• 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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Savagery

Or: Red in Hoof and Horn.

The next hour or so passed much like those in the woods before: quietly. That was fine with Twilight. That last encounter had unnerved her more than anything so far. She wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was the way that bull had so completely disregarded her, or the weird implications of what he and Celestia had said to each other. Or how he’d just left them. That might be the worst. Not that she was sorry to see him go, but how could someone see that they were in need and just leave like that? And that last thing he’d said…what had he even meant by that? And here she was, unable to even get it together enough to demand some answers from Celestia. Ugh. Twilight shook her head and just kept on moving.

After a time, the landscape started to change again, gradually this time. There were trees appearing, similar to the ones from the forest before, but sparser, more muted in color, with grey-green leaves over pale silvery trunks. Celestia watched the gradual change from field back to forest, but made no comment. At least, not until they came onto the first house.

They saw it from a long ways off, which was unusual enough, given the way things usually just popped in out of nowhere here. That alone was enough to make Twilight a bit suspicious (or maybe Celestia’s paranoia was just getting to her), but Celestia eyed the thing like it was some kind of dangerous insect.

“Um, Princess?” asked Twilight, after her mentor had been glaring at the house for almost a minute. As per the established procedure, Celestia had gone some distance ahead while Twilight lagged behind. Maybe she could see something Twilight couldn't?

Celestia didn’t look at her when she spoke.

“Tartarus doesn’t have houses. Never once, in all the times that I’ve been here have I seen such a thing.” She paused, and then looked back. “I don’t know what this means, Twilight. I don’t know where we are.”

A chill ran through Twilight at her tone. Not scared, not even angry. Just uncertain. Somehow, that was even worse.

“Oh. Um, can I see?”

“Yes. Stay close.”

Twilight padded up next to Celestia, the sound of her soft steps all but echoing through the silence. She looked ahead.

It was more than a house, it was a small village. Or, at least, it had been once. It looked abandoned now. The houses were old and empty, their simple, wood-plank walls faded with age and exposure. Exposure to what? Twilight wondered. There isn’t even wind here. The windows held no glass. Buckets, broken wheelbarrows, cracked tools, and other detritus littered the place, all of the same, simple design. It was like one of those olde-timey earth pony theme park ‘settlements’ Twilight had been to as a filly. The kind of place where they did everything by hoof, without the benefit of magic or machinery. Except this one had no ponies. The few doors left standing hung open, and the dim light here did nothing to reveal what might lay inside.

“Let’s go, Twilight. Don’t touch anything.”

“Who do you think lived here, Princess?”

“I honestly have no idea. Everything looks pony-size, but…Tartarus shouldn’t have any ponies.”

Twilight’s ears perked up.

“Really? None?”

“Well, I suppose it’s possible that some unfortunate soul may have stumbled into Tartarus, but not many. Certainly not enough to found a village. There are things like ponies, but nothing I’d expect to do all this,” answered Celestia, contemplating the scene as she walked.

“Things like ponies?” asked Twilight, jumping on any bit of exposition she could get.

“Yes. The changelings, for instance, and some of the other Unseelie. Luna and I threw the worst of them down here. And some minotaurs and such. But those loathed civilization. It's hard to imagine any of them taking the time or effort to building anything.”

“Really?” How could you loathe civilization? “Why?”

“Oh, well, a single pony, isolated, scared and alone, isn’t much of a match for a shape-shifting, love-sucking little monster like a changeling. And the more powerful fey are even worse. But a few dozen ponies? Working together, armed and armored and using their magic in tandem? Even the nastiest faerie things are no match for that.” There was a definite note of pride in Celestia’s voice there. “The more cooperation there is between ponies, the less scary something like a changeling becomes. So yes, they hate it when other creatures get together and cooperate. I’m not sure that they even know how to use tools, much less make them. Changelings aren’t actually very smart unless they have a pony to copy.” Celestia slowed to a stop in front of a fountain squatting in the middle of the road. She peered into its dust-filled basin. No water had run through it for quite some time.

“Which is why this is so confusing to me, Twilight,” she said. “Nothing in Tartarus would have even wanted a village. So who could have built this place?”

Twilight stopped as well, frowning as she considered the question.

“You said that Tartarus was a prison for the creatures that refused to cooperate right? The ones that wouldn’t stop making war or hurting other people?”

“Mhm,” said Celestia, absently pawing the rough stone of the fountain.

“What if some of them changed? Or at least, learned how to get along a little?”

Celestia slowly brought her foreleg to the ground.

