• 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 21 - Ouroboros

Twilight got up and moved over to stare out the window. Just like the fight scene had shown, the shield she had placed last night was gone, and the storm was free to rage as it pleased. Although it was a bit of a pointless gesture at this point in the game; Knocks’ 1st already neatly prevented any outside interference.

She sat down in front of the dresser and levitated a nearby brush up to begin running it through her mane. In a cruel twist of fate, taking the place of a fictional version of herself in a strange reality woven by story-born demigods did not prevent split ends or tangling.

Twilight kept up the grooming for several minutes until her mane practically shone from the effort. It was good as she could get it without taking a shower, and the repetitive motions were comforting and gave her time to think.

“If I’m going to do this, I might as well look my best, right?” Twilight mumbled, her voice laced with a bitter sadness. She was just stalling, and she knew it.

It was the moment everypony had been waiting for. The one she had been dreading. Her friends, murdered, in what was likely to be a gruesome fashion, and trapped in a deadly closed room.

How long could she afford to put this off?

Her hooves shaking, Twilight reached out with her magic and pushed the door open, hard enough for it to slam against the wall.

Only dim lights and an empty hallway awaited her.

Twilight opened her mouth to call out, to ask if any of her friends were still there, still alive, but the sound caught in her throat, coming out as a strangled gasp.

Shaking her head to try and clear her thoughts, Twilight started down the hall. Her eyes darted to every shifting shadow. Maybe she could get in a healthy dose of stalling if she went to the kitchen and ate breakfast first.

Of course with things as they were, any breakfast she bothered with would likely come right back up.

Her hoof steps echoed as she made her way into the entrance hall, only adding to her sense of isolation. The remnants of the previous night’s party still littered the room in places, and the banner that had covered the portrait of Golden Wish had slipped. It looked as if her opponent was peeking out from behind it at her.

A prickle ran down her spine, and she felt an odd, childish sense of worry that while she was stuck on this level of the game, Golden Wish and Luna were talking about her behind her back.

Twilight opened her mouth but found that she still didn't have it in her to call out to her friends; the prospect of receiving no answer paralyzed her heart.

Fear, however, can be conquered by technicalities. Twilight used her magic to form a large, ephemeral purple bell. She shook it about and its ringing boomed throughout the hall. She winced from the volume. Maybe she had gone a little overboard.

It had been quite the party last night, and her friends wouldn't appreciate the rude awakening, but it didn't matter much in the long run.

Not to those who still had the capability to wake up and complain about it, anyway.

The ringing lingered in her ears for several moments after Twilight dispelled the magic, and she waited for her friends to come investigate.

While some ponies were almost certainly dead at this point, the others probably didn’t know yet. She expected Applejack to poke her head out from the kitchen and ask what was up, or Rainbow Dash to blearily stumble out of her room, her eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, and angrily demand that she shut up.

Seconds passed. Then minutes. The storm continued to howl, and the mansion offered an occasional groan in protest, but there were no muffled creaks of opening doors. No light eddies of wind reached her, stirred up from a pegasus flying through the halls. No soft hoofsteps tapped against hardwood floors, no telltale hums of magic at work pulsed through the air.

There was no answer.

Twilight stared down at her hooves. She felt the eyes of the portrait behind her bore into her, like hot needles in her spine. If they weren’t going to come to her, she’d just have to go to them. There was probably a perfectly mundane explanation.

Her hooves felt like they were covered in lead, but she managed to take a tentative step forward, then another, and then started down the hall back towards her room. She could at least put off the denial stage of grief until she had actually discovered the horrors that were doubtless awaiting her.

She continued past her room until she reached where she was going, and found what she was expecting to find.

A door with Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark crudely scrawled on it with red paint.

Twilight stared at the door, her mouth dry. The seal she had placed on the door with tape was broken. Looks like it wouldn’t do her much good anymore. Or Rainbow Dash for that matter.

Was it still even a closed room? She reached for the handle, and found it locked. She should just blow the door open, and get it over with. Better to jump straight into the water, or just rip off a bandage, right?

Reducing the lives of her friends to such easily digestible metaphors somehow made her feel even sicker.

Still… there was something she should check on, first. The concept of keys and their locations had been a sticking point in both games, and she should take the chance to verify what she could about them before she started using her magic to increase the number of entrances to a room.

