• Published 13th Feb 2012
  • 13,794 Views, 103 Comments

Project Renaissance - Out of Service



Two men awaken from almost two thousand years of slumber and find the world they once knew radically changed. Together, they will lead a revolution against their alien surroundings in an attempt to remind the world of one thing: humanity is not dead.

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Chapter Three: The Ghosts of Nevermore

Project Renaissance


Chapter Three: The Ghosts of Nevermore


By Lucius Seneca & Stillmatic

Pyrite slid down the trunk of the tree. She ran a hoof down her face and rummaged through her saddlebag, scooping up the roll of parchment documents. Crickets chirped in the grass of a nearby meadow and Pyrite glanced over her shoulder at the twinkling lights of Camp Barrier. Canter Creek and about half a mile separated her from the settlement and for once she was glad to be in the wilderness. Catching her breath, Pyrite unraveled the sheets of parchment and illuminated her horn, casting a soft light upon them. Her eyes squinted at the drawings and calculations before her. Topographical charts, elevation levels, humidity, sand density. It took a long minute of analyzing the several sheets before Pyrite found what she was looking for.

There was a highlighted area of Froud Valley, circled in red with several sonar readings noted beside it. Apparently there was some type of anomalous mass beneath the sand, something that showed up only on sonar. Finally Pyrite understood the importance of the documents in front of her. Anything could be below the layers of sand and with Froud Valley, the most hostile and unexplored place in the Deep South, it could very well be a burial site not yet found or the remains of some type of ancient pony civilization. No wonder there were so many ponies after what she had before her and if ponies were willing to rob, even kill for them, Pyrite knew she had to keep a level head.

Far, far away, adventure called. Unfortunately, it was toll-free from somewhere rarely anyone ever went the direction of, and the way there itself was dangerous as well. Pyrite knew she could handle it. She had been in messy situations before and always managed to survive somehow despite having odds usually stacked against her. Froud Valley couldn't be very different from the Everfree or the Gloomglades north of it. Those places were completely chaotic in their own ways, but there was little to know about the Valley other than it tended to never return explorers or criminals that went in. For what reasons, she didn't know, nor did she care. Pyrite Dreams was too prideful to let herself worry over some petty weather or sand.

She glanced back at the distant camp once again. There was no going back now, and if she was going to finally make a name for herself at Canterlot Royal University or even Equestria, the clever mare would have to stick it out and remain resolute in finding whatever it was that was somewhere buried beneath all that sand. The maps would be a great help, if she could keep them in her possession. Oh, she would she sure of that. No one was going to land on what was going to make famous. Not a single soul.

Pyrite tightened her bandana and took a step towards Froud Valley. The journey would be long, but hopefully rewarding. Somehow, she knew it would.


The fish thrashed as Ulysses yanked on the vine and pulled it out of the water, dangling the slimy form of a catfish above the sand, avoiding the small droplets of water that flew from its scales. It was a fair size, perhaps three or four pounds and Ulysses grabbed it tightly around the midsection before grabbing a nearby stone and striking the fish across the skull several times. It flopped once and went limp. Wiping his hands on his pant legs, Ulysses set the catfish down next to the smaller, malnourished one he had caught only minutes before.

The sun had begun to fall and, with its fading light, marked the end of the second day that both he and Westin had escaped from their cells. The first night had been hard, especially without any shelter. The cold that the desert brought during the night was chilling to say the least, but the heat during the day was even worse. Westin watched as Ulysses tossed the simple line and sinker back into the lake. The ebony man lay quietly under a basic lean-to which stood where the sand of the lake met a spotty patch of crabgrass. The shelter itself was propped up with wood that the companions had scavenged from the shore and the roof was thatched lily pads, recovered from the murky lake itself.

Westin watched the waterfall nearby, wanting to swim in its vicinity to cool off from the intense heat of the day. If it weren't for the alligators that dipped between rocks and lilies, he would finally be able to enjoy something more relaxing than hiding away from the sun under a ragtag shelter. The waterfall continued its deafening roar uninterrupted, except with the occasional fish that plopped out of the side of it. Westin thought on that as a small trout was launched off and into the massive pool of water below. There was an eerie darkness of color at the center of the waterfall, as if light had become nonexistent there. He silently wondered if there was a cave behind that magnificent formation.

