• Published 26th Dec 2014
  • 1,410 Views, 20 Comments

The Millennial Vault - Door Matt

The greatest archaeological find of the millennium.

  • ...

Into The Dark

The Millennial Vault

The summons had been brief, and altogether, not forthcoming in solid information.

Every news agency from the capital to the shoreline had been notified. “To whom it may concern. Please send a representative to the Whitetail Woods a week from today, to cover what promises to be a very special and historic event. Thank you.

Any suspicions of a random hoax were quickly alleviated by both the assertions of the delivering mailponies, and the rather official looking Royal stamp printed on the covers. The accompanying purple star design found at every letter’s bottom-right corner indicated at least some kind of stratagem on the part of Equestria’s newest Princess. An individual, of course, of a very great deal of recent media interest.

So it was that Breaker Fold - a new but fairly eager reporter for his local newspaper - found himself standing in a crowded clearing somewhere in the middle of the Whitetail Woods, at least ten miles from any hint of civilisation. If the throng of ponies from far and wide around him were any indication, it seemed most other agencies had taken the announcement equally seriously.

“Guess this is a bigger deal than I thought.”

Breaker turned slightly, sizing up the owner of the voice to his right, looking at him with a pained grin. Dull green fur, waist-jacket and adorning the head - one slightly worn trilby. Almost certainly a unicorn, but Breaker wasn’t going to knock his hat off to check. What he was certain of was the pony’s profession - a journalist, just like himself. A straightened posture, keen, hawkish eyes still evident behind a pair of ritzy glasses, clipboard poking up from his saddlebag, and as if that wasn’t enough, the camera strapped around his neck.

“It better be,” Breaker replied, trying to put off the impending sensation of claustrophobia. “My boss is gonna kill me if I don’t get at least three hundred words out of this thing.”

The journalist smiled. Breaker knew if he was any good at his job, he would’ve already made exactly the same impressions about him.

“Ink Stroke, The Canterlot Chronicle,” his counterpart said, introducing himself with a raised hoof.

“Breaker Fold, Hayward Gazette.” Breaker completed the hoofbump after a microsecond of surprise. Perhaps all those rumours of everypony in Canterlot being a stuck-up busybody were unfounded after all.

“Knew for sure you couldn’t be one of those archaeologists. Also, Hayward-on-Sea? Isn’t that that small town on the coast to the west? What are you doing out here?” Ink half-raised an eyebrow.

Breaker held back a surprised look. Hayward was small enough to not warrant much serious attention on the map; certainly not compared to other places. “Well, Princess Twilight’s opening with the pre-speech, and I’ve never done a piece on royalty before. You wouldn’t believe how much people clamour for that kind of news when you’re as out in the sticks as we are. My boss practically begged me to make the trip.”

“Mm...makes sense I guess. In Canterlot, we have a whole division dedicated to the royal stuff.”

The murmurs from the crowd around them hushed, grabbing Breaker’s attention. A movement on the makeshift stage ahead absorbed the scrutiny of everypony around, before deflating into a ripple of disappointed sighs. Just a runner, supplying the podium with what looked like a sheetload of notes.

“False alarm,” Breaker sighed. Growing up miles away from the nearest city hadn’t exactly prepared him well for the rigours of the present claustrophobic situation, and he shuffled awkwardly, trying to avoid bumping into the ponies around him.

“So uhm...you guys know anything about this thing that the common pony doesn’t?” Ink asked, straining to make himself heard above the general racket.

Breaker hesitated briefly. Sharing information between rival reporters was a particularly grey area in their industry. It might net you some more valuable gossip in return, but of course the opposing scenario was equally possible. Luckily in this case, he had an easy answer to make.

“Diddly squat,” he replied, scratching the silver fur on his side. “Heard the term ‘Time Capsule’ floating about but that’s just one of many rumours supposedly.”

“That’s my bet on what it is. This cave’s supposedly been shut off for over a hundred years. Some of my colleagues back home have different ideas, but why would they send Twilight out of the Princesses down here if that wasn’t the case? Everypony knows that schtick is right up her alley.”

Breaker coughed, unsure if he had heard the words right. “A hundred years? That can’t be right. Somepony would’ve found it before now, if not sensed it at least. I thought Canterlot had a team of unicorns dedicated to searching out old sites. ”

“Only if they know what they’re looking for. Maybe this one’s completely different. Would explain all this excitement over it, don’t you think?”

About to answer, Breaker caught sight of a flash of purple up ahead, beyond the sea of pony heads. And then there she was - Princess Twilight Sparkle on stage in the flesh, having emerged from the woodlands completely dominating the landscape. Only the large stone structure to the right of the stage provided a break from nature’s dominion, what with it’s clear artificial origins. Breaker had tried to avoid looking at it; it didn’t look at all right in the present environment.

