• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,295 Views, 1,588 Comments

The Monster Below - Greenback



An earth pony seeks to transform himself into an Alicorn, but how far is he willing to go to get what he wants?

  • ...
38
 1,588
 26,295

Darkness

As Beakbreaker headed down to Breakfast, I closed the door, went to my closet, and yanked out everything that could be used for caving. Problem was, I didn't know a thing about caving, or what equipment to bring. All my previous experiences with caves had been in ones with safety rails, paths, and guides. Still, I figured it couldn't be too hard, and started by gathering an old, but powerful flashlight, and all the batteries I had. Other supplies were necessary, but that required searching other areas of the house.

Heading down to breakfast, I ate with the others, nodding as Beakbreaker and my parents talked to give the impression that I was listening, when I was actually figuring out where to secure my other supplies. Once the meal was over, I raided closets and the garage (making sure nobody was in sight), gathering quite a bit of rope, plenty of batteries, the family's toughest pair of saddlebags, a sturdy chisel, several glowsticks, and all the flares my parents had.

With everything gathered, I retreated to my room and stuffed the saddlebags until everything was ready. Now all I had to do was get in some quick reading about exploring caves (something a trip to the local library would accomplish), and then figure out the best way to slip into the tunnels without attracting any attention. That would take place at night, when I could do my work and return before anyone else awoke.

But there was one problem: Quiverquill hadn't indicated how long his tunnel was, or how long someone would have to travel to find the Cursed King. Without knowing how long I'd be gone, there was the risk of not making it back before anyone discovered I was missing. A second reading of his books revealed nothing new.

It wasn't long before I realized something else. In all the times my parents had told me about Quiverquill, they never revealed how he died, or what happened to him. So I asked Mom if she knew. Turns out, she didn't. Neither did Dad.

One day, Mom said, Quiverquill had just disappeared, and no trace of him was ever found.

***

It couldn't have been a coincidence that Quiverquill's last written words were about him heading into a tunnel beneath Saddle Lanka, and his mysterious disappearance. I wanted to get the horn of the Cursed King, but I wasn't going to risk my life to do so.

I was pondering the thought in my room when Beakbreaker knocked at the door. “Hey,” she said, “you okay? You look a little gloomy.”

“Just thinking some things over,” I told her.

Beakbreaker took a seat next to me on the bed. “Do you have anything you want to talk about? Anything I can help you with?”

Could I tell Beakbreaker what I was really thinking? She had given me wings, but only with great reluctance. How would she take the news of going after a cursed horn deep beneath the mountains? And what of Mangus? Or the break-in? How would she handle knowing that her staff writer was an attempted thief? No, I couldn't tell her everything. But I could test the waters and see how open she was to the idea of horns.

“Well... I've got an idea on why this tour isn't working out,” I told her. “I think it's because everyone thinks I'm being selfish, using these wings only for my own gain. But I think... I think if I got a horn-”

Beakbreaker flinched.

“-if I got the ability to cast magic, then I could show everyone that I'm not just in it for myself. I'd be like Celestia; I could go anywhere, do anything, and help out anyone I come across. Then they'd realize that I'm not selfish.”

Beakbreaker was quiet, and I could tell she was trying to figure out how to break the news gently. “You know what I told you about horns, right?”

I nodded. “But what if I were to actually get one? Do you think it could be surgically attached?”

Beakbreaker eyed me again. “I don't know. But even if you got one, ponies will still doubt you. You think that heckler would suddenly become your biggest fan overnight if you could cast magic?”

“No. But he'd probably shut his mouth if he saw me going around and doing good. And it would be easier with a horn instead of wings.”

“You can still do good without magic. If that's what you're meant to do, then that opportunity will come. We just have to wait for when the moment is right. Trying to rush it is dangerous, you know?”

“Did I get these wings by just sitting around and twiddling my hooves?” I asked.

“That's not what I meant.”

I sighed. “I know. But I don't want to sit around and wait for things to happen.”

“When the opportunity comes, it'll be worth it. I know it. And you won't have to wait alone.”

Beakbreaker put her hoof on mine.

“I'll be with you every step of the way.”

