• Published 6th Oct 2012
  • 1,893 Views, 101 Comments

A Discordant Tale - piedol



A story of Ponies, Humans and Discord, and the tragedy lost to history.

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Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Shocking. Sharp. Jarring. Heart attack-inducing. Fucking painful.

How would you describe the feeling of having freezing cold water poured over your head when you're completely unprepared for it? I certainly have no shortage of fitting tags that come to mind, and not a single one of them is positive.

At least it got me to wake up from that nightmare...


***


INSERT SOUND OF FRESH ARCTIC RUNOFF BEING UNCEREMONIOUSLY DUMPED OVER MY UNSUSPECTING UNCONSCIOUS FORM HERE.

I flinch and splutter my way out of my slumber and straight into a world that is altogether too bright, too wet, and too damn cold.

"Wh- what the frig-!" I madly glance around as the shock wears off, my arms already busy rubbing away the goosebumps that had instantly sprung up across my frigid flesh.

"He's awake!" is the first thing I hear.

I look up to the sound of the voice and am only half-surprised to spot Rainbow still hovering there, still shamelessly clutching the bucket she'd used to jolt me back to the land of the living.

"Yes, Rainbow Dash, this we can see," says a second voice, "But was such a method really necessary?"

With a sigh, I look to my right, where I find Zecora, who is eying Rainbow with a respectable amount of reprimand.

"Your stinky salts didn't do the job," came the off-hooved response from above.

Zecora shook her head in exasperation, "The purpose of the salts, you should not misconstrue; they were meant to break the spell—not wake him, too!"

Rainbow's mouth opened in a silent 'O' of understanding, which was quickly hidden with a sharp 'tsk' of indifference, "Well... I didn't feel like waiting, then. Whatever gets the job done, right?"

I am going to fucking-

You can kill as many annoying little pegasi as you like, AFTER you've dealt with our little guest.

~Agreed. There are indeed much dealings to be dealt before you are permitted to return to your deranged fantasies of equicide.~

Equicide? Don't you mean h- Oh, right, fucking interspecies language developmental differences.

~I would also be very much gratified if you would refrain from making use of that crude filler word that you seem to so enjoy tossing every which-way.~

Hey, I'm the one helping you here. Let's not forget that. If you have a problem with my language, you can get right back in your little prison and stay there till some other unlucky sap comes along, got that?

~Have it your way, for now. Be glad that I am currently in no position to make demands.~

Sighing as a fresh headache began to form as a result of yet ANOTHER voice being stuffed into my cranium, I commenced a more detailed analysis of my surroundings:

I was no longer in the temple; the Altar or the Elements was nowhere in sight. I had somehow wound up back at Zecora's shack, in her cot, most likely thanks to my pony pals who had no doubt found me passed out at the Altar, been unable to rouse me from my magically-induced sleep, and transported me to Zecora to seek both assistance and refuge from the forest.

Wait, somepony's missing here...

As if on cue, there was a soft knock on the front door, after which it was opened by a slightly damp-maned unicorn who looked like she had certainly seen better days.

There we go.

I would've given a half-hearted 'good morning' to everyone in the room at this point, except my teeth were still chattering too hard for me to form an intelligible sentence. Thankfully, Zecora took notice, and presented me with a warm and dry—if slightly coarse—blanket for my perusal.

As I hastened to return my body to a non-lethal temperature, the two ponies in the room made haste to my side. As per usual, Dash was the first to speak.

"What the hay happened to you last night? We woke up and found you passed out over the big statue thing—"

"'Altar', Dash," interjected Twilight.

"—Whatever. Anyway, you wouldn't budge when we tried to wake you. Twilight even tried that whole mind magic thing again, but no dice! We ended up having to zap you all the way over here for Zecchy to figure out what was wrong."

"Zecchy?" I asked with a smirk. "That sounds like a nickname Pinkie would come up with."

She shrugged. "Yeah, well saying 'Zecora' all the time was getting old. Anyway, you didn't answer the question."

Twilight was next to add her two-cents, "I have to agree with Dash, here. You were being kept asleep by a spell, but I've never encountered that sort of magic before. It was so... crude, yet too powerful for me to dispel. Who even cast it on you?"

I think over my answer for a second. "Well, I wouldn't exactly call it a 'who', but the Altar turned out to be enchanted with some pretty strong magic from way back when. The spell triggered the moment I got near it."

No need to be overly accurate with the extent to which the screw-up had been my fault.

Twilight wasn't satisfied with my answer, though. She put a hoof to her chin in thought, then followed up with, "But why was the Altar's magic active to begin with? I was there two years ago, and it was completely inert. For it to have done anything, it would have needed-"

"A source?" I finished for her. "I figured as much. Maybe the Nightmare temporarily disarmed them when she seized the elements."

"It's possible, though they must have been completely drained from casting that one spell on you. I couldn't feel anything left over when we found you this morning."

