• 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.

  • ...

Chapter 13 - Chains of Red

"I'm almost disappointed, really," Golden Wish said as she idly inspected a hoof. "You don't have enough information for proper reasoning? That's a stalling tactic if I've ever heard one. But if you want to get into a threefold repetition, I suppose we can both sit here until we die of old age."

With a glance to her horn, she added, "That might be a bit."

Twilight ground her teeth, taking a deep breath. Her mannerisms were so needlessly infuriating that it became hard to think straight. Which, she supposed, was probably the point.

"Just what else are you suggesting?" Twilight asked. "This game of yours is so poorly defined, and it's not like I have a rulebook to work with here. With what you've given me so far, an endless draw seems like the only logical outcome."

"You could always surrender now!" Golden Wish suggested cheerfully. At Twilight's flat expression, she added, "Oh lighten up. You are right, though. I think it's about time I introduced some new rules that will make this interesting."

"New rules?" Twilight scowled, glancing down at the board. "This is your domain, after all. Let me guess: You'll be telling me that your ace and a two is a winning hand that beats my three of a kind because of some arbitrary reason and that I'm just a naive newbie who's supposed to accept that."

"Twilight!" Golden Wish gasped, looking offended. "I have nothing but the utmost respect for the spirit of fair competition. Also, can we stick to chess metaphors? I've kind of got a motif going on here and I don't want it to get too confusing."

Twilight ground her teeth even harder, idly anticipating a stern lecture from her dentist. If she would ever even have the chance to face such mundane difficulties again, that is. "Just get on with it."

“Very well.” Golden Wish waved her hoof, and the arrangement on the board reverted back to an earlier configuration. “Since your primary argument is that there isn’t enough information to work with and that I cannot prove that this is really a closed room, I will now do so.”

Golden Wish closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before opening them as a brilliant red flash emanated from her horn. “Everything I speak in red is the truth! There’s absolutely no need to doubt it!”

The room pulsed, and Twilight flinched backwards from the force of the magic. She could feel the weight of the spell being used, at the inherent value of truth in those words. “Are you saying you want me to just accept that?” Twilight asked, her voice a low growl.

“This is a game between the two of us, isn’t it? In a game, the rules are sacred! If you can’t even accept that basic premise, then you’re not qualified to be my opponent.”

“Fine, I accept your rule,” Twilight said, already running through the possibilities in her mind. “I think I can see what you’re getting at here, anyway. I’ll start with something simple. The culprit used magic to enter the room, commit the crime, and leave the room, bypassing the locked door entirely. The type of magic is irrelevant.”

“A good start, but useless!” Golden Wish said, grinning wickedly. “Unicorn magic in no way factored into the commission of this crime or the construction of this closed room."

“Can you offer any proof to that claim?” Twilight asked, immediately countering.

Golden Wish held up a hoof, shaking her head. “Stop there. Let me give an addendum to this rule. When I speak the truth, I will use the red, but I do not bear the responsibility of establishing that by showing proof. It is simply an undeniable fact.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes, but nodded in acquiescence. “Something like that allows you to make some pretty outlandish claims, but don’t think that’ll be enough to stop me. Since you specified unicorn magic, I assume alicorn magic is free game then?”

“Ohoho, perhaps it is. Tell me Twilight, what Alicorn-only magic do you know of that could accomplish something like this, but be completely out of the reach of mere unicorns? Do you know of some magnificent spell that you could only cast after becoming a princess that you couldn’t before?”

“I…” Twilight faltered, wracking her brain and combing through her vast repertoire of magic. The distinction between the lower and higher levels of magic was a fine one, and any spell capable of creating a locked room tended to be on the lower end of the spectrum. “What about, say, the ability to grant wishes? There’s no end to the amount of tricks you could pull with something like that.”

“What about it?” Golden wish asked with a yawn. “I won’t even bother to acknowledge such a lazy accusation. I’m not obligated to say any particular statement in red, after all.”

