• Published 21st Aug 2016
  • 9,602 Views, 107 Comments

WHITE - Crimmar



Twilight has theorized the possibility of creating pocket dimensions. Facing the ridicule of the theoretical magic community she has set forth to prove them wrong. She constructs a portal and enters it. Inside, she finds a field of empty white.

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Twilight

Twilight felt a treacherous drop of sweat sliding down her forehead and towards her focused eyes. She blinked rapidly, hoping to dislocate it before it managed to blur her vision at this critical stage of her work. A silver chisel with a narrow diamond tip was in the shaking grip of her hooves, repeatedly working small, almost invisible gouges on the glimmering surface of a sapphire. She stopped before she made a mistake, and took a deep breath, calming her nerves. When her hooves were steady once more she returned to her toil.

Thirty six sides, each with its own rune symbol, formed the rune matrix she was currently working on, and there was no moment more stressful than this one right now as she struggled with the very last one. A slip up, a tiny, infinitesimal one, and she would have to start all over again.

The final line was drawn and Twilight gasped as she drew air into her starving lungs, having held her breath without realizing it for the last minute. She put her tools back into their case, after checking the tips for damage.

This project had cost her a fortune so far, the intricate gems, and the massive quantity she had ruined already, being only a part of it. The tools for runework were incredibly intricate, and thus expensive. From the simplest rune to the most expansive array, everything had to be done without the slightest trace of magic lest she contaminated the birthing runic field. It was the most aggravating endeavor she had ever gone through.

It was worth it though. She levitated the sapphire in front of her, finally able to touch it with her magic. She trickled power into it, smiling as seemingly nothing happened. Success. She had no idea how long this last gem took her. Hours probably. She looked behind her, towards the door of her basement laboratory, and saw Spike snoring on the floor with his hands tucked under his head. She hadn’t even heard him.

She thought about waking him up, but the fleeting thought faded away as her gaze returned back to the fruit of her labours. Her project. Her crowning achievement. The greatest money sinkhole devised by a pony if she was wrong in her calculations. Please don’t let her be wrong.

It was a door in the middle of her laboratory. Two metal pillars supported it, covered with indented gems, each harboring its own rune, forming an array that could be redirected and reprogrammed. Mana batteries stood by, gorging themselves in ambient magic, ready to redirect their flow through glass conduits.

The door led nowhere.

Another sapphire, already complete, had been placed on the top of the left pillar. Twilight hovered the latest addition over its rightful socket on the right, and gently dropped it.

The -hopefully- working portal gave a little hum and then... was silenced. Twilight approached the entrance that failed to initiate, feeling mightily disappointed. No, disappointment didn’t even begin to cover how she felt. She had thrown all of her savings into this. Nopony had accepted her theories, and the only funding had to come out of her own pocket. She had scrounged and saved every bit possible. She had borrowed. She had made assurances that she would obviously not be able to keep now.

Her lip trembled as she checked the pillars up and down. Could she have made a mistake in the runes? Maybe… maybe one of them was wrong, maybe… what if all of them were wrong? What if she had to redo all of them? She couldn’t afford it. Hay, she could barely afford food, and when ponies started clamoring for their bits back she would have to wave goodbye to eating too. At least Spike wouldn’t go hungry, she thought as she kicked the closest pillar in frustration. He could eat these Celestia damned gems that put her in the red.

She took a slow breath and wiped off her tears. Calm down Twilight. You made a mistake. Somewhere, somehow, you made a mistake. Go over everything again, and pray it wasn’t the basic principles, because if it was, you just made yourself a laughing stock to the research community. She already became one when she came forward with her ideas, but to prove them right… it stung.

She blocked her muzzle with a hoof to drown out a whimper. She didn’t want Spike to wake up and see her like this. It didn’t work. The portal didn’t work, and neither did her attempts to calm herself down. Failure. She was a failure, and-

She looked at the glass conduits, gawping stupidly. She didn’t activate the mana batteries did she? That would explain the hum! Ambient magic was not enough. It might work. It might still work!

