• Published 18th Oct 2015
  • 423 Views, 8 Comments

Into the Deep (2021 remastering) (2022 fix-ups) (2023 further updates) - Calipony



Celestia sends Twilight into darkness to recover a book that should never have existed.

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Into the Deep

‘Where are you now Twilight?’ Celestia’s voice hissed in Twilight’s head.

She startled. She couldn’t adjust to the telepathic connection. She cringed with every foreign thought popping up into her mind. Her intimacy had been trespassed. There was, however, hardly any other choice to keep contact with the surface.

Twilight was standing at the entrance of a vaulted cave. The guttering light of the torches behind her, in the stairway she had just left, fought hopelessly the pitchy darkness ahead. ‘About to enter a large, dark hall. Shall I cast a light spell?’ Twilight thought.

‘Yes, but as dim as possible. Be extra careful. If memory serves, there’s a chasm halfway through this hall. Watch out your every step!’

Twilight’s horn glowed. She tiptoed forward, scanning the floor before her. The crunching sound of her hooves on the ivory gravel was echoed and amplified by unseen walls. Sweet Celestia! That’s not gravel. That’s… motes of bones? She shuddered.

‘Twilight, please focus!’

Suddenly, a few feet ahead, she saw the floor fall into nothingness. She stopped. ‘I’ve reached it’, she thought.

‘It’s narrow. You can easily jump over. Don’t look down!’

In flagrant violation of Celestia’s order, Twilight proceeded to the brink. She glanced down, trying to figure out how deep it reached.

She blinked.

At the far end of her field of vision, she had made out something, a strangely twisted shape. Dull colours, a dark purple blotch branded with a pattern. A pattern? Wait! A chill ran down her spine. Did I just see…?

TWILIGHT! Celestia’s voice boomed into her head.

She shook her head. She had a mission to carry on. Her imagination was running wild and she was seeing things, full stop. She went back a few steps, inhaled deeply, gritted her teeth and leaped over the chasm.

She landed on to the other side, and breathed out in relief. ‘What now?’ she asked silently.

‘Good job, Twilight! ‘Now you can go ahead. No other hazards here. The opposite wall is about fifty yards ahead.’

Twilight paced on steadily until the wall loomed out. ‘I’m there!’

‘Very well. There are three archways in front of you. Don’t, I repeat, don’t walk through the left one: it leads to a trap, you’d die. Now, for the two other ones, I cannot offer you advice. You’re on your own.’

Twilight walked under the middle arch. She ventured a few steps inside. She stopped, cranked up the light, looked round and sniffed the air. She doubled back and did the same under the right arch. Back in the hall, she took stock. ‘The centre arch seems to climb up, and there’s a reeky draught coming from farther inside. I don’t like it. I’ll go for the right one.’

‘That might be a trick’, Celestia remarked.

‘Sure’, Twilight thought, ‘but there’s no way to know except by exploring it. I really think the right arch is the way to go. I’m leaving a teleporting pin right here, just in case. Not taking any chance.’

‘Very wise, Twilight!’

She strode under the arch. After a while, the tunnel tapered off into a narrow, spiralling stairway which led farther down. If this was a dead end, she would not be able to about-turn: she would have to climb backwards.

Downstairs, step by step. Breathe deeply. Watch your hooves. Let your eyes sweep the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Freeze! She had seen uncanny glyphs carved in the wall.

‘Magical runes!’ She came a bit closer. ‘Can’t read them. Old. Worn out. Almost gone. No perceptible energy in them.’

‘Be very careful. They might still be functional’, Celestia warned.

Twilight took a step forward. The slab clicked under her hoof and the glyphs flashed.

Somewhere in the corridor above her something heavy crashed. And began to… roll down? Quick! Teleport back! She spoke the word, but nothing happened.

‘Boulder behind me! Cannot teleport! The glyphs block magical energy.’

‘Run!’ Celestia commanded.

Twilight bolted downstairs flat out. But after only fifty steps or so she bumped into a wall. ‘Dead end!’ she yelled, panicked. ‘I can’t go anywhere.’ Behind her, the ominous rumble rose to a din. ‘The boulder’s on me! Help me Celestia! Please, please! HELP! HE—’

‘Twilight! Twilight? TWILIGHT?…’ Celestia called, almost aloud.

