• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 2,656 Views, 385 Comments

Nine Days Down - JoeShogun



Celestia's latest game of Save the Princess gets more serious than she'd have liked when she gets herself thrown into Tartarus. It would be bad enough if she were alone...but it seems she'd picked up a straggler as well.

  • ...
11
 385
 2,656

Others

A Few Brief Asides.

Earlier...

Bait thumped against the ground as the chains released him. He rolled up to his hooves and was running before he even consciously realized what was happening, but just as he made his first leap, a wall of solid metal burst up from the dirt in front of him. He bounced off and whirled, trying again in a different direction, but he was already surrounded. He looked up, bunching his legs to jump over the walls just as the last plate slammed into place atop the others. Bait’s heart thudded in the sudden silence and darkness.

He had to move! Had to get out of here before the monster outside came back to finish him off!

Bait kicked at one wall hard enough to hurt his hooves. It didn’t budge. He clawed at it, scrabbling against its impenetrable surface. He reared up and kicked at the ceiling, scratched at the joints, searched desperately for a seam or even just something he could get a grip on.

A small, square hole slid open, pouring light into the prison. Ben came flying through it, hitting Bait in the face as he scampered close. The gap shut tight immediately, leaving no evidence it had ever been there.

Bait danced from one hoof to another, whimpering to himself. He heard Ben chitter angrily as the spider skittered about the small perimeter of their prison.

Bait wasted more time scratching at the walls, finding nothing he could use. Why did everything seem to have magic but him? He bet Twilight could get out of here with no problem. Was she still alive? Was she fighting the bull-thing, or had she run? She’d run. Anybody would run.

Bait felt a tapping on his fetlock. He shied away.

She’d leave him here. ‘Cause that’s what the Bait was for. He was on his own. He’d been stupid to think he’d ever actually make it out here.

The tapping came again, more insistent this time, and was accompanied by a snappish little shriek. Bait jumped away from the spider. That creature scared the hell out of Bait! Why had the bull had to throw it in with him!? Bait's eyes flicked about, trying to see Ben, if only to keep away from him. Not that there was anywhere he could go. He was surprised to find that he could actually see him, a little. Bait's eyes had adjusted, which meant there was light coming in from somewhere. And that meant...there was a gap somewhere! Bait glanced around and saw a few, but they were much too small to be any use, even to Ben.

Ben shrieked again and waved a leg.

“Yeah, I see you! What?”

Ben darted to one corner of the square cage and started furiously picking at it with his first four legs.

“I tried that! You can’t get through, it’s metal!”

Ben shrieked once more. He used two legs to pick up a tiny clod of dirt, slowly and carefully, as if he were demonstrating something very simple and painfully obvious, and tossed it behind himself. He picked up another clod and did it again before Bait caught on.

“Oh! You’re digging! But, these came up out of the dirt. What if they go down too far?”

Ben threw up four arms in exasperation, as if to imply that they might as well try, so get to it, dammit!

Bait ploughed into the loose dirt. Why hadn’t he thought of this? With his pointy claws and shovel-ish hooves, digging was one of the few things he was any good at. Bait had only been at it for a few seconds before he hit the end of the wall. He didn’t pause to exult at the discovery, or to thank Ben. He just kept digging with all the fury that mortal desperation could give.

A quick bit of intuitive math told Bait he’d need maybe another minute to get a hole big enough to crawl through. He’d have to leave his pack. He threw it off, taking just a moment to rummage through it one last time. He stuffed a chunk of shrimp meat into his mouth and gnawed at it as he dug. No sense in letting it all be lost.

It wasn’t until his hand cracked the surface outside of the prison that Bait allowed himself to get excited. He kept burrowing, willing himself to keep as quiet as possible as he went. Maybe Twilight had gotten away. That would be nice, he supposed. He pushed his head through the hole he’d made, barely stopping to look around. He didn’t see the bull, but he could hear something. He must be on the opposite side of the cage. Good. He pushed out more dirt with his muzzle and hooves and hands and not long after, he was out.

He was out!

He could hear them now, Twilight and the bull. She was still here. Why hadn’t she run? Had she beat it? Was she that strong? She was saying something.

Bait peeked around the closest corner of the bronze walls. He couldn’t see Twilight, but she had to be there. He could hear her. Ben joined him a moment later.

