• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 2,710 Views, 389 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.

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Guardian

Twilight’s eyes were beginning to burn, but she dared not close them. This place was too dangerous. Everything could change, it could all go wrong, and she would miss it in that blink. She didn’t know how much more of this she could handle. It just kept getting worse, and that last horrid violation had shaken her to the core. Could Tartarus take other people the way it taken Cretes? Could it take Bait? Ben? She shuddered.

Could it take her?

No. No! I’m not doing this! That’s just…it’s just what It wants! They’re my friends, and I won’t let It make me doubt them!

But she couldn’t shove off the thoughts. What did it want!? Was it was just messing with her now? Worming its way into her head? Why would It do something like that? What did it want with her!?

Twilight felt something shift under her wing. She flicked her eyes toward it, just for a moment. Bait. Of course. He was looking at her. Scared. For her? Of her? Why couldn’t she tell? He was shivering. No, wait. That was her.

Forcing herself into action, Twilight finally abandoned her watch. She turned to Bait and practically fell onto him, wrapping him up in a full-on arms-and-wings-and-everything hug. She swept Ben into it too, for good measure.

“Thank you! I don’t know how you got out of there, but thank you!”

A long, long time seemed to pass (there was no way to tell, really) with Bait just frozen there in her embrace before Twilight was willing to let him go.

“That was so brave, Bait! Are you and Ben okay? It didn’t hurt you did It?”

There was no answer for a while, as Bait just stared at her. Then, without warning, he latched onto Twilight like he was never, ever going to let go and burst into tears.

She blinked a few times, her own tears receding before this unexpected flood. Well, this wasn’t exactly the answer she’d been expecting. But that was fine. Right? Sure. She could have her own little pity-party later. For now, she stroked Bait’s bony little neck and tried to remember all those comforting, nonsense phrases her parents or Celestia had always said to her when she was scared or upset and just waited it out.

“Hey,” she asked, when he seemed to have cried himself out. “You okay? You want tell me what happened?”

“I-it’s just…” he buried his face in Twilight’s chest again, words escaping in a mumbled whisper. “ ‘s just I thought he’d hurt you and I couldn’t do ‘nything n’body ever hugged me like that before.”

Twilight just sat there for a time, dumbfounded. Of all the things she had seen and been through lately, after all the fear and fighting and confusion, it was that little confession that really brought home exactly how wrong this place was. She wanted to cry. She should cry. The tears were there, but they just wouldn’t come out. So instead, she borrowed a bit of that strange strength one of her friends had taught her, that oddball power of always being able to make a joke when somepony needed one. Even if it wasn’t very good.

“Well, when we get to Equestria,” she said, running a hoof down Bait’s back, “you’ll get plenty of hugs. You’ll have all the hugs you can eat.”

Bait looked up at her. His laugh was half sob. But it was enough.

“Y’can’t eat hugs,” he said. He sniffled and wiped his eyes as Twilight caressed his neck again. “Sorry. I dunno why I…sorry.” He pulled away just a bit, then seemed to reconsider and leaned back in, glancing at her sheepishly.

“It’s okay. And don’t be too sure about that. I bet my friend Pinkie Pie can find a way find a way to eat a hug.” Twilight smiled through the miserable anger in her chest. She couldn’t change Bait’s past, but she could darn sure give him a better future! “She does all kinds of crazy stuff. I’ll introduce you when we get out of here.”

The moment hung until Ben put an end to it with an elegant chirp.

“Yeah, you’re right Ben. It is time we got moving, isn’t it? You gonna be alright, Bait?”

He pulled himself together after a bit, nodding up at her.

“Alright then. Off we go. Can’t be far now, right?” She couldn’t tell whether Bait’s shrug was an affirmative. She chose to believe it was, for the sake of her own sanity. It had to be over soon. It had to be. “But seriously,” she asked, mostly to distract herself. “What happened back there? How did you two get away?”

“Oh, um, well, it was Ben, mostly…”

He gave her the quick version. Less about desperate, terrified scrambling in the dark and more about sneak-attacking a bull and then running away.

“Wow.”

Trying, poorly, to keep a straight face, Twilight continued, “Did you really bite him in the…”

“Um. Y-yeah. I think I lost two teeth on that. I mean, I’ve heard them called ‘stones’ before, but…”

Twilight laughed at that more than it probably deserved, but fudge it. She would take all the levity she could get at this point.

