The commotion after the show had been too great. Twilight had been swept up in the crowds, and couldn't find anypony who had the slightest idea of what had happened to Blueblood, or the pony he had attacked. She had returned home for the night, but found herself unable to sleep, or even to rest. Her mind was racing at a million miles per hour over all the strange new revelations she had received tonight. First and foremost was the fact that she now knew there were other ponies who knew of Carcosa, the King, and the Sign. Not only that, but they were out and often blatant about their knowledge. After all, a play isn't exactly the most subtle of ways of spreading a message. Perhaps the play itself had some nefarious purpose behind it, but now they would never know.
The second major revelation for Twilight had been the fact that Blueblood might have been more deeply affected by his experience than he had let on. He had attacked a pony and possibly killed them, and for what? He might have had a reason for such a rash action, but for now she was forced to assume the worst. Had the Prince snapped and murdered a pony in his madness? Had the visage of the King driven him mad, or did the play somehow awaken a long dormant insanity within him? He certainly hadn't seemed in his right mind as he was dragged screaming from the theater, still kicking and trying to break free from his captors. Of course, she didn't want to believe that Blueblood had lost it. Despite the fact that he was a conceited little pain in the flank, he was the only pony who believed her story. She couldn't afford to lose the only pony who was firmly on her side about the whole matter.
Twilight paced her study just as she had scolded Blueblood about the night before. Sleep or even rest refused to come to her the entire night, as she tried futilely to calm her nerves. Eventually, she adjourned to the kitchen and brewed herself a cup of tea, taking a seat and sipping it quietly as she watched the sun slowly begin its ascent over the horizon. She breathed out a sigh. Hopefully with the morning Celestia and Luna would be able to shed some light on the events of last night.
The Canterlot throne room was a flurry of buzzing activity. Ponies darted to and fro with papers, files, typewriters and other objects, some working on orders from Celestia herself and others researching their own personal tangents. It seemed that the general air about the place was one of confusion rather than clarity. Psychologists, doctors, and therapists alike scurried here and there, occasionally muttering something about a breakthrough. Twilight tried to weave her way through the chaotic mess of a scene, heading straight for Celestia herself. The Princess was seated on her throne, absolutely swamped with letters and files and notices and ponies trying to pry some information from her. She looked just as frazzled as they did, as she tried to both read her notes and answer questions at the same time. As her student approached she glanced up, a look of relief on her face.
"Oh Twilight thank heavens you're here." She said, setting aside the mound of papers and rising from her seat. "He won't talk. Not to anypony. He just keeps repeating that song from the play over and over again. Even when me and Luna tried to speak with him he seemed to have no words for us, no matter how hard we pried. He says that he won't speak unless its to you."
"To me?" Twilight questioned. "Any reason why?"
"If he has one, it's lost to us." Celestia's face showed a mixture of concern and sadness. "Twilight, I fear he's gone mad."
Twilight gulped softly.
"Well if he asked to talk with me, we shouldn't keep him waiting. Where did you say he was being kept?"
Celestia motioned with her hoof as she lead Twilight away from the chaos of the throne room and into one of the many hallways of the castle. They began to travel downwards along a spiral staircase, the air seeming to thicken as they descended. The walls soon lost the windows they had once bore, with the light being provided now by sconces and torches.
"I've begun to worry Twilight, about the both of you." Celestia said as they passed through the cobweb ridden halls. "First you tell me a story of dimensions and Kings, then Blueblood goes mad and murders a pony during a play..."
"A play that supports our testimony." Twilight commented. "Doesn't it seem a little weird to you that the play used so many names that my story did?"
"Its an odd coincidence yes, but it doesn't leave much in the way of proof. How do I know you didn't use your three week absence to see the play beforehand? Or that you read a copy of the script some time in the past?"
"Are you saying I'm lying?"
"No." Celestia cringed slightly, trying to find words to say. "But what I'm saying is that what you've told me just cannot exist. You're telling me to believe that there is another world out there, this 'Carcosa' you speak of, ruled over by a King in a yellow robe and a mask, neither of which follow any of the laws established in reality? To put it all simply... It sounds utterly mad."
"I know it sounds mad. It sounds crazy to me even though I was there! But Princess, you have to believe me!" Twilight pleaded.
