• Published 9th Mar 2018
  • 2,533 Views, 56 Comments

Ouija - Knackerman

Apple Bloom reaches out to her parents across the gulf of eternity. Something else reaches back.

  • ...

Chapter 7

Apple Bloom tried to flee.

It might not have looked like that to a casual observer, but she really did.

The problem was her legs simply turned to jelly from fear. It didn't help that as soon as she turned away Apple Bloom felt rusty chains snake around her limbs, causing her to trip and tumble hard on the black muddy soil. As the filly's fall broke the crust of the filthy soil, centipedes and maggots boiled up from beneath the surface, swarming over her prone form. Apple Bloom's eyes went wide as she felt hundreds of squirming bodies envelope her, getting in her mane and tail. It was her reaction to this which prompted the initial burst of screams that had reached the ponies ears in the not so distant farmhouse.

The chains around ‘Big Mac’s’ collar wriggled, seemingly every bit as alive as the insects that churned up the muddy soil. They grasped Apple Bloom tightly and pulled the filly towards the waiting darkness of the barn. The furrow her body dug in the soil churned up ever more insects, so much so that a streak of worm and bug guts was left in the filly's wake. The smell was repugnant.

There was no anticipating what happened next. The looming monster that resembled Big Mac lifted Apple Bloom up out of the mud and... dusted her off, removing the larger clumps of mud and the particularly stubborn critters that still cling to her hair. He then gently set her across his broad, if slimy back, and began to trudge back into the darkness.

He was so unexpectedly gentle that at first Apple Bloom had no idea how to respond. She was still bound firmly by the creatures chains, but not so tightly as to chafe or dig into her flesh. Indeed the gentle rocking motion as the monster lumbered, down into what the filly could see was a deep dark pit gouged into the earth, was actually kind of relaxing.

Apple Bloom had practically been a foal the last time her big brother had carried her on his back like this.

Still, as the foul scent of decayed earth and rot wafted around her, she knew she didn’t want to go anywhere with this thing, who both was and was not her brother, would want to take her.

She started to try to struggle out of the chains, to work herself loose or at least off of his back. Unfortunately that just made the links tighten around her, hurtful for a brief moment, and then relaxed again. Apple Bloom cried out, screaming at the top of her lungs for help, but the restrictive chains crushed in around her again and made it difficult to breath.

Apple Bloom got the message loud and clear. She could either go along for the ride quietly, in relative comfort, or she could struggle painfully.

What a rotten choice!

Well there was only one thing left to do then.

“Just where is it ya think yer taking me ya big galoot!?” Apple Bloom blustered angrily, kicking the beast beneath her hard with her tiny hooves. She quickly swallowed her anger, however, and mollified her tone when she felt the creatures muscles shift beneath her, “Um, sir? If it’s not too much trouble ta tell me, that is...”

“We are going to the source. To the heart of the orchard," her kidnapper whispered, almost sadly. "The darkness from whence we all come and to which we will all one day return,”

“Gee, well isn’t that swell,” the filly muttered, not quite under her breath. “Ah suppose it’d be pointless to ask ya ta be more specific?”

“I’m taking you to your mother and father,” the beast answered simply, and then said no more.

They had gone deep into the earth by now, and the tunnel had widened into a kind of burrow or cavern. Thick roots intertwined with one another overhead. Viscous black liquid oozed from the organic ceiling. Apple Bloom could see all manner of creepy crawlies pulsing like a living blanket in the damp ceiling. Though it should have been pitch black down here, the filly had no trouble taking in every slimey detail.

She should have been terrified, should have been struggling to find a way to escape, but her captors words intrigued her.

“My mother and father?" she asked, unsure she had heard correctly. "They’re down here?"

“Yes,” ‘Big Mac’ replied simply. “They have been here for some time now. Would you like to see them?”

Apple Bloom took her time in answering.

Was it possible her parents were here somewhere? Or was this just some kind of trick to make her cooperate? Why bother lying about them while she was so firmly wrapped up in chains? It wasn't like she was going to be going anywhere else any time soon. If there was even the ghost of a chance Apple Bloom could see her parents, was it really worth the risk of missing such an opportunity?

“Yes... Yes I want to see them,” Apple Bloom stoically replied. “Take me to see my parents.”

It was hard to believe, but Twilight and Starlight were having a tougher time than little Apple Bloom. As soon as they had entered the tunnels, they had heard the tell-tale scratching noise of blade like legs scrabbling behind them. It wasn't a surprise that the creatures that had attacked them had followed after the pair, but they had thought with both of them injured they might have put more distance between them. Of course, Twilight and Starlight both were dealing with their own injuries as well, but it certainly didn't help that they could hear their pursuers drawing closer the deeper into the warren of tunnels they went.

It wasn't long before the first of the whispers started to echo around the pair.

“We’re gonna get ya! We’re gonna get ya! We’re gonna get ya!” the Applejack thing’s sing song voice chased them through the underground, mockingly. Her mad laughter seemed to come from every direction.

