• Published 26th Jan 2014
  • 4,473 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 5 - Challenge

Twilight wasn’t quite sure how long she stayed there, curled up into a ball. Her perception of time was dimmed, and she shuddered while trying to deny this horror as hard as she could. She wanted nothing more than to wake up from this nightmare.

A strong grip wrapped around her midsection and Twilight felt herself being lifted up into the air. With a start, she opened her eyes to find Rainbow Dash carrying her. She yelped and began to flail in her grasp, however, when her gaze fell upon the red mess in the shed once more.

A stray hoof caught Rainbow Dash in the jaw and she dropped Twilight with a grunt. Slightly dazed and sprawled on the ground, the sounds of the world came rushing back to Twilight. Rarity was wailing fiercely from somewhere behind her.

Twilight’s eyes were still locked to the horror inside until her view was suddenly blocked by a cyan flank. Rainbow Dash’s wavering voice spoke from above her. “Just… don’t look, Twi. I’m sorry….”

For some reason, Twilight found herself craning her neck to try and look at the scene she desperately did not want to see, and Rainbow kept shifting her body to block her vision. I have to get to her…

Twilight’s mind suddenly exploded with thoughts, unbidden and dark. I can save them somehow. I can time travel, stop this whole thing from happening in the first place. Or just put them back together. There are ancient rites, rumored forbidden magics that can bring back a pony from death. Maybe I can track down that sun-blighted, so called ‘dragon mare’ and force her to wish them back to life. I don’t care who gets harmed in the process.

Twilight found herself laughing, tears running down her face as she pounded her hoof into Rainbow Dash weakly. Useless. It’s all useless.

“Rar, I… I just…” Applejack was doing her best to comfort her sobbing fiancé, but it was clear she was barely keeping it together herself.

Twilight took a deep breath and tried to stand up, her legs wobbling unsteadily beneath her. She had to pull herself together. She was supposed to be the leader, the one who her friends could count on in a crisis. The friends I still have left, anyway.

She was supposed to do… something. But what? Her mind was sluggish, and couldn’t focus on any one particular idea enough to fully articulate it. She should… check for evidence. Yes, that’s a thing that ponies do in situations like this.

Rainbow tried to block her again as she trotted back towards the shed, but Twilight brushed her aside, calmly approaching the bodies once more. Even as the back of her mind screamed at her to just turn and run away while the contents her gut fought to escape from her stomach, she felt herself move forward dispassionately.

Kneeling down at Pinkie’s side, she examined the corpse again, this time with scientific rigor. No pulse… obviously. Judging by the temperature and state of the corpse, estimated time of death is between six and eight hours ago. She appears to have been killed via a cutting implement to the jugular, and died of blood loss. There are no signs of a struggle, and the expression on her face suggests she may have been sleeping peacefully. The amount of blood in the shed suggests she was killed here. Perhaps she was drugged before being brought here, but I can’t tell with the tools I have available.

Standing back up, Twilight wiped the sweat off of her brow. One down, one to go. She started towards the back of the shed, but stopped, unable to force herself to look at anything but the ground. Suddenly she found herself unusually interested in almost anything else, like the patterns on the tile floor or the broken pieces of chain lock from when she had broken the door open.

Taking a deep breath and swallowing nervously, she forced herself to look into the back of the shed again. Fluttershy…

She had to examine her properly. There was bound to be some crucial evidence or something like that, right? Nevermind that there wasn’t anything that could even truly be considered a recognizable body part. Nevermind that something had done this to the kindest, sweetest, most innocent pony she had ever known.

A memory of words last spoken slipped into her mind.

Goodnight Twilight. Sleep well.

Twilight turned around and walked away, firing up her horn and dropping a small, opaque shield to cover up the shed.

“Huh? Twi, what’re you…” Applejack trailed off.

“We should… go inside. Standing out here any longer won’t do us any good,” Twilight said as tears ran down her face.

“B-but… you… we can’t just leave them there,” Rarity said, looking at Twilight horrified. “We have to… do something with…”

Rarity let out a choking sob, and Applejack held on to her tighter. Twilight shook her head, closing her eyes. “This is a crime scene. We have to preserve it so that when professionals get here everything will be intact.”