Twilight stomped a hoof and opened her mouth to retort, but stopped herself, considering. This probably wasn’t the right angle of attack to be pursuing right now. “Fine then. The culprit entered through a hidden door.”

“Hidden doors? Pffft. Knocks would be rolling in his grave if he could hear you now. There is only one door to Rarity’s room.”

Twilight nodded, drumming her hoof on the table. “What about things that aren’t doors? Somepony could have used the windows, or maybe somepony took the door off its hinges without unlocking it.”

Golden Wish threw back her head and laughed. “Everypony that entered or exited Rarity’s bedroom in the past forty-eight hours did so via the door and used it like doors are normally used. Come on, Twilight, are you even trying here?”

“Hold it. Define pony,” Twilight said, raising a hoof. “What about a dragon, or a griffin?”

“Oh, you’re right. A bit of an oversight on my part,” Golden Wish said, blushing slightly. “For the purposes of this game, ‘pony’ refers to any sapient creature capable of free will.”

Twilight grinned. “That’s just what I wanted to hear. I’m just getting started, Goldy, and I hope you’re prepared to lose. Let’s talk about the keys, shall we?”

Golden Wish sputtered, her mouth working itself in silent rage. “G-Goldy!?” she finally spat out, her composure totally lost. “What makes you think you have any right to call me that?”

"Golden Wish is a bit of a mouthful, don't you think?" Twilight asked, feigning sweetness. "It suits you much better, I think." As much as this was a game of twisted logic, psychological warfare seemed to be a key component as well.

"What about the keys? Can you guarantee that there are only two, and no duplicates?"

Golden Wish glared at her, her mouth twisted in a indignant pout before shaking her head fiercely. "You seem awfully sure of yourself, Twilight, but I'm just going to cut down every position you have to stand on! There are only two keys that can lock or unlock the door to Rarity's bedroom. Furthermore, the door can only be locked or unlocked with one of the two keys."

Twilight frowned. No extra keys, no hidden doors, no magic, no lockpicking. While some of the restrictions given by the red truth were arbitrary and untenable in reality, for now they were the rules of the games she had to abide by.

In a basic scenario, Culprit X enters the room, kills Rarity, leaves, and locks the door. Rarity's key was locked inside the room, so that couldn't be it. The other key was placed into an envelope, given to Fluttershy, and eventually made it to her hooves. Perhaps the loophole was there.

Twilight bit her lip, frantically studying the board. With every move she was getting closer and closer to a losing checkmate. Every blade of red sliced away another possible answer. In theory, that should eventually leave her with the right answer. There was a right answer, wasn’t there? But this test wasn’t multiple choice, and if she wasn’t able to deduce the solution…

“Come on Twilight, what’s wrong?” Golden Wish said, leaning forward and cackling gleefully. “Don’t you have an answer for me? Maybe I just wished everypony through the door with my alicorn magic! Would you be satisfied with that? Maybe if you kneel and kiss my hoof I’ll give you a hint!”

Twilight planted her face on the table, pulling at her mane with her hooves. There had to be something she was missing. The chess pieces all seemed to blur together as her mind went into overdrive.

That’s right. She needed to change perspective. Observe the board not from where she was sitting, but from her opponent’s angle. Turn the chessboard around. Asking how this could possibly be a closed room was meaningless. The question to be asked is how could something be made to look like a closed room.

"Why even bother with the envelope in the first place? Seems like an an awfully convoluted way to get me in possession of the necessary key."

"What can I say?" Golden Wish asked, bowing theatrically. "Ridiculously complicated is sort of my style."

"I've noticed," Twilight said, rolling her eyes. "But can you repeat this in red? From the time she received the letter to the time I received it, the letter remained under Fluttershy's supervision.”

Golden Wish opened her mouth and her horn began to light up, but she stopped, frowning. “No… I can’t, actually. I refuse.”

“You refuse? Isn’t that the same as admitting I’m right?”

“Not at all,” Golden Wish said, shaking her head. “It’s just that the term ‘under Fluttershy’s supervision’ is too vague. She was sleeping last night, right? How could she possibly have kept an eye on it the entire time?”