Ink immediately brought up his camera and got a first flash away, while the crowd was still half-distracted. It took a very decent salary to be able to afford a luxury item as that, which said much about the unicorn’s capabilities. For Breaker, his edited notes would have to be enough.

Twilight approached the podium, gleaming at the crowd all the way. Breaker had almost expected her to be lacking on the confidence side, having not been a princess for terribly long, but she looked remarkably suited to the role. As she brought up the notes left for her, he started planning out the start of the article in his head.

‘Princess Twilight Sparkle, on her first solo outing, squashed all qualms about her royal spirit with a lively and engaging opening speech on the surprise unveiling of the mysterious “Time Capsule discovered-”’...hmm...better not get ahead of myself.

A few more flashes erupted as other journalists managed to get shots away. The whole crowd had almost silenced, and suddenly Breaker noticed he could hear the wind again, blowing through the trees. In the entire clearing, the tension was quite palpable.

“Good day to you, everypony, and welcome to the Whitetail Woods!” Twilight’s voice lit up the area like a match. Breaker felt the hairs on his neck prick up. “I understand many of you are still somewhat confused as to why you’ve been asked to travel out here, but rest assured I hope to answer most of your questions in the next few minutes.”

Breaker watched on, already impressed, as the Princess left the podium and headed right, towards the edge of the stage. Cut into the mountain just beyond lay the obvious object of attention. “This - if the few records we have of this place are to be believed - is the Millennial Vault.” Twilight motioned with an outstretched hoof towards the fifteen foot-high set of stone doors, cut directly into the hillside. “To be rather brief about what we know, some unicorns living near here on this day a thousand years ago decided to bury something here with the intention of ponies like us in this time to re-discover it. Many historians - myself included - think the timing with Princess Luna’s...incident is too much of a coincidence, and so the likely theory is that much of what we’ll find will be mementoes to her isolation, along with general tokens and artifacts.”

“Pah, unlikely,” Ink whispered. “Don’t think Miss Night Princess was popular with anyone back then.”

“Hmm? Oh..sure.” Breaker only half-listened, already enraptured by Princess Twilight’s words. “Wait...did she say a thousand?”

“Eeeyup. Now it makes sense why we’re here. Looks like she’s making a real statement of intent.”

“...and on a personal note, I just want to say how excited I am to be here to see the vault’s unveiling,” Twilight continued. “Memories of this time period are understandably sensitive for my fellow Princesses, so they felt it was an ideal opportunity for me to handle this event on my own. So I thank you for your consideration, and hope you all will learn as much as I hope to from this discovery. If we understand the ancient texts right, the vault will open by itself, allowing us inside. So...are there any questions?”

One hoof immediately raised towards the sky.


“Noteworthy. Manehatten Times. I think I speak for most of us in saying that we’ve never heard of this...vault before. Could you elaborate on the existing information at all? As in, do you have any idea what’s inside, or are you just guessing? Can you guarantee it’s safe at least?”

Breaker swore he saw a few feathers ruffling on the Princess’ wings. No doubt she’d been briefed on the rather direct attitude the press could take sometimes.

“Archaeological sites are hardly the most perilous places in Equestria miss Noteworthy. We should look towards my fellow Ponyville for that,” she replied, inciting a few low snorts of laughter around. “But the Royal Guard will be among us should anything...bad happen. As for your first question, to be honest, there isn’t much else to say. A local pony only re-discovered this location a month ago, so our limited research time has only brought up so much. But there’s really no reason to suspect it’s anything other than what I described. Prevalent theories are usually right for a reason.”

Noteworthy’s head shrunk back down, but Breaker couldn’t tell if she’d been fully satisfied or not. Another hoof rose, right from the front of the audience.

“Aha, no introductions needed here Mr Whisp,” Twilight beamed.

“Indeed not Princess, though please, call me Willow,” croaked the elderly reply. “Perhaps you could explain how you knew to gather us on this particular day.”

“Of course! If there is one thing the few texts are consistent about, it is the date of the vault’s sealing: only one day after Nightmare Moon was defeated for the first time. So you can imagine my confidence in knowing the calculations are correct. We actually should see a sign of the opening as soon as sunset finishes.”

As the princess concluded, Breaker immediately became aware of how dark it had become. The sky had lost all traces of azure blue and the first starlight dots had already appeared faintly. The surrounding trees didn’t look nearly as beautiful now as they had on arrival.