~She's asking too many questions. Don't give her reason to look too closely at the runes on the Altar. I can't risk any evidence of my presence there being discovered.~

Relax, I think curiosity will take a backseat to self-preservation here. Watch.

"Well, Twilight," I casually begin, "if it matters this much to you, I wouldn't mind going back to insp-"

"NO!" comes the immediate, vehement response from both bruised, sore and hungry ponies. They each briefly look to the other with expressions that are somewhere between surprise and mutual fear, then shake themselves back to as calm a state as they can manage.

"I mean... as cool as yesterday was and all," Rainbow attempts to find the words as she simultaneously attempts to regain her composure, "I think I can live without the Everfree for a while." She closes her eyes and exhales hard. "A good, LONG while..."

"What she said," Twilight agrees with a tired nod of her head.

The sound of a throat being cleared signals the end of our little discussion. All eyes fall on Zecora, who had only just returned from an absence that I hadn't even noticed till that point. In her mouth she held a small pouch that had been filled right up to the drawstring that held it shut. She dropped it on the bed beside me, where a soft clink from within alerted us as to what it contained.

"The eighty bits, as we had agreed," she explained with a smile, "for attaining the rumroot, of which I was in need."

"It really wasn't any trouble," I assured her. "If anything, that had to have been the easiest part of yesterday's trip."

"Is that so?" she mused, "Was it really so bad? You should tell me about it sometime. I'm sure there's laughs to be had."

At our expense.

"That 'sometime' will have to come at a much later date, I'm afraid," I replied instead. "It's been a long day—and night—and I don't think I speak for myself alone when I say that I could do with something to eat, and a soft bed to lie on while I do my best to forget it ever happened."

"Seconded," said Purple.

"Thirded," said Blue.

Zecora laughed. "In that case, I bid you adieu."


***


"Oh. My. Word! Darling, whatever have you been doing with my painstakingly crafted ensemble?" Rarity walks circles around me, searching for and delicately inspecting every rip, gash and stain in the suit that I had acquired not even a full day before. "I know this was designed to be an all-purpose outfit, but did you really have to drag it through Tartarus and back the moment I gave it to you?"

As much right as she had to be upset that I'd gone and mauled my brand new clothes, it was a bit hard to feel anything other than stark relief simply for the pleasure of being there for her to berate. I had only been in the forest for a little over twelve hours, but it felt like days had passed since I'd felt the warmth of the sun on my face. Rarity's fussiness was practically a godsend after the hell I'd been through.

"I'm sorry, okay?" I say as sincerely as I can manage.

She ceases her appraisal and shoots me a disapproving glare. "I'm glad that you're sorry, but 'sorry' isn't going to get this stitched up. I can't have you prancing around wearing my name if you're going to do so while looking like complete ragamuffin."

"What more can I say? I said I'm s-" my mouth is snapped shut by a tingling purple glow.

"Not another word," she hisses. "Every second spent talking is another second spent letting the dirt and grime seep into the fabric. Quickly, off with it all!"

I raise an eyebrow in genuine shock. "What? Now?"

"Well I certainly don't mean next Hearth's Warming Eve, now do I, Joseph?" she retorts with a frown. "Give me the clothes. I have a simple robe available for you to wear while I get them fixed up." Rarity points toward a plain white one-piece hanging on a rack at the far side of the room. It's already been adjusted to my proportions, as it had been used to form an outline for all of her sketches the day prior. It might not be the best looking choice of clothing, but it was either that or walk around naked till she was done.

Not even bothering to argue, I quickly disrobed and tossed both shirt and pants over to Rarity, who wasted no time splaying them out over a pair of wireframes so that she could easily access every square centimeter of the torn cloth. While she got busy with the repairs, I slipped into the robe, glad for yet another excuse to avoid narrating my totally muscular physique to a non-existent audience.

When I turned my attention back to my gracious fashionista friend, I found her already in the process of marking off segments of the cloth for cutting, re-stitching, and re-dying respectively. Markers, scissors, rolls of cloth, a needle or two—and a good many other unnamable tools of the trade—all seemed to lift themselves from their respective corners or drawers about the room and gravitate towards the unicorn at the center.

As interesting as watching her work could be, however, I couldn't afford to mull around at the Boutique for much longer.

"So, uh..." I fidgeted, looking between Rarity, the tattered clothes before her, and the bright morning sun shining in through the windows, "How long will it take? Should I wait, or...?"

In all honesty, I just wanted to get back home (or to my new one, if you want to get technical). There were still three beetles sitting inert in a box just outside the room, waiting to be delivered to a temperamental pegasus in exchange for a generous payment. The sooner they were in her possession, the sooner I attained temporary financial independence, and the sooner I could sit back and think over how I was going to deal with the repercussions of the incident back at the Temple. I wasn't intentionally trying to be rude, but I had things to do.

