• Published 23rd May 2015
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Where Black Stars Rise - Corah Il Cappo



Yet stranger still is, Lost Carcosa

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Of Actor and Assault

"This sign means something." Blueblood mused, pacing back and forth in Twilight's study, as the Princess herself sat at her desk surrounded by books of languages and scripts from all around Equestria. "I can feel it on an instinctive level. Is it a magic rune? A name? Perhaps a symbol or emblem of Carcosa itself? Or maybe it's the signet of the King in Yellow? After all, the cultists called it the Yellow Sign..."

Twilight glanced up from the book she had buried her face in for a moment.

"Blueblood, for the love of Celestia and Luna both sit down!" She said, before going back to her tome. "I swear, you're going to wear a hole through the floor with all your pacing."

The Prince took a seat on the nearby couch, still nervously tapping his hooves on the floor. With an exasperated sigh, Twilight closed the book. That was the last one in her stack too. Nothing even remotely resembling the sign appeared in any language the whole world over. Not even her search through a few books worth of royal crests and family symbols had turned anything up. There was absolutely nothing the whole world over that even remotely resembled that sign. It was utterly alien, yet so terrifyingly familiar to her. Just looking at the image Blueblood had scrawled made her skin crawl and her stomach twist. Although it was nothing more than a drawing, it stirred up such feelings of dread within her that Twilight practically felt as though she was back in that ghostly city, with the mad King bearing down upon her. She turned her eyes away from the glyph, folding the sheet over and setting it on her desk.

"Well, its definitely not from any language or kingdom in Equestria." Twilight said, peering at the Prince over her tower of books. "And without further proof, we can't even be sure if it's Carcosan in origin."

"Such truth is going to be hard to come by." Blueblood said, resting a hoof on his chin.

"But," She hastily added. "Even if its hard, there are answers out there, right?"

"How should I know? My field is politics. You're the one who's used to dealing with this magical stuff. I can't cast a spell to save my life."

"Well... " Twilight paused, taking a moment to think. "What about that story you told me when we were in Carcosa and saw the carving of a pony? You mentioned something about an old legend or-"

"Abdullah Alhazred? Are you suggesting we seek out his manuscripts?"

"If its possible he's the one who visited Carcosa, then yes. I think we ought to investigate."

"His writings are kept under lock and key in the city of Sutaf in Saddle Arabia. His memoirs are like a national treasure to those people. It would be like having a group of tourists ask to take the Elements of Harmony for a spin, it simply isn't done."

"I thought you said you have contacts in Saddle Arabia?"

"I do. But again, even with connections it would be impossible to get into contact with it for any more than a few hours. They'd never let a foreigner, even a royal one, take the book from them."

Twilight paused for a moment, before glancing at Blueblood with a devilish grin.

"What if we copied it?"

"You propose to copy a book with well over a thousand pages?" The Prince said, raising an eyebrow.

Twilight grabbed a sheet of paper from her desk, along with a rather aged scroll from her bookshelf, levitating them both with her magic. Her horn suddenly began to glow brighter, as the contents of the scroll began to imprint themselves on the sheet, every bit as clear as they had been in their original form. Blueblood's eyes opened slightly wider as he watched, before taking the two to compare for himself. They were nearly identical in nature, save for a few marks shaded improperly.

"It works on books too." Twilight commented. "I've been using it to copy down quotes from books or old scrolls onto my papers on magical theory."

"Even if we manage to copy the memoirs, there's still the matter of the contents." Blueblood said, his voice low. "Nopony seeks after that tome with a sane mind Twilight. The legends say that Abdullah saw things. Things that drove him, and many who followed him, to shrieking madness."

"But what about the things we've seen already?" She replied, starting to return her tomes to their proper places on the shelves. "We've already seen stuff that should, by all means, have driven us crazy. Yet here we are, sane as ever."

"That's just it. We've already had one close brush with madness. Do you really want to risk it all? We don't even know if Abdullah's book has the answers we're looking for. What if the whole thing is all for naught?"

"At least then we'd have gone mad doing something!" Twilight exclaimed, immediately lowering her voice afterwards, as she remembered Spike was asleep in the other room. "After what we saw in the Everfree, nothing has convinced me that those cultists we stopped don't have friends who will try again. I have a sinking feeling that we interrupted their ritual, and stopped them from doing something far worse than just opening the doorway. Somepony has to do something, and if nopony else will, then I guess its up to me to act."

"And I suppose I'm going to be roped into this?" Blueblood sighed, rubbing his forehead.

"If you don't come along, I'm not going to force you." She replied. "But I'm going to do this, with or without you."