“Only a real friend would ever do something like that,” she said with a grin. “Thank you, Bait. That really was amazingly brave of you. And you too, Ben.” She gave the former a little squeeze with one wing. “Sorry about the teeth.”

Bait mumbled something about them growing back, but didn’t seem to know what to say after that. The silence was comfortable enough, so Twilight didn’t press him. Instead, she took a moment to give the new terrain a good look.

It was darker here than in the woods she'd first woken up in, and much more so than in the Fields. The usual source-less, ambient light of Tartarus was dimmer, the trees taller and thicker and more overgrown. They hung heavy with shaggy moss and creeping vines, all purple and green and deep, deep blue. It reminded her of the Everfree, actually. She felt a pang of homesickness. She’d take that haunted wilderness over whatever this was any day.

On a happier note, the canopy was so thick that the sky was blacked out, and the horrible, burning eye up there was nowhere to be seen.

“So,” said Twilight, refusing to let the dour environs get her down. “Ready to go?”

“Oh, um. Sure.”

“Okay! So, how about, um…” Twilight looked about. She’d lost the road a ways back. She fired up her horn and shined it around. She chose the direction that looked the least clogged by vegetation and started off. “This way!”

Bait scampered after her, sidling up next to her and staying there this time. She laid a wing over him as warm little glow lodged itself in her chest. She didn’t know where they were, or even if they’d make it out, but for the first time in far too long, she really felt like she wasn’t alone.

~~~

It turned out to be surprisingly easy to find the road again. They’d stumbled over a little trickle of a stream after a while, and decided to follow it. It crossed over a nice, even, conspicuously tree-less path after about a half-hour, and with that, they were back in business. Sure, they had no food (Bait had been extremely apologetic about that), and no idea if they were going the right way, and if they wanted water they'd have to lick it out of the moss-eaten stream, but still.

The woods devoured the sounds of travel, but they were by no means silent. Strange calls sounded in the distance, of no sort that Twilight had ever heard. A howl had echoed through, so close Twilight would have sworn she’d felt it, but even after ten minutes of waiting for the other shoe to drop, nothing had come. Little rustlings in the shrubs were a common occurrence, but every time she shined a light their way, Twilight saw nothing.

There were other lights in the distance. They looked like fireflies, sometimes, but others were so much like lanterns or spell-light that she had to resist the urge to call out or follow them. She had a guess as to what they were: Will o’ the Wisps. Little fey creatures that took a nasty joy from misleading travelers, tricking them into jumping into choking bogs or gator-infested marshes. She’d never actually seen one, and given the circumstances, she didn’t want to. So she ignored them as best she could, and hoped they’d return the favor.

After a while, though, the atmosphere just grew too oppressive, and Twilight gave up on any attempt at stealth or subtlety. Hers was the only consistent light in this place, after all. If something wanted to find them, she had no way to stop it. So she didn’t try.

“So! Did I ever tell you about Ponyville?”

“Um. No?”

“Well, where to start! It’s where I live in Equestria. It’s not very big, but there are tons of nice ponies there and we have all kinds of adventures…”

~~~

Twilight managed to keep up her almost manic cheer for a good while. Bait helped, even if he didn’t talk much, and Ben stepped in occasionally with a well-timed chirp or two when her flow of words suffered a lull. They all played their parts in this little fiction, each helping the rest pretend that their lives weren’t hanging on a string out here in this impossibly hostile wilderness. Twilight knew it, even as she forged the fantasy, but what else could she do? She was spent, burned out. Being careful and cautious and realistic was just too hard. As long as everybody kept talking to prop up their eggshell fortress of optimism, they didn’t have to think about all that. So she chattered on.

The road took a turn, and with a suddenness Twilight had come to expect from Tartarus, a cave mouth loomed up before them. She stopped mid-sentence. These woods may have been unpleasant, but they hadn't hurt her yet, and she was in no hurry to go back underground. Her trepidation was in no way dispelled by the pair of glowing eyes watching her from within.

“Um,” she said.

The eyes fell into a tilt, as though the head which presumably held them were considering her. They vanished into the darkness before she could say more. Bait twitched under her wing.

“Did you see that?” she whispered.

“Um. Yes.”

Twilight felt Ben’s many feet move about on her back as they all stood there, watching.

A pair of torches, or something like them, sprang to life in the cave, lighting the way with warm, unexpectedly normal-looking firelight. As the party watched, another pair lit, then another, and another and so on into the tunnel.