“Why are you doing this!?”

Oh no. The bull had her! Just like he’d had Bait! He could see her now, a little. One purple leg, wrapped in more of those chains. The bull was leaning over her, pressing down on her. Bait turned away. He had to run. There was nothing he could do. If even she couldn’t fight this monster, what could he do? He was just a wight, and the useless little runt at that.

Ben tapped him on the fetlock again. He made some complicated gesture with several legs, something about circling around and distracting the bull while Bait broke Twilight loose and escaped, or something. It would never work. They should just run. They couldn’t win. He squeezed his eyes shut and shut his mind against what he was hearing. Maybe he could go back home. If he took back what food he still had, and if he found them something really amazing to make up for the rest, they might let him come back. Maybe it would…maybe he…No. That was...

Stupid! This is so stupid! Bait opened his eyes and, fighting every instinct he had, slunk forward, keeping well away from the bull’s line of sight. It was stupid, Bait knew. But then, he’d spent his whole life doing stupid things. He’d lost count of how many times he’d expected to die, luring some horrible thing in for his family to eat. So what was one more suicide run? At least he was doing it by choice for once, and for somebody who'd been nice. Maybe he could even hurt the bull a little. Wouldn't that be something? The runt, hurting a big monster like this thing? Heh. Well, it didn’t know he was coming, and if there was one thing a wight knew how to do, it was exploit a weakness.

Bait skulked up, silent, taut, waiting for Ben to get set up. Then, he peeled back his lips, lunged forward, and sank his teeth into the biggest pair of ‘weaknesses’ he’d ever seen.

The bull roared and kicked but Bait was already gone, keeping on its blind side as the bull whipped around. He grabbed Twilight by the hoof as the chains holding her melted into nothing. Apparently getting bit in the junk shut down weird magic powers. Good to know.

“Run!” he shouted, and Twilight did. Bait aimed for the tree line, hearing an unbelievably loud shriek as Ben leapt onto the bull’s face and sank his fangs into its soft nose. Bait wasn’t sure how Ben caught up with them after that, but the spider came flying in from somewhere behind (maybe the bull had thrown him off, or something?) and Twilight snatched him up in that magic field she had, and then they ran, ran, ran, until the woods grew thick and dark and quiet, and Twilight finally flopped down in the undergrowth to watch, and wait.

~~~

Currently...

Tartarus dropped the puppet it had claimed. If the world-thing had had anything like guts, they would be churning. It did not enjoy doing that. Taking. It loathed the limitations of the living, the smallness and frailty of them. It was reduced while it took them, bound by their wet, fleshy, minds and microscopic perspective. It would suffer the memory of that feeling for an age, but It felt the price had been worth it. Its newest resident, Its wonderful treasure, knew Tartarus now. The creature had witnessed It! No matter that it (she? Tartarus had trouble remembering such trivial things as gender) had escaped. What a delight that one was. Such naivete. Such potential.

Like any being, Tartarus had parts on and within Itself that It couldn’t see or control, and the new resident had run into one of those dark places. Every moment Tartarus was unable to watch her was a tragedy, but she would come out eventually. Tartarus briefly wondered if it had perhaps overstepped there. Had it frightened her more than it should have? Perhaps. But it suspected not. This new one was resilient. She would make a fine tenant or die a truly extraordinary death, It was certain. Soon, now. Soon.

Tartarus shifted and searched, laid traps and forged paths. It roused more of Itself and Its creatures. It watched, and It waited.

~~~

Celestia didn’t have to wait long after that little display.

The air stilled. Dust settled. The raging inferno around Celestia slowed, and stopped, and died, leaving no trace of motion at all. Celestia’s own heartbeat felt like an offense to this perfect silence.

The quiet stayed for some time, cold and dead, until it was finally broken by a flat voice.

“My dear Celestia.” There was no affection in the words, no emotion of any kind. They were still and slow, smooth as a polished stone. “She doesn’t visit. She doesn’t write. And when finally she does deign to appear, she murders my subjects and brings ruin to centuries of my efforts. Tartarus is terribly agitated, Celestia. Why are you here?”

Centuries of efforts? Celestia had never known Terra to put effort into anything. And what subjects? Still, by virtue of years of habit, she tried to be diplomatic.