At this the Prince stifled a chuckle, covering his mouth with his hoof to keep from bursting into peals of laughter. Twilight raised an eyebrow curiously.

"What's so funny?"

"What's funny," Blueblood stated, rising from his seat. "is that there is no way in Tartarus you could do this without me. Do you know which services to trust to get you to Saddle Arabia? Do you have the influence among its courts to persuade them to even let you near Alhazred's works? Do you know the customs of the land, so as not to offend the more unsavory locals? Or were you simply planning on applying brute force magic of friendship like you always do when faced with a problem?"

“Well I-”

“Well nothing.” The Prince cut her off before she could finish. “You need me, and I know that you know it. There are few possessed of my connections and skills, and trying to replace me would just prove more difficult than keeping me around.”

“So what are you saying?”

“What I'm saying is that you and I, as unfortunate as it is for me to say it, are going to be forced to work together. You and I both want answers, and the only way we're going to get them is through our own combined talents.” Blueblood gulped softly as he extended a hoof to her. “Truce?”

“Truce.” Twilight said, taking his hoof in hers. “At least until all this is done and over with.”

“Agreed.”

The Princess poked her head out the door of her study, hollering up the stairs.

"Spike?" She called, answered almost immediately with the pitter-patter of clawed toes on the floor outside. Within a minute, the diminutive dragon had scampered to the doorway, still looking a little bit groggy from sleep. He rubbed his eyes, yawning softly before replying to Twilight.

"Need to send a letter?"

She nodded, passing him a quill, a scroll, and a bottle of ink. Spike still glowered at Blueblood as he set the quill to the parchment, ready to scratch down whatever Twilight dictated. Blueblood merely rolled his eyes, kicking up his hooves on the couch, reclining with a sigh.

"Dear Princess Celestia, in light of recent events..." Twilight's voice trailed off as she saw Spike drop his writing implements, just before clutching his stomach. "Spike? Are you alright?"

"Yeah just-" His reply was cut off by a loud belch of green fire from his mouth, which was followed closely by a sealed scroll that dropped to the floor. Blueblood cringed at the sight.

"Ech. Do you receive all your mail that way?"

"Most of it yes." Twilight said, picking up the scroll, breaking the wax seal, and unfurling it. "Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle. I hope you've had some time to rest and recuperate after your long absence. Tonight, I have arranged for you and my nephew to meet me at the Royal Canterlot Theater. A traveling actor troupe by the name of The Dunwich Players have come to town, and in all their past excursions they have received rave reviews from the press. I dearly hope that you and Blueblood will join me, as I feel a night on the town could do the two of you a great deal of good after your ordeal. Sincerely Princess Celestia."

"Well, seems that we're got plans for this evening." Blueblood commented, rising to his hooves. "I ought to get going then. You obviously need some time to prepare for the evening, fixing your hair and such. After the play we can discuss travel arrangements for Saddle Arabia. But for now, farewell."

Without waiting for a reply, the Prince pushed past her, trotting quickly down the stairs and out the door.

"Farewell, I guess." Twilight mused as she heard the door slam shut.

The rest of that day was fairly uneventful for Twilight. She had breakfast with Pinkie Pie (though she could hardly call pancakes smothered in that much syrup and whipped cream anything but dessert) and made time to get a few seams on her good dress repaired at the Carousel Boutique. Of course both of them wanted to know where she had been for the past three weeks, and Twilight found her situation difficult to explain. Could she really tell them about Carcosa? Celestia certainly hadn't believed her about it, and she felt almost certain that her friends wouldn't either. It was a strange feeling, as though she had been completely alienated from everyone she once knew in a single event. When asked, she simply gave the excuse that she had been off on an assignment from Celestia, and tried to steer the topic away, back to other, safer things.

She had made good time in accomplishing her tasks for the day, and soon found herself back at home, where she bathed and fixed her hair for the upcoming play. The idea stirred up a great amount of conflicting emotions for her. On the one hoof, she was excited by the prospect, and was glad that at least for tonight she could attain some air of normalcy in her life. Yet on the other was a queer sense of dread about the whole thing. She couldn't place it exactly, but something about the invitation just felt wrong. Something deep within her shivered and knotted at the thought. Admittedly however, she had felt this way several times since her return from that nighted city outside reality, but she had pushed these feelings deep down, trying to brush them off as irrational delusions.

A carriage had been dispatched for her, and following an hour long ride, she passed the magnificent gates of the city of Canterlot. Her cabin twisted and turned through the narrow streets, winding its way about the town, until the Royal Theater came into view. Its design, like many other buildings in Canterlot, was one of opulence. It stood three stories tall, with great carved pillars of white marble upholding a high, vaulted ceiling. Two spotlights shone on the front of the building, causing it to shimmer and gleam in the dim light of the dusk. Outside, ponies of all shapes and sizes mingled in incredible throngs, each clothed in fabulous garments of lace and silk. Only the highest of society ponies lingered here long, as they were the only ones who could afford tickets.

