• 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 8 - Checkmate

Twilight stared upwards; the whipping winds and darkening sky made it almost impossible to see. The cold wind bit deeply into her body, and her mind felt equally as numb. What was she doing? What was she supposed to do? Was there anything she could do anymore?

Focusing her magic, she called forth enough light to illuminate all the way up to the cloud cover, a veritable spotlight shining from her horn. She swung her head left and right, desperately scanning the clouds for any sign of where her last friend had gone.

A disturbance in the clouds caught her attention, a small section above the mansion beginning to swirl around unnaturally. As she focused her light and attention on the abnormality, it grew in intensity, speeding up and bulging downwards, streaks of colored light starting to flash along the edges.

That has to be Rainbow Dash, but what in Equestria is she…?

The clouds spun faster, the protrusion becoming more conical and more colorful. Then she could see it. The spinning cyan blur who pulled a tornado down from the clouds, directing all the fury of the storm to smite the mansion below.

“She must be crazy!” Twilight found herself screaming, her words completely swallowed by the torrent of wind. She wasn’t sure if she should try to stop this or just duck and cover.

As she focused her light to track Rainbow Dash, everything suddenly broke. The tornado fell apart as fast as it has appeared and in an instant, Rainbow was no longer flying downwards, but falling to the ground. Fast.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight called out. She frantically launched herself into the air in an attempt to reach her friend, but was unable to make any headway against the storm. With a sickening dread, she watched Rainbow plunge into the fields of snow outside of the mansion.

Even after five years of being an alicorn flying still wasn’t her strong suite, but Twilight summoned every scrap of strength, skill, and speed she had in order to make it over to where Rainbow had landed as quickly as possible

“Where is she…?” Twilight muttered, frantically scanning the snow below her as she struggled to stay aloft. “Rainbow Dash! If you can hear me, please say something!”

There was no response but the howling wind. Her heart caught in her throat as she happened to catch a few flecks of rapidly vanishing red in the snow below.

Please, no...

Following the trail she spotted it: a pony sized mound of snow. Lifting the snow with her telekinesis, she found the battered and broken form of Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash’s chest was streaked with red and her left wing was twisted at an unnatural angle, but a wave of relief washed over Twilight when she saw that her chest was still rising and falling.

She’s still alive… I’m not too late.

Of course, all that could change in a heartbeat if she didn’t act quickly. She had studied both healing magic and first aid, but had no practical experience with either. The latter was far safer to use untrained, and she had no choice but to try. There were a few tricks she had read about that she could use to stabilize a pony, even without any supplies.

Enveloping both herself and Rainbow Dash in a telekinetic field, she lifted the pegasus while pulling out a large number of her own wing feathers, biting her lip as her eyes teared up from the pain. Quickly weaving the feathers into a makeshift poultice, she pressed it hard against Rainbow Dash to staunch the bleeding.

Of course, she couldn’t fly like this now, so she focused her energy on her hooves. Her step lightened enough so that she could walk on the snow while floating Rainbow Dash steadily behind her.

It was easy going at first, but each step soon became laborious. The wind peeled at her coat like it was trying to strip it all away, and the snow in her eyes made sight nearly impossible. Her constant use of magic was beginning to take its toll as well. Even as an alicorn princess whose special talent was magic, she had her limits, and the stress of everything certainly wasn’t doing her any favors.

She had to keep moving. She had to get inside and treat Rainbow Dash’s wounds properly. The normally tough as steel pegasus that floated behind her felt as weak as a newborn foal in her grasp. She could feel Rainbow’s faint heartbeat as her own worked double time, covering for both exhaustion and panic.

The magical energy that linked them suddenly felt like so much more. It was a tenuous connection to Dash’s life, an anchor holding down the last vestiges of Twilight’s sanity. She had to keep moving. Just put one hoof in front of the other.

One hoof, in front of… With a yelp of surprise, Twilight’s next step found no footing underneath and she found herself tumbling forward. As fear raced through her heart, she pushed out with her magic even as she fell, attempting to keep Rainbow Dash from being pulled down with her.

Groaning, she slowly pushed herself back up, wincing as her body complained in protest. The ground under hooves was warm and soft. She must have tripped over the threshold where her shield had been previously holding back the storm.

Gingerly she pulled Rainbow Dash down from the sky, bringing her in close. Rainbow Dash whimpered softly, her body shivering underneath Twilight’s magic.

