• Published 1st Apr 2013
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413 Mulberry Lane : A Report (With Annotations by Twilight Sparkle) - Starsong



A student at Celestia's school encounters an entity that seeks to claim him. His only hope lies with Princess Celestia, and the truth hidden in the documents she holds.

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413 Mulberry Lane : A Report (With Annotations by Twilight Sparkle)

I

I've seen this place in my dreams.

No, that's not quite it. I've never seen this house before in my life.

Which is strange, because I walk by it every day on the way to class. Right now I should be in a seminar for young unicorns. Magic safety and all that. Yet Professor Stardust's mandatory attendance policy is the last thing on my mind. If they kicked out every budding unicorn for the occasional show of delinquency, there would be no school for gifted unicorns to begin with.

That house. The windows and the curtains muffle the sound of laughter and the clatter of kitchenware. I strain my ears and peek in the windows, but I only see sunlight falling on wooden floors, and ribbons of dust dancing in the empty rooms. I pace around the crammed alleyways. There's a gate to a backyard, but it's locked. I peer beneath the curtains and strain my ears. The conversations are unintelligible. Someone's hooves pass by the bottom of the curtain and I duck away, hoping I haven't been seen.

I lap the house completely, counting the windows. Six windows on the bottom floor. Eight on the top. All curtained but lit.

When I reach the front of the house again, the door opens. I'm already late for class. At least I should have an excuse, I think. 'I almost walked into a house' is a crap excuse. 'I was enchanted by a house and walked in,' while ridiculous, at least shows a little investigative spirit.

But I don't think it's curiosity that's pulling me forward. As I step towards the door, I feel as if a weight has lifted from my chest. The warmth of the hearth rises from the entrance. I step inside to the smell of fresh bread and sweet rolls and the sound of laughter.

“Excuse me!” I call in, having only set one hoof in the doorway. “Your door just came open, and I...”

The fur on the back of my neck stands on end. Ponies have not feared predation for centuries, perhaps millenia, but my instincts kick in. Maybe it's just the coltish fear of being caught snooping around, because no pony comes to answer me. I hear something upstairs, like the scraping of hooves on the floor.

I want to see more. I wander inside, pulling my flanks over the threshold. A sense of safety comes over me again. Probably just a draft from the street, I think, forcing myself to laugh. Or somepony staring at my big fat rump.

My gaze wanders around the parlor. There are two cups on the nearby table, each still smelling strongly of fine cider. Two logs crackle and smoke from within the fireplace (in spite of it being a particular warm day in late spring) and provide further illumination to the house. It's bright. So bright that the light had to be coming from somewhere else in the house. Sun rocks aren't entirely uncommon in Canterlot, but the light is overwhelming. I cannot find a single shadow within this house.

A photograph sits on the mantle above the fireplace. The swaying flames make the light dance over the frame, though when I lean in closer I realize it's a painting and not a photograph. The two ponies are painted in such small, intricate strokes, it seems no different than a photograph. A unicorn mare and an earth pony stallion stand together snuggling, smiling.

Either the painter had a good imagination, or these two were way too lovey dovey.

The wood beneath me creaks when I take a step and I freeze in place. Nearby me, wood explodes so loud it causes my ears to ring. I can't see anything. I squeeze my eyes shut and whip around, trying to run for the open door. Instead I bump into a large pony's chest. I'm afraid to open my eyes. I tremble with fear and start to back away.

“How did you get in here?”

I recognize that voice. Not the 'I will eat your soul' whispers I was expecting. I open my eyes and heave a deep sigh of relief when I find myself staring up at Celestia. I would rather be in deep trouble than meet whatever my imagination refused to conjure in the corners of that house.

“I asked you a question,” she says again, more urgently. This time she grabs my ear like a mother scolding her child. “How did you get in here?”

“The door was open,” I stammer, and only when I hear my voice do I realize just how scared I am. “I went to close it and just thought I'd take a look.”

She looks at the door again, then back at me. Her eyes are watering. She exhales and turns me around with a wing. “Come with me,” she says, more with resignation than scorn.

II

Celestia's not saying anything. Neither is anypony else. The streets are full of staring faces. But even in the castle, no one speaks. The guards won't even look at me. We pass one my classmates, Holly, but she just looks down and hurries away when I lift a hoof.

The ceilings seem to get higher when we walk into a part of the castle I've never been in. It must be back towards one of the towers, but when we reach it, we don't go up. We go down a spiral staircase. There's barely enough room for Celestia and I, and the ring of torches heat my face with their magic.

At the bottom of the stairs there's a white wall engraved with diamonds and runes. I barely recognize it from my transmogrification lessons. It's one of the magic doors, but this one isn't painted or indicated in any way. Celestia lowers her horn and a small hole appears. She inserts it and a spark of magic surges from her through the wall, illuminating a grid of blue lines. Then the walls part and open into a dome-shaped chamber.

It reminds me of the stacks in Canterlot U, but it's only one-and-a-half stories tall. There are five shelves and books are scattered all over the place. The princess sits me in front of a dark oak table and closes her eyes. I hear the sound of stone scraping on stone. A book floats out with a faint golden aura around it and lands on the table in front of me.

