• Published 26th Jan 2014
  • 4,493 Views, 513 Comments

The Heart of an Author - Oroboro

Mystery. Love. Magic. Murder. Truth. These are all important elements in the murder mystery Fluttershy has written, and is now asking Twilight to read. But she struggles to solve the mystery in which it turns out she's the protagonist.

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Chapter 12 - Mirage Coordinator

Twilight yawned, setting the papers down before her. Now was as good of a time as any to get up and stretch for a bit.

Despite her conviction, she was still a bit apprehensive about continuing. If Fluttershy's narrative was sticking to the same pattern, which it mostly had so far, then the first murder would likely be discovered shortly.

Who would it be this time? Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy again? Applejack? Rarity? Rainbow Dash? Maybe the princesses would be the first to go.

And of course, the whole issue with the existence of Golden Wish in the first place. From a vague legend and threat hinted at in the first book to an explicitly cackling villain popping up everywhere and spouting all sorts of ominous nonsense in the second. She had no idea how she was supposed to be taking her role in the narrative anymore. Were all these scenes really supposed to be accepted at face value?

Twilight let out a sigh as she finished preparing a light snack, remembering to make a little extra in case Fluttershy woke up.

Golden Wish frowned in concentration, her hoof slowly making circles over the game board.

"You know, Twilight, when you keep glaring at me like that I can't really think straight. Why not smile a little? I thought you loved a good intellectual challenge."

Twilight sucked in a sharp breath, her nostrils flaring. Whatever this fight was going to entail, she couldn't afford to let herself get worked up anymore. If she was going to win, it would be through cold calculation and level headed logic.

Given the subject matter, that was easier said than done.

"Just what... are you trying to show me here?" Twilight asked, trying to stop her hooves from shaking. "Do you really expect me to believe that Princess Celestia would be complicit in some sort of horrible game that puts us all in mortal danger?"

"Is your precious princess really as benevolent as you think she is?" Golden Wish asked, sneering down at her. "A thousand years alone is an awfully long time. Everypony has to find ways to cure the poison of boredom."

Twilight stomped a hoof and shook her head. "No. I know for a fact than she's better than that." As she moved to sit down, she turned back to Golden Wish with a sneer of her own. "Better than you."

Twilight awoke with a start as her bedroom window clattered open, a cold wind raging through the room, pushed inside by the howling storm.

Groaning as she pulled herself deeper into her blankets, she reached out with her magic and forced the shutters closed. She could feel that the lock must have snapped, and with a bit of extra concentration fastened the window closed with a small bar of magical energy.

"I guess I overslept," Twilight muttered, her teeth chattering. The clock on the wall indicated if was almost noon. She supposed that's what happened when you stayed up all night doing research.

In an odd way it almost felt nostalgic. The duties of princess-hood left little time for life's simple pleasures. At least Fluttershy had saved her from sleeping all night in the library. Nostalgic or not, dealing with the fallout would have been a literal pain in the neck.

After taking a few minutes to run a brush through her mane, she opened her door and stepped out into the hall, almost immediately stumbling on something warm and soft. There was a low groan from below her, and Twilight looked down to see Applejack sprawled across the floor, empty cider bottles next to her.

“Too early…” Applejack muttered, grabbing her nearby hat and pulling it over her face.

Twilight’s heart sank at the state of her friend. Her face was streaked with weariness, exhaustion, and sorrow. Wordlessly, she reached out with her magic and levitated Applejack into the air. Her limbs flailed wildly, but Twilight waited until she calmed down and gently set her on her hooves, making sure she could stand up on her own before releasing the spell.

“Twilight, I…” Applejack choked. She looked like she wanted to cry, but didn’t have any tears left.

Twilight pulled her into a tight hug, and she felt Applejack go limp against her, shuddering with dry heaving sobs.

“I’m a bad pony, Twi. An’ now Rarity knows it too. I suppose it’s all for the best, right? She deserves somepony far better than me.”

“There there,” Twilight muttered soothingly. She’d had less than twenty-four hours to get used to the idea of her friends getting married, and now it seemed like that would no longer be coming to pass. Was it her fault?

After a few more minutes, Applejack finally pulled away, taking deep, shuddering breaths before she finally got herself under control. “I’m sorry, Twi. Thanks. You’re a good friend. My head is spinning and I just can’t think straight.”

