• Published 2nd Jan 2013
  • 5,690 Views, 30 Comments

The Janitor - GnollReader

Once it was nothing more than old concrete and forgotten hallways. Then it became a haven for the fugitives of the everlasting war that raged between the different races. He was the janitor, always.

  • ...

Chapter 1

Author's Note:

So, this is then the revamped version of this story. Hope you enjoy it. Updates will be coming soon.

The little changeling looked around the reception, unsure what to make of the room. The floor, the walls, the ceiling... everything was made of the same gray concrete covered in plain white tiles. The window's were tainted a milky white, so nothing could be seen through them but fleet glances of passing shadows... and there where bars in front of them. Several long lamps were casting a cold light into the room from above, the cold light creating an eery atmosphere that seemed to hang above them all. There was a strange aura to this place. It almost seemed like the walls were waiting to swallow him.

The room was filled with many different species, all of them hailing from different corners of Equis but all equally desperate. Gryphons, ponies, changelings, minotaurs, diamond dogs and creatures the likes of which he had never heard about filled the many plastic seats and any open spot to lean against one of the many pillars and walls. All of them looked tired, some even sick or wounded. Like many others he and his mother had to take a seat on the floor next to one of the walls to wait for their turn. The shape of the seats, the height of the windows... everything seemed... off, like they weren't made for any of them.

He let his head rest on the floor as his back leaned against the wall, he felt tired. They had been running for two days. The war constantly in their back. It almost felt like a dream now. He closed his eyes and listened to the murmurs and coughs of the others.

Slowly he started to hear the faint sound of their emotions buzz around him. Fear, sadness, worry, despair, hope, but mostly regret... it sounded muddy and gray, not a single clear note among them. All of them had been running, all of them had seen terrible things. It lingered in the faintness of the sounds surrounding him like an ever-present single note.

But there, on the verge of a whisper, there was something else. So faint. He tried to block out the other emotions. There it was, quiet, like a trickle in the darkness. A single, clear note and yet nothing more than an echo from somethings past. He concentrated as he tried to hear what it said. His eyes snapped open and he recoiled his head in fear as he realized the sound's source. It came from the walls themselves.

"Number twenty-two?" the receptionist called out behind her counter, her voice echoing softly above the murmurs of the others present. She was an aged unicorn with glasses. Her coat was a crisp white and her mane was purple with a few gray strands. It was tied to a knot behind her head. The counter was made of the same gray concrete as the floor, white tiles covering it's front. There was a little plant standing on it next to a picture of three fillies.

His mother stirred and hastily started to collect their things. "That's us! One second please!" she turned to him. "Come on, let's go, just a bit further and we can sleep." He looked around himself as if to assure he was still in the same place as before. Had he only dreamt? He closed his eyes a second time and listened again, he couldn't hear the note anymore. He shook his head and followed his mother to the counter.

The receptionist smiled when she saw him. "Don't you worry darling, you're safe now." she turned her attention to a form. "Let's see now, changelings..." she made a mark with a pen as she eyed them for a moment. "Two... no visible wounds or diseases... may I ask your names?"

"I'm Tila, this is Feron, my son." she held him closer to her side.

The receptionist made a few notes. "Welcome to the hostel. You're going to stay in sector three, level twelve, room two five one." She handed them a slip of paper with the numbers on them. "Try and memorize it so you won't get lost. The changeling commander responsible for sector three will pick you up shortly and explain all the rules. Listen to him, carefully." she said as she pressed a button on a strange device. "Commander Larum, please to the reception. I repeat. Commander Larum, please to the reception."

She stopped pressing the button and pointed down one of the many hallways. "Follow that hallway until you reach a large bolted door. Wait there."

The two of them walked down the hallway until they reached the door. It was huge, nothing like he had seen before. Feron noticed with concern that he couldn't see how the heavy iron door could be opened from this side. It looked like it was strong enough to withstand much force. A red lamp flashed above the door and gears could be heard moving. Bars and gears on the door started to turn and move. The heavy door started to move and swung open to reveal another changeling behind it.

He looked old and scarred, many dents and scratches ran along his carapace. His wings were torn and he was missing an eye. He nodded to them shortly. "Come on, let's go then." They stepped through the opening and found themselves in another long hallway. Lamps in cages cast eery shadows along the path. Countless tubes ran along the walls and ceiling, all of them resonating with sounds.

The changeling pressed a big button next to the opening and with a hiss the door set into motion again, there was a loud clang as it closed and locked again. "Alright, I am commander Larum. I'm in charge of organizing the changeling sector." Larum started talking as he lead them through the corridors, every now and then he would turn left or right at a junction.

"There are a number of different sectors, stick to your own. Sector one is where the ponies live, sector two is for the gryphons, sector three is for our kind and sector four and five are spread among the other races. Sector six and seven are off-limits." they started heading down.

"The big yard is open to all races at all times and there is an access to the sky for flyers. If you fly I advice to keep close to the entrance and to your own kind. There's food in the mess halls on level three and ten from ten to thirteen o'clock. It's not very good, but it'll keep you full and going." he made another turn and started heading up again.

"A substitute for emotions?" Feron's mother asked. "So the rumors were true..."

Larum nodded. "Like I said, it's not very good, but at least you won't be hungry. Now, as you can probably imagine there is still some bad blood between the different species, the war is still locked in some of their minds. Don't wander too far from your own. Normally there aren't any encroachments by any of the other races, but don't give them any reason to do anything brash... So no shape shifting, it would only cause problems. As for getting into fights there is a simple rule, don't. Never start a fight or try to pick one. If you do, you'll get thrown out, or worse."

Another junction could be seen coming up. "There is a school and medical facilities, it is used by all species, but I advise using them. You'll have to share a bunk with your youngling since we are already getting..." he stopped in his tracks about a dozen feet from the junction. "Do. Not. Move. Not. One. Word." he whispered fiercely.

The other two changelings froze in their tracks, unsure what was happening. "What's wrong?" Tila asked with concern.

"Don't talk!" Larum whispered again.

Then, a sound could be heard. It was a pattern, squeaking, wet sloshing, then squeaking again. The sounds drew nearer. Larum shook visibly. Something stepped onto the junction.

Feron took in the figure with huge eyes, it walked on two legs and wore a blue overall. In his strange claws was a mop which he used to push a bucket on wheels around. The bucket stopped in the middle of the junction, the mop was removed from the bucket and the figure started to swipe it from side to side across the floor with even and fluid motions. Even while hunched during it's work it towered over them, easily able to reach the ceiling.

Not once did it look at them while it cleaned the floor. It's face turned slightly away and looking down while being poorly illuminated by the few single lamps. Feron couldn't explain it, but he felt a horror unlike any other start to rise inside him. Something about this creature was alien, something felt wrong, terribly wrong. But what?

Suddenly the creature stopped in it's actions and turned it's head towards them. Feron felt his heart stop in his chest. Those eyes... they looked wrong, dead almost. He trembled as those eyes passed over him. As he looked into them he suddenly realized why this creature's presence felt so strange... there was no emotion. Nothing, not a single sound... as if it wasn't even present. If anything it seemed like the creature was muting all emotion around it. It felt terrible.

The mouth of the creature suddenly moved, and a voice like ice could be heard rasping from it. "No running in the corridors."

It was like a command. Feron didn't even notice he and the other two were nodding until the creature suddenly returned to it's cleaning and continued out of view. The squeaking slowly started to fade, only when it was gone did the changelings dare move again.

"By the gods I hate running into him..." Larum exclaimed as he leaned against one of the walls to steady himself. "Luckily he sticks to the corridors during daytime."

"What was that?" Tila asked, her voice still shaking.

"That's the janitor. Just stay out of his way if possible. Don't approach him. He appears here and there almost at random, but he keeps the place clean and running. Almost never talks. Come on, let's move on. I don't want to meet him again today." they hurried on. "But don't run."

"What is he?" Feron asked, the memory of those eyes still burning in his soul.

"No one knows. He's been here before the place was even discovered. He doesn't seem to mind us living here, but something about him freaks me out. He makes the rules, does all the repairs and keeps the machines running. No one even knows how this place works but it's our only shelter these days."

"Didn't anyone try to talk with him?"

"The ponies once did but it ended badly, their magic doesn't work correctly here. Something here is disturbing it." Larum stopped for a second as he oriented himself at a junction and gave them a short glance. "The janitor is also the one who throws you out if you break the rules and he's the one who keeps troublemakers out. We've taken to not approaching him when he appears, just leave him be. Trust me, it's better that way."

There was light down at the end of one of the corridor and Larum led them towards it. "Alright, we're there." they stepped into the open. "Welcome to your new... home." His voice almost sounded said as he mouthed the words.

Feron sat on the railing as he looked at his new home in awe. The place was huge. Not even the main hives from back home could compare to it. The whole structure was build like a giant tube, concrete walls going down hundreds of meters into the ground. Thousands of railings, tubes, windows, doors and entrances to hallways, staircases, shops and the likes covered the sheer endless walls. Huge numbers were written on the walls, each number dividing the walls into differently colored sections.

The diameter of the tube was no less astounding, he could barely make out the other side. He looked down, and looked into an ocean of lights. "That down there is the big yard." commented Larum as he followed Feron's gaze. "The sun only reaches the bottom for a short moment each day. The rest of the day they have to use the janitor's light bulbs and candles. There's a huge market down there where you can buy anything,... for a price. I advise to stay out of it. The rules down there are very different from the ones up here and you'll only find problems if you stay too long. We changelings don't have the same needs as other species so there's no reason for any of you to head down there." he lead them on.

"This place is gigantic!" exclaimed Feron with excitement, even as he walked with Larum he couldn't peel his eyes off it. And the sounds, they were amazing. The whole tube seemed to vibrate to the chatter and emotions of thousands of voices. It was beautiful, a deep vibrating, harmonic crescendo composed of hundreds of different notes resonating from the walls of concrete. It almost drowned out his own mind. It felt like his old hive, but it was wilder, more untamed, more vivid. It was indescribable.

"Youngling, you don't even know half of it. What you see here is only the facade. The main part of the hostel is underground. No one knows how far the tunnels stretch, or for that matter, how deep. Some pony got lost trying to explore the tunnels. She was found three months later, half mad from starvation and dehydration... the things she told..." they reached a gate with several changelings standing by it. "Just don't go exploring on your own... or at all, for that matter."

"Commander Larum, I see you got the newcomers." a female changeling spoke up. "Any trouble on the way? We heard that the dogs have been straying from their sector."

Larum let out a heavy sigh. "No. No dogs, Omera..." he looked at the path behind him. "We met him at junction six-two though."

Omera visibly shuddered. "He's here? He never shows up when new folks arrive!" she looked at Tila and Feron. "I'm terribly sorry you had to meet him so early, there are only few who actually met him up close... it certainly isn't a good welcome." she smiled at Feron. "Don't you two worry, he never shows up here... most of the folks living close to the rails even think he's just a bad bedtime story."