So that was it. Even if I had a horn, she wouldn't attach it. Maybe with time, and some gentle pressure, I figured I could convince her to give it a shot. And in case logic didn't work... Well, I could use my charming voice to strongly suggest that it might be worth a shot.

The moment was interrupted by a shout from the first floor. “Silverspeak! Beakbreaker! Message for you!”

I got off the bed. “Well, who knows?” I joked, figuring some levity would lighten the mood. “Maybe that's my moment.”

We went down and found a mail pony with a letter for us. I took it, recognizing Coin Counter's writing style as I read the letter's contents aloud.

“Dear Silverspeak and Beakbreaker: Please be forewarned that we will be departing Saddle Lanka tomorrow evening at six PM sharp.”

“Well, looks like we're back on the road once again,” Beakbreaker said. “Wonder if he made up his mind on where we're going.”

Calmly putting the letter down, I excused myself and headed to the bathroom, where I grabbed a paper bag and hyperventilated into it. If we were leaving tomorrow, then there was no time to go to the library, or get more supplies, or anything of the sort. And if we left Saddle Lanka without the horn in my possession, then I might not have gotten another chance to come back before Mangus' year was up.

I had no choice: I had to act, and fast. But waiting until everyone was asleep would take too long, and leave me with six, maybe seven hours at most to get into the tunnels and back. Beakbreaker would probably want to sleep in my room again, and would hear me coming and going, and if Mangus came in during the night and found that I was gone, I'd be in even more trouble.

The bag kept expanding and collapsing. I couldn't see a way out. But I refused to give in to the fear. I had already faced worst-case scenarios and made it through them. This was no different. I just had to come up with a plan.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, that plan came to me. It was a desperate one, but it was logical, efficient, and, most important, doable in what little time I had.

***

As the afternoon came to an end, I went to my parents and said that, because this was going to be my last night here for a long time, I wanted to cook a special dinner for everyone. They thought it was a wonderful idea. Thus, with my most cheerful face, I went to work, gathering the ingredients for a hearty tomato soup I had learned to make while still working at the grocery store. When they were assembled, I began to cook.

Curious at what I was doing, Beakbreaker came in and volunteered to help, having never really cooked a meal before, due to her demanding schedule (or being too tired from said schedule). She was eager to learn, and I showed her how to blend all the ingredients together, along with cooking the tomatoes and vegetables.

As Beakbreaker put everything into the mixing pot, I made sure my parents weren't watching as I took a particular set of herbs from the cupboard. When I was little, my mom would sometimes give me a special herb drink to help me sleep on nights when I had occasional insomnia. While I hadn't used it much since then, I had never forgotten the brew, and had learned one night that an overdose could, if you weren't careful, knock someone out for an entire day.

Or, instead of a single individual, an entire group.

Handing the herbs to Beakbreaker, I asked her to slip them into the liquid. She did so.

When the soup was done, everyone gathered around the table, including Mangus and his fellow guards. Playing the part of the generous host, I poured a hearty portion of the soup into everyone's bowl, beaming as they slurped it up. There was the usual dinner talk, with chit-chat from Mom and Dad about what all of us would be doing back in Manehattan. I gave some general, non-specific answers, keeping a close eye on everyone as they ate.

Mom yawned. Then Mangus did the same. Then I did as well. Soon, everyone was yawning, and eyelids began to drop.

“I had no idea I was so wiped out,” Mom joked.

I nodded. It wasn't long before Mom and Dad excused themselves from the table and headed upstairs. Mangus' coworkers headed towards the guest room, only making it halfway before plopping on a couch and passing out. Mangus fought the hardest. Even as he wobbled and tried to reach the couch, he was confused, no doubt wondering why he was so tired.

He turned and glared at me, but before he could make any accusations, he collapsed to the floor and passed out.

“Boy, I guess a...” Beakbreaker yawned, “...lazy day really does take a lot out of you, huh?”

I nodded, slipping one of her arms over my shoulder as I helped her upstairs. Once in my room, I half-lifted, half-dragged her into bed, then tucked her in.

“Aren't you... tired?” she asked.

I struggled to talk through a particularly long yawn. “Yeah. Just need to-”

Beakbreaker had already closed her eyes and was snoring away.

