• Published 10th May 2014
  • 641 Views, 52 Comments

Shiver - 2D



Endless winter befalls Ponyville and drains colour from the world

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All Hollowed Out

Morning. It arrived unwanted and with an obtrusive orange glare, the curious gaze over a black horizon smoothly rising. I wasn't the kind to welcome the new day. Like an angry rash I could see the sunlight tainting the sky and poisoning the clouds. Try as I might there is never a way to escape the new day.

Stifling a yawn like I might suffocate a bad idea, slowly I rise from my bed with a groan. I don't talk anymore. Pale breath dawdles across my vision as the chill chomps into my skin. Blood drips from my nose and slithers a warm trail. I groan some more. Letting my eyes open fully I take one last look outside and promptly draw the curtains.

Why? I wonder as my eyes trace a subtle tube that lingers in the air above me. It's cold against my skin, alien beneath it. Bloody blotches continue to fall from my nose with increasing pace, each one falls onto the bedsheets and thickens the dark stain. Fouling it. Letting out a slow rasping breath I gradually move my hoof to the bedside table, the grooves feel deep and angry as I pass over them. Moving down a little with a strained groan I grasp the handle and open the drawer.

It slides open with a shudder. Dust coils around the seams of the drawer like a will-o-wisp from an old fable, dancing with beauty despite being otherworldly. I feel the blood running from my nose faster now and I feel myself spurred on to grasp the precious pills. The film wrinkles under my clumsy grasp as I rip the pills from their holdings, setting them free with magic and shoving them into my mouth.

Bitterness blossomed forth in my mouth. Prickly tendrils sprouted from my tongue and rooted their way down my throat and into my thin watery stomach. The roots grew in size and intensity as I fell back into the bed, wriggling their way up my throat and biting into my skin with fury and numbing cold. Nearly screaming into the silent morning as my horn burned with merciless and biting anguish, I curled into a tight ball on the crumbled bed. The tube that was seething under my skin is yanked out, pulling a fountain of blood out with a frothing and angry motion.

Going as soon as it came the pain vanished.

Some time passed before I finally uncurled from that wretched ball. I felt empty and dead to the morning air by the time I looked up from the rippled bed sheets. The bedside table was laying on its side and sadly collecting the new dust like some kind of broken toy thrown aside in a tantrum. From this angle it looked like the warping on the surface had shifted.

Those were the last. I thought numbly to myself without really caring. The last crusty pieces of salvation. I stared across from this forlorn bed and onto the shelves of lonely room; all bare and collecting dust. Crumbling and dark grey bricks made the walls and stood firm against the harsh gusty winds of the ice-fields, all their colour seemingly drained over the dull years. I sat my head in my hooves and closed my eyes limply. Nevermind the shadows that clung to the corners.

=-=-=-=

A soft 'crunch crunch crunch' sound woke me from my waking dreams. I lazily opened one eye and flicked an ear up to get a better listen. Far away? I wondered to myself, biting my bottom lip and ignoring the blood bubbles dripping from my muzzle. Not so far... must be coming closer. That was that, I supposed. Morning was sending one of her minions to invade my tranquillity, there was nothing to do but co-operate. Nothing for it. Time to rise.

Squeaky springs silenced themselves once I moved off the old shabby bed and in their absence the wooden boards croaked and creaked underhoof. Padding across the room with the urgency of a man who's toast just burned, I left the dark and cramped bedroom behind. One last look at the eerie light streaming through tattered curtains onto a bloody mattress was enough, and I was out the door frame. A whole new world.

It was even colder out here than it had been back in my den. Such a bother. I thought lazily as clouds of warm breath floated off into oblivion. Standing in the tramp equivalent of a sitting room I managed to crack a slight smile, the curl of a lip, at my own misfortune. Old shattered frames sat in dead spaces with dirty, ripped and warped pieces of paper hanging limp within them. They'd once been photos. The old fireplace was completely black and crisp from a fire gone mad, burns stretched up the walls and seemed to move with their own ghostly desires.

