butcher.
It is vulgar.
It is torture.
*She closes her eyes in fear*
Untold horrors, I dig more up.
Unmatched hatred, I dig more up.
It's in my name, I dig more up.
You cannot run, I'm Shallow Graves!
As the music stopped, so did the song. Azure was waiting for him to do something, but he never did. She opened her eyes and saw him sitting and smiling at her.
"Y-you aren't going to hurt me?" She asked, looking up at him.
"Nope, I only wanted to scare you." He said, laughing mischievously.
"Why?" She asked, shaking her head.
"Well, it's one of the few things I really enjoy." He said rubbing his fore-hooves together. "I look scary, and I can get a good laugh." He bared his sharp teeth in a grin.
"So you don't hurt anypony?" She asked, not remotely sure what to think of this whack-a-doodle.
"Oh, I never said that. After all, you can't have true mortal terror without pain can you?" He said, levitating the knife in front of him. "Like your friend up there, she is genuinely terrified, because I put her through so much pain." He slid the knife across her cheek slowly.
"Why are you doing this?" Azure asked, her eyes starting to water.
"The question is not why, it is if." He said, bobbing a brow.
"What?" Azure looked up at him and he cocked his head.
"Am I actually hurting them, or is it an illusion?" He chuckled. "Look, I'll give you this one for free. This is an illusion. Your friend Fauna is fine. The rest you'll have to figure out yourself." He waved his hoof, and the room looked normal.
"So you do this for your amusement?" Azure asked, disgustedly.
"You're my plaything, remember?" He smiled again, this time more evilly. "You're lucky, I usually don't let them know about the game." He said with a shrug.
"Why would you play such a sick game?" She glared at him. His smile melted slowly into a look of displeasure.
"Do you really want to know why?" He asked rhetorically. "I'll let you find out, and you'll choose how. Option one. You can follow Fallout. Dos. You can follow the clues. Or C. You can see it from my point of view." She half smiled.
"I'll follow Fallout." She said, standing up and dusting off.
"Oh come now, everyone expected you to say that. Don't disappoint the readers." He said mock pouting. "Umm... I'll pretend that made sense." She said, rolling her eyes.
He sighed and waved is hoof, opening the door. "Fine, follow Fallout then." He crossed his forelegs. "Just mind you this, Fallout is my favorite toy. If he breaks, I'll hold you responsible." He leaned forward. "Also... last note, all the options end the same." He licked his lips, and tipped his hat.
"Fine, I'll play your game. For now." Azure said, and he chuckled insincerely. He clicked his hooves together, and in a flash she was standing alone outside Fauna's house. She looked around, seeing the entire street deserted. Odd for this time of day. She lurched forward, knocking on the door. She heard a shuffling inside, followed by Fauna opening the door.
"Hey Azure, what's up?" Fauna asked rubbing her eye.
"I'm sorry I have to ask you this, but can I stay over for a while?" Azure asked, sitting down. Her flank was starting to hurt from lifting her leg for so long.
"Sure, come in." Fauna answered. Azure hobbled in, and sat down.
"What's with your leg?" Fauna asked, motioning to her bandages.
"I slipped down some stairs, but that's not important." Azure pulled the cloth from around her neck, and set it down.
"What are those?" Fauna was getting a little suspicious of Azure''s strange behavior.
"Notes and an old journal I found. I've read the journal already, but I still need to read the notes. She opened the first note, and inside it read...
It was then she noticed on the side of the page, it had been torn from the journal. She opened the journal, and placed it inside. Using magic, she mended the torn page, back into place. She turned to the stack of pages and opened the next one.
She put it in the journal, and mended the page as well. Opening each and doing the same.
Day 9 They took my son! How could they say I was unfit to care for him?! Who is more fit than I?! He is my flesh and blood! Did I not carry him to the hospital myself?! Did I not pull him from the flames as our home burned?! This journal seemed to escape the grasp of the flames somehow, along with the box, and I know he must have been involved.
Day 4 My shop has been getting less and less business, but that stranger keeps returning, and offering me the same deal again, and again. I just might take him up on his offer.
