Descent Into Shadows

by Golden Hoof

Dark Prelude

I opened my eyes to a roaring fire. Embers spit from the fireplace, landing but a few inches from my face, though I didn’t mind the extra heat; my entire body felt cold and numb. I tried pushing myself to my hooves, but crippling pain in my head kept me glued to the floor. Slowly, I gathered my strength and pushed myself up, finding balance against the stone walls as I tried to warm myself. I sighed as the heat rolled across my body, helping clear the pain that clouded my mind.

"What in the name of Celestia is going on here?" I thought as I glanced around the shadowed room, shutting my eyes. "Alright... just calm down and think... what's the last thing that you remember..." Suddenly, a sharp pain ripped through my head. My legs buckled beneath me, and I slid down the wall, paralyzed. As I stared blankly off into the shadows, a pair of bright red eyes flashed in the dark before me, fading as quickly as they appeared. After what seemed like an eternity, I pushed myself back up the wall to my hooves, though I could still feel echoes of the pain, and see those red eyes staring accusingly at me from the dark.

"What the hay was that?!" I said aloud, my head still throbbing. Slowly, the pain subsided, and I tried again. This time instead of pain, there was nothing. "You have to remember something... do you even know your own name?" I grasped at air, searching for something; some fragment of whoever I was. Nothing. "What's happened to me?" I stared closer at the room around me, trying to pick shapes out of the darkness. "Well if you can't remember, might as well have a look around. At least check your cutie mark." I turned wearily to check the mark that determined my talent. Instead of seeing something familiar like a wrench or a book, there was a strange symbol. I didn't recognize it from anywhere, though something did seem familiar about it. I couldn't put my hoof on it.

“OK… just try to remain calm,” I said, finding comfort in the sound of my own voice. “Just... just look around, see what you can find.” From my orb of light by the fire, I stared into the darkness around letting my eyes adjust. I was in what appeared to have once been someone’s office, worn bookshelves covered in layers of thick cobwebs lined the walls, a small solitary desk coated in a thick layer of dust sat across from the fireplace. There was a window a few meters away from where I stood. "I bet I could get a good look from there." Pushing myself away from the wall. As I searched for balance, my head began to pound furiously. I rubbed it uneasily, groaning as the pain grew with each step I took. Finally at the window, I pulled away the curtains, looking out into a plain of black emptiness. Just outside of the glass, I could wind rushing by, raindrops pattering against the glass.

Suddenly, there was a burst of light, striking down from the clouds to the ground, much farther down than I could have guessed. An entire valley seemingly miles below was illuminated; tiny shadows of trees stretching off in the distance across a rugged landscape. I jumped back, knocking into the desk. I lost my balance and went hurling to the floor. As I groaned from the carpet, something fell from the desk and beside my head. I glanced over and spotted a small pack with a note attached. I rolled myself over, checking the faded paper.

If you’re reading this, I need your help. My name is... Somepony had marked out the next few words. Please find your way to the foyer. I will be waiting there for you. Time is of the essence, so you must hurry. I think there is someone watching me.

I read it again, looking for any other, perhaps hidden messages, flipping around to check the back. It was blank. "Well that's helpful... but I suppose something is better than nothing..."I set the note aside then dug into the knapsack. Flipping it open, I glanced inside. A thin notebook and a dagger lay down inside the cramped space. I pulled out the book first, checking it's cover. A strange symbol adorned it, the same as my cuite mark. I unlocked it with ease, flipping it to the first, and only page. Two words had been cut deep into the worn paper. Through the smudged ink, I could make out one phrase:

Kill Hourglass

The knife suddenly appeared in new light. I pulled my hand away in fear, thoughts rushing through my head. "Am I a murderer?" The thought of having killed someone I didn’t even remember horrified me. It was an act done by someone who I no longer was; something that could never be washed away. I looked more closely at the blade. It didn’t appear stained from what I could tell. Rather, it looked as clean as the day it had been forged. Steel however, unlike our actions, could be cleaned. Blood could be washed away, acts could be undone. Nervously, I reached out and grabbed the handle, lifting it closer. It was much heavier than I would have expected, the weight felt unfamiliar.