“Can you imagine if the math is wrong? We could be stuck standing here like lemons in front of this thing for hours. Thank Celestia it isn’t winter,” Ink said, taking a final photo of Twilight’s face as she turned to face the stone doors.

“Princess Twilight’s a genius, so I’ve heard. You don’t honestly think she could mess up on something like this?” Breaker replied.

“Oh well...sure, but I’m just saying. Don’t wanna be stuck out here for lo-”

A dim, almost buzzing like sensation suddenly throbbed all around, permeating the landscape. Through his hooves, Breaker could feel the earth beneath writhing and contorting. Ink could no doubt feel something similar in the surrounding magical field, judging by the look on his face.

“You feel that?” he yelled, above the immediate shills of the crowd.

“Yeah!” Breaker responded. A pair of royal guards from nowhere had leapt to the Princess’ side, but the mare herself hadn't moved.

“It’s moving! Collating towards the doors there!”

Breaker felt it, a pull of tension in the earth towards the vault. And then the stone carving glowed, fizzing with energy - the outline of the doors lit up like white neon. More than one pony in the crowd looked on the verge of panic, but most stared forward enraptured by the sight. Ink furiously snapped up more pictures in excitement.

“This is gold! Gold! Never seen anything like this in my career before!”

“Are you serious!? I’ve got a bad feeling about this!” Breaker shouted above the enclosing din.

“No...way!” Ink gasped, eye glued to the lens of his camera. Breaker looked again at the Vault, where the bright outlines had faded away, but the central vertical line has split right down the middle. Squinting in the lack of light, he could just make out a dark edge now separating each equal half. And with a low rumble, the set of doors started to move, the outer edges acting like hinges as the black edge became a wider and wider abyss. The crackling of magic ceased, as did all voice from the crowd. Only the growl of stone on stone tore through the air like thunder.

“Okay everypony, this is it!” Princess Twilight said loudly, addressing the throng of ponies once more. “Nothing to worry about. This was a clearly timed spell designed to engage the door mechanism at precisely the right time. I will illuminate the path ahead and enter first with my guards. The archeologists present shall follow first, and if we then give the all clear, the rest of you can enter as well.”

With a loud boom, the stone doors finally collided with the walls, revealing a cave-like entrance of total blackness. Immediately, The Princess’s horn shimmered, and a resulting orb of lavender light burst into existence, floating over the threshold. Before Breaker could get any kind of view inside, the royal and her escorts followed suit, blocking his line of sight. Somewhat reluctantly, eight rather stiff and aging ponies approached the entrance - Willow Whisp along with two others hesitating to take closer looks at the doors - before finally entering the blackness. By the time the last had disappeared from the light, no trace of Twilight’s light spell remained.

Thirty minutes passed, and the gentle breeze outside had died down to a serene stillness.

“How long do you think they’ll be?” Breaker asked his companion. Every remaining pony had converged with associates, dotting the clearing with groups of three to six individuals. As every minute ticked by, more concerned looks went over towards the Vault.

“Who knows?” Ink replied, having passed the time scratching down scribbles and phrases on a notepad. “Could be anyone’s guess how long those old stuffers want to examine everything before they let us common folk down there.”

An unease clawed away at Breaker. Maybe Ink couldn’t feel it, but keen earth ponies could sense if something underground nearby was amiss, and there was definitely something not right going by the sensations underneath his hooves.

“We can’t just sit here,” Breaker said, surprising himself somewhat, knowing he didn’t want to be the next one to step inside any more than anypony else.

“You what? It’s only been a short while. Don’t panic over nothing.”

“But that’s it! We’ve heard nothing! Surely one of them would’ve come back up by now?”

Ink sighed. “You wait, in about five minutes you’ll see em come back and-”

“There’s a Princess in there!” Breaker shouted, far too loudly to not be heard by the entire clearing. Every head unsubtley turned towards him; some disturbed but most quietly nodding. Ink took one look around, and clambered onto his feet hesitantly.

“Okay, okay, I’m in. Celestia help me, I’m in. But uhh...you first, if that’s okay with you.”

Nodding, Breaker immediately trotted over towards the gaping opening, determined not to look back. The fading light outside made it a little easier to see inside the cave, but not by much. He could only make out the furthest limits of the inside walls before they disappeared in the gloom.

“Come right back if you see anything suspicious, okay?” the nearby Noteworthy said, lines of worry etched into her face.

“You got it.” Ink replied. “Here, I can do a basic light spell. Got nothing on the Princess, but it’ll do.” And a similar lambent orb arose out of his horn, only distinctively smaller and green in tone.