Day 5 Me and my wife had a fight, I told her I was going to accept the stranger's request, and she thought I was crazy. Maybe she was right; I mean, a stallion comes up to you and offers to solve all your problems if you play a game with him? It does sound a might convoluted, but what choice have I?
Day 6 I accepted the stranger, but we never got around to playing that game. He said my problems would be fixed by morning. I'm waiting to see what the results of this... deal, are.
Day 7 I couldn't believe my eyes! 20 mares came into the store all at once wanting shoes! I had my work cut out for me, but the money was fantastic! I suspect this was the stranger's doing, but my wife still thinks I was wrong.
Day 8 I'm getting my journal entry done early today, I have a lot to do and I'll probably be too tired to write tonight. I noticed something odd the last few days; I'll hear or see something in the corner of my eye, but when I look nothing is there. Also The stranger never showed up to play his "game" like he asked, but more customers are lining up each day.
Day 11 Since Peach's... passing... all I have left to remember her is this journal, and at times I think it's all that keeps me sane... If I even am, that is. I'm seeing visions of horrible things, but I always wake up back in my shop, sleeping at my mannequin's feet. He came back today, and I confronted him, saying I wasn't going to find this Esmeralda he was looking for. He got angry at first, but he calmed down, saying he knew just who could find her.
Azure put in the last page, and Fauna read over her shoulder. "What are those?" Fauna asked as Azure mended the page and walked over to a chair.
"Twenty one pages of the journal of an unfortunate man." Azure sighed, exhausted by everything that's happened. Fauna sat down flipping through the pages.
"You mean twenty two." She said as she counted them.
"No, there are two other pages I know of, but they aren't in there." Azure leaned forward onto the table.
"No I count twenty two pages here." Fauna pointed to the book.
"Twenty two? What?" Azure looked over to the book.
"Look one through nine. Then eleven through fourteen. Then sixteen through nineteen. Last is twenty four through twenty six, and the two unlabeled ones." Fauna, counted.
"Two unlabeled ones?" Azure walked back over to the book, and saw the last page, past pages twenty six, and run.
Azure's blood ran cold, and she stumbled back. She quickly regained her composure, and fixed her hair. "What have you been doing Azure?" Fauna asked, her suspicion growing. Azure stood silent for a moment, worried about involving Fauna, but she didn't have much of a choice.
"I've been investigating. I followed Trance just like I said I wouldn't." She said, and gave a defeated, half smile.
"If these are your results, then are you sure you want to keep going?" She hadn't contemplated going back, escaping as it were, but even so, it was probably much too late now.
"No, but I have to. Going back now won't help me." She said, and found her eyelids heavier. Strangely, though she had gotten up mere hours ago, she was tired again.
"Ok, just... be careful." Fauna said, with a sigh.
"I will... by the way, if it wouldn't be so much of a problem, do you have a place I could sleep?" Azure asked, rubbing her head with her hoof.
"Oh, if you need to, you can use my room. It's there on the left." Fauna pointed to the room, and Azure looked. It was the same bedroom from the illusion, which frightened her slightly. She looked back to Fauna, and nodded.
"Thanks, I had a rough night." She said, and limped toward it.
"Don't worry, and if you need me I work across the street." Fauna said, strapping her bag to her back.
"You're not staying?" Azure asked, quickly discarding her question. "I'll keep it in mind." She opened the door, seeing the same room, obviously Fauna wasn't strapped to the ceiling. The room was dim, but not dark, and she could hear the front door close as she crawled into bed. She sprawled out and gave a sigh of relief. Getting off her leg felt fantastic, and her flank could rest. She curled up with a pillow between her legs, and under her head. She laid in bed, expecting to fall asleep, but didn't. She sat there for a while, just waiting for sleep.
As she got bored, she started listening. There was silence, a thick silence. You know the type right? The silence so quiet it's like a loud noise itself. The kind of quiet that makes you wish for a noise to break it. The kind of quiet that even the sound of your heart beating comforts you.
She laid in bed with a slight unease, you would think that knowing you could hear everything might console you, but it didn't. She laid there anxiously, awaiting some noise to offset the deafening quiet. Unfortunately she had no such luck. She just sat motionless, waiting for sleep. She, again, had no such luck.