Focusing on her relative position in the mansion, she teleported to the hall just outside the servants storage closet.

It didn't take her long to find what she was looking for. The novels had described all the keys to the various rooms being kept in a small cabinet in the corner.

As she opened the cabinet, Twilight bit back a curse. It wasn't full of a large jumble of unlabeled keys like she was expecting. There were only six hooks where keys would normally hang, each marked with an easily matchable cutie mark. All of the actual keys were missing.

She had the key to her own room already, so that left five. Her gut reaction was to shift back up and complain to Golden Wish, but the way was still blocked to her. She had a feeling that it wasn’t a permanent change, but that she wouldn’t be able to consult Luna or argue her point until after she had done her investigation.

With the keys gone, force looked like it would be the only option once again. Whatever significance this had, it wouldn’t be made clear until later.

Twilight teleported back to the hall outside Rainbow Dash’s room. It was just as she left it. Closed, locked, covered in red paint. This really wasn’t such a big deal. Sure, reading about the deaths of her friends had been pretty disturbing, but she had gotten used to it pretty quickly. This was... just more of the same...


Twilight focused her magic, and brought her telekinesis to bear on the lock. She reached inside of it carefully, feeling around until she found what she was looking for. With a grunt, she hardened her will and twisted, wrenching the tumblers out of position and sliding the bolt back into the door.

A good lock was no match for a talented unicorn. Of course, she wasn’t exactly a master locksmith, and she didn’t have the delicate control required to pull it off without rendering the lock unusable.

The door creaked open slowly, and her breath caught in her throat. Rainbow Dash was in here. And she would be… alive, and waiting for her, out there, to beat this game and return home. She could at least hold on to that.

The lights in the room were out, and Twilight couldn’t make out much of the room through the dim sunlight that filtered in through the curtains. A lump on the bed was clearly visible, however, and the rainbow colored tail that stuck out from underneath the sheets was unmistakable, even in the darkness.

The dark stain on the sheets told her everything she needed to know.

Twilight’s vision began to blur, and she turned around, squeezing her eyes shut. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks. It was enough to just look, right? Rainbow Dash was dead, and in a closed room.

A direct examination by the detective is functionally equivalent to the red truth, when it comes time to make your case.

Twilight let out a snarl, blinking away her tears. Of course that was how it was going to be. She couldn’t hope to get anywhere with half measures.

She turned around to face the horror once more, letting her anger grow and harden into a shield to block out the pain and fear. Storming in with momentum behind her, Twilight cast a quick spell to light up the room, then stomped over to the bed and tore off the covers without ceremony.

Discounting all the blood, Rainbow Dash looked like she was sleeping peacefully. It was a small mercy, she supposed, even if it didn’t make seeing it any easier. A thin line was drawn across Rainbow’s throat.

It seemed silly to even entertain the thought at this point, but Twilight rested her hoof on Rainbow Dash to check anyway. There was no pulse, but she still felt slightly warm to the touch. It must have only happened a couple hours ago.

Twilight let out a sigh and turned away, only to notice an envelope resting on the night stand. There was always a letter, wasn't there? They tended to be full of cryptic messages that had little to do with the reality of the situation.

She picked it up with little hesitation, and felt the slight heft of weight to it. Presumably it was the key to the room, making this a closed room in earnest.

Tearing open the wax seal and pulling out the contents,Twilight found a sheet of paper with a single sentence on it. “Love is loyalty, easily misled,” she said, reading it out loud. “That doesn’t give me a lot to work with here.”

The key that fell out with the letter had a small tag tied to it, marked with a familiar balloon cutie mark. If this was the key to Pinkie’s door, then…

She could already see where this chain would lead, and the implications tore at her heart with a renewed sense of dread. Golden Wish had really gone all out this time.

Since she had so expertly broken the lock, she would have to test the key in several other doors, just to see if the label was correct and it wasn’t just a master key in disguise.

She expected that there would be red truths to clarify and bar such possibilities later, but it wasn’t something she could count on at present, and it was best that she was thorough. She searched through the entire room, kept an eye out for anything resembling a hidden passage, and checked all the windows. They were locked from the inside, of course. She double checked the locking mechanism on the door for good measure. It had been the kind that couldn’t be locked without the key, even from the inside.

