• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 2,595 Views, 384 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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Despair

Twilight was dying. Again. It was her own fault. How could she have been so stupid!? She should have known better!

She’d almost seen it coming. If she’d been just a bit smarter, she would have. Instead, she’d felt it. She’d felt the impact on her leg as something smashed it to pieces. She’d been dragged into the water, pulled by that one leg, unable to do so much as scream for help. All the signs had been right there! How had she fallen for it!? She should have known it was a trick, all of it! Celestia showing up to save her, just in time. The episode in the cave. The way things had suddenly gotten so easy. She should have known! And, like an idiot, she’d let herself get distracted by sleep and thirst and lust and a few happy moments. It was the oldest trick in the book: let your victim think they’re doing well, then rip the rug out from under them. And she had fallen right into it. And now she was dying, and there was nothing she could do.

She thought all of that before the pain hit. When it finally broke into her consciousness, it blew through her like nothing she’d ever known. It changed everything. She stopped being angry and just screamed, throwing away what little breath she’d managed to suck in before being dragged down into the river. She gasped for air, inhaling only useless water. She lashed out, grasping for any strand that might save her, but there was nothing. Not this time.

She could see, in the water, just a little. Her huge, wide, frenzied eyes locked onto what held her. It was big, and green, and vaguely familiar.

Sobek.

She’d read about crocodiles. They dragged their victims down, and once they had them in their jaws, they’d spin. The deathroll, as they called it, could rip a limb clean off. The pain was so bad Twilight almost wished Sobek would do it. But he didn’t. He just held her there, watching her sideways, and grinned.

He was going to drown her. He was going to hold her there and watch her die. For embarrassing Phix, she guessed.

Twilight flailed at him, of course. She beat against his massive jaws, aimed her free hoof at his eyes, but there was no fighting a crocodile underwater. His stubby, clawed hands slapped her attacks aside with ease, and whenever he thought she was getting too close to escape, he just shook his jaws a bit. She felt the bones in her leg grind under his teeth, and she would have screamed again if she’d had the breath. She tried magic, but her vision was already going, lungs bursting with pain. She could barely remember the basics she’d known since foalhood.

It was only after a few more seconds of this, though it felt like agonizing years, that Twilight found the thing that might work. A spell that wasn’t even really a spell. Something she’d cast only once, and then while asleep. She did it again, with no more understanding than she’d had the first time.

Her only conscious thought after that was of swimming, pawing furiously and painfully for the shore, the taste of strange water and blood in her mouth.

~~~

Celestia was tackled halfway to the shoreline. Twilight was gone, and she hadn’t even seen what had happened.

Phix roared in triumph as she slammed into her, grinning with vicious glee as she rolled on top of Celestia’s belly and raised a paw to rake across her face. It didn’t connect. Instead, Phix took a burning blast of magic to the chin. It wiped off the smirk, but it wasn’t enough to stop her. Phix snarled and swung again, but Celestia cracked her under the jaw and bucked her off with both rear legs. She had almost made it to the water when Phix chanted a spell that yanked her back. The lioness caught her tail with one claw and leapt atop her again, on her back this time. Celestia countered, warping space so that she ended up just a few feet forward, and kicked with both rear legs. Phix took the hit and flew backwards with a cracking of ribs, but alas, she’d finished the spell she’d started, and both pony and sphinx fell back in time to where they’d been seconds ago, with Phix unharmed and atop the Princess. She smirked.

“Who’s the idiot now, bitch?”

Celestia chose to repeat history, cracking Phix under the jaw, just as before.

Phix grunted in fury because she couldn’t roar, what with the jaw, but slipped away from the buck that had thrown her before.

“Stop fighting me or your little friend dies!”

Celestia not only ignored the words, she head-butted Phix for taking the time to speak them. She didn’t have the angle to bring the point of her horn to bear, but the strike still managed to force Phix back.

“Are you stupid!?” She was slurring past a suddenly missing tooth. “Sobek has her! She’ll die!”

Celestia rolled to her feet. And then she had to make a terrible decision: to submit, or to trust in the skills of her protégée. It was surprisingly easy.

She snarled and charged.

Phix’s eyes narrowed and she uttered the words to another spell, bleak and deadly.

Just then, a small, purple shape burst to the surface of the suddenly blood-colored river, gasping desperately.

“Oh, come on!!” cried Phix.

~~~

Twilight stumbled onto shore and nearly collapsed when her broken leg hit the dirt. The pain was absolutely unreal.

“My fuckin’ eye!” bellowed someone. His voice was deep and raging.