“What professionals?” Rainbow Dash asked. “In case you haven’t noticed, it’s just us here, and nopony is getting through that storm any time soon.”

“Aren’t… aren’t you a professional, Twi? Surely you can figure somethin’ out, or use your magic to…” Applejack trailed off, looking away.

Twilight bit her lip and shook her head as a tear ran down her cheek. “I’m sorry.”

The silence following her apology spoke enough for everyone, and the four headed back inside.

Twilight paced around and around the table in the lounge, wearing grooves into the hardwood floor. Rarity and Applejack were huddled together on a nearby duvet, Rarity still sobbing softly, while Rainbow Dash stared blankly out the window.

The grief and emptiness in Twilight’s heart was slowly starting to harden into a simmering anger. Two of her best friends were dead, on what was supposed to be a happy reunion for all of them. But they weren’t just dead. They were murdered. Somepony deliberately killed them in a brutally horrific fashion.

Such a vile act was the antithesis to everything she, her friends, and Equestria as a whole stood for, and yet there existed some monster out there capable of committing such violence.

Twilight stopped in her tracks and looked around as the gears in her head slowly began to turn once more. There wasn’t some monster ‘out there’…

“Still here,” Twilight mumbled, breaking the spell of silence in the room.

“Uh, what was that sugarcube?” Applejack asked, her voice still raw.

“Whatever… monster did this… killed them,” Twilight said, choking on the words slightly as her voice wavered. “They’re still here.”

Rarity’s eyes darted around the room, glancing at the various entrances and windows fearfully. “Are… are you sure, Twilight?”

Nodding, Twilight began pacing around the center of the table again. “My shield. I put that up last night, and it’s still going. Nopony can get in or out. Not without breaking it anyway.”

“So what yer saying is that they…” Applejack looked around the room herself, swallowing as her eyes widened.

“That whoever did this was hiding somewhere here in the mansion. At the absolute latest right before I put up the shield, but probably for longer than that,” Twilight said, increasing her pace as she began to pick up steam.

“Could a unicorn not simply teleport in and out?” Rarity asked.

Twilight shook her head. “The shield blocks teleportation as well. I mean, a strong enough unicorn could do it, but it would still break the shield.”

“Uh, just a note, Fluttershy. Shield spells don’t actually work like that. Unicorns can teleport in and out without difficulty, and they don’t necessarily shatter completely when penetrated,” Twilight said, breaking away from the novel as she slipped into lecture mode.

“Oh. Um, well. I tried to do as much research as I could on magic, but I really don’t know a lot. It’s um, though... For the sake of the story, is it okay if we just assume that this particular spell works like this?” Fluttershy asked, blushing sheepishly.

Twilight bit her lip and frowned. Even on top of everything else, inaccuracies like this would bug her continuously, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched. Still, she could kind of already see the scenario Fluttershy was trying to create with this restriction. Even if it was rather arbitrary.

“I guess that’s fine… as long as it stays internally consistent, anyway,” Twilight said, letting out a small sigh.

“So while there should have only been eight ponies in this mansion yesterday, there were really nine,” Twilight said. “Me, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Celestia, Luna, and…” Twilight let out a breath, closing her eyes. “Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. Followed by Culprit X.”

“Did any of you see anything last night that might indicate something like that? Anything at all?” Twilight asked, looking to each of her friends individually as they glanced at each other apprehensively.

“Uh, sorry, Twilight. Can’t say I noticed anypony skulking about, or anything off sorts,” Applejack said as she hung her head.

“I mean…” Rarity said, trailing off for a moment before snapping back to attention. “There is that creepy legend. And that grisly epigraph… there’s no way they aren’t related.”

“Yes, I’ve considered that already,” Twilight said, waving a hoof dismissively. “Maybe the culprit is a crazy wish granting alicorn-dragon ghost from an old legend. Or maybe the culprit just wants us to think that. I don’t really care what they are. I’m going to find out who did this, and make them pay,” Twilight growled, a somewhat manic glint in her eye.

“Hang on now, sugarcube. I wanna find who’s responsible for this just as much as you do, but don’t go flyin’ off the handle just yet,” Applejack said as she looked up to meet Twilight’s eyes.

