• Published 11th Nov 2013
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Gladiator - Not_A_Hat



Human in Equestria? Check. Trying to find his way home? Check. Surrounded by clueless candy-colored equines? Check. Magically soul-bonded to Twilight Sparkle using dread necromantic magic and an evil artifact? Check.

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8 - Webs

<"Twilight!">

<"-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-">

<"Twilight!">

<"-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-">

<"TWILIGHT SPARKLE, CALM DOWN!">

I put all my energy into that yell, forcing the air out with my diaphragm, projecting from my stomach and not my throat as I'd been taught. I'd never been very good at drama class, but I had picked up a knack for being loud.

The screaming and running in circles cut off abruptly as Twilight froze in place. She fell on her haunches and her eyes bulged for a second as she tried to hyperventilate and hold her breath at the same time. I would have laughed if she wasn't so very distraught. Her struggle ended with a gasp and she started inhaling again.

<"No screaming!">

<"But-I-can't-speak-Equestrian-how-can-I-talk-to-my-friends-or-Princess-Celestia-or-my-parents-I-can't-even-READ!"> Her words came out all at once, tripping over each other. Her lip quivered and she seemed about to burst into tears. Working against my instincts for space, I sat down beside her and put an arm over her withers.

<"Look, it's not that bad! I mean, it's not like your Equestrian is gone for good! I've heard you speak in English before; that's how I thought you might know it! And every time you went right back to Equestrian! You'll be fine this time as well.">

Slowly, her breathing quieted. She sniffled a little, but that was all.

<"Ok. Ok, you're right. Ok, we need a list."> Her horn glowed and a piece of paper and quill floated down off the table. <"First. What sort of situations have you noticed this...memory bleed happening in?">

<"Only situations where we are distracted. It first happened when you brought that mirror down and said something about numosic matrices. I have no idea what a numosic matrix is, but I answered a question of yours concerning them. The second time you were studying something and you mentioned Planck length.">

<"Alright."> The quill scratched for a second as she noted this down. <"Oh, I remember that one! I found some conclusions I'd made using it, but couldn't remember where I'd looked it up. Ok, so, what sort of spell did you cast to switch me from Equestrian to English?">

I chuckled a little at that and she shot me a curious glance. I scooted to face her, moving so I sat cross-legged on the floor.

<"Twilight, you know I can't cast spells! I have no magic, innate or otherwise. That was poetry! It's a nonsense rhyme I memorized when I was young. 't'was brilling and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, all mimsy were the bogoroves and the mome-raths outgrabe.' It doesn't mean much of anything, although Humpty-Dumpty does explain it to Alice at some point, it's pure and utter nonsense. I thought that maybe if I recited something embedded deeply in my memories, it would trigger them in your subconscious and you'd be able to access them better. It seems to have worked, although I'm not sure why this was the outcome."> I shrugged, lost.

<"I...see."> Twilight mumbled, her quill scratching notes out on the paper. <"A rhyme? That makes a lot of sense, actually."> She contemplated the idea for a second. <"Actually, maybe this makes things easier!"> She turned and trotted out of the room. I followed her upstairs, where she scanned the bookshelf. I couldn't tell what she was looking for and by her own admission, she couldn't read Equestrian right now. She continued until she reached the children's section, where she started pulling books off the shelf one at a time. Finally, she gave a little whoop and held out a book to me. I took it, curious. It seemed to be a picture book for young children with a brightly colored cover.

<"Read this to me!"> She said.

<"Um...I don't think I can read any better than you can."> I said, unsure. <"I know spoken Equestrian fairly well, but I've never learned the alphabet.">

<"Just try! I have your memories and you have mine. So maybe... Take a look at it and see what you can do.">

Unsure, but willing to try, I sat down on the floor and flipped the book open. Her magenta eyes followed my motions eagerly. I stared at the first page, trying to make some sense of the words. They looked like gibberish. Slowly, I flipped to the second page. Before long I had gone through the whole book and Twilight's expression was fading from eager to discouraged. Unwilling to give up, I turned back and started again. But this time instead of concentrating on the words I simply looked at the pictures.