She was lying in bed, with her eyes shut knowing there was nothing to worry about. There was an abrupt creaking that sounded a lot louder than it was due to the intense quiet. Her eyes shot open, but nothing was there. She craned her head around, and still nothing. It must have been the house settling. She convinced herself she was just getting paranoid, and there was still nothing here.
She laid he head back down, and shut her eyes tightly. She sat for another ten minutes, but she just wouldn't fall asleep. Her whole body was tense, and she didn't want to open her eyes. She was sure that she was just being paranoid, but her body didn't know. She sat frozen, her legs seemed to have turned to lead, because they wouldn't budge. Eventually she opened her eyes, seeing the same room, and closed them again seconds later.
Out of the still air was the sound of creaking again. Her eyes opened again, but more slowly, and only for a moment. Nothing had changed. The sound was disregarded, and she continued trying to sleep. She tightened her blanket around her, trying to calm herself. It was working. The covers surrounding her felt like a tight warm hug. It was soothing, but not enough.
There was more dead air followed by the creaking again, but this time she didn't even bother. She sat still, refusing to acknowledge the noise, when she noticed she was holding her breath. Her heart was pumping hard, not fast, but hard. She was scared; she knew there was nothing to be scared of, but that didn't matter. The house creaked again, and she couldn't stand the anxiety. Her eyes opened, seeing, again, nothing.
She let out her breath as a sigh, and rolled over, meeting with two frantic eyes staring into hers. They seemed suspended in darkness, and she was frozen in fear.
"Good, you're still awake." They said, in a low whisper. She could have sworn her pupils shrunk to the same size as it's, and couldn't let out more than a whimper. Then she remembered...
"Shallow." She said, trying to dispel her fear. Then his face emerged from the dark, but slightly different from before. His fur was replaced with scales, and he had a second row of sharp teeth, but his eyes were the same.
"Yes? Is there something I can do for you?" He asked, his eyes still shaking, looking frantic, excited.
"That's enough with the illusion, I know it's you." She said, retreating her face from his.
"Now now, dear girl, I told you only that one was free." He said, as his hatted head curled around behind her with a freakishly long neck.
"But I figured it out..." She said, as his neck curled around again and again.
"Oh, but have you? How can you tell if this is in fact an illusion?" He smiled at her as one would a prize to be won.
"Well you... can't actually..." She stopped as his snout stopped just by her ear.
"Let me ask you, what is the scariest, something after you that you can't reason with, something that you think you can reason with, or something that you can reason with?" He asked, just next to her ear.
"What...?" Azure was confused.
"If it's like an animal, something you can't reason with, you know exactly what it wants, no negotiating. If you can reason with it, it's rational, it wants something, and is after you for it, disregarding morals for it... but if you think you can reason with something, but you can't... You beg and plead for your life in vain, as they will ignore everything, with no idea why it's after you." She could hear him lick his lips again. Her sweat grew colder as her heart beat faster.
"That's a weird question to ask. Aren't I the one that's supposed to get scared?" She responded, not even thinking about the question.
"Oh Azure, dear sweet Azure, trying to be brave. It's adorable... and tantalizing." He almost growled, licking her ear. Wait... an illusion can't touch. Her heart sank, and her breath followed. "What's wrong love? Don't understand?" He chuckled, snaking his head in front of her.
"Don't worry, you will." He smiled at her, and eyes only seemed to grow more frantic, darting back and forth. It occurred to her that he was acting differently with every appearance, like he was lost in his own madness. Suddenly his face changed to a look of animal that hears a predator nearby, and he acted like he was listening for something. He quickly uncurled his neck, and disappeared into the darkness.
No sooner than he faded away, she laid her head down, and her mane splashed out like white gold melted across her pillow. Her eyes lidded heavily, and her long ebony lashes batting gently. Her tongue slipped from between her lips, wetting them softly. She just wanted to forget what had happened, and sleep. Her body laid delicately across the bed, she looked so elegant, so fragile.