Watching for a few moments to make sure Beakbreaker was well and truly asleep, I then checked on my parents and found them equally passed out. I bolted downstairs, made sure Mangus and his goons were asleep, and ran to the kitchen, where I grabbed several herbs from the cabinet and brewed myself a hot mug of tea, which I gulped down as fast as I could.

My yawning lessened, then stopped, and the fatigue passed.

Relieved, I looked out the windows. I still had two hours before night fell. If all went well, everyone in the house would sleep for at least twelve hours, possibly more.

This was my chance, and I couldn't afford to waste a moment.

Heading back to my room, I gathered my equipment and saddlebags, shaking as I strapped it to my body. I started for the door, but stopped. I had to get going, but I took a few moments to look over Beakbreaker once more, watching her peaceful face as she slept. Fluffing up her pillow, I turned off the light as I checked on my parents, watching them for a few moments too. It wasn't comfortable to think about, but in case something happened to me, I wanted to have the mental image of Beakbreaker and my parents to remain with me, to make them the last ponies I saw before descending into the darkness below.

Turning the light off, I took a deep breath and headed downstairs.

***

When I had been a little colt, my parents had told me not to go down into the basement, saying it was old, dangerous, and no place for the young. My desire to go down there only became stronger, requiring a lock to be placed on the handle. But the lock was gone when I went to the door, giving me access to the basement for the first time in my life.

The stairs behind the door were old, rotting wood creaking beneath me as I walked down, finding myself in a chamber made from ancient bricks, the walls stocked with old boxes and chests. As a young colt, such a place would have driven my imagination into overdrive. No one had been down here for years; who knew what treasures and secrets lay inside?

I searched for a hidden passage, a door, anything to indicate where Quiverquill's tunnel was. It was only by chance that my light shone across the wall, revealing less faded than the ones around me. Perhaps there was something behind that section of wall...something that others had wanted to seal away.

I kicked the wall, hitting the bricks again and gain, and then harder as cracks appeared. Within moments the whole thing collapsed. Stepping over the rubble, I walked inside what appeared to be Quiverquill's old study. The stone walls were cold and colorless with long-dead lanterns screwed into them. Cobwebs and dust blanketed the place, and the air was stale and foul with the smell of rotting wood from the empty bookshelves.

It should have been a thrill to be standing in the ancient study of my ancestor, but I was more focused on finding his tunnel. A quick search revealed no secret passages, trap doors, or anything of the sort. Did the individual who had built that hidden wall come in here and do the same to Quiverqill's tunnel? I pressed bricks, moved shelves and chairs aside, but found nothing.

Then, realizing that it really couldn't be that simple, I took hold of the biggest shelf and pulled it back. And just like in the adventure movies of old, there was a gaping hole behind the shelf, just large enough for someone to sneak through.

Gleeful at having foiled those who had tried to seal this place up, I peered through the hole, my light shining down a deep, rocky tunnel. If there was an end, my light failed to illuminate it.

Somewhere beyond that tunnel was the horn I sought.

All I had to do was go inside and claim it.

My glee at finding the passage gave way to the most intense unease I had ever felt. I had no maps, no guides, no signs, or any idea of where I was going. I wasn't even a cave explorer; I was a glorified secretary about to set off into an ancient tunnel that hadn't been explored for at least a hundred years. If something happened down there, no one would come to save me. I'd be alone in the darkness, and eventually, my lights would go out one by one until nothing was left.

Behind me and up the stairs was the house, warmth, and life. Down here there was only cold and darkness. I could turn back. I could go to my family where it was safe and comfortable. No one would ever know what I did. The fallen bricks would be explained away as the result of age. My presence here would remain a secret. But if I ran, Mangus would be free to carry out his plan, whatever it was.

I had no choice.

Taking a deep breath, I mustered all of my courage and stepped into the tunnel.

***

The ground was bumpy and strewn with rocks, making my passage slower than I wanted, forcing me to focus on one step at a time. I theorized that in his haste, Quiverquill had taken off into this very tunnel when he found it, and had possibly tripped or fallen, breaking his legs in the process. Not wanting to encounter the same fate, I had to go slowly and steadily.

The passage soon sloped downwards, which meant I was descending beneath the mountain, just like Quiverquill had described. That gave me some confidence.