Her carriage pulled up in front of the theater, and the door slowly creaked open. As Twilight stepped outside into the glaring spotlights, a stallion to her right gently took hold of her hoof, helping her to exit the cab. As her eyes adjusted to the blinding light, she was shocked to see that the stallion helping her down was in fact Prince Blueblood, dressed in his finest silken suit with his hooves re-manicured for the night. Seemed that not even the legions of Tartarus itself could keep him from putting on at least a front of perfection.

"Have you been waiting for my carriage this whole time?" She questioned as the two of them strode through the elegant archway to enter the theater. Inside was a short hallway with various fliers and posters plastering the walls, advertising what sort of attractions might be coming soon to this very theater.

"Of course not. But, I was still expected to be there to escort you inside." Blueblood replied, flashing a pair of tickets to one of the many ushers, who pointed them in the direction of their seats. "After all, if I don't want to lose my job, I have to keep up appearances, and so do you. What better way to distract the tabloids from my fabled 'tales of madness' than to show up at a play with a new mare on my arm, especially one of such prominence."

"You mean, everypony is going to think that you and I are..."

"Dating?" Blueblood finished. "Most likely so."

Twilight made a face, stifling the urge to gag vocally.

"Oh come now. Its only tabloids. Nopony takes them seriously, and they're all but forgotten the next day."

"But still, that means everypony is going to think I... Ugh..."

"There are worse things to be accused of."

"I'm never going to live this down." Twilight sighed, hanging her head as she suddenly became very conscious of every glance turning her way. She paused as she noticed the smirk slowly spreading across Blueblood's lips. "You're enjoying this aren't you."

"Perhaps." The Prince replied, his smirk telling far more than he was saying. "But ultimately, what's important is that we appear somewhat normal. A vacation to Saddle Arabia won't seem nearly as out of place if its preceded with a night of enjoyment and revelry. So lets just enjoy the show, and we can depart in the morning."

The two of them stepped into the auditorium, flanked on both sides by rows of folding red velvet seats. Above them, for nearly three levels, were balcony seats, each with some of the less affluent ponies crowding about to get a glimpse of the stage. Just above these, were the private boxes, which sat nearer to the stage, and provided an excellent view, provided one remembered to bring their opera glasses along for the show. It was in one of these booths that Princess Celestia herself sat, along with her sister Luna, overlooking the stage and returning the many waves from ponies down below. The lighting was dim, and the stage was nearly bare, save for a low table and a set of chairs. The table had been set with the most realistic looking fake fruits and vegetables, surrounded on all sides by crystal goblets and silver platters.

Blueblood and Twilight took their seats, right on the aisle only three rows from the stage, just as the lights flickered to signal the start of the show. The crowd hushed as a rather bookish, older looking pony stepped out onto the stage to address the crowd.

"Good evening Mares and Stallions alike. I would like to give a very special welcome to our most honored guests, Princesses Luna and Celestia." He motioned with his hoof as a spotlight shone upon the Princess' balcony, as they waved to the applause of the multitudes below. "We kindly request that you all refrain from any photography tonight, as it may be a distraction for our actors. We would also like to remind you that exits to the theater are located behind you, as well as on each side of the building. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the Dunwich Player's production of The King In Yellow."

Both Blueblood and Twilight almost instantly turned to one another. Their blood ran cold at the sound of that title. A flood of memories suddenly washed over them as the actors began to parade onto the stage, dressed in gaudy robes of purple, yellow and green. They took their seats around the table, and began their performance. Despite the actors being fairly good, the act seemed not to hold the attention of its audience, who began to chat amongst themselves or nod off into disinterested naps. Blueblood and Twilight however, were glued to the action.

"What in Celestia's name..." Blueblood whispered. "King in Yellow. There's no way its a coincidence."

"I don't doubt that." Twilight replied. "Its just too convenient."

"It doesn't seem like it really has anything to do with our adventures however. Other than a couple of similar names and locations."

"Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa."

Their eyes were drawn back to the stage, as one of the ponies had begun to sing. Her voice was powerful, deep, and seemed to possess a strange, otherworldly quality. The word Carcosa stood out to them, drawing them back in like a lure on the tip of a hook. One little nibble, and they were caught. Drawn in like moths to a flame, they hung on every word of her voice.

"Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa."