The story seemed to be about ladybugs. They lived under a leaf and they looked like a happy family. There was a crisis with raindrops at some point and a friendly pony that helped them out. On the last page, the sun rose brilliantly, drying their leaf.

"Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake..."I mumbled, staring at the picture.

"Clap your hooves and do a little shake!" I looked up and saw Twilight spring upright. "Yes!" She yelled. "It worked! I'm back!" She danced in a circle for a second, rejoicing. She calmed down quickly. "Ok, I need you to memorize this rhyme for me, in case something else like that happens." She repeated the couplet a few times, and I repeated it back to her, until she was satisfied. When I was done, a dark expression fell across her features. "This isn't good, though. I thought I was precise with that spell. Wes, I really do need to take a look at your crystal."

I reluctantly unbuttoned my shirt, exposing the now-lilac gem. It glowed only faintly in the lamp-light. Twilight touched her horn to it, and I shivered at the odd intimacy.

"Is everything OK?" I asked hesitantly, after a few moments of silence.

"No." She replied indistinctly. "This isn't what I expected at all. This really isn't good. Um, I need to think about this for a while. You're in no danger for now, but...well, I need to talk to Zecora about this and see what she thinks. It seems that the crystal is under more stress than I thought and the magical flux is causing some very odd effects. The first one is that our souls are mixing a little." She lifted her head and sighed. "Soul mixing might sound like a cheesy line from a bad romance, but it could actually be pretty bad. I don't know how to predict what will happen. I only know that it's probably going to end badly for one of us if it continues."

"Horsefeathers." I said, softly. This was not good at all. I fought back images of a crystal cavern and a shivering pony dying across from me.

"Wes." Twilight's voice drew me back to reality. "Wes, you are not allowed to panic either." She said, with a slight twist at the corner of her mouth. I nodded, smirking a little myself, thinking back to how I'd needed to calm her down.

"Ok." I said, standing. "Well, don't you have an experiment you're in the middle of?"

"But that-" She looked up at me uncertainly, as she started to stand.

"Needs to be done as well." I said. "I didn't get a chance to tell you this earlier, but Zecora realized something important, and we were able to investigate it today on our expedition..."


I brought a bowl of soup down to the lab later. Twilight accepted it gratefully, and slurped loudly.

"How's it going?"

"I'm about ready to start. If this really is Sombra, we might need to call for backup. I've gone up against ancient magicians before and it's no fun at all. I just hope we're not too late; whatever he's doing, it can't be good."

I nodded in response, swallowing my own mouthful of soup. She turned back to her spell diagram. It still looked vaguely familiar to me, but I didn't try and reach for those memories. With a few deft touches she finished the circle. Her horn glowed as she readied the spell. She tapped the center of the diagram and with a soft thrum, the chalk outlines started to glow. The construct flickered fitfully for a second before settling into a steady incandescence. She inspected the wards again and nodded firmly.

"Now, watch the water." She said, preparing another spell. This one crackled off her horn like static electricity and danced around the mirror water for a second before dissipating. I was about to ask if she had miscast when the water in the bowl started to steam. I stepped back, half-expecting an explosion, but the liquid stayed calm. Twilight added a drop of ink from her inkwell and ripples spread across the surface. As they cleared, images started to form.

We saw a moonlit glade.

"That's on the edge of the Everfree." I said quietly, recognizing the path running through. "I've been through there on the way to Zecora's."

Twilight nodded silently and her horn glowed more brightly for a second. The picture zoomed out, showing the outskirts of Ponyville and more trees. In the streets, I could faintly see wisps of black fog.

"That's the residue." She said, homing in on one. "It's decaying, but still there. Um. Let's check some of the places that the spell might have been cast." A series of scenes started to flicker across the surface of the water.

"Twilight, watch it!" I warned as the water started to bubble gently. She frowned and adjusted a rune-carved stone that made up part of the warded circle. The chalk glowed more brightly and the water cooled a bit.

"We're getting close." She said. The image in the bowl was showing more and more black fog. Finally, we were looking at an open field where the residue was slowly swirling around an unseen focal point.