“It’s going to be okay Rainbow,” Twilight said, her teeth clenched as she struggled forward. “We’re almost there. I just need you to keep holding on, okay?”

She could finally see it up ahead now, the soft light of the mansion spilling out from the front door she had left open.

When she made it inside her legs threatened to give way beneath her, but just to the entry hall wasn’t far enough. She needed to get back to the study. She was sure she would find medical supplies there.

Rainbow Dash let out another pained whimper as Twilight began to ascend the stairs. The accumulated snow on Twilight’s fur was beginning to melt, and the returning warmth to her skin underneath felt like tiny daggers piercing into her flesh.

She passed by Rarity and Applejack on the way there, steeling her stomach and daring to take a glance. The couple was just as she’d left them, sleeping peacefully in the embrace of death.

They would be together forever now, and Twilight was almost jealous. She wanted to go to them, to scream, to howl, to wail in rage at the cruelty of fate and the pony that had done this, but she had no tears left to shed.

She had to save Rainbow Dash.

Out of breath, she reached the door to the study and fumbled with the keys, pulling it open. The first thing she noticed was the gold trimmed letter sitting on the center desk. Fresh panic gripped her heart and her eyes swept the room frantically, looking for any hidden enemy waiting in the shadows.

When no threat presented itself, she carefully lowered Rainbow Dash to the floor by the fireplace, laying her on top of some cushions. Her chest rose and fell slowly, drawing ragged, pained breaths.

After carefully double checking the rest of the study for danger, Twilight gathered up the medical supplies she was hoping for and set to work in sterilizing and properly bandaging Rainbow Dash’s wounds. A ponyfeather poultice was really rather unsanitary, and should only be used in emergencies.

The cut in Rainbow’s side was long, but shallow. Twilight couldn’t tell exactly what had caused it. It might have been from an edged weapon of sorts, but it was hard to see how something like that would have struck her in the air. She could also have been caught on a particularly sharp ice crystal or rock during her landing.

It was grueling work, and her own exhaustion still called to her, but over the course of an hour she managed to stitch Rainbow’s wound rather crudely, and set her broken wing into a splint.

Any medical professional would have been disgusted at her handiwork. All Twilight knew was the theory, and she had never had a chance to put these skills into use. Even untrained, Rarity probably could’ve handled the needlework better, and Fluttershy was used to patching up wounded animals on a regular basis.

You did what you could… it’s up to Rainbow Dash now. Reaching out, Rainbow Dash was warm under her hoof. She must already be running a fever. Unfortunately, the basic medical supplies she had found had not included antibiotics.

Standing up even as her legs protested, she wondered if she could find the necessary components to synthesize some in here. That would probably be too much of a stretch, but it’s not like she had anything better to do. Before she could even begin the search, however, her eyes fell upon the new letter waiting on the table.

“I guess I’m supposed to read that,” Twilight muttered out loud. Was how this one got in here just as much of a mystery as the previous letter? As she reached for the letter, she realized her mistake. She had forgotten to reset her alarm spell when she last left. So, anypony with the key could’ve simply walked on in. And who knew how many copies of the key there were, or who all had them?

Unlike the arrogant taunting found in the first letter, this one was short and simple, printed on the same stationary with the same neat handwriting.

“Meet me in the entrance hall at midnight.”

So that was it, huh? She would finally get the confrontation she wanted. It had only cost her the lives of most of her friends to do so. She didn’t even have the energy to summon up the righteous rage or thirst for justice she knew would be appropriate right now. All she could do was laugh softly, her eyes glistening with tears she no longer had the strength to shed.

Twilight glanced over to the clock. It looked like she still had a few hours before midnight. Enough time to make sure Rainbow Dash would stay stable, at least. It was most certainly a trap, and the board was no longer in her favor. But what other options did she have at this point?

Twilight moved back over to Rainbow Dash’s side. The pegasus was shivering, despite her proximity to the fire. After taking the time to drape a blanket over her, Twilight settled down next to Rainbow Dash on a pair of cushions. As soon as she felt herself get comfortable, the exhaustion she’d been holding off crashed into her full force, threatening to pull her under.

Not yet… I have too…

Twilight opened her eyes, groaning slightly as the burning sensation in her exhausted muscles reasserted itself. Yawning, she reached up with a hoof and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. How long had she been asleep?

“Rainbow Dash!” she cried out, jumping into the air and looking around frantically. She stumbled slightly, the sudden movement causing the blood to rush to her head and a wave of dizziness washed over her.