She turned to Tila. "Where are you quarters?" Tila showed her the slip of paper. "Level twelve? Seems like the janitor is starting to fill the place up..."

Larum looked at the paper with a raised eyebrow. "We were given access to level thirteen a few days ago, but we didn't get many newcomers since then... I hope he doesn't know anything we don't."

"Level twelve doesn't sound that deep, I mean, judging by the height of this place..." Tila said as she looked down the seemingly endless pit.

Larum nodded. "The levels go down way further, that's true, but the levels themselves are huge already. Each level contains over three-hundred rooms. So each level is like a city in itself." he shook his head. "There is no telling how many fugitives live here these days, we don't even know for sure how many changelings there are. We try to keep track, but with the sheer flood of fugitives coming in these days it's a miracle that chaos hasn't erupted yet."

He turned to Omera. "I'll take these two to their quarters and get them set up, if we have any patrols in the tunnels pull them out. I don't want any young changelings running into him in the dark. Dogs or no dogs. But don't run, no need to anger him." She nodded and hurried off with the other changelings. Larum motioned Feron and his mother to follow him.

"How does he do it?" asked Feron as they walked away from the open and back into the tunnels. This time they were lined with strange doors. Their direction was clear though, down.

"How does who do what?" asked Larum in response. They reached the end of a staircase with a large two imprinted onto the wall. "Huh, seems I put us out a level higher than I thought..." a pondering look crossed his features and he mumbled something to himself.

"The janitor... How does he repair everything? Is that even possible?" asked Feron in wonder. He caught a glimpse of the corridors as the continued down the staircase. There were many doors, and out of each of them shone light. Voices and the buzzing of wings could be head from time to time. A few changelings stood on the hallways here and there. Strangely enough, there were huge iron gates on each level in front of the staircase, all of them open.

Larum stopped. "That's just it youngling. He can't. No one, with or without magic, could do this. Yet he still does. Lamps break but are fixed the next morning. Graffiti is removed the moment you turn your head. All the floors are mopped, every morning. The machines powering this place have never been seen by any one yet they never break down. If I go back there and look at the floor I'll find it absolutely clean, it'll even smell like lemons, but there won't be a single drop of water on it. The place always looks just like the first day they found it."

"You mean..." Tila gulped. "He's a ghost?"

They finally reached level twelve. Down below Feron could make out what had to be level thirteen. The gates were open too, but it was dark and not a single sound could be heard. Not one light seemed to exist in the eery darkness below. He looked down in between the stairs, there was only darkness.

Larum stopped to look down the staircase. "No..." he shook his head. "I'm sure he's something different... but I don't think he means harm. He opens up the levels when we need them, even prepares beds and everything we need... He doesn't allow us to go further down though, whenever one of us tries to walk down those stairs we just end up on level thirteen again..." he continued to walk down one of the corridors.

Feron was able to see glimpses of what lay inside the rooms. Bunks, many bunks. All of them arranged in lines. Many were filled with either changelings or luggage, in some cases both. There was idle chatting here and there, but most of them were quietly going on about their business or simply sleeping.

"Most of the changelings only go here to sleep and rest, you'll find the majority of them at the rails during day." Larum counted the numbers next to the doors. "There we are, take the bunk close to the door, it's free. Remember there will be food tomorrow starting at ten, don't miss it. If you have any questions or problems you can find me patrolling the rails. Have a good night."

They bid him goodbye and his mother put the few things she carried under the bunk. "Come Feron, let us rest a bit." he jumped up next to her and cuddled himself into her embrace. He fell asleep quickly, though as his mind started to drift off he thought he could hear the faint squeaking of wheels.

Something was giggling. Feron was roused from his sleep and looked around. All around him were sleeping changelings, it was quiet. Had he just imagined it? No... there it was again. A giggle, it came from outside the room. He carefully detached himself from his mother's embrace, got down from the bunk and started walking towards the door.

He poked his head outside, there was no one to be seen in the hallways, they were empty. Then, another giggle. He craned his neck as he started to follow the sound. "Hello? Who's there?" no answer. He continued to walk down the corridor, something urged him to find out the source of the giggles.

Another giggle, this time... behind him. Feron spun around with big eyes. "Hi!" It was a foal, with a pink coat and an even pinker mane.

Feron cleared his throat. "Hi? Are you lost?" he carefully cast a glance around him. "I thought ponies aren't supposed to be in this sector?"

The little filly tilted her head with an expression that was a mix of confusion and amusement. "Lost?! Me?! No silly, I'm here to play!" She produced a pink little ball seemingly out of nowhere. "Will you play with me?"

"I'm... I'm not sure... my mother..."

"Oh don't you worry we can play here!" she tossed him the ball with a big smile. He thought about it, she did seem nice. He tossed it back.

A few minutes later they were tossing the ball back and forth, lost in their little game and laughing. One of her throws was too high and it passed over him and bounced down the corridor. And towards the stairs. He scampered after it but to his dismay it bounced down the stairs, each bounce sounding dull echos in the staircase.

He looked after it as it disappeared in the darkness, a feeling of dread spreading in his stomach at the loss of the pretty toy. "What are we going to do now?" Feron asked as he turned around, she wasn't there.

"Silly, we just go and get it!" His head snapped around, she was standing on the stairs below him, in front of where the lights ended. "Come on, let's go look for it!" She laughed as she trotted into the darkness. He stood uncertain at the top of the stairs for a moment. He couldn't leave her alone down there could he? Her head poked out again "Come on, let's go! It'll be an adventure!" She disappeared again.

Feron carefully put a hoof on the first step, then another. Slowly he walked down the stairs, each step taking him further into the darkness. "Where are you?" No answer, it was quiet. He walked down further and further, looking for the little filly. He started to lose track of the time, how long had he been going down? It didn't matter, he had to find the little filly, there was something important about her. He continued, until in the back of a long corridor a single light illuminated the hallway. Under it lay a little pink ball.

He collected all of his courage and was about to run to it when he remembered the janitor's words, no running. He walked as briskly as he could and picked up the little ball. "Hello? I found it! Where are you?" Again, no response. He looked around, there was a number written on the wall next to him, if he remembered correctly it showed the level. He read it, the ball falling from his grasp, it read two hundred and thirteen.

Feron wanted to scream. He didn't even notice how he had run back towards the stairs. He dashed down the path he had come from only to find himself in a dead end. Where were the stairs? He ran back down the path again, everything suddenly looked different. Where had the ball gone he had dropped?

The lights went out. He stopped running by instinct, even though his mind screamed at him to run. He couldn't see. Even though the changeling's eyes were made to live underground he could see nothing. It was like something had blinded him. He turned around in circles, there was only darkness in all directions. His heart was pounding so hard he could almost hear it.

There was a loud clack followed by a buzzing sound as a light above him sprang to live. He looked around himself in shock, he was standing on a junction. The single lamp was barely enough to illuminate the crossing. Feron tried to reorient himself, he didn't remember passing a junction on his way. He was certain. Where was he?

Another light sprang to live, then another and another. Each light that came to live was accompanied by a loud clack and a strong buzzing. One light after another started to shine down one of the corridors, the little changeling's eyes following the slowly increasing field of vision until the corridor broke off into another direction.

Feron trembled, it was the only path with light, but what would await him down this way? He checked the other corridors, left, right, behind... only darkness, the only sound to be heard was his own rapid breathing and the steady buzzing of the lights. He started to take a step down the lit corridor but stopped again. This couldn't be the right way, the stairs were supposed to be in the other direction!

There was another clack behind him. He spun around, another light had sprung to live, this time in the opposite direction. Slowly the light started to spread down the corridor as more lamps came alive. With the last light that came alive Feron felt his heart stop.

There, at the other end of the corridor, barely standing in the light of the lamp and watching him from the edge of the darkness was the janitor. Feron started to shake, both his mind and instincts begging him to run, but his legs were rigid with shock, he couldn't move.

Suddenly there was a clack as the light above the janitor died. There was another clack as the next lamp in order died, then another. With each lamp that died the wall of darkness crept closer, but the janitor still stood at it's edge, watching him, unmoving, yet drawing nearer.

Another clack, another light fell out, the darkness stepped closer and the janitor drew nearer again. Somewhere in his mind, something screamed at him to flee. As if broken out of a trance Feron turned around and started to move down the lighted corridor, a single word in his mind as he shot down the path; 'run'. The time between each clack became shorter.

Commander Larum was busy checking the railways. There had been clashes between the ponies and the gryphons for air control lately, and he wanted to keep the changelings out of the conflict. Both parties demanded to have the air for themselves during certain times of the day, and of course both sides were unwilling to agree to a compromise. Luckily the respective leaders were smart enough to make sure no fights erupted, they had been here long enough to know what happened to troublemakers. Still, he wanted to make sure that none of the younger changelings idling around would get involved in any conflicts.

They would have to find a solution soon though, the ever-ongoing war created a steady flow of new fugitives and the air above the big yard was becoming more and more crowded every day. The changelings weren't strongly affected, they could fly at night when there was space. Larum still wanted to make sure that there were no flyers out during daytime. The debates between the ponies and the gryphons were becoming increasingly aggressive.

"Sir!" a shout ripped him from his thoughts as one of his sentries came running up.

"What's going on? Why did you leave your post?" Larum prayed it wasn't the diamond dogs. They were incredibly stubborn and often strayed from their territories in search of loot or scarp to sell on the big market. Many of them never returned from the dark corridors but a fortune could be made with a good find. Not that the changelings had a desire for money, but there were always those foolish enough to think they could find a good life down there.

"One of the new drones from level twelve just reported her youngling missing. Feron, if I remember correctly."

Larum frowned. "What? They just came today... Did you check with the other sentries?"

"Yes, they all report that no younglings have been seen wandering the upper levels or attempting to leave the sector."

Larum thought for a second, nothing like this had occurred before, at least not in his sector. He had sentries placed at all corridors leading out of the living areas or to other sectors. No changeling could get lost this way. "Check the upper levels again, he couldn't have left the sector... comfort the mother, we'll find him."

"Sir!" another sentry came running up, he was gasping for air. "It's about the stairs to the levels below level thirteen..."

"What about them?" Larum was starting to feel a lump in his stomach.

"They're gone..."

Larum blinked, a terrible memory of events from over twenty years ago unfolding itself in his mind. "Go to the receptionist, tell her what happened. Hurry!" he turned to the other sentry. "Make sure everyone stays on their own level, I don't want any more lost souls. Close down the entries, I don't want any more wanderers today. I'm going to head down there. There will be ponies coming through soon, make sure nobody hinders them but don't let anyone else pass." He started heading to the stairs, a feeling of dread befalling him as he went.

Feron's heart felt like it would explode. His lungs burned as he ran down the corridor. Behind him, the sound of the dying lights told him that the darkness and the one who waited at its edge were drawing closer. He shot around another corner and found himself in front of the stairs... The gates were closed.

