• Published 28th Oct 2018
  • 4,691 Views, 69 Comments

After I Looked Up, The Stars Had Gone Away - Seer



Have you ever felt yourself suddenly terrified, for no apparent reason at all? We all know that 'gut feeling' isn't a real thing, and that there's nothing to be afraid of. It doesn't help though, does it?

  • ...
6
 69
 4,691

Principium: A Gut Feeling

There hadn't ever been a single study in the history of Equestrian academia that had verified 'Gut Feeling' as a reliable way to judge situations. It may seem obvious, but the magical abilities of unicorns, keen senses of pegasi and innate connections to nature of earth ponies had convinced some scholars that equines could actually possess some form of extrasensory situational awareness. Maybe even a mild, vague precognition.

If this were the case, it had yet to be shown empirically. All investigations into the matter came to the same conclusion, 'gut feeling' was either total hogwash or simply the test subject misunderstanding their own awareness of situations. The knowledge of this should have comforted a scholar like Twilight. Yet, as it so often did, ratified scientific consensus came apart like wet tissue paper in the face of something much greater.

Fear.

Twilight was scared. She didn't want to admit it to herself, but the thumping of her heart and slick film of perspiration matting her coat provided compelling evidence that the librarian was frightened. This wasn't the primal fear of imminent danger, it was the fear of a filly having to brave the long, dark hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

For Twilight to find herself working into the wee hours was no irregularity. If anything, it was when she thrived. The solitude afforded by these late sessions gave her the necessary boost to get some of her best work done. She had always been this way. The day was so crowded and busy, but the night was her time. She could be alone and recharge. She had been doing this since she was a child.

Twilight had thought often and at length about how Equestria would be different if Princess Luna had never been banished to the moon. She sometimes thought she would have more likely ended up a student of the younger alicorn. That was all to say, the night was one of Twilight's most faithful companions. It held nothing that threatened her and she was absolutely, resolutely, not afraid of the dark.

All of these rationalisations flew through her head and did absolutely nothing to alleviate the sickening feeling gnawing at her mind.

She had been working on her latest research assignment, a comprehensive literature review on synthetic macro-molecular catalysts. She was itching to get on to attempting to design and synthesise some of her own. But, as the princess had always said, 'before you dip a hoof, make sure you know what's in the lake'.

Chemistry was an area in which unicorn magic provided very little significant help beyond heating reaction mixtures to exact temperatures or providing specific wavelengths of light for photochemical processes. It was this uncertainty that had attracted Twilight to the area from the get go. There was something about pushing herself into unfamiliar academic territory which excited her immensely. How fascinating, then, that this didn't seem to translate into an enthusiasm for how out of her depth she currently felt.

As she had been working, the world had changed. One second everything had been fine and then, without any prompting, a sudden and overwhelming feeling of fear had squoze all rationality from her. She had no idea how or why, and she had even less in the way of tangible proof that anything was different. Save for her gut feeling, which was currently screaming at her to get out.

Leave now, teleport, don't walk down those stairs, don't do anything else, don't get your things, don't get Owlowiscious, don't even get Spike, just leave this library.

She resisted the temptation to wheel around like a panicked animal. Rather, she set her quill down before calmly turning and scanning the room in the hopes that acting normal might make her feel normal again. There was absolutely nothing out of place in her study. It was all perfect, every quill where she left it, every book in the right place on the shelves. Her tongue worked overtime to re-moisten her dry mouth while Twilight tried to understand why the room's impeccable neatness made her feel worse, not better.

Twilight remained still for a time, as did her surroundings. She made a show of sitting down on her big cushion and forced herself to keep her breathing even. Everything was silent, has it always been this silent? Without the usual ambience from her thoughtful mutterings or the scratching of her quill, the aggressive lack of noise shocked the unicorn. Her ears strained for something to fill the absence. She could hear her heart hammering away, she could hear the hitch in her steady, even breathing as her body begged for more air.

Need more oxygen in the blood, need to be ready to run.