Twilight hung her head, shuddering as another wave of revulsion at what had happened passed through her. “I’m sorry, Applejack. But I have to do something, or I really will lose it.”

Applejack nodded solemnly and Twilight resumed her pacing. “So the question comes down to who did it, how they did it, and why,” Twilight said.

“Why does any of that even matter?” Rarity asked sharply as she dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “You already established that the culprit is trapped in here with us. We just need to search the mansion, find them, and deal with them.”

“It might not be that simple,” Twilight said. “Whoever this pony is, they’re dangerous. So we can’t split up and search alone. But even if we move as a group, carefully searching each room from top to bottom, the culprit might be able to stay one step ahead of us the entire time. Or they could be hiding in some secret room we wouldn’t be able to find on our own.”

“So are we just supposed to, what, wait here in this room until help arrives?” Rarity asked, her tone acidic.

“Careful now Rar. You’re hurtin’. We all are, but we can’t afford to be getting snippy with each other in a time like this.”

Rarity bit her lip and lowered her eyes for a few moments before leaning back into Applejack. “I love you, you know that right?”

Applejack closed her eyes and nuzzled her fiancé before turning her attention back to Twilight.

“To defeat thy enemy thou must know thy enemy,” Twilight said, her obscure quote eliciting only blank faces.

After a long pause Twilight planted her face in her hoof, sighing. “It’s a quote from the legendary tactician… you know what, nevermind. Have any of you ever played chess?”

After a few more moments of awkward silence Rarity offered up a weak “I… know the rules?”

Twilight let out a long groan. “Well, it’s like this. Lots of strategy, positioning, moves to memorize, yada yada. But one of the most important goals in chess is to put yourself in your opponent’s position, to think like them, and see things from their angle so you can predict their moves and ultimately win. Of course, a good opponent will be doing the same with you.”

“So what do we know about the culprit then?” Applejack asked.

Twilight raised a hoof to launch into a longer explanation but froze. What did she know?

Everything about this was strange, and there was so much all going on at once. She needed to pick something to focus on as a starting point.

Rubbing her chin thoughtfully, Twilight glanced around, suddenly remembering when she had woken up this morning. Why the marks on their doors? I was found in a locked room with my cutie mark painted on the door, alive and well. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were in the shed, marked by their cutie marks and… dead. But why call attention to that? If you want to murder somepony and get away with it, isn’t it better to hide the body and hope it’s not found? Without those marks, we probably never would’ve thought to look in the shed.

“Uh, hey, Twi?” Rainbow Dash interrupted, speaking up for the first time since they’d all come inside. “I think we might be forgetting to do something here.”

“Rainbow, I’m trying to think here, give me a minute,” Twilight said, frowning in concentration.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “You said it yourself earlier. Eight ponies here that we know of…”

Twilight stared at Rainbow Dash blankly for an uncomfortably long moment, as the large clock in the room continued its ticking.

“Oh!” Twilight cried out, immediately crouching and firing up her horn. “Princess Celestia!”

With a pop, Twilight disappeared from the parlor and into a hallway on the second floor, crashing into a table with a potted plant on it. She didn’t know this mansion well enough for precision.

Groaning and extracting herself from the mess, she quickly galloped to the end of the hallway, where a large ornate door emblazoned with a sun and moon waited.

“Princess Celestia! Princess Luna! It’s me, Twilight! This is an emergency!” Twilight banged on the door repeatedly, trying the handle and finding it locked.

She continued knocking, but after a minute with no answer whatsoever, the icy grip of fear began to take ahold of her heart once more.

“Come on, Princess Celestia, please answer. We need you!”

Backing away from the door with a grimace, Twilight lowered her horn, prepared to use brute force. “I’m sorry, Princess, but I’m coming in!”

With a hum and a zap, Twilight fired a bolt of energy at the door, only to yelp and dive for cover when the bolt reflected, bouncing around the hallway before vaporizing an ornate vase.

“Okay…” Twilight groaned, standing back up. “Maybe this then.”

Teleporting to into an area you’ve never seen before was risky, but if it was just on the other side of the door it should be okay. Focusing her magic yet again, Twilight made the precise calculations and disappeared with a pop.

A strange vibration ran through her body and Twilight found herself thrown backwards, tumbling away from the door and bouncing down the hallway.