Taking a left and leaving the mysterious living room I entered another, smaller one. This had once been a dining room for a rich family, the tattered remains of their tablecloths melted into the surface of a battered, broken pile of smooth wood. Bonfire. Yes, that's what this was going to be. I knew I needed to remove the old before too long, else it'd become tainted like the basement. Boxes and cobwebs inhabited the rest of the small room. Beaten shutters looked sunken in their frames and hung loosely to the hinges like mangled limbs or wilted flowers. Snow drifted in from between the cracks.

Rounding one last corner I arrived. This was the kitchen turn lobby turn common room. There was little to find in here and it was even colder than the previous rooms, with a large open window that had burst open and shoved its glass everywhere. An unhinged door lay flat inside the room like it'd been kicked down, but it was tilted away from the window and towards the other rooms. I made my way through the shattered valley of glass and carved a path through its ranges, sitting down on an old and dusty cushion.

'Crunch crunch crunch.'

I could hear the noise clearer now as I let my eyes droop a little, the biting winds diving daggers into my flesh. Unable to do anything but wait for the noise to cease and the messenger of the dawn to arrive, my actions ceased and I merely sat there. Floating a small set of crystal balls over to me from an open drawer, I began to twirl them around my horn. The drawer shattered for seemingly no reason. Each crystal was a different shade of white or black; like the shades of grey in life. There were sixteen of them in all. Perfectly smooth and unblemished in every manner, worth more than any royal necklace and a jeweller's vision made real.

'Crunch crunch crunch.'

The twirling balls were silent as I sat alone in the cold room and focused. Wind suddenly buffeted the broken window and rained more tiny glass tears into the empty space, warping one of the chairs into a mangled lump of icy wood as it came. I cracked one eye open to look at the forsaken piece of heresy that had been a chair. It didn't bother me. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't put my mask on. I slowly picked myself up off of the lumpy cushion and began to shamble unevenly back through the rooms.

Passing beneath the frame to the forlorn dining room I let out a small whistle as the snow piled in through a shattered shutter. Was that broken before? The room felt wrong, the house felt wrong. It was too cold in these musky old places. Trapped between oppressive walls of uncaring and colourless brick lined with creamy fillers, the entire area felt wrong. Shuffling back through the sitting room it felt like those ghostly burns were following me, clinging to me and my cold lifeless body. I'm not imagining it was all I could think as I left that room.

'Crunch crunch clack.'

Just in time. The mask felt rough and alien against my face like some kind of wrapping paper gone solid. Not so far now... must be closer... must be Thunderlane. There was no happiness in my thoughts, only a shiver of regret.

=-=-=-=

-Earlier-

"You're going out agaaain?" whined a small voice from downstairs. The older stallion chuckled to himself as he gathered the last few things for the trip. Picking out the strips of dried hay from a shrunk and torn package with no hesitation, he finished packing and began to zip the saddlebag up. Suddenly stopping, his eyes flickered about uncertainly for a few seconds. The black weather pony felt like he was missing something, something that mattered. There. A crumpled photograph; he tucked that in the bag as well before finally zipping it closed.

"Brotheeer!" came another, this time more annoyed whine from bellow. "Are you really going back out again? You're always going out to see him..." There was a hint of something that last moment, but Thunderlane dismissed the thought. Closing his bedroom door as he simultaneously secured his pack with a wing, he started walking.

"Yes, Rumble," he said a little flatly as his weight thudded down the stairs. "I'll be going out to see him again today." Mumbling disagreement could be heard from the room to Thunderlane's left, and he couldn't help but feel a little warm inside. He was lucky to have caring family. "It'll be fine, really. I'll be fine. He knows me so he won't do anything stupid like those rumors you heard at school. Besides it's a clear sky today, clear enough, the clouds are light and fluffy over the plains."