She didn't respond immediately. Several seconds filled with nothing but the sounds of snipping, clipping, rustling and the the occasional dainty tsk passed by before my words even registered. When they did, all I got was a distracted, "Hmm? What was that, dear?" in response.

Sounds like a go-ahead to me!

"Nothing, nothing," I replied as I slowly tiptoed towards the exit. "I'll be stepping out for now. Talk to you later?"

"Yes, yes, whatever you- Oh confound it, this isn't the right shade of fuschia! Wherever did I place that thread..." The rest went unheard as I took my final step out of the room and quietly closed the door behind me.

I hope she doesn't mind me just ditching like that.

Not like she's going to notice any time soon. Stop worrying and let's get back to Cashmere already.

I made my way to the center of the lobby and retrieved the plastic container, making sure that each of the specimens were still curled up and resting peacefully in their prison. It's not like them being awake would have made any significant difference, though; They'd had their fun in the sun the moment we'd left the Everfree and Twilight dropped her spell matrix. As dangerous as they could get in large numbers, they were a mere nuisance on their own. The plastic alone had made their screeches completely inaudible, and the only indicator that any noise was being made at all was the occasional slight vibration of the case.

With my prize tucked securely under my arm, I spun on my heels and headed for the exit oh my god tiny pony came out of nowhere musn't step on it shhhhh-

And I trip.

I would have wildy spun my arms to regain my balance, but luckily I instead made the split-second decision to not risk dropping the container and having its contents escape. Thankfully, Rarity's carpets were indeed as soft as they appeared, and I survived the impact without an extra bump or bruise to my name.

Did something unexpected just happen without me getting hurt as a result?

There's always the possibility that you might be dreaming. I could try and wake you up if you want.

I'd rather not know. Just let it last...

"Oh my gosh! Mister, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?" comes the Deja Vu-inducing exclamation from behind me.

At least there's something to smile about.

"I'm fine, Sweetie," I mutter as I pick myself up. Before I or she exchange another word, though, the filly surprises me by beginning to dust off the parts of the robe that she was capable of reaching, using her own tail as the duster. It only takes a couple seconds, but she is incredibly thorough, leaving the cloth every bit as white as it had been prior to my fall, if not moreso.

"Um... Thanks, I guess," I offer afterwards, not entirely sure of how to reciprocate her kind gesture.

"It's no big deal," she cheerfully dismissed my gratitude. "Rarity taught me that 'A lady should always do her best to right her wrongs,'” she quoted in a none-too-subtle nasal tone. “Getting rid of the dust was the least I could do."

I'm almost tempted to let her trip me again, just for the attention.

"Just watch where you're going next time, kid," I tell her with a smile that I hope reaches my tired eyes.

"Will do, Mister!" she cheerfully assures me before bouncing her way towards the stairs. I think to remind her—for what would have been the third time since arriving at the Boutique that morning—that I do in fact have an actual name, but I couldn't be bothered by much at the moment.

After a final glance to ensure that the container is still sealed, I walk out the door humming a cheerful tune to celebrate the beauty of being alive to face a new day.


***


As I arrive at Cashmere's, I am struck with a profound sense of pride and accomplishment; I'd sought work, been hired to carry out a difficult and deadly task, accomplished what was asked of me and returned in one piece with the spoils of my venture, all within twenty-four hours. How could I not appreciate feeling like a brave young adventurer, taking on quests and assisting the townsfolk?

I wouldn't feel so japper if I were you. It was still only a simple fetch-quest, and you didn't even complete it.

Yeah I did. Look, I filled the other half of the box with all the fucks I don't give!

I twist the doorknob, but find it still locked. It's only mid-morning by this point, but Cashmere clearly hadn't stepped out of the house for the day.

A couple hundred ponies to choose from and I get stuck with the only one in the entire town that bothers with security.

"Cashmere!" I call out, knocking against the door in an attempt to reach her.

Immediately, there is a response, though not the one I'd been expecting.

"Just a second! I'll be right there!" says a voice that is distinctly masculine, followed by the now familiar sound of hooves clopping against the floor as they approach the door.

A guy? Was Cashmere getting busy last night while I was out?


What if the entire 'quest' was nothing but an excuse to get the kid to leave so the adults could fool around unobserved?

Should I care? So long as I'm paid.

Soon enough, there's a click from the other side of the door, and it is pushed open. Thankfully, I'd made sure to stand well behind the danger-zone after the last incident involving the inexplicably outward-swinging door. Standing in the doorway is a unicorn that is entirely unfamiliar to my eyes. His sandy blonde mane is cropped short over an oddly freckled face that otherwise shares the same milk-chocolate shade of brown with the rest of his coat. On his flank there is a simple image of the number Two, represented in Roman notation.