“That door doesn't open,” she explains. She puts her hoof on my neck again, but this time it's like she's trying to comfort me. I wish she hadn't. The kind words, the distant look in her eyes, the way she's touching me... that's when I can no longer pretend I'm not in serious danger.

“Or to be more precise, no pony can open that door. Not even myself. It only opens when it wants to.”

“I thought that ponies lived in that house,” I say, puzzled. “No one ever talks about it. And the ponies here love to chatter about everything suspicious.”

“Nothing I say will make any sense,” she says. “The only thing that remains of the truth of that house is in this book. I've sent ponies to try to figure it out, but everything I learn only drives me further into uncertainty. You've come into contact with it. Maybe I can help you find the truth before it's too late.”

“Too late for what?” I jerk up in a panic. But she's already moving. She locks the door to the little library and then retreats to the landing. She produces a scroll and begins writing. After a few minutes she sees me staring, expecting an answer.

“You'll be safe as long as you're here,” she says. “I'm not leaving until you've read that cover to cover.”

No matter how long it takes. I rub the dust off of the cover and stare at the manuscript. The tattered pages look back at me. I feel completely exposed in front of it. Is it the book? Is it the house? Or Celestia? Something is looking right through me.

The princess is right there on the landing. She's not looking my way, but I know she's observing my every move. Every breath. The most powerful pony in Equestria, my beloved princess, keeping me in her fortress. I should feel safe.

But she already feels a thousand miles away. All I can do is read, and hope that everything turns out alright.

III

413 Mulberry Lane

A Report

(With Further Annotations by Twilight Sparkle)(1)

The house in question is numbered the last on its street, sitting on the western intersection of where Mulberry Lane and Canterlot St. intersect. Records in the Canterlot archives indicate that it was constructed roughly a century ago, placing it in line with the rest of the homes built on Mulberry Lane.(2) The architect, Sturdy Pines, was notable for his contributions to the construction of several Canterlot communities, but there is no indication that any he utilized any magic or was involved with any unusual activity in his lifetime. He has no criminal record and his profile as a city official is clean, except for a single citation during Canterlot's short-lived prohibition era.

The house contains two floors with rooms listed as follows:

1st floor

* A parlor & sitting room

* A combination kitchen & dining room

* A water closet

* A den

2nd floor

* A master bedroom

* A water closet adjoining the hallway and the master bedroom

* Two smaller bedrooms of identical dimensions

* One storage room

In addition to these features, there is also a back door which leads to a fenced-in area. Small back yard enclosures are not uncommon in Canterlot, where outdoor space is at a premium.

Interviews with the neighbors suggest that the house has been occupied within recent memory and many seemed to suggest that a family of unicorns currently resides there. When asked who lived there, though, the neighbors confessed they didn't know. Further inquiries though were met with confusion and eventually resulted in the termination of the conversations. Elaboration that our investigations were ordered by royalty resulted in no new information. Anything we can learn is going to have to come from the house itself.



1) Princess Celestia has requested that I visit this house while it's still accessible. She gave me this report and suggested that I make annotations to it as I investigate. When I suggested providing a second manuscript, she insisted I continue this one. The book makes no sense to me. I feel uneasy reading it, but I will respect her wishes.

2) I've included the blueprints in the back of this report. (3)

3) These blueprints are inaccurate. I'm forced to assume that in the last 100 years, somepony has expanded the upstairs storage into a third bedroom.


At the time we made our first investigation into the house, our team consisted of four ponies.

Glimmer Crescent – Unicorn, male, age 35. Tenured professor in magical forensics. This assignment was given to me after a glowing recommendation from my department head. No family in Canterlot.

Thunder Aria – Unicorn, male, age 19. One of my students. Although he's currently studying magic and harmonics, he serves as my teaching assistant in introductory conjurations. Volunteered to be a part of the investigation. Celestia questioned his lack of experience, but I can vouch for his cautious nature and ability to follow instruction. There's no pony I'd rather have assisting me anywhere, in the lab or on the field.

Cloud Gust - Pegasus, female, age 21. Works night shift on the Canterlot weather team. Celestia insisted that our team contained all three ponies, so I put out a bulletin. Cloud answered. I'm not sure what a pegasus is going to be able to do indoors, but I won't turn down a level head and helping hooves.

Apple Tart – Earth Pony, female, age 16. Resident from Ponyville. When I told princess Celestia I needed an architect, she sent a summons immediately. The next day Apple Tart arrived. The last thing I was expecting was some kid from the boonies, but she knows her stuff. Prodigy doesn't begin to describe it. I just hope her excitable nature doesn't lead to any accidents.


IV
The Parlor(4)

In spite of all that we're told, we have no trouble gaining entry to the house. The door isn't even locked. In addition, all of the lamps in the house are either lit or magically activated. Apple Tart calls for any pony that might be inside at the time, but the only response is the constant flicker of light. She declares that she's going to look around to make sure that no one is snooping around before running off into the kitchen. Rather than go after her, I decide to start our investigation.