The stallion sounded more sure than he was as he finished, walking into the cramped living room and looking around. There was a plump sofa covered in bedding and pillows, while the floor was littered with old comics and one or two newer ones, little drawings scattered here and there. Rumble was practically invisible, and it took Thunderlane two sweeps to spot his cheeky muzzle buried under the sheets.

"But—"

"Come on soldier" said the elder brother, diving his hooves into the mass of sheets and pulling his younger sibling out. There was a ruffle, a chuckle and a sliding of cloth as the little pegasi popped out. Thunderlane smiled to himself, his brother was scrawnier than him and had more flexible wings. Definitely took after mum. "I told you last time, didn't I? This'll be the last time I go out to see him and then I'll have more time for you, alright?"

"Yeah... but...." Rumble sounded unsure of himself as he dug at thin air with a wing and avoided his older brother's warm gaze. Tiny pupils only wormed back towards Thunderlane after he put his 'champ' down on the carpet, unbeknownst to Rumble, trying to look less intimidating.

Ever since that scar...

"What is it, bud'?" Thunderlane asked with a noticeable hint of concern. "What's really on your mind? Siblings trust one another, that's why we got so far, man."

Rumble sighed. Drawing in a big breath from the warm air he prepared himself for a snap. "Why do you have to go see that... that w-weirdo al—"

"Rumble," Thunderlane said in a flat voice. "He's not a weirdo." The eldest brother looked slightly pained as his brow creased.

"But h—"

"Rumble!" This time he snapped, almost shouting at the colt who winced in anticipation. "Don't talk about him like he's some kind of monster or 'blank-flank!'" Hoarse from the sudden snap Thunderlane closed his eyes and rubbed his temple with a heavy sigh. Quiet reigned over the room for the longest time as he stood there with his eyes closed. Rumble couldn't tell, but his words were tearing his best friend turn brother apart.

"Thunder' you know I ju—" he cut himself off as his brother opened his eyes and forced a smile. The shutters behind them banged in their frames as the wind began to pick up.

"You don't know the full story. None of the colts or fillies know what really happened to him, so I can forgive your misconceptions; but he's not a weirdo. Something very, very bad happened that day. You know that, don't you?" The struggling stallion stopped and waited for a response, and his brother merely nodded. His face softened a little and he gave his sibling's hair a little ruffle. "Try not to think about it too much, champ. I'll tell you all about it on your next birthday, alright?"

"Okay...." Silence. There had been struck an unspoken agreement in this household, tearing it apart. It'd been struck all throughout Ponyville, and in the inner chambers of Canterlot establishments. The pact that, under no circumstances, should the present events be made more painful than they already are. The two brothers knew that, and they knew there was nothing left to say.

"I'll... I'll keep the shutters shut this time, brother. I'll only look outside for a little bit, I promise. No more colds, alright?" Rumble smiled up at his brother, and he smiled in return. The shattering pact might have been made, but they still could build bridges like everypony else.

"That's my man. I'll be back before tea time, okay? Why don't you go ask your friend Twist if you can play at her place for lunch? I know you don't like it here alone." Rumble was about to protest but Thunderlane gave him a knowing smile, "...besides, I'm sure her mother would like help making some more sweets. You seemed pretty good at that; those ones you gave me were really nice."

"Alright."

=-=-=-=

They were sat in the battered and ruined front room, their agreed upon meeting place. On one side of the flat and crumpled box they called a table, sat Thunderlane. Wrapped and bound like a mummy in a snow-suit adorned with hexes and runes along the seams, all glowing a slight yellow, he was never-the-less still his normal self. Chirpy and laid back even in the face of a monster. The other side of the twisted planks had a dishevelled unicorn laying limp into a writhing cushion. Fabric wriggled and warped under his bulk whilst his long and matted mane hid most of his old face. There was a very dark and cursed looking thing hanging off his face, carved with its own, more frantic and ghastly runes. Tiny beads ran circles around his cracked and demented horn. That was me.