The darker man yawned. As much as he loved still being alive and his escape, living life on the lam was beginning to get boring. He was in the middle of nowhere, specifically a desert, with the only company he had with him being some person he really didn't like. Ulysses was propping the fish on a makeshift spit as a frog passed behind him, leaping into a mess of cattails. For the most part, the immediate area was serene and mostly untouched. Any sandstorms in the distance never got close, almost as if they were avoiding the small lake and waterfall.

But still, the constant sight of sand was beginning to become annoying. The only problem was that there were no prospects to move towards in sight, so if they even so much as dare stray from the little oasis in the desert, they'd likely die without proper maps. There wasn't really a way to carry food or water either, so until they could find a way to move about without putting their lives in too much jeopardy, they would stay put and eat away at catfish meat. He could only hope that wouldn't be for too long.

Westin stretched and sat up, "How much longer till sundown?"

Ulysses looked up at the sun which had begun its descent behind the sandy dunes, “Less than an hour. Let’s cook these fish up soon.”

"... Where is everyone? I still want to cut off their heads for the shit they were pulling."

Washing the sand from the fish, Ulysses placed the makeshift spit over a small campfire, "I don't know." He scowled at the freeze-dried meals. He had opened them the night before and found them completely inedible, "That place was staffed by hundreds of people, maybe thousands. And they just got up and left?"

Westin took a sip of water from the hollowed shell of a turtle he had found underneath sand, "Skeletons all over that place. Maybe something happened and they didn't make it out."

"Maybe. But when I was in the cafeteria, there was a skeleton inside. Looked like he had shot himself in the head." Ulysses reached into the nearby bag and tossed Westin the magazine from the pistol, "You think something went wrong?"

He put down the shell and discharged a bullet, looking it over before putting it back in, "Hell yeah. You know how much they spent on that place? I broke into the records office before they tazed me. That whole fucking place is worth thirty billion cash."

Ulysses caught the magazine as Westin tossed it back and promptly threw it into the lake, "Those bullets are never going to fire. Is there anybody left, you think? I mean, we made it out. I woke up in my bunk."

"Who cares? I'm not going back there to get tied down and experimented on again. If you wanna, go right ahead. But I'm not gonna follow your try-hard benevolent ass self."

"Whatever. How are the bandages holding up?” Ulysses asked.

“Red.”

Ulysses nodded and began to toss some kindling into the fire, "Well, keep them on as long as possible. You probably need stitches, but I don't have any materials for that kind of thing. We have to prevent infection, you know?"

"Say that to the entire world."

Ulysses fell silent and stared at the fish before a realization hit him and he removed them from the growing flames, "Damn. I forgot to get rid of the skin. Otherwise they'll taste like shit."

Westin laid back fully and rested his head on his hands, "Funny how you know all this shit. You know, for a serial killer."

"I spent a lot of time in the scouts." Ulysses finished using a piece of sharpened flint recovered from the nearby cliff face to skin the fish, "How's the robbery scene these days?"

"Don't know," he shrugged, "I don't fuck with that stuff."

The sun finally fell behind the dunes and both men placed themselves closer to the fire as Ulysses responded, "Right. The system was out to get you."

"Only time it got shit right was when your ass was caught, locked away, and stabbed with needles." Westin pointed to himself, "Me? I'm just another black man caught up into the mix that deals with more bullshit than he needs."

Ulysses watched as the fish crackled atop the fire. "You know, I noticed something the first time I killed a person. There was this weird feeling in my stomach, like after someone knocks the wind out of you. That kind of aching breathlessness? But after you get your breath back, you feel relieved, relieved that you can breathe again. I felt so relieved after I killed that man. Because I knew that I was better than him. I was stronger. And that was all that mattered."

Westin gave a disapproving look, "Nigga, you need a role model, or a hug, or something."

Ulysses laughed, "Are you gonna give me a hug?'

"Get the fuck outta here."

"I bet you hug like a grandma on oxycodone."

"Your ass probably sticks knives in backs when you hug."

"Probably!" Ulysses laughed again and removed the fish from the spit, emptying them into the empty turtle shell Westin held, "Give them a bit to cool down."