Twilight glanced at the bottles on the floor with a sour look. “How much did you drink?”

Applejack shook her head, wincing slightly. “I reckon I don’t quite remember. I went to tell her the truth like you said, and she didn’t take it well. Then I got all stupidly defensive and we both said some nasty things and then… well, she kicked me out. After that everything’s kind of a blur.”

“Why were you sleeping outside my door? There are plenty of unoccupied guest rooms, not to mention couches in the lounge.”

Applejack chuckled lightly, a bitter smile on her face as she picked up one of the empty bottles and spat into it, wiping at her tongue. “I vaguely remember just wanting to be near somepony. Anypony. Wanted help or advice or something. Probably got stuck at the door.”

“Did she actually…” Twilight paused. It didn’t feel right to address it so directly, but she didn’t want to move forward on a misunderstanding. “Did she actually leave you?”

Her eyes downcast, Applejack bit her lip, looking away. “Does it really matter? Even if she were stupid enough to forgive me, I ain’t willing to forgive myself.”

Twilight let out a sigh, shaking her head. “That’s what I thought you’d say. Look, you’re in no state to be thinking of anything so serious right now. How about we go downstairs to the kitchen, get some food and water in you, and maybe after lunch I’ll go have a nice long talk with Rarity while you calm down. The two of you are both grown mares. No matter what happened, and what the end result will be, I’m sure you can come to better resolution than this.”

“I ain’t really even hungry,” Applejack muttered, her eyes still glued to the floor.

Rolling her eyes, Twilight grit her teeth. With a stomp of her hoof, she fired up her horn, casting an ominous glow across the hallway. “Applejack…” she cooed sweetly. “You’re coming to the kitchen with me. Do you want to walk, or would you prefer to be carried?”

Applejack’s eyes went wide, and she swallowed nervously as Twilight bore down on her. “I uh, which way was the kitchen again?”

Twilight led Applejack into the kitchen and was pleased to find three of her friends there already enjoying lunch.

“Hey you two,” Rainbow Dash called out with her mouth full. “Glad you finally decided to join us.” Rainbow swallowed her food, her grin slowly fading. “Geez, Applejack, you look like you just got bucked in the face. What’s up?”

“I, uh,” Applejack stammered, pawing at the ground. “It’s nothing. Well, it’s not, but I’ll tell y’all later. Right now I need some grub.”

“One fresh serving of grub, coming right up!” Pinkie Pie shouted, immediately tearing into the cabinets and throwing pans and food items all over the place.

“Um, Pinkie Pie, that’s not really necessary, there are still plenty of leftovers,” Fluttershy mumbled, watching as Pinkie worked on turning the kitchen into a disaster zone.

Twilight chuckled as she made her way across the room. She dodged a box of what appeared to be spaghetti as she moved next to Fluttershy to lean and whisper, “Hey, have you seen Rarity at all? I want to talk to her.”

Fluttershy’s expression fell as her gaze flickered over to Applejack, currently being pulled in two directions by both Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. “Oh. It really was bad, huh?”

“I’m afraid so,” Twilight said, grimacing. “I just want to get to the bottom of this.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I haven’t seen her since last night, sorry.”

“Alright. I’ll be right back then, save some for me!” Twilight waved cheerfully at everypony else before teleporting away in a flash.

As she re-oriented, she was pleased to find that she had landed right outside of Rarity’s bedroom door. Perfect!

After taking a few moments to compose herself, Twilight reached up a hoof to knock loudly on the door. She froze, her eyes widening as her gaze fell upon what appeared to be three diamonds painted on the door in red.

What in Equestria? Was this some kind of prank? She didn’t remember seeing anything like this before, but it’s not like she had gotten close enough to thoroughly inspect this particular door.

A sudden pang of uncertain dread gripping at her heart, Twilight reached up and knocked on the door, perhaps a bit more urgently than she meant to. “Rarity? It’s me, Twilight. Are you okay in there? Can we talk for a bit?”

Twilight braced herself for the expected over the top theatrics Rarity was famous for, but no response came. Could Rarity have stepped out already? But where would she go? This was getting weird.