The parlor measures 35 feet by 30 feet with adjoining doors to the den, the kitchen, and the front exterior. One window on the western wall and another on the southern. Two sofas sit in an L-shape and between them is a single flat table. There are only three objects in the room. Two empty mugs on the table and a picture sitting on a shelf on the far wall.(5) It strikes me as odd—why would they leave these things here? (6) There's evidence that the house is occupied, but no one has lived here in recent memory. I can't quite puzzle it together.

Just being in that house makes my horn tingle. Aria feels it too. But intuition and instinct aren't going to give us any answers. We pushed the sofas to the sides of the room and began to set up a mobile laboratory with the following equipment:

*Four magic focuses, crystalline variety, placed at the corners of the room

*One crystalline polarity indicator

*One enchanted prism

*One thermometer

In spite of all that, our equipment doesn't detect any magic on any wavelength. The only useful reading we got was from the thermometer, which we calculated indicated that the room was approximately 86 degrees.

For some reason, this observation disturbed Gust. She seemed convinced that the house was too hot, considering external temperatures and any heat that the lights would have been giving off. My impression of weather ponies as brainless cloud haulers were immediately shattered when, using my notebook and some quick readings inside and outside of the house, she showed me exactly why it should have been only 71 degrees inside. (7) The only possible explanation is that the heat is coming from elsewhere in the house.

Although I'm not satisfied with the thoroughness of our investigations of the parlor, it's prudent for us to move on. I can hear Apple Tart's hoof beats upstairs and call out to her, informing her that we will be moving into the den. She does not respond. My equipment seems useless, but I gather it anyway, just in case there are any readings in the other rooms.

A gray colt was looking in the window and ran off when I turned around. I laughed to find that my heart was pounding. A royal forensics team was investigating a house in a busy neighborhood. Of course they were going to look.

4) There isn't enough room in the margins for me to report my own investigations. I will append at the end of the manuscript my own full report.

5) Glimmer's report doesn't indicate the fireplace or the torn paint. I understand the paint, but how could he overlook the fireplace? It's in the blueprints.

6) Apple Tart later informed me that the mugs were ruined for drinking because someone had left cider in them for too long, leaving them with a permanent scent and smell. She seemed particularly upset about this, for some reason.

7) My readings are identical to Glimmer's, but refined formulas suggest that the difference should have been 13.4 degrees – not 15.


V
The Den

We can tell without a thermometer that the excess heat was coming from this room. The temperature is fluctuating around 102 degrees and won't go down, even with introduction of air conditioning and other weather aids. The source was easy to find. There's a...

Celestia, a hole doesn't even begin to describe it. (8)

The room is approximately sixty feet by sixty feet and slightly descends towards the center. That makes the blueprints off by at least twenty. Two more couches, a pile of cushions. There are empty vases stacked up around the room. The most prominent feature in this room is the hole. My magic equipment still picks up nothing, but Aria and I can feel something here. I continue to use it anyway. I should just chuck it down the hole.

The hole. It's only about a foot in diameter. The light of the room extends about fifty feet down before I cannot see any further. The hole is the source of the heat and humidity in this house. I drop a bit in and listen for a sound. There never is an impact. Next I drop in a small gem with a light enchantment. The light shrinks to a point and takes approximately ten minutes to disappear. Given the rate of descent, I can only guess that this hole actually intersects with the Canterlot caverns. The depth still seems impossible. I threw one of my focuses down in frustration.

Still no readings.


8)I've been asked to describe the hole in the floor. First strata visible is the wooden floor and a bit of foundation. Beyond that it fades inexplicably into stone--opal, if I had to guess--and continues that pattern as far as I can see.


Apple Tart is back. I ask her if she had found anything. She says she checked every room. They were all empty. The sunlight surprised her: she thought it was night. She thought we should go home. We've barely even started.











It's my fault. I told her to investigate the hole. I thought she could explain the purpose, or at least its construction. I didn't know she was going to stick her damned head inside of it.




Apple Tart is stuck. The hole shouldn't be big enough for her in the first place, but she manages to get in to her shoulders before she can't move. She struggles and kicks her legs. Cloud laughs for a minute and then she's silent. The three of us try to pull her out, but she won't budge. It's as if the edge of the hole has shrunk and closed around her shoulders.

Then she starts wiggling in further. I can't make out what she's saying. She screams. The hole is moving and pulling her in. Gravity does the rest. We pull. We apply lubricant but that only seems to make her fall another foot. Aria and I try a teleportation spell. We try everything, but nothing works.

I'm not waiting for her to disappear before sending an emergency scroll to Celestia. Courtiers be damned.






While we wait for the guards to arrive, all we can do is watch Apple Tart sink further into the hole. She seems to have stopped struggling, aside from the occasional kick.




Still no rescue team. I can't see her anymore, but I can hear her moving. Aria suggests dropping a light. Dropping a light stone on her butt will only injure her.




No light in the hole. No sound. Where the hell is Celestia?