"That's...on the way to Canterlot, I think." She said with a frown and released the spell. "That's all we're going to be able to get with a spell. First thing tomorrow, I need to report to Celestia and go investigate. Whatever happened, the spell has been cast, so it's not like we can stop it now. The best we can hope to do is read whatever happened from the residue and think up a response." She yawned. "Well, Wes, this has been exciting, but I need some sleep. I've been a bit short on it in the past few days."

"Agreed." I said, opening the door for her and following her up the stairs. "See you tomorrow."


As it turned out, I didn't. Twilight rose early, collected her equipment and assistant and headed out to the focal point without disturbing me. When I reached the kitchen, the first thing I noticed was the note on the table.

The second thing I noticed was a burning pain.

It felt like all my skin was being flayed off. Or maybe being burned off. Or dissolved with caustic chemicals. No, more like being flayed. There was a certain delicacy to the filaments of agony that played across body. I hazily mused over the exact differences of my various tortures as I fell over, my head bounced once on the wood floor, and I blacked out.


The first thing I noticed when I woke was the crystal.

I was in a crystal hall. All around me, black and purple gems glowed malevolently.

Dead. The body of a pony flashed across my vision, and I started to hyperventilate. My instincts forced me upright, and my head swam from the combination of abuse and adrenaline. I frantically spun in place, trying to discover how I had ended up back in the Nexus, how I could protect myself and most importantly, how I could escape. My knees felt weak as I forced my body to stay upright. I staggered across the crystal hall to place my back against a wall. I rubbed my wrists and checked my belt. I had my dagger. I drew it. Better than nothing. I tried to force back visions of a purple corpse and did my best to assess my surroundings more rationally.

The room I had found myself in was clearly a cell of some sort. There was a magical diagram of some sort on the floor. I tore my eyes away from it and tried to swallow my bile. The crystals that made up the walls and floor were the same purple color I remembered.

"MUAH HA HA HA HA!"

A shiver crawled down my spine as maniacal laughter echoed through the room. I froze, listening. I heard the susurrus of distant voices and slowly worked my way towards the door of the cell. I was surprised and relieved to find it unlocked. I nudged it with a foot to swing it open and peered cautiously around the edge. Nothing.

Moving cautiously, I worked my way through the complex towards the sound of voices. As I got closer, I began to understand some of what was being said.

"....My friends will come for me!"

"Good! That is exactly what I want! Haven't you realized yet what sort of spell can be cast three days ago, but still show it's effects? It was a trap, a trap!"

I inched a bit closer to the door the voices were coming from. The voice that was quietly panicking was Twilight. She was trying to maintain a strong facade, but it was pretty clear that she was starting to break down.

The other voice was gloomy, echoed oddly, and had a strange resonance to it. I edged up to the corner and smoothly peeked around the door-frame.

An undefinable weight on my chest eased slightly as I saw Twilight, detained but alive, in a cage made from crystal rods. They stuck out of the floor, surrounding her completely. She looked exhausted and the black crystals growing on her horn seemed to be dragging her head downwards.

The other speaker was much more intimidating. He was a tall unicorn with a charcoal grey coat and a billowing black mane and tail. His horn shaded to an ominous red at the end while his eyes were a poisonous green and seemed to be releasing a faint purple smog into the air. He paced back and forth before Twilight's cage, taunting her. I inspected the room, trying to spot anything I could use to improve the situation. It wasn't very large, maybe the size of the library's main room, but it was filled with all sorts of junk. Corroding machines of obscure origin, blocks and chunks of crystal and piles of various and sundry types of stone and metal obscured my view of what was happening. I didn't see anything immediately useful. But more importantly, I didn't see another door. If the green-eyed unicorn decided to leave I would be caught in full view, standing next to a doorway in an empty, straight hallway.

I glanced around once more. Seeing nothing, I waited for the right moment and slipped inside. I dodged around a few machines and found a spot mostly hidden from both the door and cage. I hunkered down, trying to make myself inconspicuous.

Eventually the gray unicorn seemed to tire of taunting Twilight and paced out of the room. There was a slam and I winced as a slab of crystal sealed the exit.