Worse, every time they paused to try and get their bearings and figure out which way Apple Bloom might have been taken, they could hear the Granny Smith thing as it snuffled the muddy earth to pick up their scent. It wouldn't be long now before Twilight and Starlight would have to worry about more than just sounds coming out of the dark to harry them. Running at a full gallop they might have been able to put more distance between themselves and their pursuers but, as dark as it was in these tunnel, doing so would have almost guaranteed a broken neck if they should stumble and fall.

Unfortunately Starlight's stamina had begun to flag as soon as they had entered this Celestia forsaken pit. Her magic was only barely holding the wound in her shoulder closed now, and thick dark veins could easily be picked out radiating from the puckered slit in her flesh. Twilight had seen enough to recognize an infection of dark magic when she saw it, but there was little she could do here and now to help her friend. Not if they were going to escape their pursuers and rescue Apple Bloom.

It didn’t help that Twilight’s wings still throbbed in pain. Fortunately they didn’t show any signs of a similar infection, but that didn’t make her burns hurt any less. The pair stopped to catch their breath, but both knew that they wouldn’t be able to continue on at this rate.

Something was going to have to give.

“Twilight. I want you to go ahead without me,” Starlight said between gasps of breath, her breathing labored partially from exertion and partially from the steady throbbing pain radiating through her body.

“No! I’m not going to leave you behind!" Twilight exclaimed, clearly flustered. "In your condition...”

“In my condition I’m just slowing you down," Starlight replied rationally, though not happily. "Your wings may be injured but your legs are just fine. Meanwhile, I can barely keep up with my shoulders stiffening up on me like this.” It was true. She could barely move her forelimbs now, even on her uninjured side. Running like this had done her more harm than good, and whatever was on that knife she had been stabbed with was only being spread through her blood stream all the quicker because of it. “You have to worry about Apple Bloom instead of me right now. I can take care of myself.”

“Starlight...” Twilight didn’t like it, but it seemed like they really didn’t have a choice right now. Pushing Starlight to run anymore seemed like it would only cause her more pain, and spread the dark magic in her veins all the quicker. Twilight would have attempted to carry her former student on her back, but with her wings damaged as they were she couldn’t even think about trying that without wincing.

She’d have to leave Starlight behind.

Twilight seemed to come to a decision, “I’ll be back as fast as I can! But don't try to fight them. Instead we should hide you. Rub yourself with some of this mud. I can cast a spell on it to help conceal you.”

As Twilight’s horn started to glow, the nimbus of energy immediately fizzled out. Starlight tried to ignite her own horn, only to encounter the same fizzling effect.

“Looks like that’s out of the question Twi,” Starlight gave a weak smile. “Well, I’ve been wanting to see if I can solve my problems without resorting to magic. I guess now is as good a time as any to find out if I can.” The unicorn stood proudly, if stiffly, her breathing calmed and her chin set firmly. Starlight turned her back on her mentor and faced the direction they had come from. The direction from which the sounds of their pursuers were only growing louder.

“Starlight, no. There has got to be another way...” Twilight was practically in tears.

“Go on Twilight. The least I can do is buy you some time. I’ve got this,” the unicorn put on a brave face. “You’ve got a filly waiting on you. I know you're scared and I am too, but think about how she must be feeling? Don’t make her wait too long to be rescued.”

Twilight choked back a sob.

“O-okay. See you soon,”

Saying that, Twilight turned and dashed down the tunnel before Starlight could see her tears. She didn’t know if that would be the last she saw of Starlight, and she didn’t want to think about it if it was.

Not right now.

Starlight was right. Apple Bloom needed her and she was far more defenseless than her former pupil.

Twilight just hoped she was somehow in time to not just save her, but Starlight and herself as well.

The further they went, the higher the ceiling grew.

As they had gone along the tunnels had gradually widened until they were now in something that would more accurately be dubbed a cavern.

Apple Bloom couldn’t help gazing in awe at the complex weave of roots that spread overhead. She didn't see as many bugs now and the intricately interlaced roots were strangely beautiful in a pale and other worldly way. That was not all that drew quiet admiration from the filly, as she could see tall white marble or granite pillars of in the distance on either side of the chamber they passed through. On closer inspection they were shot through with black corruption, some kind of mold perhaps, but even so they still towered majestically and supported the ceiling high above.

The ground was more even here, and here and there Apple Bloom could see a few wide stone tiles. There were also vast sconces, wide as a small pong, set on either side of the muddy path they trudged. Deep in the bowls there smoldered a curious black flame that cast neither light, nor heat, yet seemed to illuminate the entire cavern. Without their strange un-light, Apple Bloom might not have noticed the sudden shift in terrain. They were no longer following the muddy tunnel path, but instead had begun to travel down a flight of massive stone steps that led further into the depths below.

“What is this place?” The filly wondered aloud.

“We are close to the heart of the orchard now,” replied Big Mac in a deep voice that rumbled in Apple Bloom’s small chest, yet was still swallowed by the sheer cathedral-like size of the chamber they moved through now.

