Body of Work ~ The Grey Potter (Google Docs)
The Libraries of Canterlot are extensive, ancient, and sprawling. There are parts that are cut and carved. Parts made of plaster and wood. Parts cobbled together from dark, uneven stone. Each material gives each wing its own air. The wooden section is the newest, and it gives off a very distinctive varnish scent. The black stone makes the air cold and crisp. And the most common library, the white stone, it has an almost metallic heat. I can walk into any wing and tell anypony exactly what it contains, just by the smell of the stone. By the breath of the paper, new, or old.
But this wing was something I had never seen before.
In the back of the white marble archives, behind a rusted door, paint peeling and centipedes crawling under the frame, there is a set of stairs. They buckle like cork, creaking as if they could snap at any second. Dust motes speckle the air, wicking away the moisture in my mouth. The brackets for torches are empty, yet coated in pitch and grease long solidified black.
The floor here is a crisscrossing web of dry planks, constantly groaning and snapping under the weight of its contents. Ceiling low, many thick volumes are neatly stacked on a few bowing shelves. Spider webs and dust coat many of these unmarked books. And yet, almost a quarter of them seem recently disturbed. Lying on tables, flipped open, notes in code scattered everywhere. Pages sometimes spill on the floor, pulling the eyes towards dark stains and deep scratches. I once looked closely, and the welts in the wood form a pattern, slowly winding, slowly collecting into a single, focused area.
I’ve never once seen a single librarian down in this crypt. Never heard a breath or a whisper. Never seen a single soul coming nor going. I don’t know who placed these books, carved these spells, scattered these notes. In all my times visiting, they have never moved. Yet they remain pristine and free of dust, ready for the reader to return.
There’s only one thing has changed in this tomb.
I hover my lantern over the form, the body I have come to know these past few months. A corpse placed in the center of circling scrawls. A unicorn mare, plump and pristine, untouched by decay. Always on her side. Her mane matted, flowing beside her, sticking to the gashes in the ground. I’ve often conjured a light breeze, just to brush them away, only to see them reattach in later visits. Her legs move, expression changes. Never in front of me, always when I’m gone. Sometimes peaceful. Sometimes not. Sometimes, I think she’s reacting to my own mood as I approach her. But I could just be projecting. It’s obvious why I would.
Our faces, our bodies, our cutie marks are the same.
So why not our moods?
It’s strange… Who is she? Why is she here? I hope someday to find myself awake. Maybe I’ll find it in me to ask her these questions.
But of all the nights I stay up, frozen in bed, unable to sleep or think…
I cannot think of a single thing I’d be able to say to her.
I scrape the bit of red paint into a beaker. I will be able to date it, and maybe even see what it’s made of. Later. After I have gone down there and confronted myself again, I will do tests.
I will map out exactly where each book, each page, and each scratch is if I have to. I will note every placement of the chair and table. I will use this work to see if anything changes each time I go down there. I will keep myself busy to get myself used to this room. I will use this time to watch my body for movement, and wait for its creator.
With that settled, I go forward to open the door.
Centipedes squirm away from the cracks. I notice that spiders have already woven a blanket across the back of the doorframe. They crackle slightly as I heave the door open once more. I try to ignore the buckling steps. The way the light get sucked away as the door swings shut behind me. The floor is uneven, the doorframe is tilted back slightly. It’s just gravity, it’s nothing to be afraid of. I just make my way down, lantern held in my aura, bobbing gently.
There the room is. Same as it is. And there’s my body… The same, just as unnerving as usual. She’s on her back now. Legs in the air. Jaws clenched, gums glistening. Neck arched, horn digging a hole in the floor...
I step towards her. There’s cataloguing. Experiments to be done. But I walk to her, and pull out my blanket. With a flick of my aura, I throw the heavy quilt over her. It catches on her back leg, jutting stiff, straight into the air. It all hangs from there, making her body a series of unusual ridges.
Compassion. She’s cold, and she needs compassion. Compassion and a blanket.
I tug the corners over her scowl. Magically tucking away her mane.
Nice and toasty.
I step away, and her voice howls up through the boards. No, that’s just the normal creaking. Get a hold of yourself. There’s books. Books, papers and chairs to be catalogued.
I set my lantern down on one of the tables, illuminating a blank book. A scrawled page or two beside it. I place pins in the wood, pushing little thumbtacks at each corner. They sink in easily. As if the table was made of corkboard. If the books move, I’ll know by the positions of the pins. I eye the book as my aura passes over it. The pages glistened in the light. Reflected. Invisible ink, probably. Probably a trick to seeing the words. Hold a light behind it, expose it to the right chemical compounds. Cast a spell to make the words appear.