When she was satisfied with her analysis, Twilight turned to go, pausing in the doorway. She quickly prepared a new strip of tape to re-seal the door with. If there was somepony out there still skulking about, it wouldn’t do to have them return to mess with the crime scene. At least this way she would know if there was any tampering.

The shadows returned to the room once more as Twilight dismissed the magical light, leaving Rainbow Dash behind in cold darkness.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight muttered, and closed the door behind her.

She took a few steps down the hallway before stumbling, having to lean against the wall the remain standing. Her breathing came in short, ragged breaths. She was going to have to go through this up to four more times.

Pinkie Pie’s room held a near identical tragedy to Rainbow Dash’s. She lay under the covers, throat slit, dead for at least a few hours. The envelope on the table held the key to Fluttershy’s room, and the words, ‘Love without laughter? How is this funny?’ From a red truth standpoint, the room was equally secure.

When she pushed open the door to Fluttershy’s room however, the differences were immediately apparent. Rather than lying in her bed, taken by the peaceful embrace of eternity while sleeping, Fluttershy lay sprawled out on the floor near to the window, covered in blood.

Twilight rushed to her side, immediately lighting the room with magic. There was no need to rush, of course; Fluttershy’s eyes were open and glassy with the empty stare of death.

She stared at the corpse before her, bile rising up in the back of her throat. From her perspective, it had only been an hour or two since she last saw Fluttershy, laughing, smiling, dancing, opening up about the doubts that plagued her in this fictional world.

They hardly seemed to matter now.

Twilight reached out a hoof and closed Fluttershy’s eyes. It seemed like the right thing to do, but that empty stare had seemed almost accusatory, and she couldn’t stand to look at it any longer.

Rather than a clean line across her neck, there was a vicious looking stab wound in Fluttershy’s side. By her best guess, it looked like it might have punctured the lung.

Twilight started to grind her teeth to dust as hot tears ran down her face. How terrified must Fluttershy have been, her lungs filling with blood as her life faded away? Did she even know what was happening? Did she see her killer?

It wasn’t fair. This whole thing wasn’t fair. Why did Fluttershy, the real Fluttershy, have to write a murder mystery of all things to get her point across? If it had just been some pulpy adventure novel, or a science fiction epic, or some sort of low key fantasy, would things have ever gotten this bad? Even if everything had continued to escalate, at least it wouldn’t have been this.

Twilight tore herself away from the corpse of her friend and savagely tore open the waiting envelope. The key was marked as Rarity’s, and the letter held the words “Love, kindness? Silence would be kinder. An end.”

Anger wrestled with cold logic for control. The gears in her head had been turning for a while, and she was beginning to piece things together one by one. But she was left struggling with an aimless rage.

Should it be directed at Golden Wish, the apparent villain of the tale? Infinite Miracle, for dragging her into this? Absolute Certainty, whose role was unclear, but seemed to be on yet another level of manipulative puppeteering? Or should she save some of her ire for Fluttershy herself?

Twilight bit her tongue until she could taste blood. All she had to do was suck it up and solve the mystery. Then everything would be clear, she could go home safely, and everypony would live happily ever after.

She thought back to her early protestations back when she had first started reading. It seemed like ages ago, but she had been rather upset over the lack of a happy ending.

She let out a short, pained laugh. Maybe this experience was turning her cynical, but her sense of narrative foresight was telling her that things were going to be a lot more bitter and a lot less sweet.

Twilight took a step back and shivered slightly. The room seemed colder than it should have been. Was there a draft somewhere?

Searching the rest of the room didn’t turn up any other evidence of note, despite the difference in the arrangement of the murder. The window was whole, and locked from the inside, like the others had been.

Before she left, Twilight turned to address the body. “Fluttershy… I’m sorry you, this version of you, got caught up in all this. I wish I could have done something to stop it, but to properly play this game I couldn't interfere any more than I did. As one of the 'higher beings', I feel responsible for even choosing to play this game in the first place. Somepony could get a long and interesting philosophical debate on the nature of free will in a narrative, and whether the moral implications of the fate of the characters within rests on the writers who put them there, or the readers who give the story life with their eyes and in their hearts.”