Twilight was resting her head on the floor of the cage, her eyes closed. Probably thinking. Hopefully not descending further into panic; I had enough of that for both of us and it was barely under control.

I sheathed my dagger and quietly worked my way over to where the cage was. She didn't notice me until I rapped gently on the bars.

"Wes!" She hissed, clearly shocked. Worry, hope, and fear all warred in her eyes. I nodded.

"I was in the kitchen, when something....a really, really painful something, happened and I woke up here. Any idea what that was? I found you when I followed the gloating. Now, how can I get you out of there? What is this stuff? Do you have any idea how far we've gone? This looks like the Nexus...part of the changeling's hive. I really hope that's wrong, but can you tell?"

"The trap must have grabbed you as well, because of your crystal! It was primed for me, but since you had part of my soul, it grabbed you too. It must have taken longer for you to arrive because you were further away..."

She devolved into mumbling about magic theory.

"Twilight, focus!" I said, maybe more sharply than necessary. She flinched at my tone.

"I don't know what this stuff is." She tapped the bars with a hoof. "It almost seems like it could be solidified magic, but...I don't really think that's the case. Even if it acts the same, this much of it should have created a thingness singularity."

"And that would have killed us by now." I said, nodding as a memory of hers floated to the surface of my mind. She shot me a surprised look.

"You know," She said speculatively, "I might enjoy having someone around who I'm actually allowed to use long words with."

I grinned, and the tension in the room lessened slightly.

"If you can crack jokes, you're doing better than I thought." I said. "Was that actually Sombra? How did this happen?"

"It was a trap." She said, hanging her head. "I went to investigate, just me and Spike, but what I was calling residue wasn't really just the leftover magic from the spell. It was both the trigger and the bait. Sombra talked about how he had planned to neutralize the Elements of Harmony, and catching me was key. I don't know what he's got planned, but it's not good. " She paused for a minute. "I've been trying to figure out an escape plan, but I'm not coming up with anything. These crystals on my horn are draining my magic, or I could just teleport out of the cage."

I reached an arm through the bars, and tapped a crystal. Her head jerked back from the unexpected contact, but she slowly moved back. I ran a finger over the black gem. It didn't feel cold, but after a second my finger started to go numb. I grabbed one and tried to twist it off; she squeaked as I torqued her head a little.

"Sorry." I said, letting go. My fingers felt numb, and I shook them. They started to tingle, and I frowned at the pins-and-needles feeling. They were stained black. "Yuck. Well, I should have guessed that you'd already tried to knock them off, right?"

"Yeah." She agreed miserably. I rubbed my fingers, trying to get the black stain off.

"Ouch." I said. "This hurts." She glanced at my fingers, and gasped slightly.

"Wes, look at the crystal!" She said, crossing her eyes and trying to focus on the tip of her own horn. I stopped my fidgeting, and closely examined the protuberance. At first, I thought there was nothing there, but after a second I noticed a swirl pattern.

A fingerprint.

"I was absorbing it?" I asked slowly.

"Yeah, I think so. This is clearly something different from crystallized magic."

"Well," I said, "Maybe I can...dissolve them off your horn?" I flinched at the idea. If the pain scaled from what my fingers felt, it would hurt. I'd dealt with worse, but usually not willingly.

"I...don't know if that's a good idea." She said, frowning. "This stuff might be poisonous."

"I don't know if we have much choice." I said. "I highly doubt I can beat Sombra in hand-to-hand and we're trapped in here without your magic. Your friends need to know what's going on, so they don't walk into the same trap."

She nodded reluctantly and closer to the bars so I could lean on the cage and still reach her. I carefully wrapped a hand around the black crystals and relaxed as best I could.

Pain.

The crystals started to warm against my hand. The pins-and-needles feeling that I'd felt in my fingers began spreading up my arm. I looked down and saw an inky blackness swirling under my skin, slowly inching towards my heart. I could feel the crystals starting to shrink and grit my teeth. I felt tendril of the black stuff, clearly marked on my skin by the stinging pain, crawl up my neck and touch my temple.

This might not have been the best idea. My last thought before swirling darkness eclipsed my gaze, was: I've been blacking out entirely too much.

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