Descent Into Shadows

by Golden Hoof

First published

Struggling with amnesia, a colt struggles to rediscover his identity in a dangerous world...

Everypony has a secret; a life-defining aspect that they'll carry with them to their grave. If only I could forget mine...

Descent

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In the far northern reaches of Equestria, on the lonely trail of Nevermore, a carriage made its way slowly through the mountain pass to the end of its long and grueling journey. Its driver, a young stallion named Axle, sighed as he eased the cart to a creaky halt at the very end of the gravely pass, where the road met the forest. He paused for a moment, glancing at the surroundings before turning back to the carriage. "Hey," he shouted to his lone passenger. "We're here, end of Nevermore, just like ya asked." Axle listened carefully over the sound of the growing winds for an answer, but none came. "Hey!" he called again, louder this time. "Did ya hear me? End of the line partner, time to haul it!" Still, there was no response. Swearing beneath his breath, the stallion freed himself from the cart's harness, letting it slam heavily in the gravel. He turned, poking his head over the edge, spying his passenger fast asleep.

"Aw Celestia..." He sighed heavily. Even over the sound of the growing gale, he could hear the earth pony's deep, rhythmic snores. This stranger was quite the unusual pony: first he shows up in town, screaming out nonsense, begging for somepony to take him up to Haystack before it was too late, and then he falls asleep when he gets there. The only plus side about all this was that the wacko paid in full up front and then some. In fact, it was far greater than Axle's usual twenty bit toll; more around the range of five hundred, all wrapped up neatly in a worn cloth bag. Anypony throwing around that kind of money was probably not the kind you'd want to disappoint, so Axle figured he'd wait around till he woke up. "Yer lucky you paid so much, or we'd be half-way back to town by now yah sleepy bastard..." he thought, disappointedly lowering himself to the ground.

A cold gust of wind suddenly swept across him, chilling him down to the bone. The stallion shivered, huddling close to his cart as he listened to the leaves rustle all around him. He gazed up at the dark clouds gathering overhead as they swirled around the looming peak of Haystack Mountain, just a few minutes' walk away. He shuddered, not from the cold, but the presence of the mountain itself. Tales of the mountain ranging from murder, to monsters, to dark magic were commonly told in the town of Forget just a few miles away. Most ponies didn't believe in such nonsense, and often dismissed them as simple campfire tales.

Axle himself wasn't a believer himself... but now, alone, beneath the dark clouds of a gathering storm, standing in the shadow of the rocky behemoth, his mind couldn't help but paint pictures of somepony happening across his cold, frozen corpse somewhere in the surrounding woods. Cause of death: unknown, but most likely very, very painful.

He shook his head, trying to scare off the deadly thoughts when a new noise caught his attention. His eyes jumped open, scanning the surrounding tree-line for the source. He didn't find monsters, murderers, or dark wizards, but he did spy something he hadn't seen before. A few meters away, just at the edge of the forest was modest, wooden frame, nearly invisible behind the branches that dipped down close to the forest floor. From it, was suspended a wooden sign, just barely illegible from his position. Axle squinted in desperation, trying to read the faded words from a distance, the fear of leaving the safety of his cart holding him in place. Another gust of wind passed over him, the sign swinging temptingly just out of reach. The stallion juggled his feelings of curiosity and fear as they continued to grow out of control. Those familiar stories from back home resurfaced and began flooding his mind, every detail of the woods seeming to jump out at him. He was caught in a battle of emotions, until finally his curiosity emerged victorious.

He took a tedious step away from the carriage, eyes darting back and forth across the trees. "Ok..." he thought. nervously. "Just a quick look, then it's right on back to the cart... Just a quick look." The stallion took in a deep breath, taking another step away from the saftey of his vehicle when suddenly, a brilliant flash of lightning arced across the sky, followed by a loud roar of thunder that rocked the gravel beneath his hooves. He shrieked, bolting across the clearing, spraying gravel behind him with each hoovestep. He hugged up against the closest tree, staring back at his vehicle. "Well," he panted, pushing himself from the trunk. "At least you made it this far." Axle scanned the tree line, looking for the mysterious sign which he had just risked his life to see, finding it exactly where it had been before.

Navigating through the thicket, he slowly made his way over to the sign. Looking over it up close, he could see that it was quite old. A majority of the frame had rotted away. What was left had decayed horribly, or had been overgrown by the surrounding plant-life. It supported a once ornate sign by a single, rustic chain. There had been another at one point, but it had broken away, leaving the wooden message clinging barely above the ground. "Alright," the stallion began, finding comfort in the sound of his own voice. "You came here all this way to see this thing... aren't ya gonna bother reading what it has to say?" He stopped for a moment. All this time he so desperately wanted to get here, he never gave any thought as to what it might say. Well, it had to be there for some reason; somepony wouldn't just put it out here without one now would they?

"Well... only one way to find out..." He bent forward, squinting as he tried to make out the old letters carved into the wood. Through all the weather and rot, he could just barely read the words:

"Memory Lane"

The words leapt from the tip of his tongue, an arctic chill running up his spine. Axle knew this place; he knew where he was. The stories and ponytales he had heard were true, and he was now caught in the middle of it. He stumbled back, pushing himself away from the evil when he bumped up against something. His eyes shot up in horror, expecting the monster that would take his life to be standing above him, claws raised, ready to strike down. Instead, his terrified gaze was met with the familiar cloaked figure of his passenger.

"So," The stallion began. "I'm not the only one who remembers this place."

Axle pushed himself up, glaring at his passenger. "You never told me we were coming here." he hissed.

"Why should I have? So you could reject me like all the others?" the hooded stallion retorted.

"You're darn right I would've."

"That's pathetic." He shoved past Axle, looking over the rotten frame. "So you would rather believe in your silly superstitions and ponytales than help a pony in need?"