As her song finished, a figure dressed in a yellow robe and pale mask entered from stage left. There was no mistake in the minds of Blueblood and Twilight; This was the King. It looked like a miniature, shoddy version of the King they had seen across the gate in Carcosa, yet despite this fact, it brought with it a feeling of terror that flooded Twilight's veins. She could feel her body begin to tremble at the sight, and saw the Prince tighten his grip on his armrests. It may have been only an earthly shadow, but the image of the King in Yellow was still one to inspire fear within them. They stared awestruck at the figure upon the stage, drowning out whatever dialogue had taken place. Then, a single line snapped them back into the scene.

"You sir, should unmask." The singer from earlier now spoke directly to the one in the pallid mask.

"But I wear no mask." The King replied in a voice that seemed to come from all corners of the room at once. At this, the actress' face went white as a sheet, and she let out an earsplitting shriek that jostled awake any sleeping members of the audience.

"Not upon is O King! Not upon us!" She wailed as the scene faded to black as the lights went out. When the light returned, a wave of applause swept over the room, and an announcement rang out that there would be a brief intermission before the start of the second act. Blueblood and Twilight were too shocked to move. Instead, they sat where they were, eyes wide and hooves trembling.

"There is no way this is an accident." Blueblood said quietly. "I'd recognize that despicable mask anywhere. I saw that thing in Carcosa."

"But why is it here?" Twilight questioned out loud. "I couldn't find any reference for King in Yellow or Carcosa in the Canterlot archives. So why is there a play that seems to match what we say almost to a T?"

"I don't know. But I have a sinking feeling we're going to find out."

The Prince rose from his seat, stepping out into the aisle.

"I'm going to grab a glass of wine to help calm my nerves. Would you like some as well?"

Twilight shook her head.

"Suit yourself then." Blueblood said as he began to trot off over the plush carpet.

Blueblood had exited to the foyer, where numerous peddlers were already selling their wares. He purchased a half bottle of Pinot Noir, and began to slip off through the crowd, hoping he could go unnoticed. Something was wrong here. Something was terribly, horribly wrong about this whole situation. He needed to investigate this business, and so resolved to check out the backstage. Security seemed light, and nopony stopped his advances as he maneuvered his way through the halls and off into a backstage access. He knew exactly what he was looking for back here. He needed to find that pony clad in the mask of the King.

The Prince pushed aside a tech assistant as he scanned the area. The voice of the announcer for the evening suddenly crackled over the loudspeaker.

"The second act of The Dunwich Players The King in Yellow will begin in just a moment."

The curtain was still down, but the actors were on stage. Blueblood shoved another assistant out of his way as he rushed onto the stage, the actors turning to him with obvious shock. The King stood before him now, mask preventing Blueblood from determining what hid behind it.

"You there!" He shouted, glaring at the masked figure. "Who are you?"

"Whoa, listen, I get if you're a fan-" The muffled voice was cut off as the Prince bellowed once more.

"Unmask!"

"Alright, alright." The mask fell away, and Blueblood gazed into the eyes of a fellow pony. He felt a wave of relief wash over him when he looked into those eyes.

"I'm just an actor. Sorry if you got a little freaked out."

"I... " Blueblood stammered, just before noticing a small marking at the base of the actors neck. It was faint, but he would know that sign anywhere.

Etched into the actor's flesh was the Yellow Sign.

Something within Blueblood snapped in that moment. With a shout, he smashed the bottle of wine against the pony's face, sending him sprawling. The other actors screamed, just as the curtain flew up to begin the second act. The Prince leapt upon his foe, bludgeoning him with the broken shards of the bottle. Red was everywhere, both wine and blood mingled upon the marked pony's face as Blueblood beat him with every ounce of strength he had within him. A shriek of horror went up from the crowd, and Twilight gasped in shock as she saw Blueblood savagely assaulting the pony on stage, his face contorted with a mixture of rage and fright. The other actors were frantically trying to subdue him, only to be repulsed by wild flailing of his hooves, legs, and head.

Blueblood swung and swung and swung until the bottle had long been smashed into bits. He beat on that pony with his hooves, losing track of how long he had done so. It felt like hours. Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was only seconds. All he knew was that no matter how much he struck, that blasphemous sigil still stared defiantly back at him. He cursed and shouted and thrashed, until finally a pair of ushers managed to restrain him, pinning him to the floor with their full weight. Cries of "Murder!" and "He's gone mad!" were hurled from the crowd, as Twilight pushed against the teeming masses to try to get a glimpse of the stage. She heard one final, pitiful shout from Blueblood as the ushers dragged him out.

"I have seen it! The Yellow Sign! I have seen it! I have seen it!"