Sobek.

He, too, was staggering onto land, though for different reasons.

“I cannot fucking believe you, Sobek! Again? One. Damned. Job!”

It took a bit for Twilight to comprehend the situation. She didn’t know how long.

It was Phix talking, tail whipping back and forth like an angry cat’s.

“It doesn’t matter. Whatever. I didn’t even need you. Look what I caught.”

Her voice was smug. Twilight managed to raise her head far enough to see.

The sphinx lounged atop a much smaller form, paws crossed over him. She might have been purring.

Bait.

Celestia stood, taut with fury, less than ten feet away from Phix. They both looked worse for wear, but Phix had clearly taken the brunt of it. Her nose was busted and bleeding, and she had notably fewer teeth than before. She was scorched in several places, and there were clear hoof-made prints on her side. None of this did anything to lessen her self-satisfied countenance.

“That’s right,” said the sphinx. “I win.”

Twilight heard a terrible growl to her side, and looked to see Sobek fixing her with his one good eye, stomping forward.

“Hey! Stop that, idiot!”

“She stabbed me in the fucking eye!” He held one clawed hand over it. “She’s dead!”

Twilight only vaguely remembered having done it. She felt no regret.

“So? It’ll grow back, you big baby! We’ve had worse! Kill her now and we’ll never get out of here!”

Sobek snarled, slapping the ground with his tail in anger. The earth shook. Another slap knocked down a tree. He picked it up and ripped it apart with both hands over the next few seconds.

“Right. Well. Anyway,” said Phix, eyeing Twilight. “Here’s how it’s gonna be. I’m going to ask you a question. You’ll get the answer wrong, because I never lose at this, and then you’ll take me, and Sobek, I guess,” she rolled her eyes, “out of this hole and back to Equestria. Got it? Or…” She flexed her claws into Bait’s shoulder.

Bait looked at her, eyes full of apology and desperation.

“It won’t work, Phix.”

That was Celestia, her voice dripping like molten iron.

“Ugh, shut up! I am so tired of you! You think you’re better than me? Really!? You think I’ve lived in Tartarus this long by being stupid? That’s it’s a coincidence that I knew exactly how to ambush you? You and all your talk about being a ‘real’ goddess! I heard all that, you know!”

She was screaming, almost shrieking with fury. She stood, barely remembering to keep a paw on Bait.

“That’s how I know what happens when you die here, you fucking bitch! You forget! But I don’t! I’ve been alive this whole time, and I remember everything! One little bit of success, and you get overconfident, every time! All I have to do is let you think you've won, and you fall for it again and again! That little act from before? That was a ruse! This isn’t the first time, either! And if that doesn’t work, I just take a hostage." Phix smirked. "Gets you every time. You’re always in such a hurry to die for them, it’s like you want someone to kill you.”

She was insane, Twilight realized. She’d lost her mind to this hatred. She’d do anything, just to hurt someone else more than she was hurting herself.

“How’s it feel to know you got outsmarted by a ‘third generation godling’ like me?” Phix snorted, tail lashing furiously as she lay back down. “Again. Cunt. And it will work. I’ve planned for this. Not that you’ll be around to see it.”

Celestia ground her teeth, raw, furious magic barely restrained.

“What, nothing to say? Hmph. Whatever.”

With that, Phix sucked in a big lungful of air, stilled her whirling tail, and looked at Twilight, eyes glittering.

“Okay! Twilight! Let’s play.” Her voice was high and friendly, just like before. “The more of me you take, the more are left behind you. What am I?” She smiled sweetly.

“No.”

“Uh...” Phix’s eyes went distant for a second, and, somehow, Twilight knew what she was doing. She was trying to see if the spell, her riddle magic, would count that as an answer. It didn’t. “That’s not really an answer.”

Twilight took a deep breath, and made a terrible decision of her own.

“I,” she said. “Will never. Help you.”

Phix raised an eyebrow.

“Oh? Heh. And here I thought you ponies were all as dumb as Celestia. Well, I was trying to be nice, but, fine. Do I have to kill this little guy then? Is that what you want?”

“Sure.” Twilight spat, bitter and bleak. “Do it. Why not? You might as well kill him. Might as well kill us all, and yourself too! Go ahead!”

Phix’s face twisted in confusion.

“What?”

“Are you really that stupid, Phix? Haven’t you figured it out? None of us are going anywhere!”

Phix’s expression darkened like a storm cloud.