"Long time no see, man" said the slightly lost stallion opposite me. Blemishes were already appearing in his visor as his warm breath clouded it. "Sorry for not coming to see you sooner, I just had to look after Rumble you know?" Pain was obvious in his voice, and I nodded once in reply. Stiff shoulders relaxed a little as he failed to hide a sigh of relief. "He caught a cold, the stupid fool, because he spent all day looking out across the plains after I left to see you. How'd you like those sweets, by the way?"

Sweets? My mind ran blank for a minute as my jasper pebbles bored into Thunderlane, digging through the suit and hitting him square in the eye. Oh, right, those peppermints he gave me last time... I moved my left hoof in a 'so, so' gesture as he fidgeted opposite. Laughter. It was an unexpected thing to hear which caused me to subconsciously rip the old chandelier from its socket. He laughed even harder as it flew through the wall behind him and nearly fell over in his place. I couldn't help but crack a grim smile, the curl of my lip.

Picking up a few more of the beads from another drawer I add them to my floating hold, spinning them without thinking as my old friend settles back into his seat. The drawer I took them from just falls apart and his eyes drift toward my beads, a question forming in his mind. "How man—" Already knowing the rest I float them into a neat row above my head, floating them in the air before pulling them back around my horn and twirling them again.

"Thirty? You were only using thirteen the last time I was here..." Pausing himself in the still air as he formulated a response, I let my mind wander a little bit. Thunderlane is an old friend and always will be. He's the only person who visits me, the only one who'll put up with the danger or even cares. It's ironic and sad and yet fitting. "So, back to the sweets." Snapping me back out of my thoughts Thunderlane continues. "I almost forgot that you hate mint, don't you?" I nod twice rapidly. "Good thing they were made by Rumble, then, can't have been too good... or 'bad', in your case..."

My hoof twirled of its own accord besides me, like a wriggling worm trying to escape a spider. "Don't worry about it," it seemed to say. "It was a nice gesture regardless." Of course, I didn't say anything to Thunderlane. That was how these meetings worked, because I didn't speak to anypony. If I spoke and I heard my own voice, it might break the illusion that I was a monster rather than a victim. I could already feel blood dripping from my nose, warm and sticky against my flesh.

"The pills," He said suddenly as if it just occurred to him. "How many pills do you have left? They said they can't make any more, so you should make them la—" Cutting him off with a dismissive wave, I shook my head slowly. Thunderlane watched in disbelief, even though he was a little glad that his friend wouldn't suffer anymore. "We could get more, we could try t—" Once again, I silenced the stocky stallion.

"Don't bother." That's what he heard in his mind, that's what I wanted to say... that's what neither of us wanted, but everypony else needed. "Just don't bother, Thunderlane." Oh, if only I had the strength to say that. Instead we looked into one another's soul, he gazed into the jasper pebble set in my skull, I into his wide and accepting orbs of light. There wasn't much to say as the entire house shuddered on the plain. There was a long, drawn out silence as he moved from his spot and stood up. Placing a small package on the table.

The paint was stripping from the walls, the glass sinking to the floor, the entire house bent in the wind as the photos finally dripped free and the shadows burst forth. "That's my final gift, mate. Candy and an old photo." His heavy suit clattered and clung against the floorboards, all the little blinking crystals going crazy. "It's begun, I know...." The room felt colder; colder than ever before.

He stepped into the empty door frame and sighed, looking back at me. "I saw the basement" he whispered.

One of the crystal balls shattered in my grasp. The air shuddered.

"I don't blame you," he said softly as he left the house, trudging down the forgotten path across the ice. "Nobody blames you."

=-=-=-=

-Earlier-

Thunderlane could feel the cold washing over him as he trotted down the shunty roads of Ponyville. It was early in the morning. Ponies would be sound asleep in their beds at this hour, dreaming about the days when the snow didn't infest every single nook and cranny of their lives. Back when the animals hadn't run away and when there were green plains that swept across countless hills, like some kind of childish fable.