Twilight tried again, knocking on the door a little louder and trying the door handle. It was locked. “Rarity? Are you in there?”

There was still no response, and her worry deepened. This was strange, but probably nothing serious, right? Barging in there with her magic would definitely be an overreaction.

Firing up her horn, she teleported again, arriving just outside of the kitchen. “Hey, Fluttershy, could you come here for a minute?” Twilight asked, poking her head in the doorway.

Fluttershy blinked, drying her hooves with a washcloth and stepping away from the sink. “Um, okay, just give me a second.”

When Fluttershy moved closer, Twilight pulled her out into the hallway, checking to make sure the others weren’t paying attention. “Hey. This is probably nothing, but Rarity’s door had a strange mark on it and she’s not responding. Do you know if there’s an extra key or something I can use, just to check on her?”

Fluttershy blanched, glancing around nervously. “S-strange mark…? There should be an extra key for her room, I can show you where it’s normally kept.”

Sensing Twilight’s urgency, Fluttershy quickly led her through the halls to a large pantry somewhere on the first floor.

“There’s a cabinet in here that contains all the extra keys for the mansion,” Fluttershy said, pulling open the cabinet doors and gesturing towards the rows of keys hanging on hooks. “Most of them are unlabeled, but I’m pretty sure this one is Rarity’s.”

“Um, Fluttershy? There’s nothing there,” Twilight said, eying the empty hook.

Fluttershy blinked, doing a double-take. “B-but I’m positive this is the right one…”

“Could somepony else have taken it?”

Fluttershy frowned, shaking her head. “I guess it’s technically possible. Nopony besides me really knows this is here though, and unless they grabbed it at random, I don’t see how they could have known it was Rarity’s. “

Twilight cursed under her breath. “I guess I’ll just go invite myself in with magic. Thanks, Fluttershy!”

As Twilight prepared to teleport away, Fluttershy put a hoof on her shoulder, stopping her. “Um, I kind of forgot until now, but I was given this letter last night when I was visiting the Princess’ study, and I was supposed to give it to you this morning...”

A letter? Twilight took the offered envelope from Fluttershy, finding it strangely heavy and lumpy. Wait, there’s no way it could be…

Twilight quickly tore open the wax seal on the envelope and turned it upside-down. A folded letter and a small metallic object fell out, clattering to the ground.

"That's the right key," Fluttershy said, her eyes wide. "But...?"

Wasting no time, Twilight levitated the key beside her and teleported away, leaving the letter and a confused Fluttershy behind.

"Rarity?" Twilight called out, banging on the door loudly. "If you're in there please say something! I've got a key, and I’m letting myself in!"

Turning the key, Twilight slowly pushed the door open. A cold wind greeted her as the light from the hallway flooded into the room.

Twilight took a hesitant step inside, finding the room to be near freezing. It was filled with ghostly figures; ponykins stood all about covered in unfinished dresses, the scraps of fabric dancing slowly in the breeze.

"Rarity? Hello?" Twilight's voice felt small, and she could clearly make out the wailing of the storm outside. Did Rarity leave her window open?

Thick, dark curtains covered the windows, and none of the lamps were lit. Twilight illuminated her horn and slowly made her way through the sea of cloth. She could see that one of the curtains was moving more than the others, likely the source of the draft.

One of the dresses brushed against her flank and she shivered, the cloth like ice against her fur. Just how long had the window been open?

"Rarity? Come on, please say something. This isn't funny..." Her voice felt small and weak, the oppressive atmosphere pressing down on her as she lifted the wayward curtain aside to inspect the window behind.

The glass was cracked, as if it had been struck by something heavy. A large shard of glass about two inches wide had fallen out of the frame, and the wind was whistling through the gap. Well, that answered one question, but what had caused the break? Judging by the pattern, it probably came from the inside.

With a flash of magic, Twilight gathered up the glass and fixed the window with a quick mending spell. She shivered in relief as the cold wind abated, before turning back around.

The mass of ponykins loomed in around her, and she could barely make out which way she had come from. Grumbling, she pushed forward, roughly shoving them out of her way. Just what had possessed Rarity to bring so many —

Her hoof slipped on something wet and slick.

"Stop, just stop! I get the point, alright? There's no need to go any further. I get the point! You can skip the details!” Twilight growled, clenching her teeth together so hard they hurt.