As she struggled to regain her bearings, she felt movement by her side, and a faint groan. Rainbow Dash was still alive.

After taking a few moments to steady her breathing and calm her nerves, Twilight knelt down next to her friend, placing a hoof on her forehead. She was still burning up, and her skin looked pale under her fur.

Twilight went to the bathroom to get a cup of water, pausing to check the time as she did so. Half an hour till midnight. She hadn’t slept through her appointment after all.

“Here Rainbow Dash. You need to drink this. Easy now…” Twilight cradled Dash’s head with her telekinesis, slowly bringing the cup to her lips and coaxing the feverish pegasus to drink.

Rainbow coughed and sputtered slightly, but greedily swallowed the rest of the offered water. “Twilight…” Rainbow mumbled, her voice a croaking whisper. “Mmm’sorry.”

“Ssshh. It’ll be okay.” Twilight ran her hoof through Rainbow’s mane, stroking it in the same way her mother used to do for her when she was sick. “You just need to rest. I have to go do something real quick, okay? But I promise I’ll be back, and when I do, this will all be over.”

Twilight got up to leave, but paused when she heard Rainbow Dash call out again, her voice faint. “Be careful.”

Fifteen minutes to go. It wouldn’t hurt to arrive a little early, right? Exiting the study, and making sure to re-ward the door as strongly as she could, she teleported to the entrance hall.

The room was empty, the soft lamplight casting shadows across the portrait of her nemesis while the storm outside raged against the windows.

She had no idea what she was truly up against, and had to be ready for anything. But as she stared at the portrait on the wall, that offending face seemed to twist into a leering grin under the shadows, and her blood began to boil with an all too welcome rage.

Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy. Applejack. Rarity. Princess Celestia. Princess Luna. Rainbow Dash. She was here and ready to fight. For all of their sakes, and for her own. To get revenge. To get answers. To get justice.

Tears glistened in her eyes as she clenched her teeth, the adrenaline rushing through her veins erasing her earlier fatigue. “Well? I’m here now, Golden Wish! I don’t know why you’ve done this. Why you’ve killed my friends. What you want with me. But you’ve succeeded. You wanted me. Now come and get me!”

Her voice reverberated throughout the mansion, amplified by both her magic and her anger. With a snarl, she focused her magic on the painting before her, tearing it from its hangings with ease and pulling it down to float in front of her.

With a simple flick of her horn, the painting crumpled into a pretzel; splinters of wood and shreds of canvas raining down in front of her. Another change of focus and the mangled artwork burst into flame, burning blindingly hot for just a few seconds until only ash remained.

“Come out! Stop hiding and face me!” Twilight howled at the top of her lungs. Muttering a stronger incantation under her breath, a corona of arcane energy circled around her horn, eventually extending outwards and collapsing into a large purple orb.

The loud gong of a grandfather clock striking twelve echoed from somewhere in the distance, and Twilight fired. The orb exploded and sent a hundred lances of arcane light shooting out in every direction. The energy ripped through the mansion, through walls, ceilings, and support beams alike. As the light faded, the building groaned in protest as a chill draft seeped in through the new holes.

The clock chimed a second time, and the world around her seemed to shift. The ground itself seemed to shake, and the air seemed unbearably hot all of a sudden. Was this her counterattack?

She quickly cast a shield around herself, preparing to defend against a direct magical assault. Instead, the air only seemed to get hotter, and Twilight struggled to breathe as the air began to shimmer around her with heat. The clock chimed a third time.

This wasn’t directed at her, but the whole mansion? She had used an area of effect spell herself, but something on this scale…

Twilight fought to stay standing as she fell into a coughing fit. The walls and floors seemed to be glowing with an intense red, and her vision swam as she looked around for any sign of her attacker. Flickers of light began to fall from the shining walls, embers dancing through the room like thousands of tiny golden butterflies.

The clock chimed a fourth time.

Even with the roar of the earth below her, the air rushing around her, and fierce crackling of flames, she heard it. Hoofsteps. Somepony was coming after all. Twilight struggled to rise, but her knees buckled under the immense pressure of the firestorm engulfing the mansion.

The clock chimed for a fifth time, the note turning sour as it too was warped by the flames.

She could just barely see it. The shadow of somepony walking down the stairs. Smoke and pain and golden butterflies of fire obscured her vision, but she had her target. She heard a voice, but could not make out any words.

Summoning every last ounce of strength she had left, Twilight fired a blast of magical energy at the pony that stood before her. The clocked chimed a sixth and final time. Twilight felt fire, pain, and then nothing.