He turned a corner and passed the run-down husk of what was Sugarcube Corner. Once the hustling and bustling heart of Ponyville, now just some burnt out and derelict reminder of what the endless winter had taken from them. Stopping as he neared the little door frame, black and dead to the world, Thunderlane gazed into the shattered building with childlike fascination. It seemed unreal that this place used to be whole and painted pastel colours, when now, the cold had taken the colour from everything.

Still, he continued on throughout the mostly abandoned ruins of Ponyville. Most folk had moved because of the cold weather and bad spirits, others had died mysteriously and some even disappeared alongside their homes. Hulking blocks of diamond had been linked together with wrought tempered iron to create a big barrier; erected to keep the cold and snow out. Covered in runes and bolted with tiny hexed rivets, the whole thing was an impressive magical blockade.

It worked for about three months.

Of course, Thunderlane wasn't too bothered by the cold. It nipped his hide as he walked past the decaying Golden Oak Library, and sure it was hard to live in and thrive in, but it wasn't so bad. Side effect of being a weather pony he supposed. The streets were very, very bare nowadays. Stalls lay crumpled and broken and most of the side streets were unused and buried in blankets of snow like they never existed.

"Morning, Thunderlane..." came a tired voice from behind. He turned and looked for the source, finding a tightly bundled and almost indistinguishable Bonbon. "I went to find you at your place but Rumble said you'd already left. You were always... a sucker for punctuality." Her beige coat had turned pale over time, the cold drained everything from everypony. Stripped you down to nothing.

"Well, I'm punctual about everything but work and studies." They both chuckled and felt a warm reflection, a small nostalgic trip back to sunnier days in secondary school. Thunderlane had dropped out, Bonbon has gone on to get a baking apprenticeship. It was all pointless nowadays, however. "Besides, I thought you and yours had packed up and left already? Weren't you moving off to Canterlot to escape the cold?"

"We are," she stated flatly in the chilled air. "I just came to see you before we left, that's all."

"Ah, I see." Thunderlane had never been good with mares, he was always more of a lad than a lady killer. "I wouldn't bother leaving, though. Rumble likes seeing you around, you always brighten the house up whenever you come to visit. Since mother and father aren't around anymore, you're basically the closest thing he has to family besides me."

"Family... huh..." she said in an almost hurt way, dodging Thunderlane's oblivious eyes as she composed herself. "You're not making this easy on me, are you?"

"Never." Laughing easily in the depressing winter gloom, Thunderlane smiled kindly at Bonbon. "Wouldn't want such a close childhood friend to leave Ponyville." The final word trailed off a little, like a bitter note in a melody. That phrase just didn't sound right. "You probably won't need to leave soon, anyway."

The air seemed to grow taught between the two young adults as Bonbon shuddered, seemingly for no reason. "What do you mean?" she asked with a shake in her voice. "What do you mean by that, Thunderlane?" Sweat slid down her cheek and into the snow, slowly eroding the surface before being swallowed.

"Can't you feel it?" he asked in an almost trance-like way, his eyes looking into hers with an intensity that scared her. He advanced a little. "I saw it." A simple phrase which ran a chill down Bonbon's spine, but why? "I saw the basement beneath the mansion, tucked inside the canyon that was the Shiver." Thunderlane looked like his face had been strung up by a lynch mob, all his features were tight against his bone.

"Don't talk about that," Bonbon whispered as it began to snow.

The spell seemed broken. Whatever darkness had crept on Thunderlane quickly left, as he returned to normal and stood back where he had been. "Right... sorry. I asked Twilight, that harmony mare, about the event. She said she went through something similar when she was a child, except it was stopped. It was like a phase one or whatever, and this was a full blown five." His face went lax as he remembered the purple mare, she'd been really nice. Constantly helping him out concerning his friend, even though he was illiterate.

"Wasn't that the event Celestia stopped a while back?" She couldn't believe it.

"Aye, that very same event. Turns out these magical phenomena are more common than we think." Hearty laughter came from his smile as he thought on it. "'Course we're not unicorns so it's beyond us, eh?" The two of them shared another, albeit shallow laugh. "You've been hiding that package for a while now, so let me see what you wanted to give me before you go."