“Buuut Twiiiiiliiiiiight….” Golden Wish said, drawing out her words in a whining, childlike drawl. “This is a myyyyyyssssterrry! You want to solve it, don’t you, Twilight? You want to wiiin, don’t you, Twilight? Then look! See everything there is to see! Leave no body part unturned, find every clue, find the truth, and utterly annihilate me! If. You. Caaaaaaaan!”

“This is sick, you’re sick!” Twilight screamed, tears stinging her eyes. “The lives of my friends are not just pieces on a chessboard!”

Twilight knocked the board to the floor, but it merely re-materialized on the table a few seconds later. Golden Wish’s harsh laughter reverberated around the small room, assaulting Twilight from every possible angle as she tried to deny this reality.

Twilight froze, her eyes locked straight ahead, unwilling to bring her gaze downwards. It had to be something else, right? It was just something silly she had gotten all worked up over, and later everypony would be laughing about what a crazy misunderstanding this all was.

The metallic scent of blood filled her nostrils. Twilight looked down to the floor, and her scream echoed across the mansion.

“Come on, it’s right up here!”

Applejack sprinted up the stairs and around the corner, everypony else close behind her. They had all heard Twilight’s scream from the kitchen, and when Fluttershy had mentioned that she went to Rarity’s room…

As Applejack rounded the corner, she began to make out Twi’s voice, high pitched and torn between wracking sobs and incoherent babbling.

“Twilight, we’re coming!” Rainbow Dash cried out.

The sobbing stopped all of a sudden, and as Applejack skidded to make the turn into the room, Twilight appeared in a flash, planting herself between them and the entrance, spreading her wings to block it off.

“No, you can’t go in there!” Twilight was trembling, her face streaked with tears, and her eyes were filled with a horror that spoke volumes.

An iron vice clamped around Applejack’s heart.

“T-Twi… Where’s Rarity? She’s okay, right?” Her voice felt hollow, like it was coming from a different place. Her body moved forward, trying to shove its way past Twilight, but there was flash of light, and she found herself pushed back against the wall.

“Come on, Twi, what’s going on? Say something!” Rainbow Dash shouted. She tried to fly over Twilight, but she too was thrown against the wall with telekinesis, before a magical barrier was erected over the doorway entirely.

“Please… just don’t… you don’t want to see…” Twilight mumbled as she stood there, legs shaking.

Don’t want to see… don’t want to see what? Twilight didn’t want her to see…


Twilight didn’t want her to see Rarity. Why didn’t she want her to see Rarity?


She was…

With a primal scream, Applejack lunged forward, barreling past Twilight and spun around, bucking the barrier harder than she’d bucked anything in her life.

To the considerable surprise of Twilight, the shield shattered, and Applejack rushed to the side of the bed. She would be there.

Rarity. The love of her life. The mare she’d give anything for. How had she always described her?

Beautiful. Broken.

Pristine. Beaten.

Flawless. Shattered.

Elegant. Bloody.

Energetic. Dead.

Dead. Dead. Dead. Rarity was dead. Right in front of her. The dead body of the mare she had loved, laughed with, with whom she had shared her meals, her bed, her future. It was all gone now, gone forever.

And what remained in front of her was so broken, so bloody. What was left of her was twisted in unnatural ways, shattered in places that were meant to be whole. And her face. Sweet Celestia, her face. She couldn’t recognize it anymore. She’d never be able to see her again. Every happy memory in her life was being replaced by the image of this twisted red and white lump before her.

Dimly, the rest of the world slowly filtered its way back into Applejack’s senses. She heard Rainbow Dash retching in the corner and turned to see Fluttershy bawling into the chest of Pinkie Pie, the normally chipper party pony looking sadder than she’d ever seen her. Twilight stood in the doorway. Her eyes were wide, and she seemed to be saying something.

“I’m sorry.”

"So," Twilight spat. "This is your game, then. Showing me my friends, dead and broken, their abject grief and suffering. To what end? Do you think I'm going to break just like that? Do you think you'll be able to win if you just throw tasteless nightmares at me over and over again?"