Breaker watched as it floated past his head and preceded them past the stone doors. Just one step before walking inside, he stopped, and sniffed the air. He couldn’t place the smell, but whatever it was, it didn’t smell fresh.

“My camera’s got a flash too. Not sure how useful it’ll be, but it’s something,” Ink said, moving alongside him.

“Mm,” Breaker murmured, and taking a deep breath, stepped beyond the doors...into the gloom.

What began as a short corridor soon gave way to a flight of expertly crafted stone steps. Relying heavily on the aura of pale light emanating from Ink’s spell, Breaker gingerly took his time with each step, counting a total of thirty on the way down.

“What the heck drove a bunch of ponies to dig all this out anyway?” Ink questioned, joining Breaker at the bottom.

“Guess that’s partly why the Princess is so fascinated by this place. Hey, bring your light over here for a second.” Breaker pointed at the wall, having noticed a break in the smooth surface.

Ink stepped forward to gain a better look as the orb floated ahead, and stopped dead in his tracks. Dozens upon dozens of carvings lit up in the dark, and continued onwards down the tunnel. Whether the incisions had been made by physical or magical means, Breaker couldn’t tell.

“Oh my...are those...constellations?”

“Are they? I don’t recognise any of them.” Breaker squinted closer at the wall, trying to recollect his astrological knowledge.

“Trust me. Any Canterlotian would tell you the same. But you’re right, none of them match the existing ones.” Ink curiously peered at the opposing wall. “That’s so strange. Hey look, there’s ponies over here!”

Breaker swivelled round half expecting to see another living pony, only to find Ink lining up his camera at the wall. Sure enough, familiar equine shapes stood out like a sore hoof compared to the stars a few metres away.

Then his world went white.

“AH! For...warn me next time!”

“Sorry! Didn’t think how bright that would be in here.” Ink clinked the in-set bulb as Breaker rubbed his eyes. “I have to take a few pictures though. This is unprecedented stuff here.”

“Forget that!” Breaker hissed. “If they’re in trouble, we can’t help them if we’re taking bloody pictures!”

“Well...no...hey wait! Wait for me!”

Breaker continued on through the edgeless darkness as Ink scampered to keep up behind. With every step, the wall carvings continued. More ponies - mostly unicorns - in line after line, all to some degree looking upwards at the unbroken chain of constellations. An endless stone sea of stars.

Finally the two walls broke away at tight angles, and Ink’s orb rushed forward into a large room. Square in shape, around the size an average house and apparently secured by four rising stone columns opposing each corner. These too, covered in in chiseled markings of stars, and what looked suspiciously like runes ascending in diagonal patterns to the flat ceiling above. As he stepped into the room proper, Breaker saw two exits, to his right and opposite. Turning his head, he noticed the left-side doorway had caved in completely under a two-metre high pile of debris.

“They were here, look at the ground.” Ink lowered his neck and encouraged Breaker to do the same. “See the hoofprints in the dust?”

“Yeah, might’ve missed that.”

“Right, so we just have to follow...ah...crap…”

Ink stomped a hoof in enmity as Breaker followed the short trail of prints, collating into a thin group as they exited through the left door.

“Hello?! Princess Twilight! Are you trapped?!” Breaker shouted through the pile of rocks, dread overtaking his system.

“Shhh! They can’t be on the other side or we would’ve heard them by now!”

“At least I’m trying something! Can’t you blast through this?”

“Do I look like a soldier to you?” Ink said, affronted. “You’re the earther. You buck through them.”

“There’s no way I can do that!”

“That’s what I mean! You’re panicking Breaker! If we stay quiet we might be able to hear them at least!”

Ink’s eyes flickered in the dingy light, and Breaker could see the sense he was making. Holding his tongue, he and Ink both listened intensely in silence, swivelling ears to focus down each doorway. But no sound returned to them. The vault was utterly silent.

“Right,” Ink said suddenly, scaring Breaker briefly. “I say we continue on down the straight path and take it from there. Last thing we want is to get lost...Breaker?”

Breaker had stopped listening. Looking around the room one last time, his blood ran cold as he caught sight of the corner opposite. Where once had been nothing but dust, now lay a large and familiar shape - unmoving and silent.

Ink turned round to look, and almost stopped breathing. “Is….is that…”

Breaker didn’t answer. He had to be sure. Forcing his legs to move forward, he approached slowly. Ink’s orb followed overhead, illuminating more and more of the small area. Despite the green aura, after a certain point, there was no mistaking the purple fur, or the limp wings hanging uselessly down towards the ground.

“Princess…?” was the only word that Breaker could choke out, as he knelt down before the inanimate body of Twilight Sparkle.