The beginnings of a ring in her ears began to form as the room's ravenous quiet became too much. It sounded so far away, it could almost be imagined, but Twilight knew the ringing was there. It was the sound of screaming into a void.

Eventually, the fear began to abate slightly. It wasn't gone, but she let it ebb until she felt comfortable enough to rise from her cushion. An idea sprang to her mind, and she felt sick. Twilight knew she needed to do it, if only to prove to herself how ridiculous she was being. Gut feeling isn't real, there is no need to be so frightened when nothing had happened. But the peak still felt insurmountable, the very idea of doing it threatened to bring back everything in full force.

But still, there was no such thing as gut feeling, just do it.

"Hello?" she forced herself to speak clearly and with authority. No different to one receiving an unexpected visitor. This was her home, she was the one asking questions. This didn't change the fact that, internally, she felt like she was drowning. The idea that she had worked herself into this frenzy over nothing wasn't a reassuring one, but it was better than the alternative. Twilight's voice was like a match in an ocean of silence, she prayed that she wouldn't get a response.

Of course, the room didn't respond. There was nothing there, she was alone save for Spike upstairs and Owlowiscious down below. Why would there possibly be a response?

Why do I feel like this?

Twilight laughed. It was brittle and humourless. She turned away from the perfect, dark, silent room and back to her work. She seized her quill with a minor flare of her horn. The nib hovered, ready to continue her work. But Twilight didn't carry on her work, Twilight listened.

Never before had she so wanted to hear Spike's snoring. She so longed for something familiar, but there was still nothing to hear. Save for that distant ringing, distorted and so, so far away. The sound of dementia devouring a memory. Twilight tried not to focus on the fact that it was getting closer. But it was so hard because, save for her breath, the rush of blood in her ears and the distant clack from downstairs, there was nothing else to hear.

Wait.

The quill dropped onto her page, marring her work with a broad ink stain. She sat and stared at nothing, into nothing, and she strained again. Sure enough, after a few minutes, there was that distinct clacking sound again. It was quiet, but it was definitely there, and it was coming from her house. Such a cold, dead void was carved from within her as she heard it happen again. She racked her brain for anything to cling onto. Anything was better than the alternative. That there was something down there.

The wind blew open the window by her desk. Her candles were extinguished and pages of her work fluttered to the ground and Twilight barked with desperate laughter. She instinctively lit the candles again with another flare from her horn.

It was the wind.

Someone had left the window open downstairs and it was clacking in the wind! Probably Spike, he was so silly! He'd left the window open, or she had. Someone had left the window open. It was the window and it wasn't anything else. The clacking sound happened again but Twilight strongarmed herself into not being scared this time.

She should really go and close the window downstairs, Twilight knew this, but she was very actively aware of how her body stayed rooted to the spot when she stared at that door. Another clack from downstairs, Twilight remained still. There was only one door to the ground floor of the library. Had it always looked so dark? It was like it stole light from the room. She tried to remember what colour it actually was. She must have looked at it everyday, but it was a door. Why would she take any note?

She wanted to say it was brown, but tonight it looked black. Not some deep, infinite black. That would have almost been better. Instead it looked like setting tar, the moon and candle light accented it with white flares. Twilight tried not to take too much notice of the alien shapes the shines created, nor the way she could swear the door seemed to be staring right back at her.

She rose from her cushion, but any meagre courage she had been able to gather in the last few minutes extinguished just like those candles in the face of actually taking another step towards that door. Instead she turned, closed the window in front of her desk and made her way to the balcony. She walked straight towards it and ignored the prickling feeling on the back of her neck. It was like the second she turned away from the room, everything hiding there had emerged to stare at her.

But there was no such thing as gut feeling, no such thing as knowing you were being watched without any actual sensory reception of a watching party. She saw no-one else around, the noise downstairs was an open window and nothing more. Twilight opened the balcony doors with a flare of her horn and stepped out. The night was her friend, and it couldn't hurt her.

