• Published 7th Jan 2013
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Asylum - Daemon of Decay



When Twilight Sparkle went to bed, she had friends she loved and a life she enjoyed. But she awoke to hospital gowns and padded restraints. And the doctors, they keep telling her that she is sick and none of it was real. They’re lying, right?

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Twilight Sparkle was jolted awake by the unwelcome sting of bright illumination, her dreams burned away by harsh chemical light. The shock of being plucked from dreams so unkindly turned her thoughts into molasses. She felt… wrong. Her mind was cloudy, her limbs ached as if she had slept wrong all night, and even her horn felt heavy. Twilight groaned. She wanted to go back to sleep, but the incessant light burrowed through her eyelids relentlessly.

Her sheets had betrayed her, immobilizing her in a tight cocoon so she couldn’t even roll onto her side to shield her face. Relief was impossible. Twilight surrendered to the inevitable and cracked open one eye – and immediately recoiled, blinking away the sudden rush of tears.

“Spiiiiike,” she croaked as she lifted her head stiffly. Twilight tried to rub her eyes clear but couldn’t move more than a fraction of an inch. She must have tossed and turned in her sleep last night and gotten tangled up in her sheets, as the tight embrace of the blankets had pinned her legs to her side. She was too tired and annoyed to feel foolish at the prospect of being trapped by her own bedding. She would be embarrassed about it later. “Spike, I’m in no mood for your games. Shut the blinds already.”

Silence mocked her. Twilight vowed to have a talk with Spike about spending too much time with Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. There was a time and a place for pranks. Grumbling about childish dragons, she peered out through narrowed lids like a nearsighted old mare trying to find their glasses. Everything was just a constantly shifting blur, shielded from observation by her tears and the painful light assaulting her eyes.

Something tickled the back of Twilight’s mind as she tried to create meaning out of the indistinct blur her home had become. There was something off, something wrong, this morning. She snorted derisively. Of course something’s wrong – I’m up far too early on my first day off in weeks!

“If this is somepony’s idea of a prank, I’m not going to be very happy!” she promised. More silence. Fighting the urge to grind her teeth Twilight continued to try and focus on her surroundings. Like stepping out into the noon sun after an all-nighter spent studying, something she had more experience with than she cared to admit,Twilight was stuck waiting for her eyes to adjust to the brightness. Reluctantly the library began to swim into view, rising out of the indistinct waters to form clear shapes and colors.

Twilight blinked again, this time in surprise. Despite the pain, her eyes opened even wider.

Where am I?

Her home had disappeared. The rounded open spaces of the library’s inviting oaken interior had been replaced by a small concrete box. Four walls painted in an institutional two-tone coat of green and white that loomed over her maliciously. It was cold, tiny, and clinical, as if the builder had crossed a hospital examination room with a broom closet. The only break in the room’s bare walls was a smooth metal door in matching livery opposite to where she was, the slender window in its center revealing nothing but more soulless walls outside. Ice water trickled down her spine as her eyes lingered on the thick metal bars bolted over the glass.

It wasn’t a closet. It was a prison.

The only furniture in the room was her bed, and it definitely wasn’t the one she had fallen asleep in last night. In place of her blankets and hoof-made quilts, there was only a single white sheet, as clean and sterile as everything else in the room. She tried to push it off of her but something bit into her fetlock, immobilizing her limbs by her sides. Each attempt to sit upright failed as she was pushed back against the bed by a firm pressure across her chest. The unseen restraints had her pinned on her back, stuck reclining in an unnaturally straight and stiff sleeping position.

Macabre images of insects trapped in the webs of spiders danced through her mind. A fly screamed in Twilight’s voice as a shadow of a spider drew closer, its only feature baleful eyes of burning fire. It wasn’t helping.

Thankfully the straps across her torso were just loose enough to allow her to draw in her increasingly rapid breaths.

Twilight glanced around the room again in the hopes that she had missed something, desperate for some – any – sort of explanation. Her tongue was sandpaper in her mouth, her pupils’ small pinpricks of fright. Her heart rate quickened as the walls started to close in around her. She needed to wake up. She needed to wake up now.

The fog that had settled over her mind since she had been forced awake clung to her mind with an upsetting tenacity, leaving her thoughts slow and jumbled. It was so hard to focus through the nebulous mire. The scared filly inside her wanted to scream and cry and beg and pray. Why wouldn’t this nightmare end?

But the part of her that had drawn Celestia’s attention, the part of her that had defeated Discord and protected the Crystal Empire and saved Ponyville a dozen times – that part of her was not going to surrender. A dozen faces flashed through her thoughts: friends and family, each bearing a smile of encouragement. Strength suffused her body as the memories of her beloved friends ran through her mind.