We locked eyes for a second upon seeing each other. His gaze gave off a sense of cheerfulness, though it felt more akin a happy contentment than outright bubbliness. If anything, my first impression of him was that he was the closest thing to an Average Joe that I'd met up till that point.

"Oh, you must be the human, right? I've been looking forward to getting a chance to see you in the flesh."

"Name's Joseph. You can't call me Jo," I politely return.

"Nice to meet ya, Joseph! I'm Deuce." He offers a hoof, and I accept for a quick shake. "I'm Cashmere's other tenant. I'll be staying across the hall from you. Just arrived in town last night and I'm aiming to be settled in comfortably by day's end."

Settled comfortably into Cashmere, more like it.

SILENCE, you perverse cur.

"You're a royal guest as well?"

"Yup, though I'd hardly claim that I'm on 'Royal Business'." He gives a light chuckle. "This is sort of a vacation for me. I'm here just to relax and get to know the town's residents till I'm called back to Canterlot."

"Well, Duece, I can say without a doubt that you're going to love it here. Beautiful weather, nice scenery, and even a few girls to catch... your..." My words trail off as a thought hits me.

His expression turns from cheerful to concerned at my sudden break in the conversation. "Is everything alright, Joseph?" he asks unsurely.

I shake myself out of the momentary stupor and turn back to him with a smile. "I'm fine. I'm more concerned for you, though."

Deuce relaxes, but only slightly. "Me? Whatever for?"

"You said you showed up last night, right?"

"That's correct."

"So I'm right to assume that pretty much everypony was asleep by that point, the stores were closed, and the only place for you to go was straight here?"

"Um... yes, I suppose," he hesitantly confirms. "I didn't meet anypony else aside from Cashmere, and now you, if that's what you're asking."

One last nail to put in your coffin, neighbor oh neighbor of mine.

"Would you happen to know a pink Earth pony by the name of Pinkie Pie?"

"The Element of Laughter? I know of her. Can't say I've had the pleasure of running into her yet though. Why?"

"Could you do me a favor?" I giddily inquire, struggling to prevent my anticipant grin from growing any wider.

"A favor?" he dumbly repeats, thoroughly confused by the line of questioning and sudden change of topic.

"Could you step off the porch for just a second, please?"

His brows furrow further. "Doesn't sound like much of a favor," he comments. "Any particular reason?"

"I just want to make sure the residents of Ponyville get a good look at their town's newest occupant," I answer in as sincere a tone as I can fake.

His eyes betray more than a little suspicion, but he smiles nonetheless and nods in consent.

"Alright. I don't see any harm in that."

I step aside. He steps forward, off the wooden planks, and out of the shaded verandah into full view of every pony in the vicinity. Deuce stands there for a good few seconds, looking around, up and down, almost as though he were expecting something to happen... But nothing does.

Left even more befuddled than before, he turns back to the house, just in time to see the door being pulled shut behind me and to hear a tiny click as I lock it from within.

I move the window just beside the entrance and lift the drapes, making sure he can see me waving happily to him. Just as his expression starts to shift from bewildered to indignant, I spin my hand in a little clockwise circle for him, mouthing the words, "Turn around."

He snorts in annoyance, but once more does as I say.

I drop the curtains and walk away, cackling to myself as Pinkie greeted her newest friend.

Hope you like Pie, Deuce.

***

"You're alive?"

"Well, I suppose that's one way to greet me. Good morning to you too, Cashmere."

The pegasus quickly marked her spot in every one of the numerous open texts before her and came to meet me outside the study. For once, she wasn't wearing a grimace, nor did she look tired, despite her frazzled hair. Her eyes are alight with clear excitement, and the reason for that excitement becomes evident as they dart to the prized box tucked under my arm.

"You found them?" she asked, voice sounding slightly more disbelieving than I believe it had a right to be.

"No, I'm not badly injured, thanks for asking. Yes, I did find the beetles." I hold it out for her to see, and she gleefully looks over the three beetles now lazing about within.

"Sorry, but the other freak of nature you wanted wasn't really an option," I tell her upfront. "By the time I managed to get ahold of these, I'd already had no less than three brushes with death for the day. I'd rather settle for a lower payment that end up dead and get nothing."

A slight frown tweaks the edge of her lips, but her mood doesn't seem very much dampened otherwise.

"Understandable. Good going, getting at least half the job done. It's more than I would've been able to accomplish, at any rate. Just give me a minute here, I'll go get your payment. "

She heads back into the study and shuts the door behind her, presumably so that I wouldn't be able to take note of where her stash was hidden. Less than a minute later, she emerges with my second salary for the day delicately held in her teeth. Rather than the standard bag that I'd seen used for bit trading up till then, she had returned with nothing but a quadruplet of identical golden bits.

I pass her the box, and she neatly balances it on her shoulders, but stays for a moment to watch as I inspect my earnings.