Cloud Gust is going to the palace herself. All Aria and I can do is stare at the hole and pray that Apple survives.


Apple Tart is back. She opens the back door about the same time as Celestia arrives with a full squad of guards. We're dumbstruck. Aria and I grab her and start crying. This just makes her confused, and a little scared.

According to Apple, she just looked up and she was outside. She thought she had been daydreaming (she confessed she's prone to this, with some embarrassment) and had simply spaced out. We ask her if she remembers anything about the hole. She doesn't. The sight of it makes her feel nauseous, though.

I investigate the back yard. Just a few square feet of grass and flowers and high fences around. I can hear the afternoon rush beginning outside, but the fencing blocks it all from view. A few pegasi shift the clouds above. There's no hole in the house, nor in the yard. No magic. And no trace of anything I threw down the hole.

Celestia tells me to end the investigations for the day. I can't agree more.

After some discussion, we pay Apple Tart and send her back home. I don't understand how she's alive and with us. I can't let her do something impulsive like that again.

Celestia seems reluctant to stop the investigations, but doesn't force us to continue. If we can't get into the house tomorrow, then that will be that. I don't want to come back.

But I have to know.


VI
The Second Day

When I reach for the door, I wish it doesn't open. But it slides open as if the hinges were greased that morning. I ask the team if they're willing to enter into the house again. They agree.

There are only two rooms we haven't investigated on the bottom floor.

We open the water closet and check it out. Nothing out of the ordinary. Two candle-like lamps keeping the place lit. Clean water.

I get excited when I detect my first hint of magic. It's small, but it's something.

Turns out it's just an olfactory illusion. The room smells like roses. How ridiculous. I have to leave because the smell is actually getting too strong to bear. (10)

The kitchen is fifteen feet by thirty feet, not accounting for the staircase, which is more in line with the outer dimensions of the house. All of the cupboards are still full of old dishes and cookware. There's an immense amount of it.

The long table takes up most of this room. If Apple Tart were here, maybe she could tell us about its construction. It's a polished wood—looks like cherry—and has intricate carvings on the ends. The letters P.S. are engraved beneath it along with a vine-embossed crest.

In addition, it looks like this table could seat at least fifteen. It seems a little absurd for a house that could only comfortably house about six.


(10) I think I understand what was going on. Glimmer's instruments helped read magic by redirecting and focusing it to a stable point so it can be analyzed. Somehow, though, they were magnifying the intensity of the magic instead of reading it. I'll have to take this into account in my own studies.


Aria keeps saying he's hearing things. No one else seems to be able to hear them, though. We shouldn't dally, but he thinks we should check it out. He was kind enough to load his harmonics equipment into my pack, so I helped him set it up.

Cloud Gust is becoming restless. She asks if she can roam around. I think about what happened to Apple and I tell her no. She seems resigned. After five minutes, she leaves anyway, without saying anything, while I'm too busy aligning a crystal focus to stop her.

Although Aria has a better grasp on harmonics than I do, he's still rubbish at setting up his equipment. It's not a foal's first magic kit. You can't just throw things into four corners and hope that they work out. I have to pinpoint the precise centers of sound in this room, which even with the aid of fully functioning magic is difficult. Even more so with a prodigal nuisance breathing down your neck. I send him to find Gust while I calibrate the equipment. She's still on the first floor, and the two of them have good enough heads on their shoulders.

The tuning gems are picking up something. A reading, in this house! For a moment I consider recording them without Aria's presence, but I know he wouldn't appreciate it. Then I realize that he, too, has been gone for a long time. I'm going to have to retrieve them.

I check the parlor first, hoping that they haven't gone into that damned room. But from there I can hear that they have. They're crying and groaning and something pops in my mind. I switch to adrenaline and instincts and race into the den Whatever has happened to them, I need to get there in time.



I can't believe it. I can't believe they're mating in this house, in this room of all places. I burst in on them expecting to find some otherworldly terror and instead find Aria on top of Gust spasming and bleating like a drunken manticore.

I demand an explanation from the guard. Why didn't he stop them? Without looking up, he asks me what exactly he was supposed to do about it.

I don't really have an answer.

I don't want to know, but I have to ask the guard. What happened?

He turns his staring eyes to me as if there were daft. As if the very thing happening in front of us didn't entirely explain itself.(11)

That's not good enough for me, but he's not a scientist.

I abandoned those poor guards to their duties and returned to the kitchen. The crystals still glimmer in harmony, perfectly in sync with whatever traces are present. I begin the process of translating them back into a form that we can hear and understand.

(11)No wonder he thought I was an idiot. I am an idiot. The combination of light and heat in that room is in line with the natural signals that bring a mare into estrus. I didn't think it could happen that suddenly. I wish I hadn't exploded at them. I wish I had thought better before bringing her here. But the work must be done.


Gust and Aria return. I warn them that if they leave my sight again, I will dissolve the investigation and send them home. They make no protest. Aria is exhibiting guilt and finishes the rest of the work with speed and precision. He casts a small spell on the central apparatus and it begins to play back the imprinted sounds.