“So there is a window, then.” Twilight said with a grin. “It’s like this, then. We saw you giving Celestia a letter which was then given to Fluttershy. It appeared to contain the key to Rarity’s bedroom. At the time, Fluttershy must have realized there was at least something similar to a key inside of it. But there’s no way she could have known it was this key.”

“Hoh? Just what are you getting at, here?”

“The key Fluttershy received and the key I received… were they the same?” Glancing over her opponent, Twilight felt her grin grow wider. “What’s the matter, Goldy? You look like something bit you in an uncomfortable place.”

Golden Wish grimaced, clenching her teeth. “You think the envelope contained a fake, and somepony switched it later, do you? Very well… The key to Rarity’s bedroom was in the envelope Fluttershy received."

The red light from the spell glinted off of Twilight's eyes, and she pressed forward. “Just go ahead and repeat this, then. The envelope Fluttershy received and the envelope given to me were the same!"

"Don't think you have any reason to be gloating!" Golden Wish said with a snarl. "The envelope Fluttershy received and the envelope you received were the same."

There it was. The gap she was looking for.

"I'm, sorry, Goldy, but this is checkmate."


"Repeat this in red! From the time Fluttershy received the envelope till the time I opened it, nopony else had a chance to handle it!"

Golden Wish hissed sharply. "You..."

Twilight slammed her hooves down on the table, the pieces on the chessboard rattling slightly. "It's like this, isn't it? Fluttershy recieved the letter, I spoke with her, and then she probably went straight to bed. It's not like she would sleep with it on her, so it's likely she would have put it on her bedside table. At any point then, somepony could have crept in, taken the key from the envelope, used it to commit the crime, and returned it, with Fluttershy none the wiser!"

"Hold on!" Golden Wish shouted, her face betraying a sense of desperate panic. "The letter was sealed with wax, as you saw!"

Twilight snorted, shaking her head. "Pathetic. A seal of wax is hardly an unbreakable barrier. With a little bit of know-how, anypony can unseal and reseal a letter, even without magic! While not bad, this closed room trick is pretty far from perfect!"

"Twiiiiliiiight!" Golden Wish snarled, stomping a hoof. "Fine! Just who are you suggesting crept in and swapped the keys, then? Was it your precious Princess Celestia? Or poor heartbroken Applejack? Or maybe it was dear little Fluttershy herself!"

"Nope," Twilight said, shaking her head. “As barely tolerant as I am of playing this game about the lives of my friends in the first place, I won't allow you to slander the friendship we all share! I'll tear your closed rooms apart, but the exact identity of "Culprit X" is irrelevant at this time."

Golden Wish closed her eyes and stood there shaking, and Twilight could practically see the rage pouring off of her. After a long minute she finally let out a deep sigh and shook her head, her right hoof still twitching slightly.

"... Very well. I resign. This is your win, Twilight Sparkle. But don't think this is over! That was just round one! Practically just a tutorial! I'm glad to see you're an opponent worthy of my best!"

"Whatever you throw at me," Twilight said, her level state burning with determination. "I won't lose. I don't know what you stand to get from all of this, Gold, but if you seriously think that you'll win when my friends are on the line, you failed to do your research."

Twilight took a deep breath, closing her eyes before exhaling slowly. Every new page seemed to bring even crazier twists and turns into this warped narrative. The page below her, filled with scattered words of red ink like the overzealous efforts of a vindictive grader, spoke volumes about how far off the rails this train had gotten. Was this the product of a depressed and sleep addled Fluttershy’s mindset? Or a sincere attempt at communicating an explicit puzzle in a unique fashion? Should she expect to see later chapters lit up with the entire spectrum of the rainbow?