That confidence faltered when I realized how quiet it was. Unlike all the portrayals of caves in movies, it was silent. There was no sound of water dripping, no rocks falling or gusts of spooky wind blowing through the passage.

It was silent.

I continued on, focusing on my breathing, keeping it calm and steady.

I tried to guess how far I had gone. A mile? Two miles? I couldn't tell.

The light flashed across something ahead of me. Was it the King? My hopes surged, then faded as I came across something very unexpected: a massive stone door that formed a perfect seal against the tunnel. It had been there a long time, judging from the cobwebs that draped it like grotesque curtains. Through there were many locks in place, it only took a few moments to undo them, including an enormous latch of steel that held the whole thing closed.

Grabbing hold of a chain, I slowly pulled it open, stone grinding against stone as it moved.

Making sure that the door remained open, I slipped past and continued down the passage.

I kept walking until the passage went down at a sharp angle, forcing me to be extra-cautious as I descended, inch by inch, until I came across another slope going in the opposite direction. As I headed downwards, I realized that I was going down a series of switchbacks. That was reason to be hopeful: switchbacks don't happen naturally, which meant that ponies had carved these passages. And if they had carved them, then that meant I was on the right track, for these were too well-formed to be Quiverquill's work.

The switchbacks finally stopped, and I was glad to rest my legs for a minute. The air was slightly colder than above, and staler as well.

Nobody had been down here for a long time.

With my legs recovered, I continued on.

***

Without any way of checking the time (I cursed myself for not bringing along a watch), I had no idea how long I had been in the tunnels. Judging from a quick estimate of my walking speed and how many steps I had taken, it had to have been no more than an hour. That was good; I was making great progress.

The light from my flashlight revealed scrape marks in the walls, perhaps the remains of some explosions or blasts that had been used to create the passage. I was still on the right track. I even began to relax a little.

Then the passage stopped.

For a moment, I feared I had reached a dead end. Looking around, I saw that wasn't true, as there was a hole in the floor before me; had I kept going, I would have fallen through, as it was just big enough for a single pony to enter. Kneeling, I peered below, my flashlight unable to illuminate the bottom.

Taking a glowstick from my saddlebag, I cracked it, casting a red glow as I tossed it down the hole, where it landed fifty feet below. I could fly down there and back up with my wings, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Thus, I took a long safety rope from the saddlebags and clipped one end to a nearby rocky outcropping. A tug ensured it was tight, and I slid down to the chamber below.

No sooner had my hooves touched stone then I shivered. It was far colder down here then in the tunnel above. Grumbling at not having brought a sweater, I looked around to get my bearings. Unlike the passages above, this chamber had been carved by nature, and not by hands or hooves. The walls were smooth from being run down with water, numerous stalagmites and stalactites thrusting from both the floor and ceiling, giving me the impression that I was inside the mouth of some gigantic creature.

Trying to ignore the thought, I looked back up and noticed something curious: Quite a few of the stalactites were concentrated around the hole, which would make getting past them quite difficult, if not impossible for a pony who didn't have a rope, wings, or magic to get through.

I wondered why that was.

Leaving the rope and glowstick where they were, I explored the chamber, finding another passage that had been carved.

I headed in, shivering against the cold.

The passage was steeper than before, and rougher as well, as if both the walls and floor had been made in a hurry. And it only got worse the further I went, until I had to practically tippy-hoof to avoid tripping, sending rocks tumbling ahead. Each one made me jump, sending a rush of cold through my veins as adrenaline surged through me.

All the while, I kept wondering how long this was going to go on.

The end of this passage had to be nearby.

***

I had managed to stay calm during my journey because of the carved tunnels, the holes, and the little signs that assured me that the tunnels and passages were meant to lead somewhere. Knowing that others had come before me gave me reassurance. If the ponies of long ago had gone this way and returned, then so could I.

I had nothing to fear.

That's when the passage stopped. Or rather, the carved one, because beyond it was another natural cavern, with several tunnels of various shapes and sizes, some natural, some carved, and all trailing off in different directions. Some were small enough only for a single pony to go through, while others were tall enough to accommodate a house.