Twilight laughed, manic and frightening. “We’re all going to die here, Phix! I tried, okay! I really thought I could help somepony! I did everything I could! But there’s just no way! Tartarus won’t let us! So you might as well just stop.” Twilight was pacing, hopping to avoid putting weight on her injured leg. “I mean, really, you’ve been here forever right? You said you’ve been planning this, and this is the best you’ve got? Spew half-baked riddles at people and order them to take you home? Really!? It’s hoof-steps, by the way. Any foal could have gotten that one.”

A growl was forming in the back of Phix’s throat as she rose to her feet. Twilight saw, though sight wasn’t the sense that she used, the sphinx's magic recognize her answer as correct. Her turn, then.

“And you know what the best part is?” Twilight uttered a sick mockery of a chuckle. “It would have worked, if you’d just thought to ask nicely!”

Phix paused her advance.

"See, if you’d just walked up to me and said ‘Hi! I’m Phix! I hope we can be friends. Can you please help me get out of this Goddess-blighted hell-hole?’ I would have been happy to help you! But that never even occurred to you, did it? You had to make a trap of it!” She whipped around to pace the other way. “Because that’s all there is here! And you fell for it! You walked into a trap of your own making! Nothing you do matters! Nothing any of us does matters! Nopony is going anywhere! You sphinxes are supposed to be smart.” Twilight laughed again, but there was no happiness in it. “Or are the riddles just a gimmick? It’s so obvious! There’s no escape from this place. Everything, and I mean everything is a trick! For everypony! All of us are just tricking each other in an endless cycle! We all lure each other in, getting our hopes up so Tartartus can crush them one more time! Surely even a moron like you can see that?”

Phix was stalking closer, wings flaring as ancient magic danced across them, claws tearing into the ground.

“You’ll never get away, Phix! You’re horrible! Just like everything else here! Just like me, I guess…”

“No! There is a way out! And I’m not a moron!”

“Uh, Phix…” Sobek’s deep rumble went unnoticed.

“Hah! You really are dumb, aren’t you? Here’s a riddle for you! What kind of idiot lets something with serrated teeth that close to her neck!?”

“What?”

Bait got the message. Phix had forgotten him, but Twilight hadn’t. He tore into the sphinx, tooth and claw and all four clawed hooves.

Phix screamed and slapped him away as Celestia charged forward. Bait went flying. Twilight hoped he was alright, insofar as she hoped for anything right now. She heard a roar to one side, but she didn’t even look. It was Sobek, probably, coming to kill her. She didn’t even turn to face him.

“What’s the last thing you’ll never see coming?”

There was some magic in that soft voice that made everyone freeze for just a second. In that little slice of time, Celestia reared, pulling back, and Twilight watched dozens of bits of metal sprout from Phix’s neck and chest as a living shadow descended upon her.

The sphinx's eyes went wide with surprise as she watched blood spatter the dirt before her. She staggered forward, confused.

“No…”

“A knife in the back,” answered the same voice. It was gentle, quiet. Phix stared down into her own chest, watching in wonder and horror as the blades slid out of her and returned to the creature that had killed her. She stumbled around to face her murderer, dazed.

“I…you?” she said. “No! I thought…”

Phix managed one more step and then slumped to the ground, leaking everywhere. She looked up, only her head raised. “But we were…” She seemed almost calm.

Nightmare Moon loomed over the sphinx, but she wasn't the one Twilight knew. Tall, and black as night, but not nearly so ethereal as before. She wore a cloak of violet and black and silver, and over her wings hung a vicious constellation of death and starlight. She looked down at Phix with some kind of tragic affection.

Twilight was fairly certain she was hallucinating at this point.

“Sleep now, little lion,” said the Nightmare. She wrapped her wings about Phix’s shoulders, and Twilight didn’t see what passed between them after that. She heard whispered words, but no more.

Phix raised one paw, slow, trembling, up to Nightmare’s face. Everypony present just stood and watched as Phix finally went still, and her paw slid to the ground.

“Run, Sobek,” hissed Luna, or Nightmare Moon, or whoever she was. “Before I rend you limb from limb.”

He was gone without hesitation. Only a hollow splash marked his exit.

A long, heavy silence followed. It was Celestia who finally broke it. Her voice echoed with worry and happiness and heartbreaking sympathy.

“Luna.” She stepped forward to embrace her sister, but the Nightmare tensed, and Celestia stopped.

An eternity passed.

“Well!” said Luna. She drew in a deep breath and stepped away from the corpse of Phix, dabbing at her eyes with a wing as the shadows writhing around her dissolved into nothing.