She flipped the switch at once, and watched the magic flow unimpeded to her creation.

Twilight let out a loud yelp as she jumped back, away from the newly activated portal. An otherworldly sound echoed through the basement, almost deafening her. It sounded like a scream or a reverberating sheet of metal being ripped in half, or both of them together. A star formed in the center of the door, and collapsed upon itself in a bright explosion of light. The light expanded and rippled, acting more like a sheet or some other kind of physical object, and not the energy it was. It filled the empty threshold and stopped at the pillars, anchoring itself like a spider’s web. It had no color, and it barely lit up its surroundings, but somehow it burned into Twilight’s retinas like the sun.

She gave another little scream when she felt something touch her side.

“Whoah Twilight, calm down. It’s me,” Spike said. The small dragon was completely awake, and after one last look at his friend he turned back to the portal, staring with fearful eyes.

“It works?” he asked, disbelief and wonder in his whisper. Twilight felt her mood fall a little bit. Evidently, not even Spike had believed her.

The fluctuating light brought Twilight’s mood back up, and soaring in high, new, unexplored heights. It did work. It worked! She did a little dance in the privacy of her basement, ignoring Spike’s amused look. She didn’t care! You don’t invent a -hopefully- reliable method of establishing and using pocket universes every other week.

Note to self; Find new project to work on next week.

“It works Spike. It works! Ha, I never doubted my theories for a second. Oh, this is so exciting!”

Spike clicked his claws together nervously. “Hey Twilight, this leads to another place, right?”

“A pocket universe, modified, selected, or created by the parameters on the control pillars, yes. I’m not entirely sure which,” she admitted, rubbing the side of her head. “We will have to run a few tests.”

“Great. I’m sure we will have a lot of fun. But, uh, what I want to ask is…. What if something comes through?”

Twilight watched and waited silently with Spike at her side.

The portal weaved subtle pockets of light, like the reflection of a pool in a sunny day. The barest hint of a hum thrummed in their ears.

She hadn’t thought of that. The technical aspects took too much of her attention to even give thought to- what if something did come through?

The portal stood, flickering.

Would she even know? What if something did come through already? Something she had no way to detect? What if it was able to slip through her vision, occupying other dimensions than the ones her meager senses could observe?

Twilight shook her head violently, pushing the idiotic thoughts aside. It wasn’t possible. She had already set the parameters, and they strictly prohibited the existence of life. She had set them for an empty universe, just to be safe. Nothing was going through the portal.

She smiled. Nothing but her. Spike relaxed next to her, seeing her calm down. It was not time for thoughts that belonged in comic books or horror novels. It was time for science and exploration.

“Alright Spike. Test one. I’m going to throw an apple through the portal.”

Spike took a step back. “Shouldn’t we get to cover first?”

“I’m sure there’s nothing to be afraid of.” She wasn’t afraid. She was thrilled to explore the possibilities that had just opened before them, and she would prove it. She grabbed a green apple in her magic, and threw it through the portal.

It vanished. It was almost like going through a thin sheet of water. The light did not ripple, but spread and separated in strange patterns, as if the passing object blocked a hundred different sources of light, casting shadows on the veil of light itself.

“Success!” Twilight announced.

“Are you sure?” Spike asked. “How do we know it didn’t blow up or… or disentagrate?”

“The word is “disintegrate” Spike. I’m sure nothing of the like happened, but we can do another test.”

Twilight selected another apple, a bright red one this time, and found a yarn of string. She made a hole through the apple and tied the string through it, making sure there was no way for the apple to slip this way. A couple of back and forth swings, and she let it loose.

It flew through the portal, vanishing. The string tied behind it fell down in a way that signified it was still connected to the apple. There was a small circle of shadow where the string passed through the portal.

They watched the string, lying down on the floor, still like a dead snake.

“Twilight… what if something pulls the string from-”

“Spike, the only one who’s going to pull the string is me. Here,” she said, and did just that. She really didn’t need Spike filling her head with ridiculous, though utterly terrifying, ideas.