All that she'd been through had taken it's toll on her. Her muzzle caressed her soft pillow, and a trickle of sweat lingered down her jaw. She readjusted her body, curling her back outward. Her firm flank pointed perkily out, with her tail up, swaying off the side of the bed. Her bad leg was curled underneath her, and the other was frailly set across it. It started to drizzle outside, providing some background noise, lulling her to sleep. She slept in her graceful pose for hours not moving an inch. She made a few subtle noises, sounding no more distinct than a moan.
"Umm... whoa." A gruff voice said; they were somewhere in the room, but she couldn't tell where. She lifted her head, seeing a stallion standing in the door; sweat inching down her chest, she had a light blush from the heat. The male unicorn's blush however was from the provocative pose she seemed to be in, not at all aided by her heavy lidded eyes that looked seemingly seductive themselves.
"Fauna... Who's the... tender filly eyeing me from the bed?" He asked off to the side, a confused look on his face.
"Hmm?" Fauna walked into view. "Oh! Azure! I forgot!" Fauna exclaimed, but her smile slowly turned awkward at the sight.
"What? What's wrong?" Azure yawned, rubbing her hoof with her eye.
"You're... your... umm..." The stallion muttered, rubbing his neck. Azure looked down to her alluring position, and position of her tail. Her face contorted in embarrassment. She pulled her tail between her legs and hugged it tightly.
"Stop looking at me like that!" She squeaked, laying her face in the pillow, and slamming the door shut with magic. Even after the door was shut, her horn still shown silver as she held it closed. A few minutes past, and Azure eventually hobbled out of the room.
"Sorry about barging in like we did." The stallion said shortly.
"It's... fine." Azure said tuning her snout away.
"Come on Azure, it's not like it's never happened before." Fauna said, with a sympathetic tone.
"Can we please change the subject?" Azure asked flipping her hair.
Fauna sighed, and looked at the stallion, who was nodding. "Oh you haven't been introduced yet!" Fauna said, trotting over. "Azure, this is my brother Cole Volt. Cole, this is my friend Azure." Fauna introduced them, and Cole nodded.
"It's nice to meet a friend of Kit's." Cole said, he smiled, but it felt like there wasn't much effort in it. His yellow coat, and black mane were slightly unkempt; giving the effect that he was either really busy, or just didn't care.
"Kit?" Azure said ever so lightly bewildered.
"Oh, that's what he calls me." Fauna said, shaking her head.
"Well it's nice to meet you too." Azure said limping toward the door.
"What's wrong with your leg?" Cole asked, frowning.
"Oh, nothing. I just fell, and sprained it, that's all." Azure said, waggling the bum leg in the air.
"Hmm..." Cole walked over, and leaned his head over, touching her leg with his horn. A zap of electricity ran through her leg, and she jumped.
"Ow! What was that for?!" Azure turned to him, and he kept frowning.
"Running an electrical current through a muscle makes it heal faster." He said seemingly oblivious to her pain.
"...Well you could have warned me." She said, with a huff. He simply shrugged, and walked away. He walked off into the kitchen, and Fauna cleared her throat.
"Sorry about that. He has a bit of a... communication problem." She said, rolling her eyes.
"I'm sure he means well." Azure scratched her head.
"We were just about to have dinner, you want to join us?" Asked Fauna, motioning to the kitchen.
"I'm sorry, but I'm expecting someone." Azure bowed her head.
"Expecting someone here?" Fauna asked, sitting in front of her.
"I don't know where, but I know it'll be soon." Azure said, rubbing her cheek with her hoof. She found herself thinking back, if only for a second, of his hoof on her cheek. She quickly remembered where she was, and set her hoof down.
"Looks like he's someone important, huh?" Fauna nudged her with her elbow.
"Oh! That's why we found you like that, you were expecting him to show!" Fauna stated, making the connections in her mind.
"What?! No! I was not! Well I was, but not like that!" Azure exclaimed, blushing embarrassingly.
Azure's eyes darted to the door. While Fauna stood in shock.