Bait spoke first.

“We should find another way, right?”

Twilight shifted from one hoof to another. She looked around the cave mouth. The road led straight into it, the only opening into a great hill swathed in shrubs and moss. What space there was around the hole was strangled with rocks and vines and tree roots. Even the canopy above was seemingly sealed by branch and leaf. There was no way around. If this was a trap, which it clearly was, it had been chosen well. But still, Celestia had told to stay on the roads. They were safe, she’d said. And if it was a trap, it was a blindingly obvious one. That dinner party scene had been like this, but even then, there had been the lure of food. And she would have had to leave the road to get to it. Usually there was some trick or betrayal involved. This one was just so…

Ben hopped off Twilight’s back and scampered into the cave.

“Ben? Wait!” Darn it, he was quick!

He stopped at Twilight’s call, but only long enough to wave two legs at her. Then he resumed his run into the tunnel.

Twilight looked at Bait. He looked back.

If Ben were going to finally betray her, like everything had since she’d fallen into this horrible place, it would be now. What if he’d been leading her to this place the whole time? She'd be caught in a narrow space, burdened with a friend to protect. She’d be easy prey. She would—

Twilight stamped one hoof, a spike of self-loathing surging through her. No! How could I even think that! That isn’t me! She took a deep breath. Only after she’d collected herself did she speak.

“Well. In we go then. But, stay behind a bit, okay? If things get scary, just run.”

“I...yeah.”

Twilight nodded, as much to herself as to her companion. Then she strode forward.