This time, the effect was vastly different. The field of light barely gave off any illumination, yet the passage of the apple back into their world cast the basement in heavy shadows that moved and formed a thousand disturbing shapes in the fraction of a second it took for the small apple to come through.

Twilight checked the apple. It was completely unharmed though it seemed to have blackened a bit, probably from hitting the ground. She took a bite and found the taste normal. She strode to the back of the laboratory where the mana batteries were located, and checked their gauges. She was surprised to see that they were hardly spent. In fact, there was so little drain that the batteries were slowly refilling themselves to full. It seemed that the portal had only needed extra power to initiate. With this kind of consumption she could keep it activated indefinitely.

She went back to the portal. There was more testing to be done. She had to work her way up until she made sure it was completely safe for a pony to go through. The apple went through untouched however, and passage obviously drained minimal magic power… and there was so much to find out and learn just a step away. How could she close her eyes to this kind of bait?

“Spike, I’m going through,” she announced, having made her decision.

Spike’s eyes went wide. “Twilight wait, you can’t-”

“I’m only going to take a look and be right back. Just five minutes, I promise, and I won’t step away from the portal.”

“Twilight wa-”


White.

Twilight had imagined she would have seen something profound when she went through. Mayhaps a tunnel, its walls sewn from the fabric of reality. Or a flickering of the entirety of the cosmos crossing her eyes in an instant. She thought she would have heard a sound, perhaps a thundering wind streaming past her ears like a hurricane. She considered the possibility of an overwhelming sensation passing through her, like an electrical current.

There was nothing. She passed through the portal, and that was it. She was no longer on Equestria. She was… in another place. Somewhere new. Somewhere strange.

Somewhere white.

Everything was white.

There was no blue sky over her. Only an all-encompassing white. No gray, no shades of any kind, only a pure, unstained white. She couldn’t tell if that was really a sky or a ceiling that was hundreds of kilometers away or just a meter over her head.

The ground was also white and completely smooth. She scraped it with her hoof. It wasn’t slippery or dull. It was… there. That was the only way she could describe it. She struck her hoof on it and it made a sound unlike any other. It sounded like a hoofstep on dirt with the clanging sharpness of walking on a metal surface and the dull vibration of a wooden floor. She struck the ground with her hoof once more, only this time much softer. It made the exact same sound, exactly as loud. She tried again. And then once more. No matter how softly or hard she put her hoof down, the sound was always the same.

That didn’t really make sense. What was this material composed of?

She took a few steps forward, listening carefully to her own steps. The horizon was… non existent. She couldn’t tell how far away the landscape spread, much like the sky. This could all be a room only a few meters wide.

Where was the light coming from? There was no sun. No obvious source of light, yet everything was smoothly lighted. She checked her own hoof. It seemed oddly two dimensional in the perfectly distributed light. She looked down beneath her and was only mildly surprised to see there was no shadow.

She turned around to the portal. It was standing behind her, the exact copy of the one in her lab. The shimmering net of light, the two pillars it clung on, the gems with the runes carved on it.

Twilight slightly twisted her head to the left, unconsciously trying to get a different view of the portal. Something was off. She walked in a circle around the portal, trying to understand what. It couldn’t be something wrong with the portal itself. It was still working. The pillars were untouched. The gems were in their right positions.

It wasn’t just the portal, though she still hadn’t figured out what struck her wrong. Something else had bothered her before that, but she had ignored it as she took in the view. There was something missing, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out what.

She trotted back to the front of the portal. A play of the light perhaps? She wasn’t used to the conditions of this place. That had to be it.

She was certain of it. Almost.

She had found enough for a first trip. There wasn’t a lot more she could find out without trying to move further out or running tests, and she refused to do the latter without ink and paper to write down the results. She would go back, and return with the right tools.

Twilight headed for the sheet of light, taking one last look around her.

What had she missed?


“-go in yet- oh. That was really fast,” Spike said with relief.

“I’m sorry, what?” Twilight asked.