“I am not some helpless foal,” Twilight said aloud with more confidence than she could muster. Fighting unease with sheer willpower, she steadied herself and calmed her nerves. She naturally fell into the familiar routines necessary to call upon the magical forces that saturated Equestria, drawing the strands of arcane energy into herself as easily as another pony might breathe.

Most of her life had been spent mastering the magical arts; there was no hubris in the declaration that she was one of the most naturally gifted unicorns of a generation. Celestia had told her so many times, but each time she had followed with a warning that such a gift was matched by an equally powerful responsibility. Twilight had seen it as her duty as much as her passion to be the best apprentice she could be, and she had learned well. Giving in to her fears would shame Celestia. She wouldn’t fail the princess. Not now, not ever.

Familiar and reassuring warmth filled her core, the thoughts of her beloved teacher as invigorating as the arcane powers she wielded. Biting her lip Twilight began to weave the energy into a complex geometric shape with her mind. Telekinesis was one of the most basic of powers. Unicorn foals mastered it when they were learning how to read and write. It was something so innate and well-utilized that the spell itself was almost a subconscious act.

She had floated an Ursa Minor all the way out of Ponyville. Once the sheet was gone the locks and restraints concealed beneath it would be undone in mere moments. Freedom was within her grasp.

Nothing happened.

A frown crossed Twilight’s face as the façade of strength and confidence she had crafted slipped. Her horn was cold and heavy, and unresponsive. Her frustration matched her incomprehension. Like a sieve her horn was leaking out the arcane energies as quickly as she pulled them into herself. Gritting her teeth she tried harder, opening her mind to draw upon exponentially more energy. She strained beneath the weight of it all, an electric fire racing through her mind. She wouldn’t give up so easily.

Beads of sweat stung her eyes as they rolled down her face. Desperately she gorged herself on arcane power. Her limbs twitched erratically in the restraints, jerking as if being electrocuted. She had gone beyond her limits: her nerve impulses were being scrambled by the energy she was trying to bend to her will. It was a beast of fire and lightning doing its best to break free and turn on her.

She pushed away her pain and fear, fighting against it with even greater exertion. She didn’t care how dangerous and foolish it was. She was so close. This had to work. The pain in her eyes lessened as the sweat was diluted by fresh tears. Please let it work.

A scream of agonized frustration tore its way from her dry throat as she finally lost control, the invisible pattern of arcane power disintegrating like a cobweb caught in a powerful breeze. Twilight collapsed back against her pillow like a puppet with its strings cut. Mind and body ached in the aftermath of her frantic attempts, leaving her feeling drained and hollow. She gulped down air like a drowning pony breaking the surface, soft groans escaping in between each breath.

The sheet hadn’t moved. Small patches of sweat and spilled tears marred its pristine surface. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t even move a thin square of fabric. Her chest rose and fell with her ragged breaths, manipulating the sheet with greater effect than all of her magical talents had accomplished. It was taunting her.

Twilight wearily lifted her eyes upwards, able to just make out the tip of her horn. Or more accurately, the tip of some sort of cloth wrapped tightly around her horn. In the eddies and currents of arcane energy it sat like a black hole, only visible once one began looking for nothing rather than something. It was a magical void, a bottomless hole in the web of invisible energy that bound the world. The horrible device was attached to her like a lamprey, leeching away all of her arcane power with an insatiable appetite.

The revelation was devastating, a powerful tremor that shook the fabric of Twilight's mind. A dam burst apart inside her, the fear and terror she had been holding back breaking free. She had been silenced. Her captors had cut her off from the one thing that had defined her as a pony all her life.

A shuddering moan escaped her lips, and Twilight bawled like a frightened filly. Her sweat and tears mingled together as her loud cries filled her small prison, the echoes creating a terrified chorus as she surrendered to her despair. She was alone and scared and confused and tired and all she wanted was someone to wake her up from her nightmare and tell her it was going to be all right.

No one did.


Twilight stared upwards through unseeing eyes. Her lavender coat was matted with snot and sweat and tears. Her eyes, puffy and red from an eternity of crying, itched badly. She tried her best to ignore it. She couldn’t do anything else. She was trapped, impotent and helpless. She couldn’t even lift a hoof to rub the reminders of her shame away. What a useless pony she was, unable to even escape from a terrible dream. What had Celestia ever seen in her?

She could feel bruises beneath the restraints keeping her stationary. They had developed slowly once she had stopped thrashing against them. The gradual increase in pain as they formed was the only clue she had that time was moving forward. The featureless room was eternal, unchanging. How long had she been trapped in the cream and moss colored hell? Minutes felt like years.