“Ow. I guess they have the whole thing shielded,” Twilight muttered with a pained groan.

She unsteadily stood back up, wincing slightly as she did so. Nothing seemed to be broken, but she had certainly bruised something in the fall.

Before she could try something even more dangerous, she heard the sound of galloping hooves echoing down the hallway. She wheeled in a alarm for a moment, but relaxed as Rainbow Dash came skidding around the corner.

“Applejack, she’s over here!” Rainbow Dash called out as she sped over towards Twilight.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight called out excitedly. “Good, you’re here. Look, the princesses aren’t answering, and I can’t break down the door. It’s too strongly warded.”

Applejack and Rarity came galloping over a few seconds later, both of them panting slightly.

Taking a deep breath, Rarity smiled sweetly at Twilight. “Twilight, darling. I know you’re under a lot of pressure here, but in the future, if you’re going to be teleporting off on your own –“

“And don’t, because that’s a darn stupid thing to be doing at a time like this,” Applejack growled, cutting Rarity off.

“Please at least warn us before doing so. You nearly gave me a heart attack vanishing like that!” Rarity finished, looking disapprovingly at Twilight.

Twilight grimaced. Was this really the time for this? “Look, I’m sorry, maybe I got a little ahead of myself there, but every second might count. The princesses aren’t answering the door. Rainbow, Applejack, do you think you could buck the door down together?”

Applejack approached the door, looking it up and down. “I dunno. Looks pretty dang sturdy to me. Especially if it’s reinforced by magic as well.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Or we could just –“

“True, I can’t break it down with my magic either. In that case, Rainbow Dash, come with me. We can fly outside and try to break through the windows. They might be less enchanted than the door,” Twilight said, already moving to open one of the hallway windows.

Rainbow Dash planted her face in a hoof and growled under her breath. “I’m trying to tell you that –“

“If that doesn’t work, maybe we could try to blast through from the room below? You’d be surprised at where you can find structural weak points sometimes,” Rarity suggested helpfully.

“I have the keys right here!” Rainbow Dash shouted, her face red as she pulled out a ring with several iron keys attached to it.

“Oh. Sorry,” Twilight said sheepishly. She levitated the keyring from Rainbow’s grasp and started trying to unlock the door. “Which one of these is it? And where exactly did you get these anyway?”

“Should be one of them,” Rainbow Dash said, shrugging. “And there’s a servant’s room near the kitchen which has the keys to everything.”

After a trying a few of the keys, Twilight finally found one that clicked, and she pushed the heavy door open with more than a little effort.

“Princess Celestia? Princess Luna?” Twilight called out as she entered the large study, her voice fearful. Despite the nervous atmosphere, the study itself was warm and inviting. Flickering shadows danced across the walls as the roaring fireplace left everything nice and toasty.

Rather than a single room, it was more like a small apartment, with adjoining doors leading to private bathrooms, a bedroom and a dining area.

The four ponies entered the study cautiously, looking around. The doors to the adjoining rooms were open, and none of them saw any sign of the princesses.

“They’re not here…” Twilight said, her heart sinking to her hooves.

“They must have been recently,” Rarity said, inspecting the couches around the fireplace. “This place looks lived in.”

“Princess? If y’all are hidin’ in here, we’d really appreciate it if the jokes stopped. Ponies’re dead, and we need your help,” Applejack said, peeking underneath the bed in the nearby room.

“But why wouldn’t they be here?” Twilight asked, her voice weak. “Where would they even go? At a time like this… not them. They have to be okay…”

There was suddenly a loud bang and a clicking sound as the door to the study slammed shut behind Rainbow Dash, who had moved inside instead of holding it open. “Huh,” Rainbow said, looking back. “Guess the door auto locks.”

“Let me know if you girls find anything, okay? Maybe a note or some evidence as to where they might have gone?” Twilight asked as she began rifling through a nearby bookshelf.

“Well, there is ‘something’ here,” Rarity called out from the dining hall.

Twilight pushed ahead of the others to go see exactly what Rarity was talking about.

“There’s really no accounting for taste, is there?” Rarity said as she scrunched her face up.

