"This doesn't even fit me," Sweetie Belle complained, kicking against the edges of her cloak. The brown cloth stuck far over the ends of her hooves.
"Of course it doesn't fit, you silly thing," Applebloom said, eyes buried in the battered ancient book in front of her. She sat down, hooves rubbing up the thick old stump beneath the book. "We swiped it from adult magicians, didn't we?"
A low hum slowly made its way through Everfree Forest. Although it seemed to have no source, it quickly filled up the air around them. The dark grey haze grew even thicker as well. Scootaloo, looking uncharacteristically tense with sweat coating the insides of her cloak, stepped over to Applebloom.
"I d-don't t-think you're r-reading that right," she murmured. She glanced over at the eerie magic swirling around the altar, blue wisps of light mixing in with circling gusts of dust, and she took a deep breath.
Sweetie turned over to look at her friends. She took a step and tripped over her cloak. Applebloom eyes moved over to the mossy spot for moment, seeing Sweetie picking herself back up, but she immediately returned to the book.
"Oh, relax, I've got it totally under control," said the earth pony. She stepped backwards, eyes closing. Sweetie and Scootaloo walked over to each other, rubbing up shoulder to shoulder.
They eyed Applebloom as she muttered what seemed like nonsensical moans. They shivered when Applebloom lifted up her hood. Eyes closed with stripes of thick black and red paint going across her face, the earth pony leaned her head back.
"And reward us, o' great dark one!" She boomed. Blue whisps stretched across the alter over around her cloak, blowing it upwards from the sheer energy. "Reward us, your most humble servants, and allow that thine will shall be done. Let the gates open. Let the spirits arise, for humbling is the hoof that commands the will the nature itself."
Scootaloo looked over at her unicorn friend. She hopped over to the side, shivering from head to toe. "S-s-s-s-sweetie..."
Sweetie jittered in place as he teeth chattered. She stepped over to Applebloom with a very odd, almost floating like movement, lining up side by side besides the altar. The various magical items-- from special tree bark to a blackened skull to vials of potions taken from Twilight's laboratory-- glowed as brightly as the moon. Scootaloo's eyes grew wide as dinner plates as she saw magical liquid trickling through the air from Sweetie's horn into the dark magical brew.
"This is an awful lot, girls, and I don't think it'll get us our cutie marks, really," Scootaloo said. She saw no response from her friends. The horrible humming had risen into a constant clanging with mechanical groaning. She put her hooves to her ears, hearing a torrent of screeches building up underneath the noise. "Girls, please!"
The fillies' opened their eyes up as well, entirely covered with a dark blue aura. They both opened their mouths, and their breaths made long whips in the freezing night air. Scootaloo dug her bottom hooves into the mossy patches below her, feeling like losing all control.
"Oherium, parsh, acticesish onah suteramum! Algreief, anuk anukahe al griedeirs-- poural al bash hikeramah!" Applebloom recited, her voice sounding as if it came from right out of the moonlight sky. Sweetie hummed along with the words.
Scootaloo remained still as a statue, tears going down her face. The dark magical currents swirled around and around the altar. Stretching into a vortex, blue and black sparks rattled down over along the grassy floor and across her friend's bodies.
"Hikeramah!" Sweetie repeated, her hooves pointing straight up. Wind coursed through her mane, her cloak fluttering with sheer energy.
"Hikeramah!" Applebloom declared once more, moving up to her hind legs. Her front hooves seemed to float in the air, holding onto the magical currents themselves.
The two fillies looked over at Scootaloo, eyes blazing with black auras. Their hooves pointed over in her direction. The vortex grew, spiral waves of something black and reflective whipping through the air.
"Hikeramah! Hikeramah! Hikeramah!" Scootaloo called out, stamping her hooves on the ground. Tears poured off of her face. As she finished, spiral waves of magic shot out from all directions from the altar.
The filly closed her eyes tightly, feeling herself floating up into the air. The horrible noises built up, feeling like some horrible massive machine screaming into her ears. She felt a sudden rush, and things went black.
Applebloom rubbed her face against the ground. It felt like nothing she had ever come across before. Metal something stretched all around; she felt it all across her hooves. She shifted a few inches to side, groaning. Her whole body ached.
She tried to stand up. Her ears flickered. She couldn't hear a thing. She didn't hear her friends. She didn't hear her own breath. She didn't hear the wind blowing around. Everything was totally empty. Somehow, that seemed even worse than all the mechanical noises a few seconds before.
"Or was it a few seconds. It could have been hours," she said to herself. She stopped. I can't hear it. I can't hear myself. She blinked. "I can't hear my own voice." She heard her words in her mind before she said them. She felt her mouth move. She didn't hear a single thing, just that same suffocating silence. She looked down.