Still, the concept of an absolute truth spell being used to define limits and set boundaries was definitely an intriguing one. Each red word was like a personal message from the author herself, as if it were saying “This isn’t the solution, try something else.” Although for a more realistic analogue, she was certain she’d read something about a spell that allowed only absolute truth to be spoken, and –

Twilight’s train of thought was interrupted by a thundering boom from overhead, almost immediately followed by the sound of shattering glass and a spectacular crash coming from her kitchen, pots and pans bursting from her shelves to clatter all over her floor. Wind rushed out from the kitchen door, and she strengthened her telekinesis on the papers so that none were blown out of place. The cat leapt to her feet, hissing loudly and arching its back before dashing off and diving for cover under some furniture.

She heard a familiar groan coming from her kitchen, and Twilight let out a sigh, shaking her head. “Rainbow Dash, are you alright in there?” she called out, neatly setting the story aside and standing up.

“Wh-wha…?”” Fluttershy mumbled, her dreary eyes half lidded and looking around in confusion. “What’s going on?”

Twilight poked her head into the kitchen and saw Rainbow Dash slowly extracting herself from the remains of her cupboard, occasionally picking splinters out of her wings.

“Oh, hey, Twi. Sorry about that. Trick gone bad, you know?” Rainbow Dash said, a sheepish grin across her face.

“It’s been ages since you’ve messed up a trick so badly you ended up destroying a part of my house,” Twilight said, trying to keep her expression neutral. “Probably not the best thing to go around getting nostalgic for.”

Rainbow Dash stood up, wincing slightly and shaking the rest of the dust and debris from her. “Aww, come on, Twi, it’s not that bad, is it?” With a glance around the kitchen, she quickly added, “I mean, I’ll help clean it up and everything, eheh…”

Twilight let out another sigh, stepping forward and firing up her horn. "I appreciate the offer, but most of these pans belong in very specific spots, and Spike would throw a fit if they got messed up."

As she expanded her field of magic and turned the kitchen into a whirlwind of iron, ceramic, and wood, an image flashed into her mind of a heartbroken Twilight carrying a wounded Rainbow Dash through the snow. "I'm glad you're not hurt, though," she said, her voice soft.

Rainbow Dash blushed slightly. "This is me we're talking about here, Twilight. Takes a lot more than a measly crash to stop the amazing Rainbow Dash!"

Ducking under the last frying pan as it was levitated neatly onto its shelf, Rainbow Dash stared at the now pristine kitchen with awe. "Wow, when you go all out, you really go all out, huh?"

Twilight smiled, admiring her handiwork. "Magic has its perks. Anyway, you wanna stay for a while? I've got snacks out already for –"

"Oh, hey Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash said, interrupting Twilight. "What're you doing here?"

"Napping, I guess?" Fluttershy said, yawning softly and rubbing at her eyes before leaning forward in a long stretch, her bones popping audibly.

"Napping?" Rainbow Dash asked, raising an eyebrow. "You know, I'm all for napping, but I prefer clouds over, say, Twilight's floor."

Fluttershy smiled, her eyes somewhat unfocused as she yawned again. "Oh, it's quite nice here. Very quiet. My house can get pretty noisy when the animals are awake, and, um, I don't feel comfortable sleeping outside. Oh, but what brings you here, Rainbow Dash?"

Rainbow Dash grinned widely and she flexed her wings. "I was out hanging with Applejack, discussing some crazy dares, and she told me 'I ain't never heard of nopony who ever managed to go faster than light.' I wasn't about to take a challenge like that lying down! But uh, it didn't work too well. This time, anyway."

"Um, Rainbow Dash..." Fluttershy mumbled glancing over at Twilight.

"The reason she'd never heard of anypony going faster than light," Twilight said, reaching up to massage her temple with a hoof, "is because it's literally impossible. Under our current understanding of physics, the amount of energy required to break light speed is practically infinite. Certainly not attainable under wing power, no matter how good of a flier you are." With a shake of her head, she added, "Pretty sure even Applejack understands that, at least to some extent. Sorry, Rainbow, but you got tricked."

"Are you kidding me! You're saying Applejack lied to me?"

"No, she told you the truth, Rainbow," Fluttershy said, shaking her head. "But, um, some truths are more truthful than others? If that makes any sense."