Even though I lost all memory of my previous self, every operation memory seemed intact. If I had used the dagger before, it would have felt more comfortable in my hands. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I could breathe a sigh of relief. "Ok, so you haven’t killed anyone… yet. Maybe someone was able to stop you before you went through with it." While I had solved the murder mystery, it still didn’t explain why I couldn’t remember anything. I glanced down at the crumpled up note. Perhaps you could answer some of my questions…

I looked down at the blade one last time then stuffed it back in the pack with the book, slinging the whole thing over my shoulders. I headed for the only door available, stopping just before it. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the other side, but it probably wasn’t much different from what I had found in this tiny shelter of mine. I turned back to glance one last time around the sanctuary. The fire was on its last leg, flickering gently against the dark backdrop of the room. It just a short while, it would extinguish, and everything would be just as it was before I arrived, whenever that was.

I turned, and pushed the door open. It slowly creaked ajar, seeming to suck what little light remained within the office into the abyss behind it. It was a hallway, stretching off into oblivion in two directions. Both seemed equally appealing. I checked both ways, sighing. I suppose if one way turns out to be a dead end, you could always come back... I glanced down the halls again, still indecisive. "For Celestia's sake it doesn't matter which way you go, just get going!" I took in a deep breath of air, and charged down the right tunnel.

I edged down the hallway to Celestia only knew where. Though my eyes had long adjusted to the blackness, I still couldn’t see a foot in front of me. Squinting didn’t help, and that noise I had earlier kept replaying over and over again in my head. I kept looking back, expecting to see something, not that I ever saw anything. The thing could have been following two steps behind me and I wouldn’t give it a second glance. The whole process repeated for what seemed like hours: take a few steps forward, then look back, then take a few more steps forward, then look back again. I stopped somewhere in between step two and three. "This is getting nowhere… you were better off in that office than trekking around this damn place in the dark." Suddenly I was dragged from my thoughts by a noise off in the dark behind me; a light shuffling as something, or somepony dragged their feet along the wooden floor.

I froze, listening closely. “Hello? Who’s there?” I called out instinctively. I gave myself a mental slap across the face the moment I heard the words leave my lips. When I listened again, the sound was gone. I waited for it to pop back, but it never did. Fear in my heart, I eased myself back in the opposite direction continued my tedious path. A few steps later and the sound returned, only now it was louder, and faster. This time, I didn’t stop. I picked up the pace, skipping steps two and four, starting into a light jog. The thing that followed me seemed to sense this, and hurried to match my speed.

I charged blindly through the dark, pushing off corners in the hall as I slammed against them. I could hear it catching up; the heavy, damp breaths that smelled of death and decay; every powerful stomp as it slammed one of its feet to the wooden floor. "It’s not going to get you." I tried to reassure myself. "Just gotta keep running... find the exit..." The further I ran though, the more I began to lose hope. I was already running out of breath, and it seemed to be just getting started. I slipped around what I thought was to be my last corner when I saw it; a door at the very end of the unending tunnel that glowed at its edges. The almost heavenly light gave me new strength, and I sprinted as fast as I could towards the illumination. I exploded through the entrance, flipping around to shut the door.

There was a brief moment, where time seemed to freeze, and I stood mere feet from the thing that had been chasing me. I stared up at its white, beady eyes, and it stared back at me. I looked down as it raised an arm out towards me, long, jagged claws crudely stitched to its salmon colored flesh jutting from the shadows. I kicked the door shut just before it could reach me, stumbling back as the blade-like appendage shot through the wood. The creature let loose a hellish growl from behind the door and yanked its arm back, taking a sizable chunk of the door with it. And then... silence… I held my breath, gazing through the new opening into the darkness beyond, waiting for those soulless eyes to stare back at through, but nothing came. I waited a bit longer; still quiet.

Picking myself up, I stepped over to the door. There was a bulge in the wood from where something heavy had struck the other side; cracks ran up and down the frame. If that thing had just struck it a few more times, it probably would have come crashing on through. Why had it stopped? I turned to look what room I had entered. I stared out over a massive hall, the ceiling rising up seemingly forever. Pillars that had once helped support the roof had since collapsed, littering the floor with debris. Water from the storm outside dripped down from holes in the roof.

As I gazed across the wasteland around me, something caught my eye far across the room; a lone figure standing beside one of the collapsed pillars. I wanted to shout for help, maybe get a second opinion on what the hell was going on, but something stopped me. I shut my mouth, and then, I was staring into his eyes; two red dots gleaming against the dark backdrop of the walls. I felt my blood freeze as a twisted smile crept across his face, just before he vanished in a flash of light.