Rusty metal grating went out in all directions. Applebloom could see right through the icky feeling red and brown coated black metal arrays to other grating below that. She came to a sudden, horrible realization. It's going on forever. I literally can see it down forever.
Floor after floor of metal gratings made intricate geometric patterns without rhyme or reason. Outside of the metal, a pure, inky blackness covered everything else. She took a gulp. She stepped forwards.
Applebloom took a little breath and allowed herself a small smile. "At least I can hear myself move," she muttered. She glanced around. Her mane, tail, and the rest of her looked fine. I'd lost control at the middle of the spell. It almost felt like somepony was inside my head, telling me what to do. She shuddered at the memory. Can I really believe that I thought this was a good way to get my cutie mark? She smacked her hooves against the ground in frustration.
She walked to the left. Out of the blackness came a wall. She paused. She reached out with a hoof, scraping some of the rust off of the wall. It's real enough. The endless wall stretched from left to right. It had an odd set of studded dark grey stripes going across the otherwise pale, solid grey metal.
"Well, how am I going to get out of here?" She turned around. She looked up. Everything seemed about the same. She sighed. "I guess the only way is... straight."
She stepped forwards. Her hoof ran along the tiny studs in the wall as she moved. Somehow, the bumping felt comforting. The wall went on for quite a while. She walked at a steady pace, making the 'plink plink' noise sound like a metronome.
She suddenly froze. A noise arose very faintly from deep beneath her hooves. She tipped her head down. She couldn't see a think, but the noise swirled deep beneath her. It sounded something like steam escaping, but she could hardly make it out.
Applebloom kept on walking. She hardly had a choice. She glanced at the wall and over to her path, mouth shifting again and again. It didn't take long until she started to feel a bit of panic rising inside her.
"This can't be right," she murmured. "I'm not going anywhere." She stopped. "I can't be stuck in her, forever, can I?" The rushing sounds far beneath her amped up, almost giving her an answer. "Well, I can't... wait..." She felt something deep inside of her.
She couldn't understand it. It felt like an itchiness, almost as if she had sandpaper rubbing around her insides. Yet it didn't feel bad. It seemed familiar.
"I'm not stuck. I can get out of here," she said. She immediately had an emotional wash go over her, and she knew somehow as if by instinct that she could. "But I can't keep walking this way. I'm going nowhere."
Or is nowhere where I am already? She stepped away from the wall. Wait... did I think that? Or did somepony else think that? She pressed her hooves against her cheeks. Does it matter who thinks it? It's your thoughts, Applebloom.
"No, no, no, that's not right," she moaned, putting her head down against the floor gates. "Please, stop it."
Will you really keep on going forever?
"Going... that's some kind of riddle, right?" she said, rubbing her back against the wall. She put her hooves over to her mane, feeling sweat coming over it.
Call it whatever you like. You just need to know that you don't have much time.
"That's not--" she started to say, but she stopped mid-sentence. Am I really talking to somepony else? Am I just losing it? Am I even here, now? This whole thing seems more like a dream. Even if it is a dream, I probably shouldn't be aruging with my own thoughts. She stood back up, her hoof on the wall just like before.
She looked down. She saw the inky blackness way, way below her-- from beneath floor of grating after floor of grating-- start to turn more gray and wavy. She immediately put two and two together. It's flooding. The bucking room is flooding.
She felt her breathing quickening. Her hooves shook. No, now is not the time to panic! I can't panic! Not when my friends are around her and still in danger too!
"My friends!" She called out. "Will they be okay?" She ran, hooves flying, down the way that she had gone. The ripples of dark liquid deep below her went on churning. She heard the noises building up, and she ran faster. Her hoof broke with the wall.
She immediately brought herself back against the wall. Her body slipped somehow, the ground almost turning from metal to something fluid. She reached out, grabbing the wall's nubs tightly with her hooves. Somehow, she managed to stick to it, as if her body was metal and the nubs were magnetic.
"My friends... oh no..." she whimpered. Were they there around me when I first showed up here? What if they're not okay? They could be hurt. I have to do something.
She reached down, her hooves touching the normal metal floor. Well, that was weird. Stupid floor. She blinked, taking a deep breath. Wait... I think I've realized something. She looked out in front of her, seeing nothing more than a stretch of darkness into the horizon. Oh, it's a riddle-- but it's so obvious! "Nowhere is where I am", and thus "I can't keep going on forever".
Applebloom turned completely around, pointing herself in the opposite direction. She saw the darkness on the horizon leading off into something grayer, something hazy and indistinct. She trotted off that way, smiling. That was so bucking clear. The sound of her hooves grew louder, and the swooshing way below her seemed to stay the same.
She looked over at the wall. She saw signs suddenly appearing. The large white cards, drilled into the wall, said nothing. She felt so offset, a cold chill going over her, but she determined to keep on walking. Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo. I have to see if they're okay.
To Be Continued...