“I said it was really fast,” Spike explained, gesturing with his hands. “You went in, two seconds later you come out. Did you see something scary? Is that why you came out so fast?”

Twilight frowned. “No. I stayed in there for a few minutes. Huh, time dilation,” she said absentmindedly. She repeated what she said in her head. “Time dilation! Oh, I can’t miss this opportunity!”

“What?”

Twilight ran around her lab, gathering her instruments, and plenty of inkwells and blank paper, into boxes. “Time dilation Spike. I spent about five minutes in there, and only two seconds passed out here. I can study the created pocket universe from the other side, and have the work of days done in mere hours,” she said in excitement.

“But… why would you want that?”

“Because this way I can rub piles of data in the face of all those ponies who said I was daydreaming,” Twilight answered, feeling particularly mean. “I can have some basic findings ready by the day after tomorrow, when Princess Celestia will be visiting Canterlot University for a tour of their new labs.” Labs which would have made everything easier for Twilight, but was prohibited from using them for her “daydreams”.

“Um, Twilight… you don’t know if it’s safe,” Spike objected.

“That’s what science is all about Spike. Finding out. Help me pack. I’ll also need a small desk that can fit through the portal. Oh, a small cot too.”


Twilight levitated the desk to look towards the portal, and placed the stool behind it. She took a seat and immediately got up again. It didn’t feel right. It unnerved her somehow. She wasn’t sure why. The portal probably. The light that wasn’t light. She rotated the desk one hundred and eighty degrees to look over the vast expanse of white instead. Not the greatest view, but it would have to do.

It didn’t feel a lot better. It could be the lack of a shelter. She wasn’t used to occupying a desk under the open- probably- sky. She looked upwards to the white overhead. She got hold of a closed inkwell and threw it up. The small black bottle shrunk as it travelled away from her, and grew back to normal size as it fell back down. Probably a real sky then. She threw it a good ten meters up. She would have to get back to this with something more concrete later on.

The sky felt safe anyway. Something else was the problem. She just couldn’t put her hoof on what.

Why did she use that word? Why “safe?”

She trotted over to her boxes to unpack, listening to her hoofsteps. That strange sound that stuck in your mind as-

She paused. Was it different now?

It felt different somehow. Like… richer. More full. Thicker. Unexplainable. It might be nothing or… she looked around her, at her boxes of equipment and the small furniture she had moved in here. The packages of food, the small cot, the blackboard waiting for her to briefly deposit ideas and theories upon it. Of course. There was now somewhere for the sound to reflect for the first time.

She let out a relieved giggle, only to lose her smile as she heard herself. That was… different.

“Hello?” she said. She didn’t expect an answer. She only wanted to hear her voice.

It was different, much like her hoofsteps. The same intangible quality was in her voice too, and it didn’t sound exactly like her own voice anymore. No, she was being silly. It was how sound worked here. She got hold of a small wooden ruler and whacked the desk with it.

It made the completely normal sound associated with wood hitting wood. Twilight frowned. It didn’t have the same effect her voice and hoofsteps did.

She shrugged. One more thing to research. She would need to take audio samples. She ignored the sound question for now. She had to continue getting ready. She started unpacking boxes, letting out instruments of measurement, bottles of chemicals, thaumaturgy equipment, and stacks of unmarked paper, setting it all down in order, ready to be used.

It took her quite some time, but time was something she had plenty of now. She giggled inwardly at the thought. This place might not be that bad when she got used to it. Deadlines, you have no power here.

She set down the last stack of papers, being done with the heavy lifting. She sat on the cot, breathing heavily, noticing that even her own breathing sounds had the same infuriating effect. It really started to bother her. She would have to find out the reason for this first, even over all her other questions.

She heard a paper shuffle behind her. One of the paper sheets had been blown off. She caught it, put it back in place and placed a paperweight on the stack to prevent this from happening again. She guessed this was one of the hazards working outdoors.

She went back to her desk for the last few details. She placed a closed inkwell on the top left of the desk, a quill on the right, and a blank piece of paper in the middle. Perfect! This was where it would all begin.