It wasn’t like there was any other option.

~~~

The cave was actually a bit more spacious than she’d expected. Another trick of the light, perhaps. She had plenty of room to spread her aching wings, at least, but even so, there was nowhere to run if, hah, when things got ugly. And Ben was nowhere to be seen. She looked back to make sure Bait was still there. He was padding along silently behind her. He met her gaze, worried. That seemed sensible. Still, she tried to smile reassuringly.

The torches, or sconces, or whatever they were, were spaced evenly along the smooth stone walls. They looked almost organic, like they’d been grown rather than placed. Too smooth and slick for hoof-wrought metal. Seamless. Their light was nice enough, even if its source was an enigma. That light ended a ways up. The tunnel widened ahead, that much she could see, but whatever lay within was cloaked in shadow. Twilight sparked up her own light, but it didn’t penetrate far.

Here it comes, she thought, approaching the chamber, priming her spells. Just waiting for me to…

Twilight placed one hoof across the threshold, shining her light through.

A keen shriek blew straight through her. She slammed a shield down over herself, flaring her wings and roaring into what might have been the most powerful magic bolt she’d ever cast. She caught movement in the corner of one eye and took aim at…

A familiar, eight-legged form.

Twilight gasped and fell backwards, the bolt going wild as she tried to pull all that magic back. It blasted a chunk out of the floor less than two feet away from the spider.

“Ben! I’m sorry! It’s just, you scared me! And, I-I’m…” Twilight stammered, regaining her hooves. She reached toward the spider.

Ben hunched up into himself, the arms he’d been waving in greeting frozen in the air. To Twilight’s horror, he inched away.

A flash of memory: Celestia, blood-soaked and burning, reaching for her. Trying to help her up. She hadn't understood a the time...

“No! I didn’t mean to! Please!”

Ben didn’t run, but he didn’t come forward either. Instead, he pointed, away, into the shadowy cave.

”What? I don’t…” But she looked where he gestured, flaring her light as a horrible, horrible guilt wracked her.

Then she gasped again, recoiling once more.

Dozens of pairs of eyes, glowing like a swarm of cats, watched her from the darkness. For a time, they did nothing. Just looked.

Then one pair turned aside, blowing lightly into one of those strange sconces. It ignited, revealing a liquid glitter around the eyes that lit it. Another head followed suit, and then one more, and so on until the room was bright enough to see the whole tableau clearly. Even then, it took Twilight quite some time to understand what she was looking at.

They were just heads! How many!? Dozens! They weren’t even real heads, just skulls! And every one of them from a different animal. One was a deer, another maybe a wolf, the third had clearly once been a pony! She couldn’t even recognize half of them. All of them had those glowing eyes. All of them stared at her. They just hung there, watching And nothing held them up! No, wait. That glistening stuff around them. It…connected them. Every strand, or neck, or whatever, it all led to…her eyes traced the path of one tendril back to a mass of viscous, translucent slime the size of a small lake.

In the back of her mind, as she struggled not to vomit, Twilight wondered if Tartarus’s entire plan weren’t just to test the fortitude of her stomach.

“Greetings,” said the skulls.

Twilight reeled, her mind a total blank.

“Ah. You are surprised at me. We forget, sometimes, that I am disturbing to other creatures.” Several of the skulls tilted, like they were thinking, or talking silently amongst themselves. A few nodded.

“It occurs to us that us that I may have revealed ourselves at an unfortunate juncture. Please, take a moment,” said the slime-skulls in unholy unison. “We will be patient while you recover. I get so few visitors, after all.”

Twilight had been counting heads while the creature (creatures?) spoke. She hadn’t meant to. It was just kind of a thing she did. She was at thirty-seven when she regained the ability to think in words.

Is it going to kill me and take my skull?

Thirty-eight, thirty nine…

Is this what Tartarus has been driving me to? Or Ben? Why isn’t it attacking? How does it even talk? She gazed with horrid fascination into the liquid ‘flesh’ around the skulls and noticed that there were actually layers to it. Smooth lines of pseudo-muscle covered in a film of opalescent ‘skin.’ There were vertebrae too, but not nearly enough to support all that mass. Just a smattering of bones suspended in gravity-defying jelly.

Forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven...

Be polite, stupid! Stop staring and always be polite! That’s the rule! But she couldn’t look away. This thing was like a train wreck in a graveyard.

Annnnnd fifty.

Wait. Fifty heads? There was something important about that number.

Twilight’s face screwed up as a question she’d asked of Celestia was suddenly answered.

“You’re a hekatonkheire,” she said, voice a wonder-struck whisper.

The hundred eyes glinted with amusement as one skull answered.

“Aye.”

Twilight took yet more time to digest that.

“But,” she blurted before she could stop herself. “You have the heads, sort of, but what about the hundred…”

As Twilight watched, the lake of slime extruded a pseudopod. As it reached for one of the heads, it broke up into fingers, sharp little bones of some unidentifiable animal’s paw flowing up into place at each joint to form a massive claw. The elbow sank to the ground, the hand formed a fist, and the skull it had reached for descended to rest upon it.

“Hands. Oh.”

Twilight’s mind filled itself with trivia in a desperate attempt to make the gears whirling freely within catch and start working again. The hekatonkheire were guardians, just like Cerberus. There had been no real descriptions of what they actually looked like, and Twilight had always wondered how something with so many heads and hands could possibly work. Now she knew. Yay...