She sniffled. Even sleep eluded her. The tumultuous storm of thoughts racing through her mind sabotaged any attempt to create a moment’s peace. As soon as her panic had begun to recede she had been assaulted by a contradictory cloud of theories and possibilities, each as likely as the last. Nightmare or curse? Unseen captors or a creation of her own mind?

Like a dog chasing its tail, her thoughts circled endlessly without resolution, the same arguments and the same claims coming up time and again. Twilight didn’t care – it was a distraction. The more detached and logical her thoughts were, the less likely they were to be swallowed up again by the storm of emotions raging just beneath the surface of her mind. Ever since she had opened her eyes, her emotions had been erratic and hard to control. There was a haze over her thoughts, a cold mist that drained the impetus from her mind as though moving underwater.

A loud click echoed in the small room, the sudden retort enough to break through Twilight’s morose shell. Stiffly, she lifted her head to peer around her cell. Nothing had changed. Had she imagined the sound?

There was movement outside the door. There was a rush of emotion when she finally managed to bring the window into focus. It was another pony! Relief and apprehension flooded Twilight’s system. It could be her captor, or it could be her savior, but at least it was someone else – someone real. She tensed as the door shifted slightly. The muffled jingle of metal was swallowed by a final loud clack as the door was unlocked. With a soft sigh the iron portal swung open to reveal a large stallion, a set of keys clutched in his teeth.

Twilight gulped. He was big; his white jacket a tight fit over his strong build. The dark fur of his coat did nothing to conceal his imposing musculature. He met her expression of fear with one of mild boredom before returning his keys to his belt.

She wasn’t going to be rescued.

“Good morning, Twilight Sparkle!” a unicorn mare in a lab coat declared cheerfully as she slipped past the bigger pony, a broad smile plastered on her face. She adjusted the nurse’s hat placed atop her pink mane as she strode up to Twilight, the silent stallion dutifully following in her wake. “I know, we’re getting you up a bit earlier than usual, but the doctor wanted to have another little chat today to see how the new treatment is working. He’s pretty optimistic after the last few days, and that’s some really good news.”

The nurse gasped softly once she drew close enough to notice Twilight’s disheveled appearance. “Oh, Twilight, you look like you’ve been crying! Are you okay? Did somepony have a bad nightmare?” she asked softly. Her horn flashed with a sudden aura, producing a washcloth from one of her pockets. With maternal care she set about gently wiping away the crust from Twilight’s face, a hoof gently caressing Twilight’s mane.

The display of warmth and familiarity was an unexpected contradiction to everything Twilight had suffered through that morning. She tried to work some moisture into her mouth as the nurse cleaned around her eyes. “Who… are you?” Twilight managed to whisper, her voice like dry leaves rubbing together.

The white mare’s face slipped a little further. “You don’t remember me?” she asked curiously, resuming her cleaning.

Twilight’s tongue was sandpaper, her voice a dessicated whisper. She shook her head instead.

“Hmmm… the doctor said there might be difficulty recalling things temporarily,” the mare eventually said as she put the cloth back and removed the stethoscope from around her neck. “Don’t you worry about it though, Twilight. You’ll remember soon enough, I’m sure of it. The doctor didn’t want me answering too many questions though, so just hold still while I check you out. Once I’m done, we’ll get you fed and out of bed.” She smiled at her own rhyme as she pulled the sheets back, revealing the padded restraints and the green patient’s gown Twilight hadn’t known she was wearing. The nurse set to work with practiced ease, the levitating stethoscope ice even through the green cloth of her gown.

“So I’m… in a hospital?” Twilight’s voice cracked as she asked the question.

The nurse glanced up from taking Twilight’s blood pressure. “You really don’t remember anything at all?” Twilight shook her head again.

“Well then, I guess I really should tell you our names at least. The doctor won't mind. I'm Nurse Ratchet, and this is Silas, one of the orderlies here.” She cut off Twilight’s next question with a raised hoof. “Now, now, I know you have plenty of other questions hun, but you’ll just have to ask the doctor anything else. He said there might be some side effects, and he thought it best that he be there to answer everything himself. Now be a good girl for me and stay still while we get you out of those restraints.”

“Please,” Twilight said, relief coloring her hoarse whisper. Without a command the other two ponies set to work as one. Freedom brought sensation back to her formerly bound limbs, making each bruise twice as painful. Twilight smiled anyway, unable to think of anything as pleasant as being released from her bindings. It was the first relief from her fears all morning.