“That was just awful! Is everypony alright?”

~~~

“Please don’t ask right now,” said Luna. “I’m pretending it didn’t happen.”

Celestia nodded.

They said more words to each other, and more ponies flew into the clearing, but Twilight didn’t really notice them. Or, at least, she didn’t think about them. She wasn’t really thinking about anything. There wasn’t much point to it. She knew she should have been comforted by their presence, but all she could think was that all these new ponies were going to die here, just like her. She wasn’t scared. She wasn't even really even upset anymore. That was just the way it was. She’d figured it out, was all. No one escaped Tartarus. It was too big, too strong.

Blood still flowed from Phix in a morbid stream. Twilight couldn’t seem to look away. Luna had brushed a wing over the sphinx’s eyes at some point, closing them, and Twilight was glad of it. But she stared, nonetheless.

Some little motion caught her eye, and Twilight turned toward it, because why not?

Bait was tugging at Celestia’s wing. He was saying something, in his little mumbling whisper. Poor kid. He’d never have time to learn how to be confident. She felt bad about that. He deserved better. If anypony in Tartarus deserved better, it was him. Celestia looked up in alarm at Twilight and rushed forward. She called Luna over too.

Twilight didn’t think there was anything worth being alarmed about.

“Twilight? Can you hear me?”

She could, but she was in no hurry to respond. It was just so sad, all this bustle and hurry. The inevitable was coming, whether a pony wanted it or not. No reason to get upset about it.

“She was in the water!”

Bait said that. Twilight looked at him.

“That, um, Sobek, had her in there. She has to spit it up!”

“Yes, thank you, Bait. Luna? Help me, please.”

“Of course. What river is this?”

“I don’t know. Cocytus, I think. Maybe Acheron.”

Luna nodded.

“There are worse places to fall, I suppose. Shall we?”

“Yes. Twilight?”

“Hm?”

“I am very sorry about this. Please don’t try to fight it.”

Twilight wasn’t sure what she meant. She let Celestia lay her down on the ground, and made no arguments when Luna wrapped an arm around her neck, other than to cringe at the pain in her leg. It was only after they forced open her mouth and she felt pressure on the back of her throat that Twilight started to have doubts.

‘Doubts’ came in the form of powerful magic. Twilight struggled and squirmed and slung shields and bolts and all kinds of stuff to try and stop whatever it was they were doing, but in the end the Royal sisters undid all of her attempts and her guts convulsed and she puked up a surprising, frankly unbelievable amount of water. She heard clangs of metal on what was maybe crystal and didn’t know what that meant.

“Damnit, Celestia! You didn’t tell me she’d birthed her sword already!”

“I’m sorry, Luna, I didn’t know!”

“She nearly took my eye out with that thing!”

“Must be how she fought off Sobek…”

Twilight tried to stagger away, but one leg wouldn’t hold and she flopped back to the dirt. She watched the water she’d just regurgitated neatly separate itself from what little else had been in her stomach. It formed a small pool, then ran in rivulets back to the river it had come from. She stared. And stared and stared and stared.

“Twilight? Sweetie? Are you alright? Here, have some water. Normal water. Here.”

It was Celestia. She gently lifted Twilight’s chin and put a canteen or something to her lips, and Twilight didn’t fight it. She drank it dry.

“Can you eat? Here, try this.”

Someone put some bread near her, and Twilight devoured it without question. Some dried fruit followed, and she ate that too. She barely noticed the crystalline blade that cut the food into bits for her. Everypony else did.

Twilight lightly shoved away any further offerings.

She was done. Just done.

“Princess?”

“Yes, Twilight, what is it?” She sounded eager. Twilight wasn’t sure why.

“What is that?”

Twilight pointed with her good hoof to the sharp, crystal thing floating near her. It was Luna who answered. She sounded proud.

“It’s your sword, Twilight! It’s beautiful.”

“Oh. Okay. Is Bait alright?”

“Yes,” Celestia said, smiling with some kind of relief that Twilight found herself intensely jealous of. “He’s fine. Would you like to talk to him?”

“No, that’s alright. Ben?”

“He’s with Luna. They were so happy to see each other again!”

“Good. That’s…good. Um, Princess?”

“Yes?”

“I can’t do this anymore.”

And with that, Twilight curled up into a little ball of herself, hiding under tail and wing, and waited for it all to finally just end.

Author's Note:

Acheron - the river of Woe, pain.
Cocytus - the river of Wailing, despair.




I feel like this story kind of got away from me for a while, but here we are, back on track, with our little princess traumatized again. :D
Getting close to the end now, I think.

Update: Hahaha, I totally believed that when I was writing it.

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