Anyway, they were supposedly some of the strongest beings alive. In the top ten, at least. Unbeatable. And there were three of them. They kept things from getting out of Tartarus.

This, Twilight decided, could be very, very bad.

‘Ahhhhh, but we are pleased to hear that someone out there still knows of me. Can you also tell me then, dear creature. What is my name?”

The question was cordial enough, but a few heads leaned in, lidless eyes watching with a strange hunger.

“I, uh…” Is this some sort of test? Will he let me go if I know? There were lots of stories like that, where the plucky heroine, through a combination of good manners, perseverance and dumb luck, managed to learn the monster’s name and thereby gain power over it. But I don’t have any of those! How am I supposed to know!?

“I’m sorry! I’m being a terrible guest! I’m just a little frazzled right now, so I apologize if I’ve been rude, just walking into your home like this.” She tried to backpedal, but found that Bait had decided that the room’s best hiding place was directly behind her. “Um, I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

Yes! Stall for time! Get clues!

“We forgive your trespass, and thank you for your name, Equestrian. We had wondered about it, as I watched your progress. We take it then, that you do not know me? Unfortunate. But hardly surprising. It has been a very long time since I walked the lands of ponies. Still, we had hoped…”

He’s been watching me? He knows where I’m from!? He’s been to Equestria!?!? Agghh how am I supposed to know his name!?

“Wait! No! Um, you’re…” Well, she had a one in three chance. “Gyges?”

A silence greeted Twilight. Oh no. It’s gonna take my skull!

Then a great cacophony of wet, chattering horror filled the chamber. It took Twilight some time to recognize it as laughter. Every head bobbed up and down with it. Wait, no, not all of them. Three were still. Their stares were chilling, frozen with an intensity of emotion Twilight didn’t understand. Did that mean something? She shuddered.

“Hah! No, no, I am not Gyges. He will laugh as much as we, when he hears I was mistaken for him. Still, your knowledge does you credit, pony. Hahaheh. Do you know of the other names, then? Please, do try again to tell me my name.” Several more hands poured up from the lake as the creature heaved itself up into a different position.

Twilight didn’t quite get the joke, but most of the skulls seemed happy enough, and now it was fifty-fifty. She pulled her gaze away from the three silent heads.

“Alright. Your name is Cottus.”

The mass of heads and slime collapsed in hilarity. A surge of irrational annoyance ran through Twilight. It wasn’t like she had anything to go on here! Ugh! Well, fine. Only one name left.

“Okay, so, you must be Briareos?”

“Aye! Well done, Twilight Sparkle. Tell me also then, who are these others who have followed you here?”

“Oh! Of course! This is…” Twilight had shift around a bit to reveal Bait. “Bait. He’s a friend. And that’s Ben.” She gestured towards the spider. “Who is also a very good friend of mine.” She might have exaggerated a bit, but she just really wanted to be sure Ben knew that right now.

“Friend, she says. Intriguing. But, if you would appease my curiosity on another subject first? How did you come to Tartarus?”

“Oh, well, that’s a good question, actually. I’m not entirely sure. There was some kind of spell, and—“

“A spell?” interrupted Briareos. “That sent you into Tartarus? Hrmm. Concerning. Yes, very concerning, that such a thing could be. Was it you who cast this spell, Twilight Sparkle?”

Again, the question was polite, but there was an edge to the voices. A hundred eyes watched Twilight keenly. Err, almost a hundred. Some were looking elsewhere, almost like they were bored.

“I, no. I—“

Every head slid smoothly toward her, surrounding, watching. Even the ones that had seemed distracted before.

“I will warn you once against lying to me, Twilight Sparkle, in return for the courtesy you have shown us.”

“It was somepony named Artifice!” she cried. “I don’t even know how she did it!”

Briareos peered at her a moment more, then most of his heads receded, leaving only a dozen directly facing her. The rest floated off on their tendrils, many rising up so high that Twilight couldn’t follow them.

“We believe you,” said several of those that remained. “That you came with Celestia speaks, hm, favorably of you. But what became of this ‘Artifice?’ We should very much like to meet this pony. Very much indeed.”

What did he mean by 'favorably?'

“I have no idea what happened to her, but I don’t think she came here. And I don’t know how the spell worked, or why she used it, other than as some kind of crazy scheme to kidnap Princess Celestia or something.”

“Ahh. Unfortunate. We would have much to discuss with her.”

Briareos’s voice had taken on a vaguely menacing tone that Twilight didn’t care for at all. She had no reason to wish anything but disaster on the pony who had sent her here, but even so, Twilight wouldn’t have told him anything if she’d known it. Not when he talked like that.

“Another time, perhaps. If you will allow me another question?” Briareos didn’t wait for an answer. “You have done quite well in Tartarus, for one who was not placed here by intent. Are you certain you don’t belong?”

Quite well? He thought she was donequite well!? Twilight said nothing for a while, fighting hard to quash the hopeless fury filling her belly.

“May I ask you a question, Briareos?”

“Why, certainly.”

“Are you going to try to stop me from leaving?”

Too many eyes glimmered with mischief. “Afraid I’m going to steal you away and keep you forever, little pony? Take your skull, perhaps, to add to my collection?”

A chill ran up Twilight’s spine. She couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be a joke or a threat. Most of the voices were friendly, but others practically dripped with animus.