'Only four bits?' you may be asking. Well, let me clear up any confusion now, since there are many more intricacies to the ponies' society than I had initially given them credit for; When it comes to bits, it's not just generic golden coin. Well, they're all made of gold (damn rich ponies), but there are indeed various values attributed to each coin. At the low end of the scale, there's the relatively thin single bit, worth no more than its name. After that, the values increase incrementally at ten, fifty, and a hundred, with every type of coin being engraved and ridged to indicate their worth, and every higher value being slightly thicker and heavier, and wider than the one before it. Zecora had given me eight ten-bits, which would make actually spending the money easier. Cashmere, on the other hand, had given me three full hundred-bit coins, along with a fifty-bit coin topping off my payment. This confused me, as I was only supposed to receive two hundred for each non-identical creature I brought back.

"Uh, Cashmere?" I hold up the excess payment for her to see. "Isn't this a bit much?"

I honestly can't believe you just said that...

Punintentional humor?

She shook her head to indicate a misunderstanding on my part. "You did make haste to bring what I requested, and my offer of a hundred extra for a speedy delivery was not made in jest. However, you only returned with one of the two species in hand, so I only owe you fifty of that promised hundred."

"Fair enough," I concede, "but you still gave me one hundred bits more than I was supposed to get."

"It wasn't an accident," she assures me. "I know there's no way you could have survived the forest alone if even I can overpower you. The extra hundred bits is for whatever unlucky sap or saps you managed to get to go along with you."

And how is she so sure I'll pass it along?

Wait, what if this is some sort of test? For all we know Twilight and Cashmere could be in cahoots, and keeping tabs on us for the Princesses. This could very well be a way of testing your honesty to determine your true character, and if you make the wrong choice you’ll end up banished from the land~

... Or maybe she’s just being considerate?

Now let's not jump to any far-fetched conclusions here.

"I'm sure they'll appreciate it," I told her with a smile, pocketing all four bits till I decided what to do with the extra money.

With a satisfied nod for the completed transaction, Cashmere returned to the study once more, but paused just before shutting the door. "I'll be here getting to know these little beauties," she gives her eyes a meaningful flick to the box still balanced on her back, "a little better over the next couple hours. Don't disturb me unless your life is in danger, or else I can promise you that it will be."

As if I'd actively seek you out if I had any other options.

"I'm sure you've met Deuce by now—speaking of whom, I wonder where he's gone off to?" She looks up and down the corridor, and I try my best to appear innocent. She shrugs, clearly in not curious enough to go searching for him. "Anyway, just try to get along. He's here on indefinite vacation, so get used to him. Now, if you'd so kindly excuse me..."

And with that, she slammed the door shut. The bang of the wood hitting the frame is closely followed by a pair of solid snapping sounds as she locks it from the inside, ensuring her own privacy, along with my complete (if only temporary) exclusion from her life.

~Now that that's dealt with, can we get on with-~

Shush. Food first. Haven't eaten since I can't even remember.

~You were in the forest, and you are capable of using magic. Why not just catch something to eat?~

Firstly, because I'm weak as shit both physically and mentally. I can do some manipulation, and grasping concepts are a breeze, but I don't have enough strength to put the majority of the theory into practice. Secondly, because I was accompanied by two innocent vegetarians who still lack complete faith in me. I can't afford to hurt my image by adding 'remorseless hunter' to the list of things putting distance between us. Does that answer your question?

~I was merely suggesting what seemed like an obvious solution to me. No need to be so abrasive about it...~

Me not eating isn't going to make me any less grumpy, so if you wouldn't mind, just can it till I speak to you again, alright?

There is no response. I take that as a sign of compliance and make haste for the kitchen. Grabbing the first bowl I see off the shelf, I help myself to a generous serving of dried apple and pear slices stored in an airtight container on the counter. At the moment I was craving something more filling, and possibly moist. The thought of some veggie stir fry had my mouth watering even as I poured myself a glass of the liquid to wash down the thin, flaky fruit. Still, I had unfinished business to attend to, and wanted to avoid putting it off for much longer.

You know what they say about leaving your irons in the fire.

Man, this whole 'lack of modern technology' thing sucks. No microwaves? Really? Heck, even the stoves need a match to be lit. How did humans ever survive under these neolithic conditions?

You mean a decade or two before you were born?

Shut up and let me have this. Complaining at least keeps my mind off how shitty this dried stuff is. I need a nice, hot meal to make me forget my worries.

Because being gifted with magic powers and damned to live a life among ponies must be such a drag. Is the sarcasm evident in my tone? I'd roll my eyes to make sure it was, if I had any eyes to roll.

I rolled my eyes as I rinsed my bowl of what little residue there was left of my meal—if it could even be called that—and set it on the dish rack to dry. That's right; not even a dishwasher.

Absolute neanderthals.

With my hunger quelled for the moment, I glance at the nearest wall-mounted clock to get an idea of how the following hours would be spent.

Ten forty-five in the AM.