"If, by 'help', you mean carry them up the mountains to the site of the Needle Forest disappearances; then yeah, I'll believe."

"Is that what you country bumpkins call it now? I swear, it's getting more attention than it deserves..."

"What'd you have us call it you ignorant prick?" he shouted angrily. "All we know, is that ponies go down Memory Lane, into Needle forest, and they don't come out. They die out there, good sir, and I ain't gonna be a part of the mass that has already been taken."

The stallion didn't respond. He just chuckled, nudging the sign with his hoof. "How can you be so sure that they died?"

"Well, uh..." A moment of uncertainty crossed Axle's mind. "There was this one story I heard..."

"Oh yes," the passenger interrupted. "Please tell me more of these stories that your 'friends' wove for you!"

Axle snorted, glaring at the stallion's back. "They found a mare, once."

"Oh really? Please continue."

"Yeah, she came crawlin' out of the woods, all cut up and battered. She died before anypony could help heal her up."

"And this proves anything how?"

"It's what she said before she died that matters." he continued, a light growing in his eyes. "Right as she was leavin them, that mare said one word. One final thing that sums up the whole ordeal."

"What did she say?"

"Hourglass."

There was a long pause. Only the squeaking chain and the sound of the brewing storm kept them company. After what seemed an eternity, the stallion finally spoke. "Look..." he began in a voice as cool as the rushing wind. "I'm going to assume, judging by your lack of knowledge, that you're not from around here like the others." He stopped the sign in place, holding it against the wind. "You came from the south, maybe from Ponyville, or Canterlot, or some other cutesy, idyllic, town down under the watchful eyes of the princess; naive in every sense of the word."

"What are you sayin?"

"You are almost pre-programmed to believe that everypony is pure of heart, generous, with good intent... ideals that you've been taught time and time again, and grown to know and love." A clap of thunder roared overhead, shrouding the forests in a bright, white light. Axle began to step back, fear building up in the pit of his stomach. "That stallion is real; not quite the monster that you think you think he is, however... he is a pony, like you and I. He just has a set of certain... insidious.... goals."

"I-I don't understand..." Axle stuttered, nearly tripping over a fallen branch as he backed away.

"I only noticed one flaw in your story, Axle. This flaw, however, makes your whole story one big, twisted up lie." The stallion finished, turning to face the driver, his dark blue eyes glowing ominously beneath the shadows of his hood.

"What... What's that?" Axle said, at the end of his wits.

"Nopony escapes Hourglass alive."

That was it; he couldn't stand this any longer. Axle bolted, leaping to his cart. Slipping into his harness, he charged full blast back down the trail, spraying gravel up in his wake.

The stallion watched as the driver disappeared off into the distance. "Well, that was easier than I thought." He thought. He turned back to read the words again, to remind himself that he wasn't in a dream. "But now... the real challenge begins." The stallion looked up, through the canopy of the trees, at Haystack mountain. Just barely visible was the stone path, carved out of the very stone itself. It stretched up, high above the trees and into the clouds, where it seemingly vanished. Up there, beyond the horizon. That was his destination; the end of his thousand-mile journey. And when he finally arrived, he would take that last step without hesitation, and end these long years of suffering for good.

He checked his bag and, with little hesitation, started down the dark path towards the stairway to the clouds to his destination:

Time manor.


Up near the peak of Mount Haystack, the storm raged on violently. As lightning streaked across the sky, the shell of Time Manor was briefly illuminated, clinging desperately to the side of Haystack. It waged a long and tedious war with the elements of nature; one that it knew it was losing. With each gust of wind, another layer would peel away from the stone bricks of its narrow spires, and slowly tear it apart at the seams. And yet, even as the storm raged across its surface, it stood quietly as it always had; a testament to a better time, now long forgotten.

Against the backdrop of the storm, at the very top of the stairs that led up to the broken gates of the mansion, a lone figure emerged. Drenched head to hoof, he rushed up to the rotten doors, and quietly slipped though the gates, into the heart of the broken manor. Now within the safety of the castle walls, he slipped off his hood, gazing around the broken hall. The air was thick with rot and decay; pillars that had once lined the walls now laid strewn across the foyer floor; much of the furniture had been broken a long time ago, the pieces now shrouded in a thick veil of webs. Even with the mess, he couldn't help but see past all the extremities and see the place for what it once was.

He took a nervous step forward into the center of the hall. He brushed against of the fallen pillars in a dream-like state, remembering days gone by, when a noise overhead caught his attention. A door flew open up above on the balcony. From the dark entrance, a figure stepped out, looking down at him in surprise. It was a unicorn, with worn, dark brown fur and a faded old suit. It was Hourglass.

The two locked eyes for a moment, neither one choosing to say a word. Hourglass was the one to break the silence.

"Why are you here?" he began, a bit more surprised than the stallion expected.

"To settle old debts," the stallion replied. "And bring some closure to my life."

"... Come, we shall talk." He ushered him up, leaving through a door on the far left side of the room. The stallion followed his host down a long, empty hallway to a small office. A fire had already been started in the fireplace, dimly lighting the room in an warm red glow that cast long shadows along the bookshelves lining the walls. Hourglass grabbed an iron poker with his magic, stoking the fire as he turned to face the stallion. "So," he said, staring at him with a sunken gaze. "I could have sworn you said you would never face me again."

"I remember that promise all too well, and yet, here I am."

"Yes... you are. And despite all my predictions, none of this is anything I foresaw." Hourglass said, slamming the poker back in with the rest of the iron tools. "My first guess would be vengeance, but I had every right to cast you out, did I not?" He smiled, the embers reflecting in his deep red eyes. "No, you're here for reasons beyond that, aren't you? Considering you have now defied my expectations twice, why don't you simply state your reasons yourself before I cut you down where you stand?"