“I-yes. I apologize for troubling you, Sister, but I’ve made a terrible mistake, and—"

Celestia had meant to keep talking, but she found herself suddenly unable to say more, as if the words had simply died in her mouth. She tried to reclaim them, but the silence held for a long, long moment.

“Sister, is it? You’ve not called me that for…” Terra considered for an achingly long time. “Over a thousand years. At least. And yes, you have made many terrible mistakes. Which one has led you to disturb my peace?”

Celestia had never been able to understand Terra. Ages ago, it had been simple. She had been so different, full of life and love and so much more. But all of that was long, long gone.

“I need your help!” she blurted out. “I came to Tartarus by accident, which would be no problem, but another was pulled in with me. I need to find her!”

Another maddeningly long moment passed.

“By. Accident.”

Celestia wasn’t sure if that had been a question or a statement. Terra couldn’t even be bothered to raise her tone at the end of a sentence to make it obvious.

“Someone cast a spell, using my crown as the focus, and I woke here.”

“Ah. You were playing games again, and you allowed yourself to be attacked,” stated Terra, her dead-neutral tone somehow still managing to convey disdain. “And now you come to me demanding favors.”

“No! I’m not dem—“ Celestia took a deep breath. “Please, Terra. If you can help me find her, I would greatly appreciate it. In fact, if there were some way I could assist you in your efforts..."

“This person must hold great value, Celestia, for you to call me and beg assistance.”

Celestia’s answer came easily and without hesitation.

“She does.”

Another long silence.

“As you say. I will find your wayward pony then. You, in return, will owe me a favor, to be redeemed at any time I see fit, and in any form.”

“Hrmm. Your favor can’t bring harm to my companion, or interfere with her return to Equestria in any way."

Terra stood, un-moving, calculating.

“Acceptable.”

“Excellent! Her name is Twilight Sparkle, and sh—”

“Her name is immaterial. She is an invader, and she has caught the attention of Tartarus. This will be simple.”

Celestia shut her mouth with a *click* and endeavored not to be offended. This was actually going well, as far as dealing with Terra went. Making such an open-ended bargain would have been insane under other circumstances, but Celestia had pretty much already written herself off as a casualty at this point, and there was only so much you could do to someone who didn't fear death. She was just happy her sister was willing to talk at all.

Terra closed her eyes and simply stood for a time.

Terra was an alicorn, like all the sisters. Her every feature was a flawless, unadulterated white. Not the lively glow of Celestia, but the glossy sheen of polished marble. She might as well be a statue, if an exquisite one. Her mane didn't flow, her lips didn't shift when she spoke, and even in movement she seemed somehow static, unchanging. Immaculately still, always.

“I have found her.”

Celestia had to fight to keep herself from jumping forward.

“She’s okay!? She’s-wait, of course she is. Alright, take me to her!”

Terra watched her as a mountain watches the storm.

“Our deal was that I find her.”

“What? Oh, yes, I can understand how you would think that, but finding someone doesn’t mean you simply know where they are. Finding them implies that—"

“Mm. Implies. It appears that you have made another terrible mistake, Celestia.”

Celestia froze, mouth halfway though some already forgotten word. Another moment ticked away. Celestia wanted to grab Terra and throttle her and scream in her face. But she forced all of that down, and funneled all of her will into trying to be reasonable.

“Terra. Please. It is nothing to you to do this f—"

“Perhaps if you had not slain so many of my subjects and scorched my earth, it would be nothing. Perhaps if this creature you brought with you had not so upset my charge. But it is not nothing, Celestia. It has already cost me more than you know.”

What could it be possibly be costing you!? You’ve never cared about anything!

Celestia ground her teeth and forced the next words out, choosing them very carefully.

“Then will you at least show me where she has been? This is a fair request, as I asked you to help me find her.”

Terra did nothing for another insufferably long moment.

“Very well.” She strode forward with measured steps, leaning down slightly to just barely tap her own horn on Celestia’s. It should have been an intimate gesture, but there was none of that here. Merely a transfer of information.

Celestia let it flow in. Everywhere Twilight had been since her arrival. A tiny purple spark forging a path through a dark, terrible world. Terra had known about them since the beginning, Celestia realized. She’d known they were here and done nothing. Just left them to flounder and die in this fucking nightmare and…

Celestia took a deep shuddering breath. The knowledge that she could do nothing was all that kept her in check. Terra and her damned attitude didn't matter now. Only Twilight mattered.