No response.

‘Twilight!?’

Silence. Celestia sighed and, grabbing a pencil, crossed out a small line on the map unfolded before her.

Twilight stopped in front of the black altar. It sat in the centre of the room, a huge, ominous stone, full of wicked engravings. From the ceiling, a shaft of light fell squarely on it. Large, dull splotches covered it. What they were, Twilight dared not imagine.

Posted on it, enclosed within a glass globe, lay the golden-covered book she was looking for, the very reason why she had had to crawl all the way down this dank, grisly underground complex. The book in which he had written his most unholy secrets, to which he has bequeathed all his evil power. A legacy for his yet-to-be heir. The manual Celestia desperately needed to dispel the dark enchantments he had left behind, once and for all .

‘The book’s on the altar under a glass case. I sense a trap. A lot of magical energy in this room. Elusive. Unfocussed. What shall I do?’

‘Cast an anti-magic shell at maximum power. Use telekinesis to lift the case. Very slowly.’

A bright, multicoloured bubble sprang up round Twilight. At the same time, she stroked the glass case with her purple magic and lifted it so carefully it was almost impossible to see it move.

Nothing happened.

Feeling better, Twilight ramped up the telekinetic force. When the case floated high over the book, she nudged it aside and set it to rest on the floor nearby. ‘I removed the glass casing. I feel no perceptible change in the room’s energy balance. Shall I proceed with the book?’

The answer came after a slight pause. ‘Try it.’

The purple aura grazed the book, whose pages shivered with a soft rustle. It took off—ever-so-slightly. Twilight guided it sideways, until it was well clear of the stone. ‘I’ve flown the book away from the altar without tripping anything!’ she triumphed.

‘You did? Congratulations Twilight! I can hardly believe it!’ Twilight felt a tinge of excitement in Celestia’s thoughts. ‘Go back very carefully. Don’t take the same passageway! It’s trapped when you walk it that way. Take the other exit!’

‘Who told you that? Have you been there before?’

Another slight hesitation. ‘It’s one of the few facts written in the Royal library’s manuscript.’

‘Oh.’ Twilight couldn’t remember it, though. Never mind. Why would Celestia lie anyway? She flew the book across the room until it hovered a few feet behind her. Satisfied, she turned round, padded to the archway and vanished through it. The book obediently followed suit into the darkness.

When Twilight emerged from the entrance back to the surface, the harsh light of the Sun dazzled her. Reflexively, she closed her eyes and let the levitation spell break. She heard the book drop on to the turf with a soft thud.

‘Twilight!’ the voice of Celestia cheered in front of her. ‘Oh I’m so happy you’re out of harm’s way!’ Twilight heard the Princess trotting toward her, and she was tenderly hugged in those hooves she knew so well. She nestled her head deep into Celestia’s coat and surrendered to the snugness of the clasp. After all those hours fraught with tension and danger, it was sweet to rest awhile in Celestia’s loving embrace.

Ease up, Twilight, it’s over now.

‘It’s all right, it’s all right’, a deep, husky voice whispered into her ears.

Twilight jerked her body free and opened her eyes.

Sombra was standing in front of her. He was beaming with that large, baleful smile of his. His red eyes were latched on to her. ‘I’m so proud of you, my faithful student!’ he said, in a mockery of Celestia’s voice, before cracking up into maniacal laughter.

‘What? Where…? Where’s Celestia?’ Twilight stuttered. She tottered back and nearly fell.

‘There’s been no Celestia for centuries!’ Sombra replied when he had regained his composure. ‘I killed her long ago and took her form. Now, at last, her defeat is complete!’ His voice rose in triumph. ‘Behold! Today is day one of my unchallenged dominion over Equestria!’ He carried on in a more subdued voice. ‘Thanks for eluding all the snares she had devised and for bringing back my beloved book. Hmm… I wonder if I should spare you in exchange for your helping hoof…’

He seemed to ponder for a second, then smiled. ‘No. I don’t think I should make exceptions, even for very amenable students. Sorry, Twilight.’ His curved horn shone. ‘Adieu, then, my precious student. I shall miss you at my coronation, you would’ve been such a cute lady-in-waiting.’

Twilight has watched Sombra, paralysed and helpless. ‘Twilight! TWILIGHT!’ Celestia’s voice suddenly broke into her head. She startled, as if that call had roused her from her numbness. Her eyes focussed again.