Where to start? Most of what she should be taking measurements first were things like atmospheric and environmental figures which would require time and constant… observation… She stopped her train of thought. There was something else nagging on her mind.

She went back to the portal to inspect it once more. It still annoyed her greatly. Something was horribly off, and the sensation got greater as time passed. It was right in front of her, she was certain, but she couldn’t see it. The small hum it gave? The light? What? Why did something in her head scream that this was wrong?

She left the portal behind her. It would come to her later. She needed to put it out of her mind for a while, and then she would see it clearly and laugh at her own stupidity. She could share the story with Princess Celestia, and they would both have a good laugh together.

Thinking of her mentor brought another question in mind. What was the source of all this light? More importantly, would it wane? She really didn’t think she would be able to sleep in here if it didn’t. Oh well, at worst she could hop back home and get a sleep mask.

This light didn’t make any shadows, and it illuminated everything perfectly. It was obviously not coming from a single direction. What if this place was inside a sphere that illuminated everything from all around? This could be it, but… if that was the case there should be a trace of shadow on the ground. Not only that, but everything was equally illuminated from the bottom too. She looked down once more, spotting nothing. She had no shadow.

She took out some basic tools and started taking measurements. The temperature was a perfect twenty eight degrees celsius. There was no wind of any kind, and precipitation was at a perfect level despite the lack of clouds or source of water. She continued taking atmospheric readings, the results stunning her one after the other. Everything was at the perfect ideal level. It seemed unbelievable, but here it was.

She looked around her small “camp,” her apprehension returning after she was done taking her readings. No shadow under the desk, none below her boxes or her cot, and none at the ground in front of the portal.

There should be something there. Something was missing, something that was supposed to be right there.

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to figure out where that came from. What should be there? A shadow? Why? There was none anywhere else. Why should there be a shadow at the portal?

No, not a shadow. Something else.

That didn’t help. She marched to her desk to write down her observations and her readings, meager as they were. She took her quill from the left side of the desk and dipped it into the open inkwell. She needed paper. She grabbed hold of a sheet from a stack, placed it on the desk, and started writing down her observations. It took depressingly little time.

She put the lid back on the inkwell and rested the quill on the right side of the desk, like she always did. A few scribblings. That’s all she had in essence. She had to get serious and start working in a proper and methodical scheduled manner, but…

Something just happened. Something was wrong.

She looked around. What was it this time? The portal again? No, something else, though the portal still clung to her mind. Just now, something happened the wrong way. She checked her notes again. A mistake? A mispelling? No, nothing of the sorts. She missed something. Something important. Perhaps her readings? Did she miss a connection?

She gritted her teeth. This was really getting on her nerves. She blamed Spike, filling up her mind with his stories. She struck her hoof on the ground, the sound filling her head again, screaming at her to notice the disparity. It sounded wrong. So many things felt wrong and she had no idea why. It grated on her.

Fine. She would take a recorder crystal and go for a walk. She needed to move away anyway, see if anything changed with distance. When she got away enough she could take recordings of her hoofsteps and voice to compare with those in the camp and ease her mind of one thing at least. Maybe a walk would help her clear her mind too.

She took the recorder crystal and stored it in one of the pair of saddlebags she put on her back, filled with other things she might need. She looked out, towards the non-existent horizon. She would move in a straight line, get some more readings, and then back again.

The idea of walking away from her little camp felt surprisingly relieving.

Twilight started walking forward in a sedate pace. Every few minutes she would stop and turn around to make sure her camp was still in sight. Every time, the view of the portal mocked her. “Don’t you see it?” it said. “Haven’t you noticed it yet?”

She kept her focus on the sound of her hoofsteps instead. She walked, and waited for the sound to change. She waited for the moment it would turn back to the sound she had first heard, the one that didn’t make her flinch after a while.

That moment did not come. She gave up on the notion it would. She might have just remembered it wrong, or something else changed that she didn’t see. She took out her crystal recorder and activated it. She kept it balanced on her magic, on her right side, recording as she walked. Twilight reminded herself that she needed voice samples too.