Alright, this shouldn't take more than an hour. I deal with this thing, decide what to do from there, act on that decision, then resume my normal life. Hopefully Rarity will have made some progress by the time I get back. I even have a chance to pay her for her efforts this time around, so that'll be a pleasant surprise for her.

Despite my planning ahead for another relaxed and simple day, though, I knew full well that my course of action once I left the house was entirely dependent on the outcome of the imminent interrogation of my latest unexpected acquaintance. The only reason I'd put it off until now, and not notified Twilight the very moment I'd awoken, was because said 'acquaintance' had implored me to give it a chance to explain itself.

Yeah, 'it'. That's not a mistake on my part. Unlike in the case of Casper, what had attached itself to my mind was in no way dependent on my own identity. Until I knew what I was dealing with, 'it' would be the assumed gender description. Thankfully, the time for questioning was at hand, and the gaps in my knowledge would be filled.

The living room was unoccupied, but there was still the chance of someone walking in and interrupting me at any point in what I knew would be a lengthy discussion, and so I decided

to make use of the privacy of my bedroom for the time being, just to be safe.

Skipping past a needless tale of my arduous trek up the Stairs of Doom and down the Hallway of Madness, I miraculously managed to reach my private chambers without incident.

After locking yet another door behind me, I shut the windows, got comfortable on the bed, closed my eyes, and shifted my attention inward.

There would be no simple back-and-forth conversation of the minds here. I needed to get up close and personal with the guest of the hour, and that would require complete and total immersion in the alternate realm of my mind.

Let's get this over with.

~I cannot express how elated I am to hear those words.~

Casper, if you'd be so kind as to provide a room?

Extra privacy? No problem. Done and-


***


Done.

I open my eyes, narrow them in confusion, close them, and reopen them, but the scenery doesn't change; I was exactly where I had been before, lying on my bed in a darkened room with nothing but a record player and a piano for company.

Hey, what gives? I thought I told you to set up a private session in my head?

Who's to say I didn't do just that? You were already in a place that you considered both comfortable and private, so why go through the trouble of thinking up another when I can just project your thoughts over your current environment?

~"Causing oneself to hallucinate—an interesting choice for communication."~

I sit up with a jolt at the sudden and unexpected voice from behind me. My body reacts before my mind has a chance to catch up, and I leap to my feet, spinning around with my fists raised and at the ready to defend myself from... from...

"... What the absolute fuck?"

The dark, unnatural imitation of a human being before me winces with displeasure upon the utterance of the last word, but makes no comment. Instead it chooses to resume staring at me with its white, unblinking, pupil-less eyes that still somehow manage to give me the impression that it expects something of me, or is silently gauging my own reaction, or maybe even both at once.

What was my reaction, beyond the initial surprise and exclamation?

First, let's make sure you understand what I was seeing here: It was me. At least, it would have been me, if not for the black skin, soulless expression, claws in place of fingers, and with an impossible aura of dread emanating from its body. Then there was the whole 'no clothes' thing going on, thankfully and bafflingly without any genitals to be seen. Yeah, aside from all that minor stuff, it could've passed for my deceased twin brother any day. How would you react if faced with what seems to be your evil clone?

I'm sure my response wasn't too far off from yours, and I react as could be expected;

"What, no wings to complete the cliche ensemble?"

The creature does a confused double-take.

~"I... beg your pardon?"~

"I mean you have the entire black, gothy, evil look going down already, but you forgot the spooky bat wings to top it off. It's not like I was expecting you to take physical form to begin with, but now that you have, I can't say I'm impressed. Though, I suppose a thousand years spent with nothing but one theme to work with must have left you with a nasty case of artist's block, or designer's block, or whatever you call it when you're a shape-shifting mind leech."

~"I..."~ it seems to struggle with the words for a moment, ~"What are you incessantly rambling on about? You say I lack... wings? Are they a part of your physiology that I failed to duplicate?"~

"No," I correct my double, "but they would fit the theme you were going for. Speaking of which, mind explaining what's with the all black get-up?"

The creature proudly gestures a claw towards its jet black chest and flourishes so that I can see its entire, almost uniformly colored form. ~"The color black is the most fitting symbol for the unknown. It represents a lack of light, knowledge, and self-assurance. I chose this form so that I may strike fear into the hearts of ALL that oppose me!"~

"Oh jeez, and now you're doing the whole ‘I’m evil and need to look the part’ deal. Just stop, please. You're not helping my image of you. I've got no problem with you wanting to be intimidating and all, but I'm just saying that that's been done, like, a thousand, billion times already. Black just isn't scary anymore."

It looks to the shuttered window across the room, and past it, almost as if it were looking out over the residents of Ponyville itself, and the race that small fraction represented.