"I want to believe you Twilight, but its a lot to buy without any proof!"
"Indeed it is."
A third voice suddenly interrupted their conversation, with Twilight nearly jumping out of her skin in shock. Both she and Celestia turned to see Princess Luna standing behind them, nearly invisible in the shadows.
"Oh goodness." Celestia said, breathing a sigh of relief. "You startled me."
"It has been said that I hath a light hoofbeat dearest sister." Luna said, solemnly falling into line with her sister and Twilight.
"So, you've returned from Dunwich then? Were you able to extract anything useful from anypony there?"
"Nay. Tis as wretched a place as I recalled it. Ponies shutter themselves up in decrepit old houses even as the stink of decay befouls the air. The ponies of that town are as twisted and rotten as their architecture, and most were quick to hole themselves in at my presence. Those precious few who didn't duck into their reeking, pestilential doorways had little in the way of useful information. They confirmed that the Dunwich players came from this disgusting abode. The pony killed at the show was one Alistair Wheatly, nephew to Lavinia Wheatly, a mare of great prominence in the town. I offered condolences to her, but she merely thanked me for the news and stated that she had her own work to attend to, before slamming the door shut in my face. I left that place of foulness as soon as I was able."
"Sounds like we won't be getting anything useful from them then." Celestia said as the group of three approached a lone wooden door at the end of the staircase. A muffled voice could be heard from the other side, droning on and on in a rhythmic monotony. Twilight could faintly pick out the melody from the song at the show, occasionally catching the words "shadow" "tatters" or "Carcosa" through the doorway. "Blueblood is in there. He said he would speak to you, but to no one else. Be careful Twilight. He... hasn't exactly been himself since the incident."
Twilight nodded, stepping forward and opening the musty, creaking door. The room within was dark, with a sense of disquieting dampness that made her coat stand on end. In the dim light of the chamber, she could see Blueblood, leaned against the stone wall with heavy iron clamps fastened to his hooves, connected to the walls with thick chains. His head raised as he saw her enter, and in an instant his eyes had ignited with a sudden, urgent blaze of action. He rose to hos hooves, trotting as close as his bindings would allow.
"Twilight? Is that you?"
"No its Discord." She replied flatly. "Who else would it be?"
"You can't be too safe." Blueblood mused. "That masked bastard has spies and agents everywhere. Those ponies at the theater likely aren't his first, and they certainly won't be his last."
"Blueblood, what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about Him, Twilight. The King. I know that even now there are ponies out there just waiting to..."
"Look, you've lost me already." Twilight sighed. "Just start from the beginning alright? What happened at the play last night?"
"I had stepped out to order a drink, just like I had said." Blueblood said, beginning to pace back and forth, his chains clanging against the floor as he walked. "I felt like I needed to investigate the play however, as I felt uneasy somehow as it neared the second act. So, I slipped backstage to check things out. I stopped the actor who was playing the King, and he tried to assure me it was all merely an act. I would have believed him too, if I hadn't seen it first."
"Seen what Blueblood?"
"The sign. I saw the Yellow Sign etched into his flesh, as though it had been burned there with a brand or a flesh eating acid!" Blueblood's eyes were wild with a mixture of fright and rage. "That damn sign! When I saw it on that pony I just... I couldn't control myself. I scarcely remember what I did, all I can recall is a whirlwind of hooves before I was tackled to the ground. When I finally came to my senses my hooves were covered with blood and wine, and I'd been cuffed and dragged back to the Canterlot Dungeon."
He leaned against the wall, slowly sliding down before slumping on the floor. He kept speaking, but far less intensely than he had been. Twilight had to crane her neck to hear what he was whispering.
"Its all gone now. My position, my job, my title... Everything is going to be taken from me. Everypony thinks I've gone mad now, and perhaps they're right. Is it really the more logical choice to believe that everypony else is blind? Or have I really just gone mad?"
"You and I both saw the same things in Carcosa, Blueblood." Twilight replied. "If you're mad, that means that both of us are mad."
"Twilight, its the two of us against all of Equestria."
"It was one against Equestria when I figured out Nightmare Moon would return."
"Even so, Nightmare Moon was already a part of Equestria's lore and legend. Carcosa is... Well, utterly alien. Nopony believes us, and the few who do I'd rather not think about."