“Hello. Hello. One, two, three, one, two, three. This is a test. I am performing an audio test for… for…”

She deactivated the crystal, shoving it back into her saddlebag. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It had been entirely wrong. That wasn’t how her voice was supposed to sound. She knew. She heard her voice bouncing in her skull every time she talked, she knew her own voice, and this wasn’t hers. It wasn’t just the way it sounded, it was where it came from. If Twilight had to say at which direction her own voice normally came from, she would say her throat. She felt the vibrations from it come from beneath her jaw, from inside her neck. She didn’t hear her voice so much as sense it.

Now, it felt as if she heard it instead, and it scared her.

Why did it scare her?

She stopped and turned around. The camp seemed smaller. She had gone further than she was planning to. Perhaps it was time to return. She swiveled her head back towards the direction she had been heading to. It’s not like there was anything to find-

There was something up ahead.

Something white.

Twilight ran towards it. She wasn’t sure what it was, she couldn’t make it out. The only reason she noticed it was because it was the slightest hint of gray, a difference so subtle she would never have noticed under normal conditions. She had been close enough to see it here now though, to notice the difference from its surroundings. She approached, as fast as she could.

She halted on her tracks, a few meters away. She saw her find clearly.

A skeleton.

It was not a pony. The skull was differently shaped, more sphere like. It was larger and it had the same number of limbs as a unicorn or an earth pony, but it didn’t end at hooves, at least she didn’t think so. She couldn’t make it more details, the lighting of this place not allowing shadows and lines to form and give shape. Bones in the back and the front blended together, turning it into a formless shape.

She approached slowly, almost venerably. The skeleton of the creature was draped over an object, hugging it or clinging to it.

As she closed the distance she noticed a speckle of dust falling from the skeleton. Even more curious now, she approached more rapidly.

That proved to be a horrible mistake.

The skeleton was old. Beyond old. Ancient. It might have been just the sound of her hoofsteps, that damned sound, or the vibrations through the ground. Whatever the cause, the skeleton that was whole and complete suddenly crumbled to the finest dust.

“No! Oh no, please no!” Twilight tried to hold it steady with her magic, preserve it, but it was in vain. There was nothing left, but a pile of almost unnoticeable white chalk-like powder.

“No… such… such an opportunity, so much to learn…” she mourned. She should have been more careful. There was nothing left. Or… almost nothing.

There was still what the skeleton of the unknown creature was holding onto.

Twilight examined the object, sorrowfully stepping over the pile of dust. It was a… she hesitated on what to call it. A sign? A monument? A gravestone? Almost as tall as her, and almost as white as the ground it rose up from, ending in a half circle. It seemed to be made of the same material the ground was.

She ran the edge of her leg against it. There were carvings on it, shallow or faded with time, but they were there. She wouldn’t be able to read them in this light however. Not while everything was so uniformly lighted. Her eyes couldn’t see what her hoof sensed.

Luckily, she had a trick for that, thanks to a brother who wanted to make his little sister stop disturbing him from his own studies, and who managed it thanks to a coin, a piece of paper, and a small pencil.

She had the paper, and she had a pencil in her saddlebags. She laid the sheet against the top left of the monument and used the side of the pencil’s graphite edge to rub out the carvings on the sheet.

Twilight examined the results. They weren’t letters or symbols. It was pictures. The one she got on her first try perplexed her greatly. It was a city with impossibly tall buildings.

She looked around with wonder. There was no city, not as far as she could see. It didn’t even make sense for there to be one. Her portal was supposed to create a new pocket universe from scratch, one that was empty as possible. There wasn’t supposed to be anything alive here.

The skeleton wasn’t alive. Perhaps… She had heard a saying. Nature abhors a vacuum. Maybe it worked with magic too. Perhaps the magic of the portal took an initiative and tried to populate this dimension while staying true to its conditions at the same time. It couldn’t have anything living here now but it could give this place a history instead. It would make sense if it wasn’t completely ludicrous and in no way possible.