‘Twilight. It’s a lie. Wake up!’

‘But—’ she began. It was too late. A black cloud sprang from Sombra’s horn, grew, engulfed her, and she fell into the void.

‘Be very careful. The room brims with dark magic. Do you see her?’ the voice of Celestia said in Twilight’s head.

‘Yes, yes, she’s here…’ Twilight’s eyes were locked on the body that lay halfway to the altar. She felt abject fascination, mixed with horror and revulsion.

It was her own lifeless body.

‘How did she die?’

‘She was lured into a nightmare. I tried to break through, but she was already in too deep. Her own fears—your fears—killed her. So watch out.’

‘Celestia, I—’ Twilight faltered.

‘What is it, Twilight?’

‘Am I… I mean, am I like her? Am I a clone?’

Twilight felt Celestia giggling. ‘Of course not, Twilight. You’re the real one! What makes you think you’re not?’

‘I don’t know’, Twilight answered. ‘I— But why? Why those clones?’

‘I needed somepony to recover that book, lest it fell into the wrong hooves. That somepony had to have superior intellect and stunning magical abilities to defeat all the traps and snares Sombra had set in his lair. So it had to be you. Now I knew that, even with your unmatched skills, you would not return. Thus, the decision to create clones and use them as…’ She hesitated, ‘…expendable explorers?’

Twilight shuddered at these last words. ‘But… Why not go yourself? You’re—’

Celestia giggled again. ‘I’m just too fat to fit inside most of the tunnels!’ She resumed in a more serious tone, ‘I could have asked Luna, but I deemed it too risky. I’m not sure how she would have reacted to such an overwhelming presence of dark magic…’

Twilight pondered for a brief instant. ‘How many—’

‘Twenty-six’, Celestia interrupted.

‘Twenty-six!’ Twilight exclaimed. ‘This is a butche—’

‘It is, alas, the price of your safe passage. Do you think it was easy for me? To feel your distress without being able to save you, to sense your death as if I was in your head? Twenty-six times? Each time I had to check my tears, to grit my teeth, convince me that it was not you, but a mere copy, and that I should shrug your death off, as if it was a trifle. I think I never went through such an emotional ordeal since Luna’s banishment, Twilight.’

Twilight nodded. ‘I understand. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. But…‘

Celestia sighed. ‘What else, Twilight?’

‘Are there any others?’

‘No’, Celestia replied. ‘No. They were created “on the fly” from you, one at a time.’

‘I don’t remember that.’

‘I had to erase that memory from your mind. You wouldn’t have been able to make it so far, had you known the truth. You’re still psychologically fragile, Twilight. It would have upset you, and you would have run headlong to your death. I apologise for that, but it was for your own good.’

‘Alright’, Twilight thought. ‘What shall I do now?’

‘What do you sense?’

‘Hard to tell. As if there were many unlocalised or moving magical sources.’

‘No, no, that can’t be. There’s an obfuscation spell at work here. Focus harder. It can save your life!’

Twilight concentrated. She closed her eyes and let her mind sweep the room again, seeking spots of dark magic. But nothing stood out. She could feel the baleful energy all round, prowling, ready to pounce, but she could not identify any definite source.

Try again. Beyond the deception. You can do it!

She had made out something. She stiffened. Smiled.

‘Got it! Right above the altar. The shaft of light conceals it.’

‘Great job, Twilight! Now you know what to do. Destroy it!’

A ray of energy sprang out of Twilight’s horn and hit the ceiling right above the altar. The shaft of light was snuffed out, revealing a dark, shiny boulder, much like an obsidian sphere, set into complex stonework. At first, nothing happened, as if the stone had absorbed all the energy of Twilight’s spell. But within a few seconds it turned deep crimson, then vermilion, yellow, and finally dazzling white. A deafening shriek filled the room.

Twilight retreated a few steps. ‘Oh no, no, NO! It’s going to—’

The stone exploded with a loud bang, shattering its surrounding stonework. Shrapnel pelted down all round. One piece flew straight at Twilight’s head and crashed right under her horn, sinking deep into her skull. Twilight swayed and flopped on to her flank. Her hind legs wiggled reflexively, then slackened and stood still. Blood trickled from the wound, staining her purple coat.

