• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 2,771 Views, 390 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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Twilight dozed to the tune of a soothing voice. A careful hoof softly stroked her mane.

“Everything is going to be fine,” said the voice. “It’ll all be okay. We’ll be home soon. The Princess didn’t really do all of those horrible things. This is all just some big misunderstanding.” Twilight fell into those words. She believed them.

“You’ll see. Any time now, I’ll wake up and see it was…I’ll wake up and…”

Twilight Sparkle woke with a start when she realized the voice was her own. There was no one here. She’d been talking to herself. The hoof was hers.

She tried to swallow, but her mouth was so dry she barely managed anything more than a painful gulp of air.

It was dark. She was wrapped in that kind of absolute void of light that makes you forget for a moment that you’d ever been able to see at all. The air was perfectly still, utterly silent except for the little sounds of Twilight’s own breathing. For a moment, she could still believe that maybe it had all been just a nightmare. Maybe she’d just fallen asleep on the floor again. It happened sometimes. And that thing where she was talking to herself? Well, sure, she only ever did that in times of extreme stress, but that nightmare had been pretty stressful, right? Sure.

But it hadn’t been a dream, and she knew it. She really was in Tartarus, and Celesta really had ki…done those things. And Twilight had panicked. She’d freaked out, again, and run away like a scared foal. And now she was lost and alone. She sat in the dark and silence for a moment more, letting herself berate herself, allowing it happen and accepting that it would pass. And then, surprisingly quickly, it did. It felt too easy. She wondered if she might be in some kind of shock. Or maybe it was just that she’d been through a terrifying situation and beating herself up any more than she already had for doing what made sense at the time just wasn’t going to help.

Right then.

Twilight rolled onto her belly and rose up on only slightly shaky hooves. There had to be an explanation for Celestia’s, well, rampage, back there. There had to be. Her mentor had earned Twilight’s trust time and again over the decades they’d known each other, so if she’d felt she needed to do all those things, then she was probably right. But Twilight couldn't help but wonder why. Even after the creature out there had leapt at her, even after the things Celestia had told her about Tartarus and the creatures she’d banished here, Twilight couldn’t shake the feeling that there should have been something she could do, some better way to handle them. Her stomach turned at the memory of the fight, the reek of burning hair, that horrible fury in Celestia’s eyes, the sickening—

Okay, enough of that! Plenty of time to worry over it after I figure out what to do!

Twilight took another breath and sparked up a dim glow of purple-white light. Even that little made her wince. It was several seconds before her eyes were willing to open all the way.

Twilight found herself in a small, simple house. Perhaps shack would be a better word. Furnishings were sparse. Just a table and some chairs and a bed-frame with no mattress in one corner. There was a drying puddle of sick in another corner as well. Twilight turned away from that, nose wrinkling. She barely remembered having put it there, but barely was more than enough. The walls haled no windows and no door, but the door frame yawned wide open. Her meager light revealed nothing of what lay beyond. What had this place been for? She glanced down at herself, and her guts churned again at the black, crusted stains on her hooves and chest.

Well, that quite thoroughly disproved her 'just a dream' hypothesis. She fought to keep her gorge down and fled the room, desperately seeking something else to think about.

She walked out into a...cave? How had she ended up underground? She tried to piece together her last memories, but they were all fragmented, blurred and dreamlike. She amped up her light spell. The walls were bare stone, fairly uniform but unworked as far as she could tell. The ceiling was high, several feet above the tip of her horn. The path, such as it was, was a few yards across. Twilight worked her wings a bit, reflexively. Ever since she’d gotten them, she’d acquired a subtle dread of being closed in like this. There was plenty of room really, but still.

To her right stood a door, embedded in the rock wall. To her left, the path carried on into the dark. She could hear a soft tinkling from out there, like a small stream. Her tongue was sticky with dehydration, her eyes so dry she could actually feel them moving in their sockets, and all these things were made suddenly, starkly clear by the possible presence of water. She started off towards it immediately. Wait, should she check the door first? It might lead outside. Celestia might be right out there, waiting...But she was a mess! She couldn't meet her Princess looking like this!

Twilight switched her light from 'ambient' to 'searchlight' and shined it forward, looking for wherever that water might be. The tunnel turned after maybe a dozen yards, and then again soon after that, but then…Twilight sighed in relief. There it was. A little stream, small enough to jump over, running through a much larger open chamber. Twilight searched the area quickly. There wasn’t much to see, other than rock walls and dust, and then headed straight to the water.