It dawned on me that whoever had designed and built these passages wasn't an idiot: if they had entombed their king down here, then they wouldn't want others to come down and free him. Thus, it would make sense to create traps, or other things to throw a would-be rescuer off course. One of the passages before me was the correct one, but there was no way of knowing which it was. Choose correctly, and I would find the horn. Choose wrong, and I would end up going down a tunnel that went on for miles, or dropped into a bottomless pit, or worse.

I had no idea which tunnel to take.

Don't panic, I thought, biting my lip. Don't panic! There has to be a way to figure it out. There always is. Think! Think, think, think!

It eventually dawned on me that if I were carving tunnels throughout this place, I'd want to take my captive down a tunnel that would be the hardest to access, so naturally, the tiny one that was barely large enough for me to squeeze through... except that's what I'd plan on someone to think.

Lighting another glowstick, I dropped it and headed down the next largest tunnel, praying it was the right one. It was naturally carved, for the walls were smooth, and the teeth of the earth were too close together to have been left by anyone wishing a steady, easy passage.

I had gone just far enough that the entrance was out of sight when I heard some rocks falling from behind me.

Stopping, I turned around, shined my light down the passage.

There was nothing there.

“Hello?”

My voice echoed down the tunnel and into the darkness beyond.

There was no reply.

It was dumb to call out. After all, the place was empty. Perhaps I just wanted to hear my own voice, but I figured that a rock had tumbled loose. Not something that happened infrequently in these sort of passages.

But still, having gone so long in complete silence made hearing the rock jarring. My mind swirled, coming up with all sorts of frenzied ideas about what horrors lay within the earth, waiting to snack on any unfortunate ponies who were stupid enough to come down here on their own with no training.

I picked up my pace.

It wasn't long before the tunnel began to close in. The ceiling dropped ever so slightly. My mind realized that I was inside a cramped tunnel far under the earth with no fast way to get out.

Despite the cold, sweat dripped down my forehead. I tried to ignore it, focusing on the horn, that beautiful horn that would be the answer to all my problems. I just had to focus on that, and I could get through anything. Anything at all.

I kept walking into the darkness, my heart pounding.

***

For what seemed like hours, I went down that passage, the slope becoming ever steeper. And still it went, giving no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Was I going down the wrong passage? Perhaps this wasn't a planned tunnel at all, but something nature had made without caring where it went, and I was on a trip to nowhere.

The slope got even steeper, and I had to lean myself against the wall to brace myself. A few pebbles and rocks went down the slope, and I tried to make my way down. But it was too steep, and every instinct I had was yelling at me to turn back. Maybe another passage would yield better results.

Then it happened. I stepped down on a single pebble, slipped. I panicked and tried to regain my footing, but fell. I was quickly sent tumbling down the passage, the tumbling eventually turning into a roll as I lost control, falling faster and faster.

I cried out in fear, lashing out at anything to grab onto. But the tunnel was a blur as I slid down, hitting the walls and stone teeth, being spun about until I couldn't tell which way was up or down.

I saw a large pillar before me, and spun in a desperate attempt to avoid it, but I wasn't fast enough. I slammed into it, and the flashlight was knocked from my harness, where it fell into a small side tunnel and plunged from sight.

The tunnel was cast into darkness.

I yelled in pure terror, panicking as I struggled to get into my saddlebags, but a jolt sent all my glowsticks flying out as well, lost forever within the darkness. It was only pure luck that allowed me to grab a flare, and I slammed the tip into the ground, igniting it. The bright light momentarily blinded me, but it allowed me to see ahead.

It let me see the enormous hole I was sliding towards.

“No!” I shouted, pressing my hooves into the rock so hard that they began to heat up. “Oh no, no, no, no!”

I fell into the hole, plunging down into darkness. I screamed, thrashing, trying to get my wings to work so that I could fly up from this bottomless pit and escape.

Then it ended, though not in solid ground, but in water; terribly cold water that sucked the air from my lungs and caused my muscles to momentarily lock up, sending me deep into its icy embrace. Only the most frantic thrashing I could muster got them going again, and I surfaced, shrieking at the feeling of my skin going numb.

What little light I had began to fade. In my sudden shock from the cold, I had dropped the flare, which was now sinking into the water, the light now a dim pinprick. Without thinking, I took a deep breath and dove into the water. Without my flashlight and glowsticks, I only had three flares left to light my way, but each only burned for about ten minutes. I couldn't afford to lose even a single one.