Adorning the far wall of the lounge was the same portrait that was in the entry hall, of the purple maned alicorn with draconic features. The portrait of the dragon-mare (draconequus? It might be a more technical term, but she certainly didn’t remind her of Discord) was identical in every respect, including the inclusion of the plaque with the grisly epigraph at the bottom.

Twilight frowned, looking the painting up and down. “I can see it being in the entrance hall, but why here of all places?”

When nopony answered her rhetorical question, Twilight turned to address Rainbow Dash, who was hanging back in the study area. “Rainbow, you have to know more about this, don’t you? ‘Golden Wish’ or whatever her name is. You and…” Twilight hesitated, still unable to think of her friend without a fresh pang of agony. “Fluttershy were the ones who told that story after all.”

Rainbow Dash froze in the face of the sudden attention, casting her eyes downward and pawing at the ground. “I really don’t know all that much. Sorry, Twi. It was mostly all Shy’s thing, y’know? Maybe take a closer look at that riddle?”

Twilight blinked in confusion. “But Rainbow, you were all over that story last night. Surely you know something that might be helpful?”

Rainbow Dash bit her lip and looked away. “Look I… don’t really want to think about that right now. I’m sorry.”

Twilight watched as Rainbow Dash moved over to sit on some of the cushions by the fireplace. I guess Rainbow is taking this harder than I thought… she definitely seems out of it.

Shaking her head, Twilight approached the portrait, examining the epigraph beneath.

“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

No sacrifice too great

Abandon self

Rend asunder, and begin anew.”

“Do you really think it’s related to all this?” Rarity asked, peering over Twilight’s shoulder. “Is it some kind of high level magic?”

“Love born in blood… no sacrifice too great… rend asunder…” Twilight muttered, thinking out loud. “It sounds like it could be a ritual, or well, a sacrifice. Perhaps it alludes to sacrificing something or someone in order to gain what you want?”

“Like the legend then, where there weren’t no wishes unless you were willin’ t’hurt somepony else in the process,” Applejack said.

“So you’re saying some sick pony planned to kill our friends and probably us, just for what? To get a wish?” Rarity asked, practically spitting her words out, her hooves shaking.

Twilight sighed, lowering her head. “It’s possible, but all we have is vague speculation at this point. It’s so hard to see how this is all supposed to fit together. And just where are the princesses?”

“I… I just,” Rarity said, still shaking.

Applejack moved over and put a hoof on her shoulder. “Come on, hon, let’s go sit down for a bit.”

Rarity nodded, sniffling slightly, and moved with Applejack back to the main room, Twilight following after them.

As Twilight walked over towards where Rainbow Dash was lying down, a glint of gold caught her attention from the corner of her eye. When she turned to see what it was, she was surprised to see a letter with gold trim lying on the center of an end table.

“Was… this here before?” Twilight asked, confusion in her voice.

“Was what here before?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking up.

“This letter. Hey, did any of you see this letter sitting here when we came in earlier?” Twilight was sure the table had been empty.

“Can’t say I saw anything like that, and a letter that fancy certainly stands out,” Applejack said as she came through the doorway.

Rarity shook her head. “What does it say?”

Twilight carefully opened the letter and pulled out a sheath of nice stationary covered in neat, nearly perfect calligraphy. Swallowing nervously, she began to read.

“Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle,

Welcome to my mansion. How are you enjoying your stay so far? Have the accommodations been to your liking?

By now it has likely come to pass that some of your friends are dead. Terribly unfortunate, that. You have my condolences.

I can empathize, really. I have problems of my own. You see, I’m stuck here in this mansion, unable to leave and experience the joys of life beyond these walls. But there is a way, and for that I need you, Twilight Sparkle.

Because I am ever the benevolent pony, I have three options for you.

1: Surrender yourself wholly to me, mind body and soul, and we shall walk away from here together. Nopony else has to get hurt.

2: I finish what I’ve started, and use the power of the ritual to take what I want anyway.

3: You, Twilight Sparkle manage to stop me by finding out the truth. Hey, there’s gotta be a chance for me to lose, right?

I am eager to see the results of your decision. Of course, if you dally around too long, I’ll make the choice for you.

Best wishes and all my love,

-Golden Wish”

Author's Note:

Thanks to Sereg, Kalan, and JeffCvt for editing.

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