It's scratchy, but the contents of the echoes are clear. A piano was played in this room. The tones are reminiscent of early Canterlot composers as imitated by an amateur. Some pony just playing around with sections from memory. Granulation and degradation of the sound is there, as to be expected. Aria seems to find the music soothing, but something about it unsettles me. Why this song? Why is this moment in time so important?

Aria runs a few more calculations and tells me that the sound must have been echoing in that room for two hundred years. That's impossible. The house hadn't existed for barely over a century. He runs his numbers again, and much to my relief, confesses he made a mistake.

The song is actually five hundred years old.

Twilight's Note: I looked through Canterlot's genealogy archives on a hunch. Gust and Aria were wed and had their first child the year that this report was made. I think some of their descendents actually live in Ponyville, but I'm not going to bring this up with them. I can't imagine I have anything to gain by doing so.


VII

The book beneath me is an inert object. Its contents may as well be blank. It is little more than a cushion on my head. In spite of my anxiety, I fall asleep for a few moments, my horn pinched in its bindings.

Some time later, some pony touches my shoulder and gives it a shake. I feel the warm touch and the jostle and I sit up straight. I look around hoping to find Celestia scolding me for drifting off.

The library is empty. I look again, but I can't find anypony.

“Princess...?” I squeak.

The lamps in the library flicker and go dim for a moment. I hear hoofsteps. Then the princess steps out from behind the fifth bookshelf, a pair of texts hovering beside her.

“Yes?” she asks. “Have you found anything, student?”

I shake my head. I'm trembling. When she sees this, she puts the books down and comes over beside me. She pushes my head up with her snout and lays a wing over me. It's different from what I felt just moments ago. I don't want her to go again.

“What does your cutie mark mean?” she asks me, suddenly.

I smile. “A couple of years ago I discovered I had a particular knack for making things glow,” I explain. “One night there was a storm. I was alone in my room and I got scared. So I lit up my whole bedroom. The ceiling, the walls, all of my toys and the bed and everything.” I laugh. “My parents were so angry. They had to call a castle magician to disenchant everything. But that's when I realized I wanted to learn how to enchant things. I want to make the world shine. That's when I got this glowy cutie mark.”

Princess Celestia frowns. Why would she disapprove of my story? Sure, it wasn't as exciting as some ponies', but I don't think it's that bad. She won't stop staring at my flank, though.

I look over my shoulder and shift so I can see it.

There is no glowing bulb on my hide.

Instead there's a pair of musical notes.

I can't take this anymore.

I can't stop crying.

Celestia shelters me in one of her wings. I'm not sure how long it takes. Whatever this place is, whatever is inside of it, it's got its teeth in me. It's changing me. And I don't know what to do.

All the princess can tell me is to keep reading. Maybe there will be something.

I don't want to read it. I tell her I don't. She says there's no other way. She promises she won't leave me until we find an answer.

She turns the page.

VIII
The Second Floor

Our investigations of the second floor are much simpler. There are two small bedrooms which are devoid of any furnishings or particular qualities. The only peculiar note is that each window faces westward, towards the sun, towards the blue sky. There shouldn't be any sky there. The adjacent townhouse should be visible from these windows, but it's not.

We take recordings in each room. Nothing jumps out. Nothing of any notice.

The master bedroom has a queen-sized canopy bed. On one of the knobs is the same symbol we saw etched into the table, downstairs. (12)

(12)I sent sketches of the mark to Apple Tart and around the Equestrian libraries. Apple suggested that it resembles a tradesmare's mark, but neither she nor anyone in the royal offices can identify it. I can only conclude that this was a personal design that never left the household.(13)

(13)After having some time to look over Glimmer's sketches, I recognize the geometry. This kind of mark is used in the older designs of powerful artifacts and royal signets, about five hundred years ago. Excepting forgeries, there are only two possibilities. The mark either belongs to a powerful magician or someone of a royal family. I asked Princess Celestia and Princess Luna if they could identify the family of origin, and neither one of them knew.

I'm about ready to end this investigation. Cloud Gust notices a strange shift in the airflow, though. She follows it and finds a false floorboard. Beneath it is a plain wooden box, and inside the box is a collection of letters. I have included these letters in a separate bundle, although they do not contribute to my final assessment of this house.


IX
Conclusion

I've taken all the readings I can. I've measured and made note of every room. I've applied the expertise of every pony available to Canterlot and I can only come to one conclusion.

This house is impossible. It hasn't hurt anypony(14) that we know of, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. The magic that we can detect does not resemble any unicorn magic or any other kind that we can identify. Its dimensions, its physical qualities, its very nature is an abomination.

I can't imagine what can be gained from this information other than to understand that something is very wrong with this house. My recommendation to the crown is simple:

Destroy it. Disenchant it. Tear it down and erase its existence from the face of Equestria. The risk of such a powerful entity unchecked in the streets of Canterlot is not worth any knowledge that might be gained from it.

I'm closing this report and I am never going to look at it or that place ever again.