Rainbow Dash frowned, her brow furrowing in thought. "I guess I see what you mean. Whatever, I'll find a way to prank her back. Sorry about the kitchen, Twilight. Later!”

Twilight smiled ruefully, watching Rainbow Dash speed out an open window. "Well, that was a fun distraction. How're you feeling, Fluttershy?"

Fluttershy blushed slightly, a smile on her face. "Oh, I'm feeling much better now, thanks for asking. It was a good nap. Um, how's the story coming along?"

"Well, I just finished the part where 'truth in red' is introduced as a mechanic," Twilight said as the two of them left the kitchen. "This multiple layers of stories thing is getting hard to fully wrap my head around, I'm still torn up when it comes to reading about my friends getting hurt, and the logic used is practically dizzying."

Fluttershy's face fell. "Oh..."

Twilight grinned, nudging Fluttershy playfully. "And for some reason, I want nothing more than to know what happens next. It's weird, but very unique. I really had no idea that you were capable of something like this. It's always a surprise when you find a side of a close friend that you never knew existed, right?"

"I see..." Fluttershy said, her face neutral. "It's, um, hard to explain, but there's a lot going into all of this."

"No kidding," Twilight said, nodding emphatically. "Speaking of, what Rainbow Dash said earlier made me think about the nature of truth, and I wanted to try something."

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow, watching as Twilight began scanning the bookshelves back and forth before pulling out a well used tome.

"Let's see here..." Twilight mumbled, flipping through the pages. "Ah, here we are. A truth spell. Hmm, can only be cast as a personal spell, though."

"W-wow. I didn't think anything like that actually existed," Fluttershy said, her eyes wide.

"I mean, it's not going to make me speak in red or anything," Twilight said with a grin. "Although I could mimic the special effects with other spells. Anyway, let me give this a shot."

Twilight ran through the spell in her mind, focusing her magic as energy began to swirl around her. She felt it pull inwards, settling around her throat with a light pressure before dissipating. A strange tingling crept up her horn.

"My name is Rainbow Dash," Twilight lied, testing the spell. So far so good. Channeling her magic again, she focused her energy on the strange sensation in her horn and decided to add in a small special effect for good measure.

"My name is Twilight Sparkle!"There was an odd sense of force to her words when the spell took effect, and the room lit up from the brilliant red flash from her horn. Fluttershy gasped, staring with awe.

Emboldened, Twilight tried again. "My name is Rain—" Her throat seized up, her eyes bugging out as she was forced into a coughing fit.

"Twilight, are you okay!?" Fluttershy immediately rushed to her side and offered a glass of water.

Twilight drank greedily, polishing off the glass and wiping her mouth with a sigh. "Wow... That was unpleasant," Twilight mumbled, her voice raspy.

"Um, are you sure this spell is safe to use?" Fluttershy asked, glancing about nervously.

Twilight shook her head. "No idea. I have to actively focus my magic through it to say something truthful, but there's backlash if I try to combine it with a lie. Though I suppose it has to be a lie known to me. Let's try again.

"My name is Twilight Sparkle.

"My coat is purple.

"My coat is lavender.

"My coat is not purple, but lavender.

"My coat is not lavender, but p—"

Once again her throat seized up, but this time she was ready.

Fluttershy stroked Twilight's back soothingly as she continued her coughing fit. "Your logic here… just because something is a property of one thing doesn’t mean it applies in reverse, right?”

"It's just as I thought," Twilight said, grinning triumphantly as her breathing steadied. "The truth, even when it's magically enforced, can still be a tool of deception."

Fluttershy's eyes began to sparkle, and a smile made its way up her face. "Do you have any other examples, Twilight?"

"Sure! Let's try this." Twilight turned around, grabbing a sandwich from the nearby snack tray and began to dismantle it with her magic, making sure Fluttershy couldn't see what she was doing.

When she was finished, Twilight spun around and presented the sandwich to Fluttershy with a flourish. "Here you go! This is a lettuce and daisy sandwich!"