The door opened on it's own. On the other side stood, of course, a masked Trance. He walked in, and Fauna retreated. "Hello Trance." Said Azure, and even though she knew he was with Shallow, she still trusted him... for some reason. He seemed innocent at least. Trance stood in the doorway looking at her, and she walked over.
"You aren't seriously going with him are you?!" Fauna stated rather than asked.
"It's ok, I'll be fine with him." Azure said, smiling and looking at him, as emotionless as he was.
"You... You're serious." Fauna's face didn't even register as shock any more.
"There's still more I have to know, and only he can show me." Azure looked at her friend, her eyes pleading for her to understand.
"Fine... but I won't be responsible for you." Fauna said, feeling the opposite to be true.
"Don't worry about me, go and eat with your brother, and I'll be back before you know it." Azure nodded. Trance turned, and started walking out the door. "Goodbye!" Azure waved to Fauna, and followed Trance.
"Bye! Be safe!" Fauna waved back as they walked up the street. Trance and Azure walked leisurely toward Canterlot castle. Azure had so many questions, and so few answers. Every answer seemed to have raised more questions. She followed him, and sneaked past the guards. They wandered through the many halls of the castle, and to a large metal door. Inside was a hall, forked in two directions. Trance walked ahead, and though the path was blocked off, he pushed a board out of the way, letting her through. She climbed a set of stairs, and down a hall that ended in a barred door. She looked down to see Shallow graves just below her, but looking weak and sickly.
"All will be revealed in time brother. Just know, if she is given half a reason, you'll end up in a worse place than me." He stood and walked off to the side, glancing upward at her. "Now, you should be going, you have a dinner to attend." He waved his hoof at somepony apparently below her.
"I'll go, but just tell me who you are before I go." Said the voice of the pony.
"Call me... Shallow Graves. Farewell, my friend. May your day be fruitful." He said, and the pony apparently left. Afterwords he looked up at her with a bemused grin. "Ah, ma cheri, salutations et accueil. Welcome to my humble abode." He said, licking his lips.
"So this is where you really are?" Azure asked, and sat down.
"Sadly so, yes. I regret to say Celestia doesn't exactly trust me... but do not fret, though I am weakened in this cage, I still have enough power to effect the world ever so slightly." He chuckled, his laugh seemed forced though.
"So why am I here?" Azure asked, looking around.
"Oh ma belle pêche, you wanted to know why I play 'such a sick game'. So I showed you. I'm trapped here, Celestia tricked me in here long ago. I'm just occupying my time, getting revenge, and enacting a master plan all at once." He said, trotting over to his window.
"Why would you tell me this?" Asked Azure.
"Why does everyone ask that? Think, I've been alone for twenty four years. I'm lonely, and tired of talking to myself... Don't get me wrong, Trance, my boy, is a great listener, but doesn't exactly contribute to the conversation." He said, turning back to her.
"If you're so powerful why don't you leave?" Azure asked sarcastically.
"This cage is a power dampener. Though my magic is weak I still have some power." He said, tilting his head.
"Why didn't Celestia take away all your power?" Azure asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Two reasons: one, I'm stronger than her, and two she doesn't like killing." He said with a sigh.
"Killing?" Azure stated rather than asked.
"Didn't I mention? I'm technically dead. I'm holding myself together with magic." He said grinning sarcastically.
"You're... dead?" Azure asked, stepping back.
"Yes, if you cut off my magic I would die. Sad isn't it?" He pretended to pout.
"No, what's sad is that you wasted twenty four years getting revenge." Azure said flatly, surprising Shallow.
"Fiery one aren't you?" He said jokingly. "Oh ma charmant petit. Revenge is just a plus... I want freedom." He said, and put a hoof on his window. "And... if you help me, I'll give you something I know you want." He said looking behind her. She looked back toward Trance.
"But I don't-" She started. "Don't lie to me, I can read your mind... You have some naughty dreams petite pouliche." He laughed as her face turned red.
"B-but..." She wanted to lie to him, but what would be the point?
"If you help me... he's yours." He growled ominously. She thought for a moment. "You don't have to answer right now... think it over... take your time... I've got nowhere to be." He rolled his eyes. "Think about it..." He said, ginning mischievously.