(14)If only Glimmer knew. Did he choose to ignore the fourth room in that house, or did it simply not exist at the time? There is no comfort in either possibility. But, Celestia, if you want me to find the truth, I have to go inside. I have to tell you what I see.


X
The Second Investigation
Led by Twilight Sparkle

One can imagine my trepidation when it comes to entering a house of such magical intensity. In all my reading of Glimmer's notes, I haven't been able to shake off this bad feeling. I feel like such a foal writing it down, a superstitious filly, but it's like I'm being watched. Like something cold is working its way up my spine and sitting on the back of my neck, just where I can't see or reach.

But Princess Celestia has asked for me personally, and so I go to the house. My friends are with me, as is a pair of royal guards. The door is open when we arrive. The parlor is warm and well lit. At first it seems to be identical to what Glimmer's notes indicated. Then it occurs to me that all nine of us are fitting easily into the room.

Applejack helps me take some quick measurements. We double-check them just to make sure that we didn't make a mistake. And then a third time because we didn't want to believe it was true. The parlor is 40 feet by 35 feet. There are two cups on the table that smell faintly of tea. Fluttershy remarked that it was probably the same kind of chamomile that she uses.

The painting that Glimmer described is still sitting on the mantle. It's a magnificent piece of work, but something about it bothers me. It's rare to see a family portrait like this without the cutie marks visible in some way. There's no way to tell what family these two belong to. The gap in the Canterlot municipal records is vexing. Unless we find some other clue, this may forever remain a mystery.

Working off of Glimmer's old notes, I'm able to cast a more delicate spell to detect the magic here. It doesn't take much effort. This place is amplifying every one of my abilities. The sensation is somewhat thrilling, and that alone makes me nervous.

I confirm that the light and heat of the house is of a magical origin. A somewhat pointless confirmation. I can't find the source though. It's not affixed to any object. I don't even think it belongs to the house itself. The source must be somewhere else. I'm not sure I want to find it.


I didn't want to go into the parlor, but I can't let the others know I'm too scared. The girls don't believe half of what was written in this manuscript, but we still didn't want to see it.

The hole.

It's only a few inches in diameter and the air coming out of it feels cold. There's no way a pony would possibly fit her hoof in there, let alone her face. We had to drag Pinkie away to keep her from trying, though. As for my magic, nothing I cast returns any reading. It's as if the magic itself is being absorbed by the hole.

Rainbow became incredibly uncomfortable and went back into the parlor, in spite of my protests. But I'm kind of glad she did. It gave me an excuse to move everyone out of the den as soon as possible.

I could swear there was another guard with us, but these two deny anything. I blame it on the unusual heat and decide to move on.


The yard is calming in a way. Maybe it's being able to stand out beneath the sun, to hear the din of the Canterlot market just beyond the fence boards. It reminds me that there's a sane world out there, and somehow gives me the courage to investigate the rest of the house.


The dining room. We're nearing the end of the notable explorations of Glimmer's crew. I take a recording of the room, but it doesn't turn up the same as before. It's mostly just magical interference, but I'm sending it to Celestia anyway.

I almost didn't report this section of the house, but Rarity got into the cupboards and remarked at length on the dinnerware there. She said that the particular mineral used in the ceramics is only found in the mountains of the far north, and the vine designs are reminiscent of those documented in the old unicorn kingdoms. By her notion, the entire set was probably passed down from early immigrants to the valley and are priceless.

I'm scared, but I'm glad my friends are here with me. I thank them for their expertise, but the fact is, I don't think I'd have the courage to go on without them.

I know you want to know the truth, but part of me is hoping that I don't find it. That the second floor is empty, and that we can forget all about this. I'm sorry, Celestia. I'm letting my primal fears overcome me. This, too, is part of my education, isn't it?


XI

We can see the second floor hallway from the bottom. The stairwell turns twice along the perimeter of the house and then follows the upper corridors. I reach the top and turn to the others, only to find that they're still trying to ascend. For each step they take, two more seem to stretch out in front of them. Something did not want my friends to reach the top of the stairs.

Fluttershy wants to turn back. I tell her that we have to do this. I ask her if she wants us to walk her home. She doesn't have to be here if she is scared.

She won't leave us.

Eventually Rainbow Dash flies to the top of the stairs, and the whole climb snaps back into normal space. My friends are still panting and exhausted when we reach the top floor. It should be mid-afternoon, but the purple light of dusk shines through the windows when we arrive at the second floor.

I glanced out the window at the street outside. It should be bustling with the after-work rush, but it's almost entirely empty. A gray colt passes by outside. I don't know why, but it occurs to me to count our group again, to make sure we're all here.

No one is missing. We're all crammed into that hallway. I start to miss the generous space of the house below. The floor seems unusually hollow and the sound of us shuffling and clomping across the corridor fills it with a dull, distant rumbling.

I can't understand why Glimmer didn't describe these rooms at length. The first door on the right leads to a small bedroom, practically a loft. A bed just big enough for a young pony occupies an indent in the wall. There's a mobile above with the various symbols and marks of Celestia and Luna. There's a bookshelf, but it's unfortunately devoid of any books. It's a bit difficult to measure the room because of the cubby the bed is in, but we guess it's roughly ten by fifteen feet.