Briareos waved one slime-hand airily.

“You need have no fear of that, Twilight Sparkle. I was born with more than my share of skulls, and besides, I already have a pony.” The skull in question swung forward. “Not a unicorn, alas. I have always admired those horns...” Two other heads appraised the first while the rest continued to speak. “But I digress. And no, you are free to pass, if your story is true. It is my task to prevent escape to inmates, not travel to tourists. As to your little, heh, friends, though…”

Briareos’s many eyes stared intently at Bait. Twilight flared a shielding wing over him. Not that there was anywhere to hide.

“Well,” continued the skeletal chorus, “we suppose the loss of a single wight is no great thing. And the other was never meant to be here in the first place. No, we will not attempt to stop your party, Twilight Sparkle. We believe your words. I only asked because we hoped you might wish to stay.”

“Why would anyone want to stay here!?”

She regretted the words immediately. They’d just jumped out. Had she yelled them? And now one of the heads was glaring at her with that cold, cold gaze. A different one answered.

“Ahh.” His voice quavered, whistling in the silence. “Now there is a question we have pondered for far too long.”

The silence lingered.

“I’m sorry,” said Twilight, again. “May I ask another question?” Yes! Good! Change the subject! Keep things moving.

“Please do.”

“You keep saying ‘I’ then ‘We.’ Are you, um…why is that?”

“Ah!” said several heads, perking up. “Yes. I say ‘I’ on those few occasions that all of me agrees on a subject, or in the case that it is a simple statement of fact. The more common ‘we’ is used when there is some debate.”

“Oh, okay. I suppose that makes sense. Do all of your heads think, though? Like, independently?”

Briareos turned to regard himself.

“We suppose you could say so. Do your parts not do the same?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Hmm. Yes, we remember now. You single-headed creatures are often fascinated with the idea that I might think in several ways at once. I seem to recall having heard though, on many occasions, of your heads conflicting with your hearts, or other such bits of yourselves. Is this not so?”

“Well," Twilight pondered that. "I think that’s just metaphorical. Our hearts don’t literally think for themselves.”

“Are you certain?” Briareos’s eyes twinkled with amusement. Most of them, anyway. “Your tail twitches when you are confused. Your wings and eyes flare wide when frightened. All of this is intentional? All of it guided by what’s in your head?”

“I-uh.” Twilight felt her tail twitch. “Hm.”

“Quite so. We suspect that my manners of thought are not so different from yours. But alas, one can never truly know another’s mind, can they?”

Another little chill ran through Twilight. Briareos had been using the plural a lot. Especially when regarding questions about his intent. Was one head in charge? What happened if one of the others suddenly took over? Should she ask?

“I suppose not. Um, may I ask one more thing?”

Briareos waved an arm, inviting.

“It’s just, earlier you said ‘we’ forgive your trespass. And that ‘we’ won’t try to stop…”

Twilight looked up to see many more heads had joined the previous dozen. Their eyes ranged from friendly to frightening to utterly unreadable. He took a long time in answering.

“Indeed.”

“Okay! Well, it’s been lovely meeting you Briareos, but I think I should be on my way now.” Twilight’s eyes darted about, looking for exits. To her surprise, she found there were many. This cave appeared to be a nexus of tunnels. Plenty of places to run, and no idea where they led. Great. Wonderful.

A slight tremor passed through the translucent flesh of the hekatonkhire. Several jaws ground shut, many hands clenched…and then it passed. Most of the heads drifted away, leaving only, Twilight couldn’t help but notice, the most pleasant ones. The worst, those with eyes full of cold fury or alien strangeness were pulled back into the creature’s slimy, central mass. Pushed in and down and far, far from the surface. When the remainders spoke, their voices were entirely polite, with no trace of the malice from before.

“Of course, Twilight Sparkle. We would be happy to guide you.”

Twilight opened her mouth, but she’d lost all of her words.

“There are many ways to return to your home,” began Briareos, “but the most direct at this particular time appears to be…”

Twilight watched several strands of the slime-stuff stretch and shift as the hekatonkhire moved its more distant heads through the tunnels, searching.

“Through Blackbriar,” he said, pointing to one particularly dark and foreboding hole. “Or the Harrowing.” A second hand gestured toward another, even worse looking exit. “The Crimson is also relatively quiet. Though,” Briareos continued, placing one finger against one jawbone. “If you find my visage unpleasant, I would suggest avoiding the last.”

“Oh, um, thank you.” Twilight started toward the Crimson for no particular reason, then stopped as she noticed the red, dripping, wetness within. She turned about, following the finger that still pointed to another hole in the cave. Blackbriar, maybe. She’d trotted several steps before she remembered herself. She turned, and with a quick bow, said “My apologies, again, for intruding. And thank you, Briareos.”

“It was no trouble." Another tremor shook the creature. “We wish you a safe…” His last word was a mournful whisper. “Escape.”

Twilight had already begun making her jittery way to the tunnel. She just needed to be out, to be away from all this. She turned back once, just to make sure Bait and Ben were with her, but she couldn’t stop herself from seeing the rest of the scene.

Briareos watched her go, nearly all of him. Not quite a hundred eyes. A dozen hands almost reached out. Jaws twitched open, almost speaking.

But nothing came.

He let her go.

Author's Note:

Nowhere near finished, but here's how I imagine Braireos.

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