Firelight could be seen in the distance. Pyrite watched the faraway ghosts of flickering orange from her place atop a boulder. The sun had fallen fully and the moon had begun its eerie rise over the desolation of the Valley. Pyrite had spent three days hiking into Froud Valley and she was, by all standards, exhausted. Her rations had dwindled down to a few crackers and the last couple millimeters of water left in her canteen. It hadn't been easy to get this far, Pyrite knew, but it would only get harder with no supplies. She was used to living off the land and knew of many edible plants and how to filter water, but there was a strange lack of wildlife in Froud Valley, let alone open water sources or edible plants. Sighing, Pyrite considered the possibility she had overestimated herself.

She was close now, however, and, if the maps indicated correctly, her target was roughly half a mile away. But Pyrite could do nothing until she investigated the nearby fire. Moving to her left, Pyrite crawled stealthily up a sandy incline which coasted a Cliffside overlook populated by a few trees and a carpet of dying grass. Beginning to map out the terrain subconsciously, Pyrite realized that there must be a grotto or cavern for such steep cliffs to form. Reaching the trees, the intrepid explorer lay belly-down and reached for her binoculars, intent on inching forward and towards the edge of the cliff.

The light of Ulysses' and Westin's campfire caused the water of the oasis to shimmer with strange serenity and, far below Pyrite's hiding place, an alligator could be seen silently slipping to the water from the far bank, focused on a small water bird that bobbed up and down on the surface. Pyrite wondered who would make a camp so far from civilization. Bandits, perhaps. Maybe omega wolves who had been exiled from their pack, but as Pyrite put the binoculars to her eyes, she saw something she never would have expected.

They weren't wolves, nor were they ponies or any other species she had ever seen before. Given her background, that was saying something. The dimming light was just enough for her to make out two large beings hunched over a fire and eating away at what Pyrite could only guess to be fish. They almost came off with certain Diamond Dog-esque feeling, or maybe some oddly colored Minotaurs. One was significantly darker than its far paler counterpart. The one thing that tipped the archeologist off to their capability past crude cooking techniques were the bandages wrapped around the dark one's head. Only something with a higher sense of intelligence could do something like that.

Pyrite pulled away her binoculars, "... What the..."

A small twinge of fear burrowed into the usually brave adventurer's stomach. She knew that she couldn't possibly be seen from her hiding place, but even as Pyrite attempted to retake her confidence, the pale creature looked up and directly at her. Pyrite froze, her binoculars halfway to her face. It can't see you, she hissed in her mind, it's not possible. Far below, Ulysses felt a strange sensation, one that made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. Westin began to pick up on Ulysses' body language and was about to question it when Ulysses spoke in a near whisper.

"We're being watched Westin."

Westin waved him away, "There isn't shit there. It's a desert."

Pyrite could barely hear the voices below. The amplification spell from earlier was out of the question due to the brightness it would cause. But she needed to get closer without those creatures knowing. Her binoculars went up again, and the mare carefully watched as the two below seemed to settle down enough that they were finally able to go to sleep. That in itself took at least half an hour of observation and waiting, but it appeared worth it as she shuffled back a few feet and silently crept towards the bend downwards.

Pyrite knew she couldn't go all the way around the grotto. The two creatures were camped on the rightmost shore, several feet back from the waterline and practically next to where the cliffs began. Sighing internally, Pyrite began to formulate another action plan. She lowered herself over the ledge and pressed her body against the smooth cliff face. The waterfall to her right wasn't as big as she had previously thought and instead of the roar of falling water, it sounded more like weakened rapids in a river. Using the thick, sticky green vines common in swamps in the region, Pyrite slithered further downwards, avoiding a dormant hornets’ nest to her left, eventually feeling her back hooves touch against a thin ledge she had been aiming for.

Laying flush against the smooth surface of the cliff, Pyrite looked over her shoulder and found herself captured by the moonlight reflecting off the lagoon's surface. Silver rays flashed and danced like fish before vanishing and reappearing, mixing with the dimmed light of the nearby campfire. For a moment Pyrite forget where she was. Everything seemed so serene, so majestic and, in the far distance, shadowy and mysterious, Knight's Peak could be seen, standing tall over the desert. Pyrite smiled and forgot about the sandy taste in her mouth as she looked over the unseen beauty of Froud Valley. There was a loud crack and the scene shifted, spinning, as the ledge under Pyrite's hooves crumbled, dragging her down with it. She opened her mouth to scream, but found water instead of air as she slammed into the lagoon and vanished.