I wasn’t sure what I felt then. Perhaps it was utter terror. Maybe curiosity. Whatever it was, something drew me over to where the stranger once stood. As I crept through the field of broken stone and wood, that feeling grew and grew in the pit of my stomach. By the time I stumbled over the last pillar, I thought I was going to be sick. I’m not sure what I expected to find there. Maybe some clue as to whom I saw, or maybe where they had disappeared to. But I found nothing; just an empty space where the figure had once stood. I scoured around, turning over debris, looking for something, just one clue.

I didn’t find anything about who was standing there, but I did find something else. As I turned over what was to be my last stone from the rubble, I heard a noise, coming from somewhere beyond the downed pillar. I clambered over the pillar, dropping down on the other side when I spotted her. She lay curled up, still and lifeless against the stone, wrapped in a light brown shroud. For a moment, I sat there, unsure of what to do with myself. I pulled out the note from earlier, reading over it again. "Perhaps you are my anonymous writer…"

Kneeling down, I checked her pulse. Her skin was as cold as ice, but I could feel the steady beat of blood pumping in her veins. She was alive, for the most part. I reached out and gently shook her. “Um… are you ok?” I said nervously. No response. I tried again, harder this time. “Hey, wake up!” I said, more forcefully this time. There was still no answer. I readied for one final attempt when she suddenly shot awake in a gasp for breath.

“W-what’s going on?!” the unicorn asked, quickly scanning around. “Where am I?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said offering a timid, but friendly smile. Her cold gaze landed on me, melting in a look of fear.

“Who are you?”

“I was just about to ask you the same question."

She sighed, resting her head in her hooves. “How long have I been out for?”

“I don’t know I just wandered here a few minutes ago.”

“Great...” she said, pushing herself to her hooves.

“Um... so... what's your name?"

"You can call me Twilight." she said, glancing around.

"Ah, alright. Well, Twilight, not to be rude or anything,” I said, nudging some rocks with my hoof. "but I'm just going to assume this the part where you tell me what the hay is going on around here?"

"Why would I know? You're the one who wandered in on me remember?"

"Yes, but you're the one who wrote the note asking me to come and meet you here."

"What note?"

I pulled it out of the pack, flashing it. "This one."

She took it with her magic, scanning over the paper. "I didn't write this..."

"Then who did? You're the first pony I've seen in this place, and by the looks of things, there hasn't been anypony here in a while."

"Hey, I'm just as clueless as you are!" she said defensively. "Somepony is messing with us. If we just get out of here we can pull ourselves together, and figure out this mess."

"I can see the logic in that... Alright, you lead, I'll follow."

"The doors should be over this way." she said, leaping over the pillar before speeding off across the foyer. "Come on, let's go!"

I followed in pursuit, trailing her across the hall towards a pair of tall, iron doors that stretched far above our heads. As we approached the door, something happened. It was as though the ground began to shift beneath my feet. Suddenly, it was impossible to keep my balance. I stumbled forward and fell to my knees. The mare seemed to be having the same problems I was. By the time we reached the door, we were having trouble crawling.

I stretched out for the gate handle, just barely able to think straight, and grabbed it tight. When I moved to turn it though, the handle wouldn’t budge. I turned and saw her tugging at the iron handles with me. “This area is cursed…" she said, weakly pushing away from the door. "I... I need to bring us back.” A magical energy built up in her horn, and in an instant, we were brought back to the pillar.

“What was that," I asked, my strength flooding back. "Why did you take us back?”

“The doors have been cursed,” she said matter-of-factly. “A powerful one too, it felt like top-tier magic. They're not going to budge.”

“OK then, so how do we get out of here?” I asked.

“I don't think we can. As far as I know those doors are the only way in and out of this place.”

“Great... so we’re trapped here?”

“Yeah... I don’t think I’d ever be able to dispel the barrier, even with all the time in the world.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Well, I suppose we should find a place to rest up. I think I know just the place.” The mare said, quickly scrambling over some rubble on her left. “Come on, this way.

Although I had my doubts, I follow the mare, across the field of broken stone, to a solitary door on the far right side. Above it was a bronze plaque, 'Library'. She opened the door, beckoning me through. "Come on, hurry up." she said just as she passed through. I hesitated; was I afraid again? Of what? Something was telling me to just turn around and find my own way out. I took a deep breath, shoved the feelings aside, and forced my way through the door, ready for whatever new challenges waited before me.