The storm passed, and the leaden clouds that had enshrouded the mountains for so long cleared away. Sun shone down on the valley and the snow began to melt, the harsh blizzard almost forgotten.

It would take some time yet for everything to fully thaw, but life would return to the valley soon, birds filling the air with song.

Princess Cadence and Shining armor arrived soon afterwards, and were horrified with what they found. Sifting through the burnt ruins, they discovered the remains of some of their closest friends and their dear sibling, although too much had burned away to make a positive identification for everypony.

In the end, they were forced to conclude that everypony who had been at the mansion during those two days was gone forever.

How gruesome had the game of Golden Wish been? Of those who knew of what transpired, only ash remained. Those who came after the story was over had no hope of understanding. They could only imagine what sort of nightmare had befallen the mansion’s visitors.

However, the mistress of the mansion was fickle, and a scrap of information remained that allowed for a glimmer of truth.

A year later, construction had begun on a memorial for the victims of what was then known as “The Princess Massacre”. While clearing the ruins, a worker dug up a small lockbox. Inside was stack of neatly written letters, the pages of which contained an account of the tragedy that had shaken Equestria to its foundation.

“By the time you read this, I will probably be dead. Whoever you are, you must find out the truth. That’s all I want.

-Rainbow Dash”

Twilight stared down at the final page of the book, her mouth hanging open in shock. Numbly, she lifted the book upside down and shook it as if she expected extra pages to fall out.

“Is… this it?” Twilight asked, turning to Fluttershy. She was biting her hooves and trembling, and she flinched from the intensity of Twilight’s gaze before nodding softly.

Twilight turned back to the book, reading the final page again. After everything she had been through this afternoon... This was how it all ended?

“So, um, whatdidyouthink?” Fluttershy squeaked, her voice cracking in a hoarse whisper.

Twilight turned back to Fluttershy and stared at her blankly. A thousand possible responses flickered through her mind. A voice in the back of her head screamed at her to lie, to keep lying until Applejack passed out from shock.

Twilight’s right eye twitched slightly, and she spoke. “You know, Fluttershy, traditionally mystery novels end with the detective solving the mystery and bringing the culprit to justice.”

Fluttershy swallowed, closing her eyes and wetting her throat before responding. “I know that…”

“So when a story doesn’t end like that, and in fact really doesn’t have much of a mystery to solve in the first place, it’s actually more of a slasher-horror where all of us get murdered horribly,” Twilight said, unable to keep the rising anger from her voice.

“That’s not…” Fluttershy paused, looking down and fidgeting before looking back up to Twilight with a pleading expression. “There’s still a mystery, and you can solve it… You-you, I mean. Not the you in the book.”

Twilight barked a short, harsh laugh. “Mystery? As if. The evil alicorn, Golden Wish, horribly murdered us all with a spectacular display of rule breaking magic. Case closed! Reaaal engaging villain you created there, by the way. A tragic back-story, a single taunting letter, and a shadowy appearance at the end? Character of the year!”

Fluttershy flinched back, her eyes starting to glisten with tears. “I didn’t… I thought you…” Sniffling slightly, she wiped her eyes with a hoof. “I thought you were really good at mysteries, Twilight.”

“Oh, am I now? Well, I guess you were wrong, Fluttershy! Why don’t you go ahead and enlighten me on the genius solution I’m missing here? Just go ahead and spoil it, I don’t mind,” Twilight said, her voice dripping with venom.

“No!” Fluttershy shouted, pulling herself up and looking Twilight in the eyes fiercely. “You have to figure it out on your own!”

Twilight’s mouth fell open at the sudden outburst, but quickly recovered from the shock and growled, leaning forward and bearing down on the pegasus before her.

“You want to know what I think? Fine! I think your subplot with Applejack and Rarity came out of nowhere, was missing a lot of buildup, and the conclusion for it was vague and unsatisfying. Also, it was creepy. Those are our friends, Fluttershy.”

Twilight pushed forward, Fluttershy shrinking away from the fire in her eyes. “I have absolutely no idea what you were trying to do with Celestia and Luna. They barely had any visible presence in the story, and the narrative practically forgot about them entirely in the last quarter.”

Pulling back as Fluttershy cowered before her, Twilight spun around and began to walk through the library. “And maybe if it wasn’t obvious enough already, as a reader I don’t particularly enjoy dark stories to begin with, but especially not when I have to read about my closest friends in all of Equestria getting murdered, and I have to read through the eyes of a me who’s absolutely devastated by it.