Nurse Ratchet helped Twilight up into a seated position as Silas stepped out of the room for a moment. Twilight swung her legs over the edge of the cot, taking a moment to stretch out her legs. They were stiff, like a machine that had gone without oil for too long. The orderly returned as Twilight massaged her forearms, holding a plastic tray in his mouth. Resting atop it were a bowl of porridge and what was colloquially referred to as a ‘sippy cup.' Twilight stared at the cup. It was the kind meant for foals and messy children, a tight cap preventing any unexpected spills. She should have been insulted – but it was filled with water.

Snatching it off the tray, Twilight wrapped cracked lips around the nozzle and started sucking down the refreshing liquid, the water a healing balm for her painfully dry mouth. Rarity would have given her an earful for making such rude and unladylike noises – not to mention doing so while drinking from something meant for foals. Twilight continued to gulp down mouthfuls without a thought for etiquette, as if afraid it might be taken away from her. It tasted divine.

Silas slid the tray into her lap as Twilight finished off the rest of her water. With regret Twilight pulled the empty cup from her lips. “Um, thanks,” she said apologetically as she placed it back on the tray. “I was… really thirsty.”

“Feeling a little better now, Twilight?”

“Yeah – I mean, yes ma’am. I do feel a bit better. But I’m still so… confused, I guess. I mean, I don’t know where I am, how I got here, or – or anything, really.”

Nurse Ratchet nodded sagely. “The doctor said something like this could happen. It’s perfectly normal. You’ve just started out on a new treatment and the first few days are always the roughest. Don’t worry though; we’re going to go see Doctor Rose right after breakfast so he can do his examination and answer your questions. Just be sure to eat all of your oats. Your medication can be a bit hard on an empty stomach, and you wouldn’t want an upset tummy, now would you?”

Twilight glanced down at her breakfast – a small bowl of greyish porridge and a single plastic spoon. Twilight watched the spoon dumbly as nothing happened. Something tickled the back of her mind as she tried again to lift the spoon. She blinked – and then gasped, her forelegs leaping to her horn.

There was heavy canvas strapped around her horn like a sheath, small buckles keeping it firmly attached to the bony protrusion. Her fears that it had been hiding a damaged or crippled horn – which were entirely justified, considering the shock of having awoken in a strange hospital – were banished after a quick examination. Despite the relief that her inability to use magic wasn’t permanent, Twilight still frowned when she was unable to discern just how to remove it.

“What is this around my horn, and how do I take it off?” she asked, shifting her gaze from the tip of her horn to the medical ponies. They were staring back at her intently, and Nurse Ratchet wasn’t smiling anymore. Silas had imposed himself between the two mares and was watching Twilight intently, the previous apathy in his eyes replaced with the promise of violence. The stallion’s entire body was tensed like a runner waiting for the starting pistol.

The room grew even smaller.

“Twilight, be a dear and stop touching that.” It wasn’t a request. The nurse was trying to keep some of her earlier pleasantness in her voice, but there was nothing of the concerned caretaker in her tone. Her eyes were ice. She shifted her posture noticeably, a coiled spring prepared to act.

Twilight swallowed and jerked her hooves away. “I’m sorry!” she apologized profusely, her mouth suddenly dry again. “I just, I – I didn’t know.” The two other ponies visibly relaxed once her hooves had returned to her lap, the tension slowly draining from the room. Silas took a step back but continued to watch her carefully. It was an improvement – at least she didn’t feel like she was staring at a bull about to charge.

Twilight left the fresh sweat on her brow, not willing to risk wiping it away. Regaining the use of magic would have to wait.

Nurse Ratchet favored Twilight with a thin but genuine smile. “I understand, Twilight. You’re confused and you don’t know what’s going on. You just didn’t know any better is all. No one is angry at you, Twilight. So just finish your breakfast and we can go see the doctor. He’ll be able to tell you everything you need to know. Alright, sugar?” The older mare spoke like she had caught a foal reaching for a hot stove.

Twilight just meekly smiled back, her heart still racing. The change in their demeanor had been as unexpected as it had been sudden, and their reactions dumbfounded her. She felt like she was struggling to solve a puzzle with most of the pieces missing. Nothing fit. She needed more answers to try and make sense of it all, but it was obvious Ratchet wasn’t willing to answer any questions, so Twilight ignored the patronizing tone and kept quiet.

Besides, she was pretty hungry.

Twilight cautiously spooned a mouthful of the porridge into her mouth. It tasted exactly like it looked: bland, lumpy, and lukewarm. Like the simple two-tone paint on the walls the drab food was a clear sign of a government institution where the bottom line was the most important factor in any budget. It brought to mind memories of humorless school meals prepared in huge batches by equally humorless lunch-mares, all unconcerned with customary culinary values like flavor and texture when they had a few hundred ungrateful little foals to feed. It wouldn’t be showing up on Sugarcube Corner’s menu anytime soon, but it was edible. And before long Twilight found herself staring down into an empty bowl.