Twilight recoiled at the shambles. The ground was covered in rubble. In the centre of the room, the black altar had been smashed, as if by a giant hammer. A few feet ahead, forsaken in a puddle of clotted blood, lay the body of another Twilight with a large splinter lodged in her forehead. Farther away, half buried under the debris, yet another self, her face aghast, gaped with wide, glassy periwinkle eyes.

Twilight felt sick. She closed her eyes. Sweet Celestia!

‘You must stick to it, my dearest student. It’s vital to our mission. Empty your mind’, Celestia whispered in her head.

Twilight reopened her watery eyes. ‘Was that bloodshed absolutely necessary?’

‘Twilight, there’s no time to discuss this right now, but I promise we will, once you are back. Please focus a little longer. Do you sense anything?’

She closed her eyes again. Her horn shimmered as she scanned the room. ‘No. Nothing. If ever there was dark magic here, it’s gone.’

‘Do you see the book? It lay on the altar before the vault caved in. It has golden covers.’

Twilight forced herself to gaze beyond the two corpses. Something golden was indeed slightly jutting out under the rubble. ‘I think I see it.’

‘Get nearer, very carefully. Don’t trip over the rubble, you could get hurt.’

Twilight swept the debris aside as she moved on, slowly, towards the book. When she felt she was close enough to it, she used her magic to sweep all the shards away, until the cover was plainly visible. ‘The book’s at my hooves.’

‘Really? Twilight, you’re awesome! Levitate it and go back, quick.’

A purple halo wrapped itself round the book, which became airborne. ‘Done.’

‘You did it! Congratulations, Twilight! I can hardly believe it!’ Twilight felt a tinge of excitement in Celestia’s thoughts. ‘Go back very carefully. Don’t take the same passageway! It’s trapped when you walk it that way. Take the other exit!’

‘Who told you that? Have you been there before?’

Another slight hesitation. ‘It’s one of the few facts written in the manuscript kept at Canterlot’s Royal library.’

‘Oh.’ Twilight couldn’t remember it, though. Never mind. Why would Celestia lie anyway? She flew the book until it hovered a few feet behind her. Satisfied, she turned round, padded to the archway and disappeared through it. The book obediently followed suit into the darkness.

The thick, almost solid darkness struck Twilight when she finally passed through the entrance gates. She raised her head. It was a beautiful, peaceful night studded with stars, in which no Moon shone. How could that be? She recalled beginning her descent in the early morning. How long had she been trapped underground? Four, maybe five hours at most, she thought. The Sun should be shining. Could it be that she had strayed inside, unbeknownst to her?

A whinny snatched her from her reverie. She looked down and gasped.

A few yards ahead Celestia lay sprawling on the grass. Black blotches and deep, wide gashes that dripped crimson blood marred her coat. She was still breathing feebly, eyes closed.

Twilight rushed and knelt close to her. ‘Celestia? Princess? What happened? Please, please, answer me.’

The Princess’s eyes opened wearily and a gentle smile played on her lips. She tried to speak, but only whispers came out. ‘Sorry Twilight… Was busy watching over you… Didn’t see… coming… Surprised… Couldn’t win… this time. So sorry…’

‘Win? What? Who? WHO? WHO?’ Twilight yelled.

Celestia didn’t answer but her eyes moved and locked on to something. Or somepony. Behind.

Suddenly chilled to the marrow, Twilight rose and spun round.

There she was, standing in all her regalia, piercing Twilight with her icy, intent gaze. Holding in her blue magic the book that Twilight in her distress had left unattended on the turf.

Nightmare Moon.

She laughed. A long, hysterical laugh.

Darkness had only begun.

Comments ( 8 )

Well, that went dark fast and never stopped.

Whoa, a lot more twists than the original. You took out that last bit I loved, but it was still an interesting read.

Well, I liked the writeoff version of this story, so I decided to give this one a try. Maybe it's just because I'm not a huge fan of dark stories, but I honestly liked the writeoff version better. I think the biggest problem with it now is that the twist ending seems to just come out of nowhere.

6545372
Yeah, someone told me the same thing.
I had many ideas for the conclusion, some less dark than others. I plumped for the darkest. I know it will sound contrived to some, but that’s a risk I was willing to take.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

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