“But perhaps most importantly of all, I want to know…” Twilight stopped walking, her back to Fluttershy as she took a deep breath before whirling around.

“Where. Is. My. HAPPY. ENDING!?” Her eyes glistening with tears, Twilight punctuated each word with a stomp of her hooves, her voice thundering throughout the library as several books fell to the floor.

Her words hung in the air, the silence only broken up a soft sobbing.

“I’m sorry for wasting your time, Twilight,” Fluttershy mumbled, shakily rising to her hooves and moving towards the door.

A sharp pain stabbed through Twilight’s heart and she froze, the realization of how worked up she had gotten finally dawning on her. To make matters worse, she looked up to see Spike standing in the open doorway, his mouth hanging down to the floor.”

“Wait, Fluttershy, I didn’t mean…” Twilight reached out a hoof ineffectually at the retreating pegasus. After all that, what could she possibly say?

“H-hey, Spike,” Fluttershy mumbled weakly, wiping at her eyes. “Take good care of Twilight, okay? I think I hurt her pretty bad.”

With a choking sob, Fluttershy galloped out the door, tears trailing behind her as she ran away.

After a long moment of silence, Spike finally spoke up. “Wow, Twilight. Of all of our friends I’d ever expected you to blow up on like that, I never thought it would be Fluttershy.”

“I…” Twilight mumbled, her cheeks burning. What had she done? Even if her reasons were justified, that was way too excessive. Especially for Fluttershy. What kind of friend was she?

“So… are you going to go after her?” Spike asked, moving inside and setting his bags on the floor.

Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out. It would be the right thing to do. It was what a good friend would do. She should go apologize and make amends.

But she was still so angry. Reading that had honestly hurt, and the wound was still too fresh.

Twilight shook her head. “I’m sorry, Spike. I guess this is all a little out of context for you, but… I can’t. Not right now. I think both of us need some time to cool off before we can work this out.”

Spike raised an eyebrow, looking Twilight up and down before he shrugged and closed the door behind him. “If you say so. Just what was all that about anyway?”

Twilight glanced down at the book, discarded on the floor. Fluttershy hadn’t taken it with her. “It’s…. a long story. And one that should probably stay between the two of us.”

“Aww, come on Twilight! How come I never get to hear the juicy drama, huh?” Spike asked, pouting.

Twilight turned and fixed Spike with a fierce glare and he turned away, blushing. “Eheh, right. Sorry, Twilight. I guess this isn’t a joke to you. Hey, are you hungry?”

Her stomach growling on cue, Twilight nodded. Maybe a good meal would help her calm down a bit.

That evening, Twilight was well fed and had calmed down considerably. She had already begun mentally composing a complex apology, though it was difficult. She didn’t really understand where Fluttershy was coming from with all this, and she knew that until she did, it would be difficult to put everything behind them.

But something was bugging her.

Even as she filled herself with busy work to help clear her head and organize her thoughts in the same way she organized her books, there was a persistent nagging in the back of her mind that just wouldn’t go away.

She looked over her shoulder at Fluttershy’s book with a sigh. Why did Fluttershy write this? Why is she so invested in my opinion on it? And why did I get so angry when I was disappointed with the ending?

She knew the answer to the last question, at least. Had Fluttershy written a regular novel, no matter how crappy the ending had been, Twilight could have handled her critique with grace and tact.

Except Fluttershy’s narrative was personal. It was about her. And she had been pulled into the story, whether she liked it or not. Twilight’s struggles were her struggles, and when her struggle was left unresolved, it struck a nerve.

And there was something else, too.

It was in something that Fluttershy had said. That there was a mystery here, that it was solvable, and that she, not the Twilight in the book, was supposed to solve it.

She just couldn’t connect the threads, but… The idea that there was a puzzle here, staring her in the face and taunting her incompetence was slowly becoming maddening. Had she simply missed something? Some vital clue that pulls everything together?

“I’m going to bed,” Spike said, yawning. “G’night, Twilight. Try not to stay up too late.”

“Good night, Spike,” Twilight said absentmindedly. Her attention was still focused on the book. It just didn’t make any sense to her, but…

Cursing her insatiable curiosity, Twilight levitated the book over and opened up to the first page. “Princess Twilight Sparkle…”

Author's Note:

Special thanks to the fantastic SynCallio for the new cover art!

Thanks to Sereg, Kalan, and JeffCvt for editing!

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