"No no no no!" he banged his hooves against the lock of the gates. They didn't budge. Another clack. He pulled and shook with all his might but the old iron gates did not move. Behind him, another light died with an audible clack.

He turned around, his back against the gate. Another clack could be heard as the lights behind the corner died, he was trapped. Another light died, the wall of darkness was only a few feet away now. And the janitor still stood at it's edge and silently watched the terrified changeling as he drew nearer. Feron closed his eyes and waited for the last light to die.

Then, the sound of keys being turned in a lock...

Suddenly the gate in his back was gone and he felt something grab him from behind and lift him backwards. He opened his eyes and looked into a angry and gnarled, canine face. "This ain't none place for ya, pup. What are ya doing down'ere?" Feron looked back at the bottom of the stairs. The gate was open, there was only darkness beyond. The dog followed his gaze and took a moment to carefully smell the air.

The moment he did, the dog's pupils shrunk and his nostrils flared. With a frenzied motion he grabbed the gates and pulled them shut, pulled out a ring with several keys attached to it and hastily put one of them in the lock and turned it. There was an audible click as the lock closed. The dog stared through the gates, as if waiting for something...

A pink little ball rolled against the closed gates and a giggle could be heard in the darkness.

"We need to leave. Now!" The dog sat the little changeling down and started climbing up the stairs with hurried steps. Feron was barely able to keep up. "Hurry up, or I'll leave ya behind pup." The dog grumbled as he went on without slowing down. "We need to gain distance. He won't be able to keep'er down there for long."

Feron followed the dog as it hurried through the sheer endless maze. At the second set of stairs he suddenly turned and quickly paced down a corridor, then turned again and again. Feron quickly lost count of how many turns they had made. They arrived at another set of stairs, the dog turned left and led him down a long tunnel. At the next junction the dog smelled the air for a second before turning right and heading on. They arrived at another set of stairs and went up again.

This pattern continued for what felt like hours. Stairs, corridors, turns... it almost felt unreal, where was the dog taking him? On what felt like the hundredth set of stairs the dog suddenly stopped, Feron felt like his lungs were about to burn. He felt as if they had been running for hours. The dog gave the corridor another sharp gaze, then relaxed slightly. "Alright, we can stop here for a second." Feron dropped onto the stairs panting heavily, the fatigue of the day's terrors finally catching up to him. The dog took a seat on a stair above him and eyed him with curiosity.

"Thank you..." Feron managed to stammer between his gasps for air. "I thought he was going to get me..."

The dog raised an eyebrow. "He?"

"The janitor..." Feron whispered as if fearing that mentioning his name would cause him to appear again.

The dog only gave a dry laugh and shook his head. "Little pup, ya don't know nothin'. It ain't the janitor ya gotta be'fraid of, it's the pink one ya should worry 'bout."

Commander Larum eyed the stairs with unease, wondering what events had triggered this change. The stairs simply stopped at level thirteen, as if there had never been anything below. "He changed it... why would he change it?" he whispered to himself, lost in his thoughts.

"Sir?" One of his sentries tried to get his attention. "Sir. The ponies have arrived." Larum only nodded and the sentry scurried off to get the expected guests.

Two ponies arrived, the white mare working as the receptionist, and a zebra with many charms around her neck. She was wearing several pouches which were stuffed to the brim with things he could only wonder about. To him, they looked like trash, trinkets and assorted rubbish. But he knew better; They were her tools. "Larum..." the white mare greeted him. "We came as quickly as we could. What is the situation?"

Larum gave a sigh. "Hello Rarity... things are not looking good..." he pointed to the stairs behind him. "The janitor changed the layout."

Even with her white fur, he could see the color leave Rarity's face. "But that has not happened since..."

Larum nodded. "Since over twenty years ago..." he shook his head. "But that's not all I'm afraid. We're also missing a youngling..." Rarity looked like she was about to faint.

The zebra stepped forward, one of her legs making an awkward noise as the metal splint and joints moved. Larum knew that it was an old wound from the war, a stray magic projectile had rendered the leg almost useless and irreparable... Civilian casualties, or as his former superiors had called it; 'collateral damage' were a common sight these days. It had also been the reason he had come to the hostel so long ago.

"Fear not my friend, maybe not all will come to a bad end. We shall see if it is really our old friend, rest assured we will not simply let the young one's journey end." she started to set up different things on the ground before her and then set about drawing signs on the floor with some chalk.

"That poor thing,..." Rarity looked to where the stairs ended, a sad memory reforming itself before her eyes. "To think of the horrible things that await him down there..."

"But he almost caught me! If it hadn't been for you he would have killed me for sure!"

The dog only laughed again. "Silly pup, ya followed the lights didn't ya?" The changeling nodded. "And who do ya think controls the lights down'ere?" Feron's eyes became big as he realized what the dog was saying. "That's right, he does. He didn't chase ya, he led ya to the exit."

"But, the gates! They were locked!"

"To keep 'er in ya fool! He can't just let'er run around freely when she comes out ta'play!" the dog wiped a strand of saliva from his chin. "We're lucky I smelled'er in time. If not we'd both be playing balls with'er now... I wonder why she suddenly showed up after all them years again." He eyed Feron again and a suspicious expression found itself onto his features. "How d'ya get down'ere anyway?"

After Feron had told his story the dog looked at him for a moment before shaking his head. "Ya did a foolish thing, pup. Ya walked right into'er trap. I never heard 'bout her showing up that far up though, something must'ave stirred'er up."

"I thought she was a lost pony..." Feron said with remorse, feeling slightly bitter at being lectured moments after he had escaped certain death.

"Oh she's a lost one, believe me. I'm surprised ya got away, normally she doesn't just let go of'er playthings that easily... either ya got lucky or the janitor has plans for ya, pup." Feron gulped. "Either way, we rested long 'nough..." the dog stood up and started to walk again.

Feron fell in line behind the dog. "What is she?"

The dog didn't turn as he walked down the dimly lit corridors. "She's a memory, and she's alone. Like everyone down'ere. Down there, in the dark she waits. When little pups go stray she lures'em in and they play with'er, forever and ever... and ever."

"Where are we going?" Feron asked in fear.

"To the clan mother, she'll know what to do with ya, pup." the dog grumbled as he led him through the dark passages.

"Thank you. I'm Feron."

"I'm Dog." he replied flatly, as if stating something obvious.

They had been walking for some time when the dog suddenly stopped again. "Why are we stop..." the changeling's mouth was quickly covered by a big paw.

"Quiet, pup... Listen!" Dog said sternly. Feron strained his ears. The buzzing of the few lamps, the echo of the air as it was pushed through the concrete maze by the ventilation system and the constant rugged breath of the dog... then he heard it; Laughter, the humming of the air sounded like laughter... but it was off... It sounded like an echo but it missed a source... The lights started to blink.

The dog gave a snarl. "Dam'nit, she got out! Time to leave the streets, pup!" He quickly paced further down the corridor while frantically searching the walls and ceiling. "Com'on, com'on,... throw me a bone..." he repeatedly chanted as he continued his search. Feron followed him closely with fearful eyes, the laughter was slowly becoming louder.

"There!" Dog called out triumphantly as he spotted what he had been looking for. Feron followed him and saw the dog grab a big slotted plate of metal. Dog gave a grunt as he pulled on the frame with both hands. The frame didn't budge. "Don't be kiddin' me! Only the good and the pretty die early!" He put his back into it and pulled with all his might. It creaked but didn't move. "Ah! Ya flaccid, good-fer-nothin' piece of sh..."

The laughter was loud enough for Feron to hear it clearly by now, it was as if a hundred little voices were laughing softly. One voice slightly lifted itself over the others. "Come play with us..." Feron felt an icy chill run down to his bones.

The zebra had finished her preparations. Countless symbols and shapes covered the floor around her as she sat in the middle of three concentric circles. Numerous objects were placed on the different drawings... a nut, an old leaf, a piece of paper, an old apple, a piece of colorful glass... To any unknowing it was a collection of litter, for her they were wards to protect her from what she was about to summon.

"Now my friends the time has come to start, I shall try to tear this shroud apart. Keep some space from my position, he will not be pleased with these conditions." Larum and Rarity both took a few steps back. The zebra waited for them to reach a safe distance before she closed her eyes and started to chant in her own language.

What sounded to the others like chanting was in fact a special form of meditation. The janitor could not be willed to appear, he could not be forced to answer questions or simply be called... this was his place of power, the whole hostel moved and lived by his will alone. The ponies had once paid a high price for this knowledge. If she wanted to find the youngling she would have to search this place while avoiding his eyes, eyes that saw and knew everything. The tokens would serve to draw his attention away from her, but not for long.

The meditation started to take effect, she felt her mind unfold from the anchor that was her body and sink into the concrete walls around her. She had to be careful not to sink too deep, or she could find herself unable to return to her body. Then she would become one with the whispers and memories that lived in the walls, a terrible fate.

Her mind reached out to a pipe, it was like a piece of an endless spider web. She followed the thread. The moment she touched it she felt him draw near. She pushed the memories of her tokens outwards around herself and continued to follow the thread, it wouldn't take him much time to sift through them. Thousands of voices and dreams swirled around her as she traced it through the upper levels and sectors. It sounded like a thundering ocean. One moment of carelessness and she would be swept away and lose herself in it.

The walls and pipes seemed to vibrate to the sounds for miles, everything in resonance with the thriving life above her. Everything was in motion here, chaotic and yet moving as a swirling unit... a pulsing star of life composed of thousands and thousands of little lights. The janitor's work was awe inspiring in it's beauty, and terrifying in it's precision. No one would ever understand it without experiencing it for themselves.

So many lived here now, it made her heart ache with sadness, even after all these years she still couldn't understand how things could have come so far. All of them had found a new home here, no matter who they had been in the past, and yet none of them would ever know what truly lay beneath this place. What memories awaited in the dark below. She felt the memories of her tokens starting to fade into darkness and then disappear completely, she needed to hurry.

She let her mind follow the thread further, the voices started to die away until there was only darkness left around her. For a short moment they returned as she felt herself pass the big yard, a floating light in the soundless depths... there was so much malice her it almost hurt her soul, but beneath the malice there was something surprisingly warm... almost compassionate.

She traveled on, not daring to stop to investigate further as she followed the thread deeper and deeper. Not much longer...

With a last creak of protest and pulled by both the dog and the small changeling the frame suddenly jumped free. Feron didn't even have time to look into it as Dog simply picked him up and stuffed him head first into the hole behind it. "Move it, pup!" The dog clambered after Feron, his size only giving him little freedom as he crawled quickly after the low walking changeling. Feron didn't dare look back.

So close! She had already felt them in the distance, two little lights in the endless darkness below. And then, suddenly, they had disappeared from her vision. One of them had been a changeling, she was sure of it... Their presence had a unique feeling. And the other... she wasn't sure... a dog maybe? Strange, but not completely unlikely. The dogs often explored the deeper tunnels where they could. But this deep? And why did its presence feel so strange? She pushed her confusion aside. All that mattered was that the changeling was alive and it seemed he was heading upwards... Which only left the question how he had even gone that far down in such short time.