“I very much hope that is what happened, Twilight. But I worry, as well. If some group of creatures truly did band together to build this place…”

Celestia looked up into the Not-Sun above her. There was anger in her eyes.

“What happened to them?”

Twilight’s gaze wandered as she wondered the same thing. It fixed, for no reason that she particularly understood, on a gap between two of the houses. There was a path there, bordered by a thick field of trees and shrubbery. It opened up a short way in, maybe into another clearing. Was something in there? Some little glimmering thing? She walked forward, trying to get a better look. It only got more intriguing as she closed on it. She tilted her head, trying to figure out what she was looking at, exactly. It was maddeningly familiar, like something she had seen every day, but somehow she just couldn’t place it. It was like having a word on the tip of her tongue, except this was a…thing. She heard something behind her, a short, questioning noise, but that probably wasn’t important. She just really needed see what this thing in front of her was right now. What shape was it, even, or color? She couldn’t quite seem to get her head around it, but it was certainly the most interesting thing in the world. There was another sound behind her, louder, but it was distant and murky. It didn’t matter.

A splitting shriek pierced Twilight’s numbed consciousness. She stumbled to a halt, halfway into the clearing. Had she been running? Had Ben screamed? What was— She gasped and hopped away from the shape before her: a creature, huge and hulking and covered in dark, shaggy fur. It towered over her, standing on two digitigrade legs and leaning in on two far larger, conspicuously taloned forelimbs. Her gaze rose slowly past its leering bear-trap of a jaw to meet its eyes. Those bizarre eyes. They lurked far back in the creature’s skull, irises pulsing weirdly, glimmering through every color in the spectrum, drawing her back into that hazy, hypnotic dreamland.

“U-um,” she stammered, backing away and breaking her stare. She wanted to run from this ting. She wanted to hide in a herd with fifty or so of her better friends and just hope it didn’t notice her. But she was a Princess, and she wouldn’t give in to base instinct and she would give this person(?) a chance to explain itself, same as she would anypony. “Hello?”

The creature narrowed its horrible eyes.

“Twilight, RUN!”