Celestia’s foreboding warnings gave Twilight pause, despite her body’s demands. She shone her light through the stream, looking for she knew not what. The water was clear and shining in the surrounding darkness. The stones at the bottom had a bit of moss growing, but that was to be expected. Twilight waited as long as she could bear, then carefully leaned down and took a sip.

It was gosh-darned delicious.

She gulped readily after that, still glancing around the chamber, just in case. She gave a great, satisfied sigh once she’d finally had her fill, and perhaps a demure little belch too, and then proceeded to wash the mess off of herself as quickly as she could manage. She did her best not to think about where it had come from, focusing instead on how refreshingly frosty the water was. A few minutes of that, followed by a quick attempt at getting her mane straight, and Twilight was ready to—

A great rumbling sounded behind her, as of stone grinding upon massive stone.

She snapped alert, ears and eyes dancing toward the sound. After a long moment of echoing silence, she ran back towards the shack, careening though the curving path only to find that nothing had changed. The shack still stood, empty as before. The door in the wall remained. She hesitated, shifting her weight back and forth. And then she slowly, tentatively, hoofed her way towards the door. It was a simple wooden affair, like the shack. It had no windows, and only a simple latch kept it closed. A creeping feeling climbed Twilight’s spine as she reached up to pop it loose. Like something was watching her.

She thought better of touching the door and backed away, using her magic to open it instead. It creaked slowly open on oil-starved hinges. Twilight unconsciously held her breath, priming her horn with every spell she thought might be useful, backing ever further away.

The door finally slid away, revealing…a stone wall. Written on it, in perfect Equestrian, were the words “WELCOME HOME.”

Twilight stared. The crawling, anticipatory dread she’d felt faded quickly, to be replaced with confusion. And a slowly rising fear that she was well and truly trapped down here. But she didn't give herself time to think about that. Instead, she focused on the wall itself. Maybe it was just a façade? Some kind of trick door or something? It certainly hadn’t been there before or she could never have made it down here. A good solid kick disabused her of that notion, and left her with slightly aching hooves.

Ok, no problem. There’s other things to try.

She pulled together a proper teleport spell, something far more elaborate and robust than the quick *blinks* she regularly used. She made a guess at how thick the wall might be. Couldn’t be that big. She called up the best mental image of her run through the woods she could muster and triggered the spell. Bright lavender magic sparkled around her, drawing her up in its mystical winds. And….done! Twilight opened her eyes to see a door that opened onto a solid wall of rock. She frowned. The spell hadn’t moved her an inch. She wasn’t exactly surprised. Teleporting through air was easy, but anything denser than that quickly became unfeasible. But really, how thick could this wall be? She’d seen Tartarus move a tree, and mess with her sense of space some, but could it really just move that much stone so quickly? There had to be some limit to its abilities…

Never mind. She wasn't done yet. She pieced together a little drill out of magic. It was a converted shield spell, cast into a specific shape and set to spin at high speed. Hard to maintain for long, and it wasn’t very big, but she figured it was worth a try. Twilight set it to the wall. Half a minute later she had a hole one inch wide by six inches deep and little pile of rock dust. She shone her light inside. It revealed only more rock.

Ok. Ok. Twilight thought furiously about anything other than the ominous words before her. Maybe there’s a secret catch or something? She ran a hoof over the frame and the corners where it met the stone. In fact…Twilight used another shaped shield to pry out the bolts that held the frame to the wall and then removed it entirely. She set it aside and kept searching for some hidden switch. A few minutes of such work revealed nothing useful. The wall was irregular stone, so anything pony-made should be obvious, but she couldn’t find anything at all. She wasn’t even entirely sure where the door had even stood now that she’d taken it off the wall.

Alright, thought Twilight, fighting to quell that slow-building fear. Alright, so maybe I’m stuck. For now. But I’m not hurt. I’ve got my magic, and plenty of water. I’ll figure something out. She hadn’t really taken the time to look around yet, had she? Maybe there’s something…she looked at her bleak surroundings. In the shack? It didn’t sound very likely, even in her head. I could follow the stream. Those usually empty out above ground eventually, right? Or should I stay here? She pondered that. Maybe Princess Celestia is on her way right now. Maybe she’s tearing through that darn wall at this very moment.

Or maybe she has no idea where I am. Maybe it’s just me now…

Twilight grimaced, trying to shut that kind of thought out. But that old, familiar fear of failure wormed its way back in. What if she’s hurt? What if she thinks I’m hurt? What if she doesn’t come looking for me at all? Twilight stomped a hoof, shoving anger up in place of that terrible guilt. No! I’m not doing this again! I’m not some lost little filly! I’m a Princess! I’ve been through worse than this, and I still came out okay!