"I come to you," the stallion said, lowering his head. "In hopes that you will forgive me... In hopes that you will let me forget..."

"Ah, so you seek ignorance?" He laughed. "No amount of magic can erase the damage that has been done to you!"

"Not magic... You and I both know what I'm talking about..."

"Not only do you seek my resources, but you wish forgiveness? Hah! I admire the fact that you have, at the very least, grown sensible in your exile; but what makes you think that I will waste such a rare potion on you?"

"Have I not suffered enough?" He muttered, clenching his teeth. "Please... just put me out of my misery, Hourglass."

"Such is the heavy price of betrayal... Have you learned nothing from this?" the unicorn spoke, his voice flecked with spite. "If not, then perhaps you have failed yet again. This comes at no big surprise however, you always were a disappointment."

"I would rather die than spend another second with this burden you have shouldered me with." the cloaked stallion begged.

"Perhaps you should," Hourglass interrupted, turning his back to the stallion. "You would save me quite a bit of time and effort by doing so, as well as solve your problem at the same time."

"I... want to..."

This answer seemed to catch Hourglass by surprise. He froze, turning back with a curious look in his eyes. "So you have reached the end of your trail? You wish for me to... end you? You're even more pathetic than I thought."

"Only if I you allow me to forget first... everything."

"What does it matter? The damage has been done-"

"I don't want to die knowing what I've done!" he shouted. A moment of silenced passed over the room, the fire casting long shadows over the wall.

"Perhaps...." Hourglass said. "What is it that you wish to forget, specifically?"

"My life... my service... everything."

"Everything? Such a broad, unappealing term... Please try to be more specific in your request."

"You know what I am talking about... everything... with you."

There was a long pause, the silence drowned out by the sound of the storm battering against the window. "Ah... Ignorance is bliss, I suppose." Hourglass began, staring through the glass. "Even..?

"Yes, especially."

"Hrm... to create such a hole in the mind... intriguing, but impossible. Even my potions could not create such a lapse in memory... I'm afraid those memories have been imprinted onto you permanently."

"There has to be a way." he begged.

"I'm afraid there isn't. The memories and events you experienced are too powerful, too life defining that they have become a part of who you are."

"So it's impossible?"

"Hrm..." He looked over to a desk across the room. "Not necessarily..." From the desk across the room, he removed a small, black vial. He levitated it before him ominously, inspecting it closely. "I was saving this for myself, but with you out of the way it will no longer be necessary."

"What is it?"

"Something I discovered a long time ago; liquid amnesia." he sent the potion over, keeping it at eye level. "Drink this, I promise you, and your entire life up to this point will be nothing more than a distant nightmare."

"How do I know that you aren't lying to me? How do I know this won't just kill me outright?"

"You don't." the unicorn stated bluntly. "But you don't have much of a choice: You either drink and I give you a peaceful, ignorant death; or refuse, and watch as I break every bone in your body, knowing you brought this upon yourself."

The stallion paused, staring down at the vial. After a moment of contemplation, he sighed and lifted up his hood, staring back at Hourglass. "I drink this," he began, stepping forward. "Only with your promise to finally give up on the path you have chosen."

"Are you proposing an end to my work? All of my research? You surprise me yet again, I never took you for one to think ahead... any reason why?"

"It brings me some peace of mind knowing that there was at least one pony that I could save, even after everything I done."

"But if you forget me and your actions, then what reason would I have to stop? In fact, why would I stop to begin with, after coming so far? We both know the strives and sacrifices I have made, and now you are saying I should simply 'give up'?"

"You have a solid point; I guess it's really all up to you after this... but if you have any goodness left in that crumpled heart of yours, you'll do as I ask."

"I suppose there always is that slim chance... but there will always be more time for contemplation, now is the time for action."

"Right.. I suppose this is goodbye then..."

"And good riddance..." Hourglass said, releasing his magical grip on the vial. It fell gently to the floor, beckoning the stallion. "I wish you farewell on your journey into the abyss, traitor."

"Hrmp... That coming from you..." the stallion muttered, taking the vial in his hooves. He yanked the cork out, watching as the black liquid splashed around inside of it. "Well... bottoms up." He tilted it up his mouth, letting the mixture flow down his throat. It felt as though his insides had suddenly knotted up inside of him. A cold snap starting from his hooves ran up his body to the tip of his mane, followed by a blast of searing heat that left his skin tingling. He collapsed to the floor, writhing in pain. "W-what is going on?" Over the growing pain, he heard a chuckle coming from the now shadowed figure across the room. "Hourglass... w-what have you done to me you bastard?!"

"And so the anger resurfaces..." Hourglass said, carefully setting the vial aside. "I must admit, it was difficult to sense through your well thought out facade, but I could always sense that barely restrained fury bubbling just beneath the surface, waiting to explode at any given moment. You have become quite devious with age."

"I-I'll kill you!"

"Now now, no need to make empty threats; I still have a few questions for you myself, the first of which being why you appear so surprised? I gave you what you asked for, yet its as though you had something else in mind... I don't suppose that dagger you have hidden in your pack is the answer? "

"What... but, how could you possibly know..." He stopped, a spike of pain shooting through his stomach.

"No matter how impressive you may become, however many strides you make in your life, you will always be nothing more than a failure in my eyes; a mistake made by child, who must be corrected by a god."

Through the almost blinding pain, he looked up his foe. "What has happened to you?"

Hourglass paused, staring down into the stallion's eyes, smirking as the color slowly faded away leaving them dark gray. "I always found your mind to be quite fascinating. Despite your more blatant flaws, it appears surprisingly complex... It's built almost like a tomb; the secrets buried just beneath the surface, ready to be unearthed by an intrepid explorer. If only you were adept enough to keep them that way."

"When did you come to this? Why did I ever think you could be saved..."