Pyrite gagged on the water flooding her throat. Though ponies could usually swim above water quite well, they definitely lacked skill underwater. As she struggled to steady herself upright, Pyrite met the eyes of some murky water dweller. What little air she had bubbled away from her throat at the sight of a grizzled alligator readying its mouth for a large bite. Pyrite retaliated by sheer instinct and sent a scattershot of magic forward. The result launched her backwards while forcing the massive reptile's entire front end to burst.

There was a certain horror to the archeologist's face. If it wasn’t the fact she was a terrible swimmer who was admittedly less than keen on deep water, it was likely the disembodied bits of alligator floating towards her. Backing away from a particularly disturbing eyeball, Pyrite scrambled her way back to shore and coughed over the sand. Water was dislodged and she dry heaved for a good few moments before wiping away the mucus on her muzzle.

"The fuck is that thing?"

Westin and Ulysses had awoken when they heard the loud splash and had been fully awakened by the sudden bolt of lightning that lit up the water mere seconds afterwards. Both men stared at the coughing Pyrite, and took a step back in surprise when she turned her head and looked at them, her mouth hanging open slightly, bandana around her neck. Ulysses spied the horn protruding from Pyrite's head and as she opened her mouth to speak, fear in her eyes, he lashed out instinctively with his foot, the heel of his boot catching Pyrite on the temple. The unconscious pony fell sideways limply and absolute silence reigned for several minutes before Ulysses spoke.

"What should we do?"

Westin pulled off the bandana and set it on his head, "Cook it."

"It has a horn coming out of its head, Westin."

"So kebabs, then?"

Despite the strangeness of the situation, Ulysses let out a choked giggle, "Kebabs are good."

"You," Westin frowned at the titter, "are fucking losing it." He gave a light kick to whatever was at his feet, "What is this shit?"

Ulysses shrugged, "Looks like a miniature horse. Maybe it was swimming?"

"Horses swimming at night, when lightning hits without any clouds, right next to us." Westin yawned loudly, "I don’t wanna deal with this right now."

"So tie it up. We can deal with it tomorrow morning." Ulysses said as he sat back down.

Westin grunted and grabbed some spare vines near their shelter. He quickly wrapped and restrained the odd equine into place. The horn made him a bit wary, but he simply tied it off in a neat little bundle. Westin shrugged at his own work and lay back down. Ulysses prodded absentmindedly into the embers of the dying fire as he examined the creature across from him, Westin already snoring nearby. It was a pony of sorts, but the coat on it was a vibrant gold, sparkling in the firelight and the horn seemed to reflect the orange light with a proud glow.

What kind of horse had a horn coming out of its head? Ulysses pondered that as a strong gust of wind blew across the lagoon, sending some chunky debris bobbing along the surface. Ulysses wondered briefly at that before standing up and approaching the unconscious creature. It had a disturbingly sentient look about it. Long eyelashes, a short snout, and, as Ulysses lifted its upper lip, surprisingly refined teeth. He took a moment to examine the horn and considered the possibility it was some type of mutation.

Ulysses noticed something bobbing upon the water’s surface, skirting the shore and he looked over intently, seeing what looked like a backpack of sorts beginning to sink. He waded out a few feet and retrieved it, hauling it over his shoulder as he went to sit next to the strange specimen once more. Before he had time to examine the contents of the pack, another strong wind skirted the shore and sent sand upwards. Ulysses shielded his eyes and looked out into the desert and let fear overtake him. He scrambled to secure the pack to the back of horse, not wanting something on his back to restrict his movement.

“Westin!”

Groggily, said man sat upwards, only to be pelted on the head by the skull he previously placed nearby, "What!" He flipped around and scrambled back at what he saw, "What is that shit!"

Ulysses ducked his head against a blast of sand, "It's a sandstorm!"

Westin grabbed what little supplies they had and stood up, "Every nigga for himself!"