“Did you guys build all this?” asked Apple Bloom with awe in her voice. The chains were loose enough around her now she could have tried to run for it if she wanted to. If she had thought to. But her mind was occupied with many questions, and it was her curiosity that held her captive now. “The stairs and pillars and big bowls of weird fire? All this stuff?”

The creature began to quiver and shake, a strange wheezing sound escaping its throat.

It took Apple Bloom a little while to realize that this was this ‘Big Mac’s’ version of laughter.

“No, little one,” he replied in hushed tones tinged with mirth, before growing serious again. “These are his temples. They are his places of power. They can be found all over Equestria. Where darkness gathers a temple built in his name, in eons past, is probably buried close by, in deepest shadow.”

“Who's temple? Who's name? And why would ya go ta the trouble of buildin' such a beautiful and breathtakin' place just ta bury it?” Apple Bloom leaned forward, trying to peer into the ponies eyes, but they were hidden beneath his thick greasy mane. “Who built the temple then?"

Her captor didn’t answer right away, sighing heavily, as if this small conversation was in some way incredibly taxing and wearisome.

That didn't surprise Apple Bloom. Thinking about it, this would have been a lot of talking for the real Big Mac.

“The architects have long since passed out of this world. Who and what they were are questions with complex answers that would not satisfy you, nor would you understand the answers even if I gave them to you. As for the one that these temples were dedicated to...” he paused, as if he were struggling with himself. As if part of him was trying to resist divulging a secret that the rest of him badly wanted to tell. “We never learned his name. Not truly. Thousands of years ago he was known as the Pony of Shadows. But that name was doubly inaccurate. He was never a pony nor was he a mere shadow. His darkness reached further than even the deepest pits. He is the true sovereign of this world..." The darkness seemed to grow thicker for a moment. "Always has been. Always is. Always will be."

“The Pony of Shadows! Hey! Ah know him!” cried the young mare in recognition. “He was that fellow Stygian who originally got together the legendary heroes of Equestria. But Ah thought he was banished to Limbo, or his dark powers were, or somethin’ like that?”

“Perhaps in your world little one,” replied the beast as it finally reached the bottom of the stairs. The roots grew particularly thick here and reached down the walls of the cave and entwined around the crumbling pillars of the sacred temple, “But here he has ruled as long as anyone can remember. His darkness blankets this world and all who dwell here drown in despair.”

It seemed like they had finally reached their destination. They were surrounded on all sides by what appeared to be a vast black mirror. As Big Mac stepped forward onto the smooth dark surface, ripples spread out in every direction. It took Apple bloom a moment to realize what she was actually seeing was a huge black lake that spread as far as she could. As her captor walked across the oily sludge, he continued his story.

“This is why the orchard was planted. Once the sun and moon fled from us, all of the plants withered and died, leaving us with nothing but rot and decay to live off of. But soon we discovered that by tapping into the power of the sovereign, even the rot could be made to live, and grant life in turn to those who should have lost it. With the orchard thriving, we could live on in this dead and dying world, clinging to his shadow for sustenance." His voice was less quiet now, more sure and certain. There was a hint of religious mania to his words, not that Apple Bloom would understand what that fervor might portend. "He saw what we did, and he was glad, and he blessed us. The Apples have ever been his devoted servants since...”

Something was going on. There was movement high above them, and in the distance Apple Bloom could see a spot where the roots seemed to reach down deep into the heart of the lake of shadow.

All the Apples!” Big Mac thundered.

Apple Bloom could see it now. The deep hole in the middle of the lake that the black ooze dripped into, the roots that reached deeper still into that further abyss, and strewn among the roots the myriad bodies of ponies tangled in their grasp. Not only that, but the thick tendrils grew into and through their shriveled bodies. Most were corpses, long decayed but somehow preserved by the sticky black resin that seeped from the roots. Some of the ponies clearly still lived, although their eyes had long ago glazed over from madness or resignation to their horrible fate.

Now that she knew what to look for, Apple Bloom could see even more bodies among the roots above her head. It was from those bodies that the black liquid dripped, feeding the subterranean lake. The foul substance was the black blood of the damned!

This revelation was horror enough on its own, but that was not all. There were shapes moving among the roots on long, sharp spider-like limbs. They looked like they may have once been ponies themselves, long ago, but as they climbed upside down and latched their mouths full of needle sharp teeth onto the living corpses to suckle from their lifeless bodies, there was no doubt in Apple Bloom’s mind that these were nothing more nor less than monsters.

The ceiling was full of them!

“The heart of the orchard,” rumbled Big Mac, his sonorous voice lost and alone in this unholy place. “The darkness from whence we all came, and to which we will all one day return...”

Terror and revulsion flooded Apple Bloom, but even more than that was a sadness that threatened to overwhelm her completely. For at the center of the lake, the freshest additions to the malignant growth of the ‘orchard’, were regrettably familiar despite the fact she had not seen them in the flesh for years.

Bright Mac and Pear Butter.

Apple Bloom had found her parents.