~"Do you speak the truth?"~ I asks me in a voice that is hollow, yet also tinged with an emotion that is somewhere between anger and shame. ~"Have I really been in exile so long that the primal fear of the unknown that exists in all things has become dimmed and diluted to the point of irrelevancy? Is my current form nothing but a symbol of an age long past? Is my name now merely a title?"~

"Yes. Now that we've both agreed that you're completely obsolete, let's move on to the reason we're here. You'll just have to make do with being a pathetic excuse for the Nightmare you claim to be in the meanwhile. No big deal."

~"..."~

"Hey, you keep that accented silence to yourself. I'm doing you a favor here, so don't give me any attitude."

~"Just get on with it, human."~

"Right, well, for starters, I want you to repeat what you told me last night, but this time in detail; Who are you, really, and how did you get inside me?"

~"I am the being you have come to know as 'The Nightmare'. I have no name of my own, so I accept what this society has deemed apt. According to you however, a change may be in order, but that is an issue for later consideration. When you made contact with the runes on the altar last night, your mind momentarily melded with my own, and your body in turn proved a most convenient vessel, allowing me to escape the enchanted rock that had become my prison after I took refuge there two years prior."~

"Nice to see I could be of assistance," I remark without humor. "Now, explain to me exactly what it is you want."

~"I want no more than to right the wrongs of the past. Celestia has more skeletons in the closet than she cares to have you or any of her loyal subjects know about. I'm the one that got out, and I aim to bring all the rest with me."~

I think back to the night before, and the vision I'd witnessed—the sole reason I'd even decided to keep the Nightmare's location a secret till I'd heard its side of the story. If those events had indeed taken place, then it put the legitimacy of Celestia's entire nature into question.

"So, essentially," I surmise, "you want me to partner up with you and help bring to light Celestia's supposed crimes from days long past, rather than turn you in and let her do as she pleases with your sorry black hide and in turn have myself possibly be deemed a hero."

~"I urge you to consider. As I am, I have no power; I have been reduced to a mere shell of my former being by the power of the Elements, and thus my fate is in your alien hands. While I cannot pretend to have benevolent intentions for this land and its inhabitants, in the long term they will indirectly benefit as a result of my actions, finding themselves free of the invisible tyranny that surrounds them."~

The Nightmare falls silent, allowing me time to make a decision as it continues to stare at me through its softly glowing, emotionless, yellow eyes.

My first instinct is to turn to Casper for aid, as I'd need another point of view to aid in thinking it over. Sure, it would be easy to do as I'd said and expose the Nightmare, but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to resist opening the little black box that had fallen into my possession.

What am I going to do now?

That's up to you. Always has been.

Seeing as we were all in my own mind, however, even my unspoken words were heard by all.

~”Though I wish it were not the case, I cannot force my will upon you. Whether you choose to assist me or destroy me is entirely up to you.”~

“You are the bad guy. If I don't sell you out, I'd be putting all the ponies here at risk.”

~“And yet you haven't. Why is that? If I'm such a threat, why hesitate to turn me over to the Princesses and be rid of me for good?”~

“You know damn well why I'm hesitating. That vision, back at the Temple; That never happened. Celestia would never have-”

~“Never WHAT, exactly? You claim to know the inner machinations of the Princess of the Sun? Are you truly so conceited that you think the version of history to which you cling so dearly to be utterly infallible—to be the unadulterated truth?”~

“It's not conceit! Don't try your mind games with me! I've met Celestia. I know far more about this world than you give me credit for. You know NOTHING about me.”

~“You'd be surprised. For one thing, I know that you were not there on that fateful day a thousand years past, and that I was. As I've told you; All I did was open my mind to you and allow you to take but the briefest peek into my deepest, darkest memories. Unlike Celestia, I haven't twisted the truth.”~

“And why should I believe you? Celestia has been good to Equestria, there's no denying that. How can you possibly expect me to take your word over hers? How can you expect me to side with you and tear apart this land's peace and happiness on the basis of faith alone?”

~“It is your decision to make. Should you assist me, you will be doing no more than bringing down the web of lies that she has so meticulously created and spread throughout history. There will indeed be turmoil and unrest in the hearts of all her loyal subjects, but loyalties can change; Hearts can be won over once more.”~

“It's not a risk that I'm willing to take. What happened then doesn't affect me now, and it will continue to be a non-issue if I avoid getting involved.”

~“But you already are, ignorant human. Like it or not, you are already playing the unwitting role of one of Celestia's many pawns in this grand game of chess. You try to cut your ties with Discord, but the only other path for you to take leads straight to her. No matter your decision, you end up acting on behalf of one or the other.”~

“And why would I ever choose Discord? Even if—-and that's a big 'if'—what you're saying is true, I'd still choose Celestia over that conniving trickster.”