“That’s a good girl,” Nurse Ratchet said as Silas took the tray up with his mouth. “Now how about we stand you up? Don’t worry darling, I’ll support you. There we go, nice and easy.”

Following her directions Twilight eased herself off the edge of the bed and planted each hoof with deliberate care, leaning heavily against the other mare. Her sore legs wobbled slightly as her weight shifted from the nurse to her own legs, but she avoided an awkward fall. The tiles didn’t look very soft.

Twilight smiled weakly. “So, now what?”

“Just stay close to me, dearie.” Obediently Twilight followed Nurse Ratchet, feeling a weight lift from her mind as she passed through the open metal door. She wasn’t caged any more. Just beyond the door another orderly stood beside a polished metal cart. Silas handed him the empty tray before taking up position behind the two mares.

Twilight swung her head from side to side as the two ponies escorted her through the winding corridors. The hallway was painted in the now familiar two-tone paint scheme – creamy white above a soft moss green. Other doors like the one she had just escaped past were evenly spaced along the walls. Were there other ponies trapped inside them as well? Nurse Ratchet drew further ahead as Twilight glanced through the windows as she passed them, but the dark rooms revealed nothing.

The three traveled without speaking, the only noise the clip-clop of their hooves on the white tiles. Ahead of them was another orderly – a tangerine mare – stationed at the hallway’s only exit. After a cursory glance at Ratchet’s identification she pressed a button on the wall, and the double doors unlocking with a soft click. Not just an orderly then, but a guard. Twilight eyed the mare’s truncheon nervously as she followed the nurse through the doors.


The halls beyond were nothing like the prison she had escaped. Although painted in the same boring colors, there were no heavy iron doors or spartan cells in sight. It was a proper hospital. Although no pony would ever call a hospital warm and inviting, the rooms Twilight managed to peek into were fit for a princess compared to where she had woken up.

After a short distance the doors gave way to naked windows. Twilight’s heart skipped a beat, and she held back a sudden urge to cry out in relief.

She could see outside.

The view was expansive: rolling hills and gentle grasslands that went on for miles, all bathed in the gentle light of an early morning sunrise. A collection of unnaturally straight shadows on the horizon marked a distant town. Being able to focus on objects was a welcome treat after tight corridors and claustrophobic cells. It was beautiful and glorious and… and tragic. Her relief ebbed. I want to be out of here, she thought with longing. I just want to go home.

Someone coughed behind her. Twilight turned her head to find Silas standing uncomfortably close, one eyebrow raised expectantly. She stared back blankly. “Keep moving,” he finally said, the softness of his voice catching her off guard. With a start, Twilight realized that her face was close enough to fog the glass with her breath.

“Oh, sorry,” she apologized before she turned and hurried after Nurse Ratchet, the stallion following behind closely. To Twilight’s disappointment, the route to Doctor Rose’s office necessitated turning away from the windows, but she couldn’t keep a momentary grin off her face. It felt good to smile.

The rest of the trip paled in comparison: a monotonous series of indistinguishable corridors and closed doors. Nurse Ratchet confidently led them onward, the silence broken only by the clip-clop of hoof on tile and the rare greeting to a passing pony. Twilight was surprised at how empty the halls seemed. Weren’t hospitals supposed to be pretty busy, even early in the morning?

The signs at each intersection were annoyingly generic – Examination Rooms 301-309, Twilight read as she passed one by – and soon she was lost, trusting her guide to lead her out of the linoleum labyrinth. The hospital seemed endless, the many identical hallways melting together into a single long green-white blur. It was hard to stay focused as she followed behind the nurse like a faithful hound. Planting one hoof in front of the other with robotic precision, she just let her thoughts wander as time dragged on.

“Ah, here we are.” Snapped out of her distracted reverie, Twilight came to an awkward and sudden halt, catching herself before she stumbled blindly into Nurse Ratchet’s backside. Preoccupied by her thoughts she hadn’t noticed when the older mare had stopped. She tried to cover her embarrassment at being so distracted by quickly glancing around, but swiftly realized no one was looking at her. Besides, she didn’t care what they thought.

The only things to differentiate this hallway from any other were the pair of aged oak doors the nurse stood beside. Hanging next to the door was a brass plate with the words Dr. Valentino Rose, MD etched into it. Nurse Ratchet knocked politely.

“Come in, come in,” a voice answered. Opening the door, Nurse Ratchet gently ushered Twilight into a library.