Her mind drew closer to the place where she had last seen them... only to recoil in horror. Something else was there, something very dangerous, something terrifyingly familiar... and it was hunting. A shadow drew near and reached out towards her. "Hihi! Let's play a game, silly!" She recognized the voice... the realization striking dread into her very soul. "It's so boring down here Zecora! Let's play!"

Before the shadow could reach her Zecora was ripped back along the thread with enough force to make her feel like her soul was being torn apart. She didn't even realize she was back in her own body until she felt her head hit the floor as she fell over backwards. Her eyes snapped open, Larum and Rarity were rooted in shock where they stood, eyes locked behind her. She pulled her head up so her eyes could confirm what she had already feared would happen; the janitor had found her.

"Alright, we can rest'ere for a moment." Dog said as they reached a crossing in the vents.

"Are we safe here?" Feron asked as he sat down, once more feeling at the edge of what strength he had. How much longer would they need to run?

"She can't go into the vents, pup. So we're safe. I just wanted to gain some distance. Just 'cause she can't go into'em don't mean she can't pull ya'out if ya're close'nough." They sat silently for a moment, each of them trying to catch their breath. The dog eyed Feron. "How are things up there? Is the war still going?"

Feron gave a glum nod. "We left the eastern hive a few weeks ago. The griffins were drawing close and everyone was trying to reach the other hives, but my mother said it wouldn't be better there." He paused for a second. He had been born into the war, it had always been present but never before had it been so close. He looked at Dog. "I don't even know when it started."

The dug gave a small huff. "It's been going for'ver twen'ny years now . My pack was lucky enough to leave shortly after it started. Our clan mother was wise enough to see that nothing could be gained in this war."

"You've been here all that time?"

The dog nodded, "My pack came'ere long before th'others did. We met the janitor shortly after. He led us down'ere, away from th'others. Showed us where to go and how to live, changed us,... made us smarter..." he pulled out his keys. "Even gave us keys... As long as we keep our end of the bargain he keeps us safe and well away from the war."

"Why did the war start anyway?"

Dog raised an eyebrow. "Pup, ya seriously don't know? Don't they teach ya these kind of things anymore?"

Feron shook his head. "These days everyone is just trying to survive. No one ever talks about what happened."

The dog shook his head. "To forget your own history, things really've been going bad..." he shifted his position and leaned against a wall. "Over twenty years, ago everything was perfectly normal. The two sisters reigned in'armony, the dogs stayed underground, the griffins quarreled over silly things and the changelings hid in the dark. Just like it had always been."

He drew in a long breath. "Then things got bad. The broken one escaped again, and the ponies fought'im once more. The fight was hard and when they finally defeated'im their lands were in chaos. They could have simply started over again, but something had happened during the fight, something bad. Whatever it was, it drove a wedge between the sisters. A struggle for power erupted and their lands were thrown into a civil war."

"With the pony kingdom in war and weakened the others saw a chance, and they attacked. The griffins, the changelings, as much as I'eard there had even been a movement of ponies trying to gain independence from the sisters." he sighed. "Old alliances were broken and fragile new ones were formed. But it's never smart to fight against gods... the war quickly turned into a fanatic struggle for ultimate power and religious beliefs. Deity against deity, god against god, light against darkness. Everything burned, and the pony kingdom was split into day and night. Both sisters fighting their own wars, each driving their troops forward without mercy."

He closed his eyes. "But even though they were gods, they were alone and they tire too. They couldn't be everywhere at once. So things started to get out of control more and more. With the constant threats at th'ever changing borders they did something terrible, they drew the elements of'armony into the war. Some of them followed the calls of the sisters, but others refused and left their old homes behind. The elements had finally been broken apart. Something the broken one had never achieved with all of his power and madness."

He opened his eyes again and looked at the changeling. "And the dogs, always separated by petty conflicts sold their souls as mercenaries. Doing grunt work and throwing their lives away for others beliefs. But now, with more and more fleeing and comin'ere, I can only imagine that this war is going into its final stage. No more ideals, no more honor. Just fanatics struggling for ashes. Mark my words, pup. Soon they'll be standing at our doors too."

Feron contemplated what he had just been told, after a while a question formed in his mind. "You said something at the very start, something about a bargain with the janitor?"

The dog shook his head. "That ain't neither for me to tell nor for ya to know, pup. Trust me, it's better if ya don't ask."

Zecora eyed the janitor as she got up carefully. "The lower levels are off limits... both in body and mind... trespassing will not be tolerated." he said with an emotionless voice, but there was a cold fire burning in his eyes. The walls seemed to shudder as his voice passed over them. "Commit another infringement and you will be forced to leave."

Rarity carefully stepped forward. "Please, we are desperate. One of the changeling younglings is missing and we fear..." she stalled. "I... Please, where is he?"

The janitor slowly turned to her, the walls shuddering softly as he formed his response. "She called for him..." Rarity's pupils shrank in fear. "And he followed her call..." a darkness started to spread from the walls around him and started to consume his form. "His fate has yet to be decided." Only his face remained floating in the darkness now. "Your presence is required upstairs." He vanished into the darkness completely.

The three of them remained standing at the stairs for a moment longer, each of them trying to understand what was happening as they stared into the darkness. They barely noticed it when a pony came running looking for them, something had happened at the entrance.

"So this is the famous hostel..." a unicorn in golden armor sneered as he stood in the empty reception. Rarity eyed him from behind her desk with a feeling of worry. Several ponies in similar armor stood behind him. All of the fugitives had been cleared out before they had arrived. The unicorn turned to Rarity’s desk. "It seems fitting for you cowards to hide in such a rundown place."

"These are neutral grounds. Whatever it is you want, you will not find it here." Rarity spoke with an even voice, trying her best to act impassive.

The soldier gave a snort. "The border has shifted. These grounds are now under the control of the Grand Empress Celestia. You will either bow to her true supremacy or you will burn in her light! This place will be turned into a prison for all fugitives and minor races. You will hand out lists of all fugitives and assist our army in apprehending any traitors to our cause for questioning and execution."

"This place will never be a prison, it is a haven for those tired of the senseless war Celestia has unleashed onto us. Does she even know her own subjects starve while she dwells in the illusion of conquest?" Rarity replied with a cold voice. She had stayed behind in Ponyville as long as possible to help. She had seen how poverty and war had turned the town into a place of suffering and sadness. She had seen how her friends had been torn apart and had left to fight in or run from the war.

"Blasphemy! You think yourself above the wisdom of the great queen? You will burn for your words!" The unicorn shouted at her in anger and his horn flashed up as he summoned his magic. Rarity didn't even flinch, she knew far too well what would happen next. There was a flash as the unicorn released a fire spell, but much to his surprise the spell did not materialize. Only a small poof could be heard as the magic was simply diffracted.

"What devilry is this? More blasphemy? How dare you stand against the rightful might of the sun herself!" The other guards stepped forward. "Nail her to a wheel, then call in the troops! We are burning these heretics, all of..." the lights started to flash, a tremble could be felt going through the walls. In the depths of the hostel, something moved.

The lights flashed one more time, and everything was quiet again. The soldiers stood gasping in shock. Something had appeared out of nothing in front of their leader and was glaring at them with eyes that froze the blood in their veins.

Dog stopped as they reached a crossing in a big maintenance tunnel, red lights casting an eery glow all through the long tunnels. "Alright, lets see..." he searched the walls until he found some signs scratched into a pipe. Feron watched with curiosity as Dog carefully inspected them.

"What are those?"

"Signs to show'us the way..." the dog muttered as he traced them with a paw. "Our pack set'em up in case we get lost in these tunnels. They all look and smell the same, so ya can easily lose ya way. Especially if ya've to move fast."

Feron tried to inspect the adorning the pipe; They were nothing more than dots and lines arranged in changing patterns. "What kind of letters are those? How do you read dots and lines?"

The dog gave a huff. "These aren't made to be read with eyes, pup. We dogs used to live underground in the dark, so we learned to read and write by touch." He pointed to the little points and lines. "Every pattern has a different meaning, all ya need..." he drew his paw across them. "Is a good sense of touch."

Feron followed Dogs explanation with wonder, he had never heard of something like that. "What do they mean?"

The dog drew a paw over one line of symbols with closed eyes. "See this one, three dots, two lines and two dots? Means dead end. The last dots always says how many times to count from left to right. Two dots means..." he pointed down the corridor straight ahead. "Dead end down that way."

He let his paw go over the next line. "Three lines, four dots... means danger behind." He gave a dry laugh. "Yeah, no kiddin'." He scratched a circle behind the line with one of his claws.

"What does the circle mean?" Feron asked.

"It means she's a waiting in that direction." He continued to the third line. "One dot, one line, one dot... means gas leak to the left. Better stay out of it till we's fix it."


"For the ovens, pup. Sometimes the pipe seals break or the vents clog. Then we have to fix it. Light a spark down there and ya'll be able to see the air burn along with ya skin." He checked the last line. "There we go. Four dots, one line and three dots. Means the den is down this way." He started to walk down the corridor to the right. "Come on, pup. The old mother is probably already waiting for ya."

The unicorn tried to suppress a shiver as the strange being towered above him without moving. He had stood before gods and shivered, but not like this. He gathered his courage, he would not fail his queen. "Do you think a simple illusion like this will scare a soldier of the great empress? I will..."

"Fools always find greater fools to admire them... Celestia's ambitions and dreams of times past have thrown this world into nothing but chaos and misery... and will only see to her own undoing." The creature before him spoke with a voice that could only come from a grave. "She is not welcome here... and neither are her soldiers. Leave the premises at once."

The ponies had unknowingly taken several steps backwards as the creature spoke to them. "Demon spawn!" the unicorn hissed at it in spite of its fear. "You will burn for your blasphemy!"

The creature shook his head. "No. No I will not." The lights went out, engulfing the room in utter darkness. A deep groan could be heard from the walls as the floor began to shudder. Rarity put her hoofs over her ears, she knew what was about to happen. But no matter how hard she pressed her hoofs into her ears, she still heard them screaming. All of them were screaming, some in pain, some for their mothers and loved ones, but ultimately, all of them screamed in horror. And then, there was silence.

Feron and Dog had been walking for some time when Dog suddenly stopped. He sniffed the air before reaching out for a pipe and knocking on it several times with his knuckles. The dull sound echoed down the long tunnel. After a moment, several knocks returned from the dark. "Who's there? Is that ya, Dog?" a voice called out.

"Aye, I brought a visitor for the mother." Dog answered as another diamond dog stepped out of the dark.

It looked at Feron with curious eyes. "What's a young pup like that doin' down'ere? How'd he get'ere?"

"Got baited by the pink one. Janitor led'im to me."

The dog thought for a moment. "Alright, send'im on through. If the janitor's got plans for'im mother will find out." He pulled open a hatch in the floor. "Down ya go."