I lift a page in my aura, eyeing it. Maybe I could bring down some charcoal and do a rub, see if it was handwritten. The pages are certainly spaced far enough apart, tattered and bloated with a broken spine. As if they had been written—
There was a clatter. The tiniest sound, like a pebble falling. My eyes immediately snapped up to my body. Did it drop? Move? Adjust?
No, it was still sticking straight up. Leg making a tent over my body… Not even a hair out of place.
The sound came again. Small. Almost imperceptible. Just a littlest, fainted of tapping. The rolling of a lost coin, or…
A lost pin.
I saw as one of my little thumbtacks toppled over. It rolled and spun sideways until it dropped off the table, tapping out of sight.
Oh, I must have shifted the book a little. It must have knocked the little thing out. I had thought that the pins had gone in so easily. But, glancing over at the pages of notes, the little tops were high in the air, tilting under their own weight. Bound to fall at any second, really. Sometimes, it’s just a little hard to feel pressure through an aura.
I pushed my nail into each thumbtack, shifting my weight as they sunk slowly deeper and deeper into the wood. One of the pages got caught under the pressure, and lifted slightly as the needle dug itself deep into the table.
There we are. They should stay now. Now about the fallen needle...
I duck under the table, using my horn to sweep the area with light. I don’t want to be surprised one day, suddenly stepping on a thumbtack down here. I might knock something over, upset my studies. I might also… I glance at the rigid body, wondering if the shout of the pony would awaken her. Did I have the courage to try that experiment? I opened my mouth, feeling the spit smack as my lips parted—
There it was again.
That rolling sound. Two of them, no three.
I scoot backwards, trying to not hit my head as I rush to my feet. I drop my hooves on the table, and the whole thing shakes. The rest of the pins jiggle loose, rolling and clattering away…
Leaving little black lines, black splatters in their wake.
I stare at the pinholes. From each one. A little bubble of black liquid. Broken. Spilling everywhere. Especially from that corner of one page, the one I pinned down. It had spread. Not while I was looking. But it had spread. Soaked into each page, covering them in black stains. Curling them, bulging them slightly as it dried unevenly.
A security… spell? Perhaps? It… that’s what it must be. That must have been what happened. Something to protect the documents…
I snatch my own book from the mass. Black liquid drips off the back. Stained. Permanently stained.
Well, I think that’s all I’m going to do today. Need a different tact. Don’t mind the pun, I need a different approach.
I’ll just be going now.
I grab my lantern. With one last glance at my body, I rush up towards the door, feeling each board sink under my steps.
Testing later, I should have known the door’s paint would have a lot of iron in it. Iron is what makes the red coloring. Red and rusty. Distilled iron. It’s not blood. It just has a lot of iron in it. Blood would rot, make it brown. Make it smell. It’s red for the iron. Not for blood.
The ooze that came from the table?
It dried. It was just ink.
Definitely. Just a security spell. Nothing to worry about.
I stand back in front of that door, and I listen to myself breathe.
My jaw is set, and my feet are firmly planted. There is nothing down there that I should be afraid of. There is nothing down there that is obviously there to hurt me. I may have worked myself into a bit of a tizzy, and that body is certainly something strange. But I am going to find out why it’s there. I am going to find out who made it. I am going to approach this like the scientist I am. I am going to be cold, calculating and shrewd.
This is what I tell myself.
And this is why I am currently opening the door.
I fail to open the door. Not that it was welded shut all of a sudden. I just… don’t work up the nerve to open it.
Stop being afraid.
Stop being afraid.
I do wish the steps would stop squealing at me.
Somehow, I make it down to that room. The blanket is… Gone. Just gone. My body’s on its side now, curling up tightly, and the blanket’s gone. I move the lantern around a little bit, try and see if it fluttered off into a corner or something. But it’s just not there. Something… somepony must have taken it. Proof of some malevolent mastermind, of course.
I dwell over this doppelganger corpse, hoping, maybe this time, I’ll catch her breathing. I’ll see a movement, the littlest twitch. But she’s still, frozen as stone. Just like yesterday. Just like the day before.
For the longest time, I can’t bend my knees. I want to wait by her side. Maybe see if her creator will come down to see her. Maybe see, at a certain hour, if the runes themselves will pull at her. There’s a method to this. There has to be. Always will be. I should sit, relax and wait.
The lantern flickers. Her contorted gums glimmer. Wet with spit. Alive. Supposedly…
There’s a creaking behind me, just the books settling. Heavy on this corklike floor. I should sit. I’ll be here a long time. A very long time.
I lift one hoof, and the ground yowls in protest. I kneel, and it cries again. I’m used to that. It’s not about to break. I can hear my weight splitting it, buckling under my stomach. But it’s not about to break. I’ve come here so many times. It would never break.
My lantern clunks beside me. No groaning there. But when my aura dies, the shadows multiply. The lantern isn’t bright enough. Just a little speck of orange, casting and multiplying shadows, glinting off cracks and cuts, wet with—
My horn flares.