Hundreds of books rested on the wooden bookshelves that covered walls on either side of the room. There was nothing in the room to suggest that minutes before she had been trapped wandering an endless batch of drab hospital corridors. Many of the books were expensively bound with the titles picked out in gold leaf. Everything was precisely arranged, not a single scroll nor paper out of place. It was incredible. A flash of jealousy at such organization instantly became a deep longing for home. Twilight’s stomach knotted, hoping Spike was okay. Did her friends even know where she was?

“Ah, Twilight Sparkle, it’s good to see you this morning,” a tan unicorn said, standing up from behind a broad mahogany desk that dominated the far end of the room. His smile matched the room; big, warm, and inviting. The light blue eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles and the flecks of grey in his otherwise dark brown hair suggested a distinguished scholar. His office fit him like a glove. Rounding the desk, he gestured at a couch and chairs along one wall. “Please take a seat Twilight, and I’ll be with you momentarily.”

Twilight nodded and shuffled forward, taking one of the well-padded chairs. Doctor Rose – a point made painfully obvious by his scarlet-rose-on-a-blue-medical-cross cutie mark – excused himself and joined Nurse Ratchet in the hallway, pulling the door shut behind him. Whatever they said was muffled into incomprehensibility by the oak doors.

Twilight was left alone with Silas, who stood patiently by the entrance.

“So, uh, Silas, how long have you worked here?” she asked politely.

She was about to repeat her question when he finally answered. “Seven years.”

“Well, that’s quite a long time. I bet you’ve seen a lot during your time here, right?”

There was another painfully long pause.

“Yes.”

“Any, you know, funny stories?”

“Yes.”

Twilight waited expectantly for him to continue, but the orderly remained mute.

She narrowed her eyes irritably. “And are there any of them you’d like to share?”

Pause.

“No.”

“I figured as much,” Twilight muttered as she rubbed a hoof between her eyes. She felt like a dentist, having to extract every syllable against his will.

Turning away from Silas, she let her eyes wander over the rest of her surroundings. The windows behind the doctor’s desk offered another welcome glimpse of the outside, but even the sight of open spaces wasn’t enough of a temptation to keep her attention from turning to the many different tomes lining the walls. The titles were uniformly medical in nature; The Canterlot Journal of Public Health, Pastern’s Anatomy of a Troubled Mind, and the Trottingham Textbook of Cognitive Psychotherapy all shared space on the tightly packed shelves. It was very specialized literature past Twilight’s own knowledge levels, but curiosity bubbled up inside her regardless. They might even contain some hint about how she had ended up there.

Twilight reached out to remove one of them but a soft cough staid her hoof. She looked over at Silas quizzically, but he simply shook his head. Look but don’t touch, then. She pulled her foreleg back with a reluctant sigh, but continued to read the covers. She had never been in the office before, but a library was a library, and Twilight found her innate hunger for knowledge growing more powerful with every moment spent in such familiar settings. The close proximity to so many new books was intoxicating, and she savored the untapped potential laid out before her.

The muffled voices outside eventually ceased, and Twilight pulled her voracious gaze away from the bookshelves as Doctor Rose reentered the room alone. “Nurse Ratchet was updating me on your condition, Twilight. Some temporary amnesia is a known side-effect of your treatments, as I’m sure you have been told. But it seems that you are having trouble remembering this hospital and its staff. Is this true?” he asked as he settled into the chair across from her, levitating a notebook and pencil before him.

“Yes doctor, that’s true,” she said. “I woke up this morning strapped to a bed with no memory of how I got there – or why I am even here in the first place. I felt like I was stuck in some twisted nightmare. And to make matters worse my horn was dampened, so I couldn’t even use magic!” She glared enviously at the floating notebook. “I’ve been scared and confused all morning, and no one is giving me any answers. It’s hard to make sense of what’s going on when you’re not told anything in the first place, and it’s just needlessly cruel!”

Like a water balloon filled far past its limits Twilight felt fit to burst. How she had held it all in so long without exploding she would never know. She knew she was letting her anger take hold, but being locked up and magically-silenced against ones will wasn’t a recipe for remaining calm.

The doctor just looked at her with interest and jotted down notes, making no attempt to interrupt her.

Emboldened by his silence Twilight continued. “I don’t know how you might do things around here, but I’ve never seen such disregard for the well-being of a patient before. Don’t you understand how terrified I was? It’s inexcusable! Until today, I would never have believed that in today’s Equestria a pony could be imprisoned in a hospital and then denied information. Nopony has told me anything. Anything! The only thing I did learn was that I had to ask you all my questions. So, Doctor Rose, let’s start with the basics. Why in the name of Celestia am I here?”

She spat the question with enough venom to make Silas take a step towards them, but she didn’t notice – and if she had, she wouldn’t have cared. It was time to get some answers, and she wasn’t going to sit around demurely while they continued to keep her in the dark. Her eyes burned with impatience as she glared at the doctor, her mind seething as he continued writing in silence.