Feron carefully climbed down the stairs, Dog following him as they descended into the darkness. Feron could only wonder how much deeper they had gone by now. What would he find down there?

After what seemed like minutes the lights came back to life with a soft buzzing and Rarity finally dared to look up from behind the counter. She immediately regretted it. The floor, the walls, even the ceiling... everything was covered in blood. The janitor and the ponies were nowhere to be seen. Only a little yellow sign stood on the floor before the mess; 'Caution, wet floor' was written on it.

In the back, the seal of a door unlocked and the door swung open with a slow creak. Larum came out of the opening accompanied by several of his scouts. "Rarity! We felt the tremble in the walls! What..." he stopped as he saw the blood covered walls of the reception. "By the gods... not again..." he whispered as he walked up to Rarity. "Is everything alright?"

"I'm alright... just a little shook up." she looked at the blood, it was already starting to retreat. The concrete seemed to absorb it. Not much longer and nothing would remain of the horror that had taken place here. No matter who the soldiers had been or what they had done, Rarity couldn't help but feel sorry for them.

"What happened?"

"Several soldiers from Celestia, making terrible demands and accusing us of heresy... they even tried to threaten him... and he..."

"Did what was to be expected..." Larum looked around the room, there were only a few bloody stains left by now. "He's becoming easy to anger these days... and the disappearance of the youngling, just what is happening?"

He turned to his scouts. "Go inform the Redwings. If I'm guessing correctly the janitor has moved the entrance by now. We need to find out where we are and get the info to the runners." The scouts set off immediately.

Rarity walked up to him. "How is the changeling's mother?"

Larum gave a sigh. "Cried herself to sleep. I feel that something big is going on and that the youngling is a part of it. We need to do something but I don't know what we could do."

Rarity thought for a moment. "What about her?"

He turned to Rarity, disbelief showing clearly in his eyes, "You cannot be serious."

"She's been down there before,..."

"And she came back half crazy! She's nothing like what she was before!"

"And still, she is the only one that can get passed him... we need her."

Larum shook his head. "Even if I agree to this what makes you think she'd do it? She's almost catatonic these days."

Rarity was quiet for a moment before continuing with a serious voice. "I know it is a risky idea, but it's the only thing we can do... and we need to do something if we want to know what is going on. I am not letting that poor little thing stay trapped down there." She started to walk towards one of the doors. "Besides, if I remember correctly Daring Do still has an old score to settle with him."

Larum looked after her as she left. "That old score is the reason I'm afraid of sending her..." he said quietly as he stood inside the reception. At this point nothing remained of the blood. The floors were as clean as always and the sign was gone.

There were countless former soldiers within the hostel, Larum knew because he and Rarity had checked the lists. If the situation required it, the hostel would probably be able to stage an army bigger than any other currently marching Equis. But the sheer multitude of races was a problem in itself... and then again, there was the janitor.

The ladder had taken them downwards and into a huge chamber filled with endless machines. The sound was almost deafening. Everywhere huge gears turned, steam hissed and sparks flew as countless diamond dogs operated the machines. Valves where turned, levers pulled and buttons pushed without pause. How the dogs knew which buttons to push at which time was beyond Feron, there were no labels to be seen. Still, the dogs worked without pause like a clockwork. It almost looked like they moved as one with the huge machinery.

Dog led him through the hall with certain steps, avoiding dogs that moved with brisk steps and heavy tools. None of them spared them more than a glance, they were far too busy to bother with anything else than keeping the machines running. They continued through a door and reached a huge shaft with metal stairs running along the walls. The were many doors here, and both above and below them the dogs could be seen going to work and climbing the steps with hurry. None of them had time to spare.

For a moment Feron thought he could hear something else over the constant sound of the dogs working. He closed his eyes and listened. As he blocked out the other noises he realized it was the same sound he had heard the first time he had arrived here. Only it was much stronger here. It almost roared at him here, the whole shaft seemed to be filled with the sound.

But what was it? Feron had never heard a sound like this before... so distant and still so present. One moment it was like a storm and then it was nothing more than a breath. Everything seemed to resonate in this one strange note... pulsating without pause... it was almost like... Feron finally understood. The sounds running through the walls... the soft echos vibrating in them... the constant movement and changes in the emotions running through the concrete... this whole place was alive. And it was watching.

"What are ya doin' pup? Get over'ere!"

The changeling opened his eyes again and saw Dog waiting for him at the railing. Feron followed Dog as he pointed over the railing of the stairs and downwards. "Down'ere, that's where we're headin', pup." The little changeling looked down; Far in the dark bowels of the shaft and seated at the bottom of steel and concrete he could make out a little cottage with light shining outwards softly.

The old and scarred griffin looked over the assembled group. Before him stood several griffins, pegasus and changelings. All of them had determined looks. They were former soldiers, decorated veterans, all of them. But what had separated them once now lay long in the past, all of them had left their former lives behind in hope of finding something worth fighting for. Here they had found it. They were the Redwings. A tightly bonded group only the best and most experienced fliers could hope to join, and many had been lost during their missions.

"Alright Redwings, stand to attention!" The griffin snapped as he stood proudly before them. The group stood in file and rank perfectly, all of them staring ahead with unmoving eyes. Even if none of them carried any actual military rank any more they still strove for military perfection. Years of serving in the war had made sure of that. The scars they carried reminded everyone that they meant business.

The griffin walked up in front of his squad. "The situation is fairly simple, the janitor has moved the entrance, again." As it was part of their work, all of them knew that the infamous legend called the janitor was in fact very, very real. Some of them had even met him before, but none of them would speak of their encounters. "The objective is the same as always. Spread out, find out where we are and locate the nearest cities. Once we determine our position we send in the changelings."

He turned to the changelings. "You know the drill. Blend in, gather information and find the smugglers and runners. We need the fugitives to know where to head to." He took a step back and addressed the whole squad. "And for crying out loud, don't get caught! We don't want this to turn into a rescue mission. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir!" the squad replied in unison. All of them were well aware what dangers accompanied this work, especially for the changelings. Should they get caught they would be heavily questioned and then executed as traitors or enemies. Though none of them would leave a squad member behind without a fight they all knew they wouldn't stand a chance in an open battle. They were scouts, they operated under cover. If anything could be saved they would not run from a fight, but their tactic was hit and run. Go in fast, and get out even faster if possible.

"Alright, what are we waiting for? Redwings, head out!"

Rarity and Larum watched as the fliers ascended and flew off into the night. "I hope they will all return safely..." she said with sadness in her voice. She had seen them return missing members far too often. Watching them always reminded her of Rainbow Dash. The last time they had talked to one another it had been in anger. Rarity simply could not understand how her old friend could hold loyalty towards the crown higher than the loyalty to her friends.

Why she had sided with Luna Rarity would never understand. She knew that there had been bitter words between her and Twilight but she had never expected their feud to be this deep. What had happened to drive them apart so much? Had it been the call of the sisters? Or had it started when they had first stumbled upon this place? She couldn't tell anymore. After Discords defeat a lot had changed for the worse, the friends she had once known so well being no exception.

"You're thinking of her, aren't you?" Larum said gravely as he walked up to her. "Last thing I heard from the Redwings she now holds a high rank in the moon flier division..."

"I know, I read the report." Rarity shook her head. "I have tried many times to understand how things could change so much. But I only learned that it is unwise to dwell in the past for too long, there is nothing to be gained from those memories now. We need to take care of the present. Come, we need to see her immediately." She set off towards the pony sector with quick steps.

Larum sighed before following her. "And just when she tells me to let the past rest she's about to tear up old wounds better left untouched..."

Feron stood outside the shack with uncertainty. Upon arriving at the bottom of the shaft, Dog had simply stopped outside the tent and waited. Not knowing what else to do, the little changeling stood next to him and waited. Minutes passed in silence.

When Feron was about to say something a soft voice called out from inside the cottage. "Dog? Is that you Dog?" The voice sounded old and tired.

"Yes mother, I have brought a guest..."

"Oh yes, yes. The changeling? Please send him in. And be a dear and fetch us something to eat, the poor thing must be terribly hungry." The changeling felt his stomach jump at the thought of food. Still, he hesitated in front of the entrance of the rundown shack.

"Go on..." Dog gave him a nudge. "Don't keep mother waiting."

Feron took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Hammerbeak looked around himself in disbelief. "Bloody hell, this is the desert! We're in the middle of nowhere!" All around him, no matter how far he looked with his sharp eyes he could see nothing but sand. "Winder!" he called up to the pegasus above him. "Can you make out anything?"

"No, sir! Only sand in all... wait, I see lights to the north!"

Hammerbeak studied the stars, they were far in the south by his wager. "Where did he send us this time?" He whispered to himself before turning his attention to the remaining squad. "Alright, stick to the clouds, no matter how few there are. If you run out of clouds stick to the ground. Find out what city that is and search the other directions as well. I don't want any nasty surprises, we don't know where the borders lie at this moment!"

"Yes, sir!" The squad instantly got to work and divided into small groups of pairs or threes. All of them knew what was to be done.

Hammerbreak looked down beneath him. The open roof of the hostel loomed like a giant pit beneath him, an open mouth in the sand. He could make out the lights below in the courtyard, the market never slept. The view still sent chills down his spine. The sheer size of the place always served to intimidate him. Lately though he was starting to feel something different when he looked down on it. Something unnerving.

He took in another breath of the fresh air and shot off into the night. There was no time for these thoughts now, the Redwings had work to do.

Feron looked around himself in wonder. The little shack was filled to the brim with small charms, trinkets and tokens alike. Everywhere he looked little things hung from the ceiling and walls. Some seemed to be simple items, stones and even sticks but every now and then the little changeling would spot something he could not identify. Shining little pieces of metal with strange carvings in them. In the middle of the single room, seated before a little oven sat the clan mother of the diamond dogs.

She looked old. What little fur she had left had turned white a long time ago and every move she made was accompanied by the sounds of her joints cracking. Her eyes were a milky white, Feron realized she was blind. "Hello there, Feron. Come, step a bit closer." A raspy voice escaped her throat as she spoke with a small, toothless smile.

The little changeling stepped forward tentatively. "How do you know my name?"

The mother gave a soft chuckle. "He told me, of course. He's been telling me to expect you, but you are a bit late... Such is the youth, never taking time to see the old ones when we have so many things to tell." She chuckled to herself. "Of course compared to him I'm quite the youth myself."

Feron's eyes grew wide. "He's here?" He looked around himself uneasily, almost expecting the janitor to step out of the shadows at any moment.

"Not personally, he doesn't come around to visit me that often anymore. Not with all that commotion going on upstairs and that little one causing trouble down here. Keeps him busy." She raised an eyebrow as she stared at him with her blind eyes and whispered; "But he watches nonetheless, and I listen." She chuckled as Feron could feel a tremble go through his body. "Come, sit with an old clan mother. There is much to discuss... but first." She turned to the entrance of the hut. "Have you brought something to eat for the little one, Dog?"