Twilight met Golden Wish's sneer with a defiant gaze of her own. Watching that had hurt. A lot. But it hadn't been all that long ago she'd been living through that horror herself. Somehow she'd survived, if you could call this living, and was here to face it all again from a higher perspective. The Twilight down there was just like the her from only a few days ago, suddenly thrust into a nightmare with no hope of a way out.

But from above, she stood a chance.

"Your first move," Twilight said levelly as she studied the chessboard. "Is it over? Can we begin?"

Golden Wish blinked, looking somewhat surprised by her abruptness. "Er, well, there are a few important scenes left. I guess if you're that eager to get started, I can summarize a bit."

Twilight picked up the metal key from the dresser next to Rarity's bed. There was a small tag on the end, marked with the room number.

"This is...?" Twilight asked, and Fluttershy nodded solemnly.

"Um, Twilight, I don't think you're going to like this, but this was a part of that letter you dropped earlier," Fluttershy said, pulling a folded piece of paper from her mane.

Twilight took the letter, looking it over. That’s right, there had been a paper with the key too. Just why had Celestia given her these, anyway? It didn’t make any sense. When she unfolded and read the letter, she found the words to be familiar.

“From a wish sprouts a seed of power
To grant your heart's deepest desire
Bless this seed with your greatest love
But this love must be born in blood
In death lies truth – the heart laid bare“

"Do you like it, Twilight?" Golden Wish asked, practically giddy with delight. “This is all just for you, you know. The elegance, the superb craftsmanship; there's an awful lot of work that goes into creating the perfect closed room!"

Twilight snorted, rolling her eyes. "I'm flattered," she said dryly, "but if you think this closed room is ‘perfect’, you're sadly mistaken."

Golden Wish's smile faltered, and she narrowed her eyes. "Oh? What does the Great and Powerful Twilight Sparkle have to say about it?"

"Well, one, don't call me that," Twilight said curtly. "Two, there's no such thing as a perfect closed room to begin with. Every question has an answer, whether we know it or not."

"Oh? Do you actually have an answer then, or are you going to be arguing from a position of ignorance?"

"Have you ever heard of the concept used in formal logic known as a Nightmare's Proof?” Twilight asked. She received a bored looking wave of a hoof in response and decided to continue. "While the name has become somewhat outdated in recent years, it originally stated that the existence of Nightmare Moon is easy to prove. All she would have to do is appear and shout ‘The night will last forever!’ and ponies would accept that as proof of her existence.

"But the inverse is not as simple. You can't offer proof that Nightmare Moon doesn't exist, because you can always make the claim that she's hiding somewhere where ponies can't detect her. Like say, the moon."

Twilight finished her lecture, feeling rather pleased at the scowl she was receiving in return. Maybe it wasn't right to inwardly gloat over small victories, but given the nature of her situation, it seemed appropriate. The time for 'being the better mare' was long past. This was personal.

"Is that all?" Golden Wish asked, looking annoyed. "The crux of your argument is going to be 'you can't prove a negative'?"

"What other angle is there?" Twilight countered, motioning towards the board. "We have Rarity, savagely beaten to death in her own room, likely bare-hooved. One key is locked inside the room, the other is placed inside a letter, passed on to Princess Celestia, then Fluttershy, and then it finally ends up in my hooves."

Twilight reached down and moved one of the pawns forward. "But that's it. Even completely disregarding the use of magic, there could easily be a duplicate key nopony knows about. Or a hidden door. Or maybe the windows. Or somepony was able to pick the lock. Whatever unknown method X was used to get in, it's not that hard to get past a locked door. It's a Nightmare's Proof. You can't prove that this room is 'closed' to begin with."

Golden Wish stared at Twilight levelly, holding her gaze for a long moment, before she slowly cracked a smile. Unable to hold it back anymore, a small giggle escaped from her lips, which quickly grew into a chuckle, then a guffaw, then she finally threw her head back in a full blown villainous cackle.

"Oh Twilight. Poor, naive Twilight," she said when she was done, wiping a tear from her eye. She suddenly lurched forward, slamming her hooves on the table and leaning in uncomfortably close as her face twisted into a disgusting mockery of joy. "This is going to be fun!"

Author's Note:

For all your villainous cackling needs.

Best combined with this.

Thanks to Kalan, Sereg, and JeffCvt for editing! Next chapter should be released on Monday, May 19th.

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