“Well Twilight, that isn’t an easy question to answer,” he eventually said, looking up from the notebook to meet her angry gaze. “The short answer is that you are here at Broadhoof Memorial because you’re sick, Twilight, and we’ve been taking care of you.”

“What do you mean ‘sick’? What have I been sick with?” she asked doubtfully, loathing his imperturbable manners.

“Twilight, you’re… not well. We’ve been trying to make you better, but illnesses like yours are not easy to treat. You can fix a cut with a bandage and a little magic, but some things aren’t so simple. You need lots of time and special care to get better.”

“Stop talking to me like I’m a damn filly! I’m not a little child!” Twilight snapped, leaping from her seat and jabbing one of her hooves accusingly at the doctor. Normally vulgar language was the sign of an inferior vocabulary, but Twilight couldn’t hold herself back. She didn’t want to hold back. She spotted Silas advancing on her from the corner of her eye with a nightstick in his teeth. She sounded like a mad pony. She probably looked like a mad pony too. Flecks of spittle flew from her lips as she yelled at the doctor through bared teeth. “Just give me a straight answer! I deserve that much! How am I sick?

Doctor Rose halted Silas with a gesture, meeting Twilight’s angry glare with professional calm. It would have been impressive, if she hadn’t been ready to break his jaw. He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes, collecting his thoughts. Finally he took a deep breath. “Twilight, you suffer from severe schizophrenia and grandiose delusions compounded by an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.”

She blinked.

“What?”

“Twilight, most of your life you’ve been suffering from a number of severe delusions created by acute mental and personality disorders.”

Twilight continued to stare at the doctor as the words hung between them while her mind processed what he had just said. She breathed in deeply through her nose, taking a carefully measured breath.

Then she laughed. She laughed hard. Twilight’s mane jostled as she shook with a deep, full-bodied belly laugh. She plopped back down into her chair as her legs turned to rubber. She couldn’t breathe. She was cramping up. But she couldn’t stop laughing. She didn’t know what she had expected to hear, but she hadn’t been prepared for… that. Although she had to admit, the fact that he had said it with a perfectly straight face really did impress her. He had sounded so sincere.

“Are you trying to tell me that I’m craaaazy?” she wheezed and wiped a tear from her eyes, waiting for the punch line.

“We don’t like to use that term around here, Twilight,” he said uncomfortably. “We don’t want our patients thinking any less of themselves just because of their illnesses. In fact, with the proper therapy and medication, most of our patients can live relatively normal lives.”

Twilight snorted. “Please doctor, just stop. If you had tried to tell me that I had been in a coma for a few days suffering from something like Saddle Arabian horn-rot, or Appaloosa fever, or something even remotely possible, then I might have believed you. But while I’m no doctor, I am well read. Even I know that you can’t develop schizophrenia overnight.”

Clearing her throat, she rose to her hooves. “Now, I’ve already received enough terror and maltreatment for one day, so please forgive me if I don’t want to spend any more of my time here. Why don’t you just tell me what this is all really about so I can go home?”

“Silas, can you fetch that folder sitting on top of my desk?” he asked the orderly. Silas hesitated, uncomfortable leaving the doctor’s side. He eyed Twilight suspiciously before he turned and trotted off.

“Doctor, this is getting a bit embarrassing. Whatever falsified documents you have in that folder are not going to convince me that I’m crazy.”

Silas returned and placed a thick manila folder bursting with papers into the doctor’s hooves before retreating a few paces away. He continued to study Twilight as he took up a position nearby, prepared to intervene at a moment’s notice. It was a believable performance, acting like she was some kind of a threat. She wished she was that talented an actor.

A blue aura suffused Doctor Rose’s horn as he quickly paged through the file’s contents with tendrils of magic. Pulling one stapled document free he floated it over and deposited it in her lap. “Here, Twilight. This was signed by your parents when we took you into our care. As you can see, your schizophrenia did not just appear overnight. You have been here in our care for years.”

Twilight huffed with annoyance as she snatched up the paper, BMPH Patient Registration Form printed in block letters across the top of the page. Her eyes rapidly scanned from side to side as she checked and re-checked every single line. Nopony spoke. A cold worm of doubt began to wriggle inside her as she scrutinized her parent’s signatures. They were perfect matches.

She glanced up at the doctor. “These are impressive forgeries,” she allowed, “but the dates are all wrong. This paper says I’ve been here since just after I took my entrance exams. And that’s just impossible. For argument’s sake I’m going to ignore the fact that, until very recently, I lived disorder-free far away from here. Now, you are saying that I have been here for most of my life but don’t remember any of it because I’m suffering from some retrograde amnesia as a side effect of a treatment. Correct?”