"Yes, mother." A voice replied from outside shortly followed by Dog as he stepped inside and handed the changeling a little bowl. There was a strangely green liquid inside.

Feron eyed the liquid with dismay. "Sorry, but I can't eat soup. I'm a..."

"Changeling?" The mother's voice rasped amused as Dog left again. "Try to feel what's coming from the bowl."

Feron was hesitant at first but then closed his eyes and listened. What he discovered was almost surprising enough to make the changeling lose his concentration. There were emotions, inside the liquid! It was like a constant swirl of mist that clung to the surface of the liquid, containing a sheer endless spectrum of emotions. The different notes mixed themselves with one another, creating a dull and almost gray, single note that seemed to hum softly.

Suddenly remembering his own hunger the changeling started to absorb the emotions almost by instinct, letting the soft tones sink into his own form. It wasn't very tasty, the emotions tasted just as gray as they sounded. Almost like they were long forgotten memories. But they sated his hunger, and that was enough. When he was done he let go of the stream with a happy sigh, he couldn't even remember a day when he had last eaten a full meal. Running never left much time for meals, he had gone to sleep hungry so very often.

The mother chuckled at his happy sigh. "There, there... feels better already doesn't it? Now come, sit. I wish to tell you a story."

Larum watched the insides of the room with unease. There were maps everywhere, drawings, sketches, books and theories scribbled wildly on papers or napkins lay scattered over the floor. All of them were concerned with one thing; The bowels of the hostel. He shuddered as he saw a sketch of what could only be the janitor. "It seems her condition hasn't improved much..." he turned to Rarity. "Does she still lock herself inside the closet to sleep?"

Rarity gave an unamused look in response to his joke before walking to a door and knocking on it lightly. At first there was no response, but then they could hear the sounds of shuffling and bottles being knocked over. A bolt could be heard sliding back before the door opened a crack. "What do you want? I'm busy!"

"Daring, it's me. Rarity." Larum coughed. "And Commander Larum. You remember Larum, don't you?"

"Larum? The old coot is still around?" A chain was removed from the door and Daring Do stepped outside to give Larum a crushing bear hug. "Are you two still trying to hold this place together?"

"We're trying." Rarity answered with a little smile as Daring Do released Larum from her hug. She looked thin and there were black rings under her eyes. Strands of white could easily be spotted in her mane. There was a strong smell of alcohol on her. "How are you?"

"Ha!" Daring's eyes narrowed as she walked around the room with quick steps. "I'm close, so close I can almost taste it." She stopped in front of a huge pile of crudely drawn maps. "I've been following his moves, every appearance, every step." She threw a few maps aside, crashing a bottle standing on the table in the process. "But he keeps on changing the layouts! Always changing things, thinking we don't notice. But I see it!" A creepy smile started to spread on her lips. "There's a pattern! It's barely visible, but there is one! I just know it!"

She walked to a sketch of the janitor. "And when I figure it out... I'll find it, I'll find every little thing he's so intent on hiding and I'll pull it up to the surface. Then nopony can say I'm crazy! Not with the proof in their faces! You hear me you bastard?! You can't stop me from showing the world your true face!" She gave off a wild laugh.

"Maybe we should return later..." Larum whispered to Rarity.

Daring Do whirled around to face them with a strange look. "Why are you two here anyway?" Her eyes narrowed to slits. "You're not going to try and tell me I'm seeing things again? I know the truth, you're all part of his little game, like flies you crawl around in his net! You can't tell me I'm wrong! You don't know what I know, you didn't see what I saw! I was down there, I saw this place for what it really is! I saw it!"

"Actually,..." Rarity said with uncertainty. "We came to you because we need your help." Had it been a mistake to come here? If anything it seemed that Daring Do's condition had worsened.

Daring Do eyed them with a suspicious gaze. "My help?"

"We came to this place long before anyone else did..." the mother started. "And even as the upper floors started to fill they remained ignorant of our presence. Not even the other diamond dogs roaming the upper levels know of our existence. They are all ignorant of our work, and ignorant of the price they had to pay to live here."

"A price?" Feron asked.

"Certainly, or do you think this place gives us shelter and food without taking its pay? The janitor is powerful and he does what he can, but even he can do only so much... So he does what he needs to. Where, little one, do you think the food for all these thousands of souls comes from? For that matter, where do you think your meal came from?"

The little changeling eyed the bowl before him, suddenly feeling very queasy.

"In this place..." the mother talked in a grave voice. "Nothing is for free. We made a bargain with the janitor a long time ago, and we stand to it until this very day. The ones on the upper floors though... only a few of them are aware of what their shelter costs them... and those that know, they accept it."

"What..." Feron was still looking at his bowl, "What was this made of?"

She looked at him with an unmoving face. "The dead."

Feron stared at her in shock, unable to understand what he had just been told.

The mother shook her head with a dry laugh. "Understand this, little changeling. This place wastes nothing, everything is used. When someone dies up there, the bodies land here and the machines do the rest. Separating flesh from bone, spirit from blood. Everything is used."

Feron felt like he was about to throw up, but changelings were not capable of such a feat. He still felt sick to the bone nonetheless. "But... but... that's horrible! Don't they notice when their families go missing?!"

"They only see what he allows them to see... when someone dies some of them may remember and wonder. They think that there's a graveyard somewhere, they may even think about going there to mourn... but after a short while they forget, and that's that." She looked up at the ceiling with a tired face. "Some of the gifted ones cannot be blinded so easily, and when they find the truth they are given a choice... those that choose to accept it learn to live with the fact. Those that don't... they leave or are forced to leave."

Feron looked up at her in horror. "You said this place takes its pay... what does it take?"

"Have you not heard? I thought you could hear it... the soft murmur in the walls..."

Feron's eyes widened and his heart skipped a beat. "Their souls... it takes their souls!"

The mother nodded. "The moment a living being steps into this place and seeks its shelter a contract is made. They are kept safe and fed, away from the chaos outside... but when they die, he will collect the rent. Not because he wants to, but because he is bound by the rules of this place." She pointed a thin finger at him. "The same goes for you. You entered this place, accepted its safety and its nourishment, as did your mother. When the time comes... you both will pay the price."

"Mother..." it was almost a whisper as the word escaped his mouth. "No! You can't! He can't!" tears started to well up in his eyes.

The dog mother gave him a stern look. "Then help him. He has already led you down here because of your gift. He wants what only you are capable of... make a trade with him, use it to your advantage! Help him finish his work and this dream can finally end."

"I... I..." Feron's head was racing, he needed to save his mother from this fate but he was scared, so scared... He closed his eyes as he tried to think, but the very moment he did he could already hear the murmur start again. All those souls rushing through the walls like blood through veins. He couldn't lose his mother here, not like this, not to this place.

He looked at the mother. "I'll do it... if it can save my mother... I'll do whatever he wants!"

The mother smiled the tiniest of smiles. "It is not me you have to convince, little changeling... and I doubt your work for him will be pleasant. If you ever feel like you are about to falter, remember what it is you fight for. If you fall here there is no one to catch you."

"Where is he? How can I find him?"

"He will find you... call for him and he will hear you..." She drew her hand through the air in a slow motion.

"What did you give him?" Feron asked.

The mother slightly flinched at this question. "Our existence... we work the machines and I never have to see my own son leave me to fight in a senseless war again..." she said with sadness. "Go now... you must head up the stairs until you can go no further... call for him there." She motioned him to leave the hut.

Feron didn't know what to think anymore. His mind felt like it was on fire and his heart was pounding so hard it felt like it would burst.

As he left the shack he was greeted by Dog once again, he had been waiting for him. "Ya done, pup?"

"I'm... not sure... she said I have to go upstairs..." Feron said with a shaky voice.

"Alright, I'll lead ya up. Come on." Dog took the lead.

As Feron carefully started to follow him up the stairs he took notice of the diamond dogs' faces for the first time... they all looked the same. Was it just his impression? Changelings all looked alike too... Just as he was about to say something though, he could hear the mother's voice from the hut again. "Dog, be a dear and fetch me a blanket..."

To his side, a different diamond dog set to motion immediately. "Yes, mother."

Feron understood, and he felt a shiver run down his spine.

Further up the stairs, the first Dog turned around. "Ya coming, pup?"

"Forget it..." Daring Do waved a dismissive hoof. "If he's down there, then he's already lost. Nothing returns from down there."

"You don't understand." Rarity shifted nervously. "We know he's still alive."

"Suuure..." Daring gave her an unbelieving look. "Seriously, Rarity. You have my condolences, but the changeling is gone. Even if the gas doesn't get him, Pinkie will." She started to leave for her room again.

Rarity shivered at the mention of that name, but managed to quietly speak three words. "He told us."

Daring Do stopped dead in her tracks. "What?" she turned around slowly and with big eyes, seemingly not believing what she had just been told.

"He came... and he told us... he said that the changeling's fate had yet to be decided."

Daring Do stared at her for what seemed like seconds, "Tell me everything... and do it fast." She started to frantically pull papers from beneath piles. "Something big may be about to happen!"

"Everyone back? Good! Now, report!" Hammerbeak barked when the Redwings had gathered again.

"Sir, nothing in the south and east but desert, ocean to the north and west, Sir!" Winder replied.

"And the city?" He turned to the changelings. "What did you find out?"

One of the changelings stepped up. "It's Nadira, Sir."

The old griffin gave a whistle of disbelief. "We're in the Muudi desert? Bloody hell... He's made bigger jumps before, but this... this is insane..." he tried to clear his head. "Who controls it? Where do the borders lie?"

"It seems Camelu and a good part of Cervidas are now under the control of Luna. The Zebras are currently holding them out of Zavros, but nobody knows for how long."

Hammerbeak shook his head in frustration. "He's put us in a war zone... Damn it, just what is happening here?" He turned to his troops. "Alright, you know the drill. Get in, stay out of trouble and make sure the fugitives get the information they need!"

"Yes, Sir!" the Redwings answered and as one, they once again set off and into the cold night air.

Rarity observed Daring Do nervously as she readjusted her bags and checked their contents. "Can you find him?"

"I can find him alright, getting the little bug out though... that's not gonna be simple." She took a look over the railing and down at the market below. Even now, when everyone on the upper floors was long asleep, countless lights could be seen shining like stars in the seemingly bottomless pit.

"How are you going to get past him?" Larum asked with concern. "He made it quite clear he doesn't want us down there."

"I have ways, and there are paths even he cannot close." Daring said with a small smile as she started to climb over the rail. "See you then!" she flashed them a big grin before jumping.

Her world turned, everything else lost meaning as she seemed to hover for a moment before plunging into the pit and towards the sea of lights below. This was her chance, he was moving now and she would use this opportunity. She slightly readjusted the angle of her wings to guide herself, even in free fall it would take minutes to reach the market.

She watched the walls pass her in a flash, countless corridors, wires, tubes, windows and empty levels flying past her vision, watching her descent in silence. For a moment, she thought she saw him watching her silently from one of the countless windows, but it passed too fast for her to be sure. She wouldn't fail this time. This time, everything would change.