There. That felt better. Even if she couldn’t quite remember having ever been somewhere worse than this right now. Well, there was that time Chrysalis captured everypony and threw her in some weird crystal dungeon. See? There we go.

Twilight set her jaw and strode into the shack. Having little idea where to start, she just began rummaging through what little she could find. There was a kettle, a few pots, and some various other kitchen things. Some simple earthenware. There was a pick on one wall, so maybe this had been a mine? There was a pile of silvery dust on the floor, and another on the bedframe. Odd. She kept searching.

She’d been hoping for a key of some kind, something that might give her some clue about how to pass through the wall. Unless, of course, it actually had just moved into place while she was away. The thought occurred to her that if she’d tried the door first, she might be out of here already, but she refused to indulge it. If Tartarus really could shift the landscape like that, it probably would have just slammed it down in her face the moment she touched the door.

Running a hoof through the dust-pile on the bed, Twilight discovered a simple jug. Its cork stopper was still in, and only marginally decayed. It even had a strap for easier carrying. Hmm. Twilight picked it up and looked at it, giving it a little shake. Something sounded from within. This could make a pretty decent canteen…

What was it Celestia had said, before? If they got separated somehow, stay on the road? She’d mentioned it more than once, so she must have known that something like this might happen. Well, that settles that, Twilight thought. I’ll follow the water till it lets out, and then get back on the road. Simple. Twilight chose to ignore that she had no idea where she was or how to find Celestia once she made it back to the surface, because frankly there was nothing she could about those things right now. She focused instead on the simplicity of her new plan. She absently twisted the cork out of the canteen as she walked out of the shack. She stopped and poured whatever was in it out onto the ground. It formed another, smaller pile of that shimmering dust she’d seen in the shack.

Huh. I always thought the ‘canteen full of dust’ thing was just a—

The dust pile shifted, gathering itself up. Twilight hopped back away from it, staring at it as she once again primed as many spells as she could think of.

The pile coalesced, coiling and gathering into a small, silvery-gray snake. It looked up at her, glaring through angry, empty sockets.

It struck so fast she didn’t even know it until the thing rebounded off the shield she’d put up. It hissed and spit and struck again, and then again as she gasped and leapt further away from the vicious little creature. It chased, and struck once more before finally giving up. It coiled in on itself, watching her as it wound back away, hissing furiously, as though she'd been the one to attack. It looked away just for a second, into the shack, and then glared at her once more before diving through the doorway.

Twilight stared after it. Why..? Wait. She narrowed her eyes. It was noisily shuffling around in there...where the other, larger dust piles had been. She re-checked her barrier, then ran to the door.

The snake was slithering through the mound on the floor. It was bigger than before, and growing rapidly, drawing in the dust and getting larger by the second. It saw her and lashed out, bouncing again off her shield. She grabbed the thing with her horn and inverted her shield, wrapping the snake in a (hopefully) impenetrable bubble as she lifted it away from the pile in the shack.

What in the..?

It twisted in the bubble, enraged. Twilight watched, unsure of what to do with the thing now that she had it captured. She couldn’t just leave it here. Who knew what it might get up to? She couldn’t keep it in a bubble forever, either. Shields were simple enough for her at this point, but even her brother, self-proclaimed master of shields, couldn’t maintain one forever.

The snake sort of descended into itself as she watched, falling back into a pile of dust, with only its head poking out. She pondered it. Good camouflage. Also flagrantly impossible, but magic creatures were like that. What would water do to something that forms itself out of dirt, she wondered. Hmm.

Keeping the viper at a safe distance, Twilight walked away from the shack, toward the little river she’d discovered. As she approached the flowing water, the snake went absolutely berserk in its bubble, hissing and squirming and doing everything it could to get away.

“Don’t like that, huh?” asked Twilight. “Well…” She gave the chamber she was in another look. The stream was narrow, but it cut the tunnel clean in two, as far as she could see. The path she was on went on its way, neatly separated from the other side. “Good.”

Twilight raised the sphere of magic and tossed it over, letting the shield pop out once it was back on dry land. The snake hit the stone floor in a puff of dust, then reformed and glared at her once more as it retreated, hissing all the way, from the water and her light.

“Yeah, to you too,” she said, giving the angry thing a little wave. She shook her head. “Right then,” she declared, grabbing the canteen she’d hung around her neck. She filled it quickly, making sure to wash it out extensively, and hoped that, one day, things would start making sense again.

Author's Note:

Lines cut from this chapter: Written on it, in perfect Equestrian, were the words, FUCK YOU.

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