"That is of no concern to you. But in the end, I will uphold my end of the bargain; you will die, but not until after you've seen from a new perspective the monster you always were."

"You monster..." He groaned in pain, the potion already tugging at his distant memories. His location and the world around him became a haze.

"You say that now, but in the end, you will be begging me to kill you." Hourglass stepped past him, opening the office door. He stopped, looking back one last time. "Its a true shame things didn't go as you had planned. But... everything else you've tried has failed anyway, so I suppose it does not matter anymore."

"Celestia damn you..."

"Hrmp, even with your last breath you curse my name. There is nothing left for me here." He stepped for the door, preparing to close it behind him.

"P-please..." the stallion struggled, turning himself around. "Don't... leave me here... alone..."

Hourglass stopped, looking back. "In my trials, some of the first memories to be forgotten were of those close to the subject; old friends, relatives, loved ones... Judging from the look in your eyes, you don't even remember my name anymore... as it should be. Again, I wish you good luck on your journey, however long it may be. I look forward to seeing you again soon."

The last thing he heard was the door slam shut. The fire just out of reach soon simmered down to an ember as the growing darkness engulfed him... and then he was gone.


Don't slip off... need to remember... start with names.

Your name... Your name is... It starts with... Damn it...

Y-you have to stop... him... there isn't much time...

But who is he? What does he want?

No no no no on! You have to remember! It's too important!

Need to... think straight... can't... concentrate...

Somepony... please help me... I don't want to die...

I am... I am...

...

Dark Prelude

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I opened my eyes to a roaring fire. Embers spit from the fireplace, landing but a few inches from my face, though I didn’t mind the extra heat; my entire body felt cold and numb. I tried pushing myself to my hooves, but crippling pain in my head kept me glued to the floor. Slowly, I gathered my strength and pushed myself up, finding balance against the stone walls as I tried to warm myself. I sighed as the heat rolled across my body, helping clear the pain that clouded my mind.

"What in the name of Celestia is going on here?" I thought as I glanced around the shadowed room, shutting my eyes. "Alright... just calm down and think... what's the last thing that you remember..." Suddenly, a sharp pain ripped through my head. My legs buckled beneath me, and I slid down the wall, paralyzed. As I stared blankly off into the shadows, a pair of bright red eyes flashed in the dark before me, fading as quickly as they appeared. After what seemed like an eternity, I pushed myself back up the wall to my hooves, though I could still feel echoes of the pain, and see those red eyes staring accusingly at me from the dark.

"What the hay was that?!" I said aloud, my head still throbbing. Slowly, the pain subsided, and I tried again. This time instead of pain, there was nothing. "You have to remember something... do you even know your own name?" I grasped at air, searching for something; some fragment of whoever I was. Nothing. "What's happened to me?" I stared closer at the room around me, trying to pick shapes out of the darkness. "Well if you can't remember, might as well have a look around. At least check your cutie mark." I turned wearily to check the mark that determined my talent. Instead of seeing something familiar like a wrench or a book, there was a strange symbol. I didn't recognize it from anywhere, though something did seem familiar about it. I couldn't put my hoof on it.

“OK… just try to remain calm,” I said, finding comfort in the sound of my own voice. “Just... just look around, see what you can find.” From my orb of light by the fire, I stared into the darkness around letting my eyes adjust. I was in what appeared to have once been someone’s office, worn bookshelves covered in layers of thick cobwebs lined the walls, a small solitary desk coated in a thick layer of dust sat across from the fireplace. There was a window a few meters away from where I stood. "I bet I could get a good look from there." Pushing myself away from the wall. As I searched for balance, my head began to pound furiously. I rubbed it uneasily, groaning as the pain grew with each step I took. Finally at the window, I pulled away the curtains, looking out into a plain of black emptiness. Just outside of the glass, I could wind rushing by, raindrops pattering against the glass.

Suddenly, there was a burst of light, striking down from the clouds to the ground, much farther down than I could have guessed. An entire valley seemingly miles below was illuminated; tiny shadows of trees stretching off in the distance across a rugged landscape. I jumped back, knocking into the desk. I lost my balance and went hurling to the floor. As I groaned from the carpet, something fell from the desk and beside my head. I glanced over and spotted a small pack with a note attached. I rolled myself over, checking the faded paper.

If you’re reading this, I need your help. My name is... Somepony had marked out the next few words. Please find your way to the foyer. I will be waiting there for you. Time is of the essence, so you must hurry. I think there is someone watching me.

I read it again, looking for any other, perhaps hidden messages, flipping around to check the back. It was blank. "Well that's helpful... but I suppose something is better than nothing..."I set the note aside then dug into the knapsack. Flipping it open, I glanced inside. A thin notebook and a dagger lay down inside the cramped space. I pulled out the book first, checking it's cover. A strange symbol adorned it, the same as my cuite mark. I unlocked it with ease, flipping it to the first, and only page. Two words had been cut deep into the worn paper. Through the smudged ink, I could make out one phrase:

Kill Hourglass

The knife suddenly appeared in new light. I pulled my hand away in fear, thoughts rushing through my head. "Am I a murderer?" The thought of having killed someone I didn’t even remember horrified me. It was an act done by someone who I no longer was; something that could never be washed away. I looked more closely at the blade. It didn’t appear stained from what I could tell. Rather, it looked as clean as the day it had been forged. Steel however, unlike our actions, could be cleaned. Blood could be washed away, acts could be undone. Nervously, I reached out and grabbed the handle, lifting it closer. It was much heavier than I would have expected, the weight felt unfamiliar.