I brought a book. I brought a book with me, and I set it in front of me. In the space between myself, and my body. I can glance up from the pages at any moment, check on every movement. And if I need more light, well, I have a light spell.
My aura dies—
I cast the light spell. A nice, bobbing purple light. Like a little fairy. It hummed as well! It’s pleasant. And warm. Now then. The pages glow and flutter. I flit past my bookmark and giggle quietly. Turn back the pages, miss the bookmark again. Well, it’s a nice sound at least. Pages rustling… Silly! I missed it again! Here. I manually turn each page with my hoof. I settle on my bookmark.
My aura dies—
I fiddle with the corner of the book. Thumbing the pages. Making them rustle.
I’ll just wait here and read.
The marks, the scratches on the floor. I didn’t notice before, but they pinch. Just a little. I adjust myself, settle back down. That’s better. I turn back to the page, scanning a few lines.
More than three thousand died in the three or four weeks before the cholera outbreak was contained. A stallion would be staggering along the road, and then he’d sit, and while the cameras rolled, he would crumple up, tip over, and be gone. And not just the men, but women and little foals—
The scratches were pinching again. I adjusted, tilting to one side. What an uncomfortable floor. I should have brought a pillow…
And not just the men, but women and little foals. Simply because they’d had a sip of water in which somepony had urinated, or defecated, or dumped a body—
I shoot up to my hooves, and cry out. Needles! There were needles in my belly! I rubbed a hoof up and down my stomach, creaking and crashing backwards. The light spell sputtered and vanished, and silence pressed into my eyes, my ears.
Just my ragged breathing now, my blood whirring inside my head. Calm down, calm down… I close my eyes tight, and I can see the stain of the lantern in each one, hovering bright orange light two little eyeballs. Calm down, calm down…
I open my eyes, floorboards shifting under my weight. The book’s still there. The lanterns still there. The scratches still—
Coated in little short hairs. Little short hairs sticking up from each crack, each scratch in the floor.
“I’m going to get another blanket.”
My own voice almost rings louder than the silence. Offensive. Offensive and loud, how dare I even speak in this place. The lantern gutters and I swear I see my body, the body on the floor twitch. No, it hasn’t moved, it hasn’t moved. Get a grip.
“I don’t think I can stay here, ahahaha!”
Another offensive desecration! Stop! Stop, you silly pony, stop saying words!
I grab the book. Slam it against my chest. I grab the lantern. Yanking it sideways as the handle squeals.
It goes out.
My aura dies—
There’s a tittering laugh. A jabbing sensation in my forehead, my own horn sparking and sputtering as ten light spells burst around me. Swollen and large. Too large. Too much magic, you silly pony, too much. Stop laughing, you silly pony. Stop overexerting yourself over nothing. Just breathe. Just calm down. There is nothing, logically, that you should be afraid of here. And look. Your lights expose the whole room. Just dusty bookshelves and your own corpse in a magic circle. A corpse you’ve never seen move, and may as well be a big, fat doll.
Nothing at all to be afraid of.
But knowing myself I can’t stay here so I’m going to go now.
The steps buckle and squeal all the way up to the rusted door.
I think I understand something now.
I look at my body, exhausted and rolled on its side.
I’m not afraid of it.
I thought, you know.
Your own body. Dead in front of you. That’s terrifying.
But it’s not. It’s not what’s scaring me.
It’s this space. This location. This dark basement creaking and moaning and groaning all around me.
It’s a spell.
It’s a spell, trying to keep me away from myself. Trying to keep me away from my body in front of me.
Because of what I, or anybody else, might do to it.
It’s trying to protect it. And at the same time, trying to hurt it.
This dark, malevolent force. Hurting the poor thing. Making sure nobody ever tries to take it away. Nobody ever tries to understand it. Especially not somebody like me.
Especially not somebody smart like me.
I’m not afraid.
I brought it a sandwich. Daffodils on white. My favorite.
I brought it another blanket. In case it gets cold.
And I brought myself back down to his horrible place.
I scream, a pain shooting up my foot. Sharp jabbing I scream again too loud for how little pain it is because it’s just that stupid thumbtack!
“Ahahahaha! Just the thumbtack, oh how did it get there?”
My talking is an offensive, but let the room be offended! I yank the thumbtack out of my foot, and there’s a little spurt of blood. It splatters across the scratches in the floor, making them wet. Reflective. Alive.
No, not alive! It’s just the spell! It’s just the spell trying to drive me away!
I slam my hoof on the ground, feeling the jagged wood jab into my wound. No! It will not drive me away from myself any longer!
I set everything down. The lantern. The blanket. The food to share with myself.
I set it down.
I step into the circle
And I reached my bloodied hoof out to touch my corpse’s contorted face.