"What about Alharzed? What about his book that might have answers for us?"
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm in prison. I can't even go to my bedroom, much less travel abroad. For all intents and purposes, I'm as good as dead." Blueblood sighed. "I killed somepony Twilight. I'm not going anywhere. Please, don't waste your time on me. Go to Saddle Arabia, get that book, and find some answers. If you find them, come back and show them to me."
"No buts." Blueblood turned his back to her. "It's over for me Twilight."
Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but closed it almost just as quickly. She had gotten a pretty good feel of Blueblood's personality these past few days,and knew he was far too stubborn to be reasoned with at this point. She sighed softly, turning to leave. As she exited the cell, closing the door behind her, she could have sworn that she heard the Prince begin to softly hum a melody that had become all to familiar to her.
"Along the shore the cloud waves break
The twin suns sink behind the lake
The shadows lengthen
For the second night in a row, Twilight couldn't sleep. She had nodded off for perhaps an hour or two, but she couldn't really call it restful. Despite the short duration, her rest had been plagued with dreams of the most terrible kind. In it, she was hurtling at breakneck speed through those kaleidoscopic skies, sailing over vast, nightmarish cities and gaping maws in the glass earth. She passed what she knew to have been Carcosa, but carried on from there, passing over new and nameless clusters of spires, which seemed to dot the landscape more and more frequently the further she soared. The towers below her seemed to echo with noise, through from her position she could not tell what the noises were. It sounded to her like the din of laughter, sorrow, and torment all rolled into one. On and on she sailed, far beyond grim Carcosa and deep into the blackness beyond. First stars, then planets, then entire galaxies whizzing by as she screamed through the tartarean void of interstellar space, as the stars and galaxies became fewer and far between. Finally, there was nothing, save an endless sea of palpable shadow all around her. Twilight felt something touch her hoof. Something that was soft and felt-like, yet also wet and cold. Its grip suddenly tightened, and Twilight instantly awoke, her body chilled and her brow slick with sweat.
Twilight lay there for what felt like hours, catching her breath and trying to think of what to do next. Trying to appeal to Celestia and Luna was getting her nowhere, and the idea of going alone to Saddle Arabia filled her with dread. She knew trying to tell other ponies about what she'd been through would just get her the same reaction Celestia had given her. Blueblood was the only other pony who knew what lurked there at the doorstep of reality, and who realized the stakes of having that doorway opened again. If what Blueblood claimed about those actors bearing the Yellow Sign was true, then Twilight's worst fears had been realized. The cult in the woods that they had stopped was only a small part of something much larger and far more horrific. They had only been able to open the portal in the woods, and had they not been stopped, could they have called something out of it? If there were still active members of this cult, could they perhaps be preparing to repeat the ritual, even as she waited here?
Twilight knew she couldn't take that risk. Now was not the time for her to sit about thinking of what shadowy cults might be doing. Now was the time to take action. She rolled out of bed and ascended the staircase that lead to Spike's bedroom. She knocked on the door, before pushing it open with a soft creak. The dragon was asleep, though his eyes blinked open as the light from the hall crept into his room.
"Twilight?" He mumbled, still half asleep. "Something wrong?"
She shook her head, kneeling beside his bed.
"Spike, I'm going to be going on a trip."
"I don't know." Twilight whispered. "I might never come back."
"You what?!" Spike sat up, only to be hushed by Twilight.
"I don't know for sure yet. I might be gone a week, I might be gone a year. It all depends."
"Why would you not come back?" Spike swallowed hard.
"Because I'm going to do something drastic." Twilight sighed. "I could be badly hurt, or worse..."
"Do you have to go?"
"Can I come with you?"
Both dragon and alicorn were silent for a moment, before Twilight spoke again.
"I saw something Spike. Something big and terrible. Something that could wipe Equestria off the map if it gets the chance."
"Are you going to stop it?"
"I'm going to try." Twilight said quietly. "If anypony asks about me, just tell them that I've gone on a vacation. Until I return, you are released from my service."
Spike closed his eyes, clenching his fists hard. Twilight gently hugged the little dragon, hearing him sniffle quietly as she held him. She could feel him shuddering, as well as a wet spot of hot tears soaking her coat. She shut her eyes, pulling him tighter against herself.
"I'm going to make things right, Spike. I promise."