"It's actually for him," she said with a sad smile. "It was his wife's favourite candy; she used to buy one every week." Placing the tiny bag in his hooves, Bonbon watched as realisation crossed over his features.

"Daifuku?" he asked with a bemused smile. "I knew she was weird, but... her favourite sweet wasn't even a sweet." Laughing to himself quietly, he placed the paper bag in his saddlebag, and zipped it back up. "Cheers for that Bonbon. Really. I'm sure he'll love this final gift."

"Final gift?" she mumbled under her breath. "Is that what you mean when yo—"

"He's my best friend," Thunderlane said in an emotional tone as he looked away from the pale and wrapped mare. "Of course I know when he's dying."

=-=-=-=

It all started here.

Everything boils down to this one spot. It's like a landmark on my life and an etching in my soul. No matter how far I run or how long I stay away from it, it'll always be a part of me. Gingerly making my way down the stone passage and into the depths of oblivion, I don't even notice when the passageway begins to twist and shudder behind me. All the bricks bulging from their sockets and forming into an abomination to seal me in. Seal me in my own personal hell.

Shambling hoofsteps and ragged breathing are all that can be heard down here. So far away from the world like some kind of realm, a realm of great and ungodly evil. The things I did... No don't think about them, don't think about it. You're a monster, not a victim, nor a murderer or madman. Just. Don't. Think.

Keep moving.

=-=-=-=

Thunderlane had once had the privilege to speak with Shining Armour, Captain of the Guard. It was a pretty big deal, after all he was being given a medal for his services in the past, and his continued service. Everypony had been there at the ceremony and they were all stomping their hooves, cheering and shouting his name as the speech was read out.

He hadn't been the only one given a medal. When the event happened and the stallions of the town banded together to try do something, there had been plenty of men with him on that podium. That last day however it had been just him. All alone on the red and gold stadium before an audience of thousands. "Hero of Ponyville" they called him.

He didn't really feel like a hero.

All he'd done was get the fillies and colts from the schoolhouse before the winds tore it down. All he'd done was help the townsponies after it happened and contributed to the barricade construction. All he'd done was test out their magic nullification suit and visit his best friend for the first time in two years.

In fact all he'd ever done was look out for himself and his best friend. Thunderlane always acted to keep both their consciences clear, to stop him from feeling guilty over more deaths, and to stop himself from feeling guilty for failing Rumble. It was tough, standing up there as the only remaining member of the S.P.F. The "Shiver Phenomena Force", basically a bunch of blokes who wanted to help set things right.

So when he got that medal and Shining Armour asked him to say something, to that whole crowd, he didn't need to think about what he was going to say to them all. From the moment he stood there Thunderlane knew in his heart what he needed to say; three words.

"He's not guilty!"

=-=-=-=

I can see it now unfolding before my eyes, the horror I spawned on the day she left me. Left me with a kiss goodbye and a roll of her eyes, upwards, like her spirit. Oh how I'd yearned for her to never leave me, the only pony alive who made me feel whole. My other half, my soul mate, my wife. I couldn't believe it when the doctors told me she was going to die, I didn't want to believe it when they said it was my fault.

They called it a rare phenomena, some kind of magical flux that was beyond comprehension. There wasn't any kind of test they could give me to tell my why, or how I was supposed to stop it. "Just spin these" they said with sad smiles, handing me a set of crystal balls. "You should need only two, but we'll give you the whole lot just incase."

A box no bigger than a foal containing two hundred perfectly spherical crystal balls to help focus my magic. If I could focus it, I could control it and stop it from hurting my friends and family. It worked for a little while, just a little while. "We're sorry to tell you this," they said in flat tones with uncaring eyes. "You need to move. Far away. We don't care where but you need to leave for the safety of everypony."