Twilight did, in the fastest way she knew how. The last image she saw before she *blinked* out of existence was a bright pink tongue, surrounded by those vicious teeth, so close to her face she could smell the rot in them.

~~~

The first gorehound died instantly, taken mid-lunge by a geyser of flame from Celestia’s horn. She barreled through the space it had held, clearing the smoke and ash pouring off it with a single great buffet of her wings. There would be more. There was never just one gorehound.

The second flew out from the trees beside Celestia, eyes wild and tongue lolling out as it leapt straight at her. It was an enormous beast of a thing, but it stopped dead as its full weight slammed into the immovable barrier of magic Celestia threw in front of it. Without thought, she dropped the shield and whipped the wrists of both wings forward, snapping them together with a sharp *crack* against either side of the hound’s head. It hadn’t hit the ground before she turned away, looking for the next assailant. And, far more importantly…

Twilight! Where did sh—

The third hound was more clever than its fellows. It rushed her same as the first, but stopped short, feinting with a snap of its jaws then hopping back as she swung a wing in return. It grabbed a claw-ful of dirt and threw it at her eyes before leaping back in. Celestia blew another gust of wind at the creature and its dirt, this one backed up with magic enough to blunt the beast's leap and send it stumbling into the dirt. It scampered backwards and rolled aside as she charged, narrowly avoiding her trampling hooves. It snarled as she reared up and around to face it.

It was stalling, and she knew it. Hounds were pack hunters, and this one was just trying to distract her until the rest of its clan arrived to finish the job. She could already see blurs of movement as they circled her in the trees. Well, that was fine. She needed time too. Celestia’s eyes darted about, searching, searching…there! Twilight was huddled up against a tree, eyes wide, several yards back from the clearing. Perfect. Now all Celesta needed was to make sure that she alone held the gorehound’s attention.

“Are you Scared, Little Cur!?” she bellowed, rearing back. Celestia ignited in a blast of wind and heat, sending a spike of power through her words. “Come! Come and Fall Before Your Blazing Queen!” A chorus of laughing, mad howls answered her.

Content that her student would be all but invisible to the hounds after that little display, Celestia let the protective panic that had surged through her burn away, leaving only…something else. Something the elder Princess hadn’t let herself feel in a long, long time.

The gorehounds cackled like hyenas in their rush to throw themselves against Celestia, and she gave them no time to revel in their bloodlust. Celestia fired a quick burst of molten magic at the hound in front of her. It threw itself to one side, still managing to tumble toward her in a gleeful charge. She locked its head in an iron telekinetic grip and slipped nimbly under its now soaring form, whipping the beast into another that had been loping in. As they crashed to the ground, she charged a third, horn burning with magic. It grinned and broke its own rush, dropping the ground, just under her bolt of flame. Celestia reared, throwing hooves into the thing’s face as it snapped at her from below. She vanished in a burst of scalding smoke as a blur from her right closed in, reaching for her exposed flank. The world exploded around the would-be flanker as Celestia erupted back into existence beside it, leveling both rears into a kick that sank clean into its ribs. Her hooves broke bone and burned skin as the creature flew backwards, flopping dead-weight to the ground a dozen yards away.

Celestia fired a torrent of scorching magic at something to her left, dragging the coruscating beam across a swath of trees before exploding out again, reappearing some distance back from where she had been. She grinned in grim satisfaction at the howls of pain and anger as she whipped her eyes to all sides, seeking another enemy. And more enemies there were.

Two hounds sighted her and charged in a frenzy, thoroughly unimpressed by the slaughter of half their pack.

Celestia stomped a hoof and lowered her horn, filling herself with magic. Her nostrils flared at the smell of burning meat and wood and hair. She reached out with her power, grabbing hold of anything small enough to grip easily and hefted them up, sending the few rocks and sticks she found into a rapidly quickening orbit around her. She primed a shield spell and several more teleports simultaneously, pushing her blazing mane to an ever greater show of force. The hounds gibbered and tore at the ground in eager anticipation of her charge. Celestia exulted in the feeling of strength surging through magic and muscle as she snorted fire and threw herself back into the battle. So much so that she didn’t even notice the third monster creeping up behind her.

The problem with fighting gorehounds, Celestia reflected, aside from their size, power, and ferocity, was that they were functionally suicidal. The greatest joy they knew was to bring down something that was even worse than they were. Or to die trying. Most creatures would avoid trying to tackle something as obviously powerful as Celestia, especially when she was literally on fire. Alas, such logic quailed before the insane fury of the gorehound.

As such, she was not entirely surprised when the third hound, which had apparently gotten into her blind spot, fell onto her back. It was dumb luck that one of the sticks she’d grabbed smacked into its head, making it chomp down on the empty space next to her neck, rather than on her neck itself. Its claws still drew ragged, red lines down her back.

Celestia’s eyes flared with indignant fury as she fired off an undirected blast of magic all around herself. The hound tumbled to the ground, howling and burning but nowhere near dead. A savage *crunch* split the air as Celestia stomped on the creature’s skull. The other two hounds were already rushing her as their pack-mate twitched.

Celestia charged right back, taking momentum from a quick beat of her wings. She strafed a beam across them both as she ran, messily bisecting one, but the other raised a paw and did…something. An opaque barrier of warping black and purple nothing rose in front of it. The thing didn’t block Celestia’s magic, it didn’t even consume it. Where the beam hit the barrier, it was just gone.

Celestia snorted in disgust. A wyrdwolf, one of the hound’s mutant, wizard things. Wyrd magic was a little 'gift' Discord had inflicted on the world ages ago. It appeared more or less at random, granting arbitrary bits of magic to creatures not normally possessing it. Powerful stuff, but rarely as versatile as proper magic. And, as it happened, Celestia had seen this particular expression before: the shield could stop nearly any sort of magic there was, but, alas, not much else.

Celestia fired one of her telekinetically gripped stones through the pulsing wall. It popped like a grease bubble. She charged without thought through the open space, trusting that her stone had struck home. It had, and she ran down the wyrdwolf before it even had time to take a swing at her. Celestia’s horn went straight through the creature, sinking all the way to her head. She lifted the hound, and, assuming it would surely survive mere impalement, detonated a burst of power straight into it. The mess of fire and smoke and less pleasant things left her blinded. She’d anticipated that, and leapt straight into the air with a mighty beat of her wings.

She poured magic through her Voice as she hovered above the clearing.

“Is That All!? Come! Come and Face Me!”

She glanced quickly about. There! And There! Two left? She took another moment to check on Twilight. Still at the tree? No hounds near her? Good.

That moment nearly got Celestia killed. One of the hounds jumped nearly twenty feet straight up, managing to land a grip on the Princess’s rear hoof. Celestia snarled and kicked with her other leg, but she was already being dragged down. The second hound jumped up to join its mate, jaws spread wide. She met it with the quickest shield she could summon, and the hound scrabbled against it before falling back to earth. The other beast took advantage of Celestia’s distraction to climb hand over hand up her, heedless of the burning agony in its paws. It had just sunk its claws into her when she screamed in rage and flung every object she’d picked up into it. The hound’s grip on her hoof held, so, desperate and running out of options, Celestia threw her head down so far it hurt and fired a beam at that awkward angle. She felt the creature’s weight suddenly drop off her, so apparently she had aimed true. She popped off an undirected teleport spell, certain that the other gorehound would already be upon her.

She was right. The remaining hound swiped through empty air and then fell, maddened with frustration, to the ground.

Celestia burst back into the world about thirty feet away. She saw trees, grass, rocks…Ah! There! The hound hadn’t spotted her yet, and she gave it no chance. A tight beam of utter devastation burned the thing’s head from its shoulders. Celestia had already thundered back into the clearing before it hit the ground. Her vision blurred as she glanced left, right, up, all around. No movement, except a few collateral fires and rising smoke. She let herself breathe, and took a moment to kick away the disembodied hand that still clung to her hoof. Ugh.

Something sputtered in front of her, perilously close to Twilight. Her eyes snapped to the source; a hound, crumpled up and crawling. It gripped the dirt with one claw, digging in as it dragged itself away from her…and toward Twilight.

Celestia’s eyes narrowed as she strode imperiously toward it. She tried to remember which one it was, how, specifically, she had wounded it. It was bleeding, it had bones sticking out of its chest. One entire arm was crushed. The one she’d thrown? Maybe. She couldn’t remember just now.

It saw her coming, staggered with its one good arm and slumped to the ground. It snarled at her and snapped its jaws, as if those were any threat to her at this point. Celestia gazed down upon it, eyes hard. She gave it what mercy she could. Not that the thing deserved it.

Celestia grabbed hold of an appropriately heavy stone, raised it into the air, and…

