I was never one to break the rules. Actually, there were only two occasions in my fillyhood when I ever remembered being scolded for crossing a line; accidentally breaking my mother’s vase while galloping through the house, and trying to open the door.
It was about the time I had first been accepted into Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. I and a group of my peers were being guided on a tour through the castle, led by the Princess herself. She brought us through a long corridor in the basement, deep inside the mountain, on which the castle had been built. The hall was dank and cold, and flanked on either side by doors at regular intervals.
It was about halfway down the hall that I noticed one door that was different from the rest. There was something peculiar about it. It had obviously been there for a long time, as the door itself was old and rusted; the paint coating its steel exterior, beginning to peel in places.
I paused and looked at the door for a long time. There was something off about it; something besides its stark appearance in comparison the ornateness of the rest. Why as it there? And what lay behind it?
Being the curious filly I was at the time, I used my magic to envelop the lever to open it, before I was cut off by the imposing presence of the Princess.
“There are few things which I absolutely forbid, Twilight,” the Princess said firmly. “But this is one of them. Never open that door. That goes for everypony. Is that understood?”
The entire group answered affirmatively, and I shrunk away, feeling foalish for incurring the Princess’s displeasure by my actions. Yet, the mystery still loomed in the back of mind. What was behind that door?
For the next month, I pondered over exactly that. At night, I would stay awake, going over all the possibilities in my mind. Maybe it was a dungeon where the Princess kept criminals? Or maybe it was some super-secret alchemy lab? The speculations swirled in my brain, each one more fantastical than the next; my adolescent mind riddled with excitement at the unknown.
I asked anyone who I thought might know – save the Princess herself. I even consulted the library, looking up any possible clue as to what lay behind the door.
I conspired one day, when no one was looking, to open that door and see what was behind it. But I never got a chance. In the highly structured schedule of a gifted unicorn, I soon learned that there was never a time when I would be alone. I was always too preoccupied with my lessons, so it became virtually impossible to reach the door without somepony being privy to what I was doing. So I gave it up.
Eventually, the thought of the door faded from memory. I went about my days – reading in the library or testing spells – giving little thought to its presence until it vanished from my conscious entirely.
That was, until a few months ago.
After being made an Alicorn by the Princess, I have been frequently called back to Canterlot to help with affairs of state. There are mostly bureaucratic in nature; planning diplomatic missions and entertaining foreign dignitaries and the like. This last visit, however, was something less political if not just as important: planning for the Grand Galloping Gala.
The Princess, who usually planned the whole affair herself, granted me the privilege of overseeing it this year. It came, as you might imagine, as a great honor ; if not a wholly unexpected one. Still, managing this colossus of an event was anything but easy going. There was getting the necessary supplies in order, making up lists of guests, and then directing and supervising the staff – cooks, servers, and musicians and the like – to make sure it all went off without a miss.
This all meant becoming intimately reacquainted with the castle again; exploring its labyrinth of halls and corridors and finding how to coordinate the maze of traffic to make sure the servants didn’t get in each other’s way.
It was on one such occasion, after having reviewed the accommodation for a certain giant cake that was to be served at the commencement ceremony that I found myself trotting alone towards the Castle pantry to take stock off the flour and sugar supplies. That’s when I saw it again – the door.
Looking back, it was sheer coincidence that I had noticed at all. I was so caught up in my own thoughts, that had I not been put-off by a sudden urge to look over my shoulder, I may have passed it all together. But as fate would have it, I did so just as I passed it, and couldn’t help but catching a glimpse of it as I passed by.
I froze in my place, a flood of memories coming back to me. I turned to the right and saw it there – the door standing solemnly and unadorned – just as it had when I was small.
I gazed at it, something turning in my gut; that singular curiosity from my fillyhood coming back to me.
I wanted to open it.
I stepped forward, intent to do.
My conscious told me that I didn’t have time for this; that I had duties to attend to. After all, it continued, trying to dismiss my excitement, it’s probably nothing but a supply closet that the Princess didn’t want her students snooping in.