Fluttershy blinked, taking the sandwich and staring at it dully. "Um, thank you?" She pulled it close to take a bite, but stopped, frowning and pulling the sandwich open. Several clumps of lavender fur were scattered amongst the greens.

“Do you get it?” Twilight asked as she paced back and forth, practically bouncing with excitement. “I told you the truth about what kind of sandwich it was. But that wasn’t the whole truth.”

“Yay!” Fluttershy whispered. She leapt up into the air, doing a small loop before flitting about the room, her smile splitting her face ear to ear. “Oh, I’m so glad. I didn’t think you would grasp the core concept here so easily, Twilight. Um, can you cast that spell on me?”

Twilight frowned, glancing back over the spellbook. “I’m afraid not. It only works on unicorns. I could at least give you the effect, though.”

Twilight lit up her horn, and conjured a small floating ball of red light, pushing it towards Fluttershy. “Touch that, and it’ll flash red. I’ll trust whatever you say while doing so.”

"I see," Fluttershy said, nodding. "That works." Landing, Fluttershy made her way over to one of Twilight's desks and began scribbling on a piece of paper with a quill. After a few minutes she finished, shaking the paper dry before giving it to Twilight.

"Here you go. Can you tell me what this is?"

Twilight looked over the paper. It appeared to be a hastily drawn doodle of a smoking pipe. She already knew where this was headed, but decided to play along. "This is a pipe, right? For smoking?"

Fluttershy shook her head, a coy smile playing at her lips. "This is not a pipe. I mean, it's just paper with ink on it, Twilight, don't be silly."

Twilight chuckled. "The treachery of images is a concept I'm familiar with. Though it's been a while since I've seen it given any practical use. So you're saying this is all stuff I should keep in mind moving forward, right?"

Fluttershy nodded, beaming. After a few moments, she stopped as a thought occurred to her, then blushed slightly. "Um, that trick with the sandwich was funny and all, but are there more? I am actually a little hungry."

"Hmm... Ah, here you go." Twilight levitated a small brown bag over to Fluttershy. "It’s those gruesome sweets I bought earlier. Not really sure what I was thinking at the time, but I’m sure they’ll taste fine. Anyway, should we get back to the main event?

Fluttershy nodded and took the bag and the two of them moved back towards their reading area.

Twilight found the cat waiting there for them, sitting calmly next to the stack of papers and affixing Twilight with a bored yet unsettling gaze. A chill ran up her spine as an odd sense of guilt overtook her. Here she was, laughing and enjoying herself with Fluttershy while the fictional Twilights were in there fighting for their lives and suffering utter heartbreak at the loss of their friends.

Such thinking was completely illogical of course, but it wasn’t hard to emphasize with the plight of a fictional character when said character was a literal extension of yourself, twice over.

“Fluttershy,” Twilight asked, the cheerful mood in the room beginning to ebb away. “What’s that cat’s name, anyway? Can you ask her?”

Fluttershy leaned in and spoke to the cat in a low voice for a few moments, and it responded with only a single meow.

“She says her name is Mira. She’s, um, not very talkative though.”

Twilight nodded, frowning. Mira? It sounded familiar for some reason. “Well, Mira, I’m afraid I can’t keep you as a pet, but you’re welcome to stay in my home for the rest of the day, at least. If you want to stay and watch while we finish this story, be my guest.”

Mira meowed, slowly sauntering off to the side and curling up on an empty cushion. I guess that means yes.

“Um, can you switch back to reading out loud again, now that I’m awake?” Fluttershy asked, her cheeks coloring. “You’re pretty good at it, Twilight, and I like listening to you.”

“No problem.” Twilight sat down, floating the stack of papers up as she found her place again. Back into the world of this literary nightmare. She had some new concepts to keep in mind while reading, and now that Fluttershy was awake, she could discuss them readily as new challenges arose.

What was lying in wait at the end of this road?

Author's Note:

Thanks to Kalan, Sereg, and JeffCvt for editing!

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