Feron wondered how much longer they would continue to go up. They had quickly left the lighted part of the shaft behind and had been going up poorly lit stairs for what seemed like hours now. The changeling tried to catch his breath as Dog stopped for a moment to check some signs on a wall. Feron looked down.

Down below, like a little light at the end of a dark tunnel, he could see the mother's hut. Even from up here he could still see the dogs mingle on the stairs below, busy with whatever tasks had to be performed... he shuddered at the thought.

"Pup..." Dog spoke up. "This is as far as I go." He pointed upwards. "There's a safety'atch further up, go through'it. I'll wait for ya on th'other side."

"Why are you taking a different path?" Feron asked with worry.

"That place..." Dog replied with unease before stopping himself with a shake of his head. "He'll be waiting for you there. This is your trade, you'll have to bargain on your own." He turned around and started heading down the stairs again. "Good luck."

Feron turned his head upwards, the already scarce lighting was becoming less and less further up. He gulped as he realized that his last steps up the stairs would be in total darkness. For a moment, he hesitated, standing between light and darkness, almost unwilling to go on from fear of what would await him up there. But then, he remembered his mother, and started to climb the steps once more.

Daring Do spread her wings further to slow down her descent. She would be careful not to draw too much attention to herself when entering the market.

The market was different from the rest of the hostel, it had no rules. For some reason, the janitor never appeared here and hence his order had never been enforced. Nobody knew why, but it seemed that the market was not within his reach. It gave the residents of the market the freedom to live how they wanted, and that was anything but ordered.

The whole market was part city, part giant bazaar, and it never slept. All of the different races could be found here, and each of them had set up their own territories to live in. Since there was no one to uphold order, there was a never-ending struggle between the different clans and races for power.

Slavery, drugs, mercenaries or treasure hunters... if there was a demand, there was a price. All of them had once started as simple fugitives, she knew. But there were always those that weren't content with what they had, and so they had gone here to find something different. Not all were able to find their place here, and many became victims of drugs or were dragged off to dark places. Only power mattered here, and power came by violence and treachery.

Daring Do had never understood why the janitor had allowed them to come here, it was one of the few things she still had to understand. Another secret hidden in the dark. She would have to be careful, but it was the only possibility to find an entrance to the lowest levels. She knew this, because she had used the same way to enter the bowels of the hostel before, and it had nearly cost her sanity and her life back then.

Feron drew in a shuddering breath. It was cold here, so cold every breath he took burned his lungs. He squinted his eyes, trying to see anything in the darkness ahead of him. Changeling eyes were accustomed to the dark due to their life in underground caverns, being able to pick up even the smallest amounts of light with their faceted eyes. But that still required that there was light to pick up.

There was no light up here, only a darkness that loomed at him like a silent, open mouth. Even the occasional trace of light from below did not help him to see what lay ahead. The only thing that was still present were the countless murmurs he could hear pass through the walls like an endless stream... It felt like this whole place was waiting to swallow him. Still, he continued to climb the stairs, traveling towards his destination with a gut-wrenching feeling.

Feron carefully reached out with his foreleg and tested the dark before him, feeling another step of the stair in front of him. He kept one hoof on the railing at all times, taking each step with care, the steps were slippery due to the frightening cold up here. He shuddered as he tried to ignore the cold once more, but it bit into every part of his body like fire. Still, he continued. If he failed here, his mother would... he shook his head and pushed on, not willing to give up now.

Suddenly, a red light started to shine in front of him, a soft buzz carrying through the air as the little light started to shine brighter. Feron's eyes took a moment to readjust to the sudden illumination. When he was finally able to see again, he saw that the stairs had stopped. He had reached the top.

In front of him, a huge and rusted door of metal was illuminated dimly by the red light, shadows pulsating as the light would flicker from time to time. He could see that the paint had fallen victim to the rust a long time ago, red specks of oxidized metal could be seen all over its surface between sprung and cracked paint.

Slowly, Feron started to step towards the door, intimidated by its sheer size and forbidding appearance. To his shock he realized that the door had no handle. How was he supposed to open it? No matter how much he looked at it, there was nothing on it that appeared capable of opening it. Slowly, he started to step towards the door, maybe if he...

His thoughts were interrupted as a loud, clanking noise could be heard echoing through the shaft, making the changeling shake on his legs in surprise. He could hear the murmurs in the walls pick up their pace and grow stronger as metal grinding over metal could be heard followed by several other clanks. The murmur had turned into a roar by now, making him grit his teeth in desperation. Then, with a long and high pitched creak, the door started to swing inwards to reveal utter blackness. And then... there was silence.

The roar of voices he had heard before had simply vanished. No matter how much he strained his ears he couldn't even hear a single whisper come from the walls. It felt... terrible.

A voice started to form from the darkness of the open door, and Feron felt the blood freeze in his veins, "You are late..."

Feron stood on the edge of the darkness, fighting his own instinct to run away as fast as he could. With a soft buzz, a light came inside the chamber, casting a small cone of illumination in the sheer impenetrable darkness. Dust could be seen swirling through the rays of light slowly, moved by an unseen air current. In the distance, he could hear something make a scraping sound, the pattern repeating itself over and over again.

And there, at the edge of the light, barely illuminated stood the janitor with an emotionless face. But his eyes... Feron shuddered, he was looking straight into them... and he felt his soul shudder.

"You are late..." the janitor repeated with a hollow voice, the sound echoing softly within the dark chamber. "Come closer."

Feron swallowed, every fiber in his body told him to run. But like in a trance, he found himself starting to walk towards the janitor. Each step, every inch he moved closer to the janitor made him shudder. His face... his eyes... it just didn't seem right. But what really terrified him, what would haunt him forever... was the silence around him.

He heard, nothing... no matter how much he strained his ears, no matter how much he tried. While the voices in the walls had been roaring like a storm only a moment before, there wasn't even a murmur now... not even a whisper. Even outside the hostel there had always been some kind of emotions in the air, whispering to him softly if he listened. But now, there was only utter and complete silence. And it terrified him.

He reached the edge of the light, and stopped. Slowly, as if dreading what he would see, he let his eyes travel upwards. When his eyes met with janitor's he felt every feeling in his body start to go numb. And even though he tried to divert his gaze, he found himself unable to tear his eyes from the janitor's.

"I know why you have come here..." the janitor asked with an unmoving face.

"You do?"

"You wish to offer your soul in exchange for that of your mother..." the janitor replied. "But what you offer you already gave up upon seeking the hostel's shelter... and it is not mine to return to you..." he paused. "However, there is something I can offer... but before you hear my proposition, I wish for you to understand..."

Daring Do moved through the narrow alleys of the market, keeping to the shadows and away from the main streets. The shadowy corners of this place weren't exactly safe she knew, but she'd rather deal with a few muggers and thugs than risk any of the outposts of the clans spotting her.

They were always on the lookout for any known faces or visitors, and she was a known face. After her last visit... things could get ugly should she be spotted.

She pushed the thought aside and continued to follow the alleys, her memory leading her to her destination. Without hesitation she took turns and ducked under old pipes and fences, following old signs she had left the last time she had been here.

At a corner she could see the red street, the main road for those who sought brothels. A disgusting place where anyone could find whatever perversions they could afford to pay for. It was the territory of the red beaks, griffin mercenaries that scraped a living out of prostitution and extortion. Again, she could only wonder why the janitor had even granted him access to the hostel. It was almost like he knew that they would end up down here sooner or later. It troubled her to think about what he could possibly be planning with this place.

She stepped past the corner and the red street vanished from her view, but even here in the dark alleys, she could still hear the commotion as the shouters tried to attract customers without rest. With utmost care she went on, evading the occasional drunk inhabitants and gang members that would step into the alleys from time to time to relieve their bladders or enjoy themselves with a prostitute.

Finally, after what seemed like hours Daring Do found the place she was looking for. It was a rundown dead end with no lights and close-standing buildings. Only a few windows could be seen from here, and even fewer had lights in them. The buildings of the market had not been build by its current inhabitants. They had always been there, and their structure and appearance was as alien as the hostel itself. Rusted metal, gray concrete and countless tubes and power lines ran between the buildings like a spider's web. Everything was connected, but she knew, all pipes and lines only led to one place.

She bent down and started to push old boards and debris aside, grunting at the weight of the refuse the residents had left here. There, hidden beneath old paper and rotting litter, a sight greeted her she had not seen for quite some time. It was an old sewer entrance, the lid covered in rust from centuries of missing maintenance.

Daring Do pulled out an old crowbar she had brought back from her first visit here and with a grunt, she dislodged the lid and opened the entrance. For a moment, she stood above the dark hole, preparing herself for what would await her below. This was the entrance to the bowels of the hostel, a place even she had only seen glimpses of. Those days spent in the darkness almost felt like a bad dream now, old images still came to haunt her nights to this day.

She took a deep breath to calm herself, it still felt exiting and terrifying to make this step, but she would finally have her chance to do what she should have done all those years ago. She closed her eyes, and jumped into the darkness.

"What do you want me to understand?" Feron carefully asked the janitor.

The janitor turned his head to the side. As if on command, lights started to come to life down the janitor's line of vision, stopping when they reached something the likes of which Feron had never seen before. It was a huge metal tank, and it was covered in ice. White steam constantly fell from it and disappeared in the grid of the floor. On its front, and under a thick layer of ice Feron could see a little window.

The janitor pointed a hand towards it. "Look inside." he commanded.

"What is it?" Feron asked as he stepped closer carefully.

"The reason."

"The reason?" Feron felt a shiver run down his spine as he approached the tank, the closer he got the colder the air seemed to become.

"The reason for everything..." the janitor spoke with a monotone voice. "Look inside."

Feron gulped and flew up to the tiny window, using his foreleg to carefully wipe the ice off. The cold stung him but he succeeded to wipe some of it off. When he looked inside his eyes became wide in shock.

For a moment, he just stared through the window until his own breath caused it to be covered in another thin layer of ice. The changeling wiped the window again, ignoring the icy bite of the cold as he looked through again. No matter how long he watched, it didn't make sense. What was the purpose of this?

"Who is she?"

"She was the reason..." he replied, suddenly directly behind him. Feron whirled around and stared into his eyes, dreading what he was about to learn, "This place exists because of her wish... and with your help, that wish may become true... and this dream will finally end."

Inside the little chamber, locked behind steel and forgotten by the world, a yellow pegasus was frozen in ice.

Feron tore his view away from the glass, countless new questions ran through his head. Who was the yellow pegasus? What bargain had she made with the janitor to be here? How was she connected to the hostel?

"I... I don't understand."

"You will..." the janitor gave him a long look before continuing. When he spoke again, Feron could not believe what he was hearing.

"I..." Feron stammered, still lost in bewilderment. "Can you... Can you really do that?"

"I can... but before that there are things to be done... beneath... and above..."