Still, despite my conscious' objections, there was something off-setting about the door; as if its presence demanded that it be investigated – beckoning me to open it.
I gave it one more look and, against my better judgement, I decided satisfy my curiosity and open the door.
I used my magic and pulled on the big, metal lever; the rusty hinges on the door creaking as it began to slide open. The first thing that greeted me was a blast of musty air – as if that door had not been opened in a long time. After being caught off-guard by the smell, I looked past the threshold and saw a long, narrow flight of stone stairs that descended into darkness.
I stared for a long time down those stairs, trying to make out where they ended. It was pitch black, and try as I might, I could not see where they led.
A part of me wished to turn around; to shut the door and forget I had ever opened it; but another part told me, urged me into the darkness to see what was there.
With a sigh, I focused my magic, and formed an incandescent glow that illuminated my way as I put one hoof in front of the other, descending into the abyss.
The stairs wound downwards until they came to a landing – the light from the door well out of view. On the wall, I noticed a torch hanging on a sconce. I levitated the torch in front of me lit it on fire with my magic, revealing another set of stairs on the opposite side of the landing, leading even further down.
With torch in tow, I continued my descent, meeting landings at regular intervals until I finally reached the bottom.
I must have been at least a thousand feet under the castle. There was no light, aside from the flames of the torch. And then there was…the smell. It hit you all at once – a strange, overwhelming odor.
I coughed as I stumbled around in the darkness, trying to guide myself along the wall until I came to a large arch that extended across the length of the cavern.
I held my torch aloft, using its dim light to make out the carvings that lay on the arch’s façade. I strained my eyes, but eventually I could make out a semblance of an inscription.
It was written in a dead language from many thousands of years ago. I had studied the language briefly in my spare time, hoping to explore some of the ancient manuscripts in the Royal Library in hopes of unlocking arcane spells.
I looked over it and pondered its meaning, as I tried to translate aloud:
“Desist…desist and…withdraw? Depart? Depart…Desist and Depart!”
I pursed my lips.
It was a warning to stay away.
I should have heeded it – any reasonable pony would have. But that’s the thing with me; whenever I am confronted by the unknown, I simply must know…
I inched forward, ever so gradually, to the mouth of the cavern, and struck my front hoof against one of the stones.
I may or may not have heard an echo. It was then that grim realization began to take hold of me: this cavern was massive; far larger than anything I could have possibly imagined, frightening in its sheer size. A chill ran up my spine.
“What is this place?” I asked aloud, with a mix of dread and morbid curiosity.
I waited for a long time, staring into the darkness, unsure if I should enter. A part of me wanted to turn back; climb the stairs and shut the door behind me and never return. That’s what I should have done; what I wished I had done. But I didn’t. Like a pony with too much courage, I began to step into the darkness – my torch leading the way.
As I continued, there was a long, low sigh that seemed to emanate from deep within the cavern. “It must be an air shaft,” I reassured myself. “Something the builders must have put in in case on a cave in.”
That was when I saw something that made my blood run cold:
Bodies – stacked one on top of the other, in columns and rows, staring at me from the darkness.
I froze in place, realizing with horror what the smell was…it was the stench of death.
I gasped, bringing my shaking hoof to my mouth as I shone the torch on the rotted corpses.
That was when it struck me. I remembered reading in my history books, that ages ago there was a plague that swept through Canterlot and carried off many of its inhabitants.
“This is must of where they must have put the bodies…” I said, shuddering at the revelation.
I made a few passes with my torch, getting as good of a view as I wished at the bones of the bodies of those still somewhat preserved in this catacomb.
I was just about to leave and return to the surface, when I thought I heard a voice calling my name.
I froze in my place, unsure of what I had heard, straining my ears in solemn silence.
“Is somepony there?” I replied, trying to keep my voice steady.
The silence seemed to drag on for an eternity – no response.
“It's just the wind,” I assured myself; though I was unsure if even I believed that, and began to make for the door, when I heard it again, only now more distinct and much louder:
The voice was familiar – one I heard many times before.