Twilight closed her eyes and sniffled, the snort loud and uncomposed. “But none of that matters to you... and I’m not sure how much longer I can continue justifying it to myself.”

The light winked out, and Twilight closed the door behind her, sealing it again. “I’m off to see the newlyweds, Fluttershy. Lend me some of your strength, okay?”

Rarity and Applejack were together, of course. Technically, the two had been given separate rooms, but in each game they had just used Rarity’s. Maybe they used Applejack’s to store some extra luggage or something. It probably didn’t matter.

Where would the couple have gone on a honeymoon, given the chance? Prance? Maybe back to the place in Mareami that started it all? Or at the very least, somewhere with significantly warmer weather than here.

Rarity liked things elaborate and fancy, Applejack liked things down to earth and simple. At least, that’s what Twilight would say if she was asked to give a shallow, one sentence analysis of those two. In all the time she’d known them, they had shown themselves to be so much more.

But for as strongly as she knew the real versions of her friends, with the added context of a romantic relationship, Rarity and Applejack seemed almost like entirely different ponies, especially when compared to everypony else. Changed because of love, but also changed because they were written that way.

It’s not like it was completely implausible. Twilight was by no means an expert in the matters of the heart, but she knew well enough about friendship. It would be a reasonable bet to say that if Applejack approached Rarity with a one sided crush and confessed her feelings, Rarity would be generous enough to give it a shot and see where it led. Whether true love blossomed following that would be up to the amount of hard work both of them put into the relationship; given their often clashing dispositions, Celestia knows it would take a lot.

Applejack having that one sided crush in the first place, however, stretched her suspension of disbelief a bit. When confronted with the mare of her dreams, the normally strong and dependable Applejack had acted like an awkward filly, with absolutely no self confidence. She had even gone so far as to lie about the whole wishing thing to both herself, and Rarity.

Would the real Applejack have acted in such a way? Twilight’s gut said no, but, in truth, she didn’t know for sure. She had never seen Applejack in a situation like that, and it could really proceed either way.

Yet Fluttershy had written it as such. It was possible she knew a side of her friends that Twilight wasn’t privy to, or that she was just twisting the personalities of her characters, her friends, in order to fit the narrative she had planned out; carving a square peg just enough to squeeze it into a round hole.

Or maybe Fluttershy was just projecting her own personality, fears, and insecurities onto such a hypothetical.

Twilight’s eyes snapped back open. Her lengthy inner monologue had briefly distracted her from the room’s carnage, but she couldn’t hide in her thoughts forever.

There were signs of a struggle, though that was putting it mildly; furniture was overturned in places, a lamp had broken. There were small splatters of blood scattered about the room, and it looked like two ponies had been in an all out slugfest.

There wasn’t a swarm of ponykins, at least. Just a pair in the corner, holding the couple’s wedding dresses from the night before. That dream earlier had been creepy enough, and Twilight was glad not to have to relive that sea of dolls.

Applejack still lay in the bed, blood soaked sheets kicked away. Her eyes were wide, filled with a snapshot of confusion and incomprehension in death. The line on her throat was cut deep, deeper than the others’.

Rarity’s face was a mask of blood, her form bruised and battered; numerous small cuts and a few nasty gouges made from a knife decorated her sides. In her final moments, Twilight supposed she must have crawled back up onto the bed and died with her head on Applejack’s chest, their hooves intertwined.

At this point, it was all gone. The grief, the urge to be sick, the rage; it had all been replaced by a quiet, throbbing numbness.

The final letter held the key to Rainbow Dash’s room, and a sheet of paper with the words “Love, honest and pure. Love, generously giving of yourself to another. What a farce.”

With that final piece, it all became a closed room in earnest. Four rooms, each with a key pointing to the next. The windows were barred, magic was presumably out as a matter of course, and there were no hidden doors. It was technically possible there were more keys for each room, but she knew enough by now to guess that these keys would be confirmed as the only ones with the red truth soon enough. And finally, everypony was one hundred percent dead. She had made sure to inspect every corpse, no matter how painful.

A perfect closed room, looping in on itself like an ouroboros made from the despair and suffering of her friends.

In a twisted sort of way, it was almost beautiful.