Staring now into the abyss, I can't imagine why she followed me. When I moved away to keep her safe, to keep my darling alive and beautiful. She came in the night when I was asleep, crawling into the double bed and sleeping besides me as her skin writhed and her insides became outsides. She died in my arms, just like that, snuffed out like some faint candlelight glow. Her essence and soul just a tiny flame that was overcome by my cold, black condition.

Looking out into the abyss I couldn't help but feel bad. I crumpled to the floor and looked out into the sunlight from the catalyst, my limbs draining slowly as under two hundred beads floated in the air above me. They danced and whirled as I looked on, on to the canyon that my hatred had carved, deep into the fractures my sorrow had yearned and on into the death my apathy had desired.

The mask I had been given to suppress the true magic and to hide my disfigured face fell off, shattering under the pressure of the air as all the beads began to shake wildly. The blood wasn't dripping from my nose because my nose had been eroded, and my skin was slowly falling to pieces.

"H-how... ironic...."

The voice startled me and I suddenly jerked, causing the beads to slam against the mountain core and shudder. It had been my own. A raucous murmur that I didn't want to call my own voice. It had been here at this very spot where it happened. Like a hurricane it swept the land and ruined everything in its way. Ponyville got the side effects. Whatever had been north of the house... just wasn't there anymore.

I created the ice plains and set an eternal winter in place, the coldness of my own heart fuelling the chill that killed off the world around me. Maybe I thought I was dead, maybe I was dead or maybe I died when she died. The Shiver changed everything. I can feel it now, though. Another one, another uncontrollable Shiver.

"I'm... sorry..." I grovelled as I began to drag myself forwards. There was a pain in my head like nothing I'd ever felt before, much worse than the pain the pills gave me. My body was beginning to shut down as I shuddered and heaved, wheezing as everything began to dim and my vision was being engulfed by black spots. "Forgive me... p-please forgi— sorry, so.. sorry... love..."

=-=-=-=

-Moments before-

Thunderlane heaved off the suit and placed it inside the locker with a struggle. You always had to be careful not to let them fall on the ground too hard, else one of the gems would shatter and the suit would be worthless. These blasted things were needed to enter that zone, the area where the magical fluctuations were strongest. Going there without one was madness. Other ponies had tried and failed to do so without incident.

Thunderlane shuddered at the memory of a failed attempt. Some ponies came back disfigured while others were gibbering wrecks. Some seemed fine and then turned out to be ill in some horrible manner. His best friend had turned the sunny countryside into a land of death and loneliness through an overwhelming act of sorrow and grief. That's what he guessed, at least.

Leaving the train station after shutting the heavy bulkhead of an outer door, Thunderlane stepped out into the street and began to make his way home. He got about as far as the Golden Oak when he noticed something was up. There was a huge mass of ponies leaning out of the old town hall and staring out into the ice plains. "Crazy..." he mumbled to himself, breaking into a gallop to see what was what.

Few hoofprints were left in the wet snow before he felt it. Pressure. Unmistakable pressure. He remembered it from the day it happened. You didn't need to be a unicorn to feel this immense energy. Groaning under the force as he was about to rush home, the barrier lit up in a flurry of activity as a loud whistling boom echoed out across the icy wasteland. Thunderlane staggered as the noise assaulted his ears. He couldn't hear himself yell in pain.

But he remembered this, too. The first time he went to visit, before he had or needed the suit. One of those weird crystal balls had gone mad and in a panic, his friend had tried to stop it. It exploded under the pressure and rendered him deaf for half a day, scarring his face in the process. The noise he just heard was exactly like the one before. But to be that loud from so far away... how many had exploded? How many were overwhelmed?

Then the barrier began to tremble, he could feel the ground beneath him shake as the monoliths that blocked out the harmful energy began to splinter. Diamond flakes fluttered down from above as each core was rent apart from within, rivets and gems flying this way and that as the pressure grew more and more fierce. The wall shattered. The pressure wrapped itself around Thunderlane. It smothered him, snuffed him. He closed his eyes.

He fell unconscious.

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