"We need to get to shelter!" Ulysses squinted against the wall of sand rapidly approaching them before grabbing the unconscious pony, "It's half a mile to the facility!"

Time slowed as the men looked on, their eyes, green and glinting in the fractured moonlight, widened with fear at the sight of the impending storm. The winds screamed and howled, sand whipping up around the shore, adding the cacophony of the natural world. Westin quickly snapped out of his amazement and turned to run. Ulysses quickly followed, the weight of their new conquest weighing him down significantly and preventing a full-out sprint. Behind the waterfall, the roaring cascade of water amplified by the shrieks of wind, there was a cavern.

Westin had discovered it the day before while scavenging from the plant life that grew out of the rocky walls of the grotto. Both men ducked as the lean-to disintegrated and flew past their heads, embedding Ulysses’ face with a shower of splinters sent flying at high speeds. Their feet slipping over the slick rock ledge that bordered the water and ran along the bottom of the grotto wall, the two prisoners stumbled past a spray of water and threw themselves into the darkness as the world behind them vanished in a spray of mist and sand.

Westin was wheezing loudly, and settled against the wall of the cave to try and calm himself, "What just happened?”

Ulysses was lying face down on the cavern floor, "Are we alive?"

"You brought the horse with you."

"You got anything else to eat?" Ulysses asked as he sat up.

Westin carefully unwrapped a cloth and wrinkled his nose at the scent of a slightly charred chunk of catfish, "Tastes weird as hell, but catfish is all we got."

"It's so dark." Ulysses reached out blindly with his hand and felt his fingers touch against a mossy stalagmite, "Not again."

Westin began reaching out as well, trying to maneuver himself around the cave. How he even managed to get near the wall in the first place was a miracle in itself, but he didn't bother himself with that at the moment. Between the fierce winds and the sprays of water that hit them near constantly, it was hard to know where he going exactly or what the other person was saying. The pungent aroma of recently cooked catfish was distracting for those few moments where one foot was off the ground. The intensity of the weather increased as he felt his boot contact Ulysses' shoulder. He lifted his boot up to remove it from the surprised Ulysses, but was suddenly caught off guard.

Westin felt himself slipping from both the force of the wind and the now slick cave floor, "Shit!" His single utterance didn't go unheard as he felt himself tumbling backwards and hitting a slimy decline.

Ulysses heard his partner fall and called out as he finally located Pyrite's leg, "Are you alright, Westin?”

There was a short minute of silence before loud curses could be heard from the very back of the cave, "MAN, WHAT THE FUCK."

"What happened?" Ulysses raised his voice as he stood up and dragged the unconscious pony behind him towards where Westin had slipped, "Where the hell are-"

The question was interrupted as Ulysses felt his foot slip out from under him. He yelled out in surprise and slammed hard into the ground, sliding down a steep dip in the cavern's floor. After a few seconds of total blackness and hissing wind, Ulysses' boots hit the bottom and he toppled forward, Pyrite's limp form ramming into Westin's legs as he attempted to rise.

The body of the pony slammed into Westin's shins as he was finally managing to get up, sending his face-forward once more. Contact with the ground seemed to be his brand new past-time. Westin lifted his head, not realizing the bandaging prevented it from being damaged further. He sputtered and spat a few times, getting rid of a disgusting taste in his mouth the cave floor gave him. Ulysses was up by the time Westin got to his knees and reached a hand out to help him onto his feet. The paler man gave a flustered sigh of irritation at their luck.

Westin was quite aggravated himself, "I'm covered in this now. It's disgusting."

Both men, although basically blind in the darkness of the cave, could feel a slimy sheen upon their clothes and skin. The cave algae stuck to them like glue and gave off a moldy, undesirable scent. Ulysses shuddered as he wiped tried to wipe some off his face. Westin swore under his breath and felt around behind him. His face, although unseen, contorted into a look of confusion and curiosity. Ulysses noticed the sudden silence and lowered his voice.

"What is it?"

Westin's hand was bracing itself against something behind him, something abnormally cold that quickly stole away the heat from his touch. Intrigued, he extended his boot forward before launching it back. A resounding echo of metal being struck went through the cave, despite the howling winds above. The two humans would have shared a look if there was any sort of lightning to be had. Westin checked the small bundle of items he had. No, the glow sticks were lost by now. Ulysses' hand brushed past his shoulder and grabbed a circular ring. A pull seemed to do nothing. Westin gripped it as well and firmly placed a foot against the rocky wall near the door.