Twilight stood atop the mansion, the buffeting winds whipping her mane back and forth. It would have been easy enough to conjure up a spell to protect herself from the elements, but she didn’t have the heart to even bother.

Over the past hour she had scoured the mansion from head to toe. Every room, every nook and cranny. The lack of evidence she found was almost as damning as anything she might have picked up. Celestia and Luna were missing. Other than the destruction of the shield, there wasn’t the tiniest indicator that the battle she had been shown had actually taken place.

Suspicious didn’t even begin to cover it. She was already beginning to work through several possible theories, although just thinking about the possibilities made her slightly nauseous.

She had felt a slight pressure lift from her some time ago, and she was pretty sure she could shift back to the metaworld and say her piece, if she so chose, but there was one last thing she wanted to check. Something that had never really fit right, and was never really elaborated on.

Twilight closed her eyes and began to reach out with her magic, sending gentle tendrils of energy into the earth below. Beyond the obvious uses, Rarity’s gem finding spell could be astoundingly helpful for getting the lay of the land.

Gems began to pop up in her head like small lights. This area wasn’t exactly a natural gem deposit, but there were still enough here and there to find what she was looking for.

It took about fifteen minutes until she was ready to move again. While unevenly distributed throughout the stone, there were enough lights that they highlighted a large, gemless hollow directly beneath the mansion. Likely a cavern of some sort.

Of course, blindly teleporting into a cavern she only had a vague idea of the existence of was an exceptionally stupid thing to do, and it would have an uncomfortably high chance of going horribly wrong.

She exited the teleport in both midair and total darkness. She dropped for what felt like several, panicked seconds before she managed to flap her wings and steady out to a hover. The air was damp and stale, and it didn’t feel like it got a lot of airflow from the surface.

Twilight cast a light spell, and the illumination revealed exactly what she was expecting to find: a dragon.

“Hello, I…” Twilight blinked, frowning and rubbing at her eyes. The beast was just lying there, unresponsive to the sudden intrusion. More importantly, however, she could barely seem to focus on the the thing. It was ephemeral and strangely flat.

She touched down on the cavern floor, but the new perspective didn’t seem to change anything. Rather than a dragon actually being there, it was more like it was merely an image of a dragon, one that oriented to her perspective like a piece of paper that kept turning to face her.

The story of the Princess and the Dragon had seemed of notable importance early on in the first novel, but it hadn’t been brought up much in the texts following, and had never quite gone anywhere. Was this the metaphysical equivalent of an unfinished idea?

Even so, if there was a literal dragon under the mansion, it would explain why everything went up in flames at the end.

The dragon had no reaction to her presence, and the strange perspective was beginning to give her a headache. Well, it was an answer of sorts, even if it wasn’t what she wanted. It was time for the finale.

Twilight shifted upwards, and found herself standing in darkness, the tea room nowhere in sight.

Before she could react, a pair of golden flames lit up on either side of her, followed by another pair a few feet ahead.

The sudden conflagrations continued away to form what was apparently a path, so Twilight began to follow where they led.

In the distance she could make out what appeared to be an absolutely massive set of double doors, and she could swear that she could make out faint organ music coming from within.

Twilight rolled her eyes, muttering under her breath, “Isn’t this overdoing it a little bit?”

As she made her long, ominous walk towards the final confrontation, the puzzle pieces were slowly snapping into place. It had been a long time coming, but she was finally certain that she could solve this mystery, put this nightmare to rest, and go home.

That, and deal with the fallout.

With a grunt of effort, Twilight pushed the doors open with her magic. An absolutely massive courtroom waited inside, adorned with large stained glass windows of abstract shapes and patterns. Crowds of shadow ponies filled the gallery, while in either far upper corner, Infinite Miracle and Absolutely Certainty lounged in box seats, looking disinterested and bored as they looked down on everypony.

Luna was waiting for her on the left side of the room, and gave her a nod and a reassuring smile.

Golden Wish stood in the center of the room, baring her fangs at her in a toothy grin. “Welcome back, Twilight. I hope you had fun down there. Are you ready to finish this game?”

A brief image of every crime scene and corpse flashed through her head once again.

“Bring it on.”

Author's Note:

This is your last chance to make your theories before answers start coming out. Did you figure this out before Twilight did? She's a bit of a putz sometimes. New chapter tomorrow.

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