I pursued the flare, swimming ever deeper into the pit. Finally reaching the flare, I grabbed it and started back up. But I had failed to realize just how deep I had gone. I couldn't see the surface above me, or the bottom of the pit below, if there even was one. I was suspended in ice water, too far below to reach the surface before running out of air.

Things have a way of spiraling out of control when you’re in danger. Even more so if you realize that you have less than a minute of air in your lungs, and that when it runs out, your death will be cold and painful. But worst of all is knowing that it's coming, and that there's nothing you can do about it. When you face a moment like that, you'll take any chance of escape, no matter how dangerous it may be. So when I saw a hole in the wall, my panicked brain latched onto it, figuring there might be an air bubble inside.

I grabbed the hole and pulled myself inside, the light showing that the passage went on seemingly without end, but there was no turning back. I dragged myself along the outcroppings, the walls closing in, scraping against my skin until it was impossible to turn around.

My lungs tightened up. Pressure began to build. I pulled myself along faster and harder, using up more of my energy. It felt like my lungs were now a vacuum devoid of air.

I had seconds left, and still there was only darkness.

The fear closed in, and my mind began to give in to it, the urge to scream building. I was going to die down there, crammed inside that tiny passage, unable to even turn around. I was never going to see my parents again. I was never going to see Beakbreaker again, or the sun, or light, or-

The passage curved upwards.

I shot upwards, my body giving off a final surge of adrenaline in a desperate attempt to reach safety that might not even be there.

I kicked with everything I had, and my head finally broke through water and into air. I let out the longest scream I had ever given in my life, gulping down all the air I could as I collapsed onto solid ground, breathing so long and so hard that my lungs felt like they were going to burst.

***

I lay there for several minutes, scarcely able to believe I was still alive. I only moved again when my flare sputtered. Glancing into my saddlebags, I took stock of my supplies. I had lost all the glowsticks and a few of the flares, leaving only three left, including the one I now held.

The clock was ticking down to when I would lose all my light.

I swung the flare around, finding myself inside a small room. But this wasn't a natural chamber, for the walls were perfectly smooth and featureless, the ceiling so low that I almost bumped into it when I stood. Then I realized that there was no way out of this chamber. That there wasn't meant to be one, for a giant stone cube sat the end of the room, large enough to enclose a good sized pony.

For a moment I stood there, unable to believe what I was seeing. I looked the cube over, saw that it was perfectly smooth, cut in such a way that magic had obviously been used to make it. The only mark in it was a pair of tiny holes at eye level.

When reading Quiverquill's notes, I had figured that the tomb of the king would have held a coffin, sarcophagus, or a crypt of some kind, but the cube itself was connected to the floor, and to the wall itself. If you were going to entomb someone and make them part of the mountain, then this was the way to do it.

I had almost died in the process, but I was finally standing in the tomb of the Cursed King. By some twist of fate, luck, or perhaps destiny itself, I had made it. But another sputter from the flare reminded me that time was not on my side. Putting aside my excitement for later, I looked around for the horn, but there was no box, smaller cube, or other container where the horn was located. Was that part of the myth a bust? Had I come down here for nothing?

Then I looked towards the ceiling, and saw that the myth had been only partially telling the truth: the horn had been entombed with the king, but not next to him, as there was a horn-shaped groove of transparent rock set into the ceiling.

There was something inside.

All the struggles and near-drowning were forgotten as I yanked out the chisel and hacked away at the rock for what seemed like hours. I was too excited to notice the fatigue in my muscles. Nothing was going to stop me from getting that horn, not after all I had gone through.

A final hit, and the stone fell apart. And there it was, plain for all to see.

The horn was a foot long, smooth, and dark grey in color. And to me, it was more beautiful than words could ever describe.

Like a worshiper before a holy idol, I took the horn and placed it inside one of the bags, tucking the padding around it. After all this, I didn't want the means of my salvation to break on the return journey. When it was secured, the bag was latched shut, and I took the flare once more.

Yet, as I started towards the water, curiosity made me look back towards the holes in the cube. Walking to the holes, I peered in, saw that they went deep into the cube, angled upwards. Following their line of vision, I realized that they were looking towards where the horn had been. It appeared that when the king had been placed inside the cube, he would only be able to look at the horn that had brought him so much, and that it would be the last thing he’d ever see before his captors left, leaving the chamber in never-ending darkness.