Even though I lost all memory of my previous self, every operation memory seemed intact. If I had used the dagger before, it would have felt more comfortable in my hands. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I could breathe a sigh of relief. "Ok, so you haven’t killed anyone… yet. Maybe someone was able to stop you before you went through with it." While I had solved the murder mystery, it still didn’t explain why I couldn’t remember anything. I glanced down at the crumpled up note. Perhaps you could answer some of my questions…

I looked down at the blade one last time then stuffed it back in the pack with the book, slinging the whole thing over my shoulders. I headed for the only door available, stopping just before it. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the other side, but it probably wasn’t much different from what I had found in this tiny shelter of mine. I turned back to glance one last time around the sanctuary. The fire was on its last leg, flickering gently against the dark backdrop of the room. It just a short while, it would extinguish, and everything would be just as it was before I arrived, whenever that was.

I turned, and pushed the door open. It slowly creaked ajar, seeming to suck what little light remained within the office into the abyss behind it. It was a hallway, stretching off into oblivion in two directions. Both seemed equally appealing. I checked both ways, sighing. I suppose if one way turns out to be a dead end, you could always come back... I glanced down the halls again, still indecisive. "For Celestia's sake it doesn't matter which way you go, just get going!" I took in a deep breath of air, and charged down the right tunnel.

I edged down the hallway to Celestia only knew where. Though my eyes had long adjusted to the blackness, I still couldn’t see a foot in front of me. Squinting didn’t help, and that noise I had earlier kept replaying over and over again in my head. I kept looking back, expecting to see something, not that I ever saw anything. The thing could have been following two steps behind me and I wouldn’t give it a second glance. The whole process repeated for what seemed like hours: take a few steps forward, then look back, then take a few more steps forward, then look back again. I stopped somewhere in between step two and three. "This is getting nowhere… you were better off in that office than trekking around this damn place in the dark." Suddenly I was dragged from my thoughts by a noise off in the dark behind me; a light shuffling as something, or somepony dragged their feet along the wooden floor.

I froze, listening closely. “Hello? Who’s there?” I called out instinctively. I gave myself a mental slap across the face the moment I heard the words leave my lips. When I listened again, the sound was gone. I waited for it to pop back, but it never did. Fear in my heart, I eased myself back in the opposite direction continued my tedious path. A few steps later and the sound returned, only now it was louder, and faster. This time, I didn’t stop. I picked up the pace, skipping steps two and four, starting into a light jog. The thing that followed me seemed to sense this, and hurried to match my speed.

I charged blindly through the dark, pushing off corners in the hall as I slammed against them. I could hear it catching up; the heavy, damp breaths that smelled of death and decay; every powerful stomp as it slammed one of its feet to the wooden floor. "It’s not going to get you." I tried to reassure myself. "Just gotta keep running... find the exit..." The further I ran though, the more I began to lose hope. I was already running out of breath, and it seemed to be just getting started. I slipped around what I thought was to be my last corner when I saw it; a door at the very end of the unending tunnel that glowed at its edges. The almost heavenly light gave me new strength, and I sprinted as fast as I could towards the illumination. I exploded through the entrance, flipping around to shut the door.

There was a brief moment, where time seemed to freeze, and I stood mere feet from the thing that had been chasing me. I stared up at its white, beady eyes, and it stared back at me. I looked down as it raised an arm out towards me, long, jagged claws crudely stitched to its salmon colored flesh jutting from the shadows. I kicked the door shut just before it could reach me, stumbling back as the blade-like appendage shot through the wood. The creature let loose a hellish growl from behind the door and yanked its arm back, taking a sizable chunk of the door with it. And then... silence… I held my breath, gazing through the new opening into the darkness beyond, waiting for those soulless eyes to stare back at through, but nothing came. I waited a bit longer; still quiet.

Picking myself up, I stepped over to the door. There was a bulge in the wood from where something heavy had struck the other side; cracks ran up and down the frame. If that thing had just struck it a few more times, it probably would have come crashing on through. Why had it stopped? I turned to look what room I had entered. I stared out over a massive hall, the ceiling rising up seemingly forever. Pillars that had once helped support the roof had since collapsed, littering the floor with debris. Water from the storm outside dripped down from holes in the roof.

As I gazed across the wasteland around me, something caught my eye far across the room; a lone figure standing beside one of the collapsed pillars. I wanted to shout for help, maybe get a second opinion on what the hell was going on, but something stopped me. I shut my mouth, and then, I was staring into his eyes; two red dots gleaming against the dark backdrop of the walls. I felt my blood freeze as a twisted smile crept across his face, just before he vanished in a flash of light.

I wasn’t sure what I felt then. Perhaps it was utter terror. Maybe curiosity. Whatever it was, something drew me over to where the stranger once stood. As I crept through the field of broken stone and wood, that feeling grew and grew in the pit of my stomach. By the time I stumbled over the last pillar, I thought I was going to be sick. I’m not sure what I expected to find there. Maybe some clue as to whom I saw, or maybe where they had disappeared to. But I found nothing; just an empty space where the figure had once stood. I scoured around, turning over debris, looking for something, just one clue.

I didn’t find anything about who was standing there, but I did find something else. As I turned over what was to be my last stone from the rubble, I heard a noise, coming from somewhere beyond the downed pillar. I clambered over the pillar, dropping down on the other side when I spotted her. She lay curled up, still and lifeless against the stone, wrapped in a light brown shroud. For a moment, I sat there, unsure of what to do with myself. I pulled out the note from earlier, reading over it again. "Perhaps you are my anonymous writer…"

Kneeling down, I checked her pulse. Her skin was as cold as ice, but I could feel the steady beat of blood pumping in her veins. She was alive, for the most part. I reached out and gently shook her. “Um… are you ok?” I said nervously. No response. I tried again, harder this time. “Hey, wake up!” I said, more forcefully this time. There was still no answer. I readied for one final attempt when she suddenly shot awake in a gasp for breath.

“W-what’s going on?!” the unicorn asked, quickly scanning around. “Where am I?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said offering a timid, but friendly smile. Her cold gaze landed on me, melting in a look of fear.