The second door on the right leads to another bedroom. So far, these seem more like family rooms than ones set aside for guests. There's not much left to look at in this one, though being in there put Applejack in a melancholy mood.

There's a third door after this one, and the room is much larger. Unlike the others it's immaculately clean. A single lamp on the far wall lights the room with remarkable ease. There's a second piano in the corner and a collection of books on musical theory and collections of old folk songs.

There's a series of notes painted on the walls. Fluttershy starts humming along. Sometimes I forget that she has classical training. Something about the aria is off, though, and when she's done, she looks like she wants to cry. Rainbow Dash wraps a wing over her and walks her out. She asks to leave. I tell her that they can, but I need to finish the investigation. We're almost done. Just one more room. The master bedroom.


It's empty. Identical to Glimmer's report, down to the dimensions. This window shows the afternoon sun and the townhouse next door. There's no magic. Nothing more to record. I'm not sure what else to add to this manuscript. The mysteries of the house seem impenetrable, but the original author was onto something. This place is potentially dangerous. Right now I'm just glad that we're able to leave. We file out one by one.

When I reach the edge of the stairs, I just have to look back. I have to look at the end of the hallway and at the end of it I see a single closet door. I know it wasn't there before.

I'm sorry. I have to see what's inside. I have to know.


XII

Everyone finally breaks down and begs me to leave. Even the guards seem anxious to get back to the palace. I laugh and tell them it's just a closet. All it'll take is just a peek, and we can leave. I put a hoof on the door.

It's cold to the touch and I recoil. Rainbow Dash moves towards me, and I know she's about to drag me off, so I fight my better instincts and open the door.

Inside is an empty closet, four feet wide and two feet deep. We laugh a little at our foolishness.

Then I notice that there's another door at the back of this closet, almost identical to the first.

As I step in, I feel a chill come over me. I open the second door.

Inside is another closet, just as wide but twice as deep. Unlike any other room in the house, there's no magical light. No magical heat. Before Rainbow can intervene, I open the second door.

It's colder inside. Now the length is eight feet. The fourth is sixteen. The fifth is thirty-two. The space this closet is occupying is impossible. It would have run into an adjacent house by now, but another door waits in front of me.

Rainbow Dash and now Applejack grab me by either side. They tell me I have to go back. They tell me it's dangerous. I say, I know.

But I have to do this. For Celestia. She wouldn't send me here if she didn't know that I would be okay. I want to believe it, but I'm not sure if Celestia understood what she was sending us into. It's enough to make them let me go, though. I open another door and the distance doesn't double. It's another thirty-some feet to the end.

The truth is, I just have to know what's on the other side. It's almost as if it's got a tether in my heart and it's pulling me closer, and I can't bear the thought of turning away.


I light my horn with magic and throw open another door. And then another. They open ahead of me like parting leaves and I begin to gallop into the increasing darkness. Rainbow Dash and Applejack don't pursue me. I can hear them protesting and calling for me, but they're afraid. I'm afraid, too, but I keep going. Now the doors are getting closer together until the space between them is only mere inches. The doors are getting bigger, heavier. Some are even locked. I tear right through them with my magic and continue onward.

It has to be at least a hundred doors later. I swing the next one open and inside I don't find another closet but instead a room completely engulfed in blackness. I look back over my shoulder and I can see Applejack and Rainbow Dash as figures in the distance. The rest of the ponies are further beyond them, barely visible in the telescoping light of the house.

I call out and tell them I've found the end, and that I won't go out of sight.

In spite of being chilly as a winter's night, the room is inviting. I step inside and try to look around. All I can glimpse are the cracks and knots in the old wooden walls. The rest is concealed in shadow. I step further in and begin to recognize the dimensions. They're about identical to the master bedroom in the house proper. The window is exactly where I expect it to be.

The covers are drawn over the bed and I notice a lump on top of it. I draw closer, holding my breath. I move my hooves as quietly as possible, little more than a whisper of air moving in the room.

It's them.

The ponies from the painting. They lay in bed together. It doesn't seem like they are breathing, but there is no decay on either of them. They can't possibly be dead. They look so peaceful together, so happy. She lays on her forelegs with one wing draped over him, enveloping him entirely.

I had to double-check my vision. A wing, and a horn. The mare is an alicorn. As soon as the thought enters my head, her eyes snap open. I stand still and hold my breath. She just stares at me without expression, as if demanding the answer to an unfathomable question.

I don't think. I bolt back to the door, but I know it's too late. Before I even move, I can hear the doors slamming shut. The sound of Rainbow Dash and Applejack screaming and pounding at them grows fainter and fainter as each tiny space closes, and each one seems to spring away from the other as if the house expanded at impossible speeds.

The window. It's my only hope.