Twilight's stomach dropped as she felt the lack of wind around her, the wind which was causing the noise from downstairs. The night was totally still, it was like she stepped into a photograph. It sickened her. She pushed down a rising panic and forced herself to remember the temperamental nature of weather at night. There were no pegasi out to keep a lid on things. The wind from before must have gone as quickly as it had came. It happened all the time and it was what was happening now. Of this Twilight was certain, because what else could it be?

She trotted up to the railing and peered out into the sleeping village. A tiny sense of relief began to take root as she waited for her eyes to adjust. All she had to do was find the lights. It wasn't too late anyway, either Pinkie or Rarity would be up. She could see it now, the baker bouncing around her room until the small hours, her fellow unicorn running herself ragged trying to meet deadlines. She could even pay them a visit if they were still awake! The shapes of the buildings became clearer, Sugarcube Corner and Carousel Boutique were far away enough that it would take her a short while to make them out regardless of whether their lights were on or not.

But Twilight had all the time in the world up on her balcony. She told herself she was just checking up on her two more nocturnally-inclined friends. Of course it also wouldn't hurt to see someone else sharing this normal night, she wasn't alone. It wouldn't have mattered if she was, but she wasn't. The night was her time to be alone, but that didn't mean she had to be alone all the time. Everyone should share what they loved with their friends, and Twilight loved the night.

Eventually, her eyes settled enough for her to make out her targets. All lights off. Pinkie clearly had decided to get an early night. Carousel Boutique was the same, no deadlines for Rarity tonight. Twilight swept her gaze across the village. It was so dark out there... there wasn't a single light. How could it be that there wasn't a single light? Someone else had to be up, and even if they weren't surely someone would have just left a light on in their house, just like silly clumsy Spike had left their window open.

She was alone. It didn't matter that she was alone of course, that was why she stayed up this late. But still... The night was so stationary, there was nothing and no-one. How could it be that she couldn't hear a single sound, save again for the ringing, the far off keening shriek that didn't seem so far away now?

Twilight's breath caught, she suddenly became acutely aware of the feeling of trespassing. She truly loved the night, but this felt unnatural, this was something she wasn't supposed to see. Why hadn't she just gone to bed like everyone was always telling her? She tried and failed to bite back a faint whimper. She backed away from the railing cautiously, the idea of displaying her fear felt like it would make everything worse. She would go inside and go to bed. Straight upstairs. Spike could even sleep in the big bed with her tonight too. He hadn't done that for a while, she bet he'd like that.

The unicorn kept gazing out into the ghost town, cursing herself for being so superstitious, but still praying for something to break the stillness. A light, the sound of some animals, another gust of wind. Anything please. Her hooves were as steady as she could manage while she tracked her way back to the library's second storey. Luna must have given them such a bright, beautiful moon tonight to allow her to see so much of the darkened village. She looked up almost reflexively, and with a deepening sense of terror Twilight Sparkle saw that all the stars had gone away.

The moon was indeed beautiful and full, and like Twilight it was alone. Even when lit up, Ponyville was small enough that the stars were always visible. On a night as dark as this Twilight should have been able to see every single one of them. Tonight she only saw the sky's own untainted majesty. It was impossibly black and infinite. Twilight had never heard of Luna giving a night without any stars. She tried and failed to fight away the nauseating horror of finally being in a situation she couldn't easily explain away. Her hooves faltered and she found herself unable to move now.

Maybe the princess was experimenting tonight, maybe she had made a mistake, maybe this was a prank the night princess was playing on naughty little fillies who should be in bed? All plausible theories, all swallowed by the gaping jaws of pitch oblivion.

As Twilight stood there, rooted to the spot and gazing into the black canvas above them, her prayer was answered and the porcelain cracked. Somewhere, so, so far away out in that stationary night, someone screamed. She had to actually strain to pick it up over the shrieking, impossibly loud silence. Her heart began to hammer again while her fraying mind attempted to concoct a million different reassuring reasons for what she just heard.

All pretense of calm was abandoned as Twilight galloped back into the library. She tried to lock the balcony door with a flare of her horn, but found herself too distressed to formulate any kind of spell. Instead she pulled them shut and bolted them with her own trembling hooves.