"On three," Ulysses called, getting an unseen nod, "One. Two. Three!"

They yanked back together with whatever strength they had left from the tiring day. That paid off well as the flaky door, likely terribly rusted from its spot in the moist cave, literally came off of its hinges and knocked them both to the ground. Whatever it was made from, the door was heavy, enough so that they both needed to push up to even so much as worm their way out from underneath it. It clanged against the cave floor before finally resting. Ulysses tiredly grabbed Pyrite and turned, noticing a distinctive tinge of green light on Westin. He was holding a glowing mushroom.

For a moment Ulysses stared at the small, domed piece of fungi, wondering if his eyes were playing tricks on him in the dim light. The mushroom held a vibrant bluish-green color that illuminated Westin’s face and sent shadows dashing across his visage. Ulysses turned slowly to look into the doorway. Blues, greens, and yellows cascaded over him like the waterfall nearby and Ulysses was taken in awe by the scene in front of him. It looked like a true hallway had never been formed, but rather the rocks had been chiseled away into a basic tunnel. Mushrooms, moss, and a slimy algae that shone with a bitter orange coated the walls, sending light blasting out into the cavern behind the shocked men.

Westin tossed the mushroom over his shoulder, "Looks like an American Glowcap."

Before Ulysses could question that, Westin edged his way into the crude hallway. The limited rainbow of colors unnerved his eyes, but what really interested him, as he pointed to it, was the door situated at the far end. There was no path backwards with the slippery incline behind them, so they would be forced to go through the mushroom cave. Ulysses idly watched a mushroom bend slightly, as if his presence was upsetting it. The two men looked at each other, then the door. Westin grabbed his collar and lifted it over his nose before heading through first.

Prodding a mushroom cap with his finger, Ulysses spoke in a whisper, "What the fuck is going on?"

Westin didn't respond. He didn't like the look of this hallway, let alone all of the fungi dotting it. Still, he couldn't complain all that much. They were hopefully going to end up back in the facility, where it was, as much as he hated to admit it, safer and less windy. The man paused for a second, feeling like something was about to go wrong. Ulysses passed by, and Westin shook it off.

"Stop touching my shoulders, Westin."

Westin was about to give an overly harsh comment in response, before he found himself staring into the massive eyes of Pyrite. Her mouth gaped open for a second, closed, and then opened wide for a scream. Ulysses, caught off guard by the sudden sound, let go of her as Westin gave himself sufficient room away from her. Ulysses did the same and watched in fascination as she backed herself against a wall, snarling all the way.

"What the buck are you?!”

Both humans stopped in their tracks and stared.

Ulysses nearly slipped on a patch of algae, "Christ!"

Pyrite’s horn glowed and tried to come off as menacing as possible, “I won’t ask again!”

Westin kept his eyes trained on her as he grabbed the door knob. It wouldn’t budge.

“What are you doing?! Stay still or I’ll make sure you regret it!”

He ignored her threat and shouldered back to create an escape route from the freakish monstrosity in front of the humans. The door, much like the other, was terribly rusted and broke apart into brown fragments from the force of his weight. Pyrite hissed from the beaming light, her eyes not used to the sudden intrusion of it. Even with her watery eyes, she was just barely able to make out what was before her. Her jaw dropped. Ulysses looked over Westin’s shoulder and blinked.

A massive, spacious area was behind the door. It seemed to stretch on for an eternity, with dull, grey concrete running all along its length. Hundreds of sleek train cars and rails all twisted about like an intricate spider’s web of metal and new-age design. Sensors went off as Westin reached a hand through, and the entirety of the rail station came to life. Fluorescent lights once long dead reawakened. Trains began to move autonomously. A computerized voice droned over speakers, mentioning shipments and schedules and safety standards.

Wherever they were, it kept all three silent. There was nothing to say about something so remarkable. After a long minute, both men turned to face what would turn out to be their guide into a new world. All three spoke at the same time, their voices echoing down the hall, sealing the memory into the chiseled rock, the face of the earth.

“What are you?”

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