~~~

Brought it down, crushing the creature’s head into the dirt. A nauseating *snap* broke out above the crackling of fire. Twilight felt something spatter, hot and sharp, against her skin. But it was all distant, somehow. Unreal. A soft, final gasp escaped the creature as Celestia lifted the stained rock and tossed it away.

Twilight watched, stunned and mute, as Celestia, the great, understanding, endlessly patient, eternally kind Celestia, glanced efficiently around what was left of the clearing. Apparently satisfied at what she saw, she stepped toward Twilight. She said something. Twilight didn't hear. Celestia looked at her. Her eyes melted from iron resolve to soft worry. Twilight couldn’t understand this. Everything was happening in slow motion. The fires in the trees sizzled and popped. The flames flowed up and out. Celestia was reaching a hoof toward her. Twilight stared at it. The Princess was shoe-less. That was weird. She should have her shoes. And she shouldn’t be covered in blood, and…

Twilight pushed the thought away. She looked down at herself, at the hoof she had been raising by pure reflex. It was spattered red. Everything was spattered red. She sucked in a breath, and it reeked of acrid fire and burning hair and, and…

And she looked up at the gore-soaked thing that used to be her teacher. And she screamed.

And then she was running. Trees whipped by, shrubs broke under her as ran, and *blinked*, and flew, and she had no idea where she was going and it didn't matter as long as it was away. She just wanted somewhere to go, someplace peaceful and hidden and where none of those horrible things she'd seen had happened, or could ever happen.

Twilight crashed through what might have been a door. It hurt, but that didn’t matter. She didn’t know what would be on the other side, and that didn’t matter either as long as it wasn’t where she’d been before. She kept running, but not for long. It was too dark in here for that, but that was just fine. She didn't want to see right now. She kept going anyway, not stopping until after she bashed herself against what she was pretty sure was a wall. She stumbled back from it and unceremoniously flopped to the floor. She backed herself into the closest corner she could find. She didn’t light up her horn. She didn't know where she was and she didn't care. She wanted to be done with this. She wanted to go home. Maybe she would, if she could just wake up from this nightmare. But…what was that smell!?

Twilight wrinkled her nostrils and tried to back away from it, but there was nowhere to go, because it was on her. She was covered in it! Some had gotten into her mouth!

Twilight staggered up and ran in a random direction, retching until what little had been in her stomach finally forced its way out. She didn’t feel better afterward. But she felt empty, and that was something. She crawled back into her corner and curled up and shivered there until everything finally, blissfully, went black.

Author's Note:

A gorehound.

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