“Correct.”

She didn’t have the patience for this. “Horsefeathers!” she snapped. “Amnesia doesn’t work that way! If I lost more than a decade of my life due to amnesia, then there would be nothing but huge gaps in my memories. But there are no gaps. None! And there are no missing links, no forgotten events, nothing! The only unanswered question, the only gap in my past, is the one between last night and this morning. And unless the next words out of your mouth are either an explanation or an apology, I’m leaving.” She made as if to stand up.

Doctor Rose held her gaze, deep in thought. Just as Twilight was about to make good on her threat he started looking through the bulky folder again. “Twilight, do you remember the birthday after you took your entrance exams?”

Once again, the doctor’s words caught her by surprise. “Of course I do,” she said. “We had a picnic, just outside Canterlot. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Do you remember getting your picture taken while there?”

“How do you know about that?” she hissed, her eyes narrowing.

“Twilight, do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember! But how in Equestria would you know about that? You had better start…” Twilight trailed off as Doctor Rose lifted something out of the bloated file and placed it over the registration form.

It was a photograph.

Twilight’s blood froze in her veins. Fear and doubt began to tear at her heart as she stared down at it. How was this possible? She wanted to denounce it as another forgery and just a feeble fake, but her accusations died on her tongue.

It was a photograph of five ponies having a picnic together.

It had been taken at her birthday party, right after she had been accepted at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. A little filly Twilight sat between her parents and beamed up at the camera, looking ridiculous in a conical party hat far too big for her. She’d switched with her dad to get it, and even though it had kept falling in front of her eyes she had been too taken by the thought that it resembled something a wizard would wear to even consider changing back. Her big brother Shining Armor and her foal-sitter Cadance – complete with silly hats, although in more practical sizes – were there as well, smiling over at her. In Twilight’s hooves there was a copy of Star Swirl the Bearded: A Concise History, her father’s gift still partially covered with scraps of the wrapping paper. She still had that book, the well-worn pages and damaged spine a testament to an eager young filly’s love for learning. In the middle of the blanket the half-finished remains of her birthday cake sat, ignored by all in favor of presents.

It was one of the best memories of her early years, and Twilight remembered that day perfectly. She shouldn’t be looking at this picture right now. It couldn’t be there, in her hooves.

She could never forget that photograph, having seen it hanging on the wall of her parent’s home for years. Like the events themselves, it was burned into her memory. The photograph had to be the same one; along a corner there was the same small crease where her brother had accidentally bent it while storing it in their father’s saddlebags. It even faintly smelled of her parent’s home. But the picture couldn’t be real. It was wrong.

There were details that didn’t match up with her memories. In the background, the lake where they had swum before eating had been replaced by a white multistory building. She pulled the picture closer. And there were bags beneath her parents’ eyes she did not remember. Shining Armor was still smiling happily but Cadance looked… distracted. Nervous, even. Everyone but Twilight was wearing a lanyard with a card on it. The writing was minuscule, and only her mother’s wasn’t obscured.

Lifting the photograph upwards for better light Twilight held it inches from her face and squinted, mouthing the letters out silently as she tried to read what they said. The photograph began to shake softly.

“No,” she whispered. It was a lie. It had to be.

“Please Twilight, I know it hurts, but you have to try and remain calm,” somepony said soothingly, but Twilight didn’t hear them. The photograph slipped from her senseless hooves as she remained frozen, staring upwards at nothing through unfocused eyes. Her whole body was shaking now. She couldn’t remember when she started crying.

She felt like screaming. She felt like shouting. She felt like tossing the chair over and throwing herself at the doctor. He was lying! The voice said something about calming down to keep from hyperventilating. It wasn’t true! It couldn’t be true!

The voice grew panicked when Twilight suddenly vomited and toppled limply out of her chair, crashing to the floor with a sickening crunch. She didn’t feel a thing. She was too cold, too empty, too numb to feel anything anymore. Please, don’t let it be true. The others rolled her onto her side to keep her from choking while someone shouted for assistance, but Twilight was too far gone to register any of it. She was trapped inside her own mind.

The picture was not edited, was not altered, and was not changed. It was fact as much as it was fiction, and Twilight struggled to separate the two concepts. The picture was a paradox. It was wrong, it was a lie, it was false, but it was real – an impossibility given form.

And what it said hurt. Oh, it hurt so much. She tried to push the words out of her head, but she couldn’t ignore them. It was a savage cut against her own psyche, an existential wound on her soul. Someone screamed; it might have been her. The words were so innocuous, but they pulsated like neon tumors in her mind.

Visitor Identification.

Broadhoof Memorial Psychiatric Hospital.

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