Something drew me to those holes. Almost as if in a trance, I peered inside.

I saw only darkness.

I slowly placed an ear to the holes and listened.

Nothing.

Was the king really inside? Was he still alive, even after all this time?

Was he watching me, unable to speak, or to make any noise?

I looked into those holes, wondered what I would see if I brought the flare up.

The flare sputtered again.

I almost lifted the flare and looked inside. But I couldn't waste any more time.

Turning away, I headed towards the water, and the cube was reclaimed by the darkness once again.

***

Reaching the water, I spent the next ten minutes inhaling and exhaling as deeply as I could, wanting to get as much air into my lungs as possible before swimming out. I got quite light-headed, but with a final, deep breath, I plunged into the tiny hole and swam for all I was worth. The ice water tried to chill the air right out of me, but the extra oxygen allowed me to swim through the cramped tunnel without my lungs aching. There was little fear this time, for if I had made it this far, even while panicked, then I could make my way back.

Reaching the main shaft, I started upwards. It was harder than before, but finally the water above me shimmered, and I broke the surface, feeling dizzy, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

The flare illuminated the shaft around me, which was lined with numerous rocky spikes that pointed downwards, making it extremely difficult for someone to get out. But with my wings, that wouldn't be a problem.

The flare sputtered once more, then died. I dropped it, pulled out another one, and lit it.

Just as the flare sputtered to life, I heard movement above me. I looked up as a few pebbles fell into the water.

“Hello?”

Silence.

“Is there anyone up there?” I called out, wondering if someone had heard me leaving the house and followed after me, and was waiting to see if I would surface.

Silence.

“Beakbreaker?”

There was no reply.

Gulping, I figured it had to be another rockfall. After all, the tunnels and passages were old. They couldn’t be expected to stay intact forever. Grabbing the closest spikes, I pulled myself out of the water and beat my wings, flying up into the tunnel. Coming to a stop, I saw some of the pebbles, but there was no one around, or any sign that there had been.

I started back the way I came, but it was slow going up the steep passage, forcing me to pull myself along by grabbing one pillar after another. But at long last I reached the tunnel's exit and my prior glowstick. Though it was dead, it at least showed me I was on the right track. I galloped into the large chamber, jubilant at my luck; a climb up to the main passage, then the switchbacks, the door, and I would be home free!

I skidded to a stop, the flare dropping from my mouth.

The safety rope was lying on the ground.

It had been ripped to pieces.

I wracked my brain, trying to remember if Quiverquill had mentioned reading about anything living far behind the surface of the earth. But there had been nothing, no notes, no-

There was movement inside a nearby passage.

My heart almost stopped as I grabbed the flare and jumped up, my wings beating. I reached the hole, grabbing on and squeezed myself inside, but not before the sharp tip of a stony spike sliced into my hindquarters. I cried out, feeling blood tricking down my leg,

Something entered the chamber beneath me.

I ran down the passage, the flare lighting the way. That light was everything: my salvation, my guide, and possibly the only thing keeping whatever was behind me at bay. After all, creatures who favor the dark fear the light.

The flare sputtered.

“No!”

I thrashing through my bags for the last flare, barely holding on as I lit it. I threw the dying flare behind me to try and blind my unseen pursuer for a few seconds longer, then took off down the passage, running like I had never run before.

I don't remember much of what happened next, only that it felt like I was running for days, ignoring the pain in my legs as I slipped on rocks and pebbles. The slope had helped me on my way down, but now worked against me, making me work twice as hard to head upwards, until at last it evened out, and I saw the first switchback.

I just had to get to the top of the switchbacks, then the door, and I'd be home free.

I stopped for a moment, and only a moment, to try and rest my legs for the final burst. And I listened, peering into the darkness of the tunnel behind me. But I heard and saw nothing. Maybe my pursuer had given up the chase.

Then I heard it. Scraping sounds, far in the distance.

It was the sound of something coming down the tunnel.