She placed another sheet on another part and started over.

This wasn’t a picture. It was a series of symbols. One of them looked like a simplified version of the skeleton’s skull. The other could be… flames perhaps? A strange one that she couldn’t make sense of, comprised of three triangular shapes around a small circle. Some of the rest seemed to be alchemical symbols of some kind. Everything was placed inside the same rectangle. She couldn’t understand what this was supposed to mean. Did it mean they were all the same?

She drew another sheet, and gasped at the result. It was a street view of the city! It looked… majestic was the only way to put it. Whatever the creatures that designed this were, they were extraordinary artists. Even the simple rub out was able to hint at an amazing level of detail with nothing but lines and deeper indentations. The artist had done a great job with the shadows, filling the city street with them-

She took a closer look. The pencil hadn’t been able to create the best copy possible, but she thought that on every single shadow there was a slight imprint of one of the symbols from before. She looked closer, half closing her eyes as she tried to spot greater details. It might have just been the way her pencil ran over the paper, but… was there a hint of something else in the shadows too? Was there something standing in every one of them? Could it be the residents of this city?

This was starting to scare her. The city street lost its magnificence and transformed into a place full of danger, where the shadows ruled with fear. There weren’t any living creatures on the picture she noticed. Nothing walking down the streets. Nothing standing at the doors, or looking out the windows. Why? Why was the only hint of life, if that’s what it was, in the shadows?

Twilight put another sheet to the right of the one before. She was certain of what she saw now. The sun. It was almost like a comic book. The sun shining its light on a planet. The sun with the symbols arranged next to it. The planet slowly being covered with something. Was this true? She looked upwards. The whole planet, covered with something artificial?

Frantically, she moved on to the next picture. The same street view, only now the shadows were gone. It looked cleaner, like a sketch made of pure lineart except for some dark spots. Those were half hidden behind objects, walls, and corners, barely showing themselves, and one of the symbols placed right next to them, drawing attention to them.

They almost looked like… No, they were formless blobs, nothing more.

Next one. The same street, but buildings were missing. Twilight moved to the next one. More buildings missing. Next one. The city from the beginning, now with most of its beautiful buildings gone. Next one. The city was gone.

All gone.

Nothing left but a void.

There was still room on the monument for two more pictures. With her pencil trembling in the grasp of her magic, she used two more sheets of paper.

An arrow, pointing towards the reader. Shaking from horn to hoof, she completed the last part.

The skull.

Twilight threw the papers away. What was this? What- what happened here? What lived here, what lived in the shadows? Why did they turn this world to this endless void? What was the point?

Why was the arrow pointing at her?

She sat down, breathing deeply, calming herself. She would find the answers. All would be revealed with some careful thinking. Take it slow. Measured. The answers were here. She just needed to ask the right questions the right way.

She felt calm. She felt relaxed. She had found incredible things in an astounding short amount of time. If there was one remnant left of the creatures whose skeleton she found, then there had to be more. She would find her answers. Perhaps it was time to return to her camp, and write down everything.

She collected the pages and put them in her saddlebags. She hadn’t gone much further than she was before. She could see her camp easily. She could see the portal with the two metal pillars standing guard next to-

The pillars.

That’s what was wrong. The pillars. Why didn’t she see it before? It made sense for the portal to be there. It made sense. An entry and an exit. A ripple through reality that went both ways.

But why were the pillars there too?

Twilight went through her process once more in her head. She had set the portal, through the settings on the pillars, to find an empty world-

An empty world.

She was supposed to find an empty world.

This world wasn’t empty.

Empty; containing nothing. Not occupied. Void.

There was ground. There was a sky. There was air. There was the skeleton. Those were things. Of course, when she thought of an empty world she would be hard pressed to think of something more… empty than this, but-

Her settings didn’t care about what she could imagine. They were supposed to find what she asked them to find, as literally as possible.

This world wasn’t empty.

The pillars were here too.