“Who are you?”

“I was just about to ask you the same question."

She sighed, resting her head in her hooves. “How long have I been out for?”

“I don’t know I just wandered here a few minutes ago.”

“Great...” she said, pushing herself to her hooves.

“Um... so... what's your name?"

"You can call me Twilight." she said, glancing around.

"Ah, alright. Well, Twilight, not to be rude or anything,” I said, nudging some rocks with my hoof. "but I'm just going to assume this the part where you tell me what the hay is going on around here?"

"Why would I know? You're the one who wandered in on me remember?"

"Yes, but you're the one who wrote the note asking me to come and meet you here."

"What note?"

I pulled it out of the pack, flashing it. "This one."

She took it with her magic, scanning over the paper. "I didn't write this..."

"Then who did? You're the first pony I've seen in this place, and by the looks of things, there hasn't been anypony here in a while."

"Hey, I'm just as clueless as you are!" she said defensively. "Somepony is messing with us. If we just get out of here we can pull ourselves together, and figure out this mess."

"I can see the logic in that... Alright, you lead, I'll follow."

"The doors should be over this way." she said, leaping over the pillar before speeding off across the foyer. "Come on, let's go!"

I followed in pursuit, trailing her across the hall towards a pair of tall, iron doors that stretched far above our heads. As we approached the door, something happened. It was as though the ground began to shift beneath my feet. Suddenly, it was impossible to keep my balance. I stumbled forward and fell to my knees. The mare seemed to be having the same problems I was. By the time we reached the door, we were having trouble crawling.

I stretched out for the gate handle, just barely able to think straight, and grabbed it tight. When I moved to turn it though, the handle wouldn’t budge. I turned and saw her tugging at the iron handles with me. “This area is cursed…" she said, weakly pushing away from the door. "I... I need to bring us back.” A magical energy built up in her horn, and in an instant, we were brought back to the pillar.

“What was that," I asked, my strength flooding back. "Why did you take us back?”

“The doors have been cursed,” she said matter-of-factly. “A powerful one too, it felt like top-tier magic. They're not going to budge.”

“OK then, so how do we get out of here?” I asked.

“I don't think we can. As far as I know those doors are the only way in and out of this place.”

“Great... so we’re trapped here?”

“Yeah... I don’t think I’d ever be able to dispel the barrier, even with all the time in the world.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Well, I suppose we should find a place to rest up. I think I know just the place.” The mare said, quickly scrambling over some rubble on her left. “Come on, this way.

Although I had my doubts, I follow the mare, across the field of broken stone, to a solitary door on the far right side. Above it was a bronze plaque, 'Library'. She opened the door, beckoning me through. "Come on, hurry up." she said just as she passed through. I hesitated; was I afraid again? Of what? Something was telling me to just turn around and find my own way out. I took a deep breath, shoved the feelings aside, and forced my way through the door, ready for whatever new challenges waited before me.

Foreboding

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We passed through the doorway into a dimly lit hallway. The silence that met us was as still and cold as death; I couldn’t even hear the storm raging outside. The mare looked back, edging me on. “We’re almost there,” she said. “It’s just over here.”

Our footsteps echoed around us as we pushed onward, driving ever deeper into the unknown. As we turned the third corner, a moment of uncertainty passed. Slowly, I began to trail further and further behind, my head filled with questions. “Um… Where are we going, exactly?” I asked timidly, struggling to keep up.

“The library,” She said without looking back.

“Why there?” I pressed, still curious.

“It’s probably the safest place we can be right now.”

“Sorry if I’m not entirely convinced.”

“You’re just going to have to trust me,” She said, glaring. “Not that you have much of a choice otherwise.” Before I had a chance to respond, she shot ahead, broadening the gap between us.

No matter how paranoid I was, she was right; I didn’t really have many other options besides going back to die at the hooves of whatever I saw in the doorway. I sighed and picked up the pace. After a few minutes of catching up, the mare finally stopped at the end of the line; a lone door ornately decorated in symbols from a strange, obscure culture. “Here we are,” she said, pulling the latch. “I give you; our sanctuary.”

I stepped through the seemingly ordinary entrance, amazed at what I saw: A massive circular antechamber, bathed in a beautiful golden light coming from dozens of candles that floated over my head. Shelves lined the walls and filled the room before me, each holding hundreds upon thousands of books of every shape and size imaginable. I stumbled forward, barely able to contain myself. The unicorn stepped beside me, gazing around in awe. “Amazing isn’t it?” She said, a gleaming smile of anticipation spread across her face.

“I admit; it’s a bit more than I expected.”

“I had a feeling you’d be impressed. I was just as surprised as you when I found this place. There’s a nice spot over there where we can rest.” She said, disappearing into the maze of shelves. I followed in tow, though I had no difficulty keeping pace this time. Every so often she would stop to grab a few, select books from a shelf. At times she seemed overwhelmed. I didn’t blame her. I even found myself scanning the shelves every so often as we passed by. After a short while, we reached the edge of the library; a small space set aside for private reading with a few chairs and a small end table. She pulled up a seat, laying her impressive collection of books aside as she folded her legs together, staring expectantly at me. “You said you had some questions. So ask away.”

I shook the haze of awe from my head, snapping back to reality. “Oh right, the questions. Ok… I think a good start would be the subject of what the hay is going on around here?”

“You know, I’m not really sure.” Twilight answered blankly. “Everything was perfectly normal until you came along; well, about as ‘normal’ as this place can be.”

“Are you saying I had something to do with this?”

“No, not at all.” She said, calmly setting down her book. “Look, I have as much of a clue on what’s happening as you do. I can’t be sure if you’re involved or not, but I just can’t rule you out as a suspect.”

“So it’s an issue of trust then?”

“We’re not here to debate trust."