~“But at what cost? Stop thinking of the short term. What do you plan to do with the rest of your days? Run around in this silly little suburb, making friends left and right till you eventually expire? Isn't that exactly what you were trying to run away from?”~

“That's not-” I pause as the words finally process. “Wait... How the heck did you know about-”

~“I know more than you give me credit for, Joseph. I know you have secrets, and desires, just like anypony else that's ever drawn breath. I can see that you seek freedom, just as easily as I can see that you fear stagnation. No matter what you may think of Celestia, Discord, or even myself, I swear to you now that all you'll find on the Sunny side of the fence is a life of silent servitude and mediocrity.”~

“You make it sound so dull, but it's not all that bad living here.”

~“Not yet, it isn't. Not yet. But you and I both know that you won't stay satisfied for long. You crave bigger and better things. You have ambition. I talk from experience when I say that, under her watchful eye, that ambition will amount to nothing. What happens when you get bored? What happens when you can't earn her trust and she stands in the way of your eventual quest for power? What happens when you rebel?”~

An image of Discord, frozen in stone and cast into the void for millenia flashes through my mind. Try as I might, I cannot dispel the dread that follows.

~“Joseph, if I can't convince you to fight for Justice, then fight for yourself. Soon you'll come to understand the truth behind my words. You'll see for yourself what she has in store for you. Once the futility of your situation becomes absolute, will you accept your fate and bow to her as all have done before you? Or will you side with me, and craft a future with your own two hands?”~

~“I can promise you more power than you've ever dreamed of possessing. I can promise that you'll get more than your fill of excitement working beside me. I can promise that your life will finally and forever be your own to control. All I ask in turn is for your trust.”~

~“The choice is yours, but your decision is inevitable.”~

I do not respond immediately. I just don't know how to. Despite my claims of loyalty to Celestia and the ponies whose lives I have now entered, the Nightmare's words echo throughout my mind and ring with a truth that leaves me feeling utterly hollow: I would betray them all for my own sake. There would be a moment of hesitation, and maybe even regret, but ultimately my decisions would always come down to a matter of how much I could gain from a situation versus what I would risk losing.

Behind my mask of light-hearted cheer, there is a side to my personality that I struggle to keep under control, and to hide, even from myself; one that is shallow, selfish, and dishonest.

Corrupt.

But the Nightmare can see it as plainly as it could the unquenchable greed in my all-too-human heart. Would I play into its hands as I had supposedly been doing for Celestia and Discord up till then?

It's all up to you.

At least the Nightmare was giving me the power to make the decision. For once, I could have a semblance of control over my path.

And I intend to take full advantage of it.

When faced with a choice between obligating morals at the cost of having to live by the code of another—possibly for the rest of my life—or satisfying my own desires at the cost of having to live with whatever good or bad may take place as a result of my actions, my decision is indeed inevitable.

For this reason, I hate myself.

I hesitate...

But only for a moment.

“What do I have to do?”

~”Glad you could see things my way.”~

Let's hope you don't regret it.



End of Chapter 14

School, thou art a royal pain. Thankfully, I won’t have to deal with you for the next 3-4 months. Vacation time = Me time = Writing time. I’m getting back on the ball and I’m going to do my best not to fall off again till my academic responsibilities rear their ugly heads once more.

As for the chapter, what lies in store for our young semi-protagonist? Pre-emptive betrayal? Did he make the right choice? Did he have a choice? What could the Nightmare have shown him to make him even consider turning against Celestia? Why do kids love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

All this (Well, most of it) and more to be answered, next time on ADT. Stay tuned.

Comments ( 6 )

None of you will believe what a hell it is to write online and publish something when your internet decides it's time to relive the good old days of Dial Up. Thing is, Dial Up was more reliable than my net's being right now. I literally had to wait a half hour just to load this on GDocs once...

Still, after 4 hours of retyping and editing:raritycry:, refreshing and reloading:raritydespair:, I finally managed to get the chapter up on the site. Fina-fucking-lly :facehoof:. For those who didn't see the unofficial release, here you go. It's been three months coming and I hope it was worth the wait.

*collapses*

Kids love cinimin toast crunch because they're canibles!

The "betrayal" doesn´t sound so dramatic, not because it was anticipated from the beggining, but mostly because Joseph isn´t exactly "best friends forever" with Celestia, the mare six or anypony else in this short time.

2749966

Oh the betrayal hasn't even begun yet. :trixieshiftright:

Cards were still being handed out and exchanged (Elements > Celestia > Mane 6 = Equestria is under pony control :twilightblush: - [Human introduced] - Joseph becomes the unknown factor, but what if there is no side chosen? :twilightoops:). This was the last big switch-around under the table before the game between Discord and Celestia—as far as we know, at least—begins anew.

He still has time to deepen his relationships with the ponies before he has to do anything that'd jade anyone's view of him.

You do have a point though. I have to work on my pacing to make this stuff more evident when it needs to be. Practice makes perfect, and practice I shall!

I hope someday you decide to retake this story.

I'm really liking this story. Keep up the good work bro.

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