I took off up the slope, running up the steep passage, then turning to go up the next slope. As I feared, my legs began to tighten up by the third slope, my muscles starting to wear out. But stopping wasn't an option, and I kept going, focusing every ounce of my willpower to ignore the horrific burning in my legs.

Something started up the switchbacks below.

Up and up I went, the switchbacks never ending. For what felt like hours I kept going, even when my legs threatened to give out. But I didn't stop. To stop was to die, or worse.

All the while, I heard the echo of scraping sounds below, steadily getting closer.

I reached the final switchback and emerged into the final tunnel. I cried out in agony as I tried to walk, my muscles so tight I could barely move them. I fought to keep going, putting one leg in front of another. I was so close!

That's when the flare sputtered, gave a final burst of light, and faded out.

The passage around me vanished, and I was plunged into darkness. Instinctively, I felt through my bags for another light, but my flares, and all sources of illumination were gone.

I was in total darkness, unable to see my own hoof if it were an inch in front of me.

Then I heard it. Far below.

Giggling.

I bolted. My legs screamed in protest, but fear was greater than the pain, and I was running upwards in complete darkness.

I tripped, smashing my face into the ground. Tasting blood, I scrambled to my hooves and kept running.

Something entered the tunnel.

I'll never know how long I ran in those tunnels, stumbling blindly in the darkness, hearing scratches not far behind me. I was scared out of my mind, terrified that this nightmare would never end, that this tunnel was endless. But it wasn't, for I hit something and fell onto my back, screaming. But then I realized I had hit the door, and the final obstacle to me getting out alive.

Dragging myself through, I shoved myself against the door. Close it, throw the latch down, and the passage would be sealed behind a foot of solid stone.

Something hit the door from the other side, almost knocking it open.

I shrieked and shoved back. But slowly, inch by inch, the door was pushed towards me.

Roaring, I braced my legs and thrust back with every ounce of panicked strength I had. The power of earth ponies came to my aid, and legs strong enough to shatter the bones of attacking enemies finally shoved the door back.

Something moved on the other side of the door. I felt a rush of wind.

Cold, bony fingers grabbed my front leg in a death-grip, sharp claws scraping flesh.

I screamed and smashed the door against flesh. There was an unearthly howl, and the hand let go as the door finally slammed shut. Like a maniac, I felt around, grabbed more beams, chains, and locks, throwing them into place and sealing the door.

Whatever was on the other side hit the door, claws digging into stone like a cat clawing at a door, but with the speed of ravenous hunger.

I backed away, panting.

The scratches finally stopped. Things finally went quiet.

I collapsed to the ground, too exhausted to move.

***

After what felt like hours, I finally felt strong enough to stand, and pressed my ear against the door, listening for any movement.

I heard nothing.

I was safe.

Leaving the door behind, I wandered towards the stairs, and then up to the house, where light streamed down from above. The inside of my parent's house had never seemed more welcoming as I left the basement and stepped onto the carpet. It was quiet, and I crept into the living room, where I found Mangus still snoring on the floor. Beyond the window, a heavy rain was falling on the forest, thick clouds blocking the sun.

I looked to the closest clock, saw that it was ten thirty. I had gone into the basement around five thirty in the evening, and from what I could tell, everyone was still asleep.

Trudging up the stairs, aching with every step, I peeked into my room and found Beakbreaker still asleep. From the smile on her face, she had enjoyed pleasant dreams during the night.

Going to the bathroom, I wet a towel and wiped myself clean of dirt and blood, trying to make myself presentable. A shower would have been best, but I didn't want to risk waking anyone up, not when I wanted to do nothing more than rest my sore and aching body. After cleaning myself off, I put a thick bandage across the slice on my flank, and went back to my room, dumped the saddlebags inside a cabinet and hid them beneath some clothes. Then, and only then, did I finally get into my soft, warm bed, and lay my head upon the pillow.

Against all odds, I had retrieved the horn. I had the key to my dreams, and the power to end Mangus' threat once and for all.

My dreams were about to come true, and my problems would be at an end.

Finally relaxing, I closed my eyes and passed out.

Author's Note:

Another great pic by lilithnanhart! Go take a look at her other work here! (http://lilithnanhart.deviantart.com/)

Question: Would any of you be interested in me adding mood music when I think it can enhance the reading experience? Or would you prefer just text?

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!