I sighed, slumping against the wall. “Alright... next question I suppose. Where are we? How did we get here?”

“That, I do have an answer to. We’re in an old castle called Time Manor: It was built long ago as a gift for the Grand Mage Clockwork. It's passed through several hoofs over the years, but now it’s ‘supposedly’ abandoned. I came here to investigate possible instances of dark magic.”

“All by yourself?”

“Yes, why?”

“Then how did I get here?”

“Not sure. You must have been here some time before I arrived, because it looked pretty abandoned a few hours ago.”

“Alright… I think I have one last question. Do you have any idea who I am?”

“Nope, sorry, you don’t ring any bells.” She answered hurriedly. “What, you don’t know your own name?”

“Are you sure you don’t recognize me from anywhere?” I asked again, pressing the question. “Just think for a second; you’ve never seen me around before?”

“I’ve told you everything I know already, isn’t that enough?” she said, deflecting the question.

“Alright, never mind then…”

“Now then, is that it, or do you have any other questions?”

“Actually yes… Do you recognize this symbol?” I said, flashing the diary from my pack. "It's the same symbol as my cutie mark, but I don't recognize it from anywhere. Maybe you can shed some light."

She squinted, taking a closer look at the torn diary. “Hmm… I can’t say for certain, but it looks like ancient Sumarean. Or maybe its Ponyptian..."

"Ugh... never mind. Thanks for answering my questions and all, but I think I'm gonna have a look around. Maybe i'll find something out on my own.

“Be careful.” She said, diving into another book. “We may be safe for now, but it could easily go the other way if we’re not careful. Try not to wander too far off.”

I rolled my eyes and stepped through the gap between two shelves. As I walked through the narrow paths scattered around the library, I started scanning the shelves. If I was lucky I could find something interesting, maybe keep myself occupied. It was about halfway down the third shelf that I noticed something strange. I began naming the books automatically, without even looking at the titles. I stepped back and checked off a shelf at random, naming each book left to right with ease. “What the hell is going on…?”

It wasn’t just for that one shelf either. Everywhere I went, I found myself naming books from the shelves without even reading the spine. Some had no title to begin with. I pulled them off as I named them, double checking the cover, and I was right every single time. Even their weight felt familiar. I was checked the title of the last book on the shelf and stopped. I looked back to where I started. Hundreds upon hundreds of books between me and Allie, and I could recite them purely from memory. A sickening feeling began to rise my chest. “How… how is this even possible? It isn’t… It shouldn’t be… without years of learning…” Then, a thought hit me: maybe I had been here before.

I slipped into a trance, wandering aimlessly between shelves as familiarity began to settle in. I had been here before, though it seemed like a millennia ago. The distance in time made it seem unreal. I saw myself reaching out for book after book, painstakingly memorizing page after page of details, desperately searching for knowledge. No matter what I did was never good enough. There was always more, always more ground to cover, something else to learn. I was chasing after someone… And I was close…

Suddenly, I snapped back to reality. My entire body was frigid and shivering. I opened my eyes and glanced around. I was no longer in the Library. No, this was something much different.


Books had always been a big part of Twilight's life. They were her sanctuary from the real world; a place she could go just to be alone. Things seemed calmer, more planned out. They also helped to distract her from a few particularly troublesome issues. The stallion and his array of questions, for instance, was one such problem. He knew she lied about something, or at least, a part of him did. It wouldn’t be long now before he came back, pressing for the real answer. Hopefully this wouldn’t happen. She sighed and flipped to the next page. Things weren’t going well, not well at all. It was only a matter of time before he figured it out, and then… She already knew the answer to that question, but now wasn’t the time for that. Twilight squinted to read in the dim light when suddenly, a shadow arced across her page. She glanced up for a moment; expecting to see that stallion, back again for answers. Instead, she found someone completely different.

Hourglass stood a few feet away, a cold smile etched across his face. “I thought I’d find you here.” He said. Twilight jumped from her seat, taking a few eager steps back. “Please try to remain calm.” He continued, taking a warmer tone. “I have no intention of harming you.”

Twilight paused, glaring at him. “Why are you here?”

“To converse with a friend of course, what other reason could I have for coming to visit my favorite mare?” Hourglass said, grinning as he set his book on the pile Twilight had created earlier. “May I have a seat?” he asked. She gave no response, staring back as coldly as he had before. He chuckled, taking his place in the unicorn's chair. “So, why don’t you start us off, Twilight? What’s running through your mind?”

“…”

“Yes… just as I thought. Let me guess, not what you were expecting eh?” he joked tossing his book aside. “I bet Celestia didn’t prepare you for this scenario. She never was a pony of foresight, you know. She always tried to do the right thing as things appeared. I can see she passed her flaws on to her student.”

“I don't know what you're trying, but it won't work on me Hourglass.”

"What ever could you possibly mean?"

"All these questions, the jabs at Celestia; you're trying to provoke me. I'm going to stop you now and tell you that it won't work."

"Ugh, you're no fun Twilight." Hourglass said, rolling his eyes. "Fine, to show you my good faith, I'll let you ask the questions... for now."

"When are you letting us out of here?" she began, jumping at the opportunity to get some answers.

“Good question. Not until I’m finished with my business I suppose. You’ll be fine, to say the least. I can’t say the same for your friend, however.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s none of your concern.”


“I thought you were answering my questions?”

“No, we’re conversing. There is a big difference. It would be good for you to learn it.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

“It would be wise to show your host some respect, little pony. Getting on my bad side is certainly not your best option.”

“You know what? I couldn’t care less about you! Why are you holding us here?! Why won’t you let us leave?!

“So much hostility from such a naïve mare; what is wrong in having a conversation with a friend?”

“You’re not my ‘friend’,” she spat. “And stop trying to be so polite; your little façade isn’t going to work on me.”