I turn back around and every lamp in the room flares on at once, flooding it with the light of day. My eyes burn, but I look. Celestia, why do I look? Why do I have to see the shapes of them, almost living, almost like dolls? I only catch a glimpse. But I knew they were there from the moment I stepped in the room. Dozens of them. Celestia, I...

The mare's magic is overtaking me. I rush to the glass and yank the pane up. I can feel her eyes on me and her grip on my mind becoming tighter as I move to escape. But there is no escape. I have one hoof over the sill when I see what lays outside.

Not Canterlot, but a painted landscape of Canterlot stretches before. It's beautiful, if somber. Ancient houses and timeless parapets of Castle Canterlot. Dark blues and lush white pastels paint the way from Mulberry Lane up to the main road. And in the night sky, golds and whites fill the landscape, lighting it up with the moon and stars. But there were no ponies to bask in its glow.

My mind drifts back towards the room and starts to numb under the warm sensation filling my chest. A wing comes gently across the back of my neck and a feather moves to hold me, and I understand. She is the one who called me here.

I call her mother. The shapes in the room shift. I am taken.

All this but for the moon, the simple blessing of the moon in that painting of the sky, casting its light through the window and onto the floor. Darkness swirls beneath me and I feel hooves grasping at my own from below, and they pull with all their might. My stomach wrenches and a dizziness overtakes me before I'm pulled through the image of the moon itself and I black out.


XIII

Were it not for Princess Luna, I would not be here to write these lines. She sensed my peril through the moon. Yes, it was a painting of a moon. But it was also magic, and it tapped into a magic that belonged to her. With that she reached me. With that she pulled me free.

When I come to, I'm in Luna's chambers. My friends are all around me and are crying when I wake up. I start to cry, too. I embrace each of them and promise I'll never go away again.

I know you asked me to finish this report. I won't let them see it. But I don't want to be alone, either. Luna is watching over me constantly while I recount what I can remember. How can I forget? It's seared into my brain. The mare moved. The stallion never did. The others... I...

It's done. I've fulfilled your request to the best of my abilities. I've made as many connections as I can. I've reported everything I saw and understand. I don't understand. But I do agree with Glimmer.

The house should be destroyed before it takes another pony. And now that I've fulfilled your request, I must make my own. It's a selfish request. And you may never forgive me. But I'm begging you. Though I'm here, I can still feel her. I can still see that house living in my mind and will never truly escape it.

Erase my memory. Erase any trace that I've ever been there and never speak of it again. Free me of this burden. I will do anything you ever ask. Please just grant me this one mercy.

Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle


XIV

I close the cover of the report and stare at it for minutes. Celestia is still there with me, waiting for an answer.

“Did it work?” I ask. “Twilight... is she...”

“Twilight is alright,” says Celestia, hanging her head. “I'll never forgive myself for what I put her through. But she's safe, and she sleeps at ease. Her life goes on.”

I push the book away from me. “Then maybe that's the answer,” I say. “Erase the memory of that house from me. You can do that, right?”

“Yes...” says Celestia, hesitating. “But it's painful and invasive. Meddling with a pony's mind is something one should never do.”

My eyes are still wet with tears. “It may be the only way,” I say. “Please, please! I don't want to go there. I don't want to see that place again. Cast a spell so that I don't even know it exists. Take it away from me like you took it from Twilight. That has to be the way.”

She hugs me tight. I can't help but wonder if she had me read the whole account so that I would ask her for that. So I could ask her for the act that she could never offer on her own. I ask, and she grants me that wish. I feel the gentle caress of magic, and then everything begins to slip away. The book. The castle. The house on Mulberry Lane. Every last detail and sensation slips away from me and I feel a cool emptiness filling the space it leaves behind.

XV

I race home with my book bag tugged against my flanks. The whole day is a bit of a blur, but I'm just happy to be out of classes and going home. My professor loaded me down with homework full of theory and classical exercises, but I'm sure that I'll be able to finish it and still have time to go play with Holly afterward.

My mother opens the door when I scoot up onto the doorstep and smiles at me. She brushes me inside with a wing.

“Welcome home, dear,” she says. “How was school?”

“Stardust is a real slave driver,” I say, tossing my bag onto the floor. She scolds me with a tap of her wing and then hangs it up by the mantle. “I have to be able to play all the classic scales by the end of the weekend. Can you believe it?”

She laughs and nudges me along. “He's just pushing you because he knows you're full of potential,” she says. “Every day I can't be more proud of you.”

I blush and hurry onwards, hoping to hide my flushed cheeks by stuffing my face with bread. My siblings won't let me live it down, but I can't complain. Home is always lively and full of joy. Hot meals, a cozy bed and a room of my own, and the full night run of Canterlot at my doorstep. I have the best parents in the world. The only ponies they love more than us are each other.

The rest practically flies by. I graduate top of my class. I get a position in the Royal Canterlot Orchestra, and even go so far as to assist in the teaching of magic fundamentals. Holly and I eventually settle down together. When I first came home that day, I was filled with a puzzling sense of loss, like something important had been stolen from me. But the longer time goes on, the more I settle into a normal rhythm. It's so full of life and music, and love, and I couldn't be happier.

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