What happened here? What happened on this world? What was going on? Why did- why didn’t her portal work as intended? Perhaps the monument had more answers to give. Did she really cover all the available surf-

Huh.

An apple was lying at the bottom of the monument.

She… hadn’t taken an apple with her, had she? She checked her saddlebags for any holes, even though she was almost certain she hadn’t put one in them. She examined the apple carefully. Green. A green apple, like those she had at home. She picked it up. Didn’t she throw one of them in here? She frowned. It should have ended in front of the portal, not here.

How did it end up all the way here? Why didn’t she notice it before?

She didn’t notice it… because it wasn’t here.

No. No! This made no sense. She was alone in here. There was nothing else. Nothing else brought the apple here. Nothing took it from the portal and held onto to it until- until-

Twilight shivered in fear. No. She was alone. She looked around, up and down. Nothing. Empty. There was nothing here.

She took a deep breath. Calm. These are just scary thoughts, compelled by what she found. Finding a body, even an ancient one wasn’t easy on anypony, and she was just imagining things due to the mysteries she was surrounded with. She was getting back to camp, and perhaps her home. A dose of reality would serve her well.

She set out to head back. Her hoofsteps rang in her ears, reminding her of the sound records she had taken. Yes, that- that might help. Busying herself with something sounded like a great idea.

She took out the crystal and played back what she had recorded. Her hoofsteps mixed with those of the tape. There was no difference apart from the quieter volume of the recording.

Twilight decided to try and mix it up. She sped up the recording. It sounded a bit ridiculous, earning a relieved giggle out of her that was quickly silenced when she heard herself. She went the opposite direction and slowed down the recording. Nothing. Just the-

She frowned. There was a moment when her hoof made contact with the ground in the recording, a kind of dull sound and it sounded broken in way. She didn’t notice that in the sound of her hoofsteps as she walked now.

Humming quietly to herself she slowed down the recording as much as possible and started it over.

She rooted in place, going white as a sheet.

Silence. Then a sharp moment of contact as her hoof struck the ground in the recording. The dull sound started echoing in the recording, vibrating in its special way. It only lasted for a second, even in the slowed down recording. In real time it would be almost imperceptible.

Then immediately after followed a second contact at the heels of the first.

The recording crystal cluttered down in the ground, making the same sound she heard so many times before, but without that terrifying quality. Of course it didn’t. Why would it?

There was no place around her for anything to hide. There were no clouds, no buildings, no curves in the land like hills or ravines. There were no shadows. It was a place where if you wanted to stay hidden you had nothing to hide or take cover behind. Almost nothing.

There was only one place to hide.

The arrow hadn’t been pointing at her.

It was pointing behind her.

Twilight took a trembling breath. “Please, please don’t-”

She stopped, shivering.

It wasn’t repeating her words anymore.

The portal. She had to reach the portal. It was so close. What- what should she do? She took a step forward.

She heard her hoofstep.

A second later she heard one that wasn’t hers.

It knew. Celestia help her, it knew.

Would it allow her to reach the portal? Would it stop her? She didn’t want to turn around. Something told her that if she turned around this time it would let her see it. She didn’t want to see it. If she saw it, it would act, she knew it. She couldn’t- couldn’t stand here forever. She had to move, but if she did-

Her breathing became panicked. She didn’t want to die. She had to stay in place. Stay here until she thought of something. Help. She needed help, but with the time dilation… she had told Spike she was going to come out in two days. How long was that in this place?

Tears blurred her vision. The portal. She had to focus on the portal, her only way out. If she gathered her magic for a teleport… would she be able to finish the spell in time?

Would she be allowed to?

Help me. Somepony, please help me. Oh Celestia, please, please I need somepony to help me, I don’t want to die here, I don’t want it to get me, please, please...

She had- had to think of something. So she stayed in place, and thought. She thought while it stood behind her, waiting. Her mind had frozen, paralyzed with fear.

Twilight stood still, and she prayed that it would wait, that it wouldn’t get bored.

She cried in terror in a field of white.

She cried because she was not alone.