“And to think I thought we could be friends. For some reason, I’m getting the feeling that you really don’t feel kind towards me. What have you been told? What did your teacher say about me?”

“I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“True, true, all part of the conversation I suppose, but isn’t it much more fun to share things you know with other people? I mean, I’m sure your friend would love to know why you’re really here…”

“How do you know-?

“I’m insulted Twilight!” Hourglass gasped. “You really think me so ignorant that I would just invite guests to my humble home without knowing a thing or two about them in advance? Of course I know why you’re here; I knew the moment you took a step through my doors what your true intentions were. What confuses me, however, is why you didn’t follow through with your objective when it was staring you right in the face… Unless... What did Celestia say?”

“I…” Twilight stuttered. “… She told me enough.”

“Go on.”

“She told me what happened to you… all the pain… I can’t imagine what it was like.”

“Your pity is wasted on me.” He replied stoically.

“I didn’t think it would…” she said, lowering her head. “Maybe what she said is true then.”

“She said more? Tell me.”

Twilight tried to glance away, looking off to the side.

“It’s not polite to look away when someone is talking to you.” Hourglass said, tilting Twilight’s head back towards him. “Now as I said before; please continue.”

“I- I didn’t think it was possible. Celestia said you couldn’t be saved, no matter how much compassion or effort you were given. I didn’t believe her. Everyone should have a second chance, right? Looking at you now though, I see that she was right… You really are lost… Incapable of emotion or rational thought; mind set on a single, unachievable goal that so far has only brought you more loneliness and pain.”

Hourglass fell silent. Something passed through his eyes, but only for an instant. “Not yet… but…” He turned away. “I have one last question for you before you go running off, Twilight.”

“What is it?”

“There comes a time in everyone’s life when we must make a choice; one that will define our future existence and change the outlook of our entire lives.” He paused, as though in deep thought. “This singular choice is defining and irreversible… for better or for worse.”

“What are you saying?”

He paused, turning back. “Tell me, Twilight, who do you care about the most in this world?”

“My friends.” she said instinctively

“Now, tell me; what would you do to save them if they were in trouble? How far would you go, how far would you fall?”

“I would do whatever it takes.”

“What if it meant doing something terrible? Is the price of but a select few worth that of possibly a hundred other people? Maybe thousands?”

“I… don’t know.”

“It really is something to think about, isn’t it? One could spend hours, maybe even days pondering such questions. I know some who spent months to no avail. They bring out the worst in us; show us that a dark side really exists in every person, no matter how pious or kind they may be. We are so easily corrupted; so easily dissuaded from the truth…”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“All in due time, little, naive pony... for now, just think of it as a lesson to mull over. One you should soon understand. I want you to think about what I’ve told you here. Take it to heart, and perhaps, take a glimpse at how you should see the world.”

"Ok... if that's what it takes to get out of here, then fine. I'll consider your words, no matter how twisted and vile they may be."

He chuckled. "As I thought you would." As he turned to leave, he glanced back on last time. “Oh, and on the subject of Rune, don’t worry about him. If everything I’ve done here pays off soon... well, let's just say that he will be well taken care of. That I promise." And suddenly, in a flash, he was gone, though the air still felt chilled from his presence.

Again, silence filled the room. Twilight returned to her seat, still processing the event. “What has happened to you Hourglass?”


I was in what I could only guess had once been someone’s study. The room I awoke in and this place were much the same. Light came from two candles lit on either walls, and though light was scarce, it was clear someone else had gotten here before me. Books had been ripped from their shelves and thrown across the room from toppled bookshelves. Floorboards that were ripped from the framework were piled in a corner near the lone desk like firewood. I kicked up stray papers lying around my feet as I crept further in the room.

“Well, somebody was looking for something…” I thought, scanning the room. A desk across the room caught my attention. It was, as far as I could tell, the only thing around that hadn’t been completely ransacked.

I stepped over to it, taking a seat behind it, wiping a fine layer of dust from its finished surface. The glossy overcoat beneath still shone in the candlelight. I casually searched the room from my spot, and a sense of familiarity began to settle in. I had been here before as well, though the memories seemed a bit clearer. Instinctively, I reached down and opened the bottom cabinet. Inside, buried under a pile of letters, was a small box. I pulled it out and set on the desktop. It was beige, tied neatly with a green bow. A note clung loosely to the package by a string. Nervously, I flipped open the message, quickly reading over it.

Happy birthday Rune! I hope this gift helps you bring light to your darkest hour.

~Love, Mystique

The same, sickening feeling from earlier filled my stomach. “That name… That is… my name? Isn’t it?” I read over the note again, mouthing the words over and over again. Rune… Rune… it wasn’t familiar, but it fit. I drifted off from one word to the other, finally landing on the name attached to the message, Mystique… This one was different. I felt as though I knew that name, but couldn’t grasp it. I could only picture it in my head. I closed my eyes and a faded picture began to form; bright, sky blue eyes, light hair, and a smile that glowed as brilliantly as the sun… looking at the beautiful image before me filled my icy soul with a warmth previously unknown. It was only there for a moment, before it suddenly vanished.

I opened my eyes, wiping away a tear. Was I crying? I shook my head, turning my attention back to the package. I carefully tore the bow, lifting up the top. Inside was a lantern, intricately engraved with symbols that seemed to shift and shimmer in the dim light. I studied it with awe, testing its weight. As it lifted it from the table, something fell out of the bottom, clattering lightly against the wooden surface. “Hello, what do we have here?” I reached out for whatever it was when suddenly, Twilight burst through the door behind me. Before I had the chance to utter a word, her hand was over my mouth. Her face was frozen in a look of sheer horror. Suddenly, a pair of heavy footsteps emanated from just beyond the door.

“We need to hide.” she whispered, panic rising in her voice. “Now!”