Celestia didn’t waste any more time with anger. Or courtesy. She was off and running before Terra even had time for a parting shot.

~~~

Terra watched her sister go. Ridiculous, to worry so over one pony when there were millions more. She turned her attention back to greater things. This entire world was in danger of falling apart. She felt no fear, no grief at its possible demise. Mild irritation, perhaps, at seeing her works undone, but even that was as muted as anything else. She was a touch concerned that she hadn’t detected this intrusion earlier, though. It had been easy enough to find the source of the disturbance, this 'Twilight Sparkle,' after the fact, and trace back her path. But still. It was probably related to Celestia’s unorthodox entry. That would require further study.

But for now, Terra had goals she had decided she would meet. She fell into the earth and was gone. She began pondering, in her long, laborious way, how best to contain this mess. And now Celestia owed her something. That bore consideration as well.

~~~

And sometime later...

Cretes awoke.

"Ahhhh Hell..." he muttered, ears flapping as he shook his head. "Where..?"

He looked around. Where was he? How had he even gotten here? Why was everything torn up or on fire? And why did his nose hurt? And his back. And, most upsetting, his balls? He gave those a quick check to make sure everything was still there. Yup. But dammit, what had happened here?

He was still in the Fields, but nowhere near where he'd been when...when what? Oh, right, when he'd met that pony again. And then, uh…she’d been with a wight. Right. And he’d said something about getting her out of here. Had she flipped out on him for some damned reason? No, there was no way that little thing could have done this to him. He pondered recent events while he stretched his aching neck. Had Nuckalavee come back? Maybe snuck up and brained him or something? No, that freak would have killed him while he was out, and besides, Nuckalavee didn’t have the rocks for that kind of move.

His eyes wandered up, toward the burning ring in the sky. Half-formed memories of thoughts that weren’t his own skittered at the edge of his consciousness. Something pulling him along like a doll on a string, its hooks so deep it could even take his magic, and pair of purple eyes burning with fear and determination, and a consuming, overwhelming desire so deep and dark an—

“Nope!” Cretes bellowed to no one, not knowing why or even wanting to. “Just a nightmare!”

He had bad dreams sometimes. So what?

Cretes shook himself and took off at a trot, as though he could simply outrun the disturbing morass in his mind. In a way, he could. A good run cleared the mind. He just needed to get back to his girls and ride out whatever came his way. Everything would sort itself out and all this weird shit would be over with before he knew it.

But this was good reminder, he thought to himself, of what happens when you try to help a pretty face: You wake up on fire with sore junk. Cretes shook his head and thundered off to find his herd. They never put him through shit like this. Damned ponies.

~~~

Typhon slept. It was best that way. Best for everyone. He watched, as he slept, but that was fine. It was all a dream for him. Pleasant, flowing, ephemeral. Far more pleasant than being awake. Because when he woke, he remembered.

Typhon turned reflexively away from such thoughts, lost as he was in that pleasant space between dream and reality. His many, many tails curled in, flexing as he stretched.

Yes, this was certainly better than his waking life. He saw so much while he slept. So many little lives starting and ending and starting again. So many stories. And yes, there was plenty of unpleasantness in them, but also so much joy, so many reasons to laugh and love and just be. Not like his life at all, where there was only…

Typhon rolled over, burying his larger heads further into the darkness. He was dozing peacefully again when another rumble shook through him. He ignored it. He couldn’t seem to get comfortable anymore. But it would pass. His wings ruffled of their own accord, his claws reaching for someone that would never be there…

He shoved the thought away, desperately searching for that calm place he could only find in slumber. Just sleep! Just a little longer!

The earth shook under him, again and again, just as he nodded off. Every time! Like it was trying to infuriate him! He tossed again, hoping it would end, hoping this one would be the last. And for a while, it was.

Another tiny quake shifted the dirt of Tartarus.

One titanic eye cracked open, dislodging centuries of dust. It was followed by hundreds more.

Typhon woke. And he remembered.

Author's Note:

A quick chapter written mostly to give us a view into Bait and Cretes's minds. Then some other jerks showed up, and I had to write them too.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!