Twilight then shrieked when a particularly ferocious blast of wind threw open the nearby window above her desk. Tears streamed down her face as she locked that too and shut the curtains, determined not to look out anymore into that still night and starless sky. She didn't even try to rationalise where that wind came from. In fact it seemed like an afterthought now as her mind replayed that scream against her will.

She collapsed in a ball to the ground, no longer caring about the way her body was wracked with sobs and rasping gasps for more air, so much more. It had been so quiet, nearly imperceptible. The smart money would be on her imagining it entirely. She had managed to give herself tinnitus just by wishing to fill in the silence, and when Twilight was on the balcony she had so hoped to see or hear anything that would prove to her she wasn't alone on this starless night.

But every-time she replayed it...

If Twilight was going to imagine up something like that, she wouldn't have ever come up with the sound she'd just heard. She'd imagine someone screaming in excitement, or fear, or even pain. Anything as long as it was earnest. What she heard though, there was something subtly uncanny in the tone. It sounded like something was simply practising their best shriek of terror, but there was nothing genuine about it.

It sounded so artificial, but even that wasn't the worst thing. As Twilight's mind kept putting her through it again, she zeroed in on something nigh inscrutable. It made no sense at all, and of course there was no such thing as gut feeling. Still, she couldn't shake the fact that her gut was screaming at her that whoever made that noise had been smiling.

Twilight's magic fizzled, unfocused, again, and it was all she could do to grab the wastepaper basket with both hooves before she vomited. Churning wet sounds eventually gave way to ragged dry-heaving when the unicorn's stomach was finally emptied. She stayed there for a second, the acidic ting of vomit stinging her throat and nose. Every time she thought of that terrified, pleading, synthetic, gleeful scream another painful dry-heave twisted her body.

Once she had calmed down enough she rolled over onto her back and tried to catch her breath. The sheen of sweat covering her finally made her shiver as the adrenaline surge retreated slowly. She was going to go upstairs and wake up Spike, she didn't care that he would have been asleep, she didn't care that he was a a baby dragon who needed his rest. She would wake him, and the two of them would sit in her room with the lights on until this night was over with.

She rose to get up, but only made it half metre before her horn painfully whacked against the underside of the desk she had inadvertently rolled beneath. Some more papers were knocked to the ground and one came to settle on her tummy. She peered at it in the gloom, perking up slightly when she recognised Spike's penmanship.

Twilight,

I just wanted to leave you a note to remind you I'm staying with Sweetie Belle, Applebloom and Scootaloo in the Treehouse tonight. You were pretty engrossed in a book when I left and I don't know if you remembered. Anyways, I'll see you tomorrow, don't study too hard!

Have a good night,
Spike

Twilight stared at the letter. Of course. He had been planning this for over a week now. Of course it was tonight. She had just been so interested in that stupid, god-forsaken chemistry book she had forgotten, like always. Of course it was tonight of all nights. Of course. The one night that a seemingly dead Ponyville was draped in a starless night. The one time Twilight was cast into forever motionless hell of which she was the one, unwilling sentinel. A lonely filly crying in her guard tower.

She grabbed the textbook, long discarded to the ground beside her, and stared at it hatefully. It felt good to lay some of the blame on it. If it weren't for you I'd have known Spike wasn't here and would've left the library the second this all started. She knew it was a lie. The unicorn wiped the moisture from her eyes and looked at Spike's letter.

'Have a good night'

She let out a ragged scream of hopeless rage before throwing the textbook at a nearby wall as hard as she could. It impacted and the spine ripped audibly. More books fell from the surrounding shelves and landed, their pages creasing.

So she was alone then. She supposed she should be glad, Spike was far away from this library. She didn't feel glad though, she felt so, so scared. She wondered if he could see the stars. Twilight started to laugh, she laughed and laughed and held herself close. She held her hooves across her barrel long after her laughing had become desperate, terrified crying.

There was a clacking noise from downstairs.