The janitor turned his head away from the changeling for a moment to look at the still open door where Feron had entered. A terrifying smile appeared on his lips. "She returned..."

"What?" Feron asked.

The janitor turned back to him and the smile vanished. "It holds no matter to you. Go to the market. There is something there that interferes with my work, and I tire of watching... Go there, find the source... and eliminate it. Once that is done..."

"I still have to find her." Feron gulped. "How will I find it?"

The janitor's face remained unmoving, "Your gift will allow you to find it. Listen, and you will find it. Go now."

The little changeling nodded glumly, and started to walk towards the big steel door as it creaked and swung open slowly.

"One word of warning..." the janitor spoke behind him. "When the time comes, your determination will be tested... Fail, and all you did will be for naught."

Feron didn't turn around, but only nodded. "I understand." and walked through the open door and into darkness once again, shuddering as the huge steel construction slammed shut behind him with a clank.

For a moment, he stood lost in the darkness. But then, the lights slowly came to life and basked the long tunnel in an eery red glow. Someway down the tunnel, Dog was waiting for him.

"Have you made ya bargain, pup?" he asked with a strange voice.

"I have... sort of..." Feron replied as he walked up to the diamond dog. "I..."

Dog waved a dismissive hand. "Ya bargain is between the janitor and you alone. I don't need to know. I do what he demands and so should you."

Feron nodded and slowly, determination started to gather within him. "I need to go to the market."

The diamond dog raised an eyebrow. "So he's finally going to do something about that place? Pity the critters when he cleans the place up, but it can't be changed. Come on, I'll show ya the way."

A heavy feeling of dread spread in the little changeling's stomach, what would he find in the market? He shook his head and started to follow Dog. It didn't matter anymore, this had become far more important than he had ever imagined it could be.

For what felt like hours Feron followed Dog through the dark tunnels, he didn't even know what time of day it was outside. The world outside the hostel seemed far away now, locked from view by endless walls and tunnels. Feron dreaded the task the janitor had given him. What would he find at the market? What could possibly interfere with his work? There had been a silent fury around his form when he had given Feron his orders, and it scared the little changeling to no extent.

As Feron followed Dog around another corner, he couldn't help wonder... who had the yellow pegasus been? She had looked so pretty and timid even in her cold prison, what would someone like her do in a place like this? What had made her come to him of all things? Who was she... and could the janitor really fulfill her wish? Feron shook his head in distress, he had other things to worry about now.

In a long tunnel, Dog suddenly stopped without any visible reason. "That's it." He stated with a grave voice. He pointed down the tunnel. "Follow the path until ya reach a ladder, it'll take ya directly under the market."

"You're not coming with me?" Feron looked up at his companion with surprise.

"I can't. Above us lies the border of the market... and whatever is holdin'im out is holdin' me out as well."

The little changeling gave him a confused look. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Dog shook his head with a sigh. "It means I can't go where'is influence don't reach... You'll understand once ya step past this line. I'll be able to aid ya once ya completed ya task, pup. But until then, ya on ya own."

Feron searched Dog's features for an answer or any information on what was about to happen, but found nothing. With a heavy breath the little changeling bid his companion goodbye and started to walk down the tunnel and into the direction of the market.

The moment Feron had taken a few steps from Dog, he suddenly felt a shift in the air. He concentrated, and listened. The whispers were different here, more gentle and at peace... and there was a softer note under it all that had not been there before and unlike the others, it felt like it belonged to someone actually alive.

"That's strange..." Feron look at the ceiling with wonder. "Something's odd about this place. Dog, do you know..." Feron turned around to face the diamond dog, but what he saw waiting behind made his heart skip a beat. There, in the dark tunnel and leaning against the wall was a skeleton, of a diamond dog. Attached to the neck and surrounded dust was a little tag; 'Dog' scratched into it in crude writing.

Feron stared at the grotesque figure, all of his thoughts having come to a halt as the empty sockets in the dusty skull stared at the wall in silence. Slowly, a whisper escaped the little changelings mouth; "And I never have to see my own son leave me to fight in a senseless war again..." Feron understood, and hung his head in sadness before turning around and heading back down the tunnel. "I'll see you when I'm done, Dog."

Rarity greeted the first of the Redwings to return to the hostel. "Finally, I was worried you had run into problems. Have you found out where we are this time?"

"We're in the Muudi desert." Winder reported to her. "And it seems we're close to Nadira, which is under Luna's control now. Hammerbeak and the changelings headed to the city to find the local rebels and gather whatever intel they can find. The rest of us are on standby for the next ten hours."

Rarity scoffed. "Hammerbeak went with them? That's unusual... What if he is caught?"

Winder shook his head. "He believes that he'll be able to go through as a stray mercenary with a bit of luck... it worked before. He gave us orders to concentrate only on the evacuation of the changelings should anything happen."

Rarity eyed him with concern. "Oh dear... do you think he is going to something foolish?"

"I don't know." Winder sighed. "Maybe there's someone there from his past he wants to meet? I know him well enough to know that he'll keep his senses together and not do anything foolish... That being said, I can't help but wonder what he's looking for there." The pegasus stretched himself. "For now, I just hope for the best and follow his orders... We'll probably get a flood of new refugees once the word spreads, you should prepare for that."

Rarity felt her shoulder sag slightly. "I guess I should."

"Do you want us to stand on the side to keep order?" A scarred griffon asked. "We know how full it can get shortly after he moves the place."

Rarity shook her head with a small smile. "Not inside, I don't want them to feel like they entered another war zone... But be sure to check them before they enter." She shivered. "I'd rather not have him take care of any problems again."

"Will do, Rarity. Will do." The griffon nodded as she left again before turning to Winder. "So... you coming with us down to the market for a little fun? We still have half a day before we're back on duty..."

"We're always on duty." Winder reminded him with a dry voice. "But yeah, a few drinks can't hurt... I suppose."

"That's the spirit!" Another pegasus spoke up. "I've heard they got quite a few new other attractions down there was well..."

"The captain would chew you out if he ever found out, not to speak of your wife." Winder chuckled. "Lets get on with it then, down to the market it is!"

"Ahh, come on." the griffon slapped his shoulder, "We're just going to have a bit of fun, beat up a bunch of the locals and get some drinks and maybe a little extra... what's the worse that could happen?"

"Yeah..." Winder replied with a small smile. "Sounds like fun."

A surprised huff escaped Daring Do as she inspected the ground before her. She had been heading downwards for quite some time now, but she occasionally had to track along the inner wall of the hostel's shaft to evade caved-in corridors or tunnels filled with gas... which made her discovery even more surprising.

There were hoof prints in the dust covering the ancient concrete floor... fresh and most importantly, they definitely belonged to a changeling. What came as an even bigger surprise though; was that the changeling was heading upwards... and straight towards the market for that matter.

"What in the world?" Daring Do shook her head in confusion. "How does he even know where he's heading?"

Something was wrong about this. It was good that she'd found the changeling, by all means. But it reeked of trouble that he seemed to be heading straight towards the market. Was someone guiding him? She checked for other prints. No... he was alone. "Impossible..." she whispered to herself.

To complicate things further; she had initially intended to head straight down... now though...

Daring Do gave the tunnel leading down to the bowels of the hostel a lingering look before shaking her head with a huff of frustration. "I'll get to the bottom of this... and then I'll be coming for you, you hear me?! I'll be coming for you!"

With those words on her lips and in her mind, Daring Do changed her path and started to follow the tracks leading towards the market. She would find out what was going on. And if the changeling was helping him... she would put a stop to it.

Comments ( 30 )

Good story, continue.

I'm loving it. Great, original idea

Well it is rather interesting chapter, hope you can make this story wrol since is it orginal.

Once it was nothing more than old concrete and forgotten hallways. Then it became a haven for the fugitives of the everlasting war that raged between the different races. He was the janitor, always.

Many a user on this site could learn from this description. Well done.

this story is great so far!:pinkiecrazy:

This is a bizarre concept that I enjoy very much. Some minor mistakes here and there, but great overall!

Although I don't like war fics and dislike the idea of Sisters having a conflict even more, this just has such an unique spin to it, nicely done.

:moustache:when is a new chapter coming out?

:moustache:when is a new chapter coming out?

Like, seriously. Why doesn't this have more view, favs, upvotes, features and above all CHAPTERS?! Honestly this story really blew me away and believe me, im a pretty tough customer when it comes to my HiE. I see potential here. Though sadly I can also see it hasnt been updated in a year. Tis a shame really.

Okay I haven't started reading yet. But before I began I just had to say something.

"Who are you?"

"Scruffy. The janitor."

Why I do this to myself I will never know.

this is an interesting story so far.
honestly this is truly something to read.

now than questions
1 is pinkie dead?
2. where is applejack?
3 are the cmc alive or dead?

Could we please get more, this was really good.
Really really good.

Man, what a mystery story! It has been a while since I've been so excited to read and get my answers. Too bad I'll have to wait for next chapter.

I really wish this story was continued, but it doesn't seem like that will happen... :applecry:

Good God, this desperately needs a continuation! Forget the Borderlands crossover, this is so much more enthralling!

This story has a great buildup! Please continue it!


Is this story going to get an update...?

please tell me your gonna continue this!

Oh god, i love it but i am very confused on how big and what the janitors influence is on the hostel

This is certainly a unique story. Quite well done. I wonder though if it will be continued?

After what seemed like minutes the lights came back to life with a soft buzzing and Rarity finally dared to look up from behind the counter. She immediately regretted it. The floor, the walls, even the ceiling... everything was covered in blood. The janitor and the ponies were nowhere to be seen. Only a little yellow sign stood on the floor before the mess; 'Caution, wet floor' was written on it.

:rainbowlaugh: Oh, that's just adding insult to injury.

Pinkie isn't....."dead" per say, but her mind has been broken for a very long time and she has become something like the little girl from F.E.A.R.

Not dead but not quite alive either.

I believe it may have something to do with her bad habit of turning up where people do not want her and the Janitor caught her where she ought not have been.
being mind raped by something far more powerful then a little gypsy magic in a little earth mare can do things to a pony

I want more chapters

Hmm. Given it was written in early 2013, I assume that there's no Fluttershy/Discord link, so (assuming the yellow pegasus in the cryochamber is Fluttershy) the Janitor isn't Discord or some variant (anti-Discord, shadow or shard of Discord, summoned/bound by Discord, etc). He's presumably also not linked to Angel. It reads more like an SCP entry than anything else...

This story has got to be continued. The world built with those first 20,000 words is amazing. I want to get to the niddy gritty of who the janitor is exactly cause my first theory during the first 2 hours of reading was that the janitor was an artificial intelligence made to maintain the complex and that there was pretty much a shit ton of him, like his main computing floor was at the near bottom of the building while he simultaneously controlled a bunch of robots cleaning the place, which would be the janitor the residence see. But now I'm not so sure. Please continue with this though.

If only this was not... Equestria, AU as it is.

I still hope this gets picked back up someday

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