A pang of horror crept seized my heart. How had Spike gotten down here? Had he follow me? I desperately looked around, trying to find where the voice was coming from.
“Spike, where are you!?”
“Twilight, help me!”
He was in distress.
My heart sank at thought of Spike being trapped down here. I raced as hard as I was able into the darkness, my torch leading the way, calling out Spike’s name.
His voice seemed to carry from place to place; echoing here and there. The size was deceptive, but I continued on, deeper and deeper into the unknown until his voice died and it was only my voice whispering into the dark: “Spike…”
Only silence; deathly, unnatural silence, and then felt my hoof press against something soft on the floor.
I looked down and saw a letter, written on crisp parchment paper. And then my blood ran cold; for written in elegant letters on the front of that letter was my name.
With trepidation coursing through my veins, and my entire body shaking uncontrollably, I picked it up and unfolded it.
Its message was simple and to the point:
“We’ve been waiting for you.”
Just then, a violent gust of wind blew through the cavern, extinguishing my torch, leaving me in total darkness.
That’s when I heard a voice, so close, it seemed to whisper in my ear:
I screamed; screamed louder than I ever had before. I ran; ran so hard that I thought that my heart would leap from my chest as I bounded as fast I could through the darkness, tears streaming down my cheeks.
I didn’t make it far before I felt my hoof give way. I tripped and fell, landing on the hard floor – the wind knocked out of my lungs. It wasn’t long before I felt….it…hovering over me.
I couldn’t see it; but I knew it was there. I could feel its icy presence – staring at me.
I sobbed silently, wishing that this was all a dream and that I would soon wake up from. No such luck.
I waited – waited for the inevitable until I couldn’t take it anymore. With all the bravery I had left to muster, I gathered my magic and shone its light into the darkness.
I wish I had never done that.
What I saw haunts me to this very day. There are no words to describe the terror of what lay before, for what I saw was myself, staring at me; black voids where eyes should be and a half-rotted, expressionless face.
With all the adrenaline of a primitive will to survive, I blasted a beam of magic into the gruesome specter, and vaulted for the entrance, as if all the hounds of hades were nipping at my hoofs.
Maybe they were.
After a desperate struggle to navigate the treacherous stones, I finally made it to the exit, racing past the arch, and ascending the stairs with the agility and speed only a pony possessed could, not stopping until I reached the still open door on the basement hallway, slamming it behind me.
I then proceeded to unceremoniously vomit in the hall, much to the concern of a servant who just happened to be passing at the time.
He tried to ask me what was wrong, but all I could do was stare and babble at him incoherently. He promptly escorted me to my room and had the Royal Physician fetched.
I spent the next several hours trying to compose myself. The doctor looked me over and asked me questions, which I tried to answer as best as I was able, considering the circumstances. When the doctor found nothing outwardly wrong,I received a visit from Celestia.
“The doctor informs me you had a bad case of nerves,” the Princess said gently, approaching me in my bed. “Or perhaps a breakdown caused from over working Are you feeling alright now?”
I smiled weakly at her.
“Yes, I’m fine…I think. Just tired…”
“I’m sorry, Twilight. I shouldn’t have put so much responsibility on you. I knew it was too much one pony to manage. You can take the rest of the day off and let me handle it until you’re feeling better, okay?”
“No, it’s not that, I…”
The Princess gave me a curious look.
I frowned and cast my eyes down, not wanting to look her in the eyes.
“You’re right, over-work, that’s it, just need…rest.”
The Princess gave me a reassuring kiss on the forehead and instructed me to take it easy to concentrate on rest. I didn’t have the heart to tell her what had happened.
I rested, but the memory of what I saw haunted my sleep. Each night, in my dreams, I would wander the hallways and I would find the...thing. It would greet me warmly and lead me on. Even though I urged my body to stop, I could not. It was as if some malignant force was leading me back into the darkness.
The dreams only intensified. It got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s when it stopped – just as suddenly as they began.
It has been several months now since the events in the cavern. I write this, as a warning to others, who may read this in the future. There are many places that we